Had a session with my regular group this past weekend. They’re still at the beginning, and we even added two new players this week (bringing us up to a nice, solid 5-player party). They’d been investigating villagers disappearing from an otherwise quiet farming community. Ok, it’s not the most original hook, but with a couple people having never played any tabletop RPG, much less D&D, a few tropes are in order to set the mood, as it were.
At the end of our last session they had skillfully finished their investigation – avoiding a red herring along the way – and tracked the disappearances to a crypt; long-forgotten in the nearby woods. After a couple small encounters they came upon the mastermind in his lair, and to their surprise, it was the father of one of the missing villagers! Gasp! That’s where we had left it that last time – on a cliffhanger.
This session, after a short exchange of words which involved the party (rather aggressively) advancing on the man, weapons drawn, combat ensued. A quick use of the Darkness spell left the heroes stumbling about as a zombie clawed at them from the dark. However, they managed to locate the treacherous mage and break his concentration, bringing visibility back to the room.
The villain decided it was time to make a break for it. He dashed over to his altar to recover his tome. The party’s wizard beat him to it however, snatching it away. Now, here’s where it got ugly. They were mostly new players. I’d already explained, and demonstrated, opportunity attacks. The wizard said he was going to run away from the villain and return to his group. I told him what would happen. He decided to run away regardless, and… WHACK! Quarterstaff to the back of the head, and the wizard is down for the count. The party panicked a little, but did try to stabilize him, failing 3 medicine checks, sadly. The wizard was down 1 – 2 when he failed his third death saving throw. RIP wizard.
Thus, the players had their first experience with death. After the fight, which concluded with the Rogue landing a skillful shortbow attack to the fleeing villain’s back, the group gathered around their fallen comrade. They were confused. “So, does he not get to play anymore? Is he just dead?” I told them resurrection was possible – for the low, low price of 1,000 gp… They decided to leave the body – “because he would have wanted it that way.” ((DM raises an eyebrow)) The Rogue then loots the corpse… to which the DM inquires, “You chose Chaotic Good for your alignment? Change that to Chaotic Neutral.” ((begrudging laughter ensues))
Now, this was a 1st level wizard, and I know the player put a lot of thought into the backstory. So, I take him aside during a break. It was his character’s uncle who invited the group here in the first place. So, I say to the player, “How would you like to meet your character’s father?” A few quick tweaks, and he has a replacement wizard. Of course, the group now has to explain why they left his son’s corpse in a crypt in the woods! Suffice it to say that was a fun, and somber, encounter.
All-in-all, I’m glad the group got to see a character die. It showed them that I’m not going to just let them win. They are the heroes, but what they do is dangerous. Without that fear of losing it all, the victories have less of an impact. There is no tension without a fear of failure.
One more detail. Before the session started, the player who was running the (doomed) wizard thought it would be funny to place a little something in the encounter room:
I was (obviously) a little distraught, and told him I wasn’t about to pick it up. He then held up his daughter and had her pick up the yellow menace, but he was still holding her at the time… Readers, if you take nothing else away from this story, take this: “NEVER PICK UP A DUCK IN A DUNGEON!!!” 😉