This past week, our group completed the first major story arc of our campaign. It was awesome and a little sad, for several reasons. I knew this group and this story was about to change forever. I just didn’t know how until it was over.
The Zombie Shepherd Comes Full Circle
I came into this last session at something of a loss. The Big Bad had made the party an offer: join with him, be rich and powerful beyond their wildest dreams, all that jazz. The thing that surprised me was that several of the party wanted to take the deal. This meant the entire ball of wax could go in any number of directions and I wasn’t sure what (if anything) I could plan to compensate. Usually, this just meant a single session was potentially at risk of being a disaster, but this was a special situation where I needed to give someone a good sendoff and close down a story.
The session started, and after some deliberation, the party decided they couldn’t take on the Big Bad directly. He was a powerful city councilman (and their boss), so they wanted to sneak into his house to find stuff to discredit him — but we was a very accomplished rogue, and so they figured they’d all get caught and/or die from traps. Long story short, they started concocting a plan to find the other councilmembers and using what influence they had to start weaving a web of political intrigue to get the job done.
I might add, at about the time this was happening, it was almost 8:30pm. We usually close up shop at around 10 or 10:30. The players were starting to look a little restless, and things were not looking particularly good for a satisfying ending.
It was then I felt my DM sense tingling.
In my first few months of DMing, I was fond of having the plot be immutable and herding the players to each pre-set event via an unstoppable horde of zombies made out of cement. Over the last year, I’ve worked hard on trying to set the stage and to let the players do their own thing. I’ve almost been afraid to set fixed events in motion, for fear of railroading. I didn’t want that to happen this time, either, but it sure felt like this thing needed a shove.
My plan for some time had been to have the Big Bad fighting an evil spirit he’d trapped, which gave him power but tried to possess him. One of the party had an artifact that could stop the thing, so I decided to have the spirit make its move. The PC’s had a fight, the Big Bad joined in trying to save his own skin. I was happy to see a little energy back in the group.
I wanted to keep the plot moving, so I decided to have the Big Bad ask the party for help. He invited them to his home, and he explained to them how he was controlling the spirit — with his own artifact.
Then things got weird.
If You’re Going To Split The Party, Split It Hard
The mage flippantly declared that he was using Mage Hand to take the item. My mouth dropped, and I started to think of how this fight was going to go until I realized — the Big Bad didn’t want the item anymore. He was scared to death and the power wasn’t worth it anymore. The spirit could have this newcomer. I always consider it a victory when the players don’t know whether to go “hee hee” or “uh oh”.
So, the party, thinking they can end the spirit’s threat for good, races toward the place they’d hidden their spirit-crushing artifact. This is a great plan, except for two things.
First: remember how I said the Big Bad had offered a deal to the party? One of the rogues picked this very moment to take him up on it. It was a great roleplay moment. The party was part of the city guard, and the rogue was working with them to stay out of jail. Though not supernaturally powered anymore, the Big Bad still had the clout to offer her amnesty (and a ton of gold) to go and retrieve both artifacts so he could once again have control of the spirit and its power without fear of possession and/or death.
Second: on their way to pick up the artifact that could stop the spirit forever, the mage decides to stop and reminisce about some delicious food he’d eaten as a child. This was not an unusual thing for this character. Indeed, many of the party’s adventures centered around various sandwich and donut shops near their workplace. His parents were rich and he was well-traveled, and he couldn’t remember where he’d experienced this. So, the spirit says “I can help with that” and *poof* the mage is gone — taking the Big Bad’s artifact with him. So I ended the story on something of a cliffhanger — with the party racing against the rogue and the Big Bad’s men to get the artifact, and the sunset turning slowly purple (the color of the spirit).
I should add at this point that the mage was played by one of the players leaving the group, and I was very happy to look across the table to see that she was squeeing and making tiny clapping motions with her hands just like I was. We’d briefly discussed ways to give her character a good sendoff, but (as I have become accustomed with this group) something far different and way better happened instead.
Dawn of a New What Is This I Don’t Even
I’m not exactly sure what to do with what I have now. I’ve played in games where a PC turned evil. I’ve never played in a game where two PC’s changed to two completely separate teams within five minutes of each other.
Our foodie mage and his spirit friend is by far the easier of the two to deal with. In fact, I’m probably going to collaborate with his player on how to proceed. Maybe he’ll make guest appearances. Maybe he’ll be the Big Bad for the next part of the campaign. I’m so happy with how this part of his story ended. It very much fit the character, and it’s provided me with a ton of ideas that I fully intend to inflict upon my players.
Our rogue is a bit trickier. I knew the moment she took the deal that continued relations with the party were probably going to be very difficult. She could do some very fast talking or have a change of heart, but the party barely trusted her to begin with. I could always come up with some arbitrary reason why They Are All Special And Must All Work Together, but that seems too forced. This one’s simply going to require some talking with the players to see what the most rational (and more importantly, fun) option is. Though it makes what to do with the character more difficult, I absolutely love this happening when it did. It made complete sense for the character and the story, and it made for an exciting end scene.
I’m sad to turn the page on this story for a wide variety of reasons, but I’m glad it went out the same way it usually went every week: unpredictable and awesome. As endings go, I’m pretty happy with this one.