After my players had entered Nethar’s Maze we called it quits for the night. It was a long game, and a lot had happened. When this happens in D&D even though everyone wants to continue the story, it can start to drag on you mentally. I would compare it to reading a book you want to finish late at night, but you just cannot go on any longer. You feel burnt, and if you want to enjoy it the best thing for you to do is just put the book down, go to sleep and pick it up fresh in the morning after a good cup of coffee.
A week goes by, and we pick up our game at the usual time Friday night. We have some donuts, coffee, chips, and pizza; the normal D&D fare. We sit down and begin, but there was one thing that would throw this game into territory that I, as a DM, had never encountered before. It began when one player didn’t show up...
Now, every once in awhile players miss games. It happens. And you can either continue and keep their character in the background, allowing another player make combat decisions for them or you, as the DM, can run that character making the best of situations for them. I generally split this task. I give my input as what I think the character will do, while other players run combat or vice versa.
Our player who runs the Bullywug Marvin the Bard (Yeah, I allowed that to happen) was unavailable. We had four other people who showed up, so I couldn’t cancel the game. Thus we continued. Still beat up and unhealed from the previous game they all took their long rest, camping out in the front of the tent maze while Marvin took the first watch.
That’s when the clowns approached. Fire breathing, unicycle riding, whip carrying clowns.
Here’s a bit of background on this tent: Nethar is a half-dragon who travels the Sword Coast in search of curiosities, using his magical maze to entice and trap them. He then features them in his carnival. When Marvin enters this tent, he was the main prize for Nethar to capture. Now, when his player didn’t show up, so I thought the best way to resolve this plot issue was to have the clown gang grab him and have the other players discover other oddities, put the puzzle together and save him. Right? Take care of two problems at once.
This same game is the exact time the paladin of the group decided it would be an excellent character choice to have a reinterpretation of his faith, taking his vengeance oath to a whole new level: destroy anyone of moral questionability. His new target would be, you guessed it, Marvin.
The paladin decided to jump precisely into a piece of the maze I built for them to either explore as a group, climbing down near impossible high walls and searching through a dark prison; or to just overlook and find the entrance to this prison at the end of the maze. The paladin jumped into the black void. Just jumped.
He barely survived the fall, encountered a monk trapped in this prison, freed him and then convinced him he was on a religious expedition to destroy all evil. They found Marvin, tied and gagged in a wagon-tent surrounded by these maniacal clowns. They both slaughtered the clowns, and this is where it all came to a head. Our paladin butchered Marvin. Took out his sword, slit his throat and then Negan’d his brains in… with an enchanted fey morningstar.
I was so dumbfounded and speechless he was doing this. I had a hard time wrapping my brain around it, but I hate railroading my players. I try to give them as much open world and free will as possible. He had already convinced the NPC he was on a mission from his god, that this tied creature was evil and morally corrupt. The monk left the tent.
This is when the other players found their way to the end of the maze. They all walked out to the paladin doing this. They asked: “What just happened here?” and the paladin’s response? “What had to be done.”
That’s where I ended that game. Not knowing what to do, how to proceed, or how to tell the player who was absent how his character was ruthlessly murdered.
Sometimes games go in wildly different directions than you plan, but this? This I could never have foreseen.