The DM Experience 3: Murder Most Foul

Previously, on Mummy’s Mask

Vendetta! The party return from their travels in the Mana Waste only to be ambushed by Drusiss – the Mind Flayer whose ship they stole and who they foolishly taunted. He mind-controls the sorcerer into disintegrating a Marshal, resulting in the party split up and in jail, right where Drusiss wants them. He’s used the time while they were in the Wastes to capture and enthrall a couple of other Marshals. All the while, he uses scrying to keep tabs on the party and to guess when they begin their return journey. As they were not secretive about their destination, the math is pretty straightforward. Drusiss has time to enthrall three Marshals, which gives him three men inside the jail.

In jail, the party is split up. Tess (f human artificer) and Ali (f elf cleric of Sarenrae) are in separate cells, as is Rook (the Warforged gunslinger). The trap is laid. The actual marshals call Tess in for interrogation since she’s a native of Alkenstar. While she’s away, another Marshal comes to get Ali, informing her that Tess has explained everything, and they are to be released (this is actually the case due to some lucky rolling and a zone of truth spell).

All seems well until the Marshal takes the lift down instead of up. Ali begins to become more and more nervous and finally strikes out at the Marshal about the time they reach the bottom. He grabs her and tosses her roughly out of the lift, right at the feet of Drusiss, who’s used invisibility to infiltrate the prison. Initiative is rolled. Ali loses and fails her save against the mind blast. Tess and Rook have figured out something’s wrong and arrive just in time to see the light go out of Ali’s eyes as the mindflayer cracks open her skull. A barrage of fire from the two gun-wielding PCs prevents him from finishing his feast (I’ve never felt good about a single action to kill a PC and eat the brain, so I require two). He retreats via plane shift once again, leaving the party with the corpse of their cleric.

Outside the jail, Elarion (m half-elf monk) and Nouf (f half-elf chaos sorcerer) sneak into town and make their way to their (previously Drusiss’s) ship. What they find is a bloodbath. The crewmembers have been murder and their brains consumed. Several were apparently enthralled and unleashed on the city (an incident that resulted in the party being stopped by the Marshals in the first place, the first step of Drusiss’s trap) and “Your Move” has been written in blood in the captain’s cabin. There is also a set of teleportation circle coordinates, but they’re a trap deliberately designed to throw a player into an endless ‘mishap’ loop. Luckily for the party, Nouf never tries to use them.

Fast forward a bit and the party is reunited imploring the aid of the High Clockmother, cleric of Brigh. She agrees to use raise dead. I clear the room of everyone but Ali’s player and we cut to the afterlife. Ali wakes up in Nirvana and comes face to face with her goddess, who offers her the option to stay or to return in response to the spell. The player thinks, but says she has things she needs to do, and asks to return long enough to complete them. Sarenrae agrees but warns her of a cost. Ali grows suddenly cold as she is drawn from Nirvana into Letherna – the gates of Death and domain of the Raven Queen – and then out into the world again.

What follows is some social interaction by which the party free themselves of the authorities, travel to Quanitium and dispose of their ship. They don’t want anything he could use to scry on them. They spend some time obtaining nondetection magic items and then teleport via a circle to a remote hermitage in the desert to decide how to finish this. In their minds, it’s them or Drusiss.

Lessons Learned

  • The monsters know what they’re doing: Drusiss’s plan is ingenious. It makes the full use of his high intelligence and sadistic nature. In many other creatures, what Drusiss did would be too much, but in a Mind Flayer, it was just right. Often, we treat the monsters as nothing but stat blocks. This comes from familiarity and repetition. Monsters are much more fulfilling if you take the time to think about them as living, thinking beings and have them behave as such.
  • Murdering a PC is ok, sometimes: I’ve killed player characters before, but this is the first time I would describe it as murder. I set a trap, stacked the deck in many ways (but ways consistent with the narrative) and it went off perfectly. If I did that often, the players would feel put upon. If I did it randomly, it would seem like a cheap shot. Here, it came off as a natural progression of the story.
  • The world should seem real, and sometimes that means that luck breaks in favor of the party, not against them: In many games, every twist turns out badly for the party. We do this because conflict is good story. In my game, the introduction of a Warforged character in a world that doesn’t usually have them brought in an NPC that I hadn’t expected, the High Clockmother of the Church of Brigh, the goddess of invention. The presence of a sentient machine would draw her attention. As luck had it, that meant there was a high-level cleric present to help the party out in a moment of crisis. That’s not why I put her there, but it worked out. It might seem convenient, but sometimes in life you run into the right person at the right time.
  • Death has consequences: Ali died. She might have survived with a couple good rolls, but she died. Bringing her back costs more than a diamond. So far, Ali knows the cost is that she has a limited time left, rather than the enormous lifespan of her race. There’s another cost, though. When powerful souls slip through her grasp, the Raven Queen takes note…

Next Time…

The time has come for Drusiss to pay. The party have the gear they need, and they’ve laid their plans. He’s slaughtered their crew, murdered their friends, and forced them to harm innocents. It’s time to finish this.

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