Tales of a DM: The Scariest Thing a PC Can Say: “I Am Here To Save You”
Possibly the greatest thing about D&D is its chaotic nature. Even the most meticulous of DMs can’t claim to predict everything their PCs are going to get up to. We’ve all had entire pages of notes that suddenly became more useful as toilet paper as the party decides that they would rather pick flowers for the local herbalist because you gave him a funny accent. PCs are a fickle bunch, one moment the stalwart heroes on a quest to save the world, the next second genocidal maniacs who are a bigger threat than the villains they were trying to stop.
One of the effects of this chaos is that ‘friend’ and ‘foe’ are pretty loosely defined, with one easily becoming the other depending on the mood of the players. Perhaps it is because of this that I have so many stories of my PCs making a 180 from coming to protect someone to trying to kill them.
One example: In a low-magic setting, the PC’s had learned that the reason there was so little magic was that mana leaked into the world very slowly and was consumed by the world’s magic users before it could amass in quantity. They also had come at odds with a villain who was killing magic users so that there would be more mana in the world for him. When they learn about a powerful Wind Witch may be the mage-killer’s next target, they seek out the witch to warn her.
The witch’s tower was divided into two levels: the lower level, which was a public museum where she displayed the artifacts she had collected over her adventures, while the upper level was her living quarters and work space. Because she could fly, she had no stairs connecting the two levels as a security measure; when she needed to move between the two levels she would fly out a window on the top floor and float into one on the bottom. The PCs entered into the museum and found a single guard there, a hulking figure who instructed them not to touch anything or he would ‘crush your heads like walnut.’
The guard didn’t know when the witch would be down next as she kept no specific schedule, but it could be days. My PCs, like many others, have no patience, so instead of making camp and passing some time until she next appears they decided they needed to get up to her. Fair enough. The problem was that they had no idea how to do that. They were convinced there was some trick to create a secret staircase or elevator if they could just figure it out. When they couldn’t, they got frustrated, and the plan became to blast a hole into the ceiling and climb through it. Needless to say, the guard didn’t appreciate them causing an explosion in the middle of the museum. He tried to make good on his promise in regards to their heads, but despite being a pretty tough guy he was no match for the entire party and was killed by a critical sneak attack.
Now the witch comes down to investigate the source of the blast and finds her museum trashed and her guard dead. She’s going to call for the local authorities to arrest the party, so they attack the woman they originally came here to protect. It turned out that she was the most powerful magic-user in the world and she proceeded to kick their asses. They ended up surrendering, being arrested for murder and destruction of property, and having their warning go unheeded.
This was an extreme situation, but its hardly unique. My most recent campaign is set in the middle of a world war between a great many factions. The PCs spoiled a plot by a few soldiers of one faction, the Victorians, to starve a region by burning farmlands and destroying granaries. They learned that the soldiers were having their minds manipulated by a group of villain they knew where pulling the strings of the war behind the scenes. They wanted to warn the Victorians that they might have others in their ranks whose minds were not their own. The problem was that no one knew where the Victorians were encamped.
They needed one of the formerly mind-manipulated soldiers they had captured to lead them to the encampment. Unfortunately, the soldiers were currently prisoners in the city whose granaries they had tried to burn, and these guards weren’t sure about the whole ‘mind-control’ thing and were hesitant to let loose a dangerous prisoner. The PCs ended up making a deal with the guards to allow them to take one of the prisoners as a guide on the condition that they were brought back to face judgment afterwards.
They traveled with the soldier as their guide for a few sessions but never forgot their promise to bring him back. Eventually they came to the Victorian encampment and delivered their warning about the possibility that more of their member might be compromised. The problems began when the Victorians tried to take back possession of their soldier. After all, if he had committed the crimes he was accused of while under magical influence, like the party claimed, then he was innocent and did not deserve the hang-man’s noose he would certainly face if brought back to face judgment. The party, not wanting to be oath-breakers, ended up in a tense stand off over the soldier, which was broken when the barbarian-style PC drew his weapon and battle began.
By some miracle, no one actually died (in large part, thanks to the Way of Tranquility monk running around and stabilizing all the fallen Victorians). They were eventually surrounded (this was the encampment of a major military force, after all) and captured through shear force of numbers. Once again, my PCs attempt to deliver a word of warning with the best of intentions ended in violence and them being captured.
Things don’t always end with the PC’s captured and their charge / victim getting away. There was the time where they attempt to protect someone ended with their charge dead, one of the PC’s souls stolen, and another blinded. But … that is an incredibly long story, one that is best saved for next time.
So … you know, come back next time for more fun stories and stuff.