One of the great things about D&D is that it a combined storytelling session that involves everyone around the table getting together and making a story out of paper, die rolls and imagination. However, that same awesomeness is also a great weakness. If someone can’t make it that day, sometimes the story isn’t going to move forward at all. Its a strange dichotomy.
In many stories, the characters are important and world shaking. Events can’t go on without any given character. One has the Scrolls of Infinite Knowledge, one has the Demonslaying Sword of Grondarialand, and yet another has Breathe Water (and they are exploring an underwater castle, say). If any of them were missing, the whole game breaks in half without a lot of hand waving and just because-ing. It makes the inevitable missing characters a nightmare to deal with on the spot.
And then, sometimes, it just works out.
Yesterday I had half my group end up being unable to make it to the game, but with all but one of the remaining people playing on their way or at the store, we figured we’d continue. Fortunately, we’d made it through the portion of the Goblin Demon-waters and they were at a nearby town.
I didn’t want to rush right back to Parminium, their home base, so I made some things up as I went along, as one is want to do. The town is boring, with nothing special and no particularly interesting stores. The smith is more of a town handyman, and the guards are normal civilians given weapons. A large house holds a villa the magistrate lives in and rules from. The strangest thing is an old herbalist lady living on the fringe of the town.
Then, as day passed in the night, and the villagers all went to their homes and the adventurers ate a meatless, tasteless stew, the tavernkeep started acting a bit strange. She asked the adventureres for their room payment, and then went and locked the doors from the inside and applied a heavy iron bar. Then she made her way to the windows and slatted them shut with thick boards and iron bars as well. The rooms upstairs had no windows, and the doors were barable and lockable from the inside. The characters went in without too much incident, though one was basically called out for being a witch when he started casting a spell, though they were all wary of what would happen.
What happened, they still don’t know for sure. They do know that they heard horrible howluffing and grumping from outside during the evening, all around them. At one point, it was directly outside one of the characters room. Then, there was a flutter of activity, baying and howling, and all was gone.
Now, as the DM, even I had no idea what was going on here, and that was part of the fun. Seeing how the characters reacted and the players reacted to the unexpected event. In the morning, all the townsfolk acted normal, of course. They didn’t want to talk about anything, and just gave sullen glances and curt excuses as to why they needed to be elsewhere. There was, however, one player who wanted to speak with someone who they’d rescued. Figured they owed him one. Another character went all a-tracking to see what he could find. The Last? Packed the bags and got the horses ready for a swift getaway. Now that they were interested in the beings, I had to make something up. I didn’t have anything particular in mind, except maybe some Lycanthropes or something, but I wanted them to be bigger and badder. I made the pawprints that the one character found be about 6″ across, from claw to pad, and the same, maybe a little thinner, from toe to toe. The rescued villager offered up some clues too, saying that these beasts had been here a long time, and the town had just gotten used to them being around and sometimes slaughtering whole families. Everyone who survived an attack went raving mad, though, so they didn’t even know what the beasts were!
This night, the flurry of activity was a house that didn’t quite have its safety precautions up to snuff, and was invaded by these creatures. Blood everywhere and broken everything spoke the story – nothing lived. Instead, the creatures had drug the bodies out into the wilderness west of the town and into the bush. The Group assembled, talked it over, and headed into the wilderness, tracking the monsters easily through the grass and large bushes.
Eventually, they followed the trail all of the way to a rocky set of hills, with a pair of statues to the north, ominously standing alone and abandoned. The rocky hills proved to be a bit intimidating, though, as after the first were passed, the rest seemed riddles with warrens and caves, almost all of them dug out of the rock, stone and earth. The entrances were smaller than expected, but large enough for a large man to wriggle into.
The team, however, backed off, seeing the large warrens as extremely dangerous and also noting that off the Northwest, there was a ruined something. This, they decided, was worth investigating. The monsters will come later.
They took the short trek past the statues on their way to the ruins and noted that they were both old, broken, and worn, one a female human, the other a male dwarf. The ruins were expertly carved and maintained stonework sized for dwarves with a little leeway given for humansized guests. The ruins were looted years and years ago, it seemed, and had been left alone, undisturbed since. However, there was a strange sign of life coming from the back of the Larger fortress area, which they decided to make their way over too. Almost out of the other side of the city, they encounter signs of Habitation. before they can proceed to far, however, they hear a woman’s clear, concise call.
Halt. Go no further.
There is quick dialoge between the party and the voice, and its determined that the best, and only, way back, is how they came. They heed the adivce.
Honestly, I don’t think this could have worked out better. The characters were in a good spot to take off for a detour while the other players were unable to be there, and do so without harming those other stories. Now, they have a tale of a ruined town, bloody beasts, and horrible deeds, and they may end up as nothing, or they may end up the seeds of a fantastic adventure.
I didn’t realize, until last night, that there was an ancient dwarven civilization where Killbar stands, but I know that know, and am intrigued what I define it as.
and I’ve never quite put my finger on what is out there, either…