The more advanced player's PCs get, the more powerful they become. They also become smarter. One of the groups I DM is 12th level (almost 13th) and they're ejoying the fame and power that has accompanied Paragon Tier. Last session they captured and put on trial a very evil and key NPC -- a dwarf named Treyvis D. Accomplishing this was no small feat and I was impressed at their ingenuity and approach, but they effectively shortcut another 2 or 3 levels of gameplay. No big deal, there's no shortage of problems to solve, but it all developed rather quickly and, not knowing how I wanted to handle a key NPC exiting the game so soon, I ended the session by setting up our next session. Here's how it went down (with much less eloquence, of course):
"Treyvis D. stands on an executioner's platform dressed in typical prison garb, hands and feet shackled. You are all in attendance to watch justice claim the guilty party, as are the rest of the townspeople. On the stand next to Treyvis D. is the town magistrate, the captain of the guards, and a jailguard with the unlucky task of executioner. The magistrate reads aloud to the gathered crownd Treyvis' crimes as the executioner affixes the hangman's noose around the convict's neck. As the executioner finalizes his duties, a priest begins reading Last Rites."
I've had several days to think about where to go next, but regardless, I'm pretty sure that I'm ready to wrap up this campaign arc. By all definitions, they 'succeeded.' However, I feel like the hanging of Treyvis alone is lackluster. Let me tell you what I'm considering, then tell me what y'all think.
Treyvis D. is the head of a secret cult of merchants who worship Bane and so I was thinking about having the priest who is leading the Last Rites to Treyvis be a Banite and releasing him for one last big war, but it seems a little cliche. What other ideas do y'all have?
Treyvis D. planned this all along - he wants to die, exactly this way, for it is a boon to the God of Trickery whose servants will be released from the Chasm of Sorrow.
(When I first read this, I thought the NPC was named "Treyvis. D. Accomplishing." I thought that was a cool name for someone who gets **** done.)
Ever see Sherlock Holmes? Great movie, I thought.
If you're not catching the reference, I'll spell it out: Hang him. By all appearances, kill Treyvis. Bury him, the works. Cremate him, even, and scatter the ashes at a crossroad!
Because it'll be all the more shocking when he returns from the grave.
If the priest is a Banite or an ally of Treyvis, you have unlimited leeway. You could have him help fake the dwarf's death, you could have him or someone else perform a Raise Dead ritual after he's buried, you could even have him being sent back by Bane or even someone worse in a more powerful incarnation. You could have his ghost haunt them! Now, it's possible this won't really help these next few levels or so...but it can serve as a setup to a grander arc. Especially if even your players start muttering around the table, "That was too easy..."
Well, guess what, kiddies, you were right, and he's back! And he's pissed!
Going of MissionARZ's suggestion...
Have the priest use reincarnate instead of raise dead.
Then bring Treyvis back as a Dracolich.
If you really need some kind of realistic twist to it instead of just being reincarnated straight as the dracolich, have him reincarnated as a dragon about 600-700 years before the events of the campaign, and he lives with the memory of what happened. Over time, he learns when and where he is, then becomes a dracolich during his life due to events that unfolded earlier in history.
There's nothing more frustrating as a player than having won a legitimate (and creative) victory over a hated foe, only for said villain to be saved by the forces of plot-based immunity. I advocate letting the players have a win.
That being said, I also don't think any one action should ever stop the ball from rolling. What was Treyvis' overall goal? Who were his superiors? Friends? What do they think about this execution? Might make for a very short victory celebration when a mercenary army hired by the merchant cult lays seige to the town in revenge. Or when Banite necromancers simultaneously raise the dead from all of the town's burial grounds. Or when the devil who literally owns a contract to Treyvis' soul arrives in a puff of brimstone and demands that the town repay its "debt" to him. Or when...
There are lots of good suggestions, but maybe the most surprising thing to do is have Treyvis die.
Let Treyvis get hanged by the PC's. Is there really anymore mileage you can get out of Treyvis, without annoying the players?
What might be more useful is to have Treyvis hint that he knows something important that the heroes might need to know. Treyvis will not reveal his secret and takes it to the grave as his final card. It's a bit cliche, but hopefully it will help lead into the next campaign arc.
Another option is to present the hanging scene with ambiguous signals. Make the players think that Treyvis will be rescued, escape or come back from the dead. But infact he never does and you have made them suspicious and nervous. The priest looks familiar and appears to pass an item to Treyvis. Get the players to make the scene more interesting.
I like Prom's idea about making the party believe that Treyvis knows something the party needs to know. You could have a courier arrive shortly after he is hung with a note from Treyvis asking the PC'c to save him in return for information on who he was working for or the greater plot he was up to. Leaveing clues in the letter to carry them through the next few levels.
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