Ask The GM: The Unkillable NPC

By John Serpico on

 

Robin asks – I’m the GM of a campaign in the Eberron D&D setting. In one of the early sessions, the party came across (and got betrayed by) an artificer named Hargrave. They confronted him in his house and, unexpectedly, the battle went really sideways for the players and all four characters were wiped out. I let two of their characters survive, and the other two players made new characters. All my players wanted revenge, so they went after him again several sessions later and lost again. I didn’t want to kill them all of so I had Hargrave imprison them and strip them of their gold and gear. I didn’t expect Hargrave to be as powerful as he was, or for my players to roll as bad as they did. I don’t want this whole campaign to be about killing an NPC I expected to be very minor. But they still want blood. What do I do?

Robin,

An unkillable NPC is a fairly rare problem. While players can discover ways to spend an unexpectedly long time socializing in a tavern or spend an unexpectedly short time making their way through a trap-filled dungeon, combat usually shakes out more or less the way a GM intends. At minimum, the party doesn’t often gets wiped out… to say nothing of getting wiped out twice. That’s what makes this Hargrave situation that much more insidious.

I’m going to say something you’re probably not going to want to hear – you’re stuck with this artificer. He killed everybody once and robbed them and threw them in jail once. Regardless of what your campaign was going to be about, until your players get their revenge, Hargrave is the big bad.

So my advice is to lean into this. Hargrave is now a part of the campaign, and his death is going to be as well. Think about how you want to bring about that conflict, and how that conflict can fold into the greater narrative you want. If your campaign was “supposed” to focus on, say, the theft of the crown jewels, well then maybe you write in that Hargrave was part of the conspiracy to get them. Or maybe notes in his house reveal some piece of information that points the party towards the master thief that took them. Give Hargrave his due and use his death to swing everyone back into the story.

Whatever you do, don’t rush it. Make your players search for clues as to his whereabouts, gather allies, and eventually spring a trap. Chase him through city streets, defeat his automatons and storm the castle. Don’t just make your players stumble into him drunk at a bar with his neck extended so that his head could be easily chopped off. Gaming is communal storytelling and everyone has a voice. It just so happens that every voice but yours is calling for artificer blood. Let the majority win (after they work for it) and celebrate that victory.

Happy GMing!

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