I recently participated in a Halloween blog carnival called “On A Night in the Lonesome October,” where I submitted two adventures. One of them was a 2nd-level D&D adventure titled “The Village Above The Sea.” In it, 2nd-level adventurers stop off and stay in a seaside hotel in a quaint, out-of-the-way village, populated by some very strange characters. However, things are not as they originally appeared, and some of the villagers start exhibiting some extremely bizarre and frightening behavior. The plot thickens when the town drunk, a former adventurer, tells a tale of a secret cult that his group discovered in his youth, that were committing blasphemous acts with the minions of some piscoid god that they had all pledged themselves to. He was certain that he and his cohort had stomped out all traces of the creatures born of this unholy union, but stops there. Events conspire to suggest that there might once again be something unsavory lurking in the waves beyond.
After discovering an elaborate set of natural sea-tunnels carved out of the bluff underneath where the village was seated, the party discovers that the villagers above had been getting kidnapped, and terrible things done to them while they were put under a mind-spell so that they would not remember it. However, the hypnotism had side effects, and that was what originally alerted the adventuring party that not all was what it appeared in this village. After carving through half-human and half-piscoid abominations, maniacal cultists, and other horrible creatures that lurk in forsaken places underground, the party finally discovers that all of it was aimed at summoning an aboleth through a portal, which would enslave the minds of all in its presence and use them as its corrupt minions to further its dominion within this realm as well.
With the aboleth defeated, the mind-controlling effects over the villagers finally abolished, all that is left is to lead the prisoners out from the caves and back up into fresh air. Things have a way of not turning out as planned, however, and it turns out that what should have been assumed to have been the high priest was just yet another crony, and that the real instigator of all of the horrible events was the village priest, who had become corrupted in the mind while abroad, and had heard the whisperings of this beast and become insane. Furthermore, he had planted seeds of taint within the bodies of some of the villagers, which causes them to fall to the ground, die, and rise back up as horrible zombie-like minions, which then try to spread their corruption to the other villagers.
What results is a race against time to first, try to defeat the mad priest, but at the same time, try to save the villagers (who are all locked in the temple with the monsters). Ideally, it seems that the fastest way to solve this problem is to kill the priest, and hope that whatever deep corruption he is drawing upon to command these monsters will be vanquished with his defeat. Certainly it seems the most logical course of action, given that he seems to be in control, more or less, of all of the creatures who are murdering villagers.
But what if he is just under the influence of some external power himself? Wouldn’t simply killing him as the most expedient way to solve a problem be, at the end of the day, murder? Certainly most of the villagers who were spared by the act would probably be able to forgive the situation, given the circumstances, but this is a man, who for all intents and purposes was lawful good until he became corrupted. Another lawful good character might have serious reservations about murder, whether justified or not, especially if it could be possible that he could be saved. It would be terribly unclear whether he was hypnotized or under a spell, or whether he actually had become completely mad. It doesn’t make sense to just try to quick whack him over the head and carry him off, but he also doesn’t seem to be in any sort of state where anybody would possibly be able to reason with him. So what’s the alternative?
I suppose a start would be to try to quickly dispatch the monsters; the villagers who had already been slain by his dark machinations, to wipe them out as quickly as possible so that more villagers could be saved. It is clear that they are dead, and only reanimated by evil magic. The entire time, he will be launching necrotic bolts, and probably laughing maniacally, so it will be sort of hard to not want to hit back, but it would give the whole encounter a very interesting dynamic if it were impressed upon the players that knocking him off was “off limits.” Or even better would be for them to draw that conclusion on their own.
But what would happen once all of his minions were defeated and he was trapped, with 3-4 angry warriors bearing down on him? Would he relent? Would he try to escape? Would he at last try to talk his way out of it? Maybe even if he was irreversibly insane, he would even try to convince them that he had been under a spell, and that he was better now to throw them off. It is this sort of situation that creates memorable encounters for GMs and players alike, and I’m not exactly sure what I would do if this situation arose. It could even be a quest opportunity: seek out this person, this spell, this item, that can clear his mind of evil. The villagers will keep him prisoner until then. All of these options are far more interesting than just simply killing him, and it lays the foundation for many more roleplaying experiences and story points. It allows the players to dictate where the game moves next.