I was hosting a 3 player campaign in a popular forgotten realms campaign book. The party was getting tired of puzzle-solving and role-playing sessions and were asking me to host a game with more hack and slash. They wanted the thrill of killing something.
I have a human female multi-class rogue/ranger, an elven male ranger, and a female Dragonborn sorcerer. There was a fourth, but he dropped out some time ago, but together, they were the scourge of the dragon cult. They were the four horsemen of death, a tale used to scare other dragon cult members into submission. Few had ever lived to tell the tale of the horsemen of death, but they were rumored to have the blessing of Cyric Godsbane, the god of death and murder.
But now there were three, and the players were getting bored with this “your princess is in another castle” type of storytelling. They needed something to kill.
So begins this story of how three bloodthirsty PCs killed a boss with RP.
I was ready for them. I had a dragon cult base hidden in a series of caves, along with a green dragon, and dangerous traps. The party would have to take out the guards, plow into barracks and mess halls, with endless enemies down every passageway. It would be a high stake, no rest, push to the limits combat encounter. There would be lethal spike traps, ooze pits, and poison darts with DC of 15 and higher. It would be glorious.
The backstory, unknown to the party is that an elven prince cut his ties with his kingdom to back the dragon cult, in exchange for usurping his tyrannical father from the throne. He would use a hidden series of caves to gather the regional dragon cult and assault key locations within the area.
The party tracked a lone cultist on his way back to base. There was a cave entrance behind a waterfall in the forest and entered into the base with caution and trepidation. They navigated a tricky set of stairs toward the underground compound and were met with a series of elven guards, loyal to the prince. Not hiding their presence, the party was questioned at a distance. Having been around the dragon cult long enough, they responded “Hail Tiamat” followed by a dragon cult salute. The guards ignored them and went back to idle banter amongst themselves.
The party was free to walk the halls of the compound without confrontation. The Dragonborn was dressed in robes of the arch wizard, a random loot item that she tried her best to keep clean and untattered. When the cultists saw her, they recognized the robe for what it was and knew she was a person of high importance. Since most of these cultists were of low level, even in rank, they assumed she was a high ranking cult member. She was a Dragonborn, after all. The party confirmed the cult’s fears by stating they are here to check the progress of the cult in this region.
I am tense. I know this party wants to start hacking and slashing into glory, but they are now surrounded by scores of cultists. They do not know the stats of these minions and are now hesitant to draw blood. We’re all waiting to see who draws blood first.
The party beings an investigation of the cult. Who is in charge here? How many are here? What is the plan of attack? They are more than willing to answer, knowing that insubordination would mean death. A lieutenant offered the party an audience with the prince. He disabled the traps along the way, told other minions not to bother the party, and officially introduced the party to the prince in his private chambers.
The Prince was a regal man, surrounded by his finest elven furniture. There were silk bed sheets, an expensive desk, a large mirror, and an ornate chest sitting at the foot of the wood-framed bed. All the woodwork was hand-carved with intricate detail. Even the prince wore only the finest cloth, made by the finest tailors of his kingdom. There was a sense of cleanliness about the prince as well as if he refused the muck and dirt of this place to touch him.
The party eyed the chest. Not the characters, but my friends. They silently meta-gamed the situation. They knew this guy was the mini-boss of this session. The story McGuffin was located in this chest (where else would he keep it). They knew he wasn’t going to simply give it to him.
They could fight him. There were three of them versus the boss and his right-hand man, but they were unsure of the stats. There would be no clean getaway as they knew they have to fight their way out. Then there was the dragon. I didn’t tell them, but they know there is a dragon somewhere down here. There was always a dragon.
The Dragonborn begins to talk to the prince, almost as if to size him up. The prince believes that the cult had sent people to evaluate him. He dismisses his lieutenant as he does not want to be berated in front of the help should he not live up to expectations.
Good. Now the party is 3 versus 1, in a private place. I wait for the attack.
The Dragonborn was convinced the chest held the magical mask they’ve been looking for, but they been burned before. She had to make sure. She had to know if the mask was there or if it was moved, and where to find it.
The prince and Dragonborn sit and talk. Little things. Where he’s from. Who were his parents? She kept the conversation on him. He liked talking about himself and was proud of his heritage, so it was easy to keep the conversation going.
“What’s in that thing?” she asked pointing to the chest. The prince’s mouth hit the floor.
Actually, this was not the question she wanted to ask. The player was tired and had a moment of brain fog while trying to role play. She wanted to say “Sir, your furniture is exquisite and I cannot help to wonder what great items of wonderment might be held in this fine chest. Is it possible that you might open it and show what treasure you have inside?”
“What’s in that thing?” she asked pointed to the chest. My mouth hit the floor. She was doing so well up until this point, speaking with the type of grace and elegance that one might find in a conversation between lords at a royal ball.
She didn’t retract. She didn’t care at this point. My friends nearly screamed at me during this whole exchange “WHAT’S IN THE BOX!?”
“That…..Thing?!” The prince said, offended. That “Thing” was handed down from generation to generation made by the finest craftsmen ever known. He ranted its mint condition and flawless master crafted grooves and artistry.
The Dragonborn did not seem impressed. In all honesty, the character probably did not have an appreciation for the elven artisanship and it would take a bit more to impress her.
Infuriated, the prince went on to exclaim the beauty of the chest. The inner workings of the chest were made of the finest fabric, woven by the goddess of beauty herself, created by the spool of eternal thread. Only a few outside of the royal family ever saw the pattern work inside.
She was unimpressed with his review.
Outside of this, I rolled my dice. How angry was he? On a scale of 1 to 20, he was a 19. How wise was he? On a scale of 1 to 20, he was a 2.
He flipped the lid of the chest open to present the beauty inside.
The party heard a sharp click, followed by silence.
The prince paused, looked down, and saw a single dart protruding from his palm.
“I should have remembered that,” he soberly states.
I roll again. He fails his DC with a 1. I roll for damage. The rolls are nearly maxed.
The prince falls over dead.
The party was both surprised and not surprised at the same time. They figured that the chest was trapped, but never thought they would take out the boss this way. But to no one’s surprise, the mask was in another castle.
They called back the lieutenant. He was shocked to see the Prince was dead, but the stern look in the party’s eyes showed that the dragon cult was in no mood for failures. The rest of the cult was instructed to put the prince in the chest and deliver him back to his father. The whole cult.
Everyone at the table thought this would kill two birds with one stone, have the cult killed by the elves and they would distance themselves from the cult. The Horsemen had struck again.
Despite not having the hack and slash they wanted, this is one of the most memorable boss encounters they ever came across.