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Should I have let an away from table pc die? Tomb of Annihilation spoilers

Context: I am currently running Tomb of Annihilation and my players are currently going through chapter 4: Fane of the night serpent. The party currently has 6 puzzle cubes, the wizards of thay have 2 and Raz has 1. The players struck a deal with Zigmara and were following her infiltration plan. 3 of my player went in as slaves with one NPC, and 2 of my players went in as fake Purebloods along with 2 others NPC’s. Here’s what went wrong: 1. I have a total of 7 players, but normally only 5 can play a week. (My in-game explanation is some stay behind to protect cubes) Unfortunately my two players who are more leveled headed decision makers were away, in perhaps the portion the campaign that requires the most level headed decision making. 2. I allowed the fake prisoners to disguise one handed weapons and have faulty manacles with some good deception checks and illusion spells. (I think you can guess where this is going). 3. My trickster rogue followed in by being invisible. With that setup, my party managed to succeed in infiltrating the Fane of the night serpent. However, things went downhill rapidly. The party divided into two groups, the disguised purebloods went to the Harem to meet with the Red wizards of thay’s inside informant, while the prisoners were sent into the equivalent of a prison cell. My intention was for the disguised yuan-ti players to learn of the layout, learn of the Hydra, and where Raz might keep the puzzle cube, while the prisoners go through the handbooks spymaster storyline. However, that’s not exactly what happened. Just as my disguised players began to talk with the informant, my other players began to launch their prison break. I have a paladin who’s character refuses to fight natural humanoids (humans, dwarves, elves, etc). But hates abominations like the yuan-ti. After going through the blood sacrifice room, and into the prison room, his character was slightly enraged. My invisible rogue then decided to pull the lever that opened the portcullis that held her friends. Paladin comes out axe swinging into the ritual room.

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Now, if you’ve ever played tomb of annihilation you probably know exactly what went wrong here. The alter in this room has chanting skulls that give yuan-ti resistance to physical attacks. It’s covered in yuan-ti Broodbloods and a few malisons, has three priests in the room just above, and the high priestess in a room to the left. The rogue steps out of invisibility to stab a yuan-ti on the left side of the room. At this point my other players are in the middle of a conversation about 300ft away. So I have a rogue, half-armed paladin, a Druid and an unarmed NPC against a horde of buffed Yuan-ti. The only fortunate thing is that the Paladin is in a doorway where he can protect the Druid, and only deals with three attackers at a time. The rogue however is stranded on the left side of the room. A couple of rounds pass, and due to time constraints the session ends in the middle of the battle, with the rogue surrounded on the left side (which included the high priestess). Fortunately this gave me time to figure out a clever way to get this all back on track.

Next week rolls around and I have 6 players (although one could only play for an hour, and one had to be an hour late). The one player who could not attend was the rogue. No biggie, as that didn’t really interfere with my plan. I create a plan for the other two players to rejoin the party, and continue the battle from where we left off. At this point the rogue is already almost dead, and is mainly surrounded. I have the high priestess drop the rogue unconscious with a constrict attack. Now, for those who don’t know, the high priestess Fenthaza is the former leader of the Fane before Raz (the current leader) and is planning to overthrow him if the opportunity strikes. A potential storyline was for Fenthaza to use the players to help accomplish this goal. With this in mind I had her scoot up while holding the rogue. She then told the party to drop their weapons or she would kill the rogue.

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Naturally, I presumed the players might take the hint and comply, and we’d just move on with the Fenthaza storyline version of Chapter 4.

Oh boy, was I wrong. The paladin just smites another yuan-ti broodguard, and the Druid shoots an ice knife at a group of yuan-ti. None of them even trying to free the rogue. At that point I just kill the rogue. The high priestess drags the scimitar across the chest of the rogue and discards her.

The other half of the party managed to figure out what was going on and came to help before the paladin died, and drove the high priestess into another room. We ended with the party having a brief moment out of combat, but the rogue at this point is dead. And because it’s tomb of Annihilation, there are no revives.

I feel a little bad here. I have killed off numerous player characters in my time as a DM, but I’ve never done it when the character’s player was away from the table. I mainly justified it because the player already made the poor decision that lead to her getting surrounded, but I still feel like most players should get to experience their characters final moments. Or have the opportunity to find a clever idea to get themselves out of trouble. I also felt bad because this campaign was her first experience with d&d. The Druid and Paladin also got away with making the decision without too much punishment. (I think I might use the scene as nightmare fuel when they get to chapter 5 and deal with the ethereal night hags).

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I don’t think I’ll penalize the death and let the new character come in around the same skill as the dead one. But I’m curious what some other experienced DM’s would have done in this situation? Would you have let the rogue die? Or find a different solution to the problem?

I’m also brainstorming some ideas on a guns blazing variation of chapter 4, as by RAW it seems to require them fighting both Raz and the Hydra at the same time given how they’ve approached this… which I’m uncertain if they’ll win. ToA DM’s, have you ever had a party murderhobo chapter 4?

Source: reddit.com

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