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This is a long one, so buckle up….
For the past two years or so, I’ve played Dungeons and Dragons 5e with a group of awesome people every-other week. This game and world is home-brewed, meaning that our Dungeon Master has created the world and is crafting the events around us. He creates the non-player characters, the plot hooks, our enemies and companions.
And this week, my character betrayed the party.
When stepping into the world of D&D and Roleplaying games, a good rule of thumb is to make a character that plays well with others. You’ll find lots of horror stories of players playing evil characters and using it as an excuse to be awful to others. If you search for the phrase, “…But it’s what my character would do,” you’ll find many examples of what I’m talking about. Most showing it as an excuse to be awful, steal from other PCs, go off on their own, and just do really stupid things.
I am one of those, “but it’s what my character would do” people, BUT I try really hard to keep that in check and make sure everyone at the table is ok with what’s going on. I like to remain faithful to the characters I create, losing myself in the role-play while building a story with those around me.
So…*ahem*…. Yes, my character betrayed the party. She did this because it is what my character would do. But I also knew that the other players would be on board with what was happening because of the story it is building.
I will do my best to sum up two years of game play succinctly to share what I believe to be is an exception. Please bear with me while I give a little backstory…
There are these magical egg-shaped stones. They are powerful artifacts. Lerissa (my character, a Tiefling Bard – college of whispers) is a criminal and member of a crime organisation called The Wooden Coin, who’s last job (a heist) went pear-shaped when she and her crew were backstabbed by Maurice. The target of this heist was one of these “eggs.” Maurice took the egg, handed it off to someone (I found out this little gem of info only two sessions ago!), Lerissa discovered Maurice by himself in the forest.
Unfortunately, Maurice was violently transformed by a wild-magic surge into a dachshund (another PC in the game). Lerissa went on the run with Maurice, who didn’t remember anything and believes himself to have always been a dog. Since the heist, Lerissa laid-low and joined an adventuring party, while always searching for answers of what happened and who was behind the betrayal. In the party is an elven girl, Ophelia.
During our adventures, we have come into possession of two more of these “eggs.” Ophelia was experimenting with one, accidentally killed someone with it, and decided they were too dangerous for anyone to have. These artifacts also have a deep connection to her ancestors and home, which are very far away, (she’s on the run for her own reasons). So, these carry a deep sentimental value to Ophelia.
The rest of the party contains Arafirith (Tiefling, cleric) and Astromel (Firbolg, druid). Arafirith has become someone that Lerissa has confided in a bit about the heist, the desire for one of the eggs to give to her employer, because very powerful people would be after her or believe her to have betrayed them. The party made a decoy egg to try to swap out, but Lerissa didn’t think that would work. Astromel is about as true neutral as you get, and Lerissa has appreciated that he wouldn’t look twice at her past, although she wouldn’t necessarily put too much trust in him.
Here’s the party. I did all the illustrations and you can find my rates on our Shop page.
(I don’t think I mentioned that Ophelia is an artificer)
So that’s the sum-up. Here’s what happened…
The party was in The Twins, a sizeable city but just a pit-stop on their way to Dothia. They went to an Inn, shared drinks and were thankful for comfortable beds. The following day would start with a meeting (where they would be given a quest to find more “eggs” for a mysterious and powerful benefactor who knew we already had a couple… this will be important in a minute) and it would end with the party in Dothia! Lerissa had made arrangements to meet up with her mentor and superior in The Wooden Coin, but she couldn’t show up empty handed. Also travelling with the party was David. David was a member of Lerissa’s original crew and a terrible human being but someone Lerissa had worked with in the past. The rest of the party hated him.
Everyone retired to their rooms, and in the middle of the night, Lerissa made her move. Finding David in the hallway, and after a quick whispered exchange they were on the same page. David stood watch while Lerissa snuck into Ophelia’s room. I rolled a 10 on stealth. Ophelia got a 10 on perception. Ophelia peaked on eye open and saw Lerissa silhouetted in the door way.
Real image of my brain in that moment.
This is where that lovely little phrase comes in. I designed Lerissa as a talker, a liar and deceiver. She has +11 to deception and has been a compulsive liar since she was a child. Her job in the mob was a “face,” a manipulator of people and situations. She gathers information and uses it to her advantage. So this entire plan has been something that I’d been planning for awhile because it’s absolutely what my character would do. BUT I wanted it to be a lot smoother than this… but that’s the fun of TTRPGs. Sometimes, it can get messy.
Now, what comes next I did with absolutely certainty that Ophelia’s player would love every moment. Not everyone enjoys PvP, they don’t like having their characters manipulated, and that’s very, very, very fair. But both me and Feargus, the player, enjoy inter-PC drama and PvP when it makes sense narratively. I did these things because 1) it’s absolutely in the nature of Lerissa to use her words to manipulate and get exactly what she wants, to hell with everyone else and their feelings; and 2) I knew that those playing the game would enjoy where the story is headed from this exchange, (I will assume that, really, they could’ve seen this coming. Lerissa is shady as hell).
Back to the story…
Ophelia asked Lerissa why she was in the room. The Tiefling switched on a dime, “Oh, you’re awake… I was hoping you were. I’m concerned about tomorrow…” And so she explained her concern over the safety of the eggs. That they may not even be safe in the city. Maybe someone should stay away from the meeting in the morning, as the people there knew about the eggs and what if they took one? The decoy may not be enough. Ophelia agreed and thought she could stay away from the meeting, running errands in town. Lerissa pushed, and I used a feature of the College of Whispers that I had been sitting on for AGES. I’d been aching to use it, but hadn’t known I’d be using it in a PvP moment.
“Words of Terror” is the feature, and the caster sews paranoia and mistrust into seemingly innocent words, making the charmed person frightened of yourself or another creature for one hour. It takes 1 minute of private conversation… and Ophelia lost the save. She was paranoid. And she was paranoid enough to give Lerissa the bag of holding with both eggs (and all her other things) and told her that she should probably leave that night. To add insult to injury, Ophelia pressed how much she appreciated and trusted Lerissa, how important these eggs were to her heritage and who she was as a person. (OUCH) She ended the conversation with a hug, Lerissa smiled and hugged her back and said she understood, and left. Quickly gathered up David and Maurice and they LEFT to camp outside the city.
The morning came. Lerissa had left behind the bag of holding in her empty room and only took one egg. Housekeeping gave the bag of holding to a confused Ophelia, who no longer felt paranoid and scared. Arafirith was suspicious of what happened, based on her conversations with Lerissa in the past. Arafirith pressed that the party should skip the meeting and go after Lerissa and David.
Lerissa, meanwhile, woke up to find that David had stolen the egg from her bag(!) and took off a few hours before. She quickly gathered everything up, and Maurice, and they took off at a gallop north. It was a race to Dothia.
The session ended with Lerissa searching Dothia for David (hot on his heals) and the rest of the party arriving in the city as well. Then Ophelia’s trust completely dismantled and left with murderous intent, Arafirith searching for truth and answers and a heart to reconcile, and Astromel finally excited for an excuse to kill David.
All us players are eager to continue the story and see what happens. We are all separated now (save for Maurice being with Lerissa) and I genuinely would like to see Lerissa turn a new leaf and reconcile with the party. At this point, anything could happen. But I do have to admit that this type of story is not for the faint of heart. As a player, I was hit hard with guilt having betrayed the party. Ophelia’s naive trust completely taken advantage of, and then compounded by the importance of these artifacts to her, wasn’t lost on me as a player. I continually checked in during the game to make sure everyone was ok with this (really, I’ve check enough over the past year that I felt comfortable taking this step in the story). Before using Words of Terror on Ophelia, I said out-of-character before starting, “Ok, I’m only doing this because I know Feargus is loving this scene and what’s happening,” and he confirmed with an enthusiastic, “YEAH! This is great!” and I could hear him beaming (we just use voice chat in this game). So, I felt comfortable pushing forward.
So, yes, don’t play the character that works against the party. Don’t steal from other PCs. Don’t play a horrible person…. UNLESS you find a group you can do that with and make a compelling story out of it.
And before I end this, I do want to point out that I left the bag of holding behind with one egg so Lerissa didn’t steal everything from the party. She strictly took what she needed and wanted. Why? Because that’s what my character would do.