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In my latest adventure, the PCs didn't fare so well against the final villain (a necromancer), and now one of the PCs has been captured.

I hated to split the party in this way, but the only other alternative I could come up with on the fly was a TPK. Any suggestions on creative ways to handle a captured PC?

My ideas so far:

  • party rescues their friend in time (still unconscious)
  • party returns to find a necromantic ritual involving their ally in progress
  • party returns to find their ally already raised as undead (ally then fights against the party... possibly the party can figure out a way to reverse the ritual)

The party is quite battered already, so they'll need to take at least a few minutes to regroup. Any other ideas?

Update: the party consists of a fighter, rogue, mage and cleric. The cleric has been captured.

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If you give us more details about the party composition, we can tailor our answers to your party. –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Apr 5 '11 at 11:19
    
@Brian Updated. Thanks for the suggestion. –  wachunga Apr 5 '11 at 15:58

4 Answers 4

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Going from what you say, the party is about to take a short rest and then re-engage the bigbad.

The requirement is to engage the captured PC's character from the outset.

One trivial way of involving them in the upcoming battle is to have them, fully equipped, tied down to a ritual table. It's a skill challenge to release them before some slowly-moving necromantic death-trap... does its thing and makes the fight annoying. Given that the captured PC can participate in the skill challenge, there's no real threat if the lowering death-spikes are 5 rounds off... unless people start failing their rolls.

For some interesting being-captured scenarios, take a look at Stross' Laundry series. Absolutely fantastic novels. In most of the novels, when the protagonist is captured, he starts subverting the enemy networks from within. (To avoid spoilers, I won't go into detail.)

In this instance, given the same necromantic table. Instead of a death-trap, the requirements are to make the necromancer more interested in killing the party than CdGing the PC. However due to some miscalculation on the necromancer's part, the PC on the table can spend actions controlling undead minions. If you make it clear that the minions are allied with the PC on the table (and only with that PC) then you get an interesting 3-sided fight, the captured PC is participating by moving minions around and making skill checks to get free, and the necromancer has multiple goals and is generally having a bad hair day. Only when the PC fails the skill challenge does the necromancer seriously try to kill him.

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I like your suggestion of the captured PC gaining control over the minions, but what kind of miscalculation could lead to that? Some object of power nearby on the table? A flubbed ritual? –  wachunga Apr 6 '11 at 4:12
    
The table itself sends souls to power the undead. A competent cleric could, perhaps, use that link before his/her soul departs her body. Main thing would be the necromancer not doing enough research. –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Apr 6 '11 at 4:44

Another option, depending on player/schedule availability, is to arrange some solo play for the captured player in order to try to escape. The method of escape could tie in with the diety of the cleric. A nature priest could be visited by a mouse, rat, or other small animal who retrieves the key. A cleric of the god or goddess of knowledge may have the location of a weakened cell bar revealed in a dream. A combat-oriented cleric could simply get an opportunity to try and overpower their guard.

You could go for even more blatant acts of "divine intervention", should it fit your campaign. The player's diety could grant them a one-time spell that could bypass whatever magical restraints might be in place, or a minor extra-planar minion could be sent to free the cleric and then leave. If the party was defeated previously by the necromancer while at full strength, some divine assistance may very well be called for, as attempting to beat the same necromancer while short a player, now that the necromancer is alert and expecting them, will likely be even more difficult.

Once the player escapes, there can be additional solo play while the captured PC retrieves their equipment, and perhaps incidentally finding more information about the final villain that could provide what sounds like a much-needed advantage in the final battle (e.g. as the party begins to engage the necromancer, the missing PC bursts into the room shouting "watch out! There's a hidden pitfall filled with undead minions right in front of the altar!").

This keeps the captured PC from feeling like he's being punished by missing game-time due to being captured (a situation that may or may not be his fault), while building the feeling of heroic storyline.

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I would suggest dividing this into two adventures with two different goals:

  1. A personal adventure for the Cleric at some point wherein they get to save their soul. They speak with their God or something who gives them a test and effectively tries to resist what's happening with and to them. This is actually a really good opportunity for some RP or to strengthen that relationship or even get started down the path for a prestige class.

  2. An adventure for the party wherein they get to save the Cleric's body by getting through and past the Necromancer to get their friend; ideally the necromancer is doing some sort of ritual that will at least take some time. Offer them the opportunity to sneak in or maybe do some skill checks to figure out and locate the materials that the necromancer is going to need while s/he's preparing the body and steal them (go rogues!) to stall and buy time? The mage certainly can offer some insight into the situation to try and figure out how to strike when the ritual is at its weakest or know something that might help their situation.

The confrontation happening at the ritual is a really dramatic opportunity and it could very well be that the necromancer needs his/her most powerful servants present averse to guarding other stuff to help fuel it since the Cleric is so holy. Further it gives the PCs the chance to disrupt the ritual through fighting those minions or maybe through a skill check to get the minions to disrupt the ritual in smaller ways.

In this way you also break up the chances of the Cleric entirely losing their character; they might end up with this necromantic taint in their heart because they didn't resist well in their Cleric scene but the body was retrieved and there's a quest to fix themselves and become right again. They might end up with an undead body but they have a mind that's still pure and maybe make up a ritual to jump. It gives potential outs that still have pretty grave consequences (sorry for that pun) but it also builds more to do rather than ends plots.

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Give the captured PC an opportunity to sabotage things from the inside, so the player isn't entirely sidelined. Perhaps there are other NPCs that have also been captured, and the Necromancer needs a bunch of them to complete a ritual. There's actually a particular type of Warlock from PHB1 that gets a +1 bonus for every person killed in the previous round to an action on the next round, so it could be that the Necromancer needs to increase his effective roll by killing 15-20 people simultaneously to perform a seriously powerful ritual.

If the captured PC can incite a riot, that messes the ritual up, and if the other PCs can interfere with the ritual, rescuing them, it also stops it. Effectively what you've done then is created a situation where had nobody been captured, and the PCs had nearly beaten the Necromancer to the point that he runs, the Necromancer would have successfully completed the ritual without their interference.

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I like the "inside man" idea, but in this particular instance there are no other NPCs to work with. The odds are strongly against the captured PC, and he's currently unconscious. –  wachunga Apr 5 '11 at 16:06

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