In my last Sertorius sessions (Here) the players killed a major villain, Goff-Tannerhauch (or Goff-Tan for short). I had high hopes for Goff-Tan, thinking he would survive their initial meeting and go on to bigger and better things. But it was not to be. Some of this I should have foreseen, some of it was unintentionally my own doing, but in the end, the players destroyed Goff-Tan with fire and suffocating spheres, so any hopes he had of an encore are pretty well dashed. In the past I have mentioned (Here) that I believe GMs should not protect villains, that good villains earn their place in the campaign (they don't arise artificially by being made immune to what the player's throw at them). This is exactly such a case, and the developments that grew out of it have taken the campaign in an exciting new direction. When you allow things to unfold naturally like that, it seems they generally lead to good places.
First some backstory and explanation. The party was tracking down stolen gold and their ally Pazzer-Unzi, and found both at the palatial tower of Goff-Tannerhauch. They knew very little about Goff-Tan but he seemed to control a nearby village and had a number of ogres and soldiers in his employ. They discovered that Pazzer had traded the gold to Goff-Tan for the promise of an army to wage war against the king. In an audience Goff-Tan basically admitted he had arranged the whole thing to catch Pazzer in the act of treachery and weaken the House of Bora (which the PCs are affiliated with). He also revealed that he was a Sertori but on the side of Gesara (a notorious Sertori hunter), then made them an offer to join with him to help them eradicate the other Sertori from Palus. So his move against Pazzer was simply an attempt to bolster the power of the Gesarians and to bring the player characters into her fold. The PCs asked for time to consider his offer and Goff-Tan granted this. However the party slipped away as they departed and found a secret entrance into a complex below Goff-Tan's tower. The complex was a Sertori prison and laboratory where Goff-Tan held spell casters in special cells and conducted experiments on them to produce magical objects with their body parts. The whole place was protected by Blood Cultists (non-Sertori who use Sertori blood to empower themselves with magic). The party stormed through the complex, freeing Sertori as they went and returned to the surface with them, to kill Goff-Tan.
I should point out, when I designed this scenario, I didn't imagine the party would free all of the Sertori (some of the Sertori were clearly dangerous and I thought the players would let those ones remain in their cells). It was also risky to keep opening cells and freeing prisoners because the complex was guarded. But the players pressed on. I also thought they would see this more as an intelligence gathering effort. In hindsight those were some foolish assumptions on my part. I should have foreseen the party would do what they did, and I should have understood the implications of a prison full of Sertori, recently experimented upon and now suddenly released. But I have to admit I was blind to the possibilities when I fleshed out the tower. I also inadvertently encouraged the players to take the course they did, without realizing what I had done.
At one point, they freed a group of particularly nasty Sertori. These were people held in a high security cell because they were so dangerous and war weathered. I was in character as one of these prisoners and my first thought was that this person, after months of being tortured below ground, would want nothing but immediate revenge, so he demanded that he be brought to the surface to kill Goff-Tan with his own hands. Again in my foolishness, I saw this as an obviously bad idea, since the party had no clue what resources Goff-Tan had (and he did have quite a bit of firepower in that tower). But the party was strongly in favor of helping him get revenge, and asked only that he wait so they could rescue more Sertori and increase their chances of success.
I should have seen all this coming, yet somehow I didn't. It should have occurred to me that the players being Sertori themselves, after walking through an underground dungeon filled with instruments of torture and visible signs of brutal experiments on their kind, would be rather pumped up for a fight with the man responsible. Even more foolish of me, I thought they might seriously entertain his proposal of working together to kill the other Sertori. Again, in hindsight these were all very bad assumptions to make.
The real kicker though was we ended the session right after the party had freed the last Sertori and was heading to the surface to kill Goff-Tan. When I reviewed the numbers, it was clear that the party vastly overpowered Goff-Tan. They had ten new Sertori in their party, for a total of 15. Goff-Tan had himself and his four children, who were all Sertori but only half suited for battle. He also had the Blood Cultists but the party had already killed most of them (at least the ones on the tower grounds). That left his ogres, his inner circle of acolytes and his soldiers. Soldiers would be useful at the start of combat but one well placed Sertori spell would take them out (and did take them out) in the first round).
Looking at all this, I went ahead the next session and let all the details stand. I could have improved things in Goff-Tan's favor I suppose by fudging the numbers, suddenly having a group of more Blood Cultists return to the tower or any other suspiciously convenient occurrences. But that wouldn't have been fair to the players. Doing stuff like that really bothers me. So even though a part of me didn't like where this was going, I decided to continue cleaving to my 'let the dice fall where they may' GMing philosophy. This proved interesting and beneficial to the campaign.
Not only did the players destroy Goff-Tan in two glorious rounds of combat, they handily defeated the rest of the residents and causes a blast of fire to tear through the second level of the tower in such a grand display that the villagers outside would have had to have seen it. This led to two key developments. First the people outside were awestruck and became Followers of the Sertori. Second, the party decided to form a council of Sertori from the tower and dethrone the current king.
The second one arose from a conflict that emerged in the wake of the victory. Before the game I had given some thought to how the different Sertori would react if they were victorious. Since a large number of them were the worst of the worst, actual criminals who had also been caught up in the Sertori purges, I decided there would be something vaguely reminiscent of the end of the first Black Adder Series when Prince Edmund assembles a team of the most evil men in the kingdom. In particular, I decided Belga would be a problem. Belga was a dwarf they rescued form the last cell. Belga had magical afflictions that caused him to believe he was a Gru king and so his first action was to position himself as the new Lord of the tower. Again, I assumed this would just result in another battle, but rather than confront Belga directly, the party parried his attempts and suggested the formation of a new council where they each had a vote. I was actually pretty impressed with their efforts here.
So now the villain is dead, moments after his initial appearance and the party has redirected the entire course of the campaign. Rather than see this as a bad thing or as interfering with the direction things had been moving, I think it is a huge improvement. Now the players have a real stake and investment in what happens, whereas before they had been going on errands for the King's brother because it was financially rewarding for them. I did not expect things to develop this way, but I am glad they did.