So, I was DMing a table of mostly middle schoolers (one of them is my son), and very early into the campaign, the party bard was tired of how long it took to get across the city and asked me how much it costs to hire a wagon. According to the PHB, it costs 1 cp per mile to hire a coach. Being as they were tavern owners (this was Waterdeep: Dragon Heist) and had cash to spend, the bard threw 5 gold at him and said “Alright, buddy, you work for us now!” and thus, Greg the Cabbie was born. Greg was a simple commoner with a wagon and two horses to pull it, who drove the party everywhere and had an uncanny talent for (whenever I rolled for it) NEVER being caught by the city watch for his reckless driving! Please keep in mind that this NPC was created on the fly. And the party started wanting to know more about Greg. Greg had a wife and 8 kids. He typically made about a silver a day (standard wages for average joes), until the party hired him to be their personal transport as well as the advertising cab for the tavern. Keep in mind, they hired him on session 2. It’s 4 levels and many sessions later, and the party is heading to the final confrontation. The adventure calls for them to be stopped on the way by minions of the hidden bad guy, to steal the McGuffin they needed to get into the confrontation. The party consisted of a human (that was short and thought he was a dwarf), dragonborn sorcerer, an elven wizard, elven rogue, halfling rogue, elven cleric, elven rogue, and an elven ranger.
So, they were in the wagon. And fanned out in front of them were 8 (in human form) wererats who were standing in near profile with hands below cloaks or behind them. I showed them how they were standing in front of them. The party was trying to talk them down while the bard was whispering into Greg’s ear to bolt and run them down when he gives the signal, which is yelling “FOR GLORY!!”
It is at this point that the wererats are going to act.
I have the song “O Fortuna” playing.
I have been planning this for weeks.
I know when the music crescendos
I am setting out minis and the board.
The cleric tells me he gives the signal to Greg the Cabbie.
And right before the music crescendos, I describe them as the wererats all pull out hand crossbows. As the music finishes building, I describe as the wererats shoot Greg (in serious detail), who death grips the reins of the horses, and the horses rear, and then are cut down by the remaining crossbow bolts. As I go on and on, I watch as each of these kids sit, eyes wide, tears misting their eyes, mouths agape. As I go quiet, they scream, nearly in unison: “NOOOOOO!!! NOT GREG!!!”
The elven rogue’s player throws his d20 against my DM screen and says “ROLL FOR INITIATIVE! I’M KILLING ALL OF THEM!!”
Que epic battle which was absolutely awesome.
NONE OF THE KIDS CAN HEAR THAT SONG WITHOUT A FULL TRAUMA RESPONSE (maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration; they still talk about how awesome that twist was)!!
TL;DR – I as DM plan epic encounter and using music, kills a beloved NPC almost traumatizing a table of middle school players.
Epilogue: the party spent the money to raise him from the dead and apologized profusely. He works for them to this day.