So you’re about to die vs. So your Player is about to die
Sometimes it happens. Sometimes the dice just aren’t in your favour. Sometimes the fact that flesh golem’s really like electricity comes back to you seconds after casting lightning bolt, and now it’s his turn, and he’s pissed, and you’re not only on one hit point but stood close enough to smell the fungus under his toenails…
So you’re about to die
Sometimes when playing D&D, you’re going to die. There’s no way around it and, quite frankly, would you want there to be? You have put hours of planning into your character and weeks or even years levelling them and cultivating their nuances. You’ve defeated that pesky personal villain from your elaborate backstory. You’ve handled dragons and illithids and more. But now, your time has come. And that’s what makes the game great; the fact that there is still risk involved. Otherwise, it would be boring. You need boundaries, and things you can’t do to counterbalance all of the cosmic powers that you have harnessed. And the greatest boundary is death itself.
The fact that you don’t want to die is a good thing, of course. You’re engaged with the story and the character and the world and your friends. That’s the beauty of D&D; the fun of it. But when the grim reaper does finally hold out his hand and you take your first steps on to the eternal dancefloor, maybe try to enjoy it. This is your character’s moment. This single act is probably going to turn your comrades into avenging spirits of doom for whatever caused your demise and, years from now, you’ll still be talking about it. Doesn’t that sound awesome?
Of course, some times the dice fall wrong and your character is going to meet their maker by rolling a Nat 1 and tripping over a rug, falling face-first into the old witch’s knitting needle. That sucks. Hard. But most times, when you shuffle off this mortal coil, it’s in the most blaze of glory, back to the wall, awesome sauce way. And that’s a helluva way to go.
(When anyone dies, this is what we play. You’re welcome)
I’m not suggesting that you define your D&D career by whipping through as many epic deaths as possible, of course. But in that moment, when you fail your last death save and your heart sinks, embrace it. The T-800 went thumb-last into the molten metal, Boromir became a human pincushion to save the hobbitses, and Vasquez played hot potato with a grenade for the sake of the other marines. That can be you. And your fellow Players will love you for it.
Remember, when you reroll your next character and meet those old comrades on some backwater road, to ask them about the companion they’re mourning. Not only is it a great RP opportunity for you all, and the perfect way to introduce your new character, but it might give you a little boost to hear what the characters would say about you if they’d had the chance.
So your Player is about to die
I had this problem last week. I say problem because it’s honestly the first time that a Player Character has actually died on me. They’ve always been so good at avoiding that fateful moment. Someone has always had one last potion squirreled away, or they’ve taken the initiative to get the hell out while there was still time. But it was bound to happen eventually, and it has.
In my Avast! campaign, the players were sailing the Grey Vale (the sea of clouds between life and death) in order to finally polish off the undead pirate that had been a thorn in their collective flanks since the first game. Enter a random encounter. The spectres of sailors wandering this foggy limbo began to coalesce on the ship’s deck, seemingly drawn to it by distant memories. What they found was a very alive crew already there. They didn’t like it. Those ghosts decided that the best way to get rid of my PCs was to drag them from the ship. Thus began a skill challenge to polish off the spectres before the PCs were dropped off the ship into…nothing.
This was going well, except for one Player who got into melee purely by accident and was wailed on by the spectre. 0hp. The spectre now dragged his unresisting body toward the edge of the ship…which was only a few feet away.
The session ended with Edwin the Gunslinger dangling precariously over the ship’s side. However, in between, I had a word with Stuart (Edwin’s Player). He was going to die. Next game, it was the ghost’s turn next. Edwin was unresisting and the other players were too far away to save him. But I had an idea. What happens to someone who dies where no living thing is supposed to go? Maybe they can’t truly die. And so (long story short) Edwin fell from the ship, the crew mourned his passing and, in the middle of the Boss Fight with the Lich Pirate Elias Drake, Edwin came back. With his team mates on the ropes, he coalesced out of the fog. His physical body was gone, but now he was a creature of the mists, and fought well to actually take the final blow to Elias Drake. It couldn’t have worked out better.
But what of Edwin? Well, it appears the rules of life and death were broken. He should have never been in the Grey Vale, never mind die there. And so he used the Lich’s Netherbane Grimoire to make himself a Soul Anchor so that he could return to the material plane. The gold coin that he chose can never leave contact with his body, or else he turns to mist and disappears back to the Grey Vale, and will be lost. But, for now, he can misty step at will (much like the Monk’s Shadow Step feature) and cast Fog Cloud once a day.
Ok, so I misled you. I still technically haven’t had a PC die. But the opportunity for awesome was too much to pass up. Sometimes, death isn’t the end. Sometimes it is. But in those cases, giving your players the opportunity to save their friend can be a good idea, even if they don’t succeed. If Edwin hadn’t come back, then I would have let them look for him. Maybe he would have been found surrounded by warm white light, maybe by demons with gnashing teeth, and maybe the team wouldn’t have been ready to find him just yet, but maybe one day they would. By then, would Edwin be half demon himself and become the new villain? Stuart could have been playing a new character for a while by then and have to face off with his old self.
My point, is that death for your PCs might suck, but it can also be a huge opportunity. Edwin’s mist-walker abilities are cool, but they have a serious downside that he now needs to consider for the rest of his existence. The plot thickens…
Thanks for reading, folks! Next time we’ll be talking about…I have no idea. But there’s a lot more awesome gaming to happen between now and then so I’m sure it’ll be fine :).
Craig Hallam is an uber-geek and author of Speculative Fiction from Yorkshire, UK
Find him at www.facebook.com/craighallamauthor or on twitter @craighallam84