He Murdered Me

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Photo Credit: Simon Kelk

While pondering over a recent blog post that talked about killing characters in RPGs, I had a flashback to my childhood. My brother Michael and his friends were playing D&D in the basement (I was too young and annoying to join in). About an hour into the game, one of the kids comes up the stairs absolutely bawling.

As he’s getting on his jacket to leave, my shocked father asks him what’s wrong. “Michael murdered me,” he said.

My brother was a big kid. He had already demonstrated his physical dominance on one or two potential bullies on the schoolyard that year. To be sure, he’s always been a gentle guy, but he would not back down if someone took a swing at him. Anyway, my father ran downstairs, assuming that there had been a fight. He was ready to give my brother hell for beating up the smaller kid.

It turned out that the crying kid had got a couple of bad rolls and his D&D character had been killed by a dragon or something. He freaked out.

The players settled the matter by resurrecting the guy’s PC and all was well with the world once more. My father returned upstairs feeling confused and unimpressed that he’d missed five minutes of tennis on television for this silliness.

The moral here is that people do get very attached to their characters. It’s not just that it’s annoying to have to put together stats for a new Wild Card in the middle of the game if your first guy gets smoked by a Zombie or something. The guys who have been playing for a while tend to invest a bit of effort into building up a backstory. It’s not nice to have the story of your character end at a time that is not of your own choosing.

When I GM Savage Worlds, I tend to be pretty generous in terms of not killing my characters. For most of the game, the worst that will happen is they’ll get a limb or two amputated, or they’ll be incapacitated. That’s bad, but one must admit, better than permanent death.

I have killed characters, but only at a pivotal moment, right at the end of an adventure that I was pretty sure was going to be their last gasp with these Wild Cards anyway. Their deaths had meaning, in that they at least sacrificed themselves to complete the mission, kill a giant monster and save the kingdom; a heroic death, in other words — and not necessarily a permanent one, at that (I did leave open the possibility that the magic that destroyed them had actually teleported them to their next adventure).

Here’s a wrap-up of an adventure I sent to the players the day after their characters’ demise(?).

Monster’s Reign of Terror Ended
Heroes tragically die in magical explosion that killed beast
 
By Sigmund Dragonsbeard
 
KINGDOM OF NARV TRIBUNE – October 9, 578
 
A 300-foot invisible monster that terrorized villagers and gobbled up entire towns between the Tower of Narv and Starlight City was destroyed in a magical explosion yesterday. Witnesses say that the courageous band of heroes who fought the creature in its final moments were also killed in the blast.
 
“The Tarrasque’s plague upon our land is over,” King Narovlansky said in a late-night address to the kingdom. “We can never repay the debt we owe to the brave warriors who stopped the monster from devouring us all. Their sacrifice will live in legend forevermore.”
 
A scorched crater is all that remains of the spot just one kilometer outside of Starlight City where the monster was stopped. “We could not see the creature as it advanced upon us, but we could feel its hot, rancid breath from up above and see its footprints crushing the earth,” said Scarlet, a former soldier with the Black Hand who had improvised and led a desperate defense of the biggest city on the coast. “We knew our weapons would not be enough against the thing. Our forces were ready to die. But that is when the heroes arrived.”
 
Reports are conflicting, but many witnesses observed what they described as a “flying carriage” or “iron bird” descend upon the invisible beast and attack it with magical fire. Even after the Tarrasque managed to swat the vehicle from the air, the occupants kept up the fight. Eventually, the Tarrasque managed to break open the magical carriage.
 
“I couldn’t believe it when I saw who was inside,” Scarlet said. She identified the first two heroes as Oranic the Wizard and Klothar the Barbarian — the first two were adventurers who became famous for slaying the evil jellies of the mining towns and the Mind Flayers of the Underdark. The third, identified as Ramel the Cleric, had joined them more recently, helping them end a horrific insect-borne plague created by an evil wizard.
 
Witnesses say that Oranic the Wizard seemed to be casting some sort of spell on the Tarrasque when the explosion occurred. “Obviously, they did what they felt they had to do,”Scarlet said. “Sacrificing themselves to save the rest of us — Oh, Klothar. I mean, Oranic. I mean — I’m so upset.”
 
The king’s administrative represenatives would neither confirm nor deny that the magical vehicle the heroes used against the Tarrasque was Mordenkain’s Infernal Machine. “The Kingdom of Narv affirms its position that it will not be the first kingdom to introduce magical weapons of mass destruction to the region,” said a confidential source.
 
While citizens are unanimous in their appreciation at the end of the monster’s rampage, not everyone sees the ones who slew the monster as heroes. “Sure, I’m glad the monster is dead,” said Canute, former General of Starlight City, now exiled vampire living in an abandoned cemetery nearby. “Hey, even the undead have limits. Nobody likes giant invisible creatures that eat towns whole. But last time I saw those jerks, they tried to kill me. If I wasn’t a vampire, I’d be in the grave right now. I mean, if I wasn’t already in the grave. I lost my home, my position, my best friends, my dignity — to be honest, I’m glad they’re gone.”
 
The adventurers made an impression on local small businesswoman Zelda, the 400-year old, 2000-pound owner of the Magical Cowboy Ranch. “They all had so much love to give,” she said, a cup full of spittle dripping from her mouth. “Especially Ramel. Our time together was short, but after we got together, I was thinking about giving up the business and maybe retiring to the countryside with that pint-sized love muffin.”
 
Magical experts are still not sure what the spell was that stopped the Tarrasque. “Was it some new kind of arcane knowledge at work?” speculates Zanzibar Zebediah, a wizard who works at the main magical laboratory in Starlight City. “Are the rumors true about Mordenkain’s Infernal Machine being involved? What if the creature and those heroes weren’t destroyed, but transported to some other location or plane of existence? Can they come back? We may never know. There are a lot of unanswered questions that we may be dealing with for a long time.”
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