Monday, December 14, 2015

Two Stories With Regard to Killing People

Some people love save vs. death ray or be forever destroyed, and other people think it’s the dumbest crap.  And maybe I’m weird but I like all of it.

This post is about things I hate.

What do I hate? As a player, my #1 buzzkill is feeling like nothing you do matters. You were scripted to kill the Vampire when you started this campaign and no matter how badly you fuck it up, you’re going to kill the Vampire or I will turn this car around so fast. Removing agency from the player is essentially using your friends to stroke your ego—“Ooh, yes, I’m such a good dungeon master. Mmm, look at my nuance. You love three-act story structure, don’t you? Say it! Oh god, my adventure, it’s climaxing!” If I fuck up, I want to deal with the consequences. Hell, even if I try my best, I should still be able to fail.

Example: In a d20 Modern game, my gunslinger suggests to the party’s mage that we visit a lonely lighthouse during a thunderstorm. We know there are things out there that only emerge during stormy weather, and despite the fact that the other two PCs are engaged with researching how to kill a homicidal fire demon and can’t accompany us, we go anyway. We get ambushed. It’s a brilliant ambush, honestly – troglodytes attack our boat, capsize it, and drag us underwater to their lair. The mage can’t cast spells underwater, and my enchanted revolver can’t shoot with water-ruined bullets. We are so screwed.

Despite this, we manage to kill two troglodytes with boot knives and start swimming toward the surface, but we flub our rolls. We’re drowning. We fail more rolls, we suffocate, we die. The person playing the mage and I exhale, not realizing we were holding our breaths. What an awesome and dramatic way to go out!

Don't get me started.

But we don’t die. We wake up on the shore, inexplicably, with some vague MacGuffin quest psionically implanted in our brains. What the hell? I loved playing my gunslinger, but he died when I rolled a 1 on my Swim check and failed my Fortitude save. He should’ve been left in the water. Instead, I’m left feeling like none of this otherwise amazing session mattered. Is this a game or is the DM just using us to polish his novel?

Now, I hate to be too critical here, because the DM who ran this Modern game was one of the very best I’ve ever had and his games were, overall, really very wonderful, but even the best DMs mess up. Please, don't do this. Let your players die.

What’s my #1 buzzkill as a DM? Players who aren’t engaged with the other people at the table. I don’t really care if people are checking their phone or having side-conversations when they’re off camera—I mean, it’s not ideal but I’m not going to fight human nature. Even a player who is all like, “Ok, well, my character doesn’t give a fuck so I’m just gonna try to murder some pig farmers” can work out great, and honestly, I’ve loved DMing for those crazy Chaotic Evil bastards, but it doesn’t work if the rest of the party is Lawful Good. Likewise, a character that just wants to dungeon crawl and kill monsters in a subtle, Game of Thrones style adventure clearly didn’t pay attention while everyone was rolling characters.

Example: I’m running a Pathfinder campaign for a trio of Chaotic Evil players (not my current game). They’re having fun looting the ruins of a long-dead Cyclopean temple complex, fighting fungus-infested undead Cyclopses therein. A new player wants to join, and we all welcome him.

I explain, “So, the game is a sandbox pastiche: the heroes are chaotic evil criminals who have meddled with Incomprehensible Powers and are damned for it.  You’d be coming in as someone who isn’t part of their core group, and you’d be coming in during a dungeon crawl. It’s up to you to roleplay your way into their good graces. Are you OK with that?”

New Guy: “Yeah man, sure!”

Me: “OK. Because if you’re not OK with that, we can find a way to introduce you after they wrap their current adventure. The group has been fighting Cylcopses...”

New Guy: “Oh man, I love Cyclopses! I want to play a Cyclops! I’ll be a Cyclops hunting down the fungal Cyclopses in the ruins, and we can fight ‘em all off together.”

Me: “Uh… OK. Well, run it past the group.”

The Group: “We could really use a Cleric and we kind of kill Cyclopses on sight.”

New Guy: “Cool. Cyclops Fighter it is!”

Art by m0ai @ DeviantArt. If only this image had existed when I ran this adventure.

He spends forever on his Cyclops Fighter. Won’t ask for help. When he’s finally done, we all sit down to play, and I introduce his character at an organically convenient moment about 10 minutes into the game. He appears, bellows a challenge to the party’s Ranger and moments later they are fighting, and it’s kinda fun but also confusing because there’s zero context for who New Guy’s character is or what he’s doing here.

The Sorcerer asks, “Who are you? Why are you here!?”

New Guy: “Silence, coward! I will master you, and your pathetic race will bow to me!”

The Cyclops is totally losing the fight and the Sorcerer says, “Yield! Throw down your weapons, you cannot possibly defeat us!”

New Guy: “I will destroy you all!”

The Ranger has some sick rolls next round. A glorious, full-on murder spree of attacks all land on the Cyclops, and he goes from standing to dead.

New Guy: “What the fuck, dude? You killed me!?”

Cue awkward silence. New Guy was legit shocked at what had just occurred. I was shocked that he was shocked. Dumbstruck, I said, “Honestly, what did you think was going to happen?”

New Guy: “I’ve never had a character die before. I mean, that has legit never happened to me. Wow. Dude (to the Ranger), you’re an asshole.”

Lucky for us, the guy playing the Ranger actually was an asshole (<3 U PAUL), so he just laughed in the New Guy’s face and the rest of us kept playing. Needless to say, we didn’t game with the New Guy again. From time to time, however, I still reflect on this incident. I don’t know what I could have done differently. The New Guy eventually spoke to us again (we were all coworkers, so it’s not like we could really avoid each other) but he never really came to terms with his own role in his character’s untimely demise. Baffling.

No comments:

Post a Comment