Thursday, December 18, 2014

How Death is a Good Thing

I have an evil party that I play with but they tend to be more like a traveling theatre troupe. They pretend and play at being evil because it serves their true purpose: acquiring money. If there were more money in being good they would do it. I can respect that. Who can’t? Gold is awesome.

My other group I DM for has tried to be very good most days. They kill villains who were truly evil, they help the innocent with only a little monetary incentive, and they are willing to listen to neutral characters rather than kill them outright.

But this Friday … something changed.

Their healer was a Cleric of Tyr, God of Justice. He’s been fairly grounded as a source of good and law in the party who will only take a life if they’re guilty of a crime. To evil, he is a target. Something that needs to be taken out in terms of story and roleplaying. Since he’s the party’s healer, he makes himself a target in terms of game mechanics as well.

By this latest game he has died 5 times and been brought back each time. I believe in permanent injuries and consequences for dying so after his fifth visit to the beyond he lost the ability to see into the color spectrum but he gained the ability to detect traces of magic. But I also think that shuffling off the mortal coil weakens your soul’s ability to resist darkness and temptation. That’s the sort of thing Evil Gods might take advantage of.

Scene: The party has just incited a loose alliance of dragon cults into an all out brawl. Blue, Red, and Black Dragon cultists are going insane. Kobolds are chanting “Tiamat! Tiamat! Tiamat!” and the blue dragonborn mercenaries they hired are trying to get everything under control. One of the young blue dragons under their command is trying to eliminate problems as they come and the party is trying to escape out a narrow canyon exit with fifty prisoners. The young dragon decides they are his target.

The dragon unleashes the full brunt of his lightning on the escaping prisoners and the cleric steps in to intervene. That’s when the cleric gets his right eye and the right half of his face eaten off. Who’s there in the afterlife to offer him a second chance? Bane, God of Tyranny. Not Tyr, God of Justice.

So now the party has an Evil Cleric Healer who considers the death of all dragons his end goal. His ideas clash beautifully with the Paladin of Bahamut, the Good Dragon God, who just wants to kill evil dragons.

None of this was planned. I could never have planned this. But sometimes you need to give players the option of turning their character into something bigger and badder. In real life, trauma and life-changing events can give us the need to reflect and reassess. Dying is a great opportunity to give a roleplayer the opportunity to try something new and different and a little bit crazy. Here’s my advice.

Offer players a way out of death - This is advice from Chris “my man-crush” Perkins. In his personal games he kills players constantly but he makes certain to do it out of realism and not out of spite. When he kills a player he speaks to that player about whether they want to role a new character or come back with some new trick or intrigue to throw into the party. I think it’s a wonderful system. Perhaps they have to make a deal with a devil to come back to life. If they truly were devout or died while sacrificing themselves then their God might grant them a boon and return them to the world with a mission. A fae creature or an elder god might intervene to gain the allegiance of a servant in the material plane.

Make death a regular occurrence - Your players are going to kill a lot of things in a D&D or other tabletop gaming campaign. Many players are only there for the thrill of combat. But if they think they’re invincible then they will become bored. It doesn’t help that a group of players can often outsmart and out-power a fully grown dragon. Make sure to kill a player when you have the chance. If zombies drop a character unconscious they are likely to begin eating them, not move on to the next potential snack. Bandits are only noble if they think they can sell a prisoner back to someone. Otherwise, they don’t need the hassle of prisoners. Monsters don’t need prisoners, either, they need food. Main villains should burn babies and eat villages … wait.

But make death matter - A player that dies and is brought back should have consequences. Whether that death was their fault or the party’s fault, there must be consequences for failure. A permanent injury, the loss of a magical item, a decrease in max hit points or an ability score, or any other action on your part that punishes the player without scolding them. For example, I like taking hands from Fighters, Paladins, and Barbarians and giving them magical replacements that aren’t quite right. It’s a punishment, it’s a roleplay opportunity, and it makes the game a bit more interesting. Magic-users should get something that tinkers with magic.

Sorry for two months of silence but life sometimes gets in the way.

And other times we’re just pretty lazy.

Papa Farmane

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