Friday, June 17, 2011

Dealing with Character Death: The Stages of Grief

So here you are, your PC's have returned session after session battling and puzzling through your labyrinth; you have put them through trial after trial and they have made it to the final battle. The evil mindflayer they have been pursuing stands before them, and they stand exhausted, yet summon their courage once again to save the innocent peasants who have fallen to the flayers tentacle-y appendages. A fierce battle ensues! One of the PC's is grappled, he is one die roll away from having his brain eaten! You prepare to roll the d20, your PC stares with wide hopeful eyes, the die falls, you look down and....the mindflayer rolled a natural 20.

If you've DM'ed before you've probably been in this situation before. Approaching PC death is a largely personal process. Some DM's have no qualms about killing of their players, some even enjoy the process of trying to mow them down. I've played with several different types and I have had to deal with this situation myself many times.
I find their is a very fine line that must be walked between mercy and severity to make death feel like a very real possibility, yet keep the players desire for fun in mind.
Here are a couple things I consider when deciding whether or not the PC kicks the bucket, or if they live to fight another day:
1. Will the character death serve the story?
2. Did the death occur because of some direct choice or just plain bad luck?
3. Is there a way to save the character without suspending PC belief?
Some PC deaths occur because of boldly made role-playing choices, others are just strokes of plain bad luck. If a PC intentionally put themselves in danger to save a loved one/the party/the world and fate happens to roll against them I usually let the character die in a heroic blaze of glory. This type of consideration underlines the importance of character's values, it shows the PCs that character motivations matter, they have very real rewards and thus very real consequences.
The most important tool a DM has in this field is the deux ex machina. If artfully used, saving characters from the brink of death can make your game more believable, more incredible, and make the PC all the more connected to the character they portray. It honestly all comes down to story though. And as a good rule of thumb when dealing with character death, is to remember that story always trumps rules.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Looking for Group: Collegiate Misadventures

August last year, I was lovingly packing my dice and tomes into the back of my Corolla, excited with a little trepidation as I prepared to move my entire life to the strange and magical land of San Francisco. I had said farewell to the friends and groups I had seen every Sunday for the past year, taking comfort in the fact that a place as 'colorful' as San Francisco must have gamers galore. Somewhere in the city there would be strange esoteric game stores and crowded dorm rooms full of people just waiting to roll those dice!
I arrived in my new local and began to ask around officially 'LFG'. Days turned to weeks, weeks to months, and still I had not found anyone who knew/admitted to playing in a consistent game. By this point I had coerced all my new friends into learning the ways of the dice, was running some games here and there, but the gamers seemed to be hiding in some place I could not find.
Growing desperate, I frantically searched the college's online list of clubs and was met with success: a board gaming group that met every friday night from 5-midnight! This was the best lead I had found in months. My delicatele explanation to my friends that I would be unable to engage in the usual friday revelry, to instead play board games with strangers was met with laughter and puzzlement. But really I was desperate for people who dreamed of dragons as often as I did.
Bearing my bag of dice (just in case) and my box of 'Dominion' cards to use as a peace offering I strode boldly into the gaming club meeting room.
There were about twenty people all standing around in cluster, my eyes immediately went to the row of glowing laptop screens which displayed running World of Warcraft avatars. It took a couple seconds for the room to realize there was an intruder. Heads turned my way and I was met with the stunned stares of nineteen or so guys. The room was quiet for a small eternity before the talk of MMRPG's resumed. Feeling like an outsider I made my one to the only other girl in the entire room. Slightly awkward getting to know you conversation was made, as I was pointedly ignored by most people in the room.
I honestly couldn't believe how prevalent the 'oh my god there's girl in the gaming store' stereotype was being enforced.
She granted me access to a couple board games, where my questions about the rules were met with heavy sighs and eye rolls.
After about an hour of this the majority of the group left for a pizza run; frustrated and disappointed by this point, I hung around pretending to text as the people left stood around talking to each other. Suddenly clear as a bell I heard the words 'yeah 4thE clerics are so rigged'. I POUNCED.
Sweeping in suddenly with my knowledge of daily spell allotments and healing surge capacity: they were stunned. When I told them I was a DM they officially accepted me as one of there own. Talk of DC's and B.A.B's flew, the conversation turned to WOrld of Warcraft where my three years of dedication and name dropping of my level 80 hunter won me further respect.
I was relieved, I still had a place in this culture. Now that I could speak the native language, I quickly learned that a group of them had a game that they ran weekly, on top of that I learned that several of them were DM's as well.
My excitement diminished however as I began to speak more to these DM's. All of them were supporters of 4th Edition and relatively new to the scene. I dropped questions about 2nd edition, AD&D, and even 3.5, but I was met with blank stares.
The final blow came when one of the DM's was talking about the combat he was planning for next session, "They're totally not going to survive this time," he said with unbridled glee.
Call me picky, but I knew in my heart that I would not be happy with a place at this table. I love the story, the interactions, the politics, and fighting the good fight alright. But a killjoy DM? Players who were in love with finding the best ways to exploit the combat system? I was in a room of next generation gamers, and though I was probably the youngest person in the room, I suddenly felt very old.
The night drew to a close, I thanked everyone for the games, and walked out. Not sure if I would ever return.
Needless to say I gained a few insights that night, some pleasant, some not so. But I'm still on the quest for that rare and wonderful perfect group of gamers. Or if not, someone who gets excited when they see my tattered 2nd edition DM screen.


Sunday, June 12, 2011


I haven't posted on here in a year, college life and rebuilding my own world had temporarily taken me off the path of my tabletop life, but this fine summer day something kicked me back into high gear.
Reddit is an internet site where users can post funny/interesting/controversial internet pictures and other users can comment. Much to my surprise I find this on the second most popular page:

Reading the comments about strangers reaction to this all girl group I ran last summer has made me realize young female gamers, DM's in particular are still very much in need of a voice.
Get out you dice and let the diplomacy rolls commence :D