In the many years I’ve been a devotee of role playing games, I’ve very rarely had a chance to be a player. For the most part that’s fine by me. What initially drew me to the game was the mystique of the GM. He or she is master of the entire world, knows what’s behind every door, understands the desires of every NPC. I like playing that role, which is why I’ve spent almost a year of my life writing about it. None the less there’s something to be said for being a player. GMs never get to experience the game’s most exciting moments in the same way the players do, largely because the GM never faces any real struggle within the game. The player characters might live or die, but the world that the GM embodies is eternal.
I’ve played in perhaps a half dozen campaigns, the majority of which have used D&D 3.5. The most notable among these is the Zalekios game, which has lasted for the better part of a decade, and which I’ve written about several times. Until recently, only one person had ever GMed for me. We’re old friends, and after all these years we’ve got a rhythm going which is always a lot of fun when we get a chance to play together. Much as I enjoy my friend’s games, though, I’m excited to finally have an opportunity to broaden my horizons in my fellow blogger Brendan‘s Vaults of Pahvelorn game. He’s a fantastic game master, and I’ve already learned a lot after seeing his GM style from a player’s perspective.
The other night was our second game session. We had a new member in our group, and returned to the vault to continue our dungeon delving. It was a damned lot of fun, but I won’t bore you with the details. If you’re interested our fighter has already taken care of the session recap, but I’ll skip straight to the important part. The party encountered a number of undead, and eventually came upon a necromancer controlling them. There was a lot of scary stuff on the battlefield, so I didn’t think it was right for me to stay completely out of danger. My party needed me. My character, Margo, hefted a sledgehammer he’d brought along with him. I thought it would be particularly effective against the skeletons. He took a swing, and missed. In retaliation, the skeleton punched Margo in the face.
And that’s how Margo Waggletongue, first level Magic User, met his untimely end. The skeleton’s mighty punch was just too much for Margo’s measly 3HP. And after I failed my saving throw against death, it was all over. The party mourned, and I was already rolling stats to promote Margo’s squire, Higgins. The game went on. And here’s the part I hinted at in the title of this post; my shameful confession:
This is the first time any character of mine has ever died.
How did I feel? I was disappointed and sad! Margo Waggletongue was an awesome character, and I had a lot of plans for him. Like my serious in-game goals of building a tower someday, filling it with books, and being the most educated wizard in all of Pahvelorn. If this setting ended up with any kind of longevity, I wanted future players to encounter Margo the Archmage, and learn spells like “Margo’s Black Disk,” “Margo’s Floating Tentacle,” or “Margo’s Flinging Roof Tiles!” I had a lot of fun character traits I wanted to work into the character as well, such as the fact that his robe was literally just a blanket, or that he was a virgin. But none of that will ever happen, because he was punched in the face by a skeleton, and died. God damn, it was awesome.
Honestly, it was. I’m sad that all of my plans were foiled before they could ever get off the ground, but more than that, I’m exhilarated to know from personal experience just how dangerous this game world is. True, no young magic user will ever shout “Margo’s Floating Tentacle!” in the heat of battle, but if my next character does achieve success on that scale, then that success will be all the more meaningful because I will know I was always just a skeleton punch away from complete failure. And as it turns out, my new character, Higgins Dreadgrin, has an even higher intelligence score than his former master did, so I may not need to scrapall of my plans just yet.
I’ve written before about the importance, and the fun, of character death. But when I did so, I wrote it as a GM. I was drawing on what I’ve read, and what I’ve observed, and what non-tabletop experiences I could draw conclusions from. And now I reaffirm that statement with player experience to back it up: character death is fun. The game would be diminished without it.
By the way: welcome to all my new readers from the Penny Arcade Report. There has been quite an influx of you, and I hope you like what you’ve seen and choose to stick around for awhile.