A few months back, in Vaults of Pahvelorn, my character Eriara’s apprentice died. It was really too bad, he’d shown a great deal of promise (took out an entire flock of pegasi)! but ultimately succumbed to one of the most ancient sources of character death: a large rolling stone. We weren’t even able to recover his hat.
I told the mighty Brendan that Eriara would like to search for a new apprentice. As she’s only 12 herself, I noted that I’d very much prefer a young apprentice. Someone who wouldn’t have any problems taking orders from a child. Brendan did some rolling, and informed me that the only hireling available was an 86 year old man.
I wasn’t upset or even really frustrated, mind you, but annoyed. I had gotten the exact opposite of what I wanted, and since magical healing in Pahvelorn has a small chance to age your character by 1 year, this 86 year old bastard may well die of old age. I understand that in this form of play, we give dice the power to tell us how the world exists. Sometimes it doesn’t exist in a way which is advantageous to us. I embrace that, but it doesn’t mean I’m always happy about what I get.
I took him, because he was the best I could get. I dubbed “Ginny Bo” because it sounded ridiculous and I wanted to make this imaginary person feel bad about being my only option. I didn’t train him as a magic user. I intended to use him merely as a torch bearer until we got back to our home town where I could search for a proper hireling. But then something started happening.
I don’t remember if it was Brendan, or I, or someone else who said it. But it was agreed that Ginny Bo had lived a long and boring life. That he regretted not being more adventurous in his youth. He had decided to jam all of the life he could manage into his last years. This was convenient for me, since I kinda wanted him to die. Using this as justification, I sent him into all manner of dangerous scrapes. And even though he was rarely effective, he somehow managed to end up alive at the end of every session. I began to inject more personality in the character for shits and giggles. Before I started to like him, the rest of the party already loved him. That proved infectious because soon enough, I loved him too.
His adventures at this point are too numerous to recount, but you’ll find hints of them in the ever-lengthening titles he’s given to himself: Ginny Bo of the Devil’s Helm. Wielder of the Black Sword Obynig, called “Butter Steel.” The Giantslayer. The sludgifier of the Great Worm.
All of that is my long, rambling way of leading up to my problem: morale checks. In OD&D, when a player character tells a hireling to do something which places them in particular danger, the GM makes a die roll to determine whether that hireling will obey, or flee. The mechanic is important, because it prevents the player from having a bunch of entirely expendable pawns they can order about without repercussions. But it doesn’t work for Ginny Bo.
The crazy things Ginny Bo does aren’t done because Eriara orders him to do them. He does these crazy things because he’s a glory hound eager to make his mark on the world before he dies. If he were ever to fail a morale check (which he hasn’t yet) and flee from danger, it would break the wonderful illusion of his character which has amused us all so very much. Yet as a GM myself, I wouldn’t ask Brendan to exempt Ginny Bo from the rules for role playing reasons. That’s just not how I like to play.
Fortunately, I came up with a better idea. Last week I got permission from Brendan to draft a random chart. One which will serve as an alternative to mere flight in the event that Ginny Bo ever does fail a morale check. The idea is that while Ginny Bo will never flee from danger, he might become so wrapped up in the adventure that he acts to the detriment of himself or the party.
Here is the chart, as I’ve drafted it. A 1d6 should be rolled in out-of-combat situations (such as dungeon exploration), whereas a 1d12 should be rolled in combat.
- Ginny Bo begins to monologue. He rants about his greatness and his achievements.
- He opens the nearest door and charges through it heedless of the danger, or charges deeper into the most dangerous looking part of the wilderness.
- He attempts an overly complicated maneuver and throws out his back. For the next 3 turns he can’t do much more than walk around and carry a few things.
- Ginny Bo realizes HE ought to be the party leader! He begins barking orders at the rest of the party. All of his ideas are terrible.
- Falls asleep, probably standing up. He is very old, you know.
- Regardless of any need for stealth, he shouts his name and attempts whatever task he was given recklessly. He will probably fail spectacularly.
- Ginny Bo drops his weapon and headbutts the nearest enemy. (Probably while wearing the Devil Helm).
- He puffs out his chest and taunts enemies. Possibly offering them a “free shot.”
- Attempts to perform a Karate-Kid style leg sweep. There is absolutely no power behind it, and he looks like quite a fool impotently kicking at his opponent’s legs.*
- Tries to twirl his weapons around in a fancy display of swordsmanship. Drops his weapon.
- Tosses aside any armor which can be easily removed and declares “I can take ye’ naked!”
- Attempts to tackle opponent and wrestle them on the floor. Regardless of the opponent’s size.
*This may or may not be based on an actual childhood experience.