Monthly Archives: September 2016

Role-playing 201: Honouring the Dead

Character death. It’s a sad fact that player characters can (and depending on the system, will) die. My D&D group recently had to come to terms with the death of one of its characters, the first to die since we started 9 levels ago. Characters have left, sure, but not died.

But what do you do when a character dies? What CAN you do when a character dies? Besides rolling up a new one, obviously.

There are a few things that spring to mind, and undoubtedly you will think of others, so here are my thoughts on the subject.

The first is to write. Regular readers will know that I like to write and I am ashamed to say that writing an IC response as a vignette did not occur to me until after another member of my group posted one on the page we use to communicate.

The problem with this kind of writing, for a purpose, is that sometimes a character may not know how they feel about the situation. A piece of writing in this style is usually not spontaneous, it requires at least a little forethought about how the character feels and would react.

It is, however, incredibly cathartic and provides a lasting testament to the impact of the character upon the game.

The second is to use the death as character development for your own character. Maybe there was an aspect of the dead character that your character greatly admired. What better time for them to try and emulate it now, in honour of the deceased?

Sometimes this can bring about a whole shift in how a character acts and thinks, and that’s okay. The death of a friend is a powerful, transformative experience (as an example, look no further than the Major Arcana of the Tarot to see how long Death has been associated with change). Other times, it might mean the character learning something new, or adopting a new mannerism. They might also, as in the case of my KotOR playthrough, learn to use a new kind of weapon (I don’t recommend switching from using one lightsaber and picking all the bonuses for single blade usage to fighting with a double-bladed lightsaber towards the end of the game).

Honouring a character in this way shows their player how much you liked their character, as well as driving character development in a new direction.

The third option is the one I took. You can use the death of the character to change your own character. Now, I’m not saying that you should do this every time, or that it is right for the campaign. But my character couldn’t deal with the death (having lost her mother and killed several people over a short period of time) and decided the best thing she could do to stop things like this happening is return to her home and research the problem.

This has several benefits. The first is that the party now has an ally in a position of relative power and security, the second is that I can solve our lack of healing problem and the third is that (to me, at least) an adventuring career is incredibly stressful and not everyone is a murder-hobo, the benefit being that there is one person invested in the party that can maintain a level of respectability if it is needed.

As I said though, this shouldn’t be done every time. If you enjoy playing a rotating cast of characters, it’s one reason to swap out, but it isn’t the only reason.

So that’s my brief look at character death and how to deal with it. If you have any thoughts or comments, feel free to leave them below.

Bubbles / Ryan


Encounters for the Back Pocket: The Toll-bridge

Encounter type: Social

Suggested number of enemies: Varies

Encounter location: Toll-bridge

Ahead, you can see the toll-bridge. Two spires flank imposing gates situated at either end of the long stone structure. The bridge itself appears inhabited and you can make out small buildings erected along the length of its span. Below, the river rushes on its endless journey to the sea.

As you approach, you can see a large crowd has gathered in front of the nearest gates. Guards stand in front of them, weapons on show, and are preventing travellers from gaining access to the bridge.

Special Rules

The bridge is home to a market town that is currently undergoing a somewhat violent revolution. Many of the traders have grown to resent the Burgmeister’s tyrannical rule and ruthless taxation. The guards are attempting to keep people off the bridge until the fighting ends.

The revolution itself can last as long as you want it to, but the aim of the encounter is to highlight local politics and present the players with a choice; brave the long journey to the next bridge, or try and get onto this one somehow. If they manage to gain access to the market town, they should be encouraged to help resolve the revolution. They may not leave the bridge until the fighting has stopped and an all clear signal is sent to the guards from the Burgmeister’s tower.

The guards in the towers on either side of the gates are armed and alert but their stores will run out eventually.

Many of the houses are occupied, but a fair number are empty and looting hasn’t started yet.

Among the townsfolk, the players might find; the Burgmeister, the leader of the revolutionaries, a cartographer who was trapped on the bridge when the fighting started, a fisherman with access to a hidden dock at the base of one of the bridge supports and the wife of a dead revolutionary who is looking for partners to invest in her business.

Among the crowd, the players might find; a travelling noble looking for help with a problem on their lands, a priest in need of couriers for a holy relic, a pair of entertainers looking for protection, a young maiden who is far more than meets the eye and a hunter fleeing his lycanthropic pursuers.

Suggested Hooks

The party has a contact on the bridge they need to talk to.

The party must cross the bridge before a deadline is reached.

A member of the party has a family member in the crowd.

A member of the party grew up on the bridge and their home is being threatened.

The party has recently been granted land whose profitability depends upon the bridge remaining open.

Torvak: A Long Walk

Apologies for the late post, life happened.


Bubbles / Ryan

He bade farewell to the Halflings and their Dragonborn protector. The storm had passed hours ago and he needed to make up lost ground if he was to make it to the Clansmeet in time. When the Skymother had sent him into the low-lands to heal the needy, he hadn’t expected to grow accustomed to their way of doing things, but it was strange to him to be returning to his own people.

As a Goliath, certain things were expected of Torvak Drantil-Agasto at the Clansmeet. His brother, the Spiritspeaker, would be shouldering most of the burdens of being their tribe’s representative, but he was still expected to honour his people’s ways and take part in their contests of strength and worth. He wasn’t looking forwards to them, the injuries and uncommon deaths that resulted from the contests were needless to his way of thinking.

He was aware that, as a worshipper of the Skymother, he was automatically treated as an outcast. Many Goliath were like his brother and worshipped the spirits of the mountain air and the storms that blazed through their homelands with shocking regularity. The rare few Goliath who worshipped their ancestral gods were treated with great respect, but were also seen as Other. Organised religion had little place in Goliath meritocratic society.

He sighed as his long legs carried him swiftly towards the distant foothills. His brother had arranged to meet him in the village of Flint, a tiny hub of trade barely larger than a hamlet. He knew the road well from studying the maps before he left, but hurried nonetheless.

This far from Scour, there were dangers that would threaten even a lone Goliath. The shield on his back clinked against his armour and he tightened his grip on his spear. Rays of golden sun played over the windswept ground of the uplands as he climbed, covering everything in a layer of peace and security that he expected to shatter at any second.

The air grew chill as the day wore on and he began to relax as the cloying warmth of the coast left his bones. He was used to much colder air and began thinking of his youth, before he had left the Icewound Peaks.

Before his faith, before his powers, Torvak had been like any other Goliath. He had constantly struggled against any challenges he could find in order to prove himself. He had earned his nickname, ‘Stonefist’, when he had bested a young drake with only a rock in one hand. It had been no more than a hatchling, but the tribe had celebrated his deeds and the name had remained with him ever since.

It had been only weeks later, when his father lay broken at the foot of the cliffs that surrounded his home, that the Skymother had come to him. In a flash of lightning, he had healed his father’s grievous wounds and had found his purpose in life. The Skymother spoke to him that day, telling him to leave his clan behind, to leave his tribe, and to journey into the lowlands where they would have great need of the powers she had given him.

He had left immediately, saying farewell to his brother and his parents at the edge of their tribe’s territory. He had been escorted through the rest of the clan’s land by his childhood friends before leaving the Icewound Peaks as the sun dipped below the horizon. He had felt a warm feeling of reassurance fill him as the Skymother promised she would reward his faith.

Over the years he spent travelling the lowlands and ending the suffering of those in need, she had appeared to him many times. A beautiful woman of indeterminate age and radiating awe-inspiring power, she told him where to go and who would benefit the most from his skills. She taught him secrets no Goliath had ever known and assured him that when the time was right, he would know her plans for him.

As he gave more of himself to her, she allowed him to use more of her power and gradually he began to understand where he fit in with the wide, wide world outside of the Icewound Peaks. If it was his fate to wander the land and bring hope to the hopeless, to bring peace to the suffering and to remain an outcast from his people, then that is what he would do.

As the years bled together and stretched into decades, he slowly came to terms with his itinerant lifestyle. He had never been a social person and he found that it was easier to move on after offering what aid he could. He quickly developed a reputation as a strange, but powerful healer that spread before him. He found villages that came out to greet him en masse, forming processions to ask for his help.

He did what he could before moving on, the villagers providing him with food and services as thanks. In time, he took an apprentice, another Goliath that had been called from the mountains. He had not seen Garvas in years but trusted the young woman was safe.

It was the Skymother who told him to prepare for the Clansmeet. She came to him in a dream and bade him to prepare to return to his people once more, for they had need of him. He had not been surprised when the young roc found him a week later, the Goliath on its back calling him back to the Icewound Peaks.

He had left immediately, taking the long route around the port city of Scour and heading for the Cinder Pass where he knew he would find a path further into the mountains that would lead to Flint.

Ahead, he could see the forbidding outlines of the gatehouse in the Pass itself. Between the tall wooden gates, he could see a long twisting line of colour, no doubt one of the caravans that regularly travelled the route between the Fire Keep and Scour. He sighed and kept moving forwards, trusting to the Skymother to guide him.

Why I Roleplay

As a hobby, role-playing is weird. You sit around for a few hours (or more), rolling moulded plastic (in most cases) and share in a group hallucination whilst playing make-believe. The best part, of course, is that at least one member of the group has spent  a large amount of money on the rules to constrain this hallucination and has also invested a lot of time into making sure that everyone enjoys it.

Seen in that light, it is almost possible to understand the moral panic surrounding the hobby when it first developed. Almost.

So, with that in mind, why would anyone want to do it?

I can’t speak for everyone. I can’t even speak for my gaming group. All I can do is explain why I do it and hope that helps you gain insight into the hobby, or helps you consider it in a different manner.

Way back, when I was just a little nerdlet, I enjoyed (and still do enjoy) wargaming. Now, I’m not claiming to be good at it. My grasp of strategy and tactics is… loose at best. My interest was in telling the stories of battle-hardened soldiers as they fought to eke out an existence in the far future, or in an alternate past.

A few months into the hobby, I threw strategy out the window and began to play in a more cinematic style. Flanking manoeuvres were dispensed with. Large sweeping moves with most of my forces to distract from a smaller element went the same way. In their place, the rule of cool reigned supreme. If I thought it would look amazing on the tabletop or in my head, I did it. It met with limited success but I’m happy to say my opponents always enjoyed the game. At least, I was never told otherwise.

Now, as is my wont, I began to write fiction about the games I played. Naming my units, expanding my collection thematically, rather than tactically and I fell down the rabbit hole of published, licensed fiction. This led to, somehow, the topic coming up with my then school librarian who had a few books from the publisher about the game and wasn’t sure if they were suitable to be put on the library shelves.

As any responsible pupil would do, I volunteered to sacrifice my free time and devou- err, read the books and say whether or not they were suitable. Among said books were several source books for a role-playing game based on the wargame’s universe. When I told the librarian they were useless without the rulebook, I was told I could keep them so I took them home and kept my eyes open for the rulebook in the local shops.

A few weeks later, whilst out with family, I found it and it was bought as a gift for me. I read that book in a matter of days and approached the friend I regularly wargamed with. He was amenable to the idea of at least trying the game and we played a few sessions before the pressures of A-Levels and university preparation began to erode our gaming time. Stupid Life.

As we left for separate universities, I thought that was that. I’m painfully shy and had just been diagnosed with a neurological disability that made me even shyer (that article is still coming, I swear) so I thought I would find it difficult to find someone else to wargame with, let alone try role-playing again. Shows you what I know.

Fresher’s Fayre rolled around a few days after I moved into my Halls of Residence for first year and there was a society that was involved with both role-playing and wargaming. I figured I’d join and go along to few meetings and events to see how things went.

The first actual meeting of the year, after a meet and greet event, I remember walking up to this large group of people clustered around some tables in a pub and woman moved slightly to let me sit down.

It’s kind of a blur after that. That woman, and several other members of the society, are my closest friends (emotionally, not physically, alas), I was on the executive committee for two years and, more importantly, I fell in love with my hobby. At first, it was just as a player but when the university won a gaming championship and it fell to our shoulders to host the next one, I GMed properly for the first time and was hooked.

Wargaming was something I did for fun but it wasn’t until I went to university and found out about the breadth of the role-playing hobby that I realised it was a hobby I wanted to continue for the rest of my life. I’m a lapsed wargamer and have only recently returned to the hobby but role-playing is something I’ve kept up for the past (nearly) 6 years. Through deadlines, moving away from my gaming group, the illness of family members and the other hundreds of little problems that life and mental health issues have thrown in my way, role-playing has always helped and been an outlet.

You may have guessed something along those lines from the existence of this website.

But, to bring this autobiography back to the point of the article, I role-play for a very simple reason; I’m a story-teller. I’ve always written creatively to relax and, as stated previously, my attitude to wargames is one of favouring the cool over the good. It didn’t come as much of a surprise to me that when I began to try role-playing with people who knew what they were doing, I fell in love with this method of telling stories.

It’s why my characters are always flawed, why I post so much role-playing related fiction (whether as vignettes or in the form of my Atlas Inspirare/The World and its People series) and ultimately why I log into a VOiP program nearly every week and pretend to be someone I’m not. I’ve told some truly wondrous stories, had some amazing experiences and met some of the best people you could ever hope to meet through my hobby.

I know that there are loads of different reasons people have to play role-playing games, each as equally valid as my own. But for me, the reason I keep coming back to the digital table over and over again, are the stories we tell.

At the end of the day, it is the stories I have told that have lead me to where I am now. It is the stories that I have told that have given me so many good people that  I know I can call upon in times of need.

It is stories that bring us all together.

Bubbles / Ryan