My character died, and it was epic!
I've been DM for many, many more D&D sessions than I've been a player and that's just fine by me. I really enjoy the experience of weaving a story with other people
Recently I've been expanding my horizons around Role Playing Games and what I think works for me at my table, and what I want to play/run. It's all John Wick's fault, he of AEG, Legend of the Five Rings and 7th Sea fame. You see John (to me at least) seems to be all about the story and the drama. When you read his articles, watch his videos or read the character creation and rules in 7th Sea it's a very different viewpoint to that espoused in vanilla D&D.
Now let me say right away, that I believe if you're having fun at your table, you should carry on having fun at your table. I'm definitely not saying this is right for everyone but it is right for me, at least right now.
Success is boring
Matthew Colville has said, "drama is tension... then resolution". (If you don't know who Matthew Colville is and you're ever considering running any RPG you should watch his series on Youtube, here's a link in the
Now vanilla D&D often protects the players from failure, and that system creates players who also try to protect their characters. If you do that, there's no drama because they're avoiding the tension.
I know that the uncertainty of rolling dice can create tension but it leads to another issue I'm feeling...
Dice-Death is stupid
Back to this weekend, and I'm making my character. As I start to build him I have some interesting ideas that I really liked and I had a moment of realisation.
My character might die.
I really didn't want him to die. At least not yet. The idea of spending all this time coming up with an interesting character only to have him die to an unlucky roll was horrifying. (Apologies now to any and all players who died in a game of mine in a way that was unsatisfying, I'm better now, I understand!).
What I really wanted was a story, and death that makes sense to the story is a Good Thing.
A Peaceful Barbarian
So here's what happened...
I created Theodore. No one was playing a barbarian, so I made Theodore a barbarian. Not a bare-chested, stupid, fighting machine, but a gentle giant of a man with a burning temper inside him. Theodore is a carpenter, it's a life that allows him to avoid stressful situations and that suits Theodore just fine because he doesn't like losing his temper - he knows his own strength. He's 33 years old, 6'4" and 240lbs. He does manual work, he's strong and he left his previous life behind because when he last lost his temper, someone died and Theodore feels terrible about it.
Straight away Theodore is failing. He's failing at being a barbarian because I decided he won't use his Rage (in case you don't know, rage is what makes barbarians cool, imagine a wizard who refused to use magic).
But, Theodore isn't in control of his rage. In fact, it sometimes controls him (failure). So I came up with a mechanic that I would use to represent that - his rage score. Every time he failed a dice roll, I add one to the rage score. If he takes damage, each point adds one to the rage score. Then, when he's in a stressful situation, before his action, I roll a d20. If it rolls over his rage score he's still in control, he's just a big guy with an axe. If it rolls under that score the red mist takes over and Theodore becomes a raging, uncontrolled beast.
I thought this made Theodore interesting. It definitely made him fun to play, making a little tally every time the dice went against him.
The adventure was a prequel. We'd already joked I was almost the only expendable character (we already know somehow Theodore doesn't make it to the main adventure).
He made it his personal task to look after the wizard, to watch his back, and off they went into the dungeon. It was all going pretty well, he grappled a guard instead of attacking (he didn't want to risk hurting someone unnecessarily), but that rage pool kept on
Theodore rushes to attack to the dwarves, his anger bubbles up and he's raging. Swinging left and right, two dwarves are smashed into the pool. Then, without warning, not one, not two but four reptilian heads burst through the surface of the pool and rear up on long, serpentine necks. Towering over the bridge, water cascading down. The remaining dwarves recognise a hydra and run for their lives. This is deadly. The hydra will easily devour everyone if they try to fight. Theodore, his rage consuming him, stands his ground. He yells and holds the hydra's attention while his comrades run back the way they came, shouting for him to follow. The hydra focusses all of its attention on this lone figure and attacks. Theodore, the adrenaline coursing through him takes hit after hit. He's not down, but the wounds cover his body and the blood makes the handle of his axe slick. The insignificant damage he inflicts barely gives the hydra reason to pause, but as it lunges again, time and again, Theodore's companions make it to the safety of the tunnel. They never saw his finally lifeless body torn between two of the hydra's heads.
Theodore found peace by sacrificing himself for his friends. This is not the end of the story, but it was the end of Theodore's story. He was never the hero, he was a sidekick.
I didn't have plans for Theodore to die that day, but it felt right that his story had an end. It was his failures that made him emotionally engaging, I cared about him. When my DM looked at me, rolled the dice and said "This is your moment..." it was goosebumps.
So... don't be afraid to fail. In fact, I would go so far as to say embrace it! Make it part of the experience, in fact, I would go so far as to say it is the experience!
Read stuff from John Wick and watch Matt Colville.
Also, GMs - if you're going to kill a character, at least make it epic and make it add to the story! Dice-death is stupid!