Monday, November 30, 2020

A Requiem for Lieres: Loving Character Death In D&D

Lieres drawn in Hero Forge & colourized
W/ Adobe Photoshop. Used in accordance
w/ The Hero Forge EULA. 

Setting the Scene

Last week while playing Low Fantasy Gaming with the World of Weirth crew, tragedy struck my thief, Lieres. He was attacked by a trio of grave rats: long, serpentine creatures with heads like a mole rat, and several sets of tentacles instead of legs. They wrapped themselves around his legs and began biting.

While the party mage managed to pull one off, and our dwarf crossbow-woman was able to severely wound another, I rolled a terrible fumble. Lieres, already rapidly running out of hit points, ran a sword through his own thigh. Given the rules we use for death and dismemberment that will leave him with a permanent limp. He fell unconscious.

Then, as he fell his lantern fell and broke, spilling flaming oil in a pool around him. The mage had to spend the round putting the fires out to keep him from burning to death. And while crossbow bolts were sailing overhead, the last remaining grave rat started tearing at his throat.

By some grim miracle, Lieres survived that, although it started rapid and catastrophic bleeding. By the time the other PCs reached him, he was on death's door. They dragged him back to a safe - seeming tomb a few rooms back in the dungeon, and sealed the door. Magic was unable to fix the shattered lantern, leaving the party under-supplied with torches.

The situation has left the party with a dilemma. They can't get Lieres back the way they came in, which was a series of tunnels that they had to crawl through. He will likely die in transport. They believe they are in a set of tunnels that connect to a dungeon that they have already explored. So, leaving a NPC Ally and the PC of a frequently absent player to guard him, the rest of the party must now rush to find an exit if they want to bring Lieres  out alive.

Lieres in a bad way, made w/ Hero Forge

Why I am Happy About This

Lieres, Visual Character Sheet
Made with Hero Forge and
Adobe Photoshop
Personally, I'm not hopeful for him. He will probably have to be retired one way or the other, because of his crippled limbs. A thief who can't run or sneak is no good to the party. In all likelihood, whilr the party tries to find a way out, some wandering monster will find its way in and finish the job. And if our remaining allies guarding him are smart, they will let it happen. that way, the rest party will be able to escape the way they came.

Obviously, this has got me thinking a lot about death in Dungeons & Dragons... And how I rather enjoy it. Lieres didn't take me long to roll up. His stats are abysmal, and I wrote a backstory that would justify them: He's a drug-addicted rich kid whose father locked him away in a sanatorium until he escaped, and now is on the run from manhunters while trying to make a living mixing and selling drugs and engaging inpPetty theft. Or he was, until he joined the D&D party. I've played him as a cocky, likable, but ultimately unreliable asshole of a character. I didn't expect him to live as long as he did, and I have become fond of him.

Being fond of a character is not the same as being emotionally invested in him in a meaningful manner. I don't think deep investment in a character is very useful.; They are a piece in a game. And, often their deaths serve a purpose: They give you a great story to share with fellow hobbyists.

Get a grip, Emo Kid!
(Image ©1984 Chick Publications) 

Many modern role playing games attempt to force story with mechanics. They frame role-playing games as games of telling a story. They aren't. They are Virtual Reality games that create a narrative, and at the end of that narrative you may come away with a worthwhile story to tell. But that story is incidental to the actual experience of play. 

A good death - or an ignominious one - makes for a far better story than any elaborate backstory you might have written. And possibly a better one than any dungeon master, however skilled, could have planned in advance.

I believe a good Dungeons & Dragons character death is one of the best possible parts of the game. But, you can only embrace it when you give up the notion that the dungeon master must craft a story. You embrace the randomness of the game, and realize that the story is what you get after you play it.

Lieres' death will probably rack me up a few beers, it certainly gave me something to talk about in a blog article. Whether he lives retire or gets eaten by a ghoul in that crypt, Lieres has earned his place in gaming Valhalla. He ended his adventuring career with a bang, and gave me stories to tell.

An in the 20-ish hours I have played him, he has always been good fun. 

ADDENDUM: Man, Hero-forge has come a long way. He is another piece I made with it to commemorate that same event.

Lieres survived, by the way: my fellow players moved Heaven and Earth to drag Lieres out of the dungeon and get him to a healer. He was a new man after that: he became loyal, and occasionally heroic in spite of himself. I am still playing him now, at about 140 hours with him as my main PC.

He's a battle-scarred folk hero and spy-master who runs an orphanage and finds himself the reluctant guardian of three chosen of an ancient prophecy.

Funny how that goes...

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