We were sitting around talking shite about gaming last night in Anthony’s library last night. It was lovely.
I was reminded of my first forays into D&D 3.0.
Picked up the books way back in 1999 or so at The Yellow Submarine, an amazing game store in Tokyo. I hadn’t gamed at all that year, which is a shame. Honestly, I was in a foreign country for the first time and getting to the English speaking game club would take me over an hour each way. It was time to do new things, I decided.
But the pining for gaming was there and when I got back the guys in Jersey and I got together and we gamed. There were four characters, a fighter, a rogue, a cleric and a paladin. The characters felt like they were representing some kind of thematic something-or-other…something about steel and cunning vs. faith and piety.
The characters were 1st level and some kind of werewolf was loose in the city, causing the local packs of feral dogs to attack folks. The players were checking it out.
Its all a blur after that until the last scene.
The Paladin and the Cleric were unconscious, ravaged by feral dogs, their life’s blood spilling on the cobblestones. Rob’s thief was wading his way through rabid dogs clogging the hexes between him and the other characters, trying to heroically stop their bleeding. He needed to kill the dog and it was possible with a solid shot.
The dog attacked and got him but good. Maybe the dog tripped him too? I don’t recall but it was clear that the Rogue was not going to get there in time. The characters were going to perish. And they did.
Pete, who was playing one of the holy folk, said, “I’m going to go home and tell me my wife we won!”
It was a joke and we laughed but there was something bitter about it, something that didn’t sit right.
And I wouldn’t change that decision. It is quite possible that the encounter was poorly designed. D&D encounter design, particularly for 3.x was never a strong suit of mine.
That Cleric could have become the prophet of his era, bringing his deity’s word to everyone in that world and beyond. That Paladin could have ended up being the right hand of god. Instead they were ravaged by feral dogs.
This brings us to the coming game this Sunday. The players freed Graz’zt not only because it was outside-the-box thinking that I explicitly said they would need if they were going to take down a dragon but they did it because they knew I’d love GMing it and that they’d enjoy playing with the Demon Prince in the party for a while. They knew it was nigh-suicidal and dangerous. They did it anyway.
And here we are.
One breath from the dragon could kill them both as dead as our Worshipful 1st Level Friends from the above story. That was vexing me. It was stressing me out. Then I had a thought and relaxed, was ready to game, ready to roll the dice and see where the War Wizard and the Hanged Prince end up. What is it, lads – death or glory or a spoon full of both?
Because their deaths would have harsh consequences on the Sword Coast; it would create the kind of Situation that Burning Wheel thrives on, the kind of conflict and series of problems we could build a campaign around. There would be a kind of mourning as is proper when a fiction perishes and then a kind of joy that occurs when the players are inspired to create new characters and confront something that is wrong in the world and make it right.
I’m making my peace with feral dogs, making my peace with blood on the cobblestones and being caught between a dragon and a demon prince while a self-proclaimed orc king squats in your ancestral hall. And I guess I’m making my peace with the other end of making shit up with my friends and that is ending things that we begin.
Arrakis teaches the attitude of the knife — chopping off what’s incomplete and saying: “Now it’s complete because it’s ended here.”
As frustrating and disappointing as feral dogs can be, at least for me they make possible high that would not otherwise occur. Semyon, my character in Luke’s Burning Russia game has twice passed through a crisis where by all rights he should be just another dead peasant bleeding out on the cobbles/in the forest, but has eked through on the strength of a few fortuitous (in one case crazy fortuitous) die rolls. The triumph that that engenders would not be possible if there had not been real, story ending, danger. A game that says “we just pretended to be threatened, there was never any real risk” may never leave you ravaged by feral dogs, but it also takes away that genuine high of “we damned the odds, and we won.”
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