Every so often a twitter thread comes alone that is too good to be lost in the tumult of twitterdom and you want it to instead be lost on a blog, where it can stay good and lost but maybe, just maybe a little easier to find.
The following was posted with Shawn’s permission. Please check out the amazing work of A Couple of Drakes. Sign up for their newsletter. Buy and play a few of their games – post about the fun you and your friends had. Support Indie RPG’s.
My crew had been, in the grand tradition of a certain level of D&D, gifted a keep of their very own, a tumbledown ruin of a fortified manorhouse on the edges of the fantasy kingdom that they’d been doing good turns for since the earliest days of the campaign.
The manorhouse came complete with some attached caretakers, people who’d lived in the manor, kept it up as best they could since the old Count died. Most of them were just funny voices and thumbnail sketches. But then there was Adorabella Dearheart.
Adorabella was a sweet as whipped honey and butter, but take no shit, matronly halfling. She was the head of the household staff, the seneschal to the past three Counts. She was originally suspicious of these roving brigands who’d wheedled their way into the gentry.
But as they spent coin to return the estate to its previous glory, built a burgeoning little town of their hangers on, and seemed to care for the day to day workings of the people of their lands…well, her heart warmed.
She knew the local stories. Could tell you the provenance of every family in the area. Could tell you who had bad blood with whom. Helped them navigate the perils of their neighboring lords and ladies…all of whom had aims to expand their territory.
Understand that adventurers always hate when people aren’t impressed by them, so initially everyone didn’t much care for Adorabella. But everyone does love a changed heart all the more…eventually she became the party’s gran.
She’d be up late nights, scritching down accounts in the ledger in the great hall by the banked fire. When a quest didn’t go aright, a hero or two would make their way down to have a chat with her about how they felt. She’d make them tea and toast, try and lend a sympathetic ear.
I had a player who, in a moment of doubt, just sat down with Adorabella, asked her how to know if what they were doing was right…it was a complicated campaign, many of their friends had selfish aims and only their little party could be relied upon to do the right thing.
Adorabella assured them that true brave hearts always wonder such things. Then she sang a song. It was a song she started singing often, not a song of power or anything, just a little rhyme that they passed around when times got hard.
“Sleep, my little babby-o. Sleep until you waken. For when you’ll rise, you’ll see the world if I’m not mistaken. You’ll kiss a lover, you’ll dance a measure. You’ll find your name and buried treasure. You’ll drink of life, both pain and pleasure and leave no road untaken.”
It made dark times a little brighter. But they eventually ran afoul of Crispin Rudain, a vampire bard with his hands in every court, powerful friends, and a party of his own. And eventually Adorabella got caught in the crossfire.
They won the battle, drove off the villain, but Adorabella lay dying. The PC who was the most frequent seeker after the halfling seneschal held her as she sang the song one last time, and breathed her last.
It was poignant and sweet and there wasn’t a dry eye at the table.
Then they cast Revivify.
Now without some kind of DM bullshit, “Adorabella is happily reunited with her family in the lands beyond our shores, and doesn’t return,” or “her aged body isn’t strong enough to knit soul and flesh together again,” or just “No,” Adorabella’s back and carrying on.
So up she got, because they used their power and the rules say that that’s how that works. It’s all there in natural language, and while I could ass-pull a reason, players get to use their toys to solve problems. They had a problem, used a solution, and up she got.
She was never quite the same afterward though.
She was quieter. A little sadder. The song lingered on “no road untaken,” just a little longer.
Got kind of bittersweet and nostalgic. Made Adorabella–sans her wireframe spectacles- in Hero Forge because I’m a weepy sap.
“Leave no road untaken,” #ttrpg folks.
Shawn, someone, somewhere might say that you should’ve gone by the Rule of Cool and let her die. At that point, as a DM, do you have to set narrative concerns aside and just be content with the game you are playing?
I hear the refuge in Rule of Cool, but by the same token whose idea of cool are we going with? The player who dove forward to burn a spell slot on Adorabella clearly thought the game, the story, was cooler with Adorabella in it. Through tears, they told me that they were saving her. And that was a permission that their class and spell selection afforded them. I’m not on the side of unilaterally ruling my interpretation of the scene as cool when it comes at the cost of what little power the players have to affect broad sweeping story decisions in a game like D&D. The game says the spell works this way, and while I can put my thumb on the scale as the Supreme arbiter of rules, it’s going to feel uncool and unilateral to that one player that I broke their toys when they needed them most.
I set my concerns aside and the poignant moment feel flat, or I justify and make the players wonder what else I’ll take away from them at a dramatically appropriate moment. Which of their few choices will I invalidate because I see a scene shaking down some other way? Down that path lies madness.
Instead, if I had to do it again, I’d probably call a pause and we’d talk through it as a writer’s room. The games I play now flourish in this kind of environment, because everyone’s on the same page. The weight of this kind of decision isn’t on the GMs shoulders alone. Everyone’s got tools, usually less empirically described than a D&D spell block, to push back against the authorial voice of the GM. That usually leads to conversation and negotiation rather than a /ruling/.
I was playing D&D and the rules told me that the player was right. Because I have the bigger guns and more latitude with my tools, whenever the player has a thing that works in the situation, I’m going to rule in favor of the player. There’s not a lot that’s Cool about breaking their hearts because suddenly the Rule doesn’t work. I was going for tears, but not that kind.
Please check out the amazing work of A Couple of Drakes. Sign up for their newsletter. Buy and play their games – post about the fun you and your friends had. Support Indie RPG’s.
Blog of Judd Karlman from Daydreaming about Dragons