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Author Topic: [Das Schwarze Auge] Making the best of a pointless character death  (Read 3470 times)
Frank Tarcikowski
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« on: February 06, 2008, 03:11:06 AM »

This was originally posted over at the knife fight in a thread about character death, but I think it might be worth its own Forge thread, so here goes.

The character’s name was Jostik. He was a Juggler. I played him, many years ago, in a game of “Das Schwarze Auge” (German FRPG, very popular, nice low fantasy setting with lots of history and atmosphere and terrible rules and railroad-y adventures). The game was tremendous fun mostly because of the strong atmosphere and in-character acting. I played Jostik for quite some time and he underwent quite some development. He was always a light-hearted, sorta naïve fellow, but went from “friendly rogue” to “highly faithful” through play.

We played yet another published adventure which always worked like this: Get some sort of task for some weak reason and then solve that task without too much trouble, get your fun from “character scenes”. It did not make that much sense but we made the best of it. At the end of the adventure we were storming some sort of warehouse and Jostik was the first one to face the greasy merchant who hat plotted the Evil, equipped with some sort of poisoned dagger.

I could have waited for the guys in heavy armor to arrive, but Jostik was a little over-confident and I trusted in the fact that usually the “task” wasn’t that hard and the system wasn’t very lethal. Even Jostik, who only wore light armor, could take several blows by a sword or axe without negative effect. And even if life points went below zero, you were not dead and there was time enough to save you. I did not know the rules for poison, but imagined them to be something like AD&D, where poison does a little extra damage and that’s that.

Then I found out that for no good reason I can see, the rules for poison in DSA work differently. The poison the guy was using, called Kukris, was deadly, period. The only thing that could have saved me would have been a very specific spell by a mage, and we did not happen to have a mage in the group. At that moment there, the GM was as surprised as I was, but did feel he needed to follow the rules. I drank some healing potions and tried to get to a temple or magic academy where they could save me, but following the rules there was no chance, so Jostik fell off the horse dead a few hundred yards down the street. Ironically, we did not even roll dice to resolve how our dwarf and warrior priest overpowered the merchant guy. (Thinking about it, a “major miracle” by the warrior priest might have saved Jostik—these miracles weren’t really defined—but none of us thought of it at the time and chances of success would not have been very high anyway.)

To sum up, it was a total mess, caused by bad rules and a bad published adventure. A pointless and indignified death. Not acceptable for a treasured hero like Jostik. However, it had entered the shared imagined space and there was no way for us to change that. What we did was retroactively making that death seem important. Like, “he died to save [important religious artifact]. Which was not really true, but it was how it became remembered by the other characters and I guess also by most players. Plus, I wrote a testament which Jostik was supposed to have written before his death, where he bade all his companions farewell and willed to them his belongings. Reading out that testament to the other players was a very good and emotional moment, I think more than one of us quickly wiped a little tear from their eye.

So, if I were to say something good about Jostik’s death, it made us experience a genuine feel of loss, and we made the best of it by empracing and celebrating that feel. Also, it spared Jostik the fate of the rest of the party, to eventually fade out in one of those aimless campaigns that get played too long and lose all momentum.

- Frank
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Callan S.
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« Reply #1 on: February 06, 2008, 05:06:37 PM »

Hi Frank,

I know I'm skipping past alot, but with the ending and what you could get out of it: - if you were writing a game, would you consider the avoidance of that 'aimless campaigns that get played too long and lose all momentum' a good thing and something to include?

Sadly here the ending completely lacked ceremony except with what ceremony you and your group added (which seemed a touching one). But does it seem like it can be a good thing despite that?
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Frank Tarcikowski
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a.k.a. Frank T


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« Reply #2 on: February 07, 2008, 02:17:37 AM »

Hi Callan,

To be clear: I continued to play in that campaign, only with a new character. Only I never grew as attached to that character as I had been to Jostik. Jostik died at level 9 and the campaign continued until level 14 or so.

I do think that being “aimless” is a bad thing. There needs to be some kind of perspective, whatever it may be. There are a lot of different approaches to this in different games on and off the Forge. “Let’s play Shackled City”, for example, is a totally valid aim and then after you finish that you can see whether you find a new aim for those characters or whether you start something new.

The problem is when there is no real agreement among the group on what the aims are and how long it’s going to last and what flags will signal to the players that a major chapter has been completed. It’s a failure of reward cycles at the largest scale, if you will.

I’m not sure I get your second paragraph, can you rephrase it?

- Frank
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Callan S.
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« Reply #3 on: February 07, 2008, 05:15:25 PM »

With the second paragraph, I mean it was just a sudden death and kind of nasty - I was wondering if your always going to associate endings with that? Or see how you and your group added a ceremony/a celebration of the character, and how that was actually a really strong ending - it's just hard to see how strong because of the system enforced on/the fly in the soup.
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Frank Tarcikowski
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a.k.a. Frank T


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« Reply #4 on: February 08, 2008, 04:54:24 AM »

Hm, I’m reluctant to analyze, actually. This thing became, like, a war story of a memorable character death in our group. It immediately jumped to my mind when someone asked about great character death scenes on the knife fight. My memory of Jostik is like: “He was a wonderful person and fun to play and he died like a hero.”

I frankly don’t trust my own memory as to how we felt about it at the time (it must have been around 1996, mind you). I remember it was a sunny day and we played in the garden. I remember argueing with the GM about how the poinson rules were stupid and I had not expected them to be that lethal, but I don’t know if that was right away, or later. I remember getting up, kind of dazed, and going to the kitchen while the others continued to play. My sister came up and asked me how play was going, and I replied: “I just died.”

I don’t know. It was a real shock. It was pretty intense. The fact that it was pointless and stupid is something that becomes obvious when looking at it from a distance, critically. But at that moment there, I wasn’t thinking, “Wow, that sucked.” I was thinking, “Wow, he’s really dead, he’s not going to come back.”

I really don’t know.

- Frank
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LandonSuffered
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« Reply #5 on: February 12, 2008, 05:26:56 PM »


I did not know the rules for poison, but imagined them to be something like AD&D, where poison does a little extra damage and that’s that.

In AD&D (all versions prior to the D20 version) poison kills you dead if you fail a saving throw. No damage, just death. Pushing up daisies.  Your thief is trying to pick a lock with a poisoned needle? Ouch! And Oops…you’re dead.

I only bring this up because I was talking to my buddy (a looong time D&D role-player) the other day, and he, too, had completely forgot about the “old days” of D&D (he’s been playing DND3 for the last few years and is used to the kinder, gentler version).

I understand being attached to and emotionally invested in a long-played and beloved character…one of the reasons why raise dead was available as spell, I imagine.  Character death was fast and loose in the old days…it’s only the last ten years or so (or perhaps with the advent of really long, detailed char gen games) that I see people playing in campaigns where character death is “off the table.” 

Anyway, I understand you wanting to have more meaning to your cherished character’s death.  But in those days, times were tough.
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Jonathan
Marshall Burns
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« Reply #6 on: February 14, 2008, 05:13:30 PM »

Frank,

When you say, "for no good reason I can see, the poison...was deadly, period," my initial thoughts are a bit not-nice, mostly revolving around my opinion that "lose a point every round" poison is stupid (in every game I've made, poison has an "effect" that hits you if you miss the save, and in many cases that effect is DEATH).  But then I calm down and tell myself, "that's just my opinion and it doesn't really have anything to do with the topic," and I see something here that disturbs me a bit:  why the hell didn't they TELL you that the poison was so deadly?  I mean, I've got a game that I played for years where characters died pointless deaths (from stray bullets to simple car accidents) all the time and I loved it that way, but I was careful to make sure everyone knew that sort of thing happened.  I mean, jeez, the GM or someone should've told you before you made that attempt.  I'd immediately be pissed, seriously.  I'm amazed that you weren't.

-Marshall
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Frank Tarcikowski
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Posts: 387

a.k.a. Frank T


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« Reply #7 on: February 15, 2008, 02:59:23 AM »

Hey guys, was it really that way in OD&D? I'm puzzled, my memory seems to betray me. Perhaps I'm thinking about some other game, or perhaps our DM had a house rule, then. Anyways, let's be clear about what kind of "reason" I'm talking about. The reason can emphatically not have to be some pseudo-realistic argument based on how poison is lethal in the real world. It needs to be about the game being played. Which is why I mentioned that my character, wearing light armor at best, could take several blows by a sword or axe and keep acting normally. That was the kind of lethality of the game world, as transported by system, that I was used to.

And in that same spirit I would never have expected poison to be so deadly. Neither did the GM. He only looked up the poison rules after I got hit, and was shocked, but, as I wrote, he felt he had to follow the rules. It never got mentioned before. There had been no hints whatsoever telling me, as a player, to better be careful about poison. There obviously hadn't been any warnings in the text of the published adventure neither. It just didn't fit, not in that game. Does that make sense to you?

- Frank
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Frank Tarcikowski
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a.k.a. Frank T


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« Reply #8 on: February 15, 2008, 03:03:03 AM »

P.S.: Oh, and there was no such thing as ressurection in DSA. And we always thought of ressurection as too "computer-game-y" for "real roleplayers" anyway... Those were the times. ;-)
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Marshall Burns
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« Reply #9 on: February 15, 2008, 11:41:19 AM »

And in that same spirit I would never have expected poison to be so deadly. Neither did the GM. He only looked up the poison rules after I got hit, and was shocked, but, as I wrote, he felt he had to follow the rules.

Yeowch.  It would seem that the published adventure was written by a maniac.  On one hand, I can't fathom why a "do-over" couldn't have been acceptable in such a special case (that's just my personal karma talking); on the other hand, the intensity of that death (and what you made out of it) seems like it could be a cathartic experience, in addition to being a nice creative "grace-under-fire" sort of thing.  But I find it strange that it was okay to edit the circumstances of his action ("he died to save [important religious artifact]" and Jostik's testament) but not okay to edit the action itself.  That's not a criticism of your or that group's style; it's just an observation of the fact that I don't "get" said style.

-Marshall
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Frank Tarcikowski
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Posts: 387

a.k.a. Frank T


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« Reply #10 on: February 15, 2008, 01:25:37 PM »

Yeah, no, I totally agree, it just never occurred to us at the time, I guess.
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