[DitV] I just murdered the first PC of my 20-year GMing career

Started by Baxil, March 11, 2011, 09:15:04 PM

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I'd be a liar if I said this was the first PC DEATH at my hands. But it was my very first MURDER. The character is gone, beyond possible recovery. And, for the first time, there were no mitigating factors: it was an ongoing campaign with established characters; there were no plot/metagame/OOC reasons for the death; and it was an in-game decision prompted 100% by my words.

My goal as a GM has never been PC death -- it gets in the way of plot and character development -- but I have never removed it from the game. I run combat by the book. I can cite any number of times I've told someone up front, "If you try that and fail, it means death." Sometimes, players have even taken me up on that (and, until now, have always succeeded); usually, they will give up on their goal in favor of something less risky.  In short, I already tend to offer the same sort of stakes Dogs In The Vineyard encourages -- but always softer; far, far softer.  Dogs has pushed my boundaries in amazing ways, and this one left an impact.

So last night was our fourth session of my first Dogs campaign.  (We set the supernatural dial somewhere between X-Files levels and Buffy levels.)  My players' PCs Brother Drake, Brother Ezekiel and Sister Sophia entered Gethsemane Valley, where they found a lynch mob marching. The mob was led by a retired Dog, Enoch (a former partner of Ezekiel's mentor), who accused their target (Woodrow) of being a sorceror.

The party had recently dealt with a demon named Acatash in the town of Moss Canyon. So they picked up on the demonic energy swirling throughout the area -- a different demon than last time. Enoch identified the current demon as Amael, said he'd fought Amael before, and asked for the Dogs' help in killing the sorceror. The PCs had a fierce but respectful argument with Enoch (stakes: who is in charge of the next action against the demon), stopped the mob, and declared that they would learn the situation and dispense justice without killing anyone. I also told Brother Ezekiel -- who had previously taken steps toward sorcery by making a secret deal with Acatash -- that he took an instant and inexplicable dislike to Enoch (who was also treating him coldly).

The confrontation with Woodrow did not go at all as they had planned: the alleged sorceror threw himself at the Dogs' feet, pleading for repentance and asking them to kill him before his sins caused any more demonic attacks. Amael appeared, set the house on fire (they Gave in a conflict after making sure their primary goal, Woodrow's safety, was assured), and mocked the PCs, saying that once he was inside a human's heart he could never be permanently expelled. The PCs exorcised Amael from the area in a follow-up conflict, calmed down the frantic Woodrow, and sent everyone to bed.

In order to escalate the situation, I was then going to have Acatash use his existing leverage to invade Brother Ezekiel's dreams, and accuse Enoch of being the sorceror controlling Amael (which was in fact true, but Enoch was getting on the good side of the other PCs). But my plans took a screaming left turn when the noble, pure-of-heart Brother Drake walked out of town for some privacy ... and summoned Acatash for a discussion. He had some questions he wanted answered.

Thinking fast, I said, "I'll make you a pact. I'll answer truthfully whatever you ask of me ... in exchange for you doing your job in this town."

He challenged Acatash about it. Acatash explained that there was no deception in the pact: Enoch and Amael were going to lead the town into demonic ruin, and thus stopping Amael was in their mutual interest (the two demons being in competition). So: "Okay," Brother Drake said. "Done."  (To seal the deal, I gave him a free +d4 boost to his existing 2d4 Relationship with Acatash.)

After some grilling about the town's situation, Drake asked if what Amael said was true about demonic influence being permanent. "You are familiar with Original Sin?" I said. "We are that sin. All humans are born with demons inside of them. At any time you may choose to listen or not to listen to us ... but, once you have heard what we have to say, you may never unhear it."

His player went a little pale.

Later, at the climax of the session, Enoch secretly convinced a 13-year-old kid with demon-hunting ambitions -- Jesse, who was looking up to Sister Sophia for encouragement in his dreams of Doghood -- to take a gun and go shoot Woodrow. (By this point, they had established Woodrow's innocence, but Amael still wanted that lovely fifth Demonic Influence die.)

Brother Ezekiel and Sister Sophia showed up, so Enoch tried to distract them -- he casually named the Sin that Sister Rebecca had confessed to five minutes ago in private, and said, "Shouldn't we establish some Three In Authority so you can judge her and do your job here?"  The players sat there, mind blown, and I said, "All of you grab your dice.  Here's the stakes: Do you notice that Jesse and a gun are both missing in time to do anything about it?"

After a pitched argument (with Enoch claiming it was "divine revelation" that exposed her sins to him, and using sorcery to delay Drake remotely), Ezekiel and Sophia ended up Giving on their terms so they could launch a follow-up conflict to expose Enoch's true nature to the town.  The clued-in Brother Drake kept going and won, so he was the only one who could save Woodrow's life.

Long story short, Jesse chose to believe Enoch's lie that "anyone trying to stop you is helping the demon," and got into a fight with Brother Drake with stakes of whether Woodrow would be fatally shot. I stared at Jesse's horrendous starting roll (1, 1, 1, 2, 2, 3) and had him give in straight away to Amael's demonic possession for a major boost. Then, amazingly, Brother Drake started out equally pathetic (five 1's, and a single 4 high, on 10d6!!).  So Brother Drake's player made up his mind: he leapt straight into sorcery, summoning Acatash's power to directly combat Amael's.

Brother Drake threw everything he had into the resulting supernatural shootout, and saved Woodrow's life, but it left Jesse fatally wounded and Brother Drake with 11d10 fallout from a single See (!!) - near the end of a conflict he deliberately ate a bullet with every 1 he had on the table. Rolling fallout, he got three 10's and keeled over, instantly dead. Drake's player narrated how his faithful dog Toby ran over, whining and nuzzling the lifeless form.

I have to admit I freaked out when I saw Drake's player packing up his dice. "Shit. SHIT!!" I thought. "I pushed him too far! He suicided his character! The game stopped being fun!" But he jumped back in by taking over Enoch's role in the final shootout, and we got to talk about his PC death as the session ended.

He explained that it was fully an in-character decision -- after my explanation of demonic influence, Brother Drake realized in a moment of crystal-clear dread that he had taken the first step on a long downward spiral that could only lead to him causing hatred, pain and destruction. He decided he couldn't go on knowing that was what lay ahead. So, before anyone found out about his pact, he chose to sacrifice himself to his demonic power in the service of something good.  (And apparently, Dogs In The Vineyard has left such an impression on him that he's begging me for the link to the Firefly In The Verse DITV conversion for his next sci-fi game. So my first murder ended up being worthwhile after all.)

By the way, Gethsemane Valley town setup available on request. Also, I did record game, but it's about 6 hours long.

We're getting back together next week -- Sophia and Ezekiel's players both firmly decided their mission is not yet over, and Drake's player wants in with a new character.  They decided they're heading back to Bridal Falls to report their mishap, and we agreed that they'll get snowed in to their next town on the long way back (they're currently out on the far edge of Faithful territory, in southern Idaho). Considering the strain between conscience-laden Sophia and demon-stricken Ezekiel, I'm predicting total meltdown within another 1-3 sessions, and after all the original PCs die or give up, I'm likely to call it good.

In the meantime, most of the fun of Dogs is pushing buttons on characters you've come to know, pushing them to their limits.  Any suggestions for how to best incorporate a new PC into an existing campaign, as Brother Drake's replacement gets snowed into town with them?  I worry about having compelling hooks to drive his character's conflicts; Sophia and Ezekiel are easy to pick at by this point, but now I've got a blank slate as a third, and I worry that I'll be merely tossing him jabs while I take the big swings at the other two.

Phil K.

Great write-up! I'm just reading DitV for the first time now, so this is the first AP of it that actually makes sense to me. Did the player show any sign that he was aiming for self-sacrifice prior to the actual death or was the explanation entirely post-events?

I'd also be interested in seeing the Serenity hack if you've got the link handy. Shoot me a PM if you don't want to post it on the boards.


Firefly in the Verse setting documents and character sheets are here. Hope that's useful to you.

Hey, I'm Scott Martin. I sometimes scribble over on my blog, llamafodder. Some good threads are here: RPG styles.



Thanks!   As for the player telegraphing his actions - not a bit.  Which was a large factor in my silent freak-out.  When he put 10 1's and a 2 down to Take The Blow from an 11, it was obvious something was up, but I only got to hear his thought process later.  I'm glad I asked.