It’s a Good Day to Die

One of the trickier things to handle in a campaign is a player’s character death. Over many years of roleplaying, I’ve had my share of character deaths. Not being a computer game, there is no reload/respawn point for the character. If the system has it set up, you can get the character resurrected from the cold embrace of Death. If not, well the player is just out of luck and on to the next character.

manfallsatagraveHere at the Forged Front, that train of thought trivializes the character’s death. Let’s face it, if you have invested a lot of time and energy into the character it’s a huge blow when your character dies. It was a friend/companion and even if it will be back as soon as the party figures out how to cart the body over to the nearest temple to get raised, there is a bit of downtime to the game. More importantly, the odds are the death impacts its player’s connection to the character.

I have a friend who loved playing the Doom series back in the day. He got really into the game — save for the level that he died a lot on. Sure, he eventually got past the level, but he did it at the expense of not being as immersed in the game as before he hit that level. At some level, you stop empathizing with your character’s plight when the character repeatedly gets killed.  If that was a RPG campaign, the GM has two choices … either work hard to get the player to re-engage emotionally on the campaign, or just ignore it and let it sort itself out.

I maintain that the latter option tends to downgrade the player’s enthusiasm for the campaign. What was great is now merely good. Why? Well, for starters, the GM just proved that the character isn’t central to the story for a period of time. Sure the character came back, but the suspension of belief — having the player really hang on to everything the character is doing is disrupted. Now instead of just getting back on the horse, there is a bit of doubt as to how much the player should emotionally invest in the story and his character’s role in it.

Character death is even more brutal in a system that doesn’t have resurrection in it. Even if the GM allows the player a quick re-entry with a character of roughly equivalent power level, the new character is basically starting at ground zero with the player’s emotional attachment to it. So on some level, the player just isn’t as attached to the plight of their character as they previously was. Don’t believe me? What would your reaction be like if your character was in A Game of Thrones and was on the wrong end of the Red Wedding? You spent all this time investing in a character and its tale ended in disaster and death. Would you immediately attach to a new character added to the story after that event like the one that you were beforehand?

With all this said, I have been in plenty of campaigns where death is cheap and happens a lot. In games that tend to be like this, the players tend to distance themselves from their characters a bit just to shield themselves. If possible, they might try to find alternate solutions to problems other than combat, but if forced to fight the big adversaries of the moment, they have to be ready to accept the character might soon be dead.

As a player, I like to bond with my character. It makes me feel more a part of the story. As a GM, I like to have my players do that as well because the story is very important to me and why I started the campaign in the first place. That doesn’t mean that is the only way. Sometimes on the Front, it is just a good day to die.

What’s your preference around player characters and their mortality within a campaign?

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Gamer… Engage!

A GM wears many hats in most typical campaigns. Among their varied responsibilities are setting the scenes, creating the adversaries, keeping the world in motion, and adjudicating challenges the protagonists face. However, the players, in the Forged Front’s opinion, are the most important part of the whole equation… they are the main stars. Without the players, a GM is effectively telling a story by themselves.

Comedy_TragedySo what happens when a player doesn’t engage? Well, at its simplest roots, the player doesn’t take an active part in shaping the story. They might be along for the ride, but the net effect of this is they might as well be listening to a story their friends are telling. The GM can try a variety of things to try to engage the player from scenes that should help the player’s character shine to discussing with the player where they might want to go.

With that said, it really is more of a question of what the player wants from the game. When creating a character for a setting, the players together figure out what roles they are each going to take. Once a role is taken, they shape the personality and a high-level background that brought the character to its current state at the start of the campaign. The GM doesn’t set this up for the players … they might put certain limitations on the characters (like the characters have to be heroic – the nerve of that GM!), but at the end of the day, if the players are interested in the campaign, they pick their characters’ personalities and what they are going to bring to the role and story.

So, as a player, if I’m contributing a significant factor to the overall story, I have to do some analysis on my own on why I’m not engaging. While bad luck with the dice may make encounters a lot harder, if my character isn’t part of the story, it is just window-dressing like any NPC. In one case I observed, the player’s understanding of the setting made the story feel not right to him. It was a low-magic setting, yet they were finding plenty of magic in the world. Every time that happened, it created dissonance that dumped him out of the narrative.

In another case, the player had a couple of roles he liked to play within that type of setting. Each of those roles had a default personality that the player tended to use for that type of character. The player decided to take one of those roles and come up with a new personality, but struggled because it didn’t click. (For instance a flamboyant swordfighter and a scholarly priest were the default roles and personality types.) One of my recommendations would have simply been to switch up the personalities with the roles – for instance, a flamboyant priest. Another way to tackle that would be to look for inspirations in books, movies, etc, that have characters playing the role that you are about to take on. Pick a few traits that you really like in those characters and bring that to your character. A failsafe way to deal with this situation is to simply ask the GM to play a different character in the campaign given what you know of the group and the on-going story to help you feel more comfortable in the campaign.

At the end of it all though, a player that is engaged in the character they are playing makes it easier for the GM because they feed off that engagement.

My question to all the players out there is this: How do you go about coming up with personalities and backgrounds that make your characters click and thus easy to play within a campaign?

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The Value of Belief

Belief is an interesting thing. In the name of religion, countless conflicts have occurred across the ages. The Forged Front asserts that you don’t even need to look that deeply to name conflicts or cultures that were shaped to a large extent by religion. For instance, take a look at the Vikings or better yet, look at the Crusades. (Wikipedia notes that they were seven major Crusades between 1096 and 1291.)

mage-the-ascension-coverIn addition to the real world though, belief has been an intergral part to various settings. A few settings are driven by belief; Planescape and Mage: The Ascension come to mind. Additionally, the various campaign settings put out for D&D usually include a mythology of deities for the setting. (And D&D isn’t alone in that, there are plenty of other RPG systems that belief plays a very important part of the world.) Religions typically get set up as part of the tapestry that makes up a world, some more than others. However, it seems to usually fade to the background except for rare appearances by the GM as an adversary for the players.

Looking at D&D, it has clerics and druids for player classes. One would think that religion would be more a noticeable thing in these campaigns. However, it seems like they generally are played in one of two ways … either the character is on a hell-bent campaign to convert unbelievers at all costs … or they come off as just another class that has a different sort of spellcasting abilities.

That seems like a shame though. It would be so easy to take a different route with a religious character. Have them try to live and breathe their ideals as living example of what people should aspire to be. Perhaps they can’t quite achieve those ideals either so they have a ready source of personal conflict they bring to any story as they strive to live their ideals. As they live, so does the religion they believe in.  Everything they do in the campaign is colored by their belief – from greetings, to prayers said throughout the day, or even in midst of battle. If you live and breathe a religion, you don’t need to convince people that they should believe as well, they’ll see it being rewarded in what you do.

I recall a character that I had that believed his deity directly ordered him to kill people. While he was way out of line with his own religion, he fervently believed it with all his being and it made him exceptionally hard to stop once he got going. See, when his god commanded him to kill, it was also a commandment to make an example out of it. The character ended up being a great villain for the campaign he was in.

So my question to all of you out there, how does belief and religion show up in your campaigns? Until the next time, never stop believing … you don’t know where it might lead.

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The Art of Downtime

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Ever hit that point where you just need to take a break from it all? Here at the Forged Front, that happens from time to time. However, in a campaign though, it is a matter of taste and what you want to accomplish.

Various systems have tried to capture the essence of what could happen . . . → Read More: The Art of Downtime

The 50000 Foot View, Part 2

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Last week in part 1 we talked about a few of the broad brush strokes of the campaign. Let’s keep going on that front…

The Far East — the Jade Empire and its Rainbow Court. This was the least fleshed out by me for my original campaigns, but it was envisioned to bring classic Chinese, . . . → Read More: The 50000 Foot View, Part 2

Interview: The Wizard of Oz (AUS) – Joe Sweeney from StoryWeaver Games, Part 2

Interview!

Yesterday we started chatting with Joe Sweeney of StoryWeaver Games on a variety of topics… (You can read Part 1 here.) What do you think about continuing that now?

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Joe the GM!

Q: What are the keys to exploring the world of horror at the game table without sacrificing sanity to the Old . . . → Read More: Interview: The Wizard of Oz (AUS) – Joe Sweeney from StoryWeaver Games, Part 2

Interview: The Wizard of Oz (AUS) – Joe Sweeney from StoryWeaver Games, Part 1

Interview!

It’s been a long while since I’ve had an opportunity for an interview! Thankfully, Joe Sweeney of StoryWeaver Games was kind enough to subject himself to a few questions about his gaming career, StoryWeaver, and more…

So let’s get started! (Note that this interview was SO HUGE I had to break it up into two . . . → Read More: Interview: The Wizard of Oz (AUS) – Joe Sweeney from StoryWeaver Games, Part 1

The 50000 Foot View, Part 1

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Welcome back to the Front.

Last week in Framing the Picture, I discussed different options that a GM can use to get the players up to speed on the same page. So let’s look at the last fantasy world I shared with various players. For this exercise, I haven’t decided which area is going to . . . → Read More: The 50000 Foot View, Part 1

Framing the Picture

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Welcome back to the Front. In a one-shot adventure, the GM has a relatively self-contained story idea to explore — maybe the gaming group wants to try out a new system or maybe they want to just run through a module. The players don’t have a whole lot to go on other than some general . . . → Read More: Framing the Picture

The Gassy Gnoll: The Smell of Magic in 5e

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Even as this Gassy Gnoll gets excited about diving headlong into the 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook, I struggle mightily with the balance between low level wizards and damage capability that I’ve seen even with the Starter Set and online PDF of the 5e rules. And I’m not a system guy, so bear . . . → Read More: The Gassy Gnoll: The Smell of Magic in 5e

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