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Resurrection Revisited

April 6, 2015 Comments off

Avalynethelifegiver1988The Easter season is a time that rebirth is on our minds, with the backdrop of the story of the Resurrection prominent for many, and the revitalization Spring brings.

It made me think about the role of resurrection and ‘raise dead‘ in fantasy role playing. Most systems have something of this sort at some level of play, and conquering death is one of the big fantasies we have in reality and fiction. That said, as an element of a gaming setting, it’s a complete game changer.  And here’s the thing: It is horrible.

Resurrection ruins games.  It ruins good story-telling. It cheapens heroism, belittles triumphs, and obliterates drama. It destroys the impact and gravity of the greatest story telling device there is: Death.  Without death, there is no finality, no consequences to any event that can’t be unmade or recycled.  Heroes need not live up to a higher standard where they might just prevail by way of a Holy Mulligan. It’s a softening of the game world that detracts from the story, and thereby detracts from the game itself.

We finished up Paizo’s Reign of Winter adventure path this past year. After we hit the midway point of the series,  it became apparent that the presence of raise dead and resurrection was quickly arrived at as the easy remedy for character death. A shoulder shrug followed by a quick calculation of how many diamonds it would deplete from the party stores was all the drama that such an event as character death added.  It was a failure of the system if not myself, the storyteller.  Death had lost its finality, and the threat of death was greatly offset by the players calling my bluff of a TPK, which I theoretically wouldn’t let happen (though I would, with some caveats that I went into last year in my article “The Art of Fail“) . That is a problem.

Outside of a softening of the consequences, it is problematic from a general story telling perspective.  How can the loss of life of villagers in a goblin raid remain poignant when someone can walk up and raise the victims?  Why stop there?  Why not raise random people of historical note?  The King murdered?  Bring ’em back?  It only takes 10 minutes in some of these systems, so he might not even be missed!   It cheapens the value of life and the story telling dynamic, and creates numerous plot holes that are hard to work around without clumsy artifice on the part of the GM.

And you shouldn’t do that!  Resurrection and Raise Dead should be rare, almost wish-like events that are costly.  Costly, painful rituals for a loved friend and companion, like we see in Conan the Barbarian.  Some of these costs are built in, but if it’s just money, it’s a pittance (get a character to sacrifice their most powerful magic item and you’ll see them weep openly).  Promises should be required to raise the dead.  Oaths. Blood sacrifice.

Some of you might have played under old rules in OD&D that indicated that an elf could not be resurrected.  We did, back in 1997, and when a elven ranger died at the hands of a certain Troll  in the Temple of Elemental Evil, we all realized that he was DEAD DEAD, and it sobered the players that evening.  When not long after, a paladin of St. Cuthbert was mostly devoured by rats, the drama of her resurrection was a story in itself; an epic race to the nearest city that had a priest of sufficient level to raise her, a debt undertaken, oaths sworn, and a battle with a cult of Iuzian priests fighting to interrupt the ritual.  The resurrection became a story in itself, and carried weight.

It’s a hard choice to ditch resurrection or deny its availability to players.  They will hate you for it, so you had better telegraph those decisions early on before it becomes a resource they anticipate. When the playing field is clear before hand, few have reason to complain (especially where the challenges are freely taken and understood).  Games that let you know that they plan on killing you can be strangely refreshing, like Paranoia (giving you six clones is a good indicator of the cheapness of human life) or Dungeon Crawl Classics, where the 0-level funnel has you generate 3 to 4 peasants who try to try to survive a normal first level adventure (protip: your most unworthy character will always be the sole survivor).  While seemingly depressing, the result is a certain lack of attachment for more lighthearted games, which is surprisingly welcome.  Alternately, for more serious games, a grim determination and earnest concern for other characters becomes more pressing.

Perhaps the biggest downside to this approach is when it takes effect, and a favorite character is gone without the realistic possibility of a remedy.  Sometimes, this can be a game-ending or campaign-ending event, especially if more than one character bites the bullet.  My advice is to play through it and see if you can’t come out on the other side.  That said, you know your players.  The point, is to have fun (Commandment #10) so as long as folks are having a good time, it’s worth it, but remember you may have missed an opportunity for players and characters to grow a little, which could lead to even better results.

Try it on, or say you’re going to, and see how it changes your player’s play-style.  You might just be surprised what the fear of death will do for your next game.

When Thanksgiving Dinner Attacks!

November 23, 2011 Comments off

Turkey Golem!

Continuing our series of holiday-themed DnD 4e content (two makes a series, right?), Skyland Games presents: When Thanksgiving Dinner Attacks!

Originally this encounter appeared as the adventurers arrived at a dwarven turkey farm being ransacked goblins. Two goblins appeared in the doorway of the farmhouse, fighting over a horn-o-plenty.  One goblin pushed the other away and grabbed the horn.  He blew on the horn mightily, accidentally causing the farm’s defenses to spring to life. Gas began seeping from several nozzles attached to the farm buildings, a giant pumpkin came to life in the garden and started grabbing hysterical goblins, scarlet colored oozes flowed from various nooks and crannies about the farm and a turkey golem burst forth from a tool shed.

Skyland Games will be taking tomorrow off to defeat their own turkey golem. Look for our Christmas Carol adventure coming out in time for the holidays. We’ve got an interesting twist on the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. Thanks for visiting and happy thanksgiving!

WhenThanksgivingAttacks

D&D Fonts – Old School Look, New Text

November 22, 2011 4 comments

I love writing new adventures using fonts that make them look like the books I grew up reading. After a little research, I found some free fonts that some of you might enjoy if you write you adventures for RPGs in a word processor. You can also make the next handout for your group look hand-written and flavorful, without learning calligraphy.

One of the classic TSR fonts used in countless books from the 80s is Souvenir. Look familiar? Just typing notes in this font has a Pavlovian effect on me; evoking classic images and adventures from books I remember reading growing up. With this font and a two-column format, maybe some art borrowed for home use, and you’ve got an awesome professional looking adventure you can hang on to, and be proud of.

Another technique I’ve used is finding fonts of elven or dwarven runes. I even used dwarven runes in a puzzle involving a dwarven tomb. You can also use the Tolkien elven runes found on the ring of power! One of my favorites is Hobbiton Brushhand. Another great font for “hand-written” notes to hand out to the party is elven common speak.

Many DMs just write notes in a spiral notebook or just open up Word and start typing away, and theres nothing wrong with that. Maybe next time you sit down to dream up an adventure for your group, try using some evocative fonts and see if it inspires you. Any awesome fantasy themed fonts I missed? Other TSR or memorable fonts from other gamebooks? Let us know in the comments below.

Categories: 4e, DnD, Lore, RPGs, Tips Tags: , , , , ,