Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Ranger Rolled

It's not the style of this blog, but for posterity I have to include a war story today; feel free to shut off until the next post.

The party I'm running right now are made up of second-string henchmen, who after the goblin war have struck out westward in search of Horseshoes of the Zephyr; the 6th level paladin wants them.  Stumbling into a countrified thief's lair (small house, tunnels), the party found themselves fighting eight ochre jellies in a library ... and with the books being valuable as treasure, they resisted using fire.  Prior, they'd been trapped and backstabbed several different ways, and the party was suffering before the battle began.

During the battle, the 7th level thief, Ivan, was struck repeatedly by a jelly that refused to die (Ivan was fighting with two daggers, and since I argue that all jellies are only half affected by edged/stabbing weapons, he wasn't doing too well).  The last blow was a critical, and Ivan was struck for 16 points; this dropped Ivan to negative 9.  A death in many worlds, but in mine, still technically alive.

However, any hit of 11 damage or more is a wound, which causes 1 hp damage per round if the matter is not attended to.  Since a jelly creates a hard pseudopod which whacks its enemies, I judged that Ivan's head hit the flagstone floor, and was thus gashed open.

The blow (and the fall) succeeded in knocking Ivan unconscious (constitution at 10% of it's normal total, or 1.6, meaning he needed to roll a 1 on a d20 to remain conscious).  He failed.  And so although Ivan survived the damage from the blow, he was 1 round away from being very dead.

By this time, the cleric had interposed herself between the jelly and Ivan, but there was no one to address Ivan's wound ... except for the 1st level ranger, who was himself at -5 hit points, and sitting dazed against the wall (had been there for several rounds, with no where to escape).  While the ranger was conscious, it had to be argued that the ranger's cognizance was highly in question.  Was the ranger in enough control of his faculties to save Ivan in time?

A wisdom check was needed.  If you've gone to the link I posted about 'good negativity', you'll know that the ranger was at that moment at 50% of his wisdom, which is normally 13.  That's 6.5.  The ranger needed to roll a 6 or less on a d20 or Ivan would die.

We are talking pressure.  We are talking a table full of people hanging very heavily on the outcome of one roll ... and an unlikely roll.  30% chance of life.  70% chance of death.  A 7th level thief in the balance, one which had been running in my world for four years.  His life, dependent not on my roll, but the roll of another player.

The ranger rolled a 5.

Much happy whooping ensued.  Arms thrown high in the air, shouting, a pleased and relieved look on the ranger's face, a terrifically happy party.  Remarkable what a die roll can do.

"Four times!" shouted the thief.  He recalled that four times his character had dropped down to -9 hit points and live to tell the tale.  He could remember the three previous times with clarity, while I, honestly, could not remember at all.  Those moments were important to the thief - not to me.  Whereas they had mattered at the time, because I wasn't emotionally charged on the survival or death of the character, I hadn't retained it.

The thief had.  His memory was exact.  He had fought and survived against the most ruthless odds and had survived, and for him this war story was one more proof of this character's destiny.

I wonder if the gentle reader can understand, except from perhaps their own, similar memories, how events such as this produce a steadfast love for a character.  Particularly when it occurs over time, where a meaningful percentage of one's life is spent honing a personality.  The paper manufacture of characters aside, the players' emotions rise and fall with the success or failure of these imaginary beings.  We invest in them as strongly as we would any hoped-for, and never realized fantasy ... for the fantasy of the game is not found in the rules, or the type of game played, or its intrinsic nature, but in the absolute love given to the creations of our imagination.

I feel sad for those people who don't get to experience it.  Wrapped up in proving that the game is fun, or that keen things happen, or that enjoying time with others is wonderful, these people miss the deeper fantasy that possesses D&D (or any other RPG).  Ivan didn't turn to the room and shout, "that was so cool!"  He shouted, "I LIVED!"  Not an oblique observation of the event, not detached ... but an immediate, personal involvement.  Not, "Ivan lived," but "I".  I lived.  Life.  The pleasure of knowing one is alive.

Fun can be had anywhere.  Many things are keen.  I can always get together with other people for company.  But give me a chance to cheat death ... ah, that's unique.


Anonymous said...

Hear, hear!

Oddbit said...

Of coarse that is only one round of tension... Now will the party survive the next one? The tension continues. And yes, I am left hanging and curious on whether or not they got the books.

Higgipedia said...

One more reason why scaling encounters according to character based formulas is for the birds.

5stonegames said...

Very cool.

had that happened in one of my old school games I'd have offered the thieves player a "gift" if he wanted it.

It would probably be mediumship or some kind of luck and of course it would be double edged.

The thing is though, it would be is choice, this way if the player is happy with what he has accomplished , why spoil things..

Oddbit said...

I wouldn't offer any player anything. Believe it or not living is a great reward, also so is being the star who overcame the obstacle to save your companion. You've pretty much scored star of the night with that one.

It's much like when my party foiled the GM's dastardly maze by choosing random directions and gave us 'absolute direction' as a reward. The reward really should have been not dying or using up resources and an awesome story to tell to bored people. ;)

Anonymous said...

Alexis, I came back to this post today to re-read the linked henchman post. I'm considering the wholesale use of your system in my game as early as this Sunday when the party's cleric, now 4th and almost 5th level, gets some more experience. So thanks again for the the great content.

What compelled me to post another comment, though, was your daughter's running of your game described in the linked post. It's been over a year now and while you've mentioned that game obliquely and the experience seems to have help inform some recent epiphanies of yours, would you be interested in commenting more directly about it? Namely, to what extent has the DMing torch been passed? How are you feeling about it? Can you describe somewhat the process of her becoming a DM and you becoming a player after so long behind the screen?

Mike V. said...

Great Post. I am an avid reader of your scientific exploration of roleplaying, but its a nice break in pattern to hear this story. Really reminds us all of the "why" behind the technical... As a player and a DM.

I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment. This is what really sets pen&paper apart from the modern MMO equivelent. The attachment. in WoW your character never really dies. Therefore no risk... in D&D you die. Yes the rules make it very safe, but there is always that risk... and thus that attachment.

Great article.