Just Another Fatal Friday

Commentary Character Character Death Death In Memoriam
'Screaming Out My Pain' by L'Orso Sul Monociclo via Flickr

‘Screaming Out My Pain’ by L’Orso Sul Monociclo via Flickr

My name is Bryan, and it’s been a week since I killed my last player character.

As it turns out, it was also the first time I killed a player character.

Let’s just say it’s been an emotional week.  Considering that the ‘player’ portion of the aforementioned ‘player character’ was laughing the whole time his character was fading into oblivion, I think everything will be alright.

It all started with an evening stroll in the woods…

The Only Thing We Have to Fear

To fully appreciate the tale I’m about to tell, you first have to understand a bit about the concept of Fear in the Savage Worlds Deluxe (SWD) game system.  Certain monsters and traumatic situations in SWD cause a character to experience Fear, whether from sheer terror, physical disgust, or emotional trauma.  When this occurs, the player must make a Fear check.

As with D&D and other role playing games, characters in SWD have a handful of basic attribute scores that define their inborn abilities.  In SWD, a character’s resolve and mental fortitude is represented by their Spirit attribute.  Rather than a static number, as in D&D for instance, this attribute is represented by a die type ranging from d4 to d12; the bigger the die, the greater their Spirit.

When confronted with a Fear-causing situation, the player makes a Fear check using their appropriate Spirit die, and an additional d6, known as the ‘wild die.’  The inclusion of the wild die in SWD gives PCs a chance at salvation should their attribute die fail them, miserably or otherwise.  Any time a player fails such a roll, they are allowed to spend an in-game currency known as ‘bennies’ (or ‘boons,’ as we call them) to re-roll the botched test.  A player may re-roll as much as they wish, so long as they have the boons to make it happen.

The consequence of failing one’s Fear test is a roll on the Fright Table.  The Fright Table requires the player to roll a d20, add any modifiers from their character sheet or the situation, and suffer whatever tragedy randomly unravels.  The outcomes range from an Adrenaline Surge (1-4) that grants the player +2 to their next action rolls, to a straight-up heart attack (21+).  The heart attack doesn’t immediately result in character death, but it’s pretty damn close.

Ok, so now you know a little bit about my weapon of choice for this campaign.

They Call Me (Mellow) Yellow

In a remarkable stroke of player courage, my good friend Justin created a very interesting and very complex character with a serious problem in this fear-laced setting: He gave him the hindrance called “Yellow.”

Now role playing a coward is challenging enough, although Justin pulled it off beautifully.  He consistently deferred to others in the face of conflict, he slunk to the shadows and slung spells from a distance in combat, and when all else failed he hid under tables when all hell broke loose.  Such actions gave his character true personality and really brought him to life.

However, trying to keep that same character alive mechanically, in the face of monsters and the deep dark forest, is a special kind of nightmare.  The Yellow hindrance automatically gives Justin’s character a -2 penalty to Fear checks, and counts as a +2 modifier should he be forced to roll on the Fright Table.

In the episode before last, Justin’s character suffered not one but two Major Phobias from failed Fear tests, further incapacitating his character when faced with specific triggers.  These Phobias called for penalties at inconvenient times, and made survival even harder still.  However, all that prepared Justin for what would happen in the weeks to come.

You Mean Like Those Trees in ‘The Wizard of Oz’?

Which brings us back to the woods.

The party had charged into the forest, chasing their town’s resident monster hunter as he pursued a beast that had tormented their homes.  Deep into the ancient tress, however, the trail suddenly stopped.  The hunter’s flintlock pistol, still warm from being fired, lay at their feet in the dead leaves on the forest floor.  The hunter himself was nowhere in sight.

As the party scans the woods, looking for a clue to the hunter’s whereabouts, huge black trees with grasping limbs and grotesque faces in their gnarled bark surround the adventurers and commence their attack.  They lash out with thick branches covered in blood-red sap that binds up weapons, all the while trying to entangle the heroes with twisted vines.  Justin’s character, Judas the Postman, is the first one to become ensnared in their grasp.  Being caught in their malevolent grip requires Judas to make a Fear Test.

So About That Re-Roll…

As with most trait tests in SWD, Justin’s target number was a 4.  However, with a Spirit of d6 and a wild die of d6, and a -2 penalty to each because Judas is Yellow, only a roll of 6 on either die will spell success.  Sadly, he doesn’t get either die to cooperate. Paying a boon, he retools the failed test.  Again, neither die shows a 6.  With only 2 boons to go, and the combat just starting, Justin decides to accept his fate and save his boons for later.  He rolls on the Fright Table.

It comes up a 16, with +2 for being Yellow, for a total of 18; that means his character gets a Major Phobia hindrance, a mechanical flaw that penalizes the character at a -4 when in the presence of their trigger, which must be related to what caused the original Fear.  Justin is now terrified of being in the woods, where he is currently entangled and sure to be held for at least his next turn.

That next turn is spent attempting a new Fear test, but now Judas is at a -4 penalty for his Phobia and a -2 penalty for being Yellow.  In other words, unless he rolls two 6′s in a row on either his Spirit or wild die, he’s going to be rolling on the Fright Table again.  (Chase quickly did the math, and informed us Judas only had a 2.8% chance of doing so.)  One failed Fear test later, Chase’s math has proven itself but Justin decides to spend the second of his three boons to desperately roll again.  Sadly, the results do not change.  Judas is still frightened.

So Justin picks up his d20 and rolls on the Fright Table.  It lands dramatically on a natural 20.  The table goes silent as every player adds 2 to the roll for Judas’ Yellow hindrance.  22 on the Fright Table means one thing: Judas the Postman has just suffered a heart attack.  A combination of amazement and laughter quickly fills the room, before Justin  throws me his last boon.  He’s going to pay to reroll that heart attack, before Judas suffers an ignominious death.

Now all eyes are on his d20.  The odds are back on his side: 90% of the rolls will change Judas’ fate.  Sadly, no one told Justin that, because his reroll lands on a 19 (+2!) and means the heart attack takes Judas down.  A roar of astonishment erupts from all of us, and all poor Justin can do is laugh at his horrible luck.

A Little GM Fiat

Now the rules for the heart attack allow the character to immediately roll a Vigor test (at a -2 penalty) to avoid immediate death.  Thankfully, Justin’s dice agree to this test and avoid Judas’ instant demise.  However, he’s now got 2d6 rounds to receive healing from another character before becoming Incapacitated (taken out of the game).

My own dice rolling is just as horrible as Justin’s, and the 2d6 rounds becomes 3 in all.  Between Judas’ entangled state and the rest of the party being embroiled in a fight for their own lives, no one can get to the downed man to bring him back.  Wrapped in vines and betrayed by his own failing heart, Judas is pulled into the dark shadows of the forest primeval.

In SWD, a character who is Incapacitated isn’t automatically dead, although the GM could decide to interpret it that way.  I had real trouble seeing how Judas could possibly survive his encounter in the woods, especially since the black trees spent several rounds of movement purposely dragging his body away.  As much as we all liked Judas, he never really had a chance.

So there you have it.  I’ve killed my first player character, but in a dramatic, memorable, and eerily fitting way.  I couldn’t have planned it any better.  And best of all, I did it without getting blood on my hands.  Literally.  As we discussed ideas for his next character, Justin was quick to point out that Judas was the only member of the party who had never been wounded in combat.  Being a coward had kept him safe from physical harm, until it proved to be his ultimate undoing.

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