When it comes to heroes, I can’t help but think of the heroes that braved the waters of 4E D&D when it was first released. None of us knew how to make broken characters. Everyone was enthusiastic. It was an exciting time for roleplaying. Friends were coming out of the woodwork that we hadn’t seen in years. We were anything but Heroes, but all the enthusiasm and the lack of power gaming made for an amazing campaign. I still remember a moment that will live on forever as Most Memorable Character Death.
Every character was suboptimal, but one example pretty much sums it up: an eladrin warlord named Shax. Sure, you might imagine that this PC might not be too bad, but my buddy chose to make him an “Inspiring Warlord” instead of a Tactical one (charisma over intelligence). Match this with a mediocre strength (14) – and you would be betting right that things were looking a little grim for Shax. But who knew? My friend was so proud of his new creation. See this paragon of awesome warlordy power! See this flashing bolt of inspiring awe! Within two sessions – Shax was dead, but it was awesome fun for another character could be drawn up and we could try again to learn the secrets of 4E character design.
I also remember this standard, “cardboard” human paladin another buddy of mine whipped up for the game; no one expected him to meet his end so quickly either.
The party was reaching the climax of our introductory campaign and the final encounter was upon them. Deep in the lower chambers of an old temple they had finally cornered the leader of the assassin’s guild, a halfling rogue (how original of me!). But—I was having so much fun with this new 4E system—I had also placed a swinging scythe pendulum trap between the Rogue and the entrance where the PCs had come in. That trap was swung over a stone bridge that spanned a pool of bubbling lava; a crack into the plane of fire. Yes, that’s right, a lava pit at 3rd level—I really was a bastard. The fact that after a couple of years, I still remember the encounter speaks to its success.
I was so cruel to them. The fight started with all the players rushing across the stone bridge as fast as they could and just barely dodging the swinging trap or just barely resisting the push effect that would have knocked them into the lava. The assassin leader shifted, dodged, and ran back across the bridge to where the PCs had just come from. He did not do this only to be cruel (and force the players back across the trap), but also to go after the lone PC that remained near the entrance: the party’s wizard who had planned on blasting him from a distance.
So there were the players, muttering about having to cross the treacherous bridge a second time. They were all muttering except for our wonderful lawful good human paladin. Why waste time? The paladin, turned and courageously charged back across the bridge to save the wizard. He gave all his companions the briefest boost to morale. His only position to engage the rogue was while still standing on the bridge in one of the trapped squares. The first turn everyone gasped as he was barely missed by the swinging trap. Everyone started to cheer, this guy’s decisions always got his characters into trouble, and here he was again, doing just that.
The next turn proved to be the end though – with the right rolls, the pendulum trap knocked the paladin off of the bridge in a flash. SPLASH! Roast Paladin. In a lava pit. The other players sat slack-jawed in horror as the paladin and (more importantly!) all his gear were turned to molten slag. Fortunately, after another tumble or two – the party caught up with rogue and got their revenge. They survived the fight in the end, but we never did see anymore eladrin warlords or cardboard paladins for a long time afterwards.
My friends and I still laugh about that day, it is one of the moments that we fondly remember. It’s funny, maybe we just have a nasty sense of humor, but almost all of the stories that we talk about and remember are the ones where characters died.
Is that true for everyone? Are the best games the ones where the heroes meet some bittersweet death?
This post is part of the December RPG Blog Carnival: “We Could Be Heroes…” hosted by Casting Shadows. Visit the host and check out the other blogs that have contributed to the carnival!