Let’s talk sacrifice.

Bubbly Fizz. Mmmmm.[1]

Spoilers follow–no, honestly, serious spoilers–but it doesn’t matter unless you game. I’ve been reading The Dead White World from Pelgrane Press. It’s a post-apocaylptic RPG, set in the Mythos, a few years before World War II. The Investigators wake up to find that nearly everyone is dead, the world is covered in delicate white flowers, and the situation deteriorates from there. Oh, does it ever deteriorate. Anyway.

At the end of the outlined scenarios, the players are put in a position where the only way to keep Britain from being overrun by the Deep Ones was for one of them to choose to die.

I’m reminded of The Unity, which was the end of the Deadlands story. (I mean, in general, this is not surprising. Deadlands is Cthulhu & Six-Guns in a lot of ways.) There’s a point in the story where someone has to die; it’s essential to that combination of “success” and “survival” that you aim for in Deadlands stories.

I am not sure about how one would go about setting this up.  Although these are settings where you can expect your character to die, that is rather different from one of your characters being required to die.  I’m not complaining about the story–I think that sacrifice is potentially an incredibly powerful story element–but…

John talks about the concept of a game contract; when you run a game, you agree to its basic conceits.  If it’s a heroic fantasy game, then you do not create a character who reacts to seeing someone about to fall off a cliff by stopping, giggling, and saying “Gee, I wonder how high he’ll bounce.”  Your character doesn’t need to be happy about the fact that they’re going to go save the guy, but they are by-god gonna go save the guy, because you do.

The Storyteller agrees to these conceits as well.  And one of the near-universal ones is that you will have a chance to survive.  And I’m not sure if simply telling players straight-up that yes, one of them is going to die in this story is the best way to handle it.  I’m not even entirely sure it’s better than not telling them.

Thoughts?

[1] I suspect there are a very few people who will get that. To them, I apologize. To the rest of you, humour me. No, it does not have anything to do with Pepsi, no matter what Google tells you.

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4 thoughts on “Let’s talk sacrifice.”

  1. As a DM, I always let my players know that I would be playing fairly. I wouldn’t put them in situations where they were destined to fail. They knew that though encounters might be hard, they were at least doable. The dice might not work out for them, they might not use the right strategy, or solve the puzzle adequately, but the possibility was there. I think that requiring a sacrifice is a step and a half too far. I would be concerned that it would cost some player loyalty, if they knew that no matter what they did would end in a negative outcome for their character. As DM, I might allow a more crafty solution… For example they might sacrifice their corporeal body, while their spirit remained trapped on the plane, allowing for a follow up mission for the heroes to transplant the soul and prevent him from endless wandering Hell. I don’t know much about the setting, but I know the Mythos is all about evil idols and cultist plots. I don’t think it would be too far of a stretch to “trap” the players soul while the body is sacrificed, and then release the soul. Might even give some good RP opportunities as they find a new vessel.

    I never liked running published materials straight, because they never allow for creative solutions. I’m a bigger fan of working from campaign settings and adventure hooks and just seeing where it goes.

    Just my 2.5 cents. 🙂

    1. Hmh. The first thing that springs to mind is this: it’s absolutely a negative consequence, but dying isn’t failing. Did Larry Underwood fail? Or, even better, Miles Dyson in Terminator 2? (Less interestingly, but still of note: Sydney Carton, in Tale of Two Cities?)

      I like Miles Dyson best of the bunch.

      The Mythos–for RPGs–is less evil idols and mad cultists and more the world rotting out from around you and you trying to not go crazy. (It doesn’t work.) Evil idols get it rotting faster. Cultists tend to have already failed not going crazy, but they sometimes get dangerously cool tricks out of it. (Deadlands has a bit less of the going crazy and a bit more of the dying.)

      Costing player loyalty: not sure what you mean. Would you expect them to say they’d participate and then quit showing up to game? I mean, if you tell the players in advance that you want to run an adventure where one of them will die in a way that will matter, and they agree to play, I don’t know how it’s going too far.

      In The Unity, at least, someone being murdered is the price of getting the demon to take the Reckoners (Big Bads) to another world, where first they won’t be gods anymore and second they won’t be on earth and earth therefore has a chance of no longer being in Hell, which after two hundred years of the Reckoners tramping around is an unspeakably sweet triumph. In the Dead White World, Britain can be saved from the Deep Ones if the white flowers are placed in the bottleneck of the Deep One invasion… but the white flowers have to be rooted in human flesh. Britain’ll still be overrun by the white flowers, but on the off chance that you escape and save the entire planet, which I think is in danger of splitting asunder, there might be a way to come back and try to get rid of them. If you let the Deep Ones invade, you can pretty much write off the country even if you save the world.

      I mean, yes, there are ways around this! The Unity sourcebook outright says that if your gaming group would not appreciate the murder, let them off with the demon demanding that blood be spilt. As for TDDW, I might let that one go with hacking off a limb and leaving it behind. And either one might let you drag an NPC in by the heels.

      But if it’s a given that there’s a way to do it without dying, if that’s assumed, then the final act quits being a sacrifice and turns into a puzzle. Puzzles are cool! But they’re clever little abstract brain-tricks, and they don’t carry the emotional punch. If you think your character can die, the game gets more intense–it’s why I find Hardcore mode in NV is so much more engaging than regular mode. If you know that your character’s death will matter, that it won’t ever be bad luck but that it’ll be what nets the greatest victory possible in the entire freaking setting…

      That could be story *gold*. I wouldn’t force it on players who weren’t up for it. But I would dearly dearly want to do it, and would be proud to be trusted enough to do it, and in light of that, I am trying to figure out the fairest way to handle it.

    1. Deadlands? Absolutely. 🙂

      I suppose it’s an alternate universe, technically; its history exactly matches real-world history right up until the day the Battle of Gettysburg was called on account of zombies. The monsters from the Hunting Grounds[1] are rubbing away at the barrier between the Hunting Grounds and the real world, the Four Horsemen are walking the earth (not that all of them know it), no-one wants to hear how bad it is (which, given that an increase in Fear Level is what erodes the barrier holding back the Hunting Grounds, is not an entirely objectionable thing), and the zombies are probably the least upsetting thing the PCs will run into.

      Then there’s its future equivalent, where the nuclear bombs went off–except rather than uranium or plutonium, they were fuelled by ghost rock. (Ghost rock: a kind of super-coal that burns hotter and longer than anything else, and occasionally has uncomfortable side-effects.) There… wasn’t much restraining the Reckoners. It got ugly. 😀

      Aaaaaand this has been your dose of geek love for the original, inimitable, much-beloved game of the Spaghetti Western… with Meat.

      [1] Oh this is so not the “Happy” Hunting Grounds. Is it ever not.

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