As a matter of fact, not only is the death of PCs an option, it’s the one I look forward to each time I run the game. Sadly, it sometimes just isn’t very likely. Even more sadly, tomorrow’s Mage game is looking to be one of those times as it seems as though my players will actually spend some time gathering information. It’s been a while since they’ve done anything remotely resembling research, which I have to admit isn’t entirely their fault. Sometimes fans get hit, and things need to be sanitized. When that happens sooner is generally better than later.
For example, on their way back from dealing with the “crazy homeless guy” who was actually a former police officer that was about to change into a Werewolf for the very first time*, the Mages and Werewolves stumbled upon a nun that was possessed by a demon. This is the kind of thing you typically want to fix as quickly as possible. you want to take care of it even more quickly when you realize that the demon is Sangre Santo:
Sangre Santo is not much fun at parties. He does enjoy making deals though!
My co-GM and I made sure that there was at least one way to come out of the encounter unscathed. We also allowed for the possibility that they would figure out other ways to come out of this OK, though we could only think of the one, and we were reasonably certain they wouldn’t avail themselves of it.
As you may have already guessed – they didn’t.
Death was very much an option during this encounter. In fact Sangre Santo made it quite clear that he might kill them all quite by accident if he wasn’t careful! The sad truth is that this is one of those cases where simply killing them didn’t make sense. Quite frankly, that would have been way too passe for Sangre Santo. He didn’t want to kill them, he wanted to corrupt them. If he had to knock each and every one of them unconscious and then play “Let’s Make A Deal” with the first one to wake up over and over again until someone broke down and decided which one of their friends should be killed, so be it. After all, being an abyssal entity means that Sangre Santo has too much time on his hands. While this made a TPK unlikely, it did make it quite possible that one of the characters would be forced to sentence another one to death in order for the majority of them to live. Since it is unlikely that any player would make this choice, a successful “RESOLVE + COMPOSURE” roll would have been needed to not give in. The corrupted PC would have suffered some Morality loss and a possible derangement, the other PCs would be shocked and horrified (well, the ones that weren’t the dead one anyway), and my co-GM and I would have congratulated each other on a job well done.
Of course, failing that Sangre Santo would have eventually gotten bored again and just killed them all in the hopes that more entertainment would arrive soon.
The PCs actually caught a break here. It was down to final health points for several of the characters, and the big guy himself. Aenaiyah pulled a Hail Mary and managed to sever the connection between Sangre Santo and the mortal plane just before he managed to kill her.
This entertained him so much that he later sent her a gift!
Sangre Santo is nothing if not appreciative of a good time.
It’s important for death to be a very real threat in the campaign. The possibility of character death creates a sense of urgency and tension. The specter of death makes it clear to the players that the choices they make for their characters are important. The trick is that too much death, senseless death, and unavoidable death cause the same problems that no fear of death causes. If the players know that their characters are going to die anyway it takes away that very sense of urgency and tension – they are going to die no matter what they do!
Death needs to always be on the table, but it should always make sense, always be meaningful, and always be avoidable. If it isn’t it becomes cheapened. It becomes a certainty instead of a risk. Once the outcome is certain it just isn’t much of a game anymore.
*Let the record clearly state that the Mages and Werewolves actually opted to help this guy! (Let it also clearly state that previously the Gaurdian of the Veil handed him a fresh bottle of whiskey and pointed him toward the nearest subway tunnel.)
I’m finally taking some time to read through my “Hunter: The Vigil” book. I have to say, I wish I’d read this one sooner!
Yes, this is partially because I might have decided to run Hunters instead of Mages and as a result saved myself a large quantity of sanity points. Mostly though, it’s because Hunter works so well for any World of Darkness Chronicle. It’s possible for Hunters to have unique abilities based upon what Hunter conspiracies they belong to (if they belong to one at all), which allows them to be powerful enough to go up against a group of supernatural PC’s as effective antagonists. They can also wind up with the advantage of numbers if your PC’s have been running amok in your setting and causing all types of weirdness like, say, casting “Platypus Whirlwind” in the heart of mid-town Manhattan. Not that a Mage PC would ever think to do something like that, of course! I speak purely hypothetically.
No matter what skills they bring to the table however, Hunters make great antagonists because when you come right down to it, they’re just ordinary people. Once upon a time they were normal folks just looking the other way and trying not to lose their minds – to quote “A Shoggoth On The Roof“. They are the people your PC’s might have been had their own encounters with the supernatural gone only slightly differently. Wielded properly this can lead to all sorts of mayhem for your troupe.
Take for example a recent session of mine in which a Cabal of Mages and a Pack of Werewolves, who have become friends despite my best efforts to the contrary, wound up almost TPKing the entire campaign! All my co-GM and I needed to do was allow them to capture one poor, defenseless, unconscious Hunter. Some PC’s shout “Kill him! He’s a Hunter! He’d kill us if he was conscious!” Other PC’s say “But wait! He’s just a squishy mortal person, you know, like we used to be. He doesn’t know any better. One day he might become one of us!” It isn’t long before a knife gets thrown, an Acanthus Mage starts bleeding (even before she can suggest using Post Cognition to find out why he became a Hunter in the first place), sides are drawn… we haven’t gone near any of the GM’s carefully laid plans (which in this instance is fine because the GM’s got to kick back and eat chips for a change) and people are calling for initiative rolls on each other.
This, loyal readers, is what I like to call “GM Win!”
It doesn’t happen often enough.
And then there is the glorious entire section of the book that tells you how Hunters trick out their homes with booby traps. I found this section most inspirational! (Yes, that is a tear of joy sliding down my cheek as I type this.) Of course, I like to go the extra mile and dump a few dozen acid-spewing zombies on my PC’s to go along with the traps, but if you’re looking for some decent rules regarding pit traps and the like “Hunter: The Vigil” is an excellent resource! In fact, I have to admit that it’s an excellent resource for pretty much everything in the World of Darkness. It’s well organized, well edited, and clearly well thought out. As a GM or a player I highly recommend it.