It recently occurred to me that one of the most memorable moments in role-playing is the death of a player character. We sometimes spend hours crafting these fictional characters; rolling their stats, buying up their skills, building their back story, and describing not only what they look like, but what motivates them as people. We then step into these people’s heads, and look through their eyes with our imaginations as they explore strange new universes, or old familiar ones. Their hearts are ours when we build relationships with the other characters in the group, played by other flesh people wearing soul-suits of paper, ink, and graphite. In some ways, we’ve gotten to know our friends in ways that no other human being has, or ever will.
I’m going to explore two different kinds of character death over two posts. First:
The Comedic Death
The comedic death usually takes place in games where death has no meaning in the game universe (TOON!), where the game is expected to be coated in the pink mist and bone chips of ex-PCs (Paranoia), or where death had a meaning once, but has lost it due to power creep (ala the goblins scene in The Gamers 2: Dorkness Rising). The best comedic deaths usually involve some kind of epic failure because of the dice, poor choices made by the player, or some combination of the two.
One of the best comedic deaths I’ve ever witnessed in an RPG was actually a string of deaths in a game of Paranoia. I’m sure many of you aren’t surprised by this. I had 6 friends roll up their characters, and loaded them down with an assortment of treasonous intent, self interest, and high-powered weaponry. It was going to be a good night. The most coveted, and the most FEARED of the weapons in Paranoia I’d reserved for the player who knew the littlest of the system… the dreaded Plasma Generator. For those of you who’ve never played Paranoia 2nd Edition, the Plasma generator is a weapon that has a 1 in 20 chance of insta-killing whatever it hits. On a roll of 2 or more, it insta-vaporizes them. The main drawback to this weapon is that it’s unstable, and has a high likelihood of malfunctioning (read: blowing up), dealing the aforementioned damage to the wielder and everything in the immediate vicinity. For fun, the one I gave the noob was experimental and even MORE likely to explode, but it had an escalating beeper that warned the user of “imminent plasma celebration” (It was originally supposed to say liberation, but it was edited, and the original message engineer was terminated for seditious propagandizing).
The first time the weapon was fired, it informed the noob of the impending “celebration”, and he took this to mean that he’d fry some fools and celebrate afterward.
I sent his second clone in with another one of these experimental plasma generators, and dropped him into the thick of combat via the C.R.U.D. system (I can’t remember which supplement this was in, but it was used for rapid clone deployment via tube of goo). He vaporized 2 commie mutant traitors and was starting to get cocky, when he was warned about a “plasma procreation”. He wasn’t fooled this time… but he froze in terror. When the noob didn’t say anything, I started saying “beep beep beep beepbeepbeepBEEPBEEPBEEP…!”, and the other players had their characters dive behind cover, out of the blast area.
Taking his queue from the others, he yelled, and I quote, “I JUMP!”
Floosh. Enter clone 3.
When the C.R.U.D. system crapped him back into the party the PCs were pinned down by the commies, because the noob’s previous explosion forced them into an unfortunately bad tactical position. The noob fought valiantly and helped them win the fight. There’d been a number of other accidents and terminations by this point, however, and the troubleshooters were running low on clones. To make things worse, at the end of the scenario one of the players confessed to being a commie, and sided with the big boss against the party.
The combat begins, and the remaining “friendly” members of the party open fire on the commies. The noob is cooking commie in badass fashion, like Jesse the fucking Body Ventura. Alas, it wasn’t to last. He again received the warning of an “imminent plasma masturbation”, followed by the dreaded beeping. Again, his comrades dove behind cover desperately trying to save their last, precious clone. The noob, figuring he knew EXACTLY why he died the last time yelled…
“I DIVE BEHIND COVER WITH THOSE GUYS!!!”
P.S., In Case You Missed It: When you have an unlicensed malfunctioning experimental Plasma Generator on your back, take it off BEFORE you jump.