Years ago I wrote a piece called “And Then You Die: A Good (Character) Death.” I’ve been thinking more about it recently, because two of my players’ characters died in the last session of D&D that I ran.
Did I actually follow my own advice? Continue reading
Bye bye Boromir.
I love Boromir. I know I’m not the only one who does. And however much I like Boromir when he’s alive, there’s something that’s almost even more (tragically) appealing about him dead. This is less because I like his ruggedly handsome corpse, and more because of what Homer touched on thousands of years ago: in his death, because of how he died, Boromir becomes something more than he was in life. Boromir had what we might call a good death. Key to this, Boromir dies before he truly succumbs to the power of the Ring, and in his death he tries to make up for some of the mistakes that he has made previously. His act of self-sacrifice protecting the Ring-bearer is a fairly hefty weight in his favor on the scales of Judgement, making up for some of his earlier errors. Interestingly enough for such a perilous setting, he is also the only member of the Fellowship to die and stay dead.
It turns out that that single heroic death is pretty standard. Most stories, like most role-playing games, don’t have lots of character death. In reality, people engaging in the same activities that most adventurers and main characters pursue with wild abandon have a fairly high casualty rate. People are killed while fighting, they’re permanently injured, they get sick… and in many cases, their deaths and debilities feel meaningless. For every handful of people that die doing something we would idolize as heroic, far more are killed or injured in an almost banal fashion. Would we feel the same way about Boromir’s death if he had, I don’t know, been killed without having a chance to fight back? Stepped on a landmine? Slipped in the shower and broken his neck?
Let’s start with the title. When I say RPG, I (usually) don’t mean rocket-propelled grenade. Usually.
No, this post is meant to unpack the terminology surrounding role-playing games, and to be used as a future point of reference. I’m also going to refer back to Mattias’ excellent post about role-playing, because he did such a damn fine job of describing what role-playing is.
All three of us have written about role-playing games (check out the GMing category, and look at the older articles). Yet for the most part our posts have assumed a certain level of familiarity with RPGs and their terminology. I’ve certainly presumed that other people know what I’m talking about; but what the heck does it mean when I call a system “sparsely elegant“?
In an effort to minimize confusion, here’s a quick primer that will begin to bring you up to speed. I’ll do my best not to cover things that were done better elsewhere (see Mattias’ article, really), but there may be a little bit of overlap.
The terminology and topics that I plan to cover…