- Seth Saunders
Roleplaying the Galaxy: Don't Make Me Destroy You
From Nexu to Dianoga to extragalactic invaders, the Star Wars galaxy is a perilous place, harboring dangers that many of its citizens hold to be commonplace. Whether it’s being vaporized in a hyperdrive mishap or falling in the crossfire of innumerable conflicts, there are nearly endless ways to die, even if one plays it perpetually safe.
And you, dear band of spacers, Jedi, and other miscellaneous adventurers, are barvy enough to strut out into the galaxy looking for danger.
A more sadistic game master than I would be delighted at all the potential ways they might atomize or otherwise dismantle their player’s characters, but I fear it’s a weakness of mine to grow nearly as invested with what my players bring to the table as what I provide for them to play in. I do delight in providing new and interesting challenges for my players, but watching months of player advancement and character growth be obliterated by an ill-fated roll is not my idea of a good time.
That said, it is part of my duty as the caretaker of my slice of this tabletop roleplaying pastime to occasionally be the bearer of bad news. While it’s not an experience I eagerly anticipate, I have learned to see the positive in the equivalent of losing a favorite book character cranked up to eleven. It can bring those characters who survived the lethal encounter closer together. It can open up new storytelling opportunities for game master and players to explore together. And, most of all, it can provide a pivotal moment in a far-reaching arc.
Still, where at all possible, I try to work with my players to afford their characters every chance to make it out of their current predicament alive. Some players make it easier than others. This is, after all, a game; a way to blow off steam and delve into a favorite setting with no real-world repercussions. So, understandably, some players possess no caution even to throw to the wind, delighting in increasingly narrow escapes and soon (rightfully, at times) beginning to feel unstoppable.
And here is where I’d like to talk about Ayontha.
One of the race of near-extinct Sith Purebloods at the time of the Galactic Civil War, Ayontha was an Inquisitor recovered during a Rebel mission by a young officer who took pity on her.
Waking from the blast that had nearly killed her, now in a Rebel facility, Ayontha would offer up no intel on her order, but was soon dispatched as a sort of criminal informant with a newly-formed squad on a mission that required her expertise. Her keeper? A reprogrammed assassin droid with orders to shoot her at the first sign of duplicity.
None was ever spotted by IG-45’s keen photoreceptors…though this didn’t stop a highly contentious relationship from forming. In time, Ayontha became one of the team, the turnover cemented when her new squadmates saved her from another Inquisitor sent to plug the potential intelligence leak Ayontha presented.
Rather than send further assassins, the Inquisitorius reorganized, rendering the now decidedly disloyal Ayontha’s intel obsolete. Ayontha continued to play an active role in her squad, eventually aiding in the defense and evacuation of a key Rebel base. In the process, Ayontha was struck by a TIE figher blast, one leg ripped from her body as she bled out on the ground.
Enter Malthar Tholexicus Rezallium-Byre, another Sith Pureblood who’d been sent to entice Ayontha with a proposition of power, and who’d monitored her for some time. Soaring into the air and cleaving the TIE in two with his ancient Sith warblade (it was a reeeaaally good roll), Malthar rushed in to stabilize and resuscitate Ayontha, informing her that he was there to offer the aid of the “True Sith” to the Rebellion. With the base successfully evacuated beneath the Imperial onslaught, Ayontha accompanied him alone to a secret base on Dromund Kaas.
GM’s note: this was me having fun with a precursor group to Darth Krayt’s One Sith, who brought the galaxy to heel much later, living under the noses of the Prophets of the Dark Side, for a time.
Big shock, Malthar’s boss wanted Ayontha to join the order, by force, if necessary. It was.
Here things happened pretty quickly. Ayontha’s squad rushed in to extract her, the Sith went hostile, and Malthar, who’d forged a genuine connection with Ayontha, turned on his masters and bought the squad time to escape, seemingly dying in the process. Also, there was a Rancor. Ooh, and my wife’s Cathar Jedi, Mylyri, actually faced off with a young Wyyrlok I, who canonically had lost a horn and had a scar on his face later in life. Due to some more crazy rolls, Mylyri actually managed to momentarily best the Sith Lord, dealing the disfiguring injury. I love my wife.
Anyway, the squad went about their business, with Ayontha mourning Malthar, until, on a dangerous mission to assault an Imperial shipyard, a dark figure dropped into a room with Ayontha, shutting them both in with a wave of its hand. Throwing back his hood, Malthar revealed himself, disfigured from his near-death and physical/mental restructuring by Wyyrlok. Twisted to now despise Ayontha, and screaming that she’d abandoned him, Malthar fell in on her as Ayontha’s squad fought to reach her through enclosing Imperials. Rather than flee, Ayontha chose to stand and fight, and to hopefully redeem the man who’d nearly died for her. A grueling duel ensued, seeing both parties maimed and broken, culminating in Malthar gaining the upper hand and drawing a wicked dagger to replace his shattered blade (Mylyri again; heck of a sniper).
Defeated, Ayontha looked up into a face she knew well from her own time among the Inquisitors; one steeped in the dark side and unable to break free. Even as Malthar’s blade sank deep into her chest, Ayontha simply pulled Malthar close and kissed him on the cheek, whispering, “I’m sorry.”
His masters’ hold broken, Malthar returned to himself, even as he succumbed to his own injuries. Remorse in his eyes, he gasped, “It’s done, Masters.” Then, looking down to the woman who’d apologized to her own assassin for abandoning him, who’d held no hatred for him as he’d killed her, he added, “And I’m free of you,” as he and Ayontha died in each other’s arms
…’Twas a heavy session.
The result of allowing natural consequences to catch up to Ayontha’s player crafted a beautiful tragedy I’d never have had the guts to write, myself. Two of a dying breed, both battling the darkness inside, killed and saved each other.
Ayontha’s assassin droid keeper, IG-45, was one of the main speakers at her funeral, where he informed everybody that the occasionally hostile back-and-forth between him and the “prisoner” had seemingly been stored in his friendship parameters. Oh, and Forty-Five had a holocron stuck in his chest, at this point, but that’s another story.
So, yeah, while I’ll never advocate for being the kind of game master who intentionally builds their game to slaughter player characters, I also caution those new to running RPGs not to go too easy on your players. Threats need to be paid off, and death always has to be a possibility, if there’s to be any sort of dramatic tension, or the potential for surprisingly touching deaths. Of course, if you’re running a game for little kids, or just want a breezy fun time, no stakes is fine. Just be aware of what you might be missing out on.
Back next week with two adjacent topics; the dreaded TPK and alternate repercussions…
May the Force be with you!