They didn't even ask me any questions.
Last week I gave some thoughts on how players and game masters might deal with the mortality of characters in a tabletop roleplaying game. The deaths of fictional characters can hit us hard, especially if we’ve been the ones to drive them towards their goals and establish their hopes for the future. I’ve found it can be even more gut-wrenching than having to write a character death in a novel, as death in TTRPGs is dictated by dice and a series of choices; unplanned. The shock of such a loss might even bring up real-life tragedy in a player, and, as such, a player group should always be supportive and empathetic to their fellows, even if such things don’t affect you the same way.
In roleplaying games, the most dreaded (or highly anticipated, depending on malice levels) such outcome is the total party kill. Your players have journeyed through their imaginations together for weeks, months, or even years, and some great challenge, whether set before them by the game master or foolishly sought out, has proven too great a match. One by one, or even all at once in a fiery explosion, the player characters are snuffed out, falling to crimson lightsabers or a hail of droid blasterfire.
That’s it. The story is done, and without a chance of catharsis. Game over.
Different player groups have different reactions to such an occurrence. For some, it’s something that can be brushed off. “Oh well. We tried, right, guys?” For others, it can prove devastating, especially if the TPK took place during what was meant to be the climactic culmination of an otherwise rich and rewarding campaign. Still other groups can devolve into blaming back and forth about where a fatal misstep might have compromised an entire battle plan or exit strategy.
Regardless of reactions, communication is, as usual, key. Does the group collectively want to make new characters and try to avenge their past party in the same storyline? Or maybe everyone would prefer to start fresh; new characters, new campaign, and even an entirely new system (Star Wars has some great ones to choose from).
Ultimately, if real-world bonds are strong, players will still wish to continue telling stories together across the galaxy. But a game master may take the opportunity to decide if a brief hiatus would be beneficial to help everyone come to terms with the past and grow excited for what comes next.
What about when the consequences of a shared story thread don’t involve death, though? Perhaps the Hutt crime boss whom your crew double-crossed last month doesn’t want you dead, merely trapped in his employ. That slimy Moff you opposed in the senate? He’ll be looking for ways to apply pressure in your personal life that will persuade you to vote in his favor, next time. Maybe your former brother-in-arms doesn’t want to assassinate you for making the choice to leave him behind. He’ll be content to snuff out that village you pulled back to defend, seemingly at the cost of his life.
There are numerous ways for past choices to return and haunt player characters, not all of them involving a sentient antagonist. Dared to flee with a caravan into the treacherous Deep Core? You risk losing your civilian vessels to supernova currents and nebulae.
Consequences needn’t even always strike at the player character themselves. Often it can even prove more impactful for the negative ramifications to fall on another character’s head, even that of another player. Will the group rally to right past wrongs?
Last time I told you all the story of Ayontha. Now I’d like to focus on Mylyri.
As you may recall, as the party of this campaign was extracting their Sith Pureblood companion from the precursor One Sith on the world of Dromund Kaas, Mylyri had briefly dueled with Darth Wyyrlok. The two had engaged in tense lightsaber combat atop a walkway, with the Cathar Jedi-in-training slipping through the Chagrian Sith’s defenses to score a disfiguring (and delightfully canon) blow that toppled Wyyrlok to the floor far beneath.
While the Sith was dazed, Mylyri fled with her friends and continued to battle on behalf of the Rebel Alliance in the Galactic Civil War.
Months passed, and a budding romance Mylyri had struck up with a former stormtrooper named Braxis (that’s a whole other story) bloomed into a no-frills wedding.
The various wedding gifts provided by the rest of the squad would take too long to explain, but trust me, they were hilarious.
Anyway, the war drags on, Ayontha and other allies are lost to the fight, and the campaign neared its final chapter as the squad reluctantly departed their home base to assist their squadmate Rien (the anomaly you may recall the Force departing from out of pity) in rescuing his Bothan “brother” from the vile Inquisitor puppeteering his life.
Joining with the Rebel cell on an Imperial-controlled world, Mylyri and her squad set about sowing the seeds of liberation…only to find that they’d been expected. Dark figures armed with lightsabers ambushed the divided squad, nearly besting half of them before the rest of the player characters arrived to help.
Fearing for the lives of the quintuplets she carried (yeah, I rolled for that; not only can a human and Cathar apparently procreate, but it seems the mother determines the species…who knew?) Mylyri persuaded Braxis to depart the planet with her. However, as the two reached their ship, more Sith appeared, sabotaging the vessel and subduing Braxis.
It was then that a scarred Wyyrlok revealed himself via hologram, mocking Mylyri and ordering an underling to sever Braxis’s gun arm. As the frightened, infuriated Mylyri demanded that Wyyrlok face her, the present Sith aimed strange weapons at her; stokhli sticks.
Wyyrlok then ordered Mylyri to surrender to restraints so that her children might be harvested on maturation, or else the Sith would open fire and terminate her pregnancy. EU fans will doubtless guess my inspiration.
Mylyri’s response? “Kark that!”
In a moment that has affectionately been coined “Mom Rage” by our group, Mylyri pressed
the base of her own lightsaber to her belly, snarling to Wyyrlok that she’d rather die and take her children with her than see them enslaved to the Sith.
I’m still not sure if this was a bluff.
Tense seconds of standoff later, Wyyrlok sneered and commanded that his agents open fire, asserting that he’d settle for one, broken student over six defiant ones.
Enveloped in nets of nerve-flaying energy, Mylyri withdrew into coiled meditation, bringing all her meager Jedi training to bear to preserve the precious lives she carried. And, to her amazement, five tiny presences reached back to her.
Joined in the Force with her unborn children, a spent Mylyri shielded them from the currents meant to end them, staggering to her feet and throwing off the stokhli nets, to Wyyrlok’s unmistakable shock.
Maimed but relieved, Braxis rallied at the sight, snatching up a blaster in his off hand as Mylyri cleaved one of the Sith in two.
As the remaining Sith agents retreated from Mylyri and Braxis’s ferocity, the rest of their squad (who’d been belatedly alerted to the danger) closed in, gunning down the remaining enemies. After a final taunt to Wyyrlok, Mylyri terminated the holocall, believing the Sith Lord’s lie that he would soon succumb to his injuries from their past meeting.
The True Sith were, it seemed, defeated.
Mylyri was then rushed to a medbay and soon received the good news. Her children would live. More than that, they would be strong in the Force, bonded irrevocably together by their in-utero triumph. For the moment, at least, Mylyri and her family were safe.
To reiterate from last time, Mylyri was played by my wife. Had the die rolls gone another way, I’m not sure how many nights I’d have spent on the couch. But the terror of that session has stayed with our entire group, long since. Past enemies will inevitably hold a grudge, but a part of the sick joy of game mastering is dreaming up the ways darkness can strike back in the most painful ways possible. I’d like to think I’d never kill or enslave near-born children in real life, but a vile Sith Lord? He’d probably pull something like that before a hearty breakfast.
Don’t be afraid to think up devious, unspeakable ways for the villains of your campaign to repay the heroes for past embarrassments. A tame antagonist is a forgettable one. In a galaxy of countless dangers, no one should ever quite feel safe, whether from fellow sentients or stellar phenomena.
And there’s nothing quite like going up against impossible odds, whether you win or not.
May the Force be with you!