Montag, 7. März 2016

On Dying

Die ist die englische Version des Blogeintrages. Die deutsche ist hier zu finden.

The hypothesis

There isn't enough dying in roleplaying. There's plenty of killing, but not enough dying. I think the death of a protagonist is an important event in nearly every narrative form, except roleplaying. It rarely is an event with positive emotional impact. Either the game rips characters to shreds on a regular basis, so nobody gets really attached to them, or it doesn't, so the death of a character is always a battlefield of RL-drama and not the moving scene it should be.

That's why I like to plan the death of a character in cooperation with its player, if he grows tired of the character. It's his story, so he should have a say on how it ends. In this special case I wanted more. I wanted the feeling of a hopeless cause for my players, where they do not fight for their own survival, but for achieving one last little victory before you go; to fling a light into the future.
So I let my players find a prothean artefact: a giant reflecting sphere, from a time 50.000 years ago, when the Reapers last wiped out the galactic civilisations. When they reached the sphere, it poured out the memories of a squad of Prothean soldiers, about the events of their last hours. I wanted my players to not just recieve that, I wanted them to relive it all, so they experienced the urgency of the fight against the Reapers. So I let them play through these events, tragic ending included. 

The execution

I prepared little character sheets for the Prothean squad, with all the necessary stats and with information about their function in the squad (which were roughly matched to their function n the original group). There was also a little profile picture for every character (thank deviantart for so many pictures of Protheans... and Prothean Females) and a short description of the main character traits. After I showed them a little movie sequence taken from the "From Ashes"-DLC and roughly one page of text about the state of the Prothean Empire I handed them the character sheets. We took five minutes to read and process, then we started, straight into the action, with an action sequence, fighting prothean husks... and thus started a really immersive game session. 
Prothean soldiers making their last stand.
The prothean characters were stationed at a supply base for the Ilos project - a prothean research world that tried to survice the extinction through the Reapers as some sort of Ark. While the characters from the memory shard had no further knowledge about what they were fighting for, the Players knew very well from the research their actual characters did. Considering this, they could follow through the fanatism of the pre-made characters on a whole new level. What followed next was a final, losing battle. 

The characters defended a planetary base until they had to give it up. They used evacuation shuttles to retreat to a nearby space station, which they defended. After suffering heavy losses through the sabotage of indoctrinated allies and attacks from enemy ships they had to abandon that, too, and activated the self destruct sequence. The characters led and managed the evacuation of about 400 scientists and workers onto an already heavily damaged frigate. Just when that frigate was ready to jump out of the system, a Reaper Destroyer attacked the station, buried itself into it and started hacking the databases. The self destruct was already deactivated, and the Reaper was about to get the coordinates of Ilos. In the light of these events, the characters decided to steer their ship into the station. Their last words: "Our sacrifice will be honored in the New Empire." With the final explosion the vision ended... and so did, except for a short return to normality, the game session.

The Reception

The players accepted the characters wholly and really went with it. Two of them had to leave early, but that was almost an advantage, as they sacrificed their characters for the the whole group, so they turned the mood early to the fatalistic. The feeling of impending destruction and betrayal by the indoctrinated made the players work themselves towards the downfall almost by themselves, and it was one of the players (like I had hoped) who brought up the idea to ram the ship into the station. The last flight of the frigate, paired with a matching song, led by the partly dying and radiation poisoned characters themselves, who were serving as an emergency crew on the bridge, is one of the most immersive and atmospheric things I ever witnessed in P&P. I can only recommend to try such a scene if you don't already have.