Now we’re getting towards the edges of the races you can play in Dungeons and Dragons from the main Players Handbook. There are additional races or race options in other books. I’m going to call out some Tiefling things are from Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes. […]
The party rushes into a cavern. Red glowing eyes stare at them from the blackness and they stop quickly. The bard opens her mouth and begins to speak but is quickly cut off as the dragon reaches it’s long neck out and chomps down, swallowing the bard whole.
What do you do? What happens in your game?
It doesn’t have to be D&D, it could be a Sith cutting a character in a Star Wars game in half, or anything like that. I’ll just mainly be talking about it in a D&D sense.
Before you get to the point described above, as a group, you need to decide if there is going to be character death in your games. It is a part of every system, but just because it’s part of every system doesn’t mean that you have to use it. You can choose that you are going to have a more epic party or have some sort of resurrection option always available for the players. Or, you can decide that resurrections are extremely expensive in your games and that if a character dies, they are most likely going to be dead for all time. Maybe in the case of the dragon, if the rest of the party can kill the dragon or drive them off, they can steal enough from the dragon’s horde that they could get a spell done, but that would be about the only time they’d have enough money. But this is something to think about as a group or something to adjust accordingly in the game.
Now we’re at the point where the dragon has chomped down on the bard, in our scenario, how are you going to deal with this death exactly?
To me there are a couple of things that will influence this. First, is the player done with the bard, it’s possible, without knowing context, that the player fully knew that their character was going to die, because they wanted to play a different character. That’s totally fine to do in a game and totally acceptable for a player to want to do. However, I would limit it some so that a player who wants to play everything wouldn’t be able to play anything and everything that they wanted as that would hurt party cohesion (I’ll likely write a post about this later).
Otherwise, the other thing to think about would be, what sort of arc has led up to this? Maybe it was obvious what was going to happen, there were hints that they couldn’t try and talk to the dragon and the bard needed to do it anyways because they are a pacifist. So maybe it is a fitting end to a bard who was having troubles accepting the world and life style that she had joined. But if the story built up to this point, not just for telling the story to the players but also the characters own journey directed by the player, it might be a fitting end for the bard, even if she wasn’t completely ready to retire as a character. The story impact can sometimes be that important. This works especially well if you’re planning on going into a combat quickly and have an NPC would the party that the player can control for the battle. Or if you’ve warned the players ahead of time to have back-up characters who can join the game quickly. You don’t want a player sitting there too long, or if it’s a player who doesn’t like combat for some reason, try and keep them engaged somehow though, they may just be engaged in the story.
For example, in the first season of Dungeons and Flagons Finja was killed in the final battle before the end of that battle. Now, Kristen, who was playing Finja, isn’t someone who loves combat, and because the action and emotions that were going on in the scene and in the story were compelling at that point, it made a lot of sense in game for her to drop out of action and Kristen still enjoyed what was going on. I don’t know if it’s on the podcast, but we all agreed it was a fitting end for Finja who would definitely have sacrificed herself to stop a great evil from being fully realized. If we had continued with those same characters, I’m not sure that Finja would have wanted to be brought back or that Kristen would have wanted Finja to be brought it. It was a fitting end to Finja’s arc in the game.
Now, that isn’t always the case, maybe that comes out of no where in your game and it’s a character that the player is very attached to. If that’s the case, find a way, storyline wise to bring the character back from the dead. It could be that someone owes her a debt and will pay for the resurrection for her. It could be in place of a reward that is what the quest giver offers. It could be that a deity says that it isn’t the time or place for the bard to die. If I were to do that last one with the deity, I’d probably hint or give a prophecy about the time, place, or way the bard will die as that would be an interesting character development. Or you could also just end up making it a quest for the players to get back the bards soul. That would work well if you know you’re going to have that player missing for a couple of sessions, you could then have her bard be an NPC spirit in your control and play through that quest without advancing the main plot.
With all of these suggestions and ideas, you’re going to have to read the table. Depending on what has happened in your game, how the players are reacting, and how it was set-up, you’re going to have to judge it for yourself. Hopefully these are some tips that might give you a basis for handling character death at your table.
When you’ve had this happen to you in a game or caused it to happen in a game, a character dying that is, what have you done?
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This is my second character, so I’ve only played him a couple of times thus far. But I feel like I have a decent grasp on what this character can do. Soothsinger The Soothsinger is an interesting character, I picked my original retirement objective because […]
I retired my first Gloomhaven character last night, and I wanted, for those interested, so write up what some of the different characters are like. Thus far we’ve seen five different characters and I feel like I have a solid grasp on a few of […]
We’re getting down into the background that most thief rogues have to think they take for a background. You’re a thief, clearly you’re a criminal, and then you want all sorts of shiny things, even if your party has them. That’s a full backstory right there, right? And I’m chaotic neutral too.
The criminal background is one that in a game where you want to be the heroes, needs to be worked with carefully. There’s a thin line between being a hero and being a villain. In the Curse of Strahd game that I’m running, they were in a shop, the rogue character (don’t even think with criminal background) steals something, gets caught because they rolled a bad stealth check. Happened again when the rogue tried to flirt their way into getting a free drink from the married bartender who’s wife then promptly kicked that character out again.
When thinking about playing someone whose background is criminal, think about how you can play into the trope in some ways, but also it might be more interesting to play against type. In the case of the rogue in Curse of Strahd, hopefully she’ll start playing against type so that her character then realizes that they kind of suck as a criminal and reform their ways. Think about a criminal as someone who has come from a past of crime and is now an adventurer. What changed for them, are they still indebted to anyone, are they still an active criminal? There are a lot of ways that you can go beyond, I just like the looks of shiny things so I take them.
Now, I’ve just given the example of the thief criminal, but that might not be your thing. Maybe you don’t ever steal anything, but you’ve been a smuggler for a little while and you get caught up having to rescue a princess from a man in a black suit who then turns out to be her father. I might have heard that one from somewhere else. You can also a be a blackmailer or an enforcer for the local thieves guild. These probably set-up more interesting stories a lot of the time than the standard burglar who steals rings off of rich women in town because the rings are shiny.
I love nature and I knew that when I grew up, I wanted to protect nature. However, that wasn’t making a lot of money for me. People don’t pay you money when you save the rabbit caught in a snare from certain death, and they think that you’re driving off the goblins in the woods so that they are safe (still won’t pay you), not so that there are fewer creatures trying to kill the deer. One day, there was a band of brigands who came into the woods. They injured an owlbear and placed it into a cage. I could see it was gravely wounded and I went to release it and help it. I’m not that sneaky, however, and they caught me, but not until I had bandaged up the owlbears wound. They kept me around to keep the owlbear alive for the collector whom they had captured it for. They saw the work I had done and offered me a choice, keep helping them smuggle animals and keep them alive or they’d kill me. I knew that they wouldn’t stop smuggling animals if I was dead, so I agreed to help. It wasn’t until they got in over their head fighting a roc that I was able to make my escape, and that was a decade later. Now I’m going to get revenge on that collector and release his collection back into the wild where they belong, but I need some help doing that.
Alignment: Neutral Good
It’s a silly life, but it pays way better than you’d think. That’s what I told my friends when they wondered how I lived so well, while I was a hairdresser. I have the gift of gab, and the court ladies love to have their friends over and talk, and I talk with them, but mainly I listen and I remember. I’m just the hairdresser, why would they be worried about little old me. You wouldn’t believe the gossip and rumors and scandals that you hear about as a hairdresser, but I’ve found that it’s good to believe and remember them. When you know something really juicy, you can get a lot of money. The wife whose husbands position will be ruined if the king found out that he was fixing horse races, including the one at the royal tournament. They won good money from that, and I got good money from them. They tell you to quit when you’re ahead, but this seemed like the perfect con. An anonymous source threatened to ruin them, they paid that anonymous source money, and I kept cutting their hair. Then, whoops, my gift of gab got me in trouble with a duchess, accidentally spilled a detail that she really didn’t need to know. Now, it’s off with my head, if they can catch me.
Alignment: Chaotic Neutral/Evil
This maybe should be an alignment that’s chaotic evil. It’s a little bit Loki like in just being someone who is out for a good time and doesn’t really care about others. However, if you run this as the characters only scam/criminal activity and they are doing it because it fell into their laps, it could be chaotic neutral.
I’m the wheel man. When there’s something shady going down in town and they need a fast and effective getaway, they call me. My rules are simple, no kidnappings, no killing, no stealing from those in need. If you meet those requirements, I’ll deal with you. I guarantee that you will get away, if not, it’s going to be my head on the block too. One night, I’m doing my job, waiting along a side hill, just out of sight from the mayors house. I hear some screaming up at the house, guess that someone caught them and they would be booking it back to me. Sure enough, five minutes later, the two toughs who hired me came crashing through the woods, though, I knew this was different than normal. In my torch light, I could see that one had their sword drawn, and there was blood on it and on them. I didn’t bother waiting for them, that’s my rule, no killing. I road down the one guy who was injured and shouted a warning what I would do to the other if he told on me. Turns out, he was more scared of his boss than he was of me, if I’d known who his boss had been from the start, I wouldn’t have taken the job. I heard within hours, he squealed to the cops and not only that, but a crime boss from the big city was coming out to our little town. I booked it and now I’m on the run. I hope with my mask that I’ll have remained an unknown and harder to stop, especially traveling with these goody two shoes
Class: Fighter (they commonly get access to steeds that would make them a solid option)
Alignment: Lawful Evil
I’ve said that I try and avoid the evil alignments because if you’re running a campaign with a bunch of heroes and one person is evil, it can make it tough. However, I think this offers an interesting role playing option for someone who is p laying this background. This character is clearly evil and clearly has well defined rules, if you’re up for it as a player, make this your characters redemption story. Slowly change them from evil into a lawful neutral so that instead of just being worried about their own skin, that now they are worried about more and have put their past behind them. It could offer some really awesome role playing moments if you get into it.
As a kid, my parents and everyone in my town was afraid of me. That was fine with me, I liked being on my own. I was playing in the woods one day by myself, creeping along following some of the hunters who were in the woods when I realized I’d picked up my own tail. There were some bad men following the hunters and I decided to get the drop on them. It was easier than I thought to kill a man, but that made people in town even more afraid of me. They sent me off to the temples, hoping that one of them would be able to fix me. Then I found the temple of the Raven Queen. Her priestesses told me of how there were those who had lived past their time and who needed to die. They were bad people who had made unholy deals to stay alive, and they needed someone on their payroll to take out these men. I became their hired killer and I was good at it, until I ran across the one who they only called the ancient one. None of their other hired killers had managed to get the ancient one, and I thought I could do it. I quickly realized that I couldn’t and I ran away, now I’m trying to find those who can help me take care of the ancient one before I return to the temple of the Raven Queen.
Alignment: Lawful Neutral
Just a little bit of information, the Raven Queen is the Goddess of death, and sees death as a natural thing. She really frowns upon it when those who should be dead aren’t dead because of some nefarious means in this example, and because of that, she’d be sending out someone who isn’t evil to do this work.
Have you played someone with a criminal background before? What are some interesting twists on the criminal background to make a more fully developed character than someone who is just greedy and wants to steal shiny things?
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After talking about what the backgrounds do in Dungeons & Dragons and why people might use them, it’s time to talk about the different backgrounds. I’m going to try to stick with my alphabetical ordering, but that might not happen, as there are backgrounds scattered […]
Now that you’ve gotten to know your nerds, I’ve decide to class things up in this joint a little bit. I’m going to be talking about the different classes of D&D and how you might want to play them, or what it might look like to put a spin on them. I’m also going to give you some ideas and backstories that you could use in your game so your bard feels different from other bards.
When I think of a bard, I think about a wandering storyteller/musician who goes from town to town and tavern to tavern playing and telling stories for their meals, rooms, and drink. Or, on the flip side, I think of someone who is in the court of a noble, telling them stories at their fancy parties and keeping them entertained while the drinks keep flowing.
In Dungeons and Dragons, this is usually the case, and in general, I’d say that you would likely end up as the first type of bard, who then joins up with an adventuring group in hopes of getting the best story ever. In our Dungeons and Flagons game, during the very first episode, Tate is telling this magnificent tale about how Nimrose, Finja, and himself had defeated a horde of dragons. Now, this wasn’t true at all, but he was demonstrating why he would fit well into the party, and that’s how I worked it to get the party together, since Nimrose and Finja already knew each other.
Mechanically speaking, the Bard is going to be a charisma-based character, and probably the face of the group. They cast their spells based off of charisma, and they can eventually become really good at skills like persuasion and deception and other skills that are generally meant to charm the pants off of people, for good or ill. This also lends itself to creating a character that is probably more chaotic neutral in alignment, because they are capable of manipulation. However, you’ll want to be careful that you don’t let chaotic neutral become chaotic evil while still having your character pretend they aren’t bad. The chaotic neutral bard would be the jokester of the group, or the person who is going to say something off-the-wall, or who might start to go overboard when fighting someone who is evil.
So, why might a bard join and adventuring group?
I already gave the reason that Tate did, which is to get a new story. That would be one pretty easy and common reason. Another reason might be that the Bard already has a story, like a long-lost treasure or long-lost city that they are looking for, and they need an adventuring group to help them find it so that they’ll have another story to tell. Finally, I think that protection is a valid reason for a bard to join an adventuring group as well. While a bard is usually able to hold their own in battle, in terms of the story they generally aren’t the strongest characters, and they would probably want someone else to do their fighting for them. Stick them with a fighter or a ranger or someone else who can protect them on the roads, and that makes a lot of sense as well.
What are some backstories I could use?
I’m going to pull first from Tate’s backstory:
You could be the fourth son or daughter of a noble and not be entitled to any land. So you have a good life, but you’re bored and you want to do something more. You start traveling around and listening to stories, and eventually you just start telling those stories again and turning that into a way of life. Your family doesn’t like you because being a bard is degrading, and you don’t like them either because they just want you to be lazy at home and do nothing, or maybe they wanted you to join the church (or a D&D equivalent).
Or maybe, after years of being a soldier, you’re too old to do that anymore. You’ve always been social, and you’ve started telling stories around bars, and people started buying you drinks. Now you’re traveling around telling stories of battles you’ve been in before, but that’s given you the itch to get back out and kill a monster again. So you’re looking for that new story to tell, and better yet, to help create, but you need some help now, as you’re a bit older. This would be a non-traditional build, as you’d still have pretty high charisma, but you’d probably put more into strength and constitution than you would dexterity, which would normally be a bard’s secondary skill. Remember that finesse weapons can be wielded with either strength or dexterity.
Or perhaps in another scenario, you’ve spent years as a bard, but what people don’t realize is that you’re a bit of a criminal as well. Nobles don’t pay much attention to you at parties when you’re performing, and even though they pay you well, you leave with a little bit extra at the end of the night. There have been a lot of scullery maids and butlers getting in trouble and being blamed for what you’ve done, but that’s their problem. You’ve heard of an item that would basically set you up for life if you could get it, and there’s going to be a big celebration coming up at the place where it’s kept; now you just need to get invited and find some people who can help you get it out.
That last one seems to describe a bit more of an evil character, but you could also spin it as you’re helping the poor with what you liberate from the wealthy. Or maybe there is a kingdom that you do this in because their armies killed off your family, and you want to get revenge on them in your own way, so you’re stealing from every noble who was part of the war that killed your family and destroyed your village.
And one last idea:
People like bards, and while they remember your face and the stories you’ve told, people don’t think much of you or suspect you. The fact that you’re a member of a resistance is something that you keep hush-hush. You’ve been in houses of nobles and heard stories that no one else could get, as your music opens many a door. Now they’ve asked you to find out some information hidden away in the manor of the king, and you’re going to need a little help doing it.
Have you played a bard? What sort of backstory did you use?
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