Tuesday, March 26, 2013

System Shopped: Death Cards - Any Other System

Death Cards
System Shopped: Any Other System
by Tobie Abad

For those who have played Our Last Best Hope, you've probably encountered what are called the Death Cards in the game.  The Death Cards are an awesome game mechanic which allows the player to "defeat" a Threat automatically by dying in the way the card mentions it to happen.   It allows you to have those dramatic moments of self-sacrifice (among others) where a character's death allows the story to continue to its fruition.  The  Death Cards have a second mechanic, which is to CANCEL a death your character should suffer to a later point in time in the story, where you then play the card and narrate how your character actually dies in fulfillment of his fate as written in the card.

And lastly, once you are dead, you still play in the game.  You have scenes as flashbacks.  You have scenes as recalled moments.  You get to still play as part of the game's undeclared history.

Now let me say this:  The idea is GENIUS.  Pure genius.

It allows players to embrace death as an event which may have heroic potential.  It allows players to even suffer from stupid deaths and dice mishaps and not feel like the game has suddenly turned into a massive bowl of suck.  It allows players who have long worked on their character and invested so much time in their development to die, but not necessarily end the game.

So, yes, why not add the concept of Death Cards to your game?

I dunno about you, but I don't like my
players feeling the game I ran felt like this.
Disclaimer:  Tobie, this sucks.Yes, I know you guys are out there.  The ones who feel that if the dice say you die, no matter how heroic, pathetic, or undramatic the moment is, death by dice means death.  Respect the dice! Allowing players to "not die" makes the threat of death meaningless!  It makes the idea of death and danger less frightening.   Well, you know what, Our Last Best Hope itself makes the cards a central mechanic of the game, and YET the fear of dying too soon and losing against the Threat is still there.  Why does it work?  Perhaps it has to do with the fact when you play OLBH, you go there knowing you will try to win, but if you die, then you die with an awesome scene nonetheless.   It reminds you games are about having fun as a group, and not being beholden to the die roll.  I understand it can be fun to laugh at the player whose character died such a cruddy way in an epic saga.  But I've learned if feels more awesome to laugh as a group with the player who died but still did an epic moment.  So yes, if you feel this shop ain't for you, that's fine.  I respect that.   No need to say this idea is crap.  Just don't use it.  Thank you.

So, let's recap on the mechanics of the cards.
1) Every player, at the very start of the campaign takes one card.  They are not allowed to exchange or replace the card.  They can read it, and it is best they keep it to themselves.

2) During any point of time in the game where they are about to die, or were supposed to die from a resulting action, etc, they can reveal the card, describe how they don't die (yet) and are now committed to making sure they portray their death scene with the card's details as the framework in the future.

Now, in OLBH, dying has the perk of getting dice for the final roll in the game (a system which we need not force into this shop), but what we can do is this:  dying allows you to option the GM for a new character, one which you may (or not) introduce in your death sequence!  That way, the new character can feel invested immediately to the current cast in one way or another.

Example #1:
In a fantasy game, my wizard is with the group and is hoping to defeat the Lich King.  My Death Card is "You shall die because you did not listen."    Now, as the party journeys to the Lich King's lair, my wizard fails to notice a trap and unfortunately the damage roll scores high enough that I am dead.  Such a dramatically disappointing moment.  Its like if Gandalf died in Lord of the Rings because he tripped on his way down the steps from Bilbo's home.  So rather than the GM having to retcon things (he's handling more than enough already!) I show my Death Card and state, "The trap hurts me but not enough to kill me.  I however insist to the party that I can still push on."

Later in the game, the group finally faces of against one of the Lich King's guardians.  I decide it can be dramatic enough (and yes, Gandalf is my guide after all) so as the guardian prepares to use a special move, I yell at everyone to run ahead while I handle the guardian.  The other players realize I'm now using the Death Card, so they allow me to have that dramatic moment as they rush off up the steps.  I hear one player call out, "Don't do this!" but I. Don't. Listen.  Boom.  Death Card achieved.  My wizard dies as I unleash one final spell to defeat the guardian as well.

Drama.  I lost a character.  But I don't feel like it was due to a shitty roll.

Example #2
Let's say the same scene above unfolded with the trap.  So I played by Death Card.  I decide to have the later scene be a chance to introduce my new character.  So in the scene with the guardian, as we fight the guardian, I can hold up the Death Card (to remind the GM and other players) and declare, "There is a trapped elven druid in a steel cage above the battle chamber.  The Elf calls out asking for help."  The group then knows my Wizard is finally going to die in this scene, and the rescued elf will be my new character so the game can proceed.

Now, yes, I can hear already some readers saying, "Yes, the death was cheapened all right.  Look, you moved on to your new character so quickly."  But friends, realize that was merely because I wanted a quick and dirty example.   If I were to run an actual game and have my Death Card used, I'd actually have my character death happen, have a game session or two where I'm playing just as flashback moments with the other characters (cause I'll spend that time creating a new character, and letting the GM have his okay), before finally introducing the new one.  The grieving process can be portrayed in flashbacks.  Or maybe even mourned only once the game is over.

Okay, I'm thinking of trying it.
That's great!  Now here's the thing, since Our Last Best Hope is available on Drive Thru RPG, I say get the very affordable book and use the Death Cards as listed there.  To avoid issues, I've decided to try writing up my own list of other possible Death Cards here.

You will die…

Admitting long hidden feelings of love.
You will die…

Blaming someone for your death.
You will die…

With so much anger and hate, your last words are that of rage.

You will die…

Vocally wishing you chose a different path in life.

You will die…

Inspiring others to fight harder and win.
You will die…

Broken.  A failure in all respects.
You will die…

Abandoned.  Alone.  Or at least believing you have been left behind.

You will die…

Inches away from killing your bitter foe.
You will die…

Only after finally mortally wounding a foe.
You will die…

In the arms of an ally.
You will die…

By the hands of an ally (forced, accidental or intentional).

You will die…

Of an ailment you’ve long hidden from everyone else.


Now again, the Death Cards are NOT forced or fated to happen, unless you choose to play them.  And yes, the cards do not have an actual mechanic effect other than to inject a dose of drama to your game (and in some cases even expand on the untold back story between characters.)

Have fun with the dying!
And once again, thank you Mark Truman for an awesome game.


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