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Character tragedies


Dissolv

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I got to thinking about the whole "Hero's Journey" thing that a good Heroquest ought to fulfill, and it occurred to me that my last couple of campaigns have had some quite serious events hit my player's characters.  This is a LOT different than my early days 80's GMing, where the heroes more resembled Saturday morning cartoon heroes, who were confronted with external threats, which they then overcame.

In my latest one:

The Praxian nomad lost his favorite mount to a pack of Telmori wolves, and then later on a Heroquest to the Underworld fumbled his riding skill and failed to recognize his faithful steed, and thus missed his opportunity to bring her back.

The Orlanthi hero lost his family -- twice.  Once to the Bat upon roll up, but then a second time when the Windstop caused terrible losses to his clan.  (Okay, his wife and child survived, but six other family members did not.)

Pretty much everyone rolled up orphans -- the Blacksmith, the farmer, the scholar, the warrior.  Only the Praxian had a fully intact family at the start of the campaign.

The starting roll up very dominated how the players saw the world, which was huge since all players were new to Glorantha.  Both of the in-game events were major factors in how the campaign turned out, and incredibly motivated the players into doing something risky that they were generally prone to avoid.  In this case the Eleven Lights Heroquest, and finally fully committing to the rebellion.

 

Do you guys have heroes who suffer losses, particularly personal ones that might sensibly drive a movie plot, for example?

 

Edited by Dissolv
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On 6/18/2022 at 2:12 AM, Dissolv said:

Do you guys have heroes who suffer losses, particularly personal ones that might sensibly drive a movie plot, for example?

Sometimes a Player has such a loss in their Adventurer's backstory, in which case I use it.

Do I, as a GM, actively make bad things happen to Adventurers' families and clans? No.

Are Adventurers' families and clan immune to bad things happening to them? No.

If I have a plot that impacts an Adventurer's family or clan, then the Adventurer is part of that scenario and can try to stop it happening. If they fail, then fair enough, I won't pull any punches, but I give them the chance to succeed.

Zak, one of the Adventurers in our old RQ2 campaign said that he had killed his parents and family. When asked why, his Player said "So that the GM can't take advantage of them and use them against me". When we pointed out that his attitude meant that he was unlikely to have helped them anyway, he shrugged and said "GMs can force you to do something you don't want to do, this way they can't", which was a fair point. This was before Kinstrife was a big thing, by the way. It also showed that even in the 80s, Players felt that GMs would pick on their Adventurers' families as plot points.

 

Edited by soltakss
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2 hours ago, soltakss said:

Zak, one of the Adventurers in our old RQ2 campaign said that he had killed his parents and family. When asked why, his Player said "So that the GM can't take advantage of them and use them against me". When we pointed out that his attitude meant that he was unlikely to have helped them anyway, he shrugged and said "GMs can force you to do something you don;t want to do, this way they can't", which was a fair point. This was before Kinstrife was a big thing, by the way. It also showed that even in the 80s, Players felt that GMs would pick on their Adventurers' families as plot points.

I've never really understood this point of view, my view as both a GM and a player is that the whole point is to make the PCs life interesting. Now sometimes that's interesting as in the curse and sometimes it's interesting in a positive way, but if you try and have a PC with no social ties that can be played upon, it just seems a bit boring to me. Though I guess if you are treating it just as a tactical combat game, then I guess that stuff gets in the way. And I'm not sure it's really a fair point because of course, if the GM actually had malicious intent (or even without it), then a background where you had murdered your whole family would definitely bring more hell down upon your head than just having a family living in the village, well in any campaign I ran it would.

But I know that PCs love to be orphans, when I helped run a roleplaying MUD, we had to ban player backgrounds where the PC was an orphan. Orcs raiding the village and killing everyone and the PC being the only survivor was a very popular first choice of background and the whinging when you wouldn't allow it was painful to read

Edited by Martin Dick
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Tragedy and disaster are the things that make heroes. Very few adventurers come from happy, fulfilling, contented home lives. As a general rule, something happens to send them down the road to blood and glory.

And sometimes those things happen in play.

In one campaign I played in, our characters had made ourselves quite the nuisance to a Very Bad Man. After awhile, the VBM decided that he'd had enough of our crap and 'sent a message'. The message was having our paladin [it was a d20 game] kidnapped by cultists of the milieu's God of Greed and Murder, tortured and sacrificed. The paladin's soul was annihilated, no resurrection possible. And there was absolutely nothing we PC's could do about it. We'd searched all over for our missing comrade and came up empty. And then the VBM sent us a dream that detailed the paladin's fate in gory detail. Divinations with the clergy of the paladin's god revealed that he was dead and his soul had not been received by his afterlife.

Now the referee had gotten with the player and worked this fate out with him in exchange for certain 'gift of the gods' benefits given to the replacement character. But the event really changed the tone of the campaign from one where we thought we had things under control to one where we felt threatened and very much on the defensive. To put it another way, 'message received'.

This is admittedly extreme, but 'tragedy' is very much part of the adventurer's life. Sometimes it's prosaic and 'normal' [parents die of disease]. Sometimes it's really nasty [see above]. But it's something that every player character has to have happen to them at least once.

Edited by svensson
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5 hours ago, soltakss said:

Do I, as a GM, actively make bad things happen to Adventurers' families and clans? No.

 

I would prefer the players did that.

 

5 hours ago, soltakss said:

Are Adventurers' families and clan immune to bad things happening to them? No.

 

Again, if the players do this, they will not complain.

5 hours ago, soltakss said:

If I have a plot that impacts an Adventurer's gamily or clan, then the Adventurer is part of that scenario and can try to stop it happening. If they fail, then fair enough, I won't pull any punches, but I give them the chance to succeed.

 

Makes sense!

3 hours ago, Martin Dick said:

my view as both a GM and a player is that the whole point is to make the PCs life interesting.

Yep!

12 minutes ago, svensson said:

Tragedy and disaster are the things that make heroes. Very few adventurers come from happy, fulfilling, contented home lives. As a general rule, something happens to send them down the road to blood and glory.

 

Indeed!

13 minutes ago, svensson said:

This is admittedly extreme, but 'tragedy' is very much part of the adventurer's life. Sometimes it's prosaic and 'normal' [parents die of disease]. Sometimes it's really nasty [see above]. But it's something that every player character has to have happen to them at least once.

Sometimes it becomes a plot hook 😉

 

... remember, with a TARDIS, one is never late for breakfast!

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I'm entirely comfortable with tragedy for my characters, as anyone who's seen me relate my favourite character deaths will know, but some players are less so. It's a tough one to judge, as is the line between "GM creating tragic stories" and "GM bullying players".

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For me tragedies are great and an almost needed plot point in any character. In my last RQ campaign, all the characters had suffered great losses before the games. One had his whole hometown murdered bc of the duck hunt, other 2 had their parents executed by lunars, and the fourth lost a great deal of friends in a scorpionmen raid, of course he was a troll so his loss wasn't experienced in the same way as the humans'. When I ran Six Seasons in Sartar, previous to that, a great deal of tragedy happened to all characters, I won't go into detail bc of spoilers, but the end was a great tragedy for all, even if it was technically one of the "better endings", which was at what I was aiming for after all.

 

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8 hours ago, svensson said:

Now the referee had gotten with the player and worked this fate out with him in exchange for certain 'gift of the gods' benefits given to the replacement character.

I think this is a key point, tragedy like this needs to be either a collaboration with the relevant player or the players have agreed in Session Zero that's the style of the campaign, in which case its not going to be bullying but fun/interesting. If the GM had just killed a PC off like that without any consultation, then that wouldn't be any fun.

Though by playing RQ, you are to a certain extent accepting the random death of your PC at any time.

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2 hours ago, Orlanthatemyhamster said:

But what were your players aiming for? Feels like bit of a railroad. 

My players were aiming for following the story, the story is a tragedy. I did not force anything on them that was not scripted in the module itself. 

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I can certainly understand that sometimes players might not want to be "plot railroaded", but killing one's family seems a bit.....extreme.

This is the central point though.  The GM can use the personal tragedy of the characters to push the plot along, but the players steadfastly refuse to care about the NPC's, and are 100% intolerant of their character having any sort of suffering as they game away the years....what then? 

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it wouldn't be the first time that players didn't internalize and fiercely role-play the family history generated in character creation. 

Nevertheless, all players in the campaign deciding their characters are orphans would indicate this GM has a track record of using family history ties as adventure hooks too often for the players' taste. 

Perhaps it would be better to let the players befriend, marry, or father NPCs in-play and then kill those NPCs?  😉

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19 minutes ago, Squaredeal Sten said:

it wouldn't be the first time that players didn't internalize and fiercely role-play the family history generated in character creation. 

Nevertheless, all players in the campaign deciding their characters are orphans would indicate this GM has a track record of using family history ties as adventure hooks too often for the players' taste. 

Perhaps it would be better to let the players befriend, marry, or father NPCs in-play and then kill those NPCs?  😉

Yeah, there's a big wide difference between tragedy in pursuit of the story and using character backgrounds as a scourge against the players.

Even in a more gritty 'no-holds-barred' kind of game, it's incumbent on the ref to warn the players before he starts taking an axe to their backgrounds. That doesn't mean that their backgrounds are sacrosanct, however. Just going through the family history process in RQG, your ancestors have a 33+% chance of dying for stuff before you even had time to learn what they looked like! But refs shouldn't victimize their players in any event. Like with everything else at the table, a balance has to be struck based on both the story being told and personalities of the players.

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6 hours ago, Dissolv said:

The GM can use the personal tragedy of the characters to push the plot along, but the players steadfastly refuse to care about the NPC's, and are 100% intolerant of their character having any sort of suffering as they game away the years....what then? 

Then don’t. Why force them? You will only alienate your friends.

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I prefer to let the players build their story, and I hope, as a player, that my gm will let me build my own story. Player, individually, may choose to follow the core book process or not.

On 6/18/2022 at 12:43 PM, soltakss said:

GMs can force you to do something you don't want to do, this way they can't"

facing this kind of "difficulty" I would accept it

However ... o scenario dedicated to this player. There are other players who could propose some hook, these players will be favoured by themselves.

Favour is not giving bonus or gear or anything. Just there will be one or several scenario where the pc is the center of the story.

If no players want to play something focused on their own characters, no problem, they will enjoy (maybe not with the same intensity however, at least for me) with more "basic" stories. Stories where they will not be heroes, but just the main actors.

No heroism without tragedy, but there are roles for just commoners 🙂

 

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4 hours ago, PhilHibbs said:

Then don’t. Why force them? You will only alienate your friends

Well specifically -- putting aside a maturing play style as I grow older and wiser (and I DO still like me some hack and slash, with heroic triumph at the end, mind you), it comes back to the Heroquest.

The whole point of the thing screams personal growth to me.  If the players insist on role playing what comes down to a very powerful , but carefree magical warrior then they are basically playing Sigfried from the Ring Cycle -- minus the whole Brunhilde arc, which is pretty much the entire plot for that portion of the Cycle.

Robbed of something meaningful to do, or something internal to overcome, it really comes down to something extremely mundane seeming.  I think there is a very good reason Romeo and Juliet is the classic, while the thousands of "will they or won't they" Hallmark channel Romances are read once and forgotten.  And that reason is that Romeo and Juliet makes you FEEL it.  Deep down, and lasting.  The emotional surge is the spice that elevates the RPG session/campaign to something they talk about for years.  Just hacking down a bigger dragon is not. 

But without deeply emotional character dilemmas and even sometimes tragedy's, how can a GM draw that out of their game?  I have run comedies (my Superworld is 100% slapstick), but I don't run Runequest that way.  And it has seemed to me that in order to get the highs of emotions from the triumphs, I have to introduce the valleys as well.  Hence the discussion on how other GM's handle this.

Edited by Dissolv
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7 hours ago, Squaredeal Sten said:

Nevertheless, all players in the campaign deciding their characters are orphans would indicate this GM has a track record of using family history ties as adventure hooks too often for the players' taste. 

If you say that for my previous post, all family deaths of the first example came from the known meat grinder that is the family history charts.

11 hours ago, Dissolv said:

This is the central point though.  The GM can use the personal tragedy of the characters to push the plot along, but the players steadfastly refuse to care about the NPC's, and are 100% intolerant of their character having any sort of suffering as they game away the years....what then? 

Depends on the players and GM. I, for one, know that me and all of my group wouldn't enjoy that kind of behavior, so we wouldn't play together anymore with that person. No shame on those who play that way, it's just not our style. But if most of your players straight-up refuse and is your only group... it's a difficult situation that needs to be talked openly.

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