The Fall of Daramir

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This is the letter Daramir received from King Eldarion after Daramir sent a report of what was happening in Pen-arduin; alas, this was left with Daramir’s corpse. Those colorful things are “potions” that I created for the players after their PCs received them as treasure last session. Some are identified and their effects described on the back. Some are not and simply contain an alphabetical key for my own reference. Two unidentified potions were dumped into Daramir’s dying body.

A player-character died this session.

It was a pre-gen of my own, and the player didn’t seem too attached to Daramir the Dunadan. Still, I know from experience, no matter what the situation, there is a bit of a sting to any PC death. The gamer has taken this as an opportunity to make a new character. I hope that results in greater system mastery and buy-in at the table.

A situation like this also has me re-evaluating my role as GM. During player setbacks like this one, I conduct some post-session analysis, re-crunch the numbers and consider parallel possibilities. In this case I wonder what would have happened if I had employed either of two different game mechanics in a cleaner way.

  1. I keep forgetting the NPC defensive bonuses! Of course, remembering them every time would make it more difficult for the PCs to strike their foes. Still, being able to hit sometimes and not being able to hit other times makes it difficult for players to accurately judge the actual level of danger in a conflict.
  2. At one point it looked like the PCs were going to convince a group of bandits to lay down their arms and join the Royal Gondorian Navy or Army. The PCs’ offer was very, very convincing — at least to me, the GM, it was. But instead of having the bandits accept it outright, I made an NPC reaction roll. I’ve constructed an open-ended chart based on some fairly common Monster Reaction Tables for any OSR game. I rolled pretty high — a 96, I believe it was, which necessitated another roll to add to it, resulting in a value well into the hundreds. This translated more or less into “Fight to the Death!” “Down with Gondor!” the bandits cried, and so Daramir received an arrow wound through both lungs and died in six rounds. That’s MERP, for you!

But it occurred to me later that it might have been better to have Daramir’s player — and it was Daramir who was giving the offer for conscription — roll on the Static Maneuver Chart concerning “Influence and Interaction.” I doubt the outcome would have been much different. I did factor in Daramir’s +5 to Presence to my NPC reaction roll, for what good it did, and this piddly sum, in all likelihood, would have been likewise ineffective in a player roll. But the player might have rolled a 96 or more, as I did. And whatever the outcome, it would have rolled from the player’s hand, not the GM’s.

A third option would have been to just accept the PC arguments for surrender, but in cases like these I prefer some level of variability to influence my rulings. Nonetheless, after this gamer comes to the table with his new character, I’m going to have him make an “Influence and Interaction” roll. If it comes out high, I’m going to let him have the full xp amount that Daramir had (I might let him have it anyway). And I’m going to try to keep those NPC defensive bonuses in mind!

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3 thoughts on “The Fall of Daramir

  1. Ouch never easy losing a player character and a lung shot critical is a killer regardless of how you managed the combat. I believe combat should come with a risk or else why use a system to help resolve it. Also, it is important that players (and GM) realise that a conservative approach to engaging in combat is better for all. See Rationale section on my blog.
    To help keep track, I used to have a combat sheet which listed all the combat stats and had space to add penalties, which I pulled off my handy combat screen. Now I use Rolemaster Minion, which although can seem slower to the players, is, in fact, faster. Penalties are applied fairly and often combatants are more inclined to leave the tactical environment when they realise they are moving slowly through lack of hits and stun (unless they have just cried “death to all…”).
    How you handle the option of non-combat entirely depended on your story arc. If this was an initial encounter, then I would have dispersed the crowd without a roll. Equally, depending on how central this was to your plot, I would have used an influence roll with a penalty for the crowd’s attitude to the players. It might have resulted in further negotiations, or a failure could still have been used to avoid combat but an impasse might have resulted. The players would need to find another way. On the other hand, I suspect given that they were hostile to Gondor, who the players represented, the combat would still happen and Daramir would still be dead.

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