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Last time, I spoke about the Dictator’s capacity to inject emotional tension by unravelling other characters in horrific ways, either by mistake or by design. Giving the Dictator the stage in-between action sequences is even more rewarding than having them in the thick of it, bending allies to their will rather than turning foes against one another with a shout. One of the absolute high points of my group’s experience with DIE, of our experience with ttRPGs overall, is owed to the Dictator.
Today’s post is about another one of these moments. Our three-session adventure had three* of these climactic, memorable moments–each of them in the final session. The last of these is owed to the Master, and I’ll dig into it next time; the second is owed to a panicky Godbinder who saw his friend, the Emotion Knight, die as he destroyed an entire invading army using his ultimate class skill, Creative Violence. I’ll try and break down both classes and illustrate their strengths and weaknesses, as well as my philosophy regarding the challenges I set forth for both.
The reason so much could be covered in that final session was because the party had to be split. This in itself can be daunting for any DM – not only do you have to follow and react to several different players who want to try different approaches to the conflicts in front of them; now you have to flip between different conflicts as well, preferably in a way that won’t bore the players enough to break with the fantasy and be swallowed up by distraction while waiting for their scene. I have found two elements help with that – one, each of the scenes you alternate between must have stakes for each player; and two, you have to manage your time carefully. I’ve found that five-minute segments, followed by one of your more reliable players is a good way to do it. You don’t have to immediately switch from one scene to the next when those five minutes run out, but you can squeeze massive amounts of drama and tension into the scene with a few sentences before moving onto the other players and scenes. So you see, the second element reinforces the first, allowing for the tension in each scenario to marinate while the other scenarios play out. Now, when your players break into conversation, it’ll be about how they tackle the latest development in their scenario. It might strictly be metagaming, but I’d call heartless anyone willing to break up the excited chatter of their friends as they plot how to get out of the latest tight spot.
There’s an extended post in there somewhere, but you get the gist. The Godbinder and the Emotion Knight both have a massive amount of creative power against threats both internal and external; the Godbinder works on a give-and-take basis as the class description says–simple enough to deal with, mechanically, even as it opens up such fun possibilities. It was the Emotion Knight I had more trouble figuring out what to do with. His player had picked Amazement as his chief emotion, and he played it up in the funniest ways. All the “WOAH” and “GASP” sounds you can imagine, and more besides. But at first it was a little difficult to figure out when to turn the emotional scale up for him – I think I could use a more concrete example of that in the finished DIE RPG text.
It was an interesting pairing, character-wise. The player behind Godbinder Todd is the most experienced RPG veteran of the group; the one playing Amazement Knight Frankie was a first-time player, a bebi adventurer through and through. They had the most straightforward task between them — buy time for the rest of the adventurers to deal with their own fronts and, together, dispatch the Hordes of Faceless Baddies(TM) so that the BBEG of their own campaign wouldn’t be freed to devour the world. Hamming it up all the way? You bet!
Everything went very, very right—and then, very, very wrong. Observe:
Great stone worms, three of them, spew forth a legion.
They fall upon the walls of Brightown, their faces hungry, talons clawing at the city’s defenders. Todd whispers—not a prayer, exactly. Gods answer no prayers. Whatever it is Todd mutters, they answer. Barriers of radiant white appear over the city’s defenders, the legions splattering before them, many bouncing off below and outside the walls.
A few heartbeats of stark silence pass, the disbelief on both sides palpable. Inch by inch, the hordes pull themselves up by their breeches, their eyes once more coming onto focus, each and every one of them filled with hunger and with hate.
Todd licks his dried-up lips, looks to Frankie on his left. The other seems lost in the wonderment of it all, his hand lingering on his oversized hammer. “You good?” asks Todd.
Frankie snaps back into himself, smirks. “I’ve got this,” he responds, picking his hammer up.
The hammer is a smudged blur as it swings through the air, a horizontal arc, lengthening, growing, an impossible curve aided by explosive force.
When it connects, the world goes white.
When he regains his vision, Todd doesn’t believe it. Where untold legions stood, hungrily scraping against the stone, only dust remains. No one believes the sight of this but it is true and when at last the silence is too much, joy ripples like a wave through the city’s defenders.
Todd turns to his left and what he sees turns his world grey.
Frankie’s crumpled form is lying where he stood, Todd’s friend no longer drawing breath. Time freezes over when he wills it.
“Bring him back,” he growls.
“Patience, darling,” purrs a familiar voice.
“You’re not the one I called,” he says to the female figure wrapped around him, her hands scorching him, her hair lapping flames. “I want the light one.”
She tuts, wagging a finger in front of his face. “Here’s the deal, Toddy-Todd. You’re awful short on favours and so very weighed down on debt.” She nods at Frankie. “And healing someone about to tip to the other side, that’s no easy task.
“So I’ve been thinking—and you know how we gods are, we like to talk between us—we thought you might want to do all of us a little favour.”
“Spit it out,” Todd grinds out.
“You see all these people, this side of the city?” Pyrrha grins. “Burn it.”
That’s a whole ‘nother mess. First thing first—I’m pretty sure my Godbinder player could’ve used a normal healing spell rather than a miracle to bring Frankie back from the edge after the Amazement Knight got four wounds after he rolled for Creative Violence, thus one-shotting himself. I’m not sure of the Godbinder’s player realized that and was playing his character the way he thought Todd would naturally react, or if he really forgot–but don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, right? The relationship between gods and Godbinder is such that they would strike just when he is at his most vulnerable – that was my logic behind the massive price they asked for bringing Frankie back before he slips away completely.
Because part of being a DM? You can play off your players’ lack of awareness as to their skills. Not to murder them – that’s an arsehole thing to do, through and through. But to twist information up in ways that create brand new complications? That is absolute, unadulterated delight. And the Godbinder offers up avenues upon avenues of complications, because the gods they draw their power from are such absolute unreliable pricks, whether of light or fire, the underworld or the wilds. It’s not in a god’s nature to give anything freely, but to take, take, take.
*There was a fourth, but it included the Fool, and uhhhhh things got weird. I spoke about it in my very first post on the DIE RPG.
Next up, concluding this series of post-mortem posts following my group’s first DIE adventure–The Master as Manipulator.