My buddy Clint has been running a D&D 3.5 campaign for about four and a half years, now, and I’ve been playing a warlock named Dunael ((I talk a little about him in this post.)). Tonight, Dunael died, and I want to take a moment to talk about how it was handled, because Clint did pretty much everything right. I want to remember how he did things, because I want to follow his example if I’m ever in his position ((I have been in his position before, you see, and haven’t handled it nearly as well. In fact, I completely bobbled one occasion when Clint’s character was killed, and I’m still kicking myself.)).
You need a little background ((And yes, I’m sorry, that means I’m going to tell you about my character.)) to understand why what happened was good, so here we go.
Clint’s game is full of home-brewed races and metaphysics and monsters and pretty much everything else. Dunael was a Blood Elf, a race of elves who believe that they help keep the world ticking by offering their blood in special sacrifices every day. Over time, this has made their blood stronger than that of other races ((For example, the vampires we’ve met have really liked trying to bite Dunael. Except for one who was the wife of another party member. Well, ex-wife, I guess.)), and this in turn has made them a little arrogant and superior to the other people in the world.
Dunael took that arrogance a step further, deciding that, instead of just sacrificing his blood to the world as a whole, and let the benefits trickle down to the minor spirits, he would sacrifice his blood to the minor spirits, and strengthen the world from the foundation up. This put him at odds with the rest of his family and his people, but he had more than the usual share of arrogance ((He viewed it as passion, and couldn’t understand why other people didn’t feel it the same way.)) and set out to prove them wrong.
Over the years of play, Dunael became more and more shamanic about the whole approach, dealing more with the various spirits, making short-term bargains with them, and generally becoming one of the world’s experts on the Waking Dream, as the Blood Elves called the spirit world. He learned a number of the secrets of the world, traveled to the underworld, brought back children stolen centuries before, freed a bound demon, became one of the people entrusted with the power of the Light, rescued a companion from eternal imprisonment inside a shadow creature, traveled up the Dragonspire ((Which is actually the physical body of a dragon god, as well as a volcano – Dunael has done his best to avoid waking the Dragon of the Spire.)) to learn the secrets of Truenaming from a sphinx, bluffed a powerful and ancient vampire out of attacking an army, and been made a minor noble in a land that’s not his own ((Of course, all the rest of the party were along for most of this stuff.)).
Well, tonight Dunael and his companions were engaged in an aerial battle around a castle with a group of manticores. Manticores in this world are much smarter, nastier, and bigger than in standard D&D, and are an entire group of powerful, dangerous species that have their own kingdom and take slaves from other races. We were hopelessly outmatched, having just come from a confrontation with the rest of the manticore army ((Wherein I made the ancient vampire, the Sallow Man, back down. Yeah, I’m kinda pleased with that.)) and being low on resources. We were able to do some damage to the manticores and their twisted elven riders, but then two of them started escaping with hostages.
Between us, we managed to stop one of the hostage-takers, not killing it, but distracting it long enough that a companion could snatch the hostage away, leaving Dunael floating there in front of the angry manticore with the rest of the manticores circling above, ready to pelt him with spikes. The manticore blustered, and Dunael blustered; the manticore threatened, and Dunael threatened back; the manticore spelled out very carefully what would happen to Dunael if he didn’t back down, and Dunael scoffed. The manticores attacked, and Dunael died.
Riddled with manticore spikes, at -14 hit points, I looked at Clint and said, “Can I use this sacrifice of blood for something?” Knowing me as he does, Clint was wary, but agreed to hear me out. I told him that I wanted to use it to wake the spirit of the Bleak Citadel, the castle we were defending, to defend it’s people. It was a famous, ancient castle that had been possessed by one noble family its entire existence, and I figured it must have some strong feelings about the kidnappings, etc.
Clint thought for a bit, then said, “Put it in words. What do you say as you try to wake the spirit?” So, I came up with an impassioned plea, and it was heard. Not by the Citadel, though.
By the Dragon of the Spire.
You see, we were on its lower slopes, and I had made enough spiritual noise to wake it. It agreed to save the people of the Citadel if Dunael gave his heart’s blood – his spirit, soul, blood, and power – to the Dragon. Dunael agreed.
Thus, a great stone dragon raised up out of the mountain and slew the manticores, rescuing the hostages. And Dunael died.
More stuff happened after that, but it doesn’t really touch on what I want to talk about. Here are the salient points about how Clint handled this:
- Clint was very clear that, if I didn’t let the manticores leave, they would all attack me, and I would probably die.
- He made sure I understood what was at stake, and gave me a chance to back out.
- Once he saw that this was something Dunael was willing to die for, he didn’t pull any punches. He filled him full of manticore spikes, and let the dice fall as they would.
- When I asked to do something that would give my death a little extra meaning, he not only allowed it, he took it a step farther, turning the event into the stuff of legend. Dunael died defending the Citadel ((The Lord of the Citadel, by the way, didn’t like Dunael and his friends much. There was a whole thing, there.)), and woke the Dragon of the Spire ((This is not necessarily a good thing. When the Dragon wakes, there are usually earthquakes and volcanic eruptions that follow.)).
- He made it obvious to everyone that Dunael’s death was meaningful and not in vain.
There was some talk after the fact about how to resurrect Dunael, but I told the other players that this was a good, fitting end for the character. His story is done, and ended on a good note. He died being himself as hard as he could be, bluffing a tremendously powerful creature with nothing to back up his threats, and he still managed to do what he set out to do.
I’m going to miss him, but that’s the way his story should end. Thanks, Clint, for giving him the ending he deserved.
Now I’ve got to dig out my 3.5 books and make a new character.