So, why a death poll? Well, I have seen especially lately, around the internet that many DM’s, GM’s, and Players of tabletop roleplaying games have a wide array of opinions on in-game deaths. Some blame the players exclusively seeing it as a personal failing on the unlucky character’s player’s part. Others see in-game deaths as unfortunate but a great opportunity for some intense roleplaying. There are quite a few other opinions on the matter typically ranging between the aforementioned. So I decided to put up a simple poll based on the most popular opinions that I have seen around. P.S. I have blogged about this very subject in Tabletop Meditations #10 – Death.
This death poll is different than asking how roleplaying games approach death, I am interested in how Gamemasters and Players feel about PC deaths. In effect, I am asking how do you feel about it when your character dies and/or when another player’s character dies? With that, I give you the death poll below.
The entire gang was at the dining
room table: Me (the GM), Jenn, Isis, Cris, Gil, Carlos, and Carlitos. For some
reason conversation before the game had turned to the events of the end of the
original Zombie Horror test-game some years back – the last pair of survivors outrunning
a nuclear explosion in a helicopter then crashing in the desert. It had sprung
out of Carlos wondering, “Where this will all end” and if everyone will die by
the end of the campaign. Carlitos mentioned that the military will probably
nuke the city and Cris concurred.
The original test campaign was a
single session escape-the-city scenario that turned into a desperate run-away from
everything scenario a la cannonball run. Eventually, the last two players, one
of which was Cris, stole a helicopter from a deserted airfield and made their
final run for it after finding out the military was going to use a tactical
nuclear strike to level the city and wipe-out the zombie-plague. In fact, if I
remember correctly, the other two players had shot each other over something
dumb with the survivor of that fiasco put down by Cris’ biker character.
Anyway, the conversation faded out
and the groups’ attention turned to the session at hand. El Guapo (played by
Gil), Wesley (played by Jenn), and Lilith (played by Isis) had survived an
outbreak while out on the town at the Goth Club and made their way to Lilith’s
father’s Wrecking Yard. There they had a shootout with outlaw bikers and met
the other three Player Characters: Steve (played by Cris), Kenny (played by
Carlitos), and William (played by Carlos) the next day.
The latter three had been stuck
when Steve’s car battery died stranding them on the Old Country Highway during
their chaotic flight from the city. Eventually, they decided to group together
for protection and then faced a small gang of zombies that threatened the
chain-link gate. During the attempt to fight them off Kenny was shot in the
leg, hobbled by William’s friendly fire. The group decided to flee in three
vehicles: Lilith’s armored up Chevy Sedan, Steve’s Old Police Car, and the
junkyard tow truck with snowplow scoop. They outran a giant tank-armored zombie
probably sent by the military, plowed through a slowly oncoming herd of zombies
on the road, and then finally got on their way to William’s survivalist haven.
The three-vehicle convoy puttered
slowly up to the chain-locked gates of an 8-foot tall chain-link security
fence. They had arrived along a steep dirt road completely enclosed by trees.
The rusted sheet metal signs to either side of the gate warned of the electric
fence and that trespassers should expect lethal force. Behind the high
electrical fence topped with barbed wire sat a small squat ranch-style home. It
was sometime around noon but the house and indeed the small yard was cast in
cool shadow from the thick umbrage of the crowded pine trees. The musk of old
pine filled their noses.
While the line of cars waited for William to unlock the gate, Steve got out of his car. He walked around his vehicle and made a careful inspection of its underside and blood-spattered wheel wells. He wanted to make sure that no corpses or animated parts thereof were “hitchin’ a ride”.
Gil: “Guys, we need to find a cure for this thing!”
Isis: “Where!? Where we gonna look! I can’t do anything!”
Carlitos: “Anybody got any skills that could help try to
make a cure ourselves?”
Jenn: “What!? We can’t find an antidote if we don’t know
what’s causing it! And none of us are scientists! We’re just a bunch a’
After the cars were all pulled into
the yard and the gate locked behind them, the gang began to filter into the
small house. Lilith took Kenny down to William’s bomb shelter. They accessed it
through a door hidden behind a shelf in the basement and spiral stair leading
into the small-reinforced shelter. She needed to measure his leg. She was going
to use some junk she had brought with her to whip up a brace for his
bullet-crippled leg. Steve had followed them down and changed Kenny’s bandages
after Lilith was done with him; at least the wound was not infected.
The Old man, Lilith’s father, had
settled in the old easy chair in the front room and was using the duct-tape
wrapped two-button remote to flip through channels as he tugged from his hip
flask. After everything above seemed settled in Wesley, El Guapo, and William
went down into the shelter to convene with the others.
Once they were gathered, William
pointed out the bank of video monitors on a table in the shelter. There were
cameras monitoring the property inside of the fence and all around the
perimeter of the electric fence. The shelter had a small main room with a
walk-in gun safe, a small bedroom/bathroom off to one side and a decent-sized
grow room and small storage closet. He told them that the house and shelter
were running on a large diesel generator housed in a small brick and mortar shed
behind the house. He also warned them that there were a few traps outside the
fence. They were essentially tripwires that set of firecrackers to scare off
trespassers and deer.
As evening approached, El Guapo and
William decided to make a quick patrol around the outside perimeter. They made
it almost completely around the outer rim of the property, El Guapo remarked on
how dark it was. After the sun went down it was pitch black, the glare of the
city lights could be seen faintly as a halo around a few of the lower hills
from a certain vantage point as well as a few columns of smoke. The city was apparently
on fire. They were sharing the common sentiment of being fortunate to have
gotten out of the city when they heard a metallic tinkling coming rapidly at
them then a few happy barks.
El Guapo (pulling his gun): “Zombie Dog! Zombie Dog!”
Cris: “It’s a zombie dog!?”
The GM (me): “No. It’s pretty obvious that it’s a normal
stray dog running happily up to you guys.”
William checked the small dog’s
collar for its tag. His name was “Tops”. William recognized him as belonging to
a nearby neighbor. The dog looked like it had not eaten for several days. After
contemplating this new piece of information silently, William led El Guapo and
Tops back into his compound.
Meanwhile, Steve pulled out his
laptop from his trunk and set it up on William’s badly worn yellow Formica
kitchen table. He found that even trying to access the internet via the phone
line was near impossible not because there was no connection but because it
appeared that, someone had erected a firewall between the outside world and
everyone in Amorset. Wesley came in and took a gander and confirmed his
assessment, she also figured that most radio signals were probably also jammed.
They both looked over at the television, only the public access channel was
broadcasting something other than a test pattern or an emergency system
The pair outside came in from their
patrol with Tops running inside and jumping into the Old Man’s lap. They
explained where the dog came from and all decided that it would be best if some
of them would go check on the neighbor. However, they could not agree on a
timeframe for that. So, they decided to “sleep on it”.
Jenn (turning to me all of a sudden): “Don’t you kill that
doggie, you’re going to kill that doggie aren’t you.”
The GM (me): “Ummm, No?”
Steve decided to stay up, try to
hack through the internet firewall, and do a little research on Geno-Chem. At
this point, the others had convinced him of the shady bioengineering chemical
conglomerate’s probable responsibility for this mess. After about an hour, he
had successfully accessed the corporate site and found mostly public relations
garbage. However, he also found that the company had been operating a
specialized laboratory out of the old oilrig on the lake.
Apparently, they had been cited for
improper storage of Class I, VII, and VIII chemicals on the old platform.
Geno-Chem also announced that the platform would be a part of their new plan of
economic rebirth. From the sound of it as he read it, it sounded like they were
about to remake the world into the Garden of Eden.
He shut down the laptop hearing only
snoring throughout the house. Realizing how tired he was he went to go sleep in
the backseat of his car.
The Fleeing of the
It was already evening by the time
everyone was ready to start planning again. Earlier in the day, Lilith had
finished Kenny’s leg brace and he was moving around again albeit slightly
slower. Steve had told everyone what he had found out the previous night and
that the internet was completely down now. He also cooked dinner, cheese topped
spaghetti with spam cubes in it. William was busy setting up a “war room”
around the kitchen table.
After dinner, the crew was huddled
around the table looking at the maps that William had pinned to the wall. They had
already decided to pursue the oilrig lead and still wanted to send a group to the
neighbor out of sheer curiosity. A quiet thumping began to cause the kitchen
table to vibrate. They all stood up. The will to speak died in their throats.
They turned to the windows their eyes like rabbits under headlights of an
oncoming diesel. The glass and picture frames began to rattle as the noise
increased in volume and intensity. Vague shapes, just pale blurs, shot out of
the dark just outside the electric fence and then just as suddenly flew back
Lilith: “Oh Gawd! It’s that big thing again isn’t it!?”
Kenny: “Aww man! I shot it’s leg off! How!?”
William (looking out the kitchen window): “It’s deer? It’s
El Guapo (also looking out the window): “It’s just deer, whoa
a lot of deer. A stampede!?”
The group filtered out the back door from the kitchen onto the covered back porch. The ground was rumbling with the amount of deer running panicked around the house. Occasionally a deer touched the fence and a bright burst of sparks would cause them to jump away and correct course. Then, a big buck tried to correct course at the very last minute and another large buck slammed into him thrusting his bulk into the fence tearing the chain-link from the poles and the whole length of the fence exploded in a white-hot flash of sparks.
The sound of the stampede faded into the distance towards the road. The dust left in the wake of the animals still hovered like a cloud of choking pine-scented smog. The house was completely dark; the entire electrical system had shorted out.
Lilith immediately ran to the generator shed and found that the buck hitting the fence had blown a high voltage capacitor. William did not have a spare. He had gone to town to pick up another one but decided to have a beer instead and then the zombie apocalypse happened.
Wesley: “Crap! We got to get that fence back up!”
Lilith (shouting to the others): “I can get the electricity
back up after you guys fix the fence BUT I’ll be bypassing the capacitor and if
the fence gets hit again it’ll blow everything, permanently!”
William: “Screw it. Do what you guys gotta do.”
El Guapo and Kenny volunteered to disentangle and pull the buck’s corpse from the fence and repair the chain-link. Meanwhile, Steve and William were going to wait on the porch with their weapons ready and keep a lookout.
The operation was moving ahead at a
brisk pace as the pair of volunteers easily cleared the roasted buck from the wire
and began to work on bending the chain-link back in shape and a few poles back straight
as well. Lilith was waiting for the signal to switch the power back on. William
and Steve were keeping their ears and eyes open for anything. Wesley was
leaning against the brick generator shed watching El Guapo and Kenny fix the
Steve shouted, “Look out! Something
big is coming in fast!” A huge shaggy shadow was bearing down on the pair
working on the fence. Wesley dropped to firing position and waited for a clear
shot with her Desert Eagle. Steve readied a rifle from William’s shelter
gun-safe. William readied his deer rifle.
Cris: “Dude we can’t shoot!”
Carlos: “What, why? I can hit it.”
Cris: “Cause we’ll shoot THEM! They’re in between us and
Carlos: “Oh yeah, I guess. Too bad I wanted to use my RPG.”
Cris: “Wait. What.”
Carlitos (pointing a finger at Carlos): “Dude, do not shoot
El Guapo pulled his Desert Eagle
and drilled the massive animal with a lethal shot. As it began to fall,
however, it took a sudden swipe at Kenny hitting with a sickening whap! The
creature fell dead heavily to the ground joined by the thud of Kenny’s limp
body. The bear had torn open his shoulder and slashed his face with a single
Carlitos: “Oh man! Am I dead?”
Cris: “Pff! I dunno! What’re your hit-points at?”
A few arithmetical calculations
later, it was determined that Kenny was unconscious and very near death but
some first aid worked to stabilize the bleeding. Their attentions turned to the
Cris (to me): “Really!? A zombie bear!?”
Isis: “It was a zombie? Is that possible?”
To be safe El Guapo “double-tapped”
the dead bear. They could see the steam wafting up from the bullet holes in its
head and smell the fresh, hot blood against mixed with the cool night air. It
had been a living animal but it also had some disturbing puss-yellow cysts or
tumors swelling from under its greasy coat in places. El Guapo lit a cigarette.
El Guapo (exhaling): “Well, there’s definitely something
wrong with that bear.”
Steve helped El Guapo to complete
the fence and after about another hour Lilith was able to hit the power.
Meanwhile, Kenny recuperated in a bed in the shelter wrapped in fresh bandages.
The following day, the group killed
time by playing cards while waiting for Kenny to heal up enough to move. They
continued to toss around ideas as to what to do. They only confirmed their
previous plan to gain access to the oilrig on the lake. After dinner, Kenny was
awake and surprisingly almost in traveling shape. El Guapo went outside on the
back porch to have a smoke in peace. He puffed readily on his cigarette as he
wandered aimlessly around the back yard and wound up near the power shed.
He stood for a while staring at the
stars. When he finished he flicked the glowing stub against the bricks hard
enough to put it out in a flash. He heard a ricochet, then another, and
another. The ground around his feet began to jump and spit and he could hear
the semi-automatic gunfire. Almost as a reflex, he leaped behind the safety of
the brick shed.
The shots came from the large tree
branches that overhung the electric fence. Squatting on the branches above were
soldiers in green rubber suits bearing M-16s with drum magazines. Their exposed
heads and faces revealed the rotting and partially mummified visages of
zombies. With a heavy thump, one of them jumped to the ground. El Guapo swung
the A-K from his shoulder and pulled the firing bolt, his back against the shed.
Wesley ran up from the shelter and
yelled for the rest in the house to wake up if they were still asleep; she had
seen El Guapo’s position from the security monitors. A spray of bullets from
all three of the zombie soldiers tore at the bricks of the shed pinning El
Guapo down. A second thump signaled a second creature was in the yard. Lilith
ran out to the back porch and shot the creature squatting in the tree putting a
9mm slug between its eyes. It fell to the ground in the yard. Steve fired
William’s hunting rifle from the kitchen door putting a large hole in the
second creature’s forehead.
Wesley rushed out of the door
knocking Steve to the side. She shot and took off half of the last creature’s
face destroying it.
El Guapo: “They have guns now?”
Wesley: “See! I told you! It’s the military; they’re trying
to kill us!”
Lilith: “We gotta figure something out.”
Cris: “Huh. That was kinda easy.”
Lilith (digging at one of the zombie’s forehead with a
knife): “Huh. Hey guys, these have those little red lights too.”
After about an hour Lilith was inspecting a microchip she had pulled from the skull of one of the soldier zombies. It appeared to be some sort of control chip wired to receive a specific signal. She also found a built-in electronic locator but easily disabled it. She had no idea how to prevent the control signal from being received or even if she could disrupt it.
Come sunrise, Lilith began work on
building a set of walkie-talkies with signal scrambling and better range using
the electronic parts found around William’s lair and a set of new walkies she
found down in the shelter. El Guapo, Steve, and William were going to travel to
William’s neighbor to check on things there, they suspected the zombie soldiers
had come from that direction. The rest of the gang just tried to get as much
rest as they could.
After a quick breakfast of
pancakes, sausages, and eggs cooked by non-other than El Guapo, the three that
had planned to scout the neighbor’s property packed up and left. William guided
them through the woods and down the hill towards a deep cleft between the
hills. They soon found themselves walking through a rocky creek bed their feet
drenched in its cold gently burbling waters. The streak of sky above, a break
in the umbrage was blinding and the direct sun was making them pour sweat.
Steve (to William): “Is it always this quiet out here?”
The dull green of the dense foliage
of the trees and bushes swelled on both sides of them. Occasionally, a slight
breeze would disturb the leaves the sound breaking the unnatural silence for a
few seconds. The shadows in the deeps of the foliage appeared in contrast to a
bright almost white clear sky pitch black.
Steve: “Are we almost there?”
William: “Yup, up this way.”
They surmounted a steep dirt path
that winded its way over the top of a shallow bluff and into the shadowy cover
of the trees. It was a little while longer before they found themselves at an
old and ill-maintained cottage with a companion barn, everything covered in a
thick brown carpet of pine needles. William walked onto the plank-board front
porch and pushed the half-opened front door open. The television on white noise
filled the room. The place smelled of rotting meat. The source was the fat old
woman sitting in the overstuff-chair before the television. She had been shot
through the temple her sawed-off shotgun still in her lap and her slippered feet
still on the antique ottoman. William mentioned that she did not like trespassers
… and salesmen.
A large black dog also shot was lying
in a pool of blackened congealed blood near the front door. The walls around
where the dog was bore a few stray bullet holes. The tag on the black shepherd
mix’s spiked collar read “Laddy”. Zombies did not do this.
El Guapo: “Man, let’s get outta here!”
About an hour later, the three
intrepid explorers returned to home base and delivered the news to the rest of
Lilith: “I say we get outta here tomorrow morning.”
The rest of the group concurred.
The rest of the day went on without interruption. After a dinner of chili beans
and canned corn, the gang was preparing to try to get a good rest before what
was going to be a rough adventure. At the kitchen table, Wesley was making sure
her weapons were in working order when she was done she slung her MP4 on her
shoulder. The others were watching the emergency messages on the television and
taking notes. She glanced through the kitchen window and saw several red pinpoints
of laser light dancing on the table and fridge. She shouted and kicked open the
backdoor and ran out onto the porch. She immediately had to duck for cover as the
back porch was shredded by automatic gunfire.
A squad of ten commandoes was bearing
down on the house. Two of them were setting up an M-249 SAW machine gun. Wesley
sprayed the area with her MP4 followed by El Guapo charging out onto the back
porch (hey they really did this) and sprayed some of the commandoes with fire
from his AK-47. Lilith ran to her car, which was parked, adjacent to the
backyard but next to the house. Steve got into firing position behind the
kitchen window with his rifle. After a few seconds, William joined him with a rocket-propelled
grenade launcher, an RPG-7, in his arms.
William: “Yeah, I’m gonna take these mother@#%$ers out!”
Kenny also charged through the back
door and tossed a grenade, it landed and exploded in a vacant area quite a
distance from the machine gun, his intended target. William stood up at the kitchen
window, took aim, and pulled the trigger hoping to blast the main group of
soldiers away. Click. The rocket failed to function it was a dud. The crack of
a single shot from a rifle and William collapsed onto the kitchen floor, blood
gushing from his belly. Another wave of gunfire washed over the place. Steve
took a shot dropping a soldier in the trees and turned his attentions to
stopping William’s bleeding.
The firefight lasted only a few
more seconds, the motley group of adventurers was victorious against all odds. The
generator shed had been shot to pieces but was still standing. The rear of the
house peppered with bullet holes. The soldiers had been living soldiers but
they had no markings as to indicate that they were government troops. Kenny found
a keycard on what he thought was the team leader. The card had the emblem of
the Geno-Chem on it and nothing else.
Carlitos: “Well that seals it I guess.”
Carlos: “I’m hurt, dude.”
El Guapo (to Wesley): “What’s wrong with you?”
Wesley: “Well, we can’t stay here anymore!”
Jenn (turning to me, the GM): “Damn, zombie game has No
Chill! No chill, man!”
Epilogue of the
The group began packing the vehicles
immediately. William disclosed the complete contents of his vault. It was
stocked with several boxes of 7.62 and 9mm rounds, 2 more rockets for the RPG, a
couple of 12-gauge shotguns, several hunting rifles, dozens of automatic
rifles, semi-automatic pistols, and a box of dynamite as well as a 1-kilo brick
Gil: “What? Seriously?”
Carlos: “Yeah man, I gotta make my money, I deal with
everybody back here.”
Kenny kept hold of the keycard and the vehicles were pulling out onto the dirt road.
Carlitos: “So where are we getting the boat?”
Gil: “What? What boat?”
Carlitos (turning to me): “It’s an oil rig in the middle of
a lake right?”
Cris: “Well, there’s lake houses around there somewhere,
there’s gotta be.”
Jen: “Yeah, someone has a boat we can steal.”
The convoy of vehicles kicked up a cloud of dust and pine needles as they roared away from the hilltop compound heading back to the Old Country Highway.
Later that night, my wife, Jenn, and I were driving home on the brightly lit freeway through Colton into San Bernardino when out of nowhere she turned to me.
“You know if you kill that dog I’m divorcing you.”