Wonderful tragedies

How emotionally driven roleplaying makes tragedies ten times worse but also makes the experience as a whole much more magical.


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This wasn't DnD but a Swedish indie game called Västmark set in a low-fantasy version of our own history around the 1200s. Fantasy elements exist in this world but are rare and seldom seen by the general population. In this campaign, the core group of four people all start out as mundane commoners in a small village, girls between the ages 13 and 17 and all, for different reasons, outcasts in some way. I was despised for being the product of sin, my mother had been accused of adultery. The four of us developed a bond of friendship as no one else would have us. One of us was the daughter of a witch and also dabbled in pagan arts. One day she made small wooden runes for us to wear around our necks to make us more charismatic and popular in the village. The runes did not work as intended but a side effect was that they disrupted the effects of a secret AOE spell that was active in our village so we were the only ones who weren't getting drowsy, sick, and tired. As we struggled to understand what was happening we noticed hooded figures walking around inspecting the cursed villagers. When they noticed we could see them they started hunting us. One of them actually helped us get away but from what I understand it was not for our sake but some internal power struggle within their own ranks. They were apparently fae folk testing something on the people of our village.

We run away to get help and on our journey, I get sick and to my horror, I grew a wolf tail and wolf ears. This is not unheard of in this world but few people have seen it, some people develop animal features and the common knowledge suggests it is a punishment from God for being wicked. Half-folk are generally despised and oppressed. I would later find out that the truth is simply that if there is fae blood in your lineage there is a slight chance you develop animal features during puberty but at the time I was struggling to understand what I could have done to anger god enough to do this to me. I decided to hide my situation from my friends under a headscarf.

A few sessions later we had become involved in dangerous politics in the realm and were the only witnesses in the eradication of an entire village in a time where the deathly ill king had no heir. We had no social status but were yet very important which is a dangerous situation to be in. A botched dexterity roll caused my headscarf to come off and my friends found out the truth about my ears. It was a heartwarming scene where at least two of us cried rivers of real tears but they all assured me that they would never think of me any differently and I was still their friend no matter what my ears looked like.

Shortly after this, we got a new player. He got to take over an NPC who was a squire to a traveling knight with a mysterious package. The package seemed to call one in my group and the knight saw it as a sign. He was carrying a holy sword that had to be used in the coronation of the next rightful king. Both the knight and his squire had been in the crusades and were devout Christians. They pulled some strings and we were all to come along on his journey, but we obviously had to keep the purpose of the quest secret. Shortly after the king died of his illness and a war of succession hit us. We escaped but the knight got injured and was slowly dying of his wounds. Before he died he knighted one of us, the one who the sword had called to, which slighted his squire who obviously had hoped to be knighted by his master someday and now had to watch him knight some young girl he just met. He was not petty about it though, he was loyal to the quest and so to us. I was still nervous about him, the bond with my 3 friends was strong and I saw him as a threat to that, partly because he was handsome and some of my friends seemed to like him and in my eyes, he was a threat to my secure family dynamic. Not to mention the fact that I was terrified of him finding out about my ears since he is a man of the church and could very possibly view me as an abomination. The knight died but we carried on the quest.

Several sessions later we were traveling with another knight towards a town where we had heard word of a clue that a secret eligible heir to the throne might reside. The knight was a good man and we had trusted him with knowledge of our quest. And the fact that he had a female squire who had fox ears and a fox tail made me excited to see that not everyone hates people like us. This led to me building up the courage to tell the squire in our group the truth about what I was. I was terrified his hand would reach for the sword but he reaches for the cross around his neck instead. He was taken aback but not angry. He thanked me for trusting him. I was honest and said I was worried he might have drawn his sword and he said "Why would I do that? You are my friend." And again we had a scene where several players cried real tears.

We reached the town and it was empty. We saw clear signs that what had happened there was identical to what had happened in our home town. The knight had to hurry back and report this with haste. He left the company and us under the command of the half-folk woman, something many of his men did not appreciate. And sure enough, after less than an hour they had turned against her, and us.

To be fair, bigotry aside, some of the men found us suspicious, as we were secretive and we tend to show up when things like this happen. They took our weapons and locked us in a barn. Luckily they did not have time to take our other equipment so we still had the holy sword which was rolled up in a bedroll. Now all hell broke loose. The town was covered in a red haze, something had been burnt to cause a disorienting and headache-inducing mist before the fae folk attacked. I assume it was fae folk, the campaign is still ongoing and we haven't yet solved all the mysteries.

Anyway, we heard the men out there being slaughtered and knew we had to escape. We managed to break the lock and open the barn doors to the chaos outside. The mist made it hard to see but bodies were everywhere and horses were running around in panic.

We have never played this game smart in a meta-sense. We do what seems right to us as characters at the time and sometimes we do really stupid things, but so far the dice have stood us by and granted us luck on the rolls of life and death situations. Until today.

Someone yelled that we needed a horse since we had to bring the fox eared woman who was unconscious. I dashed out of the barn to try and calm one of the panicked horses. I was a shepherdess so I was used to handling animals. This was still a phenomenally stupid decision on my part, the GM had been very clear about the area outside those barn doors being a quite literal death trap, but our luck did not run out quite yet. I needed to roll between 7-9 on a D10 to avoid being trampled by the panicked horse (0 is a critical miss in this system) and I rolled a 7. However, as I managed to calm the horse down a big brutish beast (perhaps a troll or an ogre, as this is a low fantasy setting we are not well versed in what kind of creatures we are facing) cleft the horse in two with an enormous sword. One of my friends yelled at me to remove my scarf as maybe they wouldn't attack me if they knew I was part fae. I did so but the creature did not seem to care. He was about to attack me when our squire player dashed out and charged the beast. I can only imagine his roll needed to be damn near perfect in order to do any real damage but he did at least succeed in attracting its attention. The brute grabbed him by the neck and lifted him up and I had one chance to save him. I fired an arrow and… I missed… right before hearing the sound of his neck being broken.

Since I was probably the smallest and least significant looking creature in the entire town, the brute's attention went elsewhere after killing my friend and the rest of us managed to get away, only to be taken captive moments later. And that is where the session ended. I am writing this the day after so I don't know what our captivity will lead to, I just know that my character is going to be broken for quite a while. The boy I had refused to trust until the very day before willingly gave his life to save mine from my own stupidity.

This hit really hard and we all sat in shock for a while. Our emotionally driven style of playing make all our character interactions feel very intense and Jocains death was thoroughly felt. I feel he should be named even though I haven't mentioned names so far but it hit me extra hard because I am the reason for his demise, he saved me in spite of my stubborn refusal to trust him for so long, this coupled with my utter failure at saving him with my arrow means I have a lot to make up for and it will be a tragic but wonderfully emotional journey.

(the image with the squire character is from an earlier session, as we escaped after recently having met him)


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