Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Get Out of Jail Free Cards

One of the things I like about Trollsmyth's Labyrinth Lord game is that it feels very deadly. That threat of death has a number of benefits to the game, not least that it keeps me focused and involved with the game.

But in objective terms, it's not deadly at all. We've been playing for half a year now, and no one's died. Honestly, it wouldn't be all that much fun if it death were a regular thing; beyond the usual fuss of coming up with a new character and re-integrating her into the ongoing campaign, one of the things I enjoy most about the game is learning about and interacting with the NPCs, and there wouldn't be much point to that if they were getting eaten or poisoned or whatever all the time.

Still, even despite that, the game feels ridiculously dangerous. Partly, this is just me as a player: I worry about stuff, even if it's not that huge of a risk. But more important is the fact that the main reason no one's died yet is what Trollsmyth calls "get of jail free" cards.

We've got a number of them in this game. Shields Shall Be Splintered is one; if I'm remembering correctly, the party's lost two shields so far, both times to nasty, horrible critters that probably would have killed us otherwise. The Table of Death and Dismemberment is another, and it's simultaneously comforting (having rolled on the table a few times myself, I know the odds of insta-death are actually pretty low) and terrifying (since Labyrinth Lord would otherwise be a dismemberment-free ruleset.) And, of course, there's more specific (and weirder) ones, like the potion that restores all hit points, neutralizes most poisons, cures most diseases. Then it changes your sex.

What all of these have in common is that they say, "next time you won't be so lucky." You won't have that shield, or that potion, or you won't roll as well on the table. The table in particular creates a moment of tension, as I wait for the DM to roll his dice -- and then another, one one of my allies hits the floor and I don't know yet whether he's just unconscious or completely dead.

And then, there's the fact that both the shield and the potion create decisions, which are to my mind the lifeblood of a good game. In the one case, deciding what weapon to wield gets a lot more interesting. In the other . . . as I discovered when it got used on Sunday, as if "death or sex change?" wasn't decision enough, since there is only the one, is "the first person to nearly die" really the criteria we should use to decide who gets it? Talk about roleplaying. I'm still kinda buzzed from that session.


  1. Is this what the stats in the top right corner of your blog reference? What is "Frogs: 1?"

  2. Oh, yeah, that made a lot more sense when I was blogging about my megadungeon regularly. That lists the number of various things that have are in the dungeon I've been building and running on and off since Dave Arneson died. (Using Swords & Wizardry.) The first five numbers refer to things that are in my notes, and may or may not have actually hit the table yet, and everything else is stuff that's shown or happened during play.