Thursday, September 25, 2014

Block the Gate and Let Them Fight Their Way In

When I'm running Dungeons and Dragons one of the things that I like to set up is a choke point. I like letting my players find them and watching them devise ways to stop their enemies from making the big push that will assure them of victory. I like that these locations almost force my players to be the heroes of the story as they make the hard choices that most of us (hopefully) never will. 

In real life so few of us get to be the real heroes of our stories. Instead we swallow our pride and muddle our way through the insults that people fling at us - it's so much easier than making waves. But role-playing games are our opportunity to be the hero; and being allowed to make the grand sacrifice to ensure that your fellow players, or the kingdom you've spent so much time investing in, survive is one those special things that only comes up if you're lucky. So why is it that I'm seeing so many examples of people refusing to take that moment and make it theirs? 

I'm not saying that you should make a foolish sacrifice and needlessly waste your life; you're one of the main characters in the game and that makes you too important for such foolishness. Yet when those moments come up, where sacrificing your life will save everyone important to you and your story, why waste it by running away like a coward? Why let your lasting memory of that campaign be the missed opportunities to be great and heroic? 



  1. "Then out spake brave Horatius,
    The Captain of the Gate:
    'To every man man upon this earth
    Death cometh soon or late.
    And how can man die better
    Than facing fearful odds,
    For the ashes of his fahters,
    And the temples of his Gods."
    --Thomas Babington Macaulay, The Lays of Ancient Rome.

    It's about how three Roman heroes set up a choke point at a bridge to defend Rome, holding off the Etruscan invaders while the Romans behind them demolish the bridge.

    I once had a warrior-priest use this passage to rally the troops defeating a city from a humanoid and giant horde. It was epic--nearly everybody died, including the warrior-priest (but he was saved by deux ex machina from the DM who just loved the speech).

    1. Shit I love that speech. Going to go find the whole thing in the morning!

    2. Yeah, it'll have the correct version without the "man man." lol

      What can I say? It was late when I wrote it. Now to finish up "Dungeons & Drunkards." ;)

  2. I get where you're coming from -- I'm a big Captain America fan -- but my job forces me to be honest and self-sacrificing all the damned time. When I get to play make-believe, I want to be a smooth-talking scoundrel who gets away with all the things I can't do in real life.

    I don't want to stand at that choke point with a sword in one hand and a shield in the other. I want to stand there with a single lantern...

    That I drop, as I walk away from the oncoming horde...

    A lantern that lights a trail of oil...

    That sets off a stockpile of oil barrels...

    That immolates the oncoming horde.

    And then I flip my sunglasses onto my face and walk away from the explosion without looking back.

    It's still kind-of heroic, but definietely not in the same way.

    1. No that's very heroic in an action movie kind of way that makes me think we should be playing on the same side of the table.

  3. Describe a choke point situation to me. I'm not sure I understand.


  4. A choke point in military parlance is a place where the terrain makes it easy for a small force to hold off a larger force. So a narrow passageway where only one or two at a time can come through, or a bridge, or a gorge, etc.

    Like the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae vs. the Persians. It was a narrow place that was easy to defend until a traitorous Greek told the Persians about a goat path that flanked them. Until then the 300 could hold the road/path vs. a hugely superior force that could only put so many into combat at a time.

  5. I hate to be 'that guy', but what makes a choke point heroic?

    If this is traditional D&D we're talking about, aren't the PCs getting through this battling bottle neck so they can kill more creatures and steal their gold, magic items and other treasures? Is defeating an enemy in a big fight all it takes to be heroic?

    Then organized criminals and gang members are heroic all the time. I think maybe the word is being over, or improperly, used. Either that or I'm a tad old fashioned. Perhaps if the choke point has some context.

  6. Defending the choke point can be very heroic. Fukazawa, one of the few Samuari to turn up in my old AD&D campaign died at a bridge holding off a mob of gnolls so the rest of the party could retreat to safety; over 20 years later and I can still recall the name of the PC.


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