Gaming Stories: The Ignominious Death of Machiavelli

Carriage ChaseThis is a story about chaos and mismanaged expectations. It involves the death of a PC whose player had only started gaming two sessions ago. Somehow, my botched GMing didn’t drive him away from the tabletop for good and in fact became a tale that many who were there recall fondly.

The poor unfortunate PC was an elf named Machiavelli. I remember very little of the character himself, save for the fact that he had a Dexterity of 20, which will become relevant later. This game took place right at the start of 3rd edition D&D, so the fact that a 1st-level character could have a 20 in anything seemed amazing at the time.

The story doesn’t begin with Machiavelli, though. It begins with his adventuring companion Penelope. The same Penelope who killed a dryad and called it an evil tree spirit, who loves drawing from the deck of many things, and who turned into a magic sword. She’s been a constant agent of chaos in my setting for 17 years now. For her 18th birthday, I might buy the character sheet some lottery tickets and porn.

The party had stopped at an inn, and Penelope immediately shacked up with a barmaid. That barmaid was an indentured servant with several years left on her contract, but Penelope decided she was going to set her free. The next morning, she went down to the barmaid’s employer and tried to negotiate.

Said negotiation featured Penelope throwing 30 gold pieces onto the bar and declaring the contract null and void. When the innkeeper objected, Penelope shot him in the shoulder with a crossbow bolt. The rest of the group got downstairs right around the time the wounded innkeeper started frantically shouting for the city watch.

Had I been a bit older and more worldly at the time, I could have played “Yakety Sax” as the PCs stole a carriage and frantically rushed through the city with a number of watchmen hot on their heels. Every time they smashed a horse through a shop or shot a guard, the number of guards increased as the citywide emergency grew.

Then Machiavelli’s moment came. Using his 20 Dexterity, he leaped from the stolen carriage onto a guard’s horse and took control of the steed. Unfortunately, as the driver of the carriage, he had neglected to hand the reins off to somebody else.

The carriage crashed, but this actually gave most of the party the cover they needed to escape in the confusion. Unfortunately for Machiavelli, he was still out in the open. In desperation, he decided that staying on the ground was a sucker’s game and tried to get up high. Dismounting, he rushed to the nearest building he could find and started scaling the wall.

With a bit more experience as GM, I now realize that the proper way of handling this would be to reward the newbie player for his creativity or at least alert him that the Climb skill doesn’t allow you to Spider-Man your way up the side of a building. But I was a bit more of a dick in my youth, so instead the guards got in some target practice while Machiavelli was caught hanging from somebody’s windowsill.

As a point of fact, the crossbow bolts didn’t kill Machiavelli – they only dropped him into negative hit points. It was the falling damage that followed which did him in.

Through some barely comprehensible plot twist, I did bring Machiavelli back to life later on…only to kill him again. In fact, it became a running gag that Machiavelli’s player, Andy, would always wind up with a dead PC in my games. To this day, the only game I’ve run with one of Andy’s characters surviving was in a Suicide Squad-inspired superhero game where I specifically planned to kill all the characters but his as a gift to him.

Oddly, nobody ever really called out Penelope for her rash decision that wound up killing a member of the party and getting the rest of the group exiled from town. Instead, the lasting memory that everybody came away with was that dumb elf making himself an easy target for some crossbow-happy guards.

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