Two very central NPCs in my campaign were killed during a chapter-ending battle and I did not plan for it, and it is having an immense impact on the game

One thought on “Two very central NPCs in my campaign were killed during a chapter-ending battle and I did not plan for it, and it is having an immense impact on the game

  1. D. Walker says:

    Spoilers for a 25 year old video game, but…

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    …I’m rather a fan of how Chrono Trigger handled the death of a major and beloved PC integral to both the story and the party.

    The stages of grief were respected and made real – the story slowed down to give the survivors time to process it all.

    First, things slowed down to let the player and party work through their shock and disbelief. The action didn’t stop, it just shifted focus. Where before it was a literal battle to save the world, now they had to focus on just getting back on their feet. They had immediate, basic challenges to overcome – not hard ones, just necessary. They’re at their lowest point, and have to survive and regroup. They just have to keep moving, and the game does a lot of work to keep your mind off your loss, by forcing you to focus elsewhere for a bit.

    Next, they grapple with anger – the party encounters their longtime rival, who isn’t responsible for the death of their beloved friend, but who certainly has no sympathy and is willing to settle the score for good – but only after suggesting you team up to tackle a greater evil. You have a difficult choice – you can let loose your anger against your longtime opponent, and slay him… or you can grit your teeth, admit that what he’s saying makes sense, and join forces to work toward taking down the bigger threat who ACTUALLY killed your friend.

    Third, the “bargaining” phase – or as I prefer to think of it, really taking stock and deciding what to do next. Here, the player and party have a fascinating choice for a video game from 1995 – you can pursue a faint glimmer of hope to maybe, possibly, by some scant chance try for a miracle to get your friend back… or you can decide that he died to give you the chance to set things right without him, and focus on ending the world ending threat once and for all instead.

    Fourth, depression. If you abandon hope, it is obvious that sorrow follows the party – but also, if you pursue it, there is a moment where everything hangs on a knife’s edge, and you wait to see if the miracle will happen… and then… it doesn’t. It’s a crushing moment of utter despair, that lingers just long enough to really hit home, until that glimmer of hope sputters back to life, against all expectations.

    Fifth, acceptance. If you chose to press on to save the world first, that stalwart determination becomes a powerful theme as you fight to set things right, bolstering the resolve and strength of your party, who have come to terms from their loss and find themselves all the more determined because of it. But if you risked everything on the long shot, moved mountains for a scrap of hope, lost it, and then found it again, that too bolsters your party to fight harder than before.

    So what does that have to do with D&D? Well…

    1) Let your players decide what they want to do. If they truly want to bring their beloved NPCs back, make it possible. If they want to accept the loss and move on, make that equally possible. Give them time to think before they really commit. Put the main storyline on the backburner if you have to, to give them time and a chance to get their friends back – or at the very least, give them the certainty that they will get their shot later, if they focus on the bigger problem first right now.

    2) If they go for it, make the restoration of the dead an epic quest unto itself. Let them know they may have to move mountains. Let them know that hopes may well depend on their willingness to sacrifice, without guarantee of success. Let them know and believe that what they desire is possible, just very difficult. And then when they achieve it, they’ll feel it all the more deeply.

    3) If they don’t go for it, help them come to a fitting acceptance and memory of those who were lost. If they can’t bring back their loved ones, they at least need to be able to do proper honor to their memories. Give them closure.

    Ultimately, you’re trying to make a good, satisfying story that everyone is glad they were a part of. Let your players have their way in the end, just give them a fitting path to travel to get to it. As long as they don’t feel cheated, it’ll work.

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