You know that part of Return of the King where the Rohirrim charge the forces of evil? It stands as my single favorite moment in all of fantasy literature, and makes a pretty swell action sequence on-screen. Replicating that moment at the table, however, is not a good idea. And if I have to explain why, you’ve forgotten Theoden’s war cry.

Sacrificing yourself for the sake of your party is a fine and noble thing. Unless your backstory involves a pilgrimage to Karak Kadrin, however, it probably shouldn’t be your main goal in life. That’s because PCs take work. As gamers we devote months and years and dozens of sessions to our favorite PCs. That way, when they finally do go out in a blaze of glory, there’s some real weight behind it. In other words, it’s tough making a “stupid death” feel properly heroic.

What do I mean by “stupid death?” Such pathetic ends lie in an ill-timed crit from an ogre at level 2. In the “oops I forgot to heal” between goblin fight #2 and goblin fight #3. And at higher level, in charging out for death and glory against a non-boss enemy without taking the time to buff, do a little recon, or think through a proper strategy.

Thus far I’ve talked about noble sacrifice like it’s always intentional. But far more often it only becomes a “noble sacrifice” in retrospect. Ya know… During the eulogy. Doing like Magus and seeing the dollar signs, leaping the barricades, and declaring a charge is a question of impulse control. Especially if you’re running in a Gygaxian naturalism kind of game, you’ll want to know whether the dragon on yonder mountaintop is of the “young adult” or “great wyrm” persuasion. In all cases, a healthy amount of caution is about more than beating the game as a game. It’s also about earning the epic finale that your character so richly deserves. No one wants to bump heads with an APL +∞ monster only to go out like a chump. So my advice is simply this: Pick your spots and bide your time. If you’re lucky, your last stand will be an epic triumph rather than and pathetic whimper.

Question of the day, then! Have you ever endured a “stupid death” in one of your games? Was it bad dice luck, or did you make a critical tactical blunder? Let’s hear about your most deadly oopsies down in the comments!


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