Grinning at Death

Our Kingdom Death: Monster campaign continues, previously discussed here. Last night was our third session, and we’re amazingly not all dead yet.

Achilles, freshly added to the bottom of the census as a child at the end of our first session, has now grown up to be a god-king. There are no rules for this, there is no in-game role or bonus for the designation, but as a group we decided this would be our story. Born under an auspicious sign, Achilles is tougher than the other members of our group, has gathered the best equipment, has killed just as many members of our society as he has beasts, and he has scored more killing blows against beasts than the rest of our hunting party combined. He is generally treated with reverence by our players, and this extra bit of story helps us keep our heads-out of game in order to deal with all the weird things that happen in-game.

In this most recent session, we faced two new creatures that we had not yet seen (one of which will not be discussed here for storyline purposes), and managed to win both battles with minimal casualties. Specifically, our only casualty was my previous character, Forgot to Duck, and she didn’t actually die in combat. Instead, she found out something she shouldn’t have known about the dark world we inhabit, and was summarily murdered for it by Achilles. Our society accepts this; Achilles is our savior, and thus I must have been a witch that would have killed us all in our sleep had he not intervened.

What we’re doing here is filling in the gaps. The game rules tell us that Forgot To Duck died, and that Achilles was the killer. In any other RPG game, I might have been upset about this; I had invested a decent bit of time and effort in this character. While not the efficient instrument of death that some of our other characters have turned into, Forgot To Duck was progressing nicely toward a sniper role, in which I envisioned she would outlive all the other members of the hunting party. But by spinning a story around it, we accept her death, and it is now simply part of the legend of Achilles. I created a new character (technically, two, as an in-game event caused my first to immediately be made unavailable for the upcoming battle), and we moved on.

Our quote of the night followed…
“Should we try fighting the Screaming Antelope [with a man-sized second mouth covering its’ lower torso]?”
“Well, yeah, it’s not called Kingdom LIFE…”

Borrowed image from Board Game Geek, I forgot to take a photo from in front of the Antelope.

I’ll skip details on the remainder of our session, just as I skipped our first encounter of the night. The important thing is, we’re doing something very stupid. Instead of allowing Achilles to be killed automatically, our best hunters are charging into a battle that we likely cannot win. We will lose them all for the hope of saving the one. In a meta-game sense, this is a certifiably Bad Idea™.

“Meat Shield”, fresh from the Antelope hunt, last seen charging at Achilles’ would-be-executor.

But we’re not trying to “win” Kingdom Death: Monster, if such a concept even exists, by surviving. We’re winning by creating a story, by being part of an experience. We’re enjoying ourselves by spinning a tale around our heroics. Every loss and injury is taken in stride (figuratively, it’s hard to take the loss of a leg in stride). Failures are seen as part of the process. And successes become the stuff of legend.

It’s hard to explain why it’s such a wonderful thing that Achilles landed two hits from the blind spot of our first opponent of the night, only to find that he had struck two locations that could not be damaged, regardless of the result of his attack rolls. It’s impossible, in fact, without giving away what we were fighting. But the mental picture created by that moment, and the subsequent one where Achilles followed up, dodging the same block, and ripped the enemy’s face off for a killing blow… THAT moment is what makes this such a wonderful experience.

We don’t expect to win the upcoming fight, and that very well may doom our campaign. Another player not in our group but who has played Kingdom Death: Monster before called us crazy for what we’re doing, saying his much better equipped group made a similar choice but changed their minds and backed down after seeing in-game stats of the enemy we’ll fight next. If anything, I think hearing that doubled our resolve to fight.

Competitive gaming can sometimes get the best of us, I know I’m as guilty as anyone for putting a huge emphasis on winning, directly associating the final score with fun. Sometimes we need a breath of fresh air from just enjoying the game we’re playing. A reason to grin in the face of death. Even if that means losing to do it.

– The Tabletop General