Like anything in life, a Dungeons & Dragons session ebbs and flows with energy. And what really gets that energy pumping is when you almost die. In-game of course. I highly recommend it! You can trust my word – after all, I almost bit the dust in my last session! Hell, we ALL almost bit the dust! It was awesome, and made it one of our best sessions to date. I’ll regale you with the tale in a few moments, as it embodies all the good that can come from it. In my humble opinion, it simply makes a session better.
“Why would near-death experiences benefit a session?” you may ask. You pour hours and days breathing life into this character that started out as chicken scratch on a piece of paper, why in the hell would the threat of losing that bond be a good thing?
High stakes baby! Imminent death focuses the party and brings them together. When someone is rolling death saves, the true spirit of teamwork shines through. A buddy is down, time to band together like true heroes (or villains, no judgement) and save your bud.
Less time for metagaming. Now this factor depends on your DM. My DM isn’t one to let you mull a decision over in combat for however long you like. Time is of the essence. Your turn is technically 6 seconds of combat, so you can’t spend a half-hour fully exploring every possibility. What would your character do right now based upon what they’ve seen and know?
Leads to some truly wild and epic moments. Sometimes you don’t have the luxury of a controlled and tactical approach to get to your dying companion. Sometimes you gotta pull out all the stops and and fuckin’ GO. The alternative is to lose your companion forever, and you don’t want to look back thinking you could’ve done more.
Makes the victim contemplates their actions. As you roll your death saves, you’re forced to consider if you could’ve avoided arriving at this moment. Maybe I really should’ve used that final Luck point.. or retreated to a safe distance instead of facing a giant monster head on.
Okay okay enough listing off reasons why it’s dope, and here’s it all put into action:
The story of how my level 14 Fighter almost bit the dust
We’re about two years into our homebrew campaign, and are entering the final stages of its plot. Our party of adventurers are:
- Rolen Rana – Gunslinger / War Priest – Wood Elf (This is me. Fighter 12 // Cleric 2)
- Alduin – Path of the Storm Herald Barbarian – Dragonborn
- Jenna Cyde – Shadow Magic Sorceress – High Elf
- Fallon Steelfist AKA Dopey – Oathbreaker Paladin – Dwarf
- Harold – Drunken Master Monk – Wood Elf
It began with a fetch quest – as these things do – and a damn cool one. Our patron for this quest is Coletta Delthane, the Highlore Master of Lagas and newly crowned ruler of our home city. We were to travel to the Abyssal Maw – a land ravaged by a centuries-old cataclysm – to obtain and protect the “Planecaller’s Key”. This ancient artifact has the ability to open gateways between planes of existence, and was thought to be lost to the ages. Chaotic energy bursts and minor dimensional rifts erupt from the Maw once again, and Delathane thinks the Key may have been uncovered, causing these events. She contracts us to get that Key in order to prevent what may be the beginning of a new cataclysm.
I’ll skip all the travels and get to the good stuff.
We’re deep underground inside the Abyssal Maw, and find ourselves at an enormous stone bridge. Roughly 100ft long, it’s the only path over the inky darkness below. Harold dashes across the bridge, narrow avoiding glossy webs hanging down over parts of the bridge (mmhmm, I wonder what’s coming). Jenna swiftly navigates across the bridge, followed by Rolen. Dopey and Alduin begin to cross, yet unfortunately Alduin’s Danger Sense isn’t enough to prevent him from getting webbed up.
OF COURSE a giant fuckin’ spider crashes down upon Alduin.
On the landing across the bridge, an enormous rock crashes down beside Harold and Jenna. Oh shit.. that’s no rock, it’s a motherflippin’ Stone Giant.
Sweet tasty CHAOS!! Initiate battle music! We all begin duking it out. Alduin, Dopey and Rolen focus on the Spider while Jenna and Harold take on the Stone Giant.
Landing Stunning Strike after Stunning Strike, Harold bashes the everliving shit out of the Stone Giant’s ankles, followed up by Jenna flinging spells at that bastard’s face.
Meanwhile the battle on the bridge is going almost just as well. We’re messing this spider up right good! Mr. Daddy Long Legs is getting wrecked by the collective might of a Barbarian, Paladin, and Fighter. Until…. our DM smiles wickedly (oh no).
The Spider, realizing it’s in a bad spot and isn’t gonna be able to easily eat some tasty morsels right here, decides that one of the great forces of nature can do the job better than it. And that force is gravity.
The spider charges forward, swiping its powerful legs to sweep the bridge clear – left, right, left, right.
Alduin gets swiped, then Dopey, and then Rolen (me).
“Okay here’s how this is gonna work,” our DM says. “You’re gonna roll a Strength save to try and stay on the bridge. If you fail, you’re knocked off and you’ll have to roll a Dexterity save to see if you can grab a hold of something at least.”
Alduin fails the STR save, but makes the DEX save. Dopey does the same, but a little worse. Alduin falls roughly 10ft, Dopey about 20ft, both of them able to catch hold of the cliffside and dangle above the darkness.
Alright, my turn. I roll, and fail my STR save. C’monnn DEX save! I roll a whopping three. Shit. Not great, not at all. A part of my mind lashes against the three. I have one last Luck point left, should I use it!? Mmm nah it’s probably not thatttt high of a drop and I’ve still got a decent amount of Hit Points. I’ll save it.
DM sees I’ve made my decision, and says, “Roll a d6 for me please.”
“What’s this for?” I ask as I juggle the die in my hand.
“Whatever number you roll will be how many hundred feet you fall.”
A brief silence overtakes our group.
“Hahaha” I laugh nervously, “well here goes nothing!”
The die lands firmly. I’m transfixed upon the number for several silent seconds, unable to shift my gaze. A big. Fat. Six. A six-hundred foot drop. The group immediately breaks out into a chorus of “Oh fuck”, “Shitttttt”, “Whaaaaat”. I alternate between laughing and saying “Fuckkkk” a lot.
The party sees Rolen’s body plunge into darkness, unknowing of whether he’ll survive the fall.
The DM gleefully pulls out a hefty sack of d6’s, excited to roll more dice in a single motion than he’s ever done before.
“It’s possible you may straight up die right here!” He pauses, “Though fall damage maxes out at 20d6, so on second thought you won’t DIE from this.” He says. “But there’s a very high chance you’ll be knocked the fuck out from splatting on the ground!”
I have 70hp left at this point, with my max being 105hp. I’d have to take 175 dmg to instantly die, which is impossible here thankfully. Rolen says a quick prayer to his god Tempus before hitting the ground with a sickening thud, taking 95 damage and falling unconscious very, very far away from the party.
Phew, okay. Scary stuff, but I’m not dead! Crisis averted. Good times!
The battle rages on above as Dopey and Alduin climb back upwards. As they ascend, the Spider skitters down over the edge, passing them and descending vertically along the cliffside. Oh.
“There IS a delicious meal waiting for him down there after all!” the DM exclaims.
SHIT. Crisis NOT averted! HELP.
A metaphorical fire ignites under everyone’s asses at that instant. I am on a silver platter, an apple in my mouth.
Jenna decides that this Stone Giant needs to go away NOW, and Twinspell Disintegrates that big boy into a cloud of dust. Dope as hell.
Harold, now free from the fight, dashes towards the cliff’s edge and without missing a step runs vertically down the cliff after the Spider. Monks are effing cool man. With his insane movement speed, he makes it to the Spider, jumps on its back and Stunning Strikes it. The Spider, unable to stay tethered to the cliffside, begins to fall with Harold riding the spider down like some insane adrenaline junkie.
Alduin makes it back onto the bridge, baffled at seeing one friend ragdoll into the depths, and another friend surfing a paralyzed spider into the abyss. Jenna runs up to him.
“Do you trust me?!” She asks hastily.
“Yes…?” Alduin replies in his Russian accent.
“Good, now hold on.” says Jenna while grabbing a hold of Alduin and pulling him into the Dimension Door she casts. They vanish from the bridge, and emerge into thin air 500 feet below their position, plunging the last 100ft with Alduin yelling all the way down in surprise.
Dopey, having just clambered back onto the bridge, is at a loss for a moment. He saw Rolen fall, that seemed really fuckin’ bad. Rolen could be friggin’ dead! He saw Harold riding a spider through the air, which was totally sick as hell. But he could be in trouble too! Then Jenna and Alduin just teleported way down below, based upon Alduin’s screams. Rolen may not have much time left, and there’s only one way Dopey can get down there in time to help.
Harold releases his grip of the Spider in mid-air. He’s got that sweet slow fall ability and doesn’t need to fall at that high speed anymore. Style points achieved, time to enjoy the ride. The spider crashes into the ground near Rolen’s body, spraying ichor and taking severe damage. Jenna and Alduin land in a heap nearby seconds later, followed by the thunderous boom of Dopey hitting the ground in his hefty plate mail. Harold lands lightly on his feet, barely making a sound.
Alduin brushes himself off while cursing in Russian, strides over to the Spider’s writhing body and slams his axe into its face. *Cue Final Fantasy victory theme*
Dopey, still standing since he’s an absolute beast, runs over and Lay on Hands some HP to Rolen, reviving me.
We survived and made extremely solid progress on our descent! Everyone was a little frazzled from the excitement, and raved over how much of a blast that just was. Even though I was close to dying most of the time, man was it fun enjoying that adrenaline kick and watching the party come together and make some truly epic moves.
That’s my near-death tale and how much fun it was as a group to go through… Oh and that’s right, all of us almost died soon after when it turns out we were double-crossed by our quest patron and the Planecaller’s Key was used to open a rift that a motherfucking BEHOLDER emerged from so we sheltered in a small cave as it guarded the exit and repeatedly blasted laser beams at us to try and force us out of hiding and Dopey and Jenna tried to escape on a pegasus but the Beholder almost fried them so they came back to the cave and the only option for escape we could think of was for Jenna to use her only 7th level spell – Plane Shift – using the only item we had that was attuned to another plane… an Infernal weapon of Dopey’s.
So yeah, we ended last session by escaping a sure death via Beholder and landing in the sixth circle of Hell.
“WELL,” the DM exclaimed, chuckling, “We’ll have to stop there for the night since I was NOT expecting you all to wind up in HELL and I have nothing prepared for that.”
Gotta love throwing your DM for a loop! Until next time fellow players!