D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop #6: First character death

My first character death (that I can recall) was the poor 1st-level Elf who decided to investigate the Caves of Chaos on his own.  Inspired as I was (as a player) by the Conan and Beastmaster movies, the Elf foolhardily charged a group of kobold or goblins with a sword.  I just rolled up another character…  That’s one of the great things about 1st level characters in early D&D versions — their fragility means you don’t have time to get too attached to them, and it’s really fast and easy to roll up a new one.

A much more memorable character death experience — one I can actually clearly remember — was at my friend Grant’s D&D-themed birthday party in 5th grade.  Two older kids (junior high maybe?) that he knew ran games for the party attendees, again using B/X.  To this day, I don’t know why I chose to roll up a 1st-level Magic-User (I can’t remember his name, most likely a lame riff on a “wizardly” name from an Endless Quest book); I guess my brain inexplicably blotted out “Elf” and “Halfling” (my then-favorite character classes) from my vocabulary so I could have this formative sucky gaming experience and, someday, enjoy telling this story.  We were exploring a tomb, and someone opened a sarcophagus.  Inside was an ordinary, non-animated corpse clutching a gleaming golden dagger.  Naturally, someone decided to grab the dagger and that’s when all hell broke loose.  The dagger started flying around of its own accord, cutting and dodging and wreaking all sorts of havoc on the party.  I was out of spells (having expended my 1 measly magic missile during our first combat), so was reduced to trying to swat it with my staff (no effect) and praying that when it came time for the dagger’s attack the DM would roll low…  I think about half our party members (my Magic-User included) were killed by this dagger before someone realized that they had to grab the flying dagger (which was probably AC2 or something) and put it back in the sarcophagus to stop the attacks.

I knew before the game started that Magic-Users were ultra-weak, and that I probably wouldn’t survive the adventure.  I felt no pangs of sorrow when the flying dagger turned my unarmored, 3HP character into a corpse.  The suckiest part of the game was that after the slaughter (which, had the dice been rolling differently, could probably have been a TPK), those of us whose characters were dead weren’t given the opportunity to roll new ones and be dropped back into the game — instead, we just had to sit there and listen to the other players — probably the smart ones who picked Fighters, Elves, and Dwarves — continue with the adventure.  It was probably only another half-hour or so, but it felt like much longer.  In retrospect it was probably the only time it ever really seemed like I “lost at D&D,” but the camaraderie with those friends whose characters also suffered the same fate kept the experience a fun and happy one.

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