Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Everything shall be splintered

If my read of the OSR is right Trollsmyth's "Shields Shall Be Splintered" is one of the more popular houserules the scene has come up with in the past few years, though not everyone approves of it.  E.G. Palmer makes a case for broadening the basic concept, while over on Planet Algol people who show up after the session starts may end up being splintered.

I haven't used Trollsmyth's specific rule much, but the thinking behind it resonates with me. The basic concept behind the Shields Shall Be Splintered rule is dirt simple: instead of dying, you offer the DM a sacrifice of some sort.  A substitute.  A scapegoat for your sin of getting killed, if I want to be egomaniacal about it.  Blood for the blood god lurking behind the screen.  Whether that means your precious magic sword just broke blocking the deadly blow or you pushed your shield carrier in front of the monster matters little to me, as long it has actual value to the player and the escape is at least slightly plausible.

Thinking about this leads me to one of the key reasons some players in my groups tend to always end up with the highest level characters.  Some players take "You are dead" as a reason to immediately crumple up the old charsheet and reach for a fresh one.  I respect that.  But the canny players see the declaration of their demise as a challenge, the opening salvo in a high stakes negotation.  I won't stand for outright bickering with the DM, but I'll gladly listen to brief argument outlining special circumstances I might have overlooked.  And I love any clever excuse to give a PC one last die roll to save their necks.

So next time your DM tells you that your PC is dead take a quick mental survey.  Is there anything, anything at all that could save your PC?  Look over your equipment lists and magic items.  Double check your spell, class and racial abilities.  Think about clever ways to use those resources.  Find an NPC to take the fall.  Hell, suggest breaking the rules as you understand them.  For example, by the rules there's no way you could cast a Fly spell in the brief period it takes to fall 30' onto some poisonous spikes.  But why not try "I mumble the Words of Flight as fast as possible before I hit the bottom of the pit"?  Even if you only get a 1% chance of success out of the DM, you've at least turned death into a chance for life.


  1. I love the shield rule, it's seen plenty of use in my Monday games and have saved more than one PCs life (although they are quickly running out of shields).

  2. Oh a poison bolt shoots out the darkness...too bad my shieldbearer mortimer was standing there and took the dart, his death shall be avenged!!!

  3. It's true that I don't like the flimsy splintering shields rule, but I do like the idea of Red Shirts taking the hit instead of your PC: Fighting Groups for D&D.

  4. Trying to weasel your way out of an unfortunate series of dice rolls (or a stupid choice) can be part of the fun... but maybe it needs the right group.
    Also, those shields should probably splinter both ways. The evil high priest could always use a nearby human sacrifice (or henchman) to catch the 'magic arrow of high priest slaying' that the party had been carrying around for weeks before and just fired at him, and thus gain enough time to escape through that pesky secret door, dammnit.

  5. Ha ha, like Stuart said, there's a lot of Red Shirts with my group! Now that the characters are getting higher in level, I'm having most of their NPCs leave the group (if they aren't dead!). But at early levels my players seemed to have no qualms about sending NPCs up to the front lines! Now, these were NPCs that I had graciously allowed to join their group as free help, and not hirelings. I've mentioned to the group about the potential for hiring help, but they don't seem interested. But now that I'm taking away the freebie NPCs, they might start considering shelling out their coin for some assitance now and then...

  6. I was reluctant about the Sunder'd rule as it left out Mages (whom no-one ever seems to want to play IMC).
    This evens things out nicely & is a chance to get creative/funny. Yoinked.

  7. In the Trollslayers game I'm (slowly) working on, not only can shields be sacrificed to avoid taking a mortal blow, but weapons can as well (which allows for the occasional broken sword without having to detail separate rules for just that occasion).

  8. Anonymous10:23 PM

    I liked the Shields idea when I read it, but never used it in my games yet. But we have a lot of on the fly rulings as it is, so I'm not sure a specific rule is needed. It all comes down to interpretations of dice rolls anyhow.

  9. Die! You PC scumbag!

    Seriously, if the dice say your character is dead - that character is dead. I'm very much not interested in using the shield rule. Character death is a part of the game.

    That said, if the players were smart enough to set up some red shirts then those red shirts may take the blow instead. Its really a matter of who is where when the blow comes.

  10. The one Runequest campaign I ever played in had a "Divine Intervention" roll that kicked in when a PC was about to die: roll % dice equal or less than your Power (a stat in RQ)- if you made it you had 30 seconds to come up with what was effectively a wish. Afterwards your Pow dropped by whatever you rolled (if it worked - if it didn't you were usually dead.

    Considering Power was a 3d6 stat it was a longshot, but desperate players will grab anything that looks like a lifeline and it was pretty funny when it did work. I'e experimented with something similar in some of my D&D games and it was always welcomed by the almost-dead.

  11. Anonymous6:22 AM

    I vaguely recall a player suggesting a house rule similar to this, about twenty years ago, something about the attack destroying armour or equipment... I think we dropped it after one game session, as his character left the dungeon with barely the clothes he was wearing - mind you, that player was notorious in the local gaming community for getting multiple characters killed per game session (I think the record was seven) through poor die rolls...

    I used something similar when running Call of Cthulhu, 10 years ago: when Hit Points reach the point of unconsciousness, any further damge comes off Characteristics permanently or Sanity Points as normal

    wv: whingst - whiny person of much angst