“You know everyone’s going to be racist as fuck to you, right?” Sam, my Pathfinder Game Master was just trying to lay it out legit, but my boy Keiji wasn’t looking to be the face of the crew anyway. I wanted to play a ninja, and other than the typical shock of blizzard hair, a drow seemed particularly adept at shadowy sneak attacks. From there it was heigh ho to the forums to find a nice build, because I’m not much for sussing out the skill tree particulars for myself. For the cherry, I’d crib GI Joe and Berserk for the backstory and some questionable Naruto fan art to finalize the frame around Keiji.
Sam ain’t no liar, as the denizens of Sandpoint gave Keiji a putrid series of stink-eyes, though that didn’t last long after the first few times we saved the town. Not that Keiji had a large hand in these successes, low-level ninjas are really dependent on their flanking bros and the GM played around this very well most of the time. But it wasn’t too long before he and I had our two attacks, a stock of ki points, and a stealth bonus that could only be brought down by a shockingly predictable number of critical fails on my part. That’s what D&D-like tabletop RPGs are all about—live by the die, die by the die.
For Keiji, that sentiment proved prescient just before hitting level 8, at the top of a clocktower that nearly claimed our half-orc damage sponge Grom. This Bloodrager was built to survive a 160 foot drop apparently, much to Sam’s teeth-clenched chagrin, despite hanging from a ledge for almost two months while we sorted our adult concerns. We’d soon find ourselves at the top of the tower and a fresh session though, where I would learn Keiji’s greatest weakness—two natural 20’s from a cruel (but fair) GM and a spear-wielding lamia that put my precious son into the dirt with barely a second to gasp. A hole sucked air where his heart should have been; do not go unconscious, do not dispute the consequences of suffering over one hundred points of massive damage.
Later the team would commend me on my stoic acceptance of Keiji’s demise, but of course we were playing online and I made free use of my mute button. For two brutal hours I muttered and folded laundry while the team played on, I sputtered indignantly when my girlfriend came by later, I swore up and down about Pathfinder’s bar-exam bullshit even after the gang eventually obliterated the beast that flicked Keiji off the mortal coil like a dry booger. They collected his body (and the lamia’s loot, naturally), and now we wait to reconvene for the next session.
I was surprised that the loss of Keiji hit me so hard, as I’m in two other active RPG games at the moment and therefore not starving for rolls and consequences. Meditating on these emotions, I find that I’m so affected not just because I lost probably my the character I’ve nurtured up the experience point branches personally, but also since this drow ninja was my first real character death. An ignoble one at that, where hindsight had me knee-deep in should’ves and could’ves. There were the shadow clones I might have summoned, or even to remember that stealth is useless when you have two bipedal tanks trailing behind. But to have fate slap you down so hard, with a boss-level bastard critically hitting you on a surprise round for 4x damage, I mean, what else can be said. Keiji was meant to die.
But I write this today not to bury just Keiji, a slippery stab-master who was a few points away from shedding the need for dedicated flankers in order to better sever spinal columns from the shadows all on his own. I want to lower my head for all the dead and abandoned characters we’ve lost, from the min/maxed clerics to the tactically unappealing but flavor-packed moon-cursed barbarians and everything tucked between. Praise to our personas, our flawed story-telling instruments carved from math and will, laid to rest for our failures with a tiny sliver of our souls clutched close for the ride across the river.