Last Stand


When I sit down to roll up a character, I like to think about that character's death. It sounds morbid, but I think that picturing a dramatic last stand is a good way to define a PC's heroism. I'm talking about paladins who “buy the rest of you some time” by leaping in front of the orc army. I'm talking rogue-with-a-heart-of-gold types who might sap the barbarian just so she can be the one to collapse the portal from the inside. I'm talking Gandalf standing there on the Bridge of Khazad-dûm.

So as an exercise in character building: What would it take for your guy to make the sacrifice play? Or even better, have you seen such a dramatic last stand in an actual game?


Magic Wordsmith
My grappling bard luchador "Immovable Rod" Manleigh was battling a horde of monsters with his party when the retreat was sounded. Most of the other characters were low on resources and couldn't withstand another solid blow so they started falling back, one by one, leaving Rod to hold off the tide of violence coming their way.

"Immovable Rod" Manleigh knew this was the end and his noble sacrifice would only make for a greater comeback in Grapplemania XXIII a few short months away. As the monsters started trying to push him back out of the chokepoint that he held, he realized that even with his superior athletic ability, all it would take was some luck on the part of the monsters to get past him.

So he reached into his pack, grabbed out his trusty immovable rod, and jammed it up his prison wallet, activating it with the push of a button. Now he would not be moved no matter what the monsters did. He held his ground to the last hit point and beyond, allowing the rest of the party to escape.

RIP "Immovable Rod" Manleigh. You died a hero.


I can recall a few notable sacrifice plays I've made over the decades. Can't say that I recall any from other players, but I'm often playing characters who are willing to lay down their life for others.

We were tracking down a cult that met out in the deep woods. We knew a little about it, but not that much (our charisma sucked, so we didn't gather much information from the locals). We mostly had a map to a "sacred grove" where they meet, and several of us expected the cult to just be a just a sect of druids. Instead it was a cult of Malar, the beast god of the Forgotten Realms, and all the cultists were werewolves. It turns out they spread rumors in town in order to lure adventurers out for the Wild Hunt. Well, fighting a couple dozen werewolves was well beyond our capabilities, so the hunt was on!

We kept ahead of them, but could tell we were losing ground. At a stream, I told the party to go downstream, while I took some stuff from them to continue the trail (both tracks and scent). The werewolves knew that something was wrong at the stream, since I couldn't fully replicate the full party, so they split up. Eventually the werewolves that went downstream found the party, but it was at only a third strength, making it manageable. I, however, faced the same sized group, who ripped my lone cleric to shreds...


Peace Among Worlds
"When I sit down to roll up a character, I like to think about that character's death. It sounds morbid, but I think that picturing a dramatic last stand is a good way to define a PC's heroism."

I am glad I'm not the only one although I only think about this very occasionally, not every time I sit down to roll a character. I think I thought about it most during the Dragonlance War of the Lance reboot campaign I ran in 3.5 because I was radically reshuffling which characters died when and how from the novels. (Ironically, while I didn't finish that campaign, it ended with Sturm being one of the only characters that DIDN'T heroically sacrifice himself (I understand his death caused quite a kerfluffle among fans back in the day). I also gave Flint Fireforge a much more appropriately badass death then him dying of old age in the novels which was lame.

I mean, I had to balance all of the above with my philosophy of letting the dice fall where they may and that occasionally caused a problem, like when Joseph Smith Elistan fell off of a bridge while frozen into hot springs which caused him to shatter into a million pieces because and those pieces float away making resurrecting him effectively impossible. I told Margaret Weis about it at GenCon and she was like (in her own completely not vulgar and much more polite way) "well you're party's pretty f**ed without a cleric" lol.

Likewise, poor sexy Tika Waylan got straight up spit-roasted by Kitiara doing a dragon-mounted lance charge. Confirmed critical hit while charging with a lance can very easily equal 'you're dead' in 3.5 and it did take her from full hp to exactly -11 in that one hit. I remember narrating Kit's dragon barbecuing poor poor poor Tika since she was conveniently spitted on the lance right in front of his flamethrower mouth.

Caramon was a much darker and more tragic character after that, descending into alcoholism and needless violence and sullenness, dealing with deeply deeply conflicted feelings about his stepsister Kit who he still kind of loves but also totally needs to kill. Ultimately, I wanted the whole campaign to lead up to an epic confrontation between Raistlin and Caramon, with Caramon trying to stop his brother's ascension. (Canonically as well as in my campaign Raistlin teleported himself out of a sinking ship and left the entire party to die there, which is a real friggin' dick move (hence that's when I had his robes turn black), so Caramon has a damn good reason to be pissed at his bro. Caramon is also intelligent enough IMO to understand that Raistlin is up to SOMETHING extremely bad, even if he couldn't fathom the complex threads of Raistlin's plan to ascend to godhood.) It's my instinct as a dramaturge that Raistlin should have to sacrifice something for his plan to work, and in my mind the most dramatically interesting thing would be being forced to sacrifice his brother. I had every intention of running the fight as a totally fair no-fudging "let the dice fall where they may" between an optimized 12th level fighter and an optimized 12th level black mage with PC(s) able to jump in on either side. But considering the relative power levels of "Fighter" and "Wizard" in D&D 3.5, I think that unless Caramon won the initaitive and got real lucky, Raist probably would have dispatched him easily. Both outcomes interested me in the way they broke the Dragonlance canon. A tearful reconciliation through roleplaying would ahve been cool too.

We were in Neraka and just a session or two away from that Brother on Brother confrontation that the whole campaign had been leading up to (this campaign was three years in the running and the originating inspiration for it was how much I wanted Caramon and Raistlin to have that fight). My only regular PC (occasionally friends passing through would play different random characters) who was also my fiance, doing double duty as Laurana and her OC, picked that moment to take both of our pets and GTFO of my life forever while I was sleeping (for very understandable reasons).

Obviously, D&D was the last thing on my mind after being dumped by the love of my life who I'd been with for 11 years (!!) and losing my doggo and kitty, but now that trauma's that's a couple years in the it sucks we didn't finish that campaign before she dumped me! We were at the Temple of Neraka!
We were so effing close!
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Ralif Redhammer

I have an AL barbarian who from the get-go has been seeking a glorious death. He died in Chult, only to come back as one of the undead. That’s been fun, but as his levels go up, it’s only a matter of time before a worthy foe presents itself. When that happens, I will neglect to rage and then use reckless attack.

Back in 1e, I had a paladin sacrifice himself, making a last stand so that the rest of the group could escape after a raid on a Githyanki citadel went wrong. Because that’s what a paladin would do.

As a DM, I’ve had characters die at my table, but it’s rarely been the epic moment that they’ve deserved. Mostly because in my campaigns, you often have to do something dumb and foolish to end up dead. Still, that’s something I need to work on, giving PCs a window to make character death more exciting and memorable, if it happens.


Once upon a time I was playing a thief. I was heavily encumbered having taken it upon myself to secure the treasures that we had found inside the keep. My treasure box was filled to the brim and as I was slowly leaving the keep I looked down into the moat from the gatehouse bridge and saw the rest of the party dying.

The poor wizard was run through before my eyes. You know things are not good at all when the wizard is on the front line, oh my. Rather than letting the huge big bad treasure taking guy kill my poor (in the sense of having no money poor) friends perish I had to make the greatest sacrifice.

Yes off the bridge went my poor treasure box right onto treasure taking guy's head. It crushed his head making it look something like strawberry jam. My poor treasure box was broken and my wealth (not whoever the guy had stolen it from) was scattered across the moat and lost in the muck.

I then lowered rope and pulled my so called friends up, so called for not a single one of them bothered to pick up a single coin or gem for me. Some gratitude. I was traumatized and could not eat strawberry jam again, I could only find solace by having lemon curd and marmalade on my toast.