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The Coup de Grace
Dungeon Editorial
by Chris Youngs

With this editorial, I set out to talk about how cool adventures are in 4th Edition, and how excited I was to be bringing that coolness to the newly redesigned, digital Dungeon. I wanted to talk about "Heathen" and "Sleeper in the Tomb of Dreams," the two big adventures in this issue, as well as the two support articles for H1: Keep on the Shadowfell. Instead, I went off to play D&D.

Let me explain. Chris Perkins is not just my boss -- he's my DM. Around the office, Chris has a waiting list of people who want into one of the two games he runs. He currently has thirteen players between the two, some of whom have been playing in his game since 1999. Among his players, Chris is acknowledged to be the World's Best DM. That's right, I used caps. Chris is incredibly imaginative, quick on his feet, and always, always thinks of the fun his players are having. He's also incredibly, brutally ruthless. So ruthless, in fact, that we coined a new expression to describe Chris's actions in our last 3.5 campaign: Brutilate.

You see, Chris likes the coup de grace. Okay, so "like" might be strong. But he doesn't shy away from it. I watched him brutally coup de grace not one, but two of Stan!'s characters in the first month of our last campaign. I thought that was brutal. Then this week's session…

Mat Smith plays a goofy, nearly vegetative fighter named Garrot (rhymes with Carrot). Garrot bounds around the battlefield with his greatsword, taking on monsters all by himself. We joke that he thinks "focused fire" is what you do when you stare at a candle flame. We use magnetic markers to indicate conditions affecting our minis in the game. Red is for bloodied. Mat has his own red marker just for Garrot. He spends more time bloodied than he spends conscious.

Early in the campaign, Garrot wandered into an ambush against eight orcs. They rose from hiding and all speared him simultaneously. Garrot dropped. And that was the surprise round. Initiative rolls determined that the orcs went first. The first orc's action? Coup de grace. There were other targets in the area, but no, Chris felt that the orcs would make sure Garrot was dead. Afterward, Chris, in his creative fashion, came up with a fantastic story reason for Garrot to return. He's been with us for another five levels.

Then, last night, we fought the treant.

Garrot dropped, and Chris coup de graced him. Again! He described the treant, which was on fire, as grinding its flaming foot down onto Garrot's head. Sadly, we were without our cleric (I know, I know -- D&D 101) on this particular evening. Our other fighter (Anvar, played by Dragon alum Jesse Decker), who had multiclassed into warlord, used his daily healing surge to save the nigh-pulped Garrot so that he might live to fight another day. We figure that the treant's mistake was that it stepped on Garrot's least vulnerable part: his head.

The experience taught me something about D&D, something about my boss, maybe something about life. Learn to love the coup de grace. Yeah, you'll kill a couple more characters. But few things make a PC hate a villain more than when he'll go out of his way to look them in the eye as he steps on the throat of a poor, unconscious buddy. And when it makes sense in the story (as it did both times Chris used it), go for it. Don't shy away. You'll gain more in the long run from showing your players that the villains play for keeps than you will lose by potentially killing a PC.

I don't know what this means for my next performance review, but I know one thing for sure: When Chris is running the show, never, ever roll without your cleric.