So, something weird happened to me on Friday. I was running my regular L5R game, when a situation turned up where an NPC went to the Tsi Smith PC and demanded the swords the Tsi was holding for another PC (they needed repair.) The situation got rather tense very quickly, everyone learned a lot about the Tsi's character and just how honorable he could be, and - as you probably already guessed from the title - the smith lost a leg...only, by the player's choice. It's had me thinking since it happened, and I wanted to talk about it today.
The situation, in more detail than above, went about as follows. The NPC (I'm just going to call him Bob from now on) came into the PC's shop and asked about his last customer. When the PC confirmed who the last customer was, and that yes he did have her swords, Bob demanded the swords be turned over. The PC refused. Bob demanded them once more, the PC again refused. Bob attacked, grabbing the smith and putting him into an arm lock. At this point, Bob threatened to break the PC's smithing hand permanently if he didn't get the sword. The PC once more refused, broke free (magical dice roll), grabbed the swords and ran. As the PC ran, Bob cut off one of his legs. Undeterred, and still clutching the swords, the PC tried to escape to an alley before taking more serious injuries and passing out - just as help arrived.
The help ended up killing Bob, and saving the PC, but severe damage had already been done. After all, Rokugan doesn't have much in the way of "saving a limb" healing.
Why This Was Awesome
Now, as brutal as the situation above reads, the scene itself was very awesome and very cinematic. Why? Because the worst things that happened came at the PC's choice. Yes, I as the GM chose to target an attack at the PC's leg and then rolled massive damage. But, when I did, I gave the PC a choice. The PC chose to lose the leg in order for a chance - however small - to keep his character's word and keep those swords away from Bob.
In fact, on multiple occasions, the PC chose to put those swords above his own character's safety. Even as the owner of the swords - OOC mind - urged him to just give the swords up, the PC wouldn't hear it. His character just wanted to keep his word, even if the specifics of what he said was kind of vague. (yes, he went up multiple ranks of honor for this.)
The absolute best part about the scene though? It was natural. It just happened, and played out the way it did because of the decisions - and die rolls - that the PC made over the course of it. It was one of those scenes that I live for as a GM. Cinematic, tense, and one of the few times where because the PC had so clearly made these choices - knowing all the while what was going on - that I actually felt no pending guilt over the fact that I was likely about to kill a favorite character.
Even better is that I think it sold to the other players that the world will come for them at times, and that at this point those people may be more than you can take on directly. All in all though, the scene was awesome and entirely due to the actions and choices of the player. If nothing else, it told to me how much control a player has over how much fun - and how awesome - a scene can be. You just have to give them the chance.