So, when you run a typical open-ended, sandbox, Old School game, you leave things up to chance and make sure that there's a real possibility of failure. The idea is that if failure isn't a possibility then success isn't real.
Sometimes it works out really well.
Other times, though, necessarily, it doesn't. Like tonight.
I think it really started during a character generation towards the beginning of the session. I've been having my players roll on Arduin's special ability charts, which are tables of 100 quirky adjustments to characters, one table for each general type of class. (Arduin, unlike my campaign, has a LOT of classes.) Anyway, this player rolled a result that gave his character +3 to saves against magic spells, but -4 to Charisma because the character is now arrogant.
And then this character (Shevasta) fires into melee a few times. And actually does more damage to the other PCs than the monsters do, critical hitting one character (Tamaren) and cutting open his throat with a crossbow bolt. Despite Shevasta and Tormick's best efforts, they were unable to save Tamaren, who died.
I attribute this to a few things. One is that I messed up the order of combat towards the beginning of the session, so that may have confused things some. Another is that this player hasn't been able to make it to our virtual table in probably more than a month, so, though he's been able to run and play in 3.5 games, he's probably out of practice so far as Old School games go. He was definitely kicking himself over what he made his character do. So far as the player goes, he's really sorry he did what he did.
His character, though- Shevasta- isn't. Remember that she'd been given extreme arrogance by the chart? Well, her player had her do some soul searching, hoping that reflecting on her reckless behavior and the death of a party member that she caused would temper her arrogance. Taking a cue from Pendragon, I ruled that if he rolled at or under her Wisdom score, then she could have 1 point of Charisma back, reflecting a change in her character.
Even this roll was failed, much to Shevasta's player's dismay. Shevasta's player did have her forfeit her share of the loot for the night, though.
I'm blessed to have mature players who are good friends with each other. We knew each other for a few years before we ever started gaming together. While Tormick (who also was a victim of Shevasta throwing a dagger into combat) is on the verge of killing Shevasta if she does anything reckless again, my players are still on good terms with each other. Tonight was an example of when a player honestly plays a character's personality rather than what he wants to do. I think that's actually a key to determining the acceptability of the excuse "that's what my character would do": if the player isn't happy with the character's actions, it's definitely legitimate roleplaying, rather than just trying to cause trouble. None of them were exactly thrilled with the results tonight, though.
Tonight, in many ways (except for getting a few dozen silver pieces) was the kind of failure that is possible in open-ended Old School games– the cost of this kind of giddy, spectacular success. That's OK, though, since failure is the risk we all knowingly took when we went into this session. Tonight's session will sweeten my players' later successes just that much more.