When I was a teenager, I spent a lot of time playing a role playing game called Traveller. If you’ve never heard of it, one of the fundamental game rules is that instead of just “rolling up” a character like you do in Dungeons & Dragons, you create a character who’s age 18 and then goes into some military (or quasi-military) service. The idea is that during that service, he gains skills that will be useful once he musters out and the real game begins. It also adds an extra element of randomness to the characters, because you determine what happens during each 4-year term by rolling the dice.
Well, one thing the game designers put in was the chance that the character might die during his military service. Certainly seems reasonable, but it has a strange impact on gameplay because you might spend an hour or two creating a background history for your character only to have him killed off in the service. One thing the rules didn’t say, though, was why the character died – only that he didn’t survive his military term. So my friend Mike and I dreamed up some reasons why we thought military men in a sci-fi far future story might die. In fact, Mike – who was a good artist and had fine motor control – created a small 6-sided die with the 6 causes of spaceman death. From then on, whenever we’d be playing and someone’s character would die during character creation, we’ll throw this special die to see what happened.
I forgot about all this until just today I stumbled across the random death die while cleaning house. Here were the possibilities:
- inter-stellar social disease (the dreaded ISSD)
- killed by friendly fire
- fiery landspeeder crash (my personal favorite)
- cardiac arrest
- spontaneous combustion (ouch!)
- hydraulic press
I now remember that “hydraulic press” was inspired by the Longshoremen song “Canning Factory” from their Walk the Plank album. That album was released in 1986 and I quit playing Traveller sometime around 1989, so that narrows down when the death die must have been created.
After all these years, a couple of the faces of the die are extremely difficult to read, but I’m pretty sure that’s what they all said.