The fun of a tense situation, characters close to losing but persevering and risking it all. When the stakes are even higher, no resources are left and the characters are close to death, what can the party do? The Desperation Attack, it is a trope that exists in some games. In my long running Legend of the Five Rings campaign, a PC Shugenja had used up all their spell slots and the player was haggling for extra spells. In the history of Rokugan there are tales of individuals sacrificing themselves (plus maybe their soul) to power incredible magic, so this option was presented to the player. Interestingly, the player choose not to do so, in part because they didn’t think it truly was the final moment for the party, but also because it set up a conflict for the character: Were they a coward for not doing so, or wise for saving themselves for a truly desperate moment?
Earlier in that same L5R campaign, a new player had joined the game and created a classic arrogant Crane duelist, but they had Dark Fate and Great Destiny. During a trip into the Shadowlands to destroy the Anvil of Despair, the Rokugan equivalent of Lord of the Rings, the party were being pursued by a powerful Oni. The Crane duelist dramatically revealed that this was their destiny, that all their haunting nightmares had led to this, why they were even on this suicide mission, but they could make a difference and save the others. The PC gave an impressive speech, revealed a prepared Haiku, and then waited to fight and die. We had not planned this; the player and I had agreed to keep the fate open, just a few nightmares about dark generic things, so I was almost as surprised as the rest of the party. As the party ran, the duelist stepped forward, becoming a Kensei (sword saint) and faced the Oni. The party survived, they later discussed the amazing honourable and glorious action of someone that they had disliked. Had his arrogance been a way to cope with his nightmares, living under the pressure and an attempt to psyche themselves up for the losing one’s soul?!
These memories additionally stand out to me in regards to this prompt because the player and I also discussed what happened next. How this was them closing their character’s arc. Whether the character was close to their ancestors, as well as ending their cursed ancestor’s legacy by defeating the Oni that resulted from their corruption. During the fight the character was closer to both themselves as a person, their duty to their family, Clan, and Rokugan, plus their sword technique was closing in on perfection. As the fight progressed their attacks became more focused, the Oni’s more desperate, until finally as the Oni killed them, their final action was to kill the Oni. They became close in death.
Street Fighter RPG
Street Fighter stands out amongst most RPGs due to the stakes of the standard arena fight not being death, but a chance to win and rise in the ranks of the circuit. Afterwards any normal damage suffered naturally regenerates after a 10 minute rest. Outside of the ring, the stakes can be just like any other setting, deadly!
For my campaign inspired by Mortal Kombat: Conquest, the PCs were empowered since the stakes were so high; the fate of the Mortal Realm. A PC could utilise Sacrifice but only if they sacrificed themselves in defence of the Mortal Realm. Remain active for up to 5 extra turns, even if dropped below 0 Health, however, if the damage takes them to -XX health (with XX being their normal full health), or all of the damage received is aggravated, then the drop down dead. This was an interesting idea, like the L5R one above, but sadly it never happened in game. Hopefully it can be explored and tinkered with in a future game.
Other Peoples’ Answers
Charles Etheridge-Nunn @charlie_en
Bob Freeman @OccultDetective
Craig Oxbrow @CraigOxbrow
Anthony Boyd @Runeslinger
Heather Fey @slapjellyfish
Geek-Life Balance @cybogoblin
This is a non-exhaustive list; I still have many posts to read today, so I might be adding more links. I’d recommend searching the hashtag and judge those great answers for yourself: #RPGaDay2020, some people use #RPGaDay.