Plot Hook from Hell: The Massacre

The title, “The Massacre” is not an error on my part. I will not speak about several massacres, or an ongoing murderous genocide. No, today I will talk about the singular massacre, a horrifying event that can change the course of a nation.

The distinction is necessary to separate a one-time event from other bloody atrocities. Thousands dying every year from a protracted war becomes a fact of life, like a natural disaster or plague. The sudden, unexpected death of many souls in pointless carnage carries far more impact. Making the massacre completely one-sided magnifies that impact.

The reason I decided to write this post is massacres are often poorly handled in gaming scenarios. Most scenarios fall in to the “villians” raze an innocent village, killing hundreds trope. This precipitates a war or PC lead revenge raids to punish the guilty. It all seems so clean, so easy to tell the victims from the villians.

I want more reality in my games, so this cliche is not acceptable. Here are two example of real world massacres with real consequences and few black and white villians.

An American example is the legendary “Boston Massacre. ” A minor dispute escalated to British soldiers firing on American colonists. There is little doubt the British soldiers were not looking to slaughter a crowd of colonists that day, but armed soldiers facing a belligerent (and, given the period, armed) crowd was a dangerous flash-point. Accidents happen. Lacking videotape to indict the the instigators, rumors became fact and the truth distorted.

The American narrative of that day became the “evil” soldiers slaughtering innocent civilians. It partially inspired the American Revolution. I honestly believe that given the choice between shooting people (fellow British citizens, in fact) in the street and inspiring a revolution or doing nothing, the British probably would have preferred doing nothing. Fault lays at the feet of both the colonists and the British army, but each side manipulated the narrative to match their own needs. America got dead patriots and England had it loyal soldiers making the hard choice in the king’s name. Both versions contain some truth, but America clearly got more rhetorical mileage out of the massacre.

Sadly, the British Empire did not learn from its mistakes and perpetrated another brutal massacre in India. A massacre that once again fomented a revolution.

The “Jallianwala Bagh massacre” came to my attention during research for my module, “Iwa .” A unit of the Indian army, commanded by Reginald Dyer , fired repeated volleys into a cornered crowd in a walled garden. Numbers vary, but around 300 people died. Dyer became a polarizing figure, with some hailing his ruthlessness in the name of empire and others branding him a butcher. Even Dyer himself had doubts about his actions. These are his last words, spoken on his deathbed.

“but I don’t want to get better. Some say I did right, while others say I did wrong. I only want to die… and know of my maker whether I did right or wrong.”

Dyer performed his duties, at least as he interpreted them, to the best of his ability. Indians did not see it that way and the bloodbath fanned the flames of Indian independence.

I do not want this post to degenerate into a laundry list of bloody villiany, so I wil stop at two examples.

I just noticed I used the British Empire as the aggressors for both examples. No offense to my British readers, but the historical British Empire simply provided me with the best examples for the point I was making. I also considered “Wounded Knee ,” but I wanted some more obscure examples, with clearer impact. So please, no hate mail.

One final item, in no way am I trying to justify mass murder or minimize the suffering of the victims of these real events. I just hope that whenever a DM puts a massacre into their campaign, both the suffering of the victims and justifications of the killers appear also.

Trask, The Last Tyromancer



Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.