‘Your Waterskin, or Your Life’

I’ve been trying to decide what to do as a weekly feature on Wednesday, and I think I’m going to toss up some recollections of games from my past. These are going to be strictly reminisces, with little (or no) specific rhyme or reason other than to indulge in a little tale telling.

Back in the mid-80s, my family moved into a new house in a new state. The neighbors had a boy a year or two younger than me, and while we carried our stuff in to the new house from the rental truck, he spotted our D&D stuff and immediately expressed interest in playing. A day or two later he rolled up a PC, a fighter I think (but maybe a thief), and started buying his weapons and equipment.

As if often the case with new PCs, he didn’t have enough a gold for everything he wanted. After much worrying and indecision, he passed on buying a waterskin and chose extra arrows or something. I remember reassuring him that he’d have an opportunity to get more gold to buy a waterskin, but that he’d have to be careful because his character could die without enough water. Duh.

So, when play begins, the first thing he does is ask where he can get a drink. I tell him that there’s a well in the center of town, so off to the well he goes and drinks his fill. But then he doesn’t leave. He just hangs out at the well, asking about the other people who come for water. I tell him about townsfolk and such getting drinks, getting a bucket for their horse, carrying water back to their home, etcetera, etcetera.

This goes on for a while and I’m realizing that this kid doesn’t quite “get it” and am gently prodding him to move on. I was mistaken. He did have a purpose.

The PC waits until a guy comes up to fill his waterskin.

“I draw my sword,” the player tells me, “and I put the point to his throat.”

I tell the player that the man is understandably terrified.

Your waterskin, or your life,” the PC says.

So I had been right all along. He didn’t quite “get it.”

I tell the player that the man is wearing armor and likely won’t take kindly to getting robbed in broad daylight.

“But what can he do about it?” the player asked.

“Well,” I replied, “he could attack you when he has a chance.”

“Why would he attack someone over a waterskin?”

“Maybe because someone threatened him with a sword over a waterskin?”

The player thinks about this for a bit. “I have my sword at his throat,” he says finally. “Can I just kill him?”

Now, I don’t recall exactly what happened after this. I do know that the PC did not kill the man with the waterskin. I think the PC took the waterskin but was later accosted by the man and some of his buddies. Who proceeded to beat the tar out of the PC and take back the waterskin.

“They can do that?” the player asked, apparently shocked that NPCs would react to PC actions.

Yes, I told him, they can “do that.” That player, though he picked things up quickly enough, always did have a tendency to go overboard about some things.

And “Your waterskin, or your life” became a bit of an ongoing gag in our game for years to come.

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