This starts at the end.
Magical healing is such a fundamental part of fantasy roleplaying games these days. You don’t really have to worry about any injury at all; there’s a cleric nearby with a handy little spell that will take care of everything. The broken bones, the ripped tendons, the flayed skin, the shredded arteries… everything. Just a wave of the hand and it’s all better now. Like mom’s chicken soup.
In fact, when we were designing L5R RPG, I wanted to keep it out. In a game about samurai philosophy and tragedy, magical healing undermined everything we were trying to go for. "You live four feet from death" in samurai drama. That katana will cut you in half. Give you an injury so foul, no healing will ever bring you back. I mean, you’ve been cut in half, for Shinsei’s sake!
So, when I saw one of the characters on my list was a duelist, I started thinking about the stereotypical duelist character. Swashbuckler, drinker, womanizer, all of that. And in a world where magical healing could save you from any injury–any injury–what does courage really mean? Throwing yourself into combat? So what? The cleric is right over there. He can deal with anything the orc can dish out. In that kind of world, where injury has no consequence, what can courage really mean?
What would really drive a swashbuckler to take risks? What would really push them to the edge?
So, I decided to have my duelist start at the end. Jumping into combat, laughing and throwing witticisms and thrusts… and then, she gets herself killed. I mean, killed. Dead, dead, dead. And there’s nothing. Just blackness. An empty blackness. Not cold. Not hot. Not anything. Just nothing.
Endless. Eternal. Nothing.
Then, a flash of burning, scalding pain as she’s pulled back into the world of the living. The world of breathing. Sweet, sweet air. Just the sensation of breath. In and out. In and out. The sensation of grass against her skin. The sensation of warm light on her face. The echoes of wine in her mouth. The sensation of a lover in her arms.
And the pure excitement, just moments before the end, of knowing she was going to die. Knowing she was going to die and using every ounce of her life to fight it.
That moment. That single moment. The moment between life and death.
That’s what she’s living for. That’s why she leaps into battle. To find that single moment when she knows she’s going to die… and nothing else in all the world matters. Not the gold in her pockets, not the treasures of ancient tombs, not the tales the bard tells of her courage. All of that means nothing.
The single moment when she knows she could die. And when she finds that moment… she laughs.
(The video features Jeff Hardy–the fearless swashbuckler of the WWE. No WWE PPV is complete without Jim Ross shouting, "For the love of God, Jeff! Don’t do it!")