Today’s #ifthiswereaTTRPG comes from, in my opinion of one at least, one of the greatest movies of the 20th century: It’s a Wonderful Life.
It’s a Wonderful Life is an extraordinary film for many reasons, far too many to explore here. So today’s post will explore at a high-level the series of scenes where Clarence, the guardian angel assigned to George Bailey, allows George to see life as though he was never born. It’s an incredible sequence of events which successfully allow George to viscerally see the impact he’s had on the world and to grant him the perspective he’d lost as to what his life is truly worth.
And as we know, before Clarence had jumped into the freezing pond, George had been moments away from tragically committing suicide; this experience of seeing of his impact reinvigorates his soul, allowing him to move forward in life with his typical positivity, energy, and conviction once again.
Today’s #ifthiswereaTTRPG post attempts to translate into a tabletop role playing game both the moments leading to that experience and the moments after its completion.
Clarence the angel in It’s a Wonderful Life is a NPC, a non-player character, of the GM’s design sent to Earth by God to protect George Bailey, a good and honest man who has tragically decided to end his life after being told by the film’s villain that he’s “worth more dead than alive.”
At the bridge, the player playing George asks the GM what roll they should make to make the leap into the freezing water below. But the GM, using a little Deus Ex Machina, responds instead: “You see a man in the water below, thrashing about and crying out for help.”
The player, surprised at this turn of events, says that George would of course do the right thing and dive into the water to save the man. The GM has the player make two rolls, both for Athletics: one to jump off the bridge and the second to corral the man in the water and bring him to shore.
The player rolls, as if by fate, both are critical successes. George jumps, swims, grabs the man as he’s thrashing about, and brings him to the shoreline.
Inside the harbormaster’s office, the man he’s just “saved,” Clarence, via the GM, tells the player/George that indeed it was Clarence who saved George, not the other way around. The player though, recognizing that George is still viscerally depressed, has George tell Clarence that his words make no sense and that he “wishes he (George) had never been born.”
The GM actually has the player make a Persuade roll to see the impact George has on Clarence with his words. And naturally, it’s another critical success for the player.
Clarence considers and asks God if such a course of action is a good idea. But with George’s critical success, become convinced of the idea. And through the power of God, Clarence is able to change the world to a state where George Bailey indeed had never been born.
Clarence tells George that “okay, you’ve got your wish, you’ve never been born.” The GM has Clarence roll a Persuade check against George to see if George buys-in which fails miserably, thus setting George off on his journey of self-discovery in “Potterville” the “dark-timeline” version of Bedford Falls.
While I will tackle the Potterville transformation on a future #worldbuildingMonday post, after George returns to the bridge, the player asks the GM on their character’s behalf that they want George to “live again.”
The GM says “no rolls are needed – the journey was worth the price of admission” and George, and perhaps the player, cry in their hopes that Clarence’s “magic” can be undone. And of course as we know it is, and George, a new man, encounters all of his family and friends to see the payoff of his lifetime of serving the community, the player receiving pay-off after pay-off for all of the work they done setting up George’s life in this way.
An ending full of gratitude, wisdom, faith, and genuine appreciation for the ups and down life offers. The GM and players surely must be moved by experiencing such a story together!