A bloodthirsty janitor, Colonel Mustard, Death, a God-fearing cleric and a dabbing teen had one thing in common at Gen Con last weekend: They were among over a hundred Level 1 characters whom a sadistic dungeon master killed in the span of two hours.
Killer Breakfast is a 20-year-long Gen Con tradition that takes the notion of the omnipotent dungeon master and fills it with diesel. Its pilots are the Dungeons & Dragons power couple Tracy and Laura Hickman, co-creators of the D&D-adjacent Dragonlance campaign setting (and series of fantasy novels). On stage, they host a sort of D&D variety-slash-improv show that usually churns several hundred attendees, armed with first-level character sheets, through certain-death situations. Sing-a-longs, chants, and one-liners sniped from Star Trek accompany the players on their seconds-long journeys.
"If the moment your death is more entertaining than you are, your character will die," a safety video explained.
The setup: The night before the event, five Gen Con attendees had cast a dimensional portal spell in the first, second, third, fourth and fifth editions of D&D. It tore open the fabric of space-time and transported the convention into the magical hellzone Tracy and Laura commanded. There, however, Gen Con would be "just as expensive as before".
Each player came prepared with a brief backstory designed for the amusement of onlookers. The wandering bard had a song. An old man with a Magikarp hat explained he had been looking for a PokeStop. The self-proclaimed "rules lawyer extraordinaire" wore a can of Mountain Dew around his neck. After introducing himself, the crowd cheered: "Kill him!"
Hickman's task was to take six players' disparate backstories and weave them together, on the fly, into a scenario of mass carnage.
One of the Mountain Dew cans explodes horribly, Hickman said. "Everyone dies." No dice rolls necessary. Later on, Colonel Mustard's elephant crushed all the players, but remained throughout the next round as the "elephant in the room", until later when it also exploded.
Long-time D&D veterans having a silly time with the game felt cathartic, especially up against the stereotype that those who play the longest take D&D the most seriously. On stage, the dozens of players with dozens of backstories represented the breadth of imagination available to players, from the strange and awkward to the rowdy, charismatic types. Killer Breakfast was a two-hour reminder that role-playing games thrive on self-expression and community.
As another batch of characters funneled on stage, the dungeon master asked each how they came to the fray. One player explained that he'd heard that, in a previous round, someone killed Death. "Does that mean I can't die?" he asked with a hopeful tone. The dungeon master killed him, too, along with everyone else.