It’s a Good Day to Die

One of the trickier things to handle in a campaign is a player’s character death. Over many years of roleplaying, I’ve had my share of character deaths. Not being a computer game, there is no reload/respawn point for the character. If the system has it set up, you can get the character resurrected from the cold embrace of Death. If not, well the player is just out of luck and on to the next character.

manfallsatagraveHere at the Forged Front, that train of thought trivializes the character’s death. Let’s face it, if you have invested a lot of time and energy into the character it’s a huge blow when your character dies. It was a friend/companion and even if it will be back as soon as the party figures out how to cart the body over to the nearest temple to get raised, there is a bit of downtime to the game. More importantly, the odds are the death impacts its player’s connection to the character.

I have a friend who loved playing the Doom series back in the day. He got really into the game — save for the level that he died a lot on. Sure, he eventually got past the level, but he did it at the expense of not being as immersed in the game as before he hit that level. At some level, you stop empathizing with your character’s plight when the character repeatedly gets killed.  If that was a RPG campaign, the GM has two choices … either work hard to get the player to re-engage emotionally on the campaign, or just ignore it and let it sort itself out.

I maintain that the latter option tends to downgrade the player’s enthusiasm for the campaign. What was great is now merely good. Why? Well, for starters, the GM just proved that the character isn’t central to the story for a period of time. Sure the character came back, but the suspension of belief — having the player really hang on to everything the character is doing is disrupted. Now instead of just getting back on the horse, there is a bit of doubt as to how much the player should emotionally invest in the story and his character’s role in it.

Character death is even more brutal in a system that doesn’t have resurrection in it. Even if the GM allows the player a quick re-entry with a character of roughly equivalent power level, the new character is basically starting at ground zero with the player’s emotional attachment to it. So on some level, the player just isn’t as attached to the plight of their character as they previously was. Don’t believe me? What would your reaction be like if your character was in A Game of Thrones and was on the wrong end of the Red Wedding? You spent all this time investing in a character and its tale ended in disaster and death. Would you immediately attach to a new character added to the story after that event like the one that you were beforehand?

With all this said, I have been in plenty of campaigns where death is cheap and happens a lot. In games that tend to be like this, the players tend to distance themselves from their characters a bit just to shield themselves. If possible, they might try to find alternate solutions to problems other than combat, but if forced to fight the big adversaries of the moment, they have to be ready to accept the character might soon be dead.

As a player, I like to bond with my character. It makes me feel more a part of the story. As a GM, I like to have my players do that as well because the story is very important to me and why I started the campaign in the first place. That doesn’t mean that is the only way. Sometimes on the Front, it is just a good day to die.

What’s your preference around player characters and their mortality within a campaign?

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3 comments to It’s a Good Day to Die

  • Of my favorite sessions in my years of playing, the majority come from those times when I died. If you’re going to die, then die SPECTACULARLY and have it impact the plot. Near death is almost as fun as the group throws out a blaze of benes and bent rules in order to keep you alive for just one round more.

    • Game Knight

      @Bill – Totally agree, though sometimes it’s the quiet deaths that are the most painful. I had a character I’d played for almost a year die (TPK) when we encountered an unexpected monster on a mountain pass and my character and my friend’s bled out on a mountaintop… It left a lasting impression. Probably as lasting an impression (if not more) than when I played the wizard of a party who cast haste on a tiny archer who fired arrows like a machine gun at an oncoming army and died a glorious death in the face of overwhelming odds. 🙂

  • forged

    Thanks for the response Bill. I agree with you on a PC should go out with a blaze of glory. I feel the crux of the matter is how a GM handles when a PC doesn’t go out with a blaze of glory and the campaign is continuing beyond that event.

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