Saturday, July 4, 2009

PC Deaths

It happens. PCs die. It should happen fairly regular since they constantly place themselves in danger by battling monsters and horrific undead creatures or delving into dungeons dark and dangerous. Deaths will occur, but how should the GM handle it? How should the players handle the death of a character?

I've read suggestions that a GM should fudge his dice rolls when the players are having a run of bad luck. Don't do this. It's a lazy solution. You shall be flogged with Slim Jims (the big ones) if you do this. It's easy to be heroic when all the rolls are going your way. Only when the players are desperate, on the edge of defeat and yet manage to overcome the situation, is the term heroic, appropriate.

Here's a not so quick example:
Situation: The party enters a room and a portcullis falls into place blocking the exit. A group of orcs are behind another portcullis. The party is getting their ass handed to them as the orcs riddle them with arrows. The fighters can't engage, the mages are having trouble getting a spell off, and the thief and ranger are not doing enough damage to kill a dust bunny.

1. The players can try to lift either portcullis.
2. The fighters make a shield wall and wait until the orcs exhaust their arrow supply.
3. The GM can have one of the orcs raise the portcullis because he believes the fight is already won and wants to finish them off. Some may argue that this would be another way of fudging die rolls but I would argue the GM is not solving the problem by fixing the dice rolls, but providing the players a chance to overcome the problem.
4. Should the players be reduced to unconscious heaps of flesh, the GM could have them captured. Warning, have a very good reason why the orcs should not just slit their throats and strip them naked. The orcs can make extra cash by selling them into slavery, maybe they need a sacrifice to their dragon boss, or possibly use the players as entertainment.
5. If the party is overwhelmed by the orcs then let it happen, otherwise there is no danger in battle. These deaths will give the dungeon a sense of personal history among the players. A death of a favorite character is great fodder for future adventures and in a way that character can live on through the continuance of the campaign, becoming a part of the mythology.

In the end the GM must make the players feel like they had a chance. There must be a possibility of death when players explore these places or you do them a disservice. If players know the GM will pull their ass out of the fire then, for me, you might as well go play Candy Land.


  1. I agree completely. While I understand the want for the heroic trope, I think that shouldn't be ad hoc fiat. If you roll the dice, accept the results.

  2. I've really been mulling through the consequences of PC death. There's no universal solution in my opinion as different game systems demand different playstyles.

    For example, a game I run (HARP by Iron Crown Enterprises) uses rather exhaustive character creation (when compared to say, AD&D2). This makes Character creation a labor, but often a labor of love.

    Slaughtering the character is hard for me as a GM--even when necessary--because I know the player will be disappointed s/he did not get to fully indulge in that character. Also, s/he must sit out to roll up a new character.

    However, as you state, it is really pathetic to give the PCs victory as a reward for sucking.

    A solution I'm intending to implement for my next game is to introduce various NPCs throughout the sessions. The Player whose character is most associated with said NPC has the right to roll up that character in his free time or when he's not doing anything at the game.

    When his PC dies, he has the option to play that character, or possibly even another character a different player rolled up.

    The endgoal is that 1) The Players are already attached to some extent to the character. 2) The player has some investment since he (likely) rolled up that character. 3) It allows nigh instantaneous participation of the slain player.

  3. If character creation is whats making you feel bad letting PC's die, consider using "Schrodinger's Character" as a creation method, it allows PC's to get right back in.

    You'd have to work out crude point buy mind you. If you are interested I wrote about it way back on june 12, its how I solved the problem you are facing.

  4. Karizma - Yeah it is difficult when a player lose his or her favorite character. Character creation is intensive for many game systems, but then I would suggest like you have mentioned have them create a back up and allow that person to run it as a henchmen. In which case the player will already have an attachment and equiping it.

    I see Karizma already made it over to Zzarchov's blog, but those of you who haven't, check it out.