Monday, July 12, 2010

Character Death

Popular subject in the blogs lately so I thought I would chime in. When I am running a campaign the players are aware they may be eaten, beaten, scorched, melted, frozen, stoned, mind flayed, spirit rendered or discover death in some other magnificent way. Considering their occupation, death should always be behind them and to the left ready to tap on their shoulder.

In the beginning levels I always try to provide a 'red shirt' or two to demonstrate how dangerous a place or situation is and to provide the monsters a chew toy other than the players. If the players decide to stay after one of their faithful henchmen just got mangled then they better hang on to their cod piece. As a GM, when it comes to combat I prefer to roll my attack and damage die in the open for the players to see. So there is no fudging.

Should one of the players get taken out then a couple things can happen, they can attempt to get the character resurrected or not. In my game to get resurrected is not an easy thing. A cleric must ask a favor from a god to grant life once again. Some religious strictly forbid resurrection, believing to be a form of necromancer and messing with the will of gods/fate or whatever they believe in.

Should the players decide to do this I will usually then run two sessions, one for the players and one for the dead character. Since the character who is dead wishes to be alive again I may run an adventure or two where he must prove to that god he is worthy while the other players will need to gather the money, components do a favor for the clerics before the ritual begins. So a character's death provides possible adventures.

I am mostly a player in games and I know when a GM is fudging. I hate it. If the monster rolls a natural 20 when I have one hit point then let the die roll where they may. I am okay with it. I don't want all my characters to have epic story arcs that can get boring and dilute the times when I do have a character that does something epic. I will give an example of a not so glorious death one of my characters suffered. Del-Goth was a not to smart mercenary who always got into trouble. I had a blast playing him. But his end came when an iron golem held him underwater in a horse trough till he drowned. About as a humiliating death as they come, death by horse trough. But I thought it was great. It made sense. It happened organically without coddling by the GM. Then I started thinking of the next guy I wanted to play.

When I hear a GM who doesn't like to see the player characters get killed I think of sports where they don't keep score. They don't want anyone's feelings to be hurt. There are times when that strategy is appropriate. But overall, I prefer as a player and GM to have death hovering nearby. Otherwise I am just rolling insignificant dice until my next treasure collection. As a player I can handle a character's death. As a GM I will be fair and as consistent as I can be, but my players know if they go into that dungeon all of them may not be coming out.


  1. We seem to have a lot of similarities. After coming off of the 3rd edition's ideas of kid gloves and having every encounter be balanced by the party's average level and equal CR rating of monsters and all that, I let my players know that some of the monsters they encounter will be too tough, and that they could die.

    And they sure do. It's an uncommon session where there's not either a player death or, more likely, a henchman or hireling death. It keeps the game interesting and keeps players on their toes when just around the corner an orc could spit them and wear their skull for a hat.

    Or, like what happened, they set the Yellow Mold they were standing on aflame, when one of them had one hit point. The fire took his life, and then it was a dwarf, alone in a tomb.

  2. Player death happens, but I do my best to try to tie to to stupidity rather than pure dice randomness. At least at the lower levels, when resources are semi-scarce. I'd rather be playing than having players roll out new characters every corner, particularly since I tend to make them go in depth on some background and descriptions.

    If a PC gets crit on from an ambush, I really try and not kill them outright. Coma, other PC's better act fast if they don't want corpses. (low levels only mind you.)

    If they insist on rumbling with stuff they really shouldn't be, then dice fall as they may. TPK here we come! Player choice at that point, and yeah there is a good chance they're not going to be walking away.