Thursday, August 25, 2011

PC Death

I know I've blogged about this before and I will probably do it again, but I've seen a few posts on it lately and thought I would add my thoughts.  I am sorry I missed the GM badge thing.  I saw them floating around everywhere, but I am a little slow on figuring out what they were.  Those are cool.  Okay, back to death.

It is simple for me as a player and a GM, if death is not a possible outcome then the game is not fun.  Death doesn't necessarily mean the physiological limits of a character have been reached, but something that makes him unplayable.  Rabin insanity, limbs gone missing, or he has a combination of so many disadvantages that he has become useless as an adventurer.  When I take my character into a massive ruin of some forgotten god I would hope there would be some risk involved.  If it is predetermined that I will lose hit points, but there is no chance of losing my character than the monsters should just hand me the loot at the door and apologize for inconvenience. 

I know the argument about players losing interest if their characters are killed.  Maybe just maim them instead.  Which is a possibility and one I also use, but I think the argument that players lose interest is weak.  I know the other argument is what if a player does everything right and he dies due to crappy die rolls.  Sorry, that's the way the game goes.  How much fun is it when a player does everything wrong, but the dice rolls are with him and he gets away. 

But all this hinges on the expectations of a player and a GM.  This is something I write about frequently.  If a GM and players are not interested endangering their characters and they play a wound, but not kill game and have a blast I say excellent and enjoy.  We each chose what type of game we like best.  And all the things I have mentioned above is the way I like to play best.  It's not the only way of course, but a way I prefer.

Death is a huge part of gaming.  Many times it's either kill or be killed situations.  It's always cool to roll up a new guy and see what kind of trouble you can get your new guy into.


  1. I think my feelings are similar to yours. I like death being part of the game (though I like using other consequences of defeat as well), though I don't neccessarily required it be common. The credible threat of death is what adds the spice.

  2. Not surprisingly I agree. Without that tension suspense is difficult to sustain for long.

    I have been tempted to pull punches when it kills more than two especially as a TPK rears it's head--which is why having a TPK in my recent Con game was so psychologically liberating for me.

    Death doesn't necessarily mean the physiological limits of a character have been reached, but something that makes him unplayable.

    This is an excellent point. I like the idea of a PC being mangled to the point that it becomes the player's choice whether to continue. It shifts the burden back onto the player.

    BTW your GM challenge selection is in all the PDF and Kindle versions on my site.

  3. I have high death in games, but I do understand full well how much it sucks to have a long time character of 2 years just..die. Mainly that it seems so abrupt and an anti-climax.

    Its a fantasy world though, not life, so I do give one last send off. The character dies, but the next game is explicitly a game of the dead character's in the afterlife, trying to reach their paradise or avoid their hell.

    That sense of "death is just part of your fantasy character's existence" seems to take some of the sting off. That says it flat out would not work with some genres.

  4. Amen. The players and GM should go into a game with certain things agreed upon: the tone of the game, the "deadliness" of the game, etc. Expectations, if any (and there usually are), should be laid on the table by all participants from the start. This is especially the approach to PC death.

  5. I agree, though I feel the most important thing in keeping the dramatic tension there is the threat of death be there. For that to happen, the threat must be credible--which means death has to occur.

  6. But Tim...what if the reason people play is to experience heroic fantasy adventure vicariously though their imaginary avatar? What if they want to "kick ass" as a warrior or wizard and don't want to die?

    What if the joy of play is simply imagining yourself as a cool character doing cool things forever Amen?

  7. JB > Are you taunting me. :P Then let them play their little avatars and kick ass all they want without fear. Nothing wrong with that. Just sounds like them most boring game in the world. Stay thirsty my friend.

    DRANCE > That is a huge part of it. If I join in a game knowing the GM is very low risk than fine. I can have some fun doing that. I would just prefer one that was not afraid to send me on my way.

    Zz > Sure the anti-climatic death can happen, but its a fantasy game with spells that resurrect or have a chat with a spirit. I would try to create a situation where the players death still had some significance in the end.

    Cake > Ha, glad to be included, but was just joking around. A TPK can be a downer, but again I always try to look at unexpected events in game as an opportunity for something new.

  8. @ Tim:

    Not taunting (surprise!) but something I've been thinking about today. Check my most recent post:

    And, yes...this post of yours is in many ways the inspiration for my own.

  9. "What if the joy of play is simply imagining yourself as a cool character doing cool things forever Amen?"

    I need to incorporate that into a prayer sometime soon. Anywhoseit, death happens. Sometimes accidental, sometimes in a major conflict that is meant to test the characters and sometimes the world of poor choices and stupid moves works its wonder on the character gene pool. Without the prospect of death it does become rather dull to me as a GM and I can't help but think the players eventually feel the same way.

  10. I've learned the hard way that if death is not a possibility, then there's not much to encourage the PCs to respect NPCs, dangerous areas or mysterious monsters.

  11. I've tried twice to post a comment to no avail, but maybe three's the charm:

    I think the threat of death for dramatic tension. To maintain that tension, real death has to be a credible threat.

  12. Trey > Glad to see you made it. I did get the other two responses in email. Third time was the charm. Or maybe there was a comment stalker taking your comments. Beware the shadow.

    I completely agree with you. A good game thrives on that.

    Christian > Is there an 'easy' way to learn. We all go through our mistakes on both sides of the screen.

    Padre > Amen.

    JB > I will go check it out.

  13. I think death is necessary in a combat-heavy game.

    The flip side is that I wish combat were less important than it is.

    If the player characters can die, the players can emotionally disconnect.

    If the player characters get disadvantage after disadvantage, with no option of suicide/retirement, the players can also disconnect.

    It's hard to maintain emotional investment in a game if the tension turns into frustration.

  14. Oh, I like the possibility of death but I do front load the possibility of life. I mean, the dice will fall where they will and I'm not above letting folk die, but I am aware that the loss of a character is a loss of all that attachment and history that can provide a game with momentum. So I suppose I like the possibility but prefer when it is relatively uncommon.