Dying To Tell The Story - Enjoying Character Death in RPG's


Any roleplayer will tell you that character development is at the core of most roleplaying games. However, not many roleplaying systems cater for the final development of any character: their death. So I am going to put this question out there: should the roleplaying of character death be an integral part of the roleplay experience, or is the death of a character just bad luck?

Any roleplayer will tell you that character development is at the core of most roleplaying games. However, not many roleplaying systems cater for the final development of any character: their death. So I am going to put this question out there: should the roleplaying of character death be an integral part of the roleplay experience, or is the death of a character just bad luck (and a pain in the ass)?

This is a difficult and (I imagine for many) an unusual topic. Probably the majority of roleplayers become in some way attached to their characters. I have seen this lead players to go to extreme lengths to prevent their favourite characters from dying; rules lawyering, turning 'munchkin' or begging & bargaining with the GM.

Alternatively I have read many systems with built in methods to help avoid/fix character death (reincarnation, wish spells, fate points, Torpor, or simply ruling it impossible altogether) -- this goes on top of the GM's ability to 'fudge' things for gameplay's sake.

So looking at the source material out there, I imagine my views are in a pretty small minority when it comes to player death. "And that view is what?" you ask.

I actually like my characters dying.

Now before I go on I would like to point out the following:

  • I am not a devil's advocate, playing evil annoying characters to incur the wrath of GM's and other players.
  • I don't always/often play suicidal berserkers or manic-depressives.
  • I do not play for a 'munchkinesque' thrill, trying to discover what way the GM will come up with for killing off my latest monstrosity.

Still, I am unlikely to go through extended campaigns with just one character, making it from the most basic pleb to the heady heights of the highest levels, regardless of whether I have the luck of the gods or the worlds most easy going GM trying to ensure my characters safety.

This is because while some people get upset, put off or annoyed when their creation bites the big one, I find myself planning ahead for the moment with a sense of excitement. I feel a strong urge to see my characters' stories encapsulated, with a beginning, middle, and inevitably an end. And I have this feeling from the moment I start working on the character.

If I am making a thief, I'll think about whether his character deserves to end up hanging from the gallows sold out by a local snitch. If so I'll play him in such a way that it's likely to happen, rather than dropping out of character to save my characters neck every time something really dangerous comes up.

If he were more of a buccaneer, perhaps instead he would end up simply outnumbered ten to one by the city guard and go down fighting, even though I know statistically it is impossible for him to escape.

Then there is the question of whether my Barbarian falls dead in an over indulgent orgy of alcohol, or if he is more likely to take the risk of being slashed apart by facing off against his foul nemesis.

Will my Mage be torn asunder by raw magical power, or will she sacrifice herself and transcend mortality ala Obi Wan Kenobi?

I find these questions vital to the narrative control I have over my character, my ability to create an interesting way for them to play a part in whatever story arc the GM has created and yet to unfold.

Now, when creating a character for a fictional story such questions cause no problems. The writer has total narrative control and can be fully aware of all the implications.

But this mentality in a gaming group is not very well understood or catered for. This unfortunately may lead to all sorts of problems with other players. They might feel that I am not taking the game seriously enough, that I am moving from one character to the next seemingly at a whim. Here I would argue that is not the case -- character death can be an intrinsic part of character design.

Other gaming circles might be of the mind that I am letting down the group by not pulling together and ensuring that the difficulties are faced as a cohesive whole... that I am some sort of loner.

Again, I don't think this is true. Rather I would simply have some say in when my character dies, instead of attempting to hide from it at all costs only to eventually be cut down by some bad roll of the dice in a totally forgettable situation. I like to leap at the chance for a cinematic and glorious defeat when I spot one.

I also like to extend this perhaps unusual idea and line of questioning further, into areas where as of yet permanent character death hasn't seen much, if any, use at all. MMORPGs to me are a point of concern. These games often require hours and hours of dedicated game time to come anywhere near their supposed potential. Here, the only real skill involved is persistence. Doesn't this sound far too much like work for something that is meant to be entertainment? Yet so many people play them. The reason, I am told, is that the games are addictive.

I for one would first have to ask if the gaming is fun, rather than simply addictive. In my opinion these are very different things. If the gaming itself was fun, why would I be disappointed when my character dies? Why would I feel like my time has gone to 'waste'? Yet these are the cries I hear people make when they hear of the possibility of their character facing permanent death in both pen and paper roleplaying and the MMORPG format.

This attitude towards immortality, the 'save, reload' ability, with only a penalty or setback thrown in for you troubles, is the cause of one of the major problems I find with the current wave of online gaming. In an attempt to emulate roleplaying the genre has become all about achievement and prestige and perseverance. Remarkably fun, challenge and even entertainment have been thrown out the window for these lofty ideals of accumulation which simply appeal to some of the worst aspects of human nature: greed, pride, and jealously. Unsurprisingly, as anyone in marketing would tell you, this is working. But it isn't providing us with good games.

So, how do we change things?

I will start by asking you to view characters' deaths as opportunities to create new characters while creating a fitting end to old characters. To assist with this, game designers could put effort into creating systems where character death is, at least in some way, a rewarding experience for the player. Offering a player who plays a good death scene with bonuses to ensure his or her next character is up to speed with the rest of the party could prevent stagnation in characters and the extreme measures people go to prevent their character deaths. You could also incorporate factors that would allow some aspects of previous characters to be passed onto the new ones, perhaps by hereditary advantages or characters leaving particular items as heirlooms to their new character. Obviously, a character would not be rewarded if they rushed out and got themselves killed just for the sake of a quick bonus, as this does nothing for the drama of the game.

After all, hasn't the death scene been a stable of the cinema and theatre forever?

Isn't it time we stopped looking at character death as something that should be avoided by the characters and some sort of stick with which the GM can threaten players into keeping up with their story line?

Or have I just fallen out of the crazy tree and landed on my head?

Character death depends on two factors, from the player's side:
1) OOC mood. You, for one, look forward to a character's death, if it is a fitting and dramatically appropriate one. Others grow so attached to their characters that they would rather enjoy the many more good times to come than the single epic event that snuffs out that character forever. This is a matter of personaly choice. I for one am willing to accept character death, but only on the condition that it was worth it. Sacrificing my paladin by jumping in front of the Death Beam aimed for the queen, or sending my space marine into the heart of the aline hive, with enough explosives on him to level a small galaxy. They will sing songs of my heroics for generations to come. But dying to the hands of a kobold, or a botched shot by one of my companions that hits me in the head...? No thanks, I'll pass.

Secondly, we have IC motivation. People want to live. Period. It takes some serious amount of depression or heroics before an individual is willing to die. Most of my characters go to extreme ways to prolong their lives, if it's at all possible. Call me a munchkin or a powergamer, but if I can get the Ultimate Armor of Fuzzy Invulnerability, I'll damn well take it.

Ok, this is taking too long. I fully agree with you. Character death should not be seen as an accident that needs to be fixed asap. It should be used as a plot device or a dramatic event. In the games I play in, characters generally do not die unless they get either amazingly unlucky or they do something stupid. The tension is not reduced at all, because the act of not running away when faced with a superior force counts as something stupid. But you won't die because you got into a little bar brawl that got out of hand, or similary minor and uninspiring circumstances.

Planning one's own PC's death is best dealt with in a one-on-one game or campaign in my opinion. When other players are involved, it can be extremely disruptive.

If you are playing in a group who is trying to navigate a dungeon, figure out the duke's murderer or save the world, a player who is looking to go out in a "blaze of glory" is going to have the wrong priorities. As a player, you are looking inward rather than looking outward. Being very inward-looking may be fun for you but, unless all the other players are the same way, you are probably letting down the team. Now, if everybody in your group is planning their own PCs' deaths, then you've probably got an even bigger problem: everybody is probably so intent on rendering their PC's personality very accurately and bringing their PCs to their "logical conclusions" that nobody has much time to actually navigate a dungeon, figure out a duke's murderer or save the world.

Some people seem to enjoy this: inventing a personality, acting out the personality and then acting out that personality's death. I'd call this "improv acting" as opposed to "role-playing" but that's just quibbling. Personally, I don't care to do this myself and I'm bored to death watching other people do it.

Now, if the opportunity presents itself and it feels right, a player might sacrifice his PC for the good of the others. But I personally am not interested in creating an alcoholic, brawling fighter and then looking for situations where he can logically die in a bar fight or of alcoholism.

Interesting perspective, Caliban.

Personally, I'm of the variety of player who would prefer to play a character WELL into retirement... but then, I also like to play characters whose lives do not revolve solely around adventure. So while I might EVENTUALLY consider the death of a character, it could just as easily come on that PC's deathbed... peacefully.

Just my two cents. ^^

Firstly, thanks for the comments, all so far have been pretty interesting.

Secondly I agree whole heartedly with dwhoward. If I was constantly preparing my characters death in game, looking for an out as it were, or generally TRYING to find a dramatic moment for me to do DURING play, then yeah it would be extraordinarily tedious to watch and play with.

This isn't what I do. I simply start with a plan and keep a close eye out for the oppourtunities as they present themselves that will add an interesting twist to the story. If the GM doesn't set out a campaign where death is a likely event, I am not about to avoid the story in attempt to get myself killed. (I.E. in the case of the alcoholic Barbarian I wouldn't start drinking at every available oppurtunity in game, but if we went to an Inn as part of the plot I would let the alcoholic tendencies come forth for all to see.)

The thing I find though is that not enough games cater for this. Either you WILL be killed by the Kobold, because of bad luck, or you WON'T die in the heroic manner you want because of good luck, or when you DO die in the Heroic manner you want to you simply find yourself dumped out of the game without much to do and no easy way back in to the game as another character. Everyone simply sighs and gets on with the adventure. Often there are no real repercussions aside from the physical loss of the character, no investigations by outsiders, nothing to mark the death of a character. Some players might roleplay a brief moment of mourning which is all to do with the character they are playing, but the GAMES don't often offer advice about death above and beyond: 'It's bad, avoid it', or 'It happens, get over it.'

Certainly roleplayers can and will find their own ways to suit themselves, but personally I believe inthe majority of cases the games designers haven't ever looked into the implications of death beyond the 'you did something stupid or you had bad luck, poor you' stage.

For example, while there are resources for the cost of food, travel, fine silk and wines (and innumerous other things for almost any roleplaying game), has anyone ever come across a resource which detailed the costs involved for a funeral?

I mean, do you really just leave your friend rotting in a heap where he was, waiting to be turned into a zombie, or eaten by a passing dog, or found by small children, or do you go out and find a cleric/priest/undertaker/mortician and get his bodied sanctified/buried/crucified/autopsied...

I don't want to give the impression that I am a morbid person fixated on death, I am not. Some of my characters might live to a ripe old age of retirement, but I often find that the sorts of games I play in (adventure/horror) lend themselves towards quite a high death rate, just as some professions and sports in our world will probably end up getting you killed. (I believe Jetboat Drag racing is a prime example, where somewhere around 1 in 10 competitors die a YEAR).

What I do think is that generally character death is a vastly overlooked and under utilised area of the roleplaying arsenal, and I think peoples attention should be drawn towards it.

Just as a side comment, AD&D 2e touched on the subject. Amongst Services, it lists 'mourner (per funeral)' at 2 sp. But not much more.

Good article. You forgot to mention that character death results in the suicide of the player... no, wait... cursed Dark Dungeon propaganda. :-)

Character death is a perfectly acceptable part of gaming (the threat of death keeps PC's from being too reckless), but I use it only under very specific conditions.

1. Players fail to do the smart thing and run from an obviously no-win situation, or consistently do stupid, OOC things (or stupid IC things). I will, from time-to-time, put the characters up against odds that are - at least at that time - best avoided with extreme prejudice. This does have some qualifications (it might be perfectly in character to stay and fight regardless of the odds) and deserves at least one warning. If the players aren't going to run from the army of demons, slap their wrists once or twice by taking away some juicy equipment, leaving them with permanent damage (you'd be amazed at how many times the threat of disfiguring facial injuries works better than the threat of death), etc. If they can't figure it out after that, or just constantly do stupid things, teach them a longer-lasting lesson.

2. Characters should almost never die simply because they are unlucky. A higher-level character shouldn't die simply because they rolled a 1 and the low-level grunt rolled a 20. Unless the game itself is deadly (Cyberpunk 2020, Rifts), I'll save characters from that one every time.

3. The GM and the player(s) should always discuss heroic death. Heroic death is usually the only fitting death for characters in a game, esp. if the scale is epic. No GM should ever assume that a player wants their character to die heroically without discussing first (after all, the GM might think it's appropriate, but the player might not). Had a Mage: The Ascension game we were playing in college not ended up being scrapped, my GM and I had planned out under what circumstances my character would sacrifice to save the group. Too bad we never got to finish that one.

As usual, Chaosium got to this years before others even considered it. In Pendragon, the scope of the campaign caused players to consider the retirement and deaths of their original characters from almost the get-go. In fact, a prime motivation for most characters was "marry well and have a male heir ASAP." Gee--doesn't that sound like the primary motivation of most medieval knights?

This worked because as designed, each game session was supposed to be one or more seasons of a year, so in a relatively short time your character starts getting old. So even if he doesn't die in battle, he gets too old to campaign. And if you die gloriously, say in service to your liege, your son gets a bigger bonus.

When a son inherits, the player takes over the son, who gets a bonus to a starting character equal to a percentage of the Glory earned by the father in his life, and of course he inherits all the land, titles, wealth, etc. There's motivation!

I gotta agree. Character death has the potential to be a great story element that a lot of GMs and players seem reluctant to incorporate into their games, but using it depends on the mindset of the players and all the factors already mentioned. As a GM, I generally don't kill characters unless a) they do something really stupid or b) the death would be meaningful and advance the story, and I've discussed it with the player beforehand. Doing that has served me pretty well, so far.

(Warning: I'm going to talk about my characters now. This might get long.)

As a player, I tend to get really attached to my characters, although I have an equally strong tendency toward the dramatic (bordering on the stupid). I've been known to do idiotic and suicidal things because it was in character - for example, my wussy little Virtual Adept throwing herself at the robotic beastie that was in the process of tearing her lover to pieces, hoping to effectively trade her life for his - and usually gotten away with them when they should have killed me because the GM decided to be benevolent about it. I'll admit, I found that little disappointing - I think that if a player is clearly asking for it, you should give it to them. (But in this case, it turned out later on that the GM had further evil things planned that required my character to be alive, so I guess it makes sense that he didn't kill the character.)

One thing you didn't mention, however, is that killing off a well-liked PC can do some very...interesting things to the surviving members of the group and open up a lot of new avenues. The first character I played in my Hunter: The Reckoning group was a 15-year-old Mexican foreign exchange student with a somewhat unhealthy fascination with the occult and a burning desire to show the world that the "monsters" weren't really all that bad (yup, an Innocent). She also had the Dark Fate flaw, which pretty much ensured that she would meet a messy death before the end of the campaign. As luck would have it, she got thrown into a group of Zeal-based hunters and thought she was insane for wanting to talk her way through every confrontation. But to make a long story short, her approach ended up accomplishing some amazing things for the group and eventually making some of her fellow hunters lay down their weapons (at least temporarily). She actually met her Dark Fate quite recently, after being kidnapped by the Big Nasty just before the group killed him, fleshcrafted into a giant crab, and mistakenly slaughtered by her own group (actually, my new character killed my old character, but we won't get into that right now). So now the survivors are horribly guilty and trying to assuage it by "doing what Marta would have wanted" as they continue in the hunt. In other words, I turned gun nuts into pacifists, and all I had to do was let my character get killed to accomplish it. In the immortal words of one of my fellow gamers, "Ha ha, suckers, I win again!" (c;

Great article, Caliban.

Great example Gamerchick, definitely sounds like you have had some really great roleplaying games (you always seem to have an appropriate anecdote :) ).

And differentcomputers, I certainly am not surprised that Chaosium have dealt with this before, I certainly like a lot of their products (currently desperately trying to get a Stormbringer 5th ed game going.) and they've come up with some pretty wicked ideas. (Equally the idea of having each game session set as a predetermined amount of time appeals,gives the player an idea of how much they need to achieve and lets the know there is a foreseeable, but distant, end.)

None the less it's interesting to hear others experiences, but I still get the feeling that I am pretty much alone when it comes to my 'detachment' from my characters. By that I mean I just view them as characters in the story, and really don't care what happens to them as long as it advances the story.

Perhaps that's a bit of a clinical outlook, but I find it allows me to do more interesting things (like in a very strange game of Vampire have my Tzimisce character turn into the major antagonist, meaning I had to hand him over to the ST and start a new one.) and expand the scope of my characters.

Or perhaps all this just points to the fact that ultimately I would just make a better GM than player?

Yes, I agree. If you enjoy planning a character's death, be a GM.

Excellent post Caliban and very interesting comments by every one.

a) On character Death

Death is a strange thing, both in real life (whatever that is) and in our imagination. In some games it is an integral part of the experience (Vampire and Wraith for example). Some games like GURPS have some players living on borrowed time either because they have a terminaly fatal and incurable condition, have a cortex bomb with a set timer or are programmed to die like replicants from Blade Runner.

Anyway, death happens for many reasons and is, all too often, meaningless unless one takes the time to give it meaning. Roleplayers have the added advantage of not being grief stricken when one of their alter egos or friends alter egos dies. This gives us a cooler head to find a meaning to their death and make up a nice little story to tell around the "hopeless combat" or "the day the gods were against (insert hero's name)".

My characters die all the time, I'm incredibly unlucky at times, but also I usually put my characters in "high risk" situations (I like playing the hero). My first character's death was at the hand of another PC near the end of Temple of Elemental Evil, the greedy bastard turned on us and I was the first one in the way… got sliced and diced faster than carrots in a blender.

Recently (just before the hollidays) our two newbee players experienced "party death" in "Madness in Freeport". The deaths were partly the result of noble sacrifices, bad strategy and bad luck. But mostly because our characters did something only heroes do, they tried to save the world and died doing it. (See open gaming forum #1 around the tenth comment for more details)

Last week, the two elven cousins died in our Realms campaign. They died stupidly trying to save some villagers from rampaging monsters. Good die rolls for the monsters, not so good ones for us and me and my friend's character bit the bullet. After the party found out that nobody could raise us back to life, the elven priestess buried my character according to the elven rites and the human ranger buried the other elf according to the rites of Mileki, hey they even left some magical items in our graves (and they're level 5 so any item is a good one at that level).

But do our characters' deaths have meaning? They'll have what meaning we give them.

Did the deaths of WTC Ventrues and innocents have meaning? Did the hollocaust have meaning? The French Revolution? The American Civil War? History will decide. In our characters' case, the rest of the campaign will decide. If the party's actions are affected by their friends' death, then they will have meaning. Bad die rolls, noble sacrifice or not, planned or not death come to us all. Has any character died of old age?

b) on what happens next

Most RPG's deal poorly with what happens next, they usually allow you to reload the game with a lesser character (raise dead, etc) Shouldn't characters brought back from the dead experience something more than level loss? I mean, shouldn't the person that died in a fireball now be affraid of fire? Shouldn't the person that died at the hands of an ogre hate/fear them?

Either you come back as your old character or you have to come back with another character which is usually trusted and accepted by other party members for the sole reason that he/she is YOUR NEW CHARACTER. It's all too easy for a DM to slip an ennemy into the party this way. In too many parties, nobody checks the new character's background, detects his/her alignment or even tries to know if they can trust the newbee, the players will usually say "So what's your new character like?" and take the answer at face value. This attitude allowed me (twice) to play a megalomaniac or evil characters without the players noticing untill a few weeks had passed.

How does your group deal with that? I'm sure my gaming group will trust my Halfling sorcerer all too easily next saturday when he pops up in an inn and offers his help and it wont be because of my high charisma or good diplomacy skills. But because he'll be "Sam's new character", not because he's an aspiring Harper mage... so sad yet the source of so much potential for mayhem :-)

Cthulhu Matata

Sorry for such a long comment I got carried away I guess.

I think there's a nice combination of points here.

Caliban, I think a lot has to do with the way we look at things, and I say we because I do the same thing. I mean, I have put the finishing touches on the character and said: "gee, this guy is so set to pull the Vader" or the like. I don't always see it, but when it's clear, it's clear.

The problems come in getting the right sort of gaming context. Frankly the last time I had a character like that, they ended up in a series where the death just wouldn't have made as much sense as I could see it. You gotta have more than a pliable Referee, but one who your ideas are in the same direction as. But when it works? Oh yeah, is it cool.

But Sam and Mr. Plopper hit at the important alternate view to it all. What does death really mean, anyway? Death in the real world doesn't make sense. It can make sense in the gaming world if you are playing the right sort of game.

And this isn't an easy split to make. Some games, and I mean individual games, not systems, accomidate actions that involve a plot-structured feel. In these random death is anathama. But there's the other side of things, a game where death doesn't make sense, and there is no narrative flow to subscribe to. It's romantic vs. post-modern gaming.

I think the problem is, or at least why character death seems so wacky, is that the typical solution is rather stitched together. As opposed to having that narrative structure and avoiding death because it will screw up the order of things, the answer taken is to make death not as real an obsticle as it is in real life. This works, but it also makes it so a "real" character death in a game lacks teeth.

Or am I not making sense?

Sam cores big in the contrast.

The last two comments have given me a lot to ponder over... But I'll make a quick start.

J.S, you are totally right about finishing a character design and seeing how they are going to go, and I think that's an important thing to bring up. In case anyone was wondering, this isn't a chicken and egg thing, the character definitely comes FIRST. I don't sit around thinking about how to make a character who will die as a hero or martyr or turncoat, and I doubt anyone else does either. It always is the last thing that occurs to me in the character design process.

As it is the last thing, it is also quite changeable. And I think perhaps having the path changed would indicate a REALLY good roleplay experience, because the character has obviously evolved beyond their initial design.

I mean, I figure adventuring is a really hazardous occupation in most game worlds. It's a totally slippery slope. As such, unless something remarkable happens, I'll probably end up slain, because the truth is that as an adventurer you tend to go up against impossible odds.

Now, often in a good tale, you know this is not going to happen. Heroes are going to win, evil will be thwarted etc, but at what price. But the HEROES (i.e. P.C.s) not only don't know the price, they don't know they are supposed to win. But they do have an idea of what's going to happen to them if things go wrong, they do know that thieves get hung if caught, or that if they continue drinking they could die from it, or that one day one of those Monsters might just kill them etc.

As I see roleplaying as an evolving story I guess the best outcome would be for the story to either glorify the end of my character, or heroically avoid the inevitable.
That way either the character has simply lived how they wanted to live, and died how they expected to die, or they have undergone some life changing experience which has changed their outlook, and ultimately, changed their fate.

And roleplaying a character who has their outlook changed and their fate changed because of that certainly sounds to me like a rewarding experience.

Now, can someone tell me if I am still actually on the same topic? :)

Don't worry Caliban, you're still on topic... I think.

Ultimately it belongs to the players to decide to care or not about character death (be it their own or their comrades). Death (be it PC's or NPC's) isn't played convincingly by most players. People are rarely depressed by it, usually they fall into two categories anger/vengeance/pay back or unfazed/couldn't care less.

I've seen bard players write poems, songs or tales about fallen comrades.

Some people keep character diaries where they can explore the emotions their friend's death have brought out (also a great way of keeping track of the campaign and the calendar by the way). Some people have organized great "in game" festivals to honour some of their fallen comrades.

Others try to have their friends cannonized (declared saints)
Some build statues, temples, shrines and whatnot around them.

The also GM has responsibility when it comes to what happens after someone's death. I recently laid a guilt trip on some of the players by having them come accross the children of the orcs thay had recently slain. I knew full well that the ranger's and the dwarf's players would be moved by the young orc orphans and their attempt at survival.
One of my GM once had us confronted by the widow of a city guard we had slain in our escape from an evil king's dungeons, it produced some interesting results and changes in the party.

Anyhow, death is as complex as one wants to make it, whether it is real death or fiction.

Cthulhu matata

I pretty much agree with all your points, tis far better to die a cinematic death then to have your character retire as the master of the universe. I think Hong Kong cinema is a prime example of that, where the main characters usualy do end up dieing. Two good games where character death is handled well is Pendragon and HAKK (Hong Kong Action Cinema). In Pendragon your character is expected to die, as the total scope of the game is close to half a melenium. However your character's name is carried on by his son's which you take over. Although in Pendragon the deaths aren't very cinematic, as they are more tragic and realisitc, like in Arthurian Legends. However in HAKK you are rewarded for dieing gloriously, and cinematicly. For the more heroicly, or honorably your character dies, the better off your next character will be. Because the way HAKK works is from game to game you play an actor, who in each game plays a different character. Which is quite a change from D&D, however I love how you are rewarded by being cinematic. A similar idea could be worked into D&D by having some sort of concept of reincarnation, and Karma, or whatever. Regardless, a character is much more likely to be remembered if he died by taking a bullet meant for his kid brother, then he would be if he retired as master of the universe.

karma... great idea GodofGuns, strange name by the way.

Has anyone come across a good system for determining good/bad karma as it pertains to character death?

Cthulhu matata

Not that I have run across, unless it is something as simple as bonus experience points to the player's next character in the campaign, if his last character's death was heroic.

However, I am not exactly sure of how HAKK handles it except that one character's heroic death may be more benefical to the 'actor' over all then staying alive would have been.

Once again my Game Master has done it! He has killed us all.

While we were unluky with the dice rolling and our party wasn't well ballanced, I also think that he greatly overestimated the group's capacity to deffend itself.

It was dissapointing for all of us to see our beloved characters die one by one (except for the two cowards who took off and managed to slip out of Malar's Dark Hunters' grasp). Still it would have made a great ending to a movie. When we saw the werepanthers coming at us, many of us knew we weren't all gonna make it. With my low hit points and my poor armour class (13), I knew I was sure to die.

I was actually the last to fall before the two bastards ditched us. Actually only the rogue was a friggin coward who kept hiding and shooting instead of joining the fray and fighting hand to hand. Heck he was the character with the most hit points. It bugs me that he got away alive. At least the druid made his stand untill he saw the rogue run away.

While two party members managed to get away I like the way we died and while we failed to protect the mother of the next Chosen of Mystra, we all died defying evil and that's what being a hero is all about, right?

Now that I'm the only DM of our new campaign, I plan on rewarding the three players who died like heroes as well as he who played the druid. The rogue's player (while he was still roleplaying his character) will have a tougher time in the first adventure because we had made it clear that the last game was a HEROIC CAMPAIGN. While his character was true to himself, he reminded me alot of "Mad About You" Paul Riser's character in Aliens and therefore shouldn't have gotten away with it.

Cthulhu Matata

yo what up

I tend to think it is selfish of players to deprive the group of their necessary skills by planning to die. A good player will work with the team to overcome the exterior challenge rather than attempting to manipulate the scenario to engineer his own non-participation. A group activity like this is generally not suited for such an introspective way of playing. Write a book instead.

I don’t fudge rolls anymore to save characters from dying. Characters have died in my group, and not just for being stupid, and not only in the final confrontations with ‘bosses’. The risk of character death is integral to the tension in the scenario – players need to feel that they are playing with live ammo, or they get bored. I’ve seen it happen, where one DM got into a vicious circle with several bored players who wanted to quit. His roll fudging and resurrection scenarios got more and more preposterous (it was like watching “Voyager”), largely because he knew the players would not return to play once their characters died (he told me).

It turned into a downward spiral. The players said they didn’t feel like they were playing a game – they were not challenged because they could not die. They felt that they couldn’t really affect the story – that their participation was lessened – because the DM’s manipulation in their extended lives was so blatant. In fudging so much, the DM revealed to the group the true extent of his control over all aspects of the story – so much that the players quit entirely – pissing off the DM who’d foolishly tried for a year to keep them alive no matter what the consequences were.

So, I think character death is good for generating tension and drama in an RPG, providing that the system is balanced so that players and DM feel confident that the scenario was fair. Properly set up, played and adjudicated, there should never be a total party death (though I wouldn’t completely rule it out). DMs tend to fudge when they lose confidence in the fairness of the system – because in such a case the decision to let a character die comes down to a personal decision rather than the cruel gods of chance and strategy.

Also, we found that character death was much less problematic if character generation was easy and quick, with a minor experience penalty (say starting the replacement character at 1 level below the party average). We also made a online cemetery for dead characters – noting place and circumstances of death, what happened to the body, favorite sayings, epitaph –as written by the other players, last words etc, along with a picture of the character. It was corny and funny, but also kind of nice – and especially fun for the players whose characters died heroically.

Noble sacrifices – willing character deaths – can be great to play – but they should be done because they have to be done – because there is no other choice. The point of these cases is desperation – it loses impact if people actually seek them out.

Can I be self-indulgent for a moment and relay my fave character death? In the last time I played 2nd Edition, our DM seriously misjudged the difficulty of an encounter and set our high level party up with no retreat vs a lich-god and several demons. We’d exhausted nearly all of our magic and resources, and two out of 6 party members were dead within 4 rounds of combat from fighting the lich-god’s thugs. The DM started to look desperate – realizing his mistake. To buy time in the losing battle, I temporarily encased the boss in a nigh impervious Otiluke’s Resiliant Sphere while we fought the rest of the baddies. Just as the sphere was about to wear off so the virtually untouched villian could mop up the heavily wounded survivors, I “Dimension Doored” through the impervious Sphere (legit in 2nd E) so that I was directly behind the lich within it. I evaded all of his attacks and then detonated my last 2nd edition Fireball ever (you know, from the days when you needed to count out a massive spherical volume?) directly on myself in the tiny impervious sphere, instantly immolating the boss and myself.

It was a cool gaming moment, and when the DM asked if I wanted to revive the character somehow, I declined, saying that it would spoil the sacrifice. I think I’d had enough of that particular DM anyway, so I declined to rejoin the game.

actually-I'm looking for some chalenging rpgs-not text based though-I find it's kind of dificult to handle text based.