Just Die Already! (A Character Death Rant)

I don’t often take a hard-line stance on things on this blog. I try to be a pretty calm head and I usually regret it when I do give in to the urge to rant… but this is really bugging me, a lot.

Character Death.

Deal. With. It.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why character death is such a big deal. I’m a Role-player far more than a roll-player. I love to get into a character, I love to build relationships, have depth in my gaming, and you know what? I don’t care one bit if a character dies – and I’ve often gone into the jaws of death with characters with eyes wide open.

If you don’t want characters to die, play “Papers and Paychecks” and pray you don’t get hit by a bus crossing those busy urban streets!

I know I sound like a jerk, but seriously? I’ve listened to the objections – you know, that it’s such a burden to lose a character, that it takes away the fun because a player is “sitting out” for a few minutes…Really? Are we all attention-starved five-year olds? I prefer to play with adults – they’re not whining about having to go get another Mt. Dew and roll up their next character, they’re doing it.

A GM who is going out of their way to kill characters and playing really adversarial isn’t what I’m looking for here – that’s just as bad – but if your character dies during an adventure? Well, adventuring is a highly dangerous occupation… and perfectly balanced encounters all the time are boring… plain and simple. You want to talk about metagaming? Does your fourth level warlock always know that their facing a custom-tailored encounter whenever they go into battle? Probably not. He should be worried that all those fine gentlemen with the fiery blades are about to skewer him and prepared for that possibility.

I hear everyone talking about how death shouldn’t be the only threat. Of course it shouldn’t. If the GM wants to kill the PCs it’s not hard, you can always be unfair, you can always kill a character if your that kinda guy… but death should be a threat that the PCs have to take seriously.

I hear everyone talking about how death should be seen as an opportunity – you know, afterlife adventures and stuff… or pick a path to resurrection – ew. If death is just a speed bump then you might as well go read comics, or play a videogame… Here’s a great opportunity the next time a character dies – make a new character, start a new story, be awesome.

How often do you hear a player reminisce about old games and really get excited about that one time you rolled a 19? Not often, but you always hear stories about the super-close fights, or the time that Miranda died while facing down a god, or that time that tiny little goblin wiped the floor with the paladin? And speaking of rolls, if you think dying in a random battle that wasn’t super-heroic is so awful, then don’t play a game where a goblin can crit and kill you… I mean, that’s the point, right?

I know that I have no right whatsoever to tell you how to play your game – and I hope you’ll forgive me the occasional rant. I know that this is my opinion, but I’m all about running a game that includes the threat of death, I don’t think that having to sit out a few minutes when a character dies “kills the fun,” I certainly don’t want to lose that threat when I’m a player, and I certainly see death as an opportunity – to try out new ideas, and new options!

Thanks for reading and feel free to tell me about your favorite character death.

PS – I feel better now, no more ranting (for a while).

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7 responses

  1. I generally find death – boring. The character dies, the story ends for them, but not for the survivors, admittedly, and that’s it. Player creates a new character, game continues on.

    Which is why most of my games stopped being about combat and started being about making choices, usually between horrible and possible worse, and occasionally between this good thing and this other good thing.

    I’m not afraid to kill a character, it just doesn’t matter to me, which is why I keep trying to find a system that does mechanically stuff beyond killing really well.

  2. I get what you’re saying, but I guess I disagree with the “boring” part. Yes, a new character is made, and the game goes on, but that new character should be seen as an opportunity to open up new stories, shake up the status quo, or reinforce the important things that have already been established in a game (if you prefer) instead of just being another piece of paper full of stats…

    I think the problem isn’t with character death, it’s with the impact that it has on the rest of the group. If the party is like, “oh, the rogue died, well, better roll up a new striker” then death really is meaningless. If, on the other hand, that death has an effect on the survivors, that’s a whole different ball-game.

    If a PC dies, that doesn’t have to be boring, it should be a part of the story, like everything else.

  3. Totally Agree! I think some of the most memorable character moments I have had were the closest to, or even beyond, the brink of death.

  4. My favorite system is first edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. I find that AD&D has just the right amount of lethality in combat. Two sessions ago, my players fought through an entire moathouse before a final confrontation against an overwhelming force of brigands, during which one character died.

    This character took on six brigands alone, bringing four of them down single-handedly (or two-handedly, with regards to his sword). He died the death of a hero. Everyone said it was the best session in a long time, including the player whose character died. He took the 10 or 15 minutes and rolled up a new one for the next session.

    It’s important that the game is always challenging. If you are ever running a game where your players are not worried about dying, you’re not running the game properly.

  5. By the way, I love the old-school illustration there. I own the book it’s found in. 😉

  6. a lot of the guys I DM these days don’t care if they die or not as it allows them to roll something new up or try another build or a class they haven’t played before. they seem to get restless playing a character for long periods of time and even ask me if I can kill their character off.

  7. @David and MADM

    Well, I certainly wouldn’t consider myself a “killer GM” but I certainly appreciate a good character death.

    And it’s interesting… I have mixed feelings about players asking me to kill off their characters so they can try something new… I worry about the gamer ADD… But, hey, you said playing a character for a long time, so, to each their own.

    PS — yeah, that comic was one of my favorite old school laugh-ins.

    Thanks for the comments!

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