Character Death

Started by Aragem, December 01, 2008, 09:05:40 PM

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Okay, my friend and I are getting players for our game. 

A certain player has came forth with a rather cool character that we rather like for the game, however, it appears that this character may be a killer.  And thought brought up a question for us.

What should we do about character death?  Or character maiming?  I'm sure no player wants to see their character get hurt or killed, but we want the story to be realistic.  Like if Character A shot Character B with a rocket launcher.  And there is NO way that B can get out of the way. . . . he ends up in the hospital with a broken leg and a scratched knee.  That isn't realistic. 

Soooo, what should we do about it?


Either work out beforehand who is okay with having their character killed off and tell the person to stay away from the other characters, or make it abundantly clear at the start that characters are subject to death and if people don't like it, they shouldn't play.


If your players aren't willing to die, as Trieste suggested finding out, then perhaps you could convince this player to settle for killing NPCs?

"More than ever, the creation of the ridiculous is almost impossible because of the competition it receives from reality."-Robert A. Baker


Yeah, I'm sure there'll be plenty of "red coats" to kill off.  I mean, this isn't a particularly shoot 'em up and kill 'em all type of game, but the portential is still there. 

I'll send a PM to all the players that accepted a role and see what they think.  Then I'll post a notice in the players wanted thread.


Good luck!

Keep in mind, it's your game. If the player's character idea causes too much conflict, then you may simply have to  ask him/her to come up with something else.

"More than ever, the creation of the ridiculous is almost impossible because of the competition it receives from reality."-Robert A. Baker


Re character death, there are three possible situations I see.

One is a system-based game where a PC encounters an NPC or monster.  Whenever I run one of those, I make clear character death is a possibility.  I'm not going to gratuitously kill a character--I won't send an ancient red dragon after a third-level fighter.  But if the dice come up a certain way, or mistakes are made on the part of a player, yes a character could die.  To remove all possibility of character death is to cheapen the victories the character wins, as well as to encourage bad role-playing.

Two is a system game where a PC attacks another PC.  I don't forbid that in my games, but neither do I encourage it.  I do forbid players creating what I call a Terminator character or an anti-PC PC (a character whose sole or primary purpose is to hunt down and kill all the other characters).  In this second instance, death can result and everyone understand that up front.

The other is a non-system game.  In such stories I run, my rule as GM is that no character can be killed, seriously injured, raped or enslaved without the consent of the character's player.

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The general way I tend to work with character death (in the system games I run)  is that it's something that can happen if the dice hate you enough, or as part of your character's story.  In general, death in my games is a form of apeothesis, not of losing.  An example would be the story of two characters in a Vampire game of mine, Mark the Crazy Bastard, and Barkikus Andronicus.

Mark the Crazy Bastard had something go wrong from the moment he became a vampire.  His mind shattered into dozens of fragments, and he began to hear the voices of those he had consumed the blood of in his head.  For 100 years, he haunted the city of Rome, making many enemies, and eventually being present when a powerful elder demon was unleashed through a hellgate.  Possessed by the demon, the crazy bastard's legs were cut off by his own companions, and he futily expended all of his supernatural power to keep on crawling.  The demon made its way to the hearth of Rome, and thanks to the timely sacrifice of a few mad vestal virgins, created a body for itself, a reborn clone of Romulus to spring from the hearth of Rome and damn humanity.  But it was not to be, not if Mark the Crazy Bastard had anything to say about it.  The critically injured vampire thrust himself into the flames of the hearth of Rome, and drank the blood and consumed the soul of Romulus reborn, ascending into the heavens on a pillar of fire. 

Out of game, of course, I made it quite clear to everyone around the table that the character's actions were suicidal, but that they would make him a big damn hero.  (I also allowed the character to bequeath his derangements upon any character in the campaign when he was dead.  His rivals become incredibly destructively maddened.)

The case of Barkikus is different.  That particular case was of a character so incredibly changed by an action in game that he became unplayable afterwards.  A Vampire character's sanity and morality is measured by the humanity stat.  To put it simply, Barkikus had been hovering at humanity 1 for several sessions, as he regularly slaughtered dozens of men, and had once drunk the blood of 522 random people around the prisons and garrison of Jerusalem.  The breaking point for Barkikus finally came when he set out to slaughter everyone in a tent, only to find that it was full of women and children.  Not wanting to control his rage, Barkikus hurled the women and children across the desert regardless, hoping merely to wound, instead of to kill.  In this particular act of cruelty, the beast within him finally reared up, and fought him within his mind.  Barkikus refused to give up the fight, and slaughtered his own beast, as the shadow within him smiled, knowing it had condemned him to eternal agony through death.  Barkikus ended the battle in his mind with humanity 10, the absolute maximum, and immunity to many of the weaknesses of a vampire.  But his killer instinct was lost.  All of the rage that had driven him was gone. 

The character retired and wandered into the desert, and was never seen again until 600 AD, where he was spotted in a cave in Saudi Arabia...

The main thing with character death is:  Make it meaningful, Make it dramatic.  Dying in the first ten minutes of the story to establish how badass the villains are is for mooks and characters who failed to renew their contracts, not major PCs.  (At least in a typical ongoing game)
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Ons and Offs


Or you could always have a char die, then that player create a new character.


A character death, if it occurs, should be something that people talk about for a long time afterward.  It should be - 'I had this one character who went galloping in to raid horses, and this ogre and a bunch of orcs showed up, and despite the fact that he'd only brought his belt knife, he rode to defend the village he was raiding, and took out - like - five of the orcs before the ogre cleaved him in half!'

Not like - 'Well, I was bringing in this new character, and told the GM that he could be leaning against the wall around the corner.  When the party turned the corner, they saw this roughly halfling-sized mass of green slime.  I had to roll up another one that session.'

Both of these incidents have actually happened in different campaigns I was in.  (Not my character in either case.)
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Quote from: Aragem on December 01, 2008, 09:05:40 PM

Soooo, what should we do about it?

This is a favorite topic of mine.  I have some thoughts pursuant to what Oniya and Trieste were saying.

You would do best to determine the overall tone of the campaign's narrative - to what degree you want to be dramatic or realistic.  Some combination of those two degrees should clarify what you want to use as a rule of thumb to direct the mortality of characters.

High drama does not, of course, mean a lack of realism.  You can run a superficially brutal campaign where all the maiming, suffering and death is presented only under optimal dramatic circumstances.  Ultimately, this may demand circumventing some results from the rules, but you would do so with a clear conscience given that you'll be doing it to produce the best story for your campaign's tone.

Low drama and low realism is, in my opinion, not worth addressing.  It does bring up the point, however, that low realism games do threaten to lose some drama if every player is assured that they and the characters they care about are invincible to any real suffering.

Low drama and high realism would be my favorite, but then, I enjoy the tone of Call of Cthulhu campaigns.  An environment where dramatic impact does not affect the likelihood of a character's demise or suffering is a source of drama in and of itself.  It emphasizes the fragility of circumstances and the characters when a majestic hero can be brought down by a stray bullet, where an experienced combatant can have their legacy irrevocably altered by a mangled limb, and where even prominent supporting cast characters can, like in real life, be suddenly gone forever.

All in all, just deciding on how those two factors will factor into the campaign's tone - and then, as Trieste suggests, making players aware of it - should be sufficient to produce social satisfaction.


One element I've used in my games is that if a character dies a death that wasn't stupid--especially if the death was, well, in-character--I'll give the player some sort of bonus to use on his next character.  In a game I ran some time ago, a paladin charged a line of hobgoblins to save a family of peasants.  The hobgoblins critted twice in a row, and the character was slain.  The player rolled up a cleric for his next character, and I gave him +2 to CON.  I called it a karma bonus.