Death is the New Life: Embrace character death

Some games favor, and even encourage, that characters die easily. This approach is supported by simple character creation rules, high lethality, and a focus on emerging stories (or no story at all), as opposed to systems that include the character’s story during its creation. In the original Traveller, a character could die during the character creation process.

Character death is not a flaw, it’s a good thing. Actually, it has several benefits.

Death as engagement and learning

Experiencing death firsthand will teach players that the world is dangerous and will force them to seek alternative solutions and experience character’s abilities in unusual ways.

Is a Fighter strong? Usuallt that’s the case, yet he doesn’t necessarily have to fight the ten dog-faced kobolds that stand guard on the bridge, and instead he can use his strength to bring the bridge down and kill the pulgosos (or leave them very hurt) in an instant. Has the Thief made a career of backstabbing people? Fine, but she can’t stab in the back that eldritch thing with eyes around its head, if she tried, she might end up dead in a few rounds; instead she can use gab and charisma to convince it that it shouldn’t allow to be exploited by anyone, and maybe get an ally to overthrow the king (and steal the jewels of the crown).

Death teaches us that out there someone or something wants us dead, and that if we want to survive we must be smarter.

Death as advance

When our adventurer dies a victim of a poisoned needle, two things happen: a) the items and equipment of the fallen are shared among the survivors, and b) the player creates a new character, who carries new items, and soon joins the band of ne’er-do-wells.

In this case, death functions as a form of progress, an improvement for the group without entailing any additional expense of money or acquiring experience. If a group of three looters carries three swords and three rations, once they all die and are replaced, they will still be three looters but now they will have six swords and six rations.

Death as promotion

One way to replace a dead character is promoting a hireling. This is an easy, fast and logical way to keep the player in the game without wasting time.

If players have become fond of their linkboy, letting him grow professionally can be a cause for celebration, or at least they will know that this beloved character will be with them for a longer time, with the added benefit of immediacy.

Death to try new options

Some systems not only favor, but celebrate high mortality, and also expect the characters to have a story. But a story that emerges from the game itself, with only some vague lines and ideas given by the system itself.

If the system says that the character is a Lone Monarch (Troika!), or that it has an ugly mutation (Into the Odd), you don’t need to write ten pages of story to justify those characteristics, only mentioning them when something within the game occurs that makes it relevant.

In my Troika! campaign, the group met a Slug King, which reminded the Lone Monarch of his own lost reign, and full of anger, he attacked the poor loser. This gave the character an extra background element: when he remembers his lost kingdom, he has one of two reactions: to cry, or to get violent. In Into the Odd, the character with the ugly mutation was a human-kangaroo hybrid, which allowed him to jump higher and kick hard.

This simplicity also allows great flexibility to create whatever characters you can imagine, no matter how outrageous. Do you want a robot? Nothing prevents you. An intergalactic traveler? Nothing easier A reptilian who spits poison? There is no reason why you can’t have it. A phlebotomist? But of course!

A character’s demise allows you to try something new. What could be better?

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