Reverb Gamers: Character Death

Question #20: What was the most memorable character death you've ever experienced? What makes it stick with you?

This, I think, is where the D&D rules and I parted ways. Character death - player character death, at least - is not usually interesting. There are two ways it happens: either the player is tired of the character, and opts to have them leave the campaign by dying, or the dice come out badly, and the character runs out of hit points. In the first case, all the interest is moving toward the new character that player will have, and in the second, well... there just ISN'T any interest.

The principal difference between a tactical game (wargames, ccgs, whatever) and a role-playing game is that of story, and an abrupt end of "and then she was hit really hard by the bad guy's second subsidiary minion's sister in law, and died" is... not a good story. "She almost died, and here's what happened next..." is far, far better.

This ties back to the notion, which comes up again and again, even in such tactical games as 4th Ed D&D, of making failure interesting. And certainly, there has to be a risk, or the whole structure of the game, whatever the characters are striving for, becomes meaningless. And if a player insists on having their character do something absolutely stupid, then death is on the cards. My players, however, tend to be a lot smarter than average, so this doesn't arise.

"Failure should be interesting" is one of the things that, in my mind, distinguishes modern games from the old-school kind. The old-school games go: You don't find the secret door in the first level of the dungeon? Tough, the other nine levels remain inaccessible. You rolled six ones in a row, and now your 21st level character is dead? Tough, roll a new one. You can see how that's not interesting. Even "this door is locked" can be a show-stopper if the party's only rogue fails the "pick locks" roll, and the party are left standing outside a locked door. The failure has to do something; events have to have another fork to follow.

So, I don't have memorable character deaths because I'm not interested in them. One of the major, major advantages of the Fate system, for me, is the "taken out" result at the end of combat. Sure, that can be "dead". But it can also be kidnapped, injured, missing... all of those are far more interesting, and lead to more story.

Posted by Drew Shiel at February 6, 2012 11:42 AM

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