06 March 2013

Character Death, Where Is Thy Sting?

In most adventure role-playing games, it is important for players to understand that death is a real possibility for characters. If the GM is constantly snatching player characters from the jaws of defeat with fudged dice rolls, an important aspect of the game is being sacrificed. Essentially, it encourages less intelligent decision-making on the part of the players, which usually results in a degradation of verisimilitude at the same time that it diminishes role-playing. Actions that have cushioned consequences (or none at all) lead to irrational and unrealistic character behavior. When the possibility of character death is eliminated, another thing is eliminated, too: risk. Risk is the very heart of game-playing itself. It is also the heart of what constitutes an adventure. So, what happens when you eliminate the element of risk from an adventure game? It makes the activity rather pointless, doesn't it?

Character death is not equal in all role-playing games, however. In some games a new character can be generated in five minutes. In others the process may take hours. In either case, if a player has been using a character for many months (or years), the sudden death of that character can carry quite a sting. Without detracting from the significance of a character's demise, it is possible to make the experience less painful for the player and perhaps even make it enjoyable.

When a character expires, it should be almost as much an occasion for celebration as for mourning, like a traditional New Orleans funeral procession. The character's journey has ended, but that doesn't preclude the player from role-playing the death scene to the hilt. If the scene is role-played well enough, whether seriously or comically, the player ought to be rewarded in some manner when they generate the next character. Depending upon the game, the GM might award the new character bonus experience points, a reroll of one attribute, an extra skill, a special ability, an increased chance for psionics, or anything else that appropriately encourages good role-playing and rewards good sportsmanship. And if any particular behavior should be encouraged above all others, for the health of the hobby and the enjoyment of all, it's good sportsmanship.

[Originally posted here in Fudgerylog.]

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