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Dying is, in most cases, a rather unpleasant thing. People hate to say goodbye, and knowing that you will not see your loved ones until they depart to the Elysian Fields themselves is anything but comforting. Death equals the ultimate departure, and most of us don’t like that idea.

Characters in role-playing games die too, but even though they’re purely fictional personalities, players will grow attached to them and hate to see them go. Situations like that are even crueler when the physical end of the character was caused by some trivial reason, like a really bad roll. Legend speaks of groups who broke up because of a terrible lame death!

To not let this happen to your group, there are two major things you can do: have clear “table guidelines” considering character death and utilize the rule system in order to prevent unnecessary deaths.

House rules about character death are an essential part of the plan to minimize permanent removal of a character. At my table, there is one thing that will NEVER lead to a character having to make the ultimate sacrifice: plain bad luck. No matter how messed-up a player’s rolls during the session are, this will NEVER lead to permanent death of his character. Mind you, it WILL lead to a very beaten-up, crying and in some games even deranged character…but he’s still alive! On the other hand, stupid deeds of the character, and by that extend of the player, are punished all that harder. I don’t mind killing off a character when I warned his player a dozen times that it might be a bad idea to rush into a ravenous horde of barbaric Orcs on his own.

Another legal reason for a character’s death is when his player wants it to happen. Up until now, this happened a single time in my games, namely in my earlier referenced Exalted chronicle. The character returned later as an undead antagonist who had some internal issues when being sent out to kill the player characters. This was all worked out in co-operation with said player, and the whole group enjoyed it. So don’t be scared to finish off a character when your players ask you to!

From a rules-wise perspective, many games provide mechanics to prevent death. Way back in the days, it was far too easy to die in a simple encounter against some dire rats. Today, mechanics like saving throws, immunities or karma-like points grant player characters a longer life span. Two quite contemporary games have a very creative take on how to deal with the Grim Reaper.

First of all, the Fourth Edition of Dungeons & Dragons gives characters in the higher echelons of the level cap certain “oh snap!” powers. Most Epic Destinies have a “Once a day, when you day…” feature, and give the character in question some way to return to life, in one form or the other. This can easily be adapted to other games where it would be fitting if player characters could arcane or divine ways to make the best out of dying.

The second title worth mentioning is Geist: the Sin-Eaters. As player characters in this game cheated death already once by striking a deal with a powerful ghost-spirit-hybrid, it doesn’t seem weird when seeing that they can cheat again, and again, and again. Should the Geist decide that the player character is still worth his time, he can bring him back to life once more, with some drawbacks. One of them is that the Geist still has to keep some balance, and instead of your character someone else has to die. Well, it’s not an easy life when you know that you are responsible for the death of the mother of four babies, right?

To sum it up, reducing the amount of TPKs or similar situations at your table is partially fluff, and partially crunch. Make sure your players are aware what will invite the Grim Reaper to your gaming table, and what will keep him away. Also, don’t be a jackass when you don’t have to. But, I guess, that is a quite general advice for your whole life…