Every player’s fear and a GMs’ nightmare – the death of a player character. Nothing can halt game play like a (unplanned – see below) death. Was it a bad roll? Did the player just make a mistake? Was it intentional? Was it GM error? Regardless of the why, the effects of how it can affect your game can be fairly profound. For some GMs this can bring their session to a screeching halt – for others it is only a minor speed bump. I’m going to detail a couple of ways to bring the former to the latter and offer up some advice on a few other related topics in this two-part installment of Gamemaster’s Guidepost.
He’s Dead, Jim.
Damn. One of your players just lost a character – now what? The obvious answer is “Have him make a new one,” but sometimes you just don’t have the time or you don’t want to stop the game or whatever. The easiest solution I’ve found is for a PC to temporarily gain control of a NPC or another PCs ally (though check with both players to make sure that’s okay). You can also use a character template to dash up a (temporary) character – though this too may take time. Finally, sometimes…sometimes you just need to sit out the rest of the session. If you’ve got a good player he’s going to perfectly understand that through no fault of his own (or anyone elses) that he’s going to need to wait till next game. It happens at ;east one time during every player and GM’s career.
Bad Rolls = Bad GM?
Sometimes the GM has a chance to prevent a player character death from occurring by modifying game play in a manner that will favor the players. I personally am not a fan of this dues ex machina – in fact, I’m kind of harsh as a GM. I roll my die rolls in the open, and those die rolls do whatever they’re meant to do. I had a GM who (rarely if ever) made rolls and when he did they were never in the open. This led to events like the unkillable lich in AD&D. I hit it with my only magical weapons (two +5 arrows) in the head with two natural 20s. I still failed to even so much as damage said lich. From then on I decided that whenever I ran a game I would roll my dice in the open and stick by whatever they said. Of course, this may not work for all GMs and there are cases when you must roll in secret (in my case – I only do this with “unknown” player character rolls). Just because you rolled badly (or the GM rolled really well) doesn’t mean you have a bad GM. One of my players from years ago adopted a common phrase to a more gaming bent, that is, “Dice happens.” I think you can figure out where that came from. In short, don’t blame your GM if your character dies. Conversely, GMs, don’t be harsh on your players. If it makes sense, even if you don’t normally allow players to have it, allow a player to purchase Extra Life for a beloved character. They’re going to pay for it with earned character points or be indebted for said character points and it shows that you’re a GM that wants to get on a with a story, not just a game
Death is the Whole Point
Sometimes, death is the whole point. Take for instance +Peter V. Dell’Orto‘s Felltower campaign. The whole point (other than hacking and slashing and having fun) is to survive. If you die…you get to make another character. Thems the breaks. Conversely, some campaigns feature lots of ways to come back from the dead and resurrection is a commonly accepted thing. Again, death is kind of the point…well, not staying dead is kind of the point, but you get the idea.
The Player with Homicidal Urges for his Character
This is a rare case I’ve only seen twice before (that’s out of nearly three hundred players, so about 0.0067%), but it was enough to severely screw with my campaign. We’ve all heard about it, and if you’re unlucky enough to have actually experienced it – you have my sympathies. Some players get some sort of weird rush out of killing their own characters off. Maybe they have lots of ideas for characters and want to try them all out or maybe it’s something more banally sinister. Whatever the reason, there are players who like to kill off their own characters – or worse, kill off their characters in such a way that it ruins the game or kills other player characters. This can be the goal of some games (Paranoia, Toon, etc.) and in such games…well meta-suicidal tendencies is more than acceptable. If you’ve got a player like this and you’re not running such a game I recommend you talk to them about it and how their behavior isn’t acceptable, or if they continue, eject them as soon as you can. Trust me, it can ruin everything. I’ve been done that round with someone whom I thought was a good friend and all it did was make my other players utterly miserable.
That’s all for now, stay tuned for Part II!