Thursday, February 14, 2013

Handling Death - Player Perspective

This entire week so far has been focused on death at the table. On Monday and Tuesday we talked about death in a general manner. Yesterday we talked about it from the GM's perspective. Today? Today we're going to talk about how to handle death as a player. As such, well, brace yourself. Some of this is going to be tough love.

GM's Don't Kill Players
Ok, that's a lie. Some GM's kill players. Usually those GMs are bad GMs. For the most part though, the GM doesn't kill your character. Sure, we set the situation, we roll the opposition, and we make the rulings to follow through with the game but that isn't us killing your character. So, I'm going to say it one more time: Your GM does not kill you. An NPC might, but that isn't your GM.

To deal with that problem GM though, there is a simple solution to it. Quit the game. Trust me, if your GM is the type that they'll set up a situation specifically to kill a player character they don't like or to force people onto their plot, you want out of the game. It just isn't worth it. That said, try to see the difference between a GM setting up that situation, and a GM who merely ends up with that situation in their game. Yes, there is a difference and it is important.

Gun Safety
I've mentioned this on GM focused posts before, but it also applies to players. Gun Safety is a big part of playing RPGs whether you know it or not. The rule with gun safety is simply: do not point your gun at something you do not want destroyed. How does this apply to you as a player? Well - again - quite simply, if you do not want, or can not handle, your character dying then do not put them into a situation where they can die.

This means trying to avoid fights by the way. Fights, and combat, are probably the biggest cause of PC deaths in gaming and that's really a no brainer. Combat is the one area of most systems where the game specifically runs with the intention of the GM being a referee more than an arbiter. Die rolls are set, results are tallied, and there are hard rules that determine if a character is hit and how much damage they can take. With the dice running the show, is it really any surprise that sometimes luck goes bad and someone dies?

Not really. Sadly, the only way to avoid those deaths from happening is to avoid the situations where the character can die. That may mean making more social characters. That may mean taking preventative actions. It can mean a lot of things, but the burden for it is on you.

Chosen Deaths
Believe it or not you as the player have a lot of say over when and where your character will die. You have options available to you that you may not consider. If a fight is going badly, you can choose to withdraw or surrender. Want to throw your GM for a loop? If a fight starts going bad, and it's not against some sort of monster but against a sentient foe, surrender and see what happens. If it is against a monster, try to flee. Save your character's life. Sometimes discretion is the greater part of valor. Best of all? It can lead to some really awesome Role Play while also letting your GM not have to feel guilty that a bad roll just wiped half the party.

Actions Have Consequences
Beyond recongizing the choices you have, please also recognize that actions have consequences. a GM I used to know had as a forum signature "when you choose an action you choose the consequences of that action." I talk a lot on here about how GMs need to have consequences to make actions feel weighty. Sometimes those consequences are bad. Sometimes they are good. But when they're bad, they can hit hard.

I Just Died, Now What?
Enough of being a jerk. Your character just died and that sucks. Maybe you went out a hero and saved the party. Maybe a goblin with a rock got a triple critical and killed you. Either way dying can suck. I've been playing for 20 years and, both as a GM and a player, I can only recall maybe three or four characters who have died in a way that had me (or me and  the player when I was the GM) truly happy with how things played out.

So, what do you do?

First off, try to get some distance from the game. If session is still going, take a small breather and get yourself centered. Next, assess your options. Your GM should be good for this. Karma rules for building a new PC, taking over an NPC, coming in as someone completely new. All are possible depending on your game. There is also the possibility - in some games - that the party may be able to rez you. If that is the case, ask about it. If it isn't something that could instantly happen (maybe the cleric is a few days away) then maybe you can play a filler character. Whatever the thing, the point is to know your options.

Second, try not to make any decisions quickly. Losing a character sucks. Don't rush in to the next character while still feeling that. You might be tempted to make a very similar character to your previous one. It makes sense, after all you were having fun. However, that can also lead to frustration if the new character doesn't work as well. You may also be tempted to try the opposite. You played a fighter, now maybe a mage? This can also cause problems if a few sessions in you realize you prefer the fighter play style but are now locked into a mage.

Third, make your new character. The first order of business in making your new character is to put the old one behind you. Their time, their story - at least in this game - is over. Don't let them cloud the next character. Your new PC has the chance to bring a lot of good to the game, but that can only happen if you give them the attention they deserve. Find an aspect that you like and really bring it forth. Let it shine. It will show to the group.

Now, depending on your group and your game the third step can be easier or harder. The impact the lost character had will be felt. Simply put though (I say that way too much here) is that death is something that happens. Play RPGs long enough and you will lose a character. When it happens it may feel like a gut hit, but the feeling will pass. Enjoy the last character for what they were. Make the new character for what they can be.

Above all, try to have fun in the game. Stay in communication with your GM and try to get back into things. A new character, especially late in a campaign, can make a game feel less fun or involving just because it is so different. Talk to your GM about that. You may just need a helping hand to get back into the game and find the swing of the new character.


  1. If your GM is killing players, leaving them is only the first part of the response. Calling 911 and getting the police there is the second.

  2. I love you for catching me on these. I really do. :D Mostly as I read it as I intended it then laugh at your response. :D

    Also, my apologies to anyone who this does actually bother.