Sunday, July 10, 2011

Coping with (Player Character) Loss

Another post made a day after the events of my game that trigger it. (Two if I don't get this done before midnight~) Conflict is a very common thing in games, for similar reasons to video games, it works well for resolving things and entirely non-combatant games are hard. (Not impossible by any means, just hard.) With conflict comes the ever present possibility of death taking any player character, and that is the topic of this small rant.

I don't want to get on the topic of how frequently PCs should die or how justified or unfair PC deaths can be, those are each their own topics I could probably write novels on if I tried.Rather this is about how PCs and games approach the subject of their characters losses in the first place.

No actual PC died during the game, but before it I made an offhand comment about how I'm the only manly man (A lie, I'm not even a fraction as masculine as the typical Japanese RPG antagonist.) that doesn't care if bad things happen to my characters in the group, and that got to at least one of the others a bit.

Things were sorted out, I don't think there was truly any problem in the first place, but it always gets me to thinking about the state of RPGs these days.

I say these days because it implies I have experience at this wizened age of 24. I'm really more of an old soul, and find myself loving every story I hear about the mercilessness of say, second edition D&D from my old gaming friends who are at least in their mid thirties now. Players hate to have their characters die.

It's understandable, this is a massive loss. It's not like the death of Aeris in Final Fantasy Seven (spoilers) wherein you lose a character in the party. It's the termination of possibly months of characterization, their specific set up of stats and effort put into a character. That can be difficult, especially if you have trouble just making those original characters in the first place. Personally, I like to see it as merely a challenge to do even better the next time.

Games as I see these days try so heavily to avoid this. Sometimes this makes sense, Eclipse Phase is a post transhumanism game and the brain is data thats backed up regularly. Death just results in them uploading the last saved copy in a new body, but there are times where it doesn't. Dungeons and Dragon's 4th Edition's end game classes tend to universially grant abilities that let you cheat death somehow, including one that lets you litterally walk back from the afterlife. That one really annoys me as that's something that is meant to be possible in D&D, but its rare, difficult, so much so that a person trying to get back onto the prime material plane after their death can be an entire campaign worthy adventure in itself.

Hell, I litterally did run once attempt to run a campaign based on it. It was set in the Abyss, most players were demons, but one wanted to be mortal, so we decided he died, went to hell and his motivation was wheeling and dealing his way back out and seeking revenge on what killed him.

Even Dark Heresy, much as I love it, and an ultraviolent game that it is, has this. In it, a character can sacrifice something to allow their characters survive a scene that would result in their death, the players are eternally aware of how many of these they have and how many they can spend before running out and likely suddenly coming to a stop on taking risks when they do run out.

Death in games should of course have ways around it, assuming they attempt to distance themselves from realism, but I can never find myself breaking out of the mindset that it should be rare, hard or expensive. Something that actively drains character resources, or provokes adventure in itself, and I wish I saw this in more games.

Then again, maybe I'm just merciless as a GM on the matter and broken by too many of my own characters dying under archaic systems. If that's the case, I still think thick skin is better then coddling, but I'll manage, and continue to forewarn my players of my views when they join my games. That isn't too difficult.

If you ever get into a game though, it's a wise idea to at least give some thought to the what if and try and ask yourself "what other character could I play in this game instead?" should they die, and encourage others at the table to do the same. Even in passing, it may save a lot of trouble.


  1. I can imagine it sucks losing a character you've spent so much time and effort on. One reason I do not want to play Diablo II on hardcore mode.

  2. It's a funny thing, character death. And I probably haven't played enough combat-heavy games to really get a handle on it either way.

    I know I tend to bitch and whine when losing and in a bad situation (really must work on that, as often, I'm actually enjoying myself. Sitting there under pressure and wondering just what Leon should do in a hostage situation was wonderfully fun, suffering as it was~). But as mentioned, I do kind of enjoy it.

    Character death sucks, but in most games, I'd probably just suck it up and reroll without much complaint. D&D? Hell, I've got a ton of concepts I've never gotten around to using, so bring on the revolving door until I hit one that works well enough to not get killed. DH, CoC or other such things? I know I'm gonna go insane or die, the fun is finding out how (and the effort is in not complaining when it happens).

    If i don't have other options prepared, it becomes more difficult. On the plus side, I've got some for Psychoka.

    ...You know, maybe our group needs to play some shit like Paranoia to remove any possible fear (or at least, respect or concern) of death from the participants.

  3. Mass Effect 2 did some interesting things with character death.

  4. SUcks...

  5. I've given my speel on it and it's mostly theme of the game. I just don't like the idea of just rolling up a character and giving it a template personality as it's going into a meat grinder every game. Though I am seemingly good with that.

  6. I've not played enough tabletop rpgs to experience it, but it probably varies from person to person as to how they deal with it

  7. I imagine it would be a horrible event to lose a character if a lot of work has gone into their personality, I don't know how I'd deal with it as I haven't had any experience with such a situation but I think that abilities to come back to life are a good thing.