Friday, October 14, 2011

DM Advice - The Death of a PC

Jangle the thief looked up at the Icon of Certain Death and paused as he steadied himself for what he must do next. Already the fair-haired elven maid was losing herself to the evil artifact. If Jangle could just reach the damned thing he might just be able to save the lives of the captives – and those of his friends.

Sadly his glance wandered to the cages where his friends hung suspended over the Pit of Neverending Doom – his gruff companion Klunk the Dwarf Barbarian from the Frozen Northlands , Eveready the wizened old cleric of the great deity of the plains peoples Goody-Little-Two-Shoes, the Halfling Illusionist waif and pragmatic thinker Glum and finally the Paladin of Cheesy-Goodness Fairlight.

He watched as their cage swung over the pit and waited as The Evil Overlord continued his unending diatribe of how great he was because he captured the heroes of neverdale and how sucky they were because they allowed themselves to be captured. All except one, Jangle thought, all except one.

Quickly jumping down thinking only of his friends and the captives Jangle swung from one of the chains overhanging the Pit of Neverending Doom and smashed into the magical glass casing around the Icon of Certain Death lifting it higher into the air much to the chagrin of The Evil Overlord who ordered his minions to attack the thief. They came like a tide of minion death searching for the interloper.

It was too late. The damage had been done as the artifact slammed into the ceiling of the Lair of Dark Darkness, the evil light coming from the broken artifact slammed into the bodies of The Evil Overlord, and his minions for the magic would not be so trapped by mortals such as those as the Icon stole its last lives.
Jangle’s body crashed into the floor below. At the verge of death, the hero looked up at his companions and gave a beautiful speech.

“I have always loved you elven maid.” he said and added “You are true friends.” before his final gasp “Did we get him?”  His friends nodded and said “You saved the captives and you saved us.” Jangle’s eyes twinkled as he looked up at his friends with tear-streaked faces and he said his last “I guess there really is honor among thieves.” and he breathed his last.
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The above story is one that sadly some adventurers know all too well. It is the story of heroic courage and beating the odds regardless of the risk of personal danger or the degree of success involved. Should a DM allow a player’s character to die? I say yes.

Yes? Really? In a word. Yes.

Now those of you who know me will know that I do not like ‘arbitrarily killing player characters’ – normally – but there is a time and a place for the death of a pc and sometimes it can become a very heroic and inspired event in which the party grows closer together as characters and as friends. You see this trope played out in movies too.  One of the good guys will mess up the plans of the bad guys by saving his friends but in order to do so the good guy must sacrifice himself.

I know some of you are probably thinking ‘well in dnd I can just get my character resurrected’. Yes while that may be true you may not believe the number of players I have had in my games over the years that have actually chose to have their characters die a good death instead of being resurrected.

This is where some truly remarkable stories can come from. So how do you do this as a DM without pissing off your players? In a word – carefully.

You want to be very careful that your players understand that whatever is through door number two might be more than they can handle. Then let them make the decision. If they charge head long into the fray you might have an epic night on your hands. If they decide to be sissies and cower behind the door waiting for reinforcements you still might have an epic night but may have to get some popcorn for the wait.

The key to any player death is tact. It is your job as the DM/GM/Storyteller/Judge/(Dealer –yuck)/Keeper (heck yeah!)/Bartender/Johnson/SpyMaster etc to keep the story moving and to keep your players challenged. Let’s face it, no one likes to always be able to walk over all the baddies all the time with no chance of failure.

Not only does that fly against the face of realism in that everyone in the world would be an adventurer because there’d be no risks involved it also gets boring really quickly. You don’t believe me? Try it. Put them against whatever your DM Books says is a fair fight. They will get over it every time and usually without much in the way of scars or anything to remember.

Now if you toss them into a graveyard filled with ghouls and ghasts and a vampire tossing fireballs you’ll get emails. Be prepared for the possibility that someone might not make it out however and be prepared to deal with the questions that will inevitably follow. Bottom line? Keep it interesting. Try not to always let them walk all over the monsters, give them a hard one every now and then and see what happens to your campaign. In the end allow characters to die if they decide to toss themselves into the fray but be prepared to help them play up the scene so it’s something memorable and fun for everyone – even the dead guy.

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