I have a bad habit. Real bad. I’ve had it since I started playing RPGs and I probably won’t break of it any time soon.
Don’t tell my players.
My secret is I don’t kill PCs if I can help it.
Maybe it’s because I had a beloved character of my own that died to bad dice rolls, or maybe I hate waiting for them to roll up a new character, but I really try to not kill my players. I use to fudge dice, but then I started rolling openly. I use to lie about how hard a PC actually got hit, but my players started realizing that the damage would be really swingy or unnaturally low for some reason. Most of the time now I try to knock them out before they are dead, or do something horrific to them to get them to retreat (loss of limb being my favorite). One time a player asked me about this. I simply replied, “If I kill you, your suffering ends,” then walked away while doing an evil chuckle. What I said was partially true. If their character dies they can’t make a come back and I can’t keep doing more horrible things to them, but the reality is I honestly don’t want them to lose.
Recently I started working with my players more before we start a new game to make sure we are on the same page. We talk about if players will be fighting other players and is it better to do what’s smart or what your character would do. Finally we talk about when it is ok for a PC to die. Sometimes it’s “As the dice fall” or “Only on a boss fight” or “Only when a player is OK with it”, but whatever way I do end up using the players are in on it.
Back when I was first being introduced to rpgs our GM ran everything by the book…more or less. If you got an unlucky die roll and a dragon crit you for 400% of your max HP well that’s just too bad. We lost a few characters to bad luck. Sometimes it would be a simple “Oh well, now I get to try a bard instead of a fighter” but other times there was wailing and gnashing of teeth. I got some real mixed messages. Granted it was more about the individual player’s maturity level at that point, but at the time I didn’t know that. I just figured that it was better to not kill off a PC to avoid something like that. Another reason I’ve put it off was due to an incident where a brand new player joined our game, got royal screwed over by the dice, and died horribly. We’re talking first room of the dungeon death. The player felt that they must be a really bad player and it took us forever to get them to come back. That was another thing I wanted to avoid.
So now here I sit with the appearance of being threatening, but I only maim, never kill. So how do I dig myself out of this hole. Well I have a few options. I could
- Just off a PC, feelings be damned
- Never kill another PC again, and let the players be basically immortal
- Talk to my players
It’s pretty obvious I need to talk to my players about this. I know I need to reassure them that character death does not mean you lost the game, and I think that’s where most of my insecurities stem from. I don’t want them to lose, but a PC death can instead move the game in a new and exciting direction. Take Boromir from Lord of the Rings. If he would have survived then maybe the two hobbits wouldn’t had been kidnapped. Maybe Boromir would have insisted on following Frodo and Sam. If Boromir had been still severely injured then maybe Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas would have been even further behind as they wait for Boromir to heal. Any of these alternatives would have made an interesting story as well, but with Boromir’s death we got redemption of a character, other characters are now trying harder in Boromir’s memory, and some very interesting plot hooks come into play when Boromir’s family is brought into the picture. The game wasn’t lost when Boromir died. Instead the story moved on into a new and exciting direction and this is something that should be embraced when a PC falls.
Thanks for reading and if you have any good stories about a PC that fell in an epic way let us know. I’d love to read about it.