The party rushes into a cavern. Red glowing eyes stare at them from the blackness and they stop quickly. The bard opens her mouth and begins to speak but is quickly cut off as the dragon reaches it’s long neck out and chomps down, swallowing the bard whole.
What do you do? What happens in your game?
It doesn’t have to be D&D, it could be a Sith cutting a character in a Star Wars game in half, or anything like that. I’ll just mainly be talking about it in a D&D sense.
Before you get to the point described above, as a group, you need to decide if there is going to be character death in your games. It is a part of every system, but just because it’s part of every system doesn’t mean that you have to use it. You can choose that you are going to have a more epic party or have some sort of resurrection option always available for the players. Or, you can decide that resurrections are extremely expensive in your games and that if a character dies, they are most likely going to be dead for all time. Maybe in the case of the dragon, if the rest of the party can kill the dragon or drive them off, they can steal enough from the dragon’s horde that they could get a spell done, but that would be about the only time they’d have enough money. But this is something to think about as a group or something to adjust accordingly in the game.
Now we’re at the point where the dragon has chomped down on the bard, in our scenario, how are you going to deal with this death exactly?
To me there are a couple of things that will influence this. First, is the player done with the bard, it’s possible, without knowing context, that the player fully knew that their character was going to die, because they wanted to play a different character. That’s totally fine to do in a game and totally acceptable for a player to want to do. However, I would limit it some so that a player who wants to play everything wouldn’t be able to play anything and everything that they wanted as that would hurt party cohesion (I’ll likely write a post about this later).
Otherwise, the other thing to think about would be, what sort of arc has led up to this? Maybe it was obvious what was going to happen, there were hints that they couldn’t try and talk to the dragon and the bard needed to do it anyways because they are a pacifist. So maybe it is a fitting end to a bard who was having troubles accepting the world and life style that she had joined. But if the story built up to this point, not just for telling the story to the players but also the characters own journey directed by the player, it might be a fitting end for the bard, even if she wasn’t completely ready to retire as a character. The story impact can sometimes be that important. This works especially well if you’re planning on going into a combat quickly and have an NPC would the party that the player can control for the battle. Or if you’ve warned the players ahead of time to have back-up characters who can join the game quickly. You don’t want a player sitting there too long, or if it’s a player who doesn’t like combat for some reason, try and keep them engaged somehow though, they may just be engaged in the story.
For example, in the first season of Dungeons and Flagons Finja was killed in the final battle before the end of that battle. Now, Kristen, who was playing Finja, isn’t someone who loves combat, and because the action and emotions that were going on in the scene and in the story were compelling at that point, it made a lot of sense in game for her to drop out of action and Kristen still enjoyed what was going on. I don’t know if it’s on the podcast, but we all agreed it was a fitting end for Finja who would definitely have sacrificed herself to stop a great evil from being fully realized. If we had continued with those same characters, I’m not sure that Finja would have wanted to be brought back or that Kristen would have wanted Finja to be brought it. It was a fitting end to Finja’s arc in the game.
Now, that isn’t always the case, maybe that comes out of no where in your game and it’s a character that the player is very attached to. If that’s the case, find a way, storyline wise to bring the character back from the dead. It could be that someone owes her a debt and will pay for the resurrection for her. It could be in place of a reward that is what the quest giver offers. It could be that a deity says that it isn’t the time or place for the bard to die. If I were to do that last one with the deity, I’d probably hint or give a prophecy about the time, place, or way the bard will die as that would be an interesting character development. Or you could also just end up making it a quest for the players to get back the bards soul. That would work well if you know you’re going to have that player missing for a couple of sessions, you could then have her bard be an NPC spirit in your control and play through that quest without advancing the main plot.
With all of these suggestions and ideas, you’re going to have to read the table. Depending on what has happened in your game, how the players are reacting, and how it was set-up, you’re going to have to judge it for yourself. Hopefully these are some tips that might give you a basis for handling character death at your table.
When you’ve had this happen to you in a game or caused it to happen in a game, a character dying that is, what have you done?
Share questions, ideas for articles, or comments with us!