Sometimes, characters die. Sometimes it's their time time to go, and they go out on their own terms. Perhaps making a noble sacrifice to save their friends or the world. Other times, they are tragically taken before their time, such as by going up against an enemy and being killed in the most heartwrenching manner.
Though this is a morbid discussion and not the most positive topic to talk on, we should be prepared to handle our character deaths when they occur. To do so, we'll be viewing how to handle character death from a player's perspective. We'll try to avoid talking about the GM side of things, as that's a discussion for another time.
When a character dies, the first step is to determine whether or not to accept the death. Think about the stages of grief. It begins with denial and ends with acceptance. You can only move on if you accept it. Otherwise you are lingering in the realm of denial and can engage in other activities that are only available in fantasy. Death is not always permanent in some settings. With the introduction of magic or advanced technology or other impossibilities, death can be reversed. There is often a cost to doing so, and you must decide if you and your party are willing to pay it. If you do choose to reject death, your next step will be finding a way to return to life. This could be as simple as having the Cleric cast Revivify or resurrection, or as complex as having to enter the spirit-world to pull back the soul of your fallen comrade. Bear in mind that death is not always reversible in all settings, so this may not be an option in all cases, but death doesn't always need to be the end.
If you do choose to accept your character's death, you must decide as a player how to proceed. Naturally, you'll be rolling up a new character of some sort if you are to continue in the campaign. So now begins the process of character creation, with the added complexities of trying to integrate into a group of PCs that has their own shared histories and experiences, as well as has an empty role that needs filling. This can be somewhat difficult, as it may tempt you to play clones of your original character. If the Cleric dies, you might simply fill the void with another Cleric. While this might be a coincidence one or twice, it does stretch believability if you do so multiple times, not to mention that you're passing up an opportunity to try something new and different. And that's part of the key to this. Rolling up a new character is an opportunity. Even if it is born from something as negative as a character death, we should be trying to find some positive in it.
Remember, it is okay to be attached to characters. Part of roleplaying is getting immersed and deriving emotional or intellectual satisfaction from the exploits of characters. Just make sure that you are prepared for whatever happens. Death is a very real eventuality, and therefore a possibility at nearly any moment. We should be mentally prepared for it, and be ready to deal with it if need be. Thankfully, fantasy affords us some alternative means to do so, and we should weigh our options and opportunities when the reaper comes around.
I hope you enjoyed this and the rest of the content by Digital & Dice. If you want to read more in relation to this topic, go check out " The Problem with Character Death" on my personal blog. Until next time…Game on Internets!
- Draconick, Digital and Dice Contributor
I, Nick “Draconick” Johnson, am a writer and roleplaying enthusiast with over ten years of experience in various tabletop roleplaying games both as a player and as a GM. I am also somewhat involved in other forms of tabletop gaming such as wargaming, board games, and card games. It is my hope that by creating and maintaining this website that I can share my unique take on all things within our hobby and to foster a community of like-minded individuals.