Character Death And The Effects It Has On Your Table
As a GM there are very few things that can draw a moment of hesitation from you - one of them is looking a player in the eyes and telling them their character is dead. At least, DMs should take this moment serious, and I will admit that I struggle with this every time.
I like to crack jokes, constantly remind my players that character death isn’t too far from them, and that’s a reminder to them to be careful and not take the lives of their characters too lightly. But, there is a time and place for everything, and cracking jokes in the same sentence as announcing the death of a character is not the time or the place.
Character death is a big moment for your players. We, as DMs, experience loss every session. Our monsters that we send to their deaths session after session have made us detached from those losses, at least it has to unless we want to start taking each death personally and that leads to a road of bitterness of our party. When they rejoice at our loss, it can be felt as a personal attack unless you have an air of unattachment, and, if you aren’t careful, can lead to you uncaring about character death.
So what, why should I care if a character dies? My world is cold and cruel! Some might scream out, and my response is that you should care a lot. Killing characters, while it makes sense and will happen in games, should be treated far differently than the death of monsters, even BBEG and favorite NPCs. Character death affects the group dynamic at your table and affects how your party will interact with your world.
When a character dies, players may feel frustrated and a part of them may be crushed, even if they are revivified the next round by a cleric. (Or not, if that player has been making fun of the Cleric’s God the entire game) Their character, that they brought up through the levels, is a part of the player in your world, and killing that character makes that character, and player, feel like everyone else in your world, unspecial. They are fallible, they are not the big badass heroes they thought they were, they are killable. And while character death is an important thing to remind the players about, you should strive to never make them feel like they aren’t big damn heroes. They are playing a fantasy game to feel awesome and powerful, and taking that away destroys the game.
There should be danger, but there shouldn’t be constant death. If characters are dying every session, than something is going wrong at your table. Either players no longer care about your world and are just playing monotonously until they eventually leave the table for good, or you are incorrectly challenging your players and their characters to an extent that will destroy your group.
We won’t cover players who no longer care, that will be a topic for another post, instead we are going to have a moment of self reflection and focus on ourselves.
If we are placing challenges inappropriate for our players and characters, we are failing as GMs. We do not win at DnD if the table ends up in a TPK, we only win, when the party wins. When the party rises up in levels, we win. We are the proud parents watching our players have fun and their characters rise up in power. But how do you create appropriate challenges for your party?
Well first, that begins with testing your table. Start off easy, and crank up the difficulty slowly, and be ready to adjust encounters on the fly.
Find out how well your party does when it comes to a lot of easy encounters in a day. What about if you decrease the number of encounters, but increase their difficulty? What if we build a campaign where players get more experience for not fighting?
GMs have a vast amount of tools we can use and draw on to help create suitable challenges and next time, we are going to go over how to build appropriate challenges for your players using math!
Just remember, when it comes to character death, it should always be an option in your toolkit, but it shouldn’t be the only tool that gets used.