Tuesday, November 1, 2016
When it comes to determining how to handle player character deaths in your campaign, there are a few factors to consider. First and foremost you will want to implement a level of lethality that your players can all agree that they are comfortable with. Some groups may like a very challenging game in which they are often at risk of losing a character. Others would prefer alternatives to permanent loss of their in-game avatar.
But another consideration to make is based on the genre and setting of your campaign. What kind of tone and atmosphere is it, and would it lend itself to that kind of high risk gameplay or not? This is also an important factor to consider when choosing an RPG game system and implementing your own custom rules. For instance, when I run the Song of Ice and Fire RPG for my game group, I tend to add minor house rules to make it slightly easier for player characters to fall in battle. My reason for this is that those familiar with the books and the Game of Thrones television series that the game is based on will also be familiar with their infamously fatalistic "anyone can die" mentality. In order to make the experience authentic, I allow for a greater likelihood of PC mortality than I would for other games that I run.
Conversely, I find player death to be seriously out of place in a classic superhero campaign. Comic book supers are notorious for never staying gone for long, and even getting to the point of death is extremely rare. So I would run these games in systems that allow for many other alternative results of the players' defeat.
When you sort these games by theme and genre, it becomes easier to see when you should imperil the lives of the player characters. Horror games are an example of a genre that is typically very lethal, whereas comedy games rarely have such stakes. Narrative-heavy games often place the choice in the hands of the player, allowing them to choose when their character dramatically falls or survives to face some other consequence. Killing or sparing a player character in the wrong circumstances can really undermine the tone of your campaign, so be very sure you know what your players are expecting from the game, and that you have already decided how perilous things will get.