Role-playing 201: Honouring the Dead

Character death. It’s a sad fact that player characters can (and depending on the system, will) die. My D&D group recently had to come to terms with the death of one of its characters, the first to die since we started 9 levels ago. Characters have left, sure, but not died.

But what do you do when a character dies? What CAN you do when a character dies? Besides rolling up a new one, obviously.

There are a few things that spring to mind, and undoubtedly you will think of others, so here are my thoughts on the subject.

The first is to write. Regular readers will know that I like to write and I am ashamed to say that writing an IC response as a vignette did not occur to me until after another member of my group posted one on the page we use to communicate.

The problem with this kind of writing, for a purpose, is that sometimes a character may not know how they feel about the situation. A piece of writing in this style is usually not spontaneous, it requires at least a little forethought about how the character feels and would react.

It is, however, incredibly cathartic and provides a lasting testament to the impact of the character upon the game.

The second is to use the death as character development for your own character. Maybe there was an aspect of the dead character that your character greatly admired. What better time for them to try and emulate it now, in honour of the deceased?

Sometimes this can bring about a whole shift in how a character acts and thinks, and that’s okay. The death of a friend is a powerful, transformative experience (as an example, look no further than the Major Arcana of the Tarot to see how long Death has been associated with change). Other times, it might mean the character learning something new, or adopting a new mannerism. They might also, as in the case of my KotOR playthrough, learn to use a new kind of weapon (I don’t recommend switching from using one lightsaber and picking all the bonuses for single blade usage to fighting with a double-bladed lightsaber towards the end of the game).

Honouring a character in this way shows their player how much you liked their character, as well as driving character development in a new direction.

The third option is the one I took. You can use the death of the character to change your own character. Now, I’m not saying that you should do this every time, or that it is right for the campaign. But my character couldn’t deal with the death (having lost her mother and killed several people over a short period of time) and decided the best thing she could do to stop things like this happening is return to her home and research the problem.

This has several benefits. The first is that the party now has an ally in a position of relative power and security, the second is that I can solve our lack of healing problem and the third is that (to me, at least) an adventuring career is incredibly stressful and not everyone is a murder-hobo, the benefit being that there is one person invested in the party that can maintain a level of respectability if it is needed.

As I said though, this shouldn’t be done every time. If you enjoy playing a rotating cast of characters, it’s one reason to swap out, but it isn’t the only reason.

So that’s my brief look at character death and how to deal with it. If you have any thoughts or comments, feel free to leave them below.

Bubbles / Ryan

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