Mortality in RPG’s

I have recently started following a gentleman that I gamed with (Zounds! game) called +hurdygurdymanna (John) and today he came out with a blog that prompted a little bit of thought from me.  You see, he is embarking on his first game as a DM soon and he was thinking about how he would handle death in game of characters.  He found the “glossing” over of a character death a little underwhelming and wanted to incorporate some role playing around the event (gasp!).  Now, this is not the first mortality post that I have read recently as I also read a blog from a video game designer (Robot Loves Kitty read article here) about how they want to make death much more a final event in their video games than it is across the industry as a whole and so in combination these two posts have got my neurons firing and I am going to subject you to the result of that weird chemistry!

First of all, I am loving John’s take on this.  If the character dies perhaps there should be a service for them in the manner of the god they worship.  Plus, should the loot of the character not go to the character’s family?  I know that this would include a lot of people saying right off the starting block “my character is an orphan” but in that regard I take a leaf from Rite Publishing’s Lord of Gossamer and Shadow and point out that the family is in the realm of the GM.  After all, you can’t choose your family, right?  So therefore it would more than likely be the responsibility of at least Lawfully aligned characters (if you follow alignment rules) to return all of that players goods and chattels to the family as part of the rights.  If you are Neutrally or Chaotically aligned a free for all looting would likely be in order…

Hey buddy, you are wearing my hat!
Image taken from British Public Library public
domain release.

Secondly, the idea of if this is ignored that the character’s spirit raises in some way is genius in my mind.  How many times have I read an undead monster in Pathfinder to have it list the circumstances that the spirit rises.  This is the perfect circumstance for a ghost or other type of undead to rise.  Perhaps a revenant!  They would rise and perhaps seek out the other players for retribution or perhaps they just haunt where they died because they were left to rot.  Either way, word should get back to the other characters about the result of their callousness.  Perhaps they hear of a ghost that killed another adventurer in the same spot and they go back to investigate.

Taking this idea one step further though, this comes back to the idea that death is an impermanent thing in fantasy RPG’s.  Though there is the consequence of having devoted time and love to a character and they die there are few other consequences to the death.  The GM says roll up another character and they slot in to the party and the game continues.  The GM rarely bats an eyelid if the player then acts on a bit of information the previous character knew, and not the new one.  This combined with the ideas bought on by the details of Robot Loves Kitty’s new game ideas has me thinking about how I could make death matter in an RPG.

So, I have come up with an idea.  It is an idea that I want to test very soon.  I want to run a game where death matters, and here is how I propose to do this.

Each player will start at low level, Pathfinder or one of the OSR D&D clones.  The characters will be part of a group with several NPC party members.  If the player’s character dies then they do not get to “roll up a new character”, they will have to take on the role of one of the NPC’s who are likely to be hired hands and so on.  If the party dies out, adventure ends.  If that means that they don’t solve the mystery, kill the dragon, save the princess, whatever it may be then so be it.  In fact, this would be an interesting way to build a campaign.  The next game could be run with the new characters after the threat that was not stopped has its effect on the game world.

I am interested to hear from anyone out there that may have run a game in this vain before.  Did it work?  What happened when the party “ran out” of NPC’s to play?  Obviously this is a game where if things go poorly there will be attrition of characters and players when the NPC pool runs out.  Did this anger anyone or was it something that you put up front and said that this may occur?  If so, or you have a comment on what you think, let me know in the comments!

By the way, when I said I was interested in running something soon, keep your eyes peeled for an event in the next few days.  I intend to run the game in an intense series of events and will likely be more suitable for an American audience as I will be running in the A.M. Australian time for three hours at a pop.  If you are interested, keep an eye on my feed or the G+ Tabletop Roleplaying Games community!  until then, keep rolling 🙂

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