Death in RPGs

Tell me about a time your character died, and it was either awesome or it sucked. And tell me why.

Why am I asking? Mostly because character death is a frequent and necessary part of curse the darkness, and I want to get some other gamers’ perspectives. For me, it’s happened so very infrequently that I don’t have much to say about it. On the occasions that my characters have died, it’s generally one of two situations.

First is one-shot games. Obviously if I’m not going to play this character more than once, I’m less invested in seeing the character survive. Best example: I played in a Spirit of the Century game at Origins a few years back in which my four-armed green Martian crushed the evil king in the gears of a giant machine, but got pulled in himself, too. That machine, now treated with the blood of a green Martian, started a chain reaction that turned the Sea of Tranquility in a literal sea and revitalized the planet. Pretty awesome!

Second is characters that have tragedy as part of their character arc. That’s not always handled well; I played a sidhe in a Changeling: The Dreaming game who was supposed to be tragically Undone at the end of the chronicle, and the Storyteller pulled some really convoluted shenanigans to give me a “happy” ending. That totally wasn’t what I wanted, and I think I communicated that to him, but I suppose that might have exceeded his tragedy threshold.

The term “tragedy threshold” was one that another GM asked me about in an Exalted game. He had a nasty plotline planned for my character, but wanted to make sure I would be OK with basically getting screwed in the end (not dying, just being horribly betrayed). And for that character, I wasn’t OK with it – that’s just not how I saw the character’s story going. curse the darkness is, I’m sure you’ve noticed, a game with a high tragedy threshold. Everyone stands a roughly equal chance of dying in every Removal Challenge, and that’s deliberate and in-theme. And, I’m finding as I run multi-session games, it means that characters that stick around longer (like Trey in the Severed Bridge game) take on “lead character” roles, just because we know the most about them.

Anyway, tell me about your character’s death. I’m interested in how it happened, and why you liked it…or didn’t.

What are your experiences?

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10 responses to “Death in RPGs

  1. In a D&D 3.0 game I played a cleric of the death god, giving me a death touch power. The group encountered a mirror that replicated the party, while my character successfully murdered the mirror of the fighter, mine used the death touch power and killed me.

  2. I played a Caitiff in a long-running Masquerade game. Her back story was that her sire hated her because of the stigma associated with siring a Caitiff, so her sire cursed her and cast her out. My Caitiff died when her broodmate, having diablerized their sire, showed up to diablerize my Caitiff because she had inherited their sire’s Oracular Ability, which her broodmate was trying to steal by dialberie.

    Why was this awesome?

    The ST surprised me because I had written in the background that my Caitiff was her sire’s only childe. He introduced a new story element in having the unknown broodmate, which can poorly, but in this case I thought he respected my background because he didn’t invalidate what my character KNEW to be true. So I got to tell my story, but I also got to experience it in whole new ways that were surprising and entertaining.

    The ST wove other threads of my PCs story into the events leading up to her death. The “Curse” flaw had been a huge part of my PCs story, and the final confrontation with her broodmate broke that curse, and even if it was in the last moment before final death, as a player (heck, as a character) it was a very satisfying moment.

    And he pulled both of these off cinematiclly. The scenes of discovering her broodmate and later confronting him involved great roleplay so that I *experienced* the story instead of just hearing about it through narration — the outcome never felt fixed, even if the dice were heavily weighted against me.

    Which I think is key in the curse darkness. I’m not a fan of it’s high potential for character death because it’s hard for me to wrap my head around how experiencing your character’s story can be entertaining when your constantly having to create new PCs, or how you experience those rich moments of RP that get generated by experiencing surprising and unexpected PC growth. So somehow, the story has to be bigger than any one character, as does the roleplay. I’m not sure I’ve figured that one out yet.

  3. I’m guessing that trying to focus on any one character’s story in curse the darkness won’t necessarily be satisfying. It’s the groups’ story that takes center stage, with the iterations of characters acting more as chapters than stories. The value of the individual is more centralized around their memory and as history and context for something larger. Not that individual characters won’t be cool; but you aren’t roleplaying a person, you are roleplaying a line of successors.

    It may take some expectation management for the first couple games.

    • You got it exactly. The story – the scenario, the setting, the interaction of characters and the memory of fallen or lost characters – is more critical to curse the darkness than any one character. I know that’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but I’m hoping that it’s at least novel for folks who are used to really delving into their characters whole-heartedly.

      • It’s totally novel, and it’s definitely one of the things that makes curse the darkness different and interesting. As I said, I’m just not sure I’ve wrapped my head around it yet.

  4. Dungeon bash. Giant bear. PC didn’t have a name. Was third in a row to be killed due to bear having super-speed or something. I was eleven. I’m still gunshy about PC death if it feels out of place.

  5. Generally, I like character deaths that make a good end to that character’s story (even a tragic end) and dislike deaths that seem random or pointless.

    Most memorable character deaths:

    You were actually there for my Most Memorable Oneshot Death- Vertiline Crockett, Unhallowed Metropolis, there’s a thrope coming after us and I’m bleeding from my gut where it hit me with half a horse. So, fuck it, I jump the damned thing with eight grenades strapped to my person. Boom! We all fall down!

    Most Memorable Ongoing Char Death goes to a Changeling character, back in the day. She was a satyr, and she and one of the other player characters (a nocker) were lovers. They ended up in a fight with these ghouls who were carrying cold iron weapons, and she wasn’t even a fighter, so there was just no chance. She takes a bad, bad hit, but is still standing and mostly trying to just get away, when her lover gets hit hard enough to incap him. He drops, mostly still breathing, and she thinks- he can’t die by cold iron. That’s death forever. So she stamps on his throat, and he gurgles and dies. Cold-iron wielding ghouls are taken aback by this long enough for her to pick up her lover’s sword and fall on it.

    I think Curse the Darkness is slightly difficult for me, because I get deeply invested in characters and- as you say- that’s not how that game goes. And the randomness/pointlessness of death in that game is important to the larger narrative of the story.

  6. My worst experience with character death happened at a Mage: The Ascension LARP. My character was a Son of Ether who fancied himself a superhero, complete with jetpack and enchanted sledgehammer. The character lived a long life, became a Master of Matter and was close to taking a seat on the local council of 9.

    But then one day we were attempting to calm down what seemed like a crazy homeless man. He was temporarily subdued, and my character was trying to disarm him. This was some sort of trigger, and he came to, lashing out at my character. What we did not know, was that he was an Imbued Hunter with quite a few derangements, including PTSD. He struck me for something like 30 damage and knocked me across the street. We had a no 1-hit kill rule, but before any other PC’s could do anything, he proceeded to hulk leap across and stab me in the throat to finish it. I don’t get bothered by character death much, and normally this wouldn’t have fazed me much. Except for a few things.

    -This NPC was being played by a visitor who never showed up before, but the ST’s knew. Not an ST or Narrator or even a regular player.

    -The ST’s acknowledged the NPC shouldn’t have responded with that much lethality and instead run away, but they refused to change anything to keep him alive, like saying it wasn’t actually that much damage, something magically heals him, or red-lining the scene from the point of combat.

    -The NPC was another player’s Enemy flaw. A player who wasn’t there and almost never showed.

    My next character was a terribly evil Orphan who murdered, tortured, and did hundreds of other awful things to PC’s and NPC’s alike for years till the game died and probably should have become a Nephandi. This led me to believe that even in roleplaying games, only the good die young.

  7. Years ago I played a Caitiff in a LARP. We were two groups of players: Camarilla and Sabbat. I was playing in the Sabbat group, but I was a Camarilla spy.
    I really saved the day for the Camarilla team (if not for me, they were really skrewed): I send them information, I helped to decimate slowly the Sabbat group, I saved the Camarilla leader from being executed by the Sabbats, and I betrayed the Sabbat against a powerfoul enemy, in a moment in which the camarilla were overruned.

    At the end of the session, I was in torpor buried underground. When someone asked the Prince about me, he said “he’s just a Caitiff, let be him there”.

    It was absolutelly unfair, I saved their day and granted them victory, but… I was amazed with that end. It showed perfectly the theme and mood of vampire society. Vampire society IS ABOSLUTELLY UNFAIR, and that session showed that aspect.

    It’s been one of the better endings I’ve ever played.

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