Character Death


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It’s a showdown with a big adversary you have been chasing for a time, and they brought A LOT of their friends with them. Their friends are a bit whimpy so you leave’em to the magic casters, no problem. You run up to them to strike at the only opening you can see, and WHAM! They blast you with an unexpected fireball leaving you at… oh, no… NEGATIVE HALF MY HIT POINTS?! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!

Character death can be traumatic at times but it can be very refreshing too. This is going to be a blend between talking about the 13th Age rules for character death and general advice on how to handle this on either side of the screen. Let’s get to it, shall we?

Simplicity! It’s what this game lives for, right? No difference here. For your character to be dead, he/she has to reach negative half their hit points. That’s dead, dead. You reach the state of unconsciousness at zero hit points (thus obtaining the condition of “helpless”). Unconscious doesn’t exactly mean safe either; If your GM is a sadistic bastard (kinda like me at times) or the type of enemy warrants it, you can still be the target of an attack to be killed as you can’t fight back. Good thing you brought friends with you, huh? 13th Age employs the familiar death save system, if you’re not insta-killed, that we’re all used to. For those who aren’t: When you’re unconscious, you make a death save (in this case a hard save). If you don’t meet the DC, you have one failure (out of four failures allowed). Crit on a death save means you get to take your full turn upon getting up (woo hoo!) leaving room for some exciting and heroic role play. That’s a hint to take advantage of that, for you players out there. The condition of “helpless” that is acquired upon unconsciousness is not one hundred percent accurate. Your allies can actually help keep you going while your unconscious  during their turn, using their standard action to make your next death save not count against your total failures if you do so. I probably chose the most confusing way to word that but hey, I only want to give you enough info to be interested in the book.

Explicitly in the book, the guys talk about some optional rules for death and dying, which actually can be used for any system. One such rule is called the Meaningful Death. This rule basically means that you can’t be killed by some random monster, it has to be an important fight in the story. That said, you can still be knocked unconscious and not be able to come back into the fight if you fail all your death saves or reach negative half. You can thank Johnathan Tweet for bringing that over from the 7th Sea system. Then there’s the Lasting Wound rule. In short terms, it means that if you’re brought to zero hp multiple times in a fight, it affects your total hit points value by a defined value (again, wanna save some stuff for the book). To be honest, I totally love this idea in particular. It adds an element of danger and realism to the game that balances the heroic awesomeness of the players. Of course, a lasting wound will eventually go away. Your health is in your GM’s hands on that front however. The Meaningful Death and Lasting Wound rules are listed as optional in the core rule book because, well, not everybody thinks they’re all that and a bag of chips. Those two rules are more story mechanics rather than actual rules that make the game functional and balanced. For the most part, I stick to the meaningful death rule. the Lasting Wound rule is something I mean to incorporate into my campaign but always forget.

Unless your GM is a person who really likes to make things challenging (or you’re simply playing the Tomb of Horrors), chances are that character death doesn’t happen too often. BUT! When it does, what do you do? For a player, a character death can be devastating whether it’s your character or a party member’s. PC death is easily the hardest thing for a player to deal with in any campaign. Don’t let it get you down! If your character has passed on, it could be an opportunity for the game to take another turn into some territory your group hasn’t been able to explore previously due to everybody’s mutual interest. From a story standpoint, it can also be a very emotional and real moment. In my opinion, these emotional moments are often times the most memorable and enjoyable moments of tabletop gaming. Players who live to see one of their beloved party members die should take those raw emotions and run with them. Make them a driving force for the rest of the campaign. It’s a great opportunity to get more invested. As for the player of the victim, it’s a little bit more difficult than that. Your job becomes making a new character that is believable that your party would cross paths with but still an interesting character that you would want to play. If you take it too far out into left field, it becomes difficult for the GM to incorporate your new character into the story. It becomes clunky and uncomfortable. The moment of, “Hmm, this random stranger wants to join us but has nothing in common… SURE! Why not?” thus creating a moment that isn’t believable or fun. The best thing to do is meet privately with your GM and work together on creating the character’s overall background and the moment they are woven into the fabric of the story. Trade ideas, talk about it, make it an enjoyable experience for you and everyone else. Don’t see the death of your character as an end, but rather a new beginning for an unexpected twist in the story.

GM’s out there, stop freaking smiling, you devilish bastards. You’ve finally done it, you killed a mighty hero. If it was on purpose, shame on you. If not, well.. good work I suppose, you created something truly challenging where someone had to make the ultimate sacrifice. You may not have known it, but you just made more work for yourself. Buckle up, buttercup, because it’s gonna be somewhat challenging. I have never had a good experience of introducing characters to one another in the beginning of a campaign, let alone in the middle. It’s a delicate art, a difficult one to get right. When you do though, oh man, is it awesome! This is where the “push and pull” idea of role playing games really shines. Working with the victim’s player is crucial to making the integration of a new character run smoothly. We all love the stories we have written, it’s sometimes hard to change things that you were excited to run. Sometimes, you have to let those feelings go. This instance may be one of them. The player may have an idea for a sort of side-quest or even a complete change of course opportunity with their character concept. Don’t dismiss that, it’ll for sure make the rest of the campaign uncomfortable for that player. Sometimes it can be hard, but a truly cunning GM can keep the campaign flowing in the original end game direction (if you had one in mind) while making every player feel important. Be loose, be creative, and most importantly, be open minded to your players’ ideas.

Stay Metal \m/

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