Yeah, I’m not done banging on this drum just yet.
You want to know how pernicious this nonsense of “protect the character at all costs” is? In an effort to remind myself that tabletop RPGs are not a hobby exclusively full of delicate flowers and gaping lady-parts, I was listening to the Roll For Initiative podcast’s episode on Death Magic Saves in the hopes of finding like-minded travelers. This is a whole podcast that accepts that death is on the table. It hangs like a specter over everything even to the point that there are specific instances where even the mightiest character can die from just one bad roll.
Alas, even this crew of first edition D&D players have succumbed to the notion of protecting the characters to protect the story. They offer countless examples of ways they “kept the story going” after a botched save. Or ways to save characters from a failed Save versus Death.
You want to know how to keep the story going? You roll up a new character, that’s how. Bob died? Okay, Bob junior shows up, let’s go.
Are we as a hobby so bereft of ideas that we can’t imagine ways of introducing new characters that keeps things moving and keeps the game fun? Are you really so desperate for a minor success in your life that you need to play a game where your token cannot die?
Come on, man! Step up. Take risks. Embrace the risk. Enjoy the consequences. Learn to hand wave and justify and welcome crazy coincidences to keep players at the table. Crazy coincidences were good enough for Edgar Rice Burroughs, they ought to be good enough for you!
An example: “Well, we couldn’t just let Chet’s character die. We were a thousand miles from civilization in the heart of trackless jungles, six levels down in the depths below a snakeman temple. The only way in or out was a flooded passage that was only dry during the full moon which was two weeks away. There was no way to introduce a character at that point.”
Dear God, man. What are you doing playing a creative game like D&D when your boring lack of imagination is so ill suited to it? You should really take up needlepoint, and not the hard kind where you design your own pattern, but the easy paint-by-numbers kind where they show you ever stitch you need to make. This is crazy easy:
- Chet’s new character was held prisoner in the temple for a year and escaped just as you showed up. He is naked and starving, but Chet’s old character’s equipment fits him perfectly.
- Chet’s new character was exploring a temple of evil elemental in nature a thousand miles away when an evil wizard cast an spell that sent him to the worst place in the world and just so happened to fling him halfway across the world…to you dopes.
- Chet’s new character was right behind you the whole time. He rushed to keep up and only just now made it to you. He barely snuck in behind you when the waters rose, and became separated. Thankfully, he heard your last combat and arrived just in time to watch Chet’s old character die.
How hard is that?
Oh, well, Chet’s character was the sole driving reason they were in this temple? It was for some single-character specific reason that they trekked all the way over here? Okay, that’s dumb. You suck. Hang your head in shame. If you’re in a dungeon for one character, then you’ve already screwed up. Everybody should have a stake so that these things don’t happen. But even here Doctor Wright can bandage your game.
After a thousand miles of danger, six levels of battling snake men, and miraculously finding Chet’s character’s replacement, the party has been through a hell similar to the one that I went through back in ‘Nam. That changes a man. Brings him closer to the men around him. The rest of the party should see this adventure through to honor the memory of the fallen character – if they aren’t willing to do that, then there’s no reason to believe they would have started the adventure in the first place.
Or heck, so they abandon the adventure altogether, so what? Are such a precious DM that you can’t prep material you’ll never use? Of course not, the prep is fun in itself, even if it never sees the light of your player’s stupidity. You just roll with the players fighting their way back through six levels of snakemen and a thousand miles of trackless jungle.
Really, this isn’t hard. New characters are like my second wife – they are cheap and easy and the fact they go down easy is a part of the deal you should appreciate.