Happy Memorial Day from all of us here at DungeonMastering.com & we hope it was a good ‘long weekend’ for everyone. Previously we’ve written a somewhat solemn tribute to those in the Armed Forces, past & present. Since we’ve talked about death so much lately, (and my unlucky Halfing Bard just got swallowed by a Dragon) this year for the holiday we’re going to jump right into the D&D aspects of memorializing characters.
Keep a tally: You’re doing this not to have a Toughest DM Record, but to help provide yourself with actual feedback about the difficulty (lethality-wise) of how you referee your games. Write down the Level of the PC(s), how exactly they died, & what they might have done to prevent it. This is useful information to everyone. If there are any obvious repeating patterns, try to adjust your approach. A bunch of kills by poison would suggest that the party needs to look for or buy magic/alchemical items to help or otherwise improve their Fortitude saves. Being constantly zapped by Touch attacks means they need better Dodge bonuses or Force armor effects. Without having this documentation you won’t know if there are actual problems, & without fixing serious problems the campaign can quickly become unfun.
Help the frequently dead: If there is anyone in your group who seems to continually lose characters, then they could benefit from some suggestions. Certain editions of D&D are far more tactical than others, & its quite possible that players who die often simply aren’t being strategic enough. For example, they might have 3 Ranks in Acrobatics yet are not Fight Defensively despite that +3 bonus to AC. Or they might not remember the various conditions that cause AoO, constantly provoking free attacks. Assist these Players both in-game as well as out with things that might help them not die quite as often. Perhaps an NPC fighting tutor grants them with a much-needed lesson, or you provide a real life player aid/tutorial. Nobody wants to constantly be taken out. Too much death for a particular player kills more than character, it kills their fun.
Use Hero Points: I know that we’ve recently written about the Pathfinder rules for Hero Points. But talking about character death is the perfect moment to plug this official Paizo variant again. There are also Old School AD&D Hero Points, as well as Unearthed Arcana Action Points, & Savage Worlds Bennies. But basically, you want to have some sort of game design mechanic in place that can allow the minimization of randomness at critical moments. There is a strategic way to spend these, but unless you want your group only miserly hoarding them for the Cheat Death benefit, reward Hero Points or their equivalent to encourage roleplaying, great in-character actions, & contributions/service. At the least, they serve as a cushion for bad rolls. However, with RAW for Hero Points, “When a character dies, she does not lose any hero points she has accumulated. If she died with no hero points remaining, she gains 1 hero point when she is brought back.” This can help them avoid a similar fate in the future.
Death is vital: I’ve spoken before about how its important to have genuine death in your games. Reward without risk isn’t worthwhile reward. But also the importance of it for the sake of the collective storytelling. An adventure where none of the good guys dies is an unbelievable adventure. Not to mention boring- you don’t have to go to George R.R. Martin extremes & have a Red Wedding, but even Tolkien killed off Fíli and Kili. If a character does die, hopefully their death has some meaning for the group. Perhaps even a lesson for all of the players. Try to have the death scene be dramatic, & the afterward not be anti-climatic.
So those are some of the things related to memorializing a dead D&D character. What ones could we have included? Any tips on character death from your experience DMing? Tell us in the comments below.