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Author Topic: Do you care if your character dies?  (Read 7113 times)

Posts: 327

« on: June 06, 2002, 06:19:29 PM »

In our group's talks about our gaming, we've hit upon a distinction between players.  Some get very attached to their characters, and don't want to see them die.  Often there's a feeling like they've wasted a lot of time & energy if that character dies.  Other times, it can be the difficulty in making a character that fits (like comfy clothing or a good baseball mitt).

Not me, and not one or two others.  I like my characters, I've tried complicated and simple, and I have memories of a few of the more fun ones.  But I really don't mind when they die.  Sure, I'll be taken about at the moment, especially if it's an important fight or something (save the princess!), but I've seen players call it a night just because their character dies.

I think I know part of difference: I'm a regular GM.  I make characters by the bushel, some with as much detail as any PC, and then watch them get stomped-on, abused, and often killed by the callous angry mob of PCs who never show any regards for my feelings. :-)  Ok, that's a bit far, but you get the picture: if it's my job to make characters and lose them, so I have a different perspective when I play.  Frankly, I wonder how anybody can GM and be desperately attached to a character.

Another difference is this: I don't regard the energy I put into making characters "an investment" that only pays back later.  I regard the process itself as entertaining.  Again, I don't see how someone can GM if making a character is that painful.

What do you think? Do you get that attached to your characters? Do you think a GM can or should be that attached? Any other thoughts?

Ben Morgan

Posts: 307

« Reply #1 on: June 06, 2002, 07:20:02 PM »

Quote from: Jaif
What do you think? Do you get that attached to your characters? Do you think a GM can or should be that attached? Any other thoughts?

As a player, I have been known to get quite attached to my characters. In the past, I've gotten so attached that I ended up not doing anything at all in-game for fear of losing the character (it was a high-deathrate Cyberpunk game). My enjoyment of the game itself ground to a halt because I couldn't let go of my character's safety. There were several issues going on here, and only some of them were mine. The lack of a social contract, and discussion of character death in particular, was a major influence on this situation.

As far as GMs getting attached to their NPCs, I've seen this as well, usually taken far enough as to become dysfunctional in the extreme; ie: a GM has put so much work into their beloved NPC villain, they actually penalize the players for trying to kill him/her. Or they've put so much work into their NPC "tagalong" character, that the NPC ends up overshadowing the PCs because the GM isn't under the same restrictions the players are as far as giving their character abilities. To this I can only say: Drop the ego trip. There's really nothing else that can be done for these people until they realize that the group's enjoyment is paramount, not any one participant's (This goes equally for crybaby and rules-lawyer players, of which there are also an abundance, unfortunately).

Quote from: Jaif
Another difference is this: I don't regard the energy I put into making characters "an investment" that only pays back later. I regard the process itself as entertaining. Again, I don't see how someone can GM if making a character is that painful.

Here's another thing. There are a lot of players out there who view character creation in the same light as painting a portrait or creating a sculture; they view a "completed" character as a work of art.

After having hung out here for the last year or so, I personally have been disabused of that notion. At the end of character creation, a character is by no means "complete". CC is simply a place to start. This character is instead complete when their story has been told (ie: when the game's done).

-----[Ben Morgan]-----[ad1066@gmail.com]-----
"I cast a spell! I wanna cast... Magic... Missile!"  -- Galstaff, Sorcerer of Light
Eric J.

Posts: 396

« Reply #2 on: June 06, 2002, 10:12:12 PM »

My opinion:

1.    I don't see anything wrong with being attached with a character.  It can be viewed as the same way that a GM becomes attached to a campaign.  Say, you have a dog.  You raised this dog.  You cared for this dog.  You trained this dog for the sight of the blind program.  And then, all of a sudden you become blind.  Luckilly, this dog allows you to interact with the environment.  It still does the same tricks for you in your time of need.  It still wants you to feed him.   You do that.  He's happy.  It let's you get to work in the morning.  It guides you to the phone when you want to talk.  The dog teaches you a few tricks and you no longer need the dog as much.  You, one day, regain your sight.  You come home to find the dog dead.

Corney metaphors are stupid, but they illistrate my point.  The player invested time, thought and creativity to use this character, and it was it's tool to interact with a hypotheical environment.  I may be going off on another thing, but as far as I'm concerned Vulcans can go to hell.  Animals developed emotions because they were evolutionary sound (or else we would not have them).  Maybee they were strengthened with humans because of greator intelligance or to stop suicide.  I don't really know.  My point is that emotions are an intricate part of RPGs and should not be handelled lightly.

Now, because of my creativity and the fact that I'm often a game master, I have only died once (We were trekkin through our first D&D dungeon.  Suggested, "Suggested 4 players level 1-4".  We were 3 players level 1 and we were not given the propper amount of experience.  I was using a decisive tactical maneuver.  I would use shield, to block myself and my friends from a giant spider [shouting "NONE SHALT PASS!" {we had just seen LOTR}]. They each had a "kill if you don't save vs. death") part on them.  I killed three of them.  Needless to say, it was a heroic death.) Heroic death can be a good thing as well.  Do you know what my friends did after I died?  Both could have run away, through the corridor, but they both charged at the giant spider killing it.  Actually, this was one of the rare times as a character that I felt that my party cared about me (actually).  The fighter was my brother (actually) and I had just saved their lives in game and I know that neither of them knew how to role-play so I think that it was real. I was brought back to life, so I guess it doesn't really count, but I wasn't happy about it.  It was one of my stupidest characters with one of the worst backgrounds that I've ever had too.

2.   As a GM, I almost never become attached to a character.  I just haven't ever invested that much time with one.  NPCs hold to actual legacy.  They have much less detailed backgrounds.  They aspire to no meaning.  They represent no one's thoughts.  They represent a chess piece in a larger scenerio set up for other people.  I mean, let's face it.  Example: My friend just can't keep his mouth shut.  Last session, "GM (me): O.K. instead of deactivating the forcefield, you simply shut off the power to the station.
My friend: Doesn't that deactivate the artificial gravity?
GM: It does now.
My friend: Ah shit.... Next time I say something, drone it out.
GM: You can be a Jedi Master if you want.
My friend: And, let me guess: I'll die heroically at the end of the campaign.
GM(still me):{thinks for a second} Not heroically.

That was a long, almost pointless example, but let me ask you, would I ever kill off a PC to add dramatic content without his/her concent?  In the LOTR movie, they made allusions to the Hobbit.  This allowed for the viewers that read the book go, "Oh yeah... The olden days... when the challenges were simple.  Get the treasure from the dragon... That was great."  Would it have had the same effect if some other mage had told of how, "He had not simply chased a dragon away.  He had transformed it into a cat and kept it as a pet!"?  A PC getting attached to a PC is one thing.  An artist to a painting.  A GM to an NPC is a chessmaster to a pawn.
Ferry Bazelmans

Posts: 137

« Reply #3 on: June 07, 2002, 12:12:48 AM »

No, I don't mind seeing my characters die. In the appropriate circumstances. What those are depends on the game and the rules of that game.

If I'm playing Cthulhu, I'm not going to not touch the masks, books and other interesting occult stuff because I know it's bad for the character. If we're playing Shadowrun and I get cornered by a corp hitteam, I take the bullets like a man. Tough luck.

It becomes a whole different situation once my player satisfaction wasn't taken into account (aka Welcome to the GM Channel - All GM, all the time). If my wishes and investments in the game are not a part of the experience, then I probably will be upset. No, scrap that. I really don't give a rat's ass if my character dies any which way, but I will care even less if my satisfaction is not valued by the group or the GM. But it'll probably be a pretty bland deathscene anyway, not one to brag about years laters (as we are so wont to do).

So, lots of words to say one thing: no, I don't care. :)


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Posts: 2807

« Reply #4 on: June 07, 2002, 01:17:02 AM »

I've had some stressful experiences with character death - its one of the reasons I'm more prone to GM, the emotional distance of GMing provides objectivity.  I have also retired at least one character because I began to fear he was heading to his doom and after several years of play I was startingnto find the prospect really worrying - safest thing was to move the character out.  This is another reason I am not prone to slaughtering characters willy nilly.

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Ian O'Rourke

Posts: 273

« Reply #5 on: June 07, 2002, 03:39:43 AM »

I do and I don't. If we assume I'm playing in the sort of games I like - the chances are my character will not die in a pointless and futile way, his death will almost certainly come as a function of him as a protagonist. No problem with that. When it happens it's just opportunity to start another interesting character.

When it comes to pointless, random, who it's only a game death, yes I probably would be annoyed - but this has more to do with my general dislike of games that have 'characters as playing pieces'.

Ian O'Rourke
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Fabrice G.

Posts: 206

« Reply #6 on: June 07, 2002, 04:14:31 AM »

I allways feel attached to my characters.

Does it matter to me if they dies, hell yes !!!

And this goes either the good or the bad way. Let me explain.

If my character dies as a concequence of choices I made, and if he dies as a protagonist then I'm ok with it (I probably have set it up myself !). But, hey!, that doesn't mean his death doesn't mean anything to me. It's sometimes very hard to "let go" a character this way. I greatly appriciate to plat him...but i feel his time has come.(..ah...narrativists decisions...;)

But if my character just get killed "like that", by GM fiat, because of a stupid application of the rules or whatever...that really pisses me off ! It's as deprotagonizing as hell.

So yeah, the death of a character allways touch me.

As a GM it depends alot of witch NPC you're talking here.

I have two exemples. First, during a Kult campaign, I made this Über-villain, the players had heard about him for four session, I had planned out a superb fight, etc...I set up the confrontation and then one of my player just tell me that he shoot him between the eyes [roll, success]...I just decided to let it be. My Über-villain is lying dead on the floor. I was really attached to this one, but I let the story being created take precedence over what i had planned.(Btw, it was a truly great experience to see the look on my players faces. They were convinced that I would *save* the NPC. I'm still glad I didn't.)

On the other hand, I've played with some GM who loved their NPC so much that 1) they were making the show and we had to follow, and 2) we could do nothing to a NPC if it wasn't ok for the GM.

So all in all, (again) it depend heavilly on the group' style and preference.

Sorry for the rather ranting post.

Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters

Posts: 10459

« Reply #7 on: June 07, 2002, 07:24:10 AM »

I'm sure that there have been posts on this previously. But to touch on the major points, a lot depends on player style, game style, and dysfunctions between them. In fact this is possibly the most powerful cause of dysfunction in RPGs. Players do get engaged with their characters, some more than others. The question is do the players and the game have the same priorities.

A good example is that a "Narrativist player" will probably see death as fine if it's a good extension of the story, a fitting end. This is not to asy that they won't be sad, just as one might be sad at a character's death in a movie. Just that they won't be dissatisfied.

Those who prefer Gamism will like their deaths to be fair, and only the result of player mistakes or foolishness. Any unfair death is extremely dysfunctional. Removal of the possibility of death is just about as bad, however. Removes the challenge.

Simulationists want death to occur when it "would", but that often means in Simming a "Story" that it should occur rarely if ever. Other Simulationists in a Pinball Sim (one in which there are no aspirations to story), are likely to just accept it as long as it makes sense with respect to what happened in game.

There are other priorities as well, but a lot of it comes down to the fact that death is often a penalty of some sort. At the very least any investment that the player has in the character is lost in most cases. And this is a very common feeling because the player has "developed" the character to it's current point. Even if you replace the character with another at a similar level of development, the player hasn't paid for that advancement and is, therefore, not something they are invested in. The resulting drop in investment is a loss for the player.

That loss has to have a payoff, or the player will be dissapointed. They must get good story from it, or a sense of fairness, or a sense of realism, something. Otherwise dissapointment is a sure thing.

So, in short, character death itself is not a bad thing. A character death that is improper for the player is bad.


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Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Posts: 16490

« Reply #8 on: June 07, 2002, 08:04:09 AM »


I'd like to open the discussion up more to address principles of play rather than a sharing, one by one, of personal preferences. That's because I think that a couple of important issues underly your question.

The first issue is that not all character deaths are the same phenomenon. That leads my initial answer to your question to be (somewhat unhelpfully), "Depends on the game and my own interests at the time." When playing Violence Future, not only did my character die, I killed him myself. When playing Obsidian, I would have been mightily pissed off if my character had died by the "stray-bullet" method, but pleased if she'd died in a way that saved her family members and/or promoted her cause in life. When playing Little Fears, I would have been pissed off if my character had died, period.

You might be surprised at the variety of ways that role-playing games permit or handle character death. Granted, nearly all follow Ye Olde Mode, ie, run out of X points, the character dies and you lose "advancement" as well as the ability to continue playing, so guard the X points carefully. However, in quite a few games, player-characters die only through statement, not through points (e.g. Castle Falkenstein, Prince Valiant). In others, they cannot die at all (e.g. Extreme Vengeance). In others, they can die but only subject to metagame-mechanics negotiation (Pantheon). In still others, they can die only at the player's option (various examples). None of these are "good" or "bad," the question is whether the mechanics in question are suited to the other goals and details of play - specifically, how the player-to-character relationship works, and what it's for.

Your question implies, to me, that you are seeing the player-to-character relationship as a fixed thing, remaining unchanged from game to game.

That issue leads me to remember another one, specifically the tendency to play similar characters over and over regardless of the game. Paul and I began a dialogue about this a long time ago, which eventually ended up as the thread on making the same character over and over.

I think it's related to this issue of character death because, if the person is basically playing the same character over and over in order to address some creative/personal need, and repeating himself or herself because that need isn't being met, then character death can only be perceived as "whap! stonewalled again."


Posts: 327

« Reply #9 on: June 07, 2002, 12:10:51 PM »

Ron,  good point.  To be simple & extreme for a second, death in Paranoia is a heck of a lot different from death in Amber.

I'll mull over that a bit, I think.

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