DM Tip #12: Give Death Meaning

May 9, 2019

No one wants their character to die. However, if there is no actual threat of death the game can very quickly grow stale because the players will learn that they are essentially immortal. There is nothing to fear if you know you can’t die. This doesn’t mean you should actively go out of your way to kill characters though. But, when the time comes, make sure you make their death meaningful and memorable.

I remember a game I played when I was much younger. We had entered the second room of a dungeon and I triggered a trap. I then proceeded to fail my saving throw and died from a poison needle. That was one of the biggest feel bads I have ever encountered playing D&D. By chance I just up and died. I didn’t get cut down saving the wizard from an ogre. I didn’t tackle the evil necromancer, plunging both of us to our doom into a bottomless pit. I just got stuck in the foot by a needle and died. The complete opposite of a heroic death one could imagine.

Now, some may argue, let the dice fall where they may. I have already talked about fudging results, and I will always be a firm believer that story and fun should take precedent over a die roll or the rules. I also believe in postponing death. If that character flubs a critical saving throw because of something as mundane as a floor trap, I may save them, just to give them a better death later. Instead of dying then and there, they only take a wound. They live long enough to reach the boss at the bottom of the dungeon and they can instead die while delivering the killing blow or maybe they shield the rogue so they can move into position for a backstab. Instead of dying in an otherwise empty room, they go out as a hero. Sure, it still sucks that their character died, but if you make that death something with meaning behind it, it takes away some of the bitterness.

Just remember the key element to a good role playing game, everyone is there to have fun.

Glenn B.

Glenn B. is the Mayfair store manager and the King of Awesome. Outside of the Board Game Barrister, Glenn is an amateur film maker and game designer. He has three short films under his belt and one game as well. He's currently working on a new card game, Apocalypse How. Glenn has been to Ireland 8 times and speaks a little Irish Gaelic. His favorite games are Malifaux, Eldritch Horror, Scoville, and Colt Express.

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