How To Handle Character Death

How To Handle A Character Death

One of the things I like best about tabletop roleplaying games is the shared storytelling experience you engage in with other players. I'm always excited for game night and for the chance to spend time with friends and family for a relaxing evening filled with fun and adventure. Gathering around the game table for laughs and good times is priceless.

Character Death

That being said, it goes without saying that character death is part of the tabletop gaming experience. Dungeon delving and fighting a bestiary of fantasy monsters is dangerous business after all, and as soon as the Initiative dice are cast, a TTRPG character risks death at the hands, claws, or teeth of the bad guys (to say nothing of the spells and traps that can bring about a character's demise).

From a gaming perspective, the risk of death is one the elements that makes the game exciting. If a character is invincible and immune to death, the game becomes boring in my experience. For me, my best characters are vulnerable and can be injured -- sometimes mortally. During each encounter, I'm not 100% certain if my character will survive. The fear of death allows me to play my character to his or her fullest, and forces me to be smart with the choices I make in game.

How To Handle Character Death In Game

Even though character death is part of the tabletop roleplaying experience, it needs to be handled correctly. In the games I'm typically involved with, players spend hours crafting characters and get really involved with backstory and roleplaying. As mentioned above, the risk of death is unavoidable, but nothing will ruin a game faster and result in hard feelings quicker if a character's death is cheapened or happens as the result of unfair tactics by a Game Master.

Character Death TTRPG

In my experience, here are a few ways to handle a character death the right way:

  1. The character death must have meaning. In our fantasy worlds, our characters are heroes, and as such they deserve a hero's death. Let's face it -- there are some nights when your dice truly hate you, or when you employ a tactic (that in hindsight), wasn't the smartest move your character could have made given the situation. On nights like this, when fate is against you and your character dies, a good GM will give your character's death meaning. Death is more easily accepted when a character dies to protect others or in some heroic fashion that helps progress the story's narrative, etc. Even a Total Party Kill (TPK), can be enjoyable if the end result is the stuff of legend.
  2. The character death must be fair. In my opinion, tabletop roleplaying is about a shared storytelling experience. The GM and players work together to create a fantastic tale both exciting and memorable. Personally, I can't stand games that pit GM vs. Players where each side is trying to one up the other. These types of games are frustrating for everyone, and can result in hard feelings when a character dies. If a character dies in glorious combat, so be it. Let the dice speak. The character death will have meaning (see number 1 above). However, to murder a character by stretching the boundaries of what is reasonable fosters an adversarial relationship between GM and player, and smacks of vindictiveness, unfairness, and sadly risks ruining everyone's fun.
  3. The character should be honored in death. As I mentioned earlier, in the games I'm typically involved with, players put a lot of effort in character development. If a character's death 1) has meaning and 2) was fair, the players I game with are generally left satisfied. However, to further improve the narrative and give closure, I find it helpful to hold a funeral for the character and for the party to honor him or her with speeches, prayers, oaths of vengeance, etc. A character's death can create an interesting story hook, give opportunities for roleplay flavor, and may inspire the party to take a course of action that will develop the story in new and exciting ways.
  4. A note about Resurrection. At higher levels, some spellcasters have the ability to cast a Resurrection spell to bring a character back from the dead. Personally, I have mixed feelings about this. If Resurrection is cast as frequently and casually as drinking a Potion of Healing for example, the character death is cheapened and the element of danger and risk to players is lessened in the game. This can lead to boredom and sloppy roleplaying (don't worry, if I die I'll just get resurrected). Resurrection can break a game, so use sparingly and with caution. One idea is to have the party embark on an epic quest to retrieve a special magic item or spell component to allow Resurrection to be cast. This will make bringing a character back from the dead a challenging, epic event as opposed to simply burning through a spell slot.
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    Final Thoughts

    So there you have it fellow travelers. These are just my observations and opinions on how to handle a character death. Do you have any suggestions or ideas? Please feel free to share your thoughts and opinions in the comment section below. Until next time! Keep rolling nat 20's and have fun with your games :)

    July 25, 2021 — Shane Scarbrough
    Tags: RPG Tips
    Dungeons & Dragons Inspiration

    Do You Use Dungeons & Dragons Inspiration?

    All right fellow travelers, lets talk about inspiration. Dungeons & Dragons inspiration to be more exact. In my humble opinion, inspiration is one of the more interesting (yet often overlooked) game concepts in the fifth edition of the world’s greatest role-playing game.

    What is Dungeons & Dragons Inspiration?

    So what is inspiration exactly?

    *clears throat and does his best "rules lawyer" voice*

    As explained on pages 240 and 241 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide, inspiration is a means to encourage role-playing, risk-taking, and for rewarding players for taking “actions that make the game more exciting, amusing, or memorable.”

    Inspiration basically allows a character to gain advantage on one ability check, attack roll, or saving throw. Inspiration is a reward given to a player from the Dungeon Master (or as a variant, from other players if the DM so chooses).

    • A character can only have one inspiration at a time.
    • A player can award his or her inspiration to another player.
    • Inspiration must be declared before the dice roll.
    • Inspiration as a game concept is optional, and is at the discretion of the DM.

    When Does a DM Award Inspiration?

    Dungeons & Dragons inspiration is awarded as the DM sees fit. According to the Dungeon Master’s Guide (again using my "rules lawyer" voice), a general rule of thumb is to reward inspiration to each character once per session. Inspiration can be awarded to a character for:

    • Good roleplaying (a character makes an important decision or takes a notable action consistent with their character’s personality, bond, or flaw),
    • Acts of heroism (encourages characters to get involved in the action and take risks when fighting monsters, etc.),
    • A reward for victory (awarded after characters defeat an important opponent, complete a goal, etc.).
    DnD Inspiration

    Dungeons & Dragons Inspiration can be awarded for good role-playing and risk taking.

    The Negative Aspects of Inspiration

    As a game concept, Dungeons & Dragons inspiration should make the game more fun for everyone. Inspiration isn’t OP (overpowered) and advantage on a d20 roll won’t break the game. Still, there are a few potentially negative aspects to keep in mind:

    • The awarding of inspiration is more-or-less subjective. As a result, some players may feel upset or irritated that they weren’t awarded inspiration for something their character did that they believed was worthy.
    • Again, because of the subjectivity of inspiration, it runs the risk of being awarded unfairly.
    • Inspiration gives a busy DM another thing to keep track of during a game.
    • Although inspiration is supposed to encourage players to be good roleplayers and risk takers, players may lose sight of the bigger picture — the game at hand — and may find themselves focusing too much on earning inspiration instead of having fun.

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    Do You Use Inspiration?

    Personally, I’ve experimented with Dungeons & Dragons inspiration in my own games. Generally I find that my players like the concept. Following one of the suggestions in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, I award inspiration by giving worthy players special d20s to use for their advantage rolls. Once inspiration is spent, the d20 is handed back and tracking doesn’t become an onerous burden.

    I always try to be as fair as possible (like any good DM does), though awarding inspiration once per session (as suggested ) doesn’t always play out.

    One thing I noted with more experienced groups is that inspiration seems to stand in the way of the game. The award almost becomes silly in some respects. Players are already practicing good role-playing and risk taking for no other reason than that’s what’s expected of their characters. In these instances I forgo inspiration all together and simply grant all players one “re-roll of the night” (at their choosing, a player can make a re-roll once per session to see if they can change fate and improve a bad die roll). Re-rolls can't be carried over to the next session (use it or lose it), and, unlike inspiration, players don't have to declare the re-roll before the dice are cast.

    Final Thoughts

    So how about you? Do you use Dungeons & Dragons inspiration in your group? What are your experiences (good and bad)? Please feel free to share your thoughts and opinions in the comment section below. And as always, happy adventuring!

    May 17, 2021 — Shane Scarbrough
    Tags: RPG Tips
    D&D 5e Paladin

    D&D 5e Paladin: Strength Or Dexterity? Which Is Better?

    Back in the day, a D&D Paladin really didn't give players a whole lot of flexibility when it came to playstyle. Basically, your character was a walking boy scout in plate armor, and Strength was king when it came to your abilities. With Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition though, players have more options when it comes to roleplay. Paladins are no longer pigeonholed into a Lawful Good alignment, and Dexterity (as opposed to Strength) can now be the preferred ability on your character sheet.

    Strength Or Dexterity?

    Despite all the improvements 5e brings to the game, Paladins are still tank-like fighters that depend on weapon-based attacks. As such, either Strength or Dexterity is the most important ability you need. Both Strength and Dexterity Paladins are completely viable in D&D though, so which one should you go with? Here's a quick breakdown of the advantages of each:

    Strength Paladin Advantages:

    1. Better Armor Class (can wear heavy plate)
    2. Optimal damage dealer (heavy weapons do more damage than a DEX Paladin's finesse weapons)

    Dexterity Paladin Advantages:

    1. Higher Initiative
    2. Cheaper armor
    3. Saving Throws that are tested more (usually more Dexterity Saving Throws as opposed to Strength in real game situations).
    4. Ability to play stealthy
    5. Better ranged weapon options

    D&D 5e PaladinIn the end, the advantages of one really don't outweigh the other, so it really comes down to personal preference. If you imagine your Paladin being a prototypical sword-and-board heavy hitter (or two-handed weapon damage dealer), you'll want to go with Strength. On the other hand, if you'd like the ability to go into stealth mode, and imagine your Paladin being quick, agile, and proficient with finesse weapons you'll want to go with Dexterity.

    Is it Sir Galahad of King Arthur's Court or d'Artagnan of the Three Musketeers? The choice is yours, and thankfully D&D 5e gives us the ability to choose! The most important thing is that you roleplay the character you want to play, and have fun.

    Do you play a Paladin in D&D 5e? If so, do you play Strength or Dexterity? Share your thoughts and opinions with your fellow gamers in the comment section below. And if you're looking for Paladin miniatures to represent your character on the game table, be sure to browse our store here for a great selection.

    Until next time fellow travelers! Like all good Paladins remember to be awesome, and live each and every day to its fullest.

    August 06, 2017 — Shane Scarbrough
    Tags: RPG Tips
    new dungeon masters

    Four Tips For New Dungeon Masters Looking To Improve Their Game

    Table top gaming is an amazing, lifelong hobby that inspires the imagination and allows you to be social. Nothing quite beats the feeling of sitting around the game table on a Saturday night with a group of friends, rolling dice and drinking Mountain Dew.

    No matter your game -- Dungeons & Dragons or any other RPG, one particular player has been given an awesome responsibility. Yes, Dungeon Masters, I'm talking about you.

    New Dungeon Masters

    Being chosen as a Dungeon Master truly is an honor. The position entails being being part storyteller and part referee. Like the director of a blockbuster movie, the Dungeon Master sets the stage and helps suspend the players' disbelief by creating an imaginary story full of wonder and discovery. Each story has rules, however, and it's the DM's job to make sure that those rules aren't broken to the determent of all. New Dungeon Masters may find the job intimidating at times, but if you follow these easy gaming tips, you'll be a seasoned DM in no time.

    Tip #1: Keep The Story Going

    new dungeon masters 1Yes, you're the referee, but remember you're also the storyteller. Don't kill the mood by getting bogged down with unnecessary details, rules, etc. It's more important to keep the story flowing as opposed to pausing the action too often to thumb through the Dungeon Master's Guide or arcane rule books. Otherwise you run the risk of losing your players' interest, and believe me there's nothing worse than a table full of bored gamers!

    If you're using a pre-printed adventure, make sure you know the module beforehand -- reading through it at least once so you have a general idea of how the story plays out. Also, make sure you're familiar with the game's basic rules and mechanics. In short, come to the game prepared. This will help you keep the action fast and flowing.

    Tip #2: Expect The Unexpected

    No matter how much you prepare ahead of time, things won't always play out according to script. It won't take a new Dungeon Master long to realize that players do the darndest things. As DM you need to be quick and able to improvise on the fly.

    Remember that bugbear that leaped out of the shadows? You know, that one you had blocking the party's progress through the narrow tunnel beneath the castle? You were absolutely certain your players would draw weapons and attack, but instead they turned and ran, screaming like banshees. Now what do you do? Have a second bugbear leap out at the opposite end of the tunnel and box them in. You sneaky devil ;)

    Tip #3: Evoke All The Senses

    As a new Dungeon Master, you want to engage your players' senses. Be a master illusionist and evoke the sense of sound, sight, taste, touch, and smell. Descriptive language is a powerful trick, and will create a deep layer of immersion for your players. Consider the following example:

    The shadowy room before you is roughly 20 feet by 20 feet -- it's walls made from rough, crumbling stone. The air is musty, and thick with the smell of dust and death. In the far corner an old man in tattered robes leans heavily against a smooth ebon staff. At his feet lay a shriveled corpse, blackened with age and decay. A simple bronze crown sits awkwardly on the dead thing's head.

    "Why have you come?" The old man hisses. A suspicious look flashes in his watery eyes. "You want the crown, don't you?" He points a bony finger accusingly. "Well you can't have it. It's mine," he shrieks. "It's mine!"

    Tip #4: Don't Let Players Hijack The Story

    new dungeon masters 2Never lose sight of the fact that the whole point of table top RPG is for everyone to have a good time. That said, as storyteller and referee, you’re responsible for keeping the game under control. You want to create an environment for your players to role play their characters and have fun, so you may need to keep the silliness in check from time to time. As a new Dungeon Master, don’t allow players to stray too far from the role play and ruin the group’s immersion...

    Most likely you’ll be gaming with a group of friends who ultimately look to you for leadership, so it really shouldn’t be a problem to rein players in if necessary. Laugh, be outrageous, and have fun. But keep the players interested in the story and focused on role playing.

    Final Thoughts

    So there you have it, fellow travelers! Four tips for new Dungeon Masters looking to improve their game. I’ve been running RPG games for over thirty years, but I’m always trying to learn and improve my craft. I’d love to hear what you have to say! Share your thoughts, ideas, and experiences in the comment section below, and help your fellow gamers be the best Dungeon Masters ever. Until next time!

    October 29, 2016 — Shane Scarbrough
    Tags: RPG Tips