What is it about table-top RPG’s that all them still have character death as a viable game option where CRPG’s have…

What is it about table-top RPG’s that all them still have character death as a viable game option where CRPG’s have…

What is it about table-top RPG’s that all them still have character death as a viable game option where CRPG’s have long since abandoned any possibilty of character death?  DW addresses this conundrum (well) with the last breath rule which is a tacit acknowledgment that players have long since abandoned the rogue-like mentality of yore.  Any thoughts?  Have player’s characters actually died in your campaigns?  Any TPKs?

There seems to be a struggle between verisimilitude and agreement that player’s characters are protagonists in a narrative arc the group wants told.

Beyond last breath.  Failure in DW (if ‘death’ is seen as a type of player failure) can be an Impending Doom coming to pass.  The players’ characters, instead of dying (say in a TPK) could find themselves in a world where they must work to rectify the quest they previously failed at completing.  That is also a price of failure that does not mean tearing up a character sheet, but is as permanent as doing so.

15 thoughts on “What is it about table-top RPG’s that all them still have character death as a viable game option where CRPG’s have…”

  1. I kill characters all the time in DW one-shots.  My one-shot strategy revolves around figuring out Death’s agenda and then hitting that hard during the Last Breath move. 

    Only played one DW campaign. No deaths in that one, though I’m pretty sure there were some Last Breathes.

    OSR games like Dungeon Crawl Classics are cool with character deaths, in my experience.

  2. Two of the four characters died (& were replaced by equally cool characters) in the first adventure (four short sessions) of my last DW campaign.

    Both deaths were preceded by either three or four consecutive misses, followed by a miss on their last breath rolls.

    The players were more careful and luckier in subsequent sessions of the campaign and there weren’t any further deaths. There are some tactics players can learn/use in DW to greatly decrease their mortality rates. Smart use of the Defend move, especially.

    There haven’t been many deaths in my other DW games or one-shots, but there’s often been one. No TPKs though – that would really surprise me in a DW game. The PCs are pretty resilient.  I guess if there was something really world-shaking at stake those might occur as well, though.

  3. I don’t agree with the premise that “players have long since abandoned the rogue-like mentality of yore”. At my table, we think dangerous and play to find out what happens, and that includes the real possibility of death. I enjoy games where the players play protagonists, but in my understanding Dungeon World is not one of them. My DW games are slightly less lethal than, say, Tunnels & Trolls, but I still have a R.I.P. file for dead characters.

  4. It may be tempered by the type of game we’re playing, but the possibility of character death is almost always present in anything I run. I love it and my players love it. The “rogue-like mentality” is alive and well!

  5. Robin Laws mentioned something relating to this for the two player GUMSHOE game he’s working on – it’d be very weird for the detective to die two-thirds of the way through solving the mystery but you still need some way to maintain tension and suspense. I’ll be very interested to see what he comes up with.

  6. I do kill characters now and then if the story genre allows it. Either :

    – the character does a stupid thing OR

    – when we discussed consequences of failure for a roll, player agreed to put his PC’s life on the line OR

    – it is Torchbearer and the PC want to kill (rule of reciprocity in that game) OR

    – the story commands it


    Removing the possibilty of character’s death is valid in some story genres but not all of them.

  7. The indie rpg that really popularised and pushed this notion of ‘no character death unless you want to risk it’ is The Shadow of Yesterday https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Shadow_of_Yesterday

    – a hugely influential ancestor of many of the games in the scene. I highly recommend giving it a look, not least as it’s a Creative Commons game – again, paving the way for subsequent CC releases of rich, detailed rpgs. 

    TSOY’s exact mechanism is to never have character death on the line in normal conflict, but allowing you to challenge a failed conflict by moving into  ‘bringing down the pain’ mode, where things get crunchy and consequences can escalate to death. 

  8. No consequences = no suspense, but death isn’t the only consequence of danger.  It’s not even an interesting consequence most of the time because it ends the character’s story.  And from the player’s perspective, all they’re doing is spending some time “in the penalty box” until they can bring in a new character who they’re probably less attached to.

    I’d much rather use consequences where the character stays in play, and I’ve never had any problem coming up with other consequences that still feel like a natural result of play.  They’re harsh, but leave the character still playable and add dramatic tension and story possibilities instead of taking them away.

    Dying is easy.  Living with the consequences of failure is hard.

  9. Michael Willey, what you say is true. That’s why “deal damage” isn’t the only GM move. There’s no reason to use “deal damage” when another move presents itself as an obvious and interesting consequence.

    But “deal damage” is one of the moves—one that is sometimes the obvious and incontrovertible consequence—and Dungeon World is a game with hit points. Running out of hit points, and failing the Last Breath roll (or turning down Death’s offer) do have a mechanical impact, by the rules.

    I wouldn’t say “you’re doing it wrong” if you are ignoring damage and hit points in your game and you’re still all having fun, but I also don’t concede that people who use damage, hit points, and death are “doing it wrong”, as implied in the opening post.

  10. Death is not abandoned. CRPGs are a wholly different genre and one I don’t enjoy all that much, partly because death is meaningless. Peas and carrots.

    I was watching my son play Fable III and thinking what a dull, poorly designed game it was, with its obvious railroad tracks and lack of consequences for violence. It is like watching a movie except you get to play out (“glory in”) the violent bits. Almost the polar opposite of a good RPG.

  11. I removed death from my games a long time ago. Characters only die when their player wants it to happen. That way it can become part of the narrative in a meaningful way. That doesn’t mean I am easy on my PCs though.

    If a character would die or be at great risk of death, I choose to maim them in some way. Lose or crush a hand, kill off a family member or close friend, mental scarring… You get the idea.

    Make them suffer, but also make them live with it! Sometimes these injuries can make for really interesting characters. I remember a WFRP game where the Dwarf warrior-type had his shield arm crushed, lost an eye, and gained a permanent limp, but the player kept on going and it made his character all the more interesting!

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