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Unreasonable Reactions to Character Death?

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My wife and I had to make that last trip to the vet with Brenna, our almost 17 year old dachshund, yesterday. We've known it was coming, as she was extremely old for a standard dachshund and had inoperable cancer. but that hasn't made it any easier. If you've ever had to do this, you know how bad it can feel. We were emotionally drained yesterday and still our today. We are just going through the motions of life because we have to.

What does this have to do with RPGs, you ask. Characters die in RPGs. If the character is a "red shirt" or one is playing through the first few levels old school style where beginning characters die left and right, it is probably not going to have any real effects on the other characters. However, what if the character who dies in a long time friend of the rest of the party, someone who has been on many adventures with the group?

Surely the characters aren't going to easily shrug it off and keep right on going, at least not all the time? If they are in the middle of a dungeon or on a mission to rescue the prince before the Evil Archmage (tm) sacrifices him to the lords of Chaos in two days, they will probably have no choice but to press on. However, in more normal circumstances where they can abandon what they are doing for a while and mourn, shouldn't they? Sadly, I've been gaming since 1974 and I can only remember a few times -- even in the most character-oriented campaigns -- where characters have been so overwhelmed with grief at the loss of one of their long-term co-adventurers that they have taken a few days off to mourn.

Given how the death of a "mere" pet can affect us in real life, I really think that may be a case of bad roleplaying. What do you think? Note: I'm not suggesting that mourning be required by rules or any such nonsense, just that it might be good roleplaying to have have characters mourn the loss of their friends when circumstances allow.

Anonymous said...
January 28, 2009 at 3:19 PM  

I think that characters would mourn even if the dead party member hadn't been with them long. People do feel sadness even when a stranger dies.

For someone to be almost family in a tight-knit group should evoke much stronger reaction. And if you're facing death together all the time, you're pretty tight-knit.

Stuart said...
January 28, 2009 at 4:03 PM  

Very sorry to hear about your dog. :(

I imagine a party of adventurers in D&D would be somewhat like a platoon of soldiers in a war (eg. WWII, Vietnam, etc). Although it does depend on what kind of game you're playing, and the players and DMs ideas about whether the characters should have script immunity or not.

Joseph said...
January 28, 2009 at 7:42 PM  

Indeed... the loss of a pet is a hard thing. You have my sympathies.

As far as character death goes, I've never encountered the phenomenon you describe, but one of my current players has told me in no uncertain terms that if her fairy dragon companion should come to grief, she will become most distressed. It's okay if her character buys the farm, just not the fairy dragon.

Killstring said...
January 29, 2009 at 1:53 AM  

I guess it depends on style. In some hack-n-slash campaigns where there is inherently less attachment to people, I guess it might make sense in that context.

I've always tried to lend such things appropriate weight. And I'm not big on 'script immunity' - any situation is survivable (err, the story is survivable. Not the characters) so long as the players - and the GM - are ok with things going off the rails.

I mean, Aragorn can't die in LOTR, right? He's integral. Unless he dies, in which case, there's still political turmoil, even if the ring is destroyed, evil defeated, etc.

The effects of loss can be huge moments that take stories into memorable places - so long as they're given the gravity they deserve.

Ryan said...
January 29, 2009 at 9:07 AM  

I'm also sorry to hear about your dog. :(

I have also never seen characters mourned overly much in character (oddly enough, this has been the case even when the characters were mourned out of character)
I think the underwhelming reaction to a fellow PC's death has partially to do with the fact that the player is still sitting right next to you. Maybe the inherent level of removal between players and character makes it difficult to roleplay. (But then again, you could say that about anything that happens to the characters) Perhaps most people just don't like to roleplay "difficult" emotions like grief. (Or for that matter, love... I can probably count the number of in-character romances I've seen in the last 16 years of gaming on one hand)

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