In this lightning round, we explore three questions involving life, death, and love at the game table.
Dear DovahQueen: Is PC death a bad thing? Or can it be used for narrative?—Benevolent GM
Dear Benny M: Personally, I have a lot of strong feelings about player-character death. As a house rule, none of my campaigns have any sort of resurrection magic, and I warn my players before every game that I won’t pull any punches. I also remind them that not all of the encounters they’re going to face are going to be a fight they’re able to win. During creation, I spend a large amount of energy working with my players to help them develop the strongest and most endearing characters that they can; I want them to truly connect with their creations and feel invested in them. I do all of this, because A) it puts more weight in the death of a PC and B) because I’m a monster who will kill a character in the most heart-wrenching way to drive the story. You can use PC death to move your narrative, but you have to follow a few simple rules if you want the overall experience to not leave a sour taste in the player’s mouth.
The death has to be meaningful. When a character dies, it needs to be something that party has kind of seen coming. Maybe they’ve been fighting a battle that hasn’t been going very well and they *know* death is real possibility. Perhaps a character has been stricken with a magic plague that’s slowly killing them. Alternatively, if you need a specific character to die, speak with that player about it outside of game. Tell them what direction you want to take the story and let them know the impact that their character’s sacrifice will have. You might be surprised how much they’re willing to cooperate if they know it’s for the good of a well-crafted narrative. Afterwards, have a funeral or memorial for the character. Include all of the remaining party members and don’t introduce that player’s new character until after everything has concluded. Make their death matter in both a story context and in an emotional context. You just can’t let the death be meaningless or trivial, and if a PC dies for some stupid reason that isn’t cinematic and amounts to nothing, then you’re going to have an unhappy player.
Dear DovahQueen: Is romance between PC’s or PC and an NPC ok or should I just avoid it at all cost?—Just Trying to Play the Game
Dear Don’t Hate the Player: So, this is something that comes up surprisingly often, and especially so among newer groups and players. In more senior gaming groups, you tend to see an unwritten rule that you just don’t go there. Now, that’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with romance in a story, and sometimes you might even need to encourage it to progress a story. I’ve had PC characters with an NPC as their spouse, and we tend to just roleplay the easy parts. “I kiss her goodnight and head to bed.” It’s useful to me as a GM to have these kinds of setups, because I can now subtly give the player more of a reason to care about the town they’re defending from monstrous hordes. I wouldn’t recommend that you go much deeper than that though; it tends to be something that at least one participant isn’t entirely comfortable with. For that matter, it also doesn’t really sit well with onlookers either (unless, of course, they’re finding humor in the unease of everybody else).
Now, if two of the members of your gaming group are in a real-life relationship, this sometimes can bleed over into the game. That’s not necessarily a problem or should be of concern unless they’re one of those obnoxious couples that nobody likes. If they’re becoming a distraction or the other players are becoming bothered, you’ll just have to resort to the most reliable method of dealing with any obnoxious individual(s): talk to them. Outside of game, just be politely candid. Let them know that you’re very happy that they have either other, but it’s starting to take away some focus from the game. Ask them to maybe just turn it down a little bit. You really don’t want to start down the path of telling people how they can or cannot play, but at the same time, you have a responsibility to keep your game running smoothly. There’s nothing wrong with asking a player to tone down a behavior just a notch or two.
Dear DovahQueen: How do you (politely) smack around the player that only heals party members if they pay/worship their deity, especially when it brings the party down because the others don’t want to roleplay into that?—Always a Referee
Dear Unlikely Umpire: What you’re describing sounds to me like a player who’s just trying a little bit too hard to roleplay well. Way back in the day of 3rd Edition, I ran a goblin “heala 4 higha” who wouldn’t heal anyone unless they paid for it. I thought I was making a fun, unique, and quirky character, but the rest of the party just hated them. That GM killed the character off right quick, and I pretty much deserved it. Now, I’m not gonna say that directly murdering a problematic character is the best way to handle this, but you are right in that it does need to be dealt with.
As a GM, I recommend two things. First, acknowledge that the player is probably just trying to play a unique character that breaks away from the trope. Next, talk to your player; let them know that this particular idea isn’t working the way they likely intended. Now you don’t want to simply scrap their character concept altogether; that approach would be a little ham-fisted. Instead, let them know that the behavior needs to change and that you’ll provide some in-game opportunities for character development. If the party’s lives are truly on the line, a greedy little faith healer should probably come to understand the importance of freely handing out cure spells. Bonus points if you can get the other party members to save the healer’s life because now there’s an unspoken bond.
This should help alleviate the situation unless your player is just being weirdly greedy because the player themself is a troll. When a human person sits at your game table and starts regenerating 5 hit points per round, you might have to adjust your fire to be less polite. Someone who’s only there to be a problem either needs to either move on or learn that that’s not how you’re going to allow your game to run. As much as I hate to advise this, if that’s your situation, feel justified to drop a GM boulder on that character’s head.
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