This thought came to me on the back of reading a rather excellent series of posts over at Reality Refracted dealing with death in RPGs. He has several fine points to make, but to me it boils down to two very distinct character deaths I’ve had as a player. In fact, these are pretty much the only two character deaths that have stayed with me, and that I continue to talk about. The first, because I was genuinely let down by the nature of the character’s end, the second, because it could not have been any better.
I’ll touch briefly on the first. A cyberpunk edge runner, that had at least two years of experience points under his belt, gets into a fight that has nothing to do with the plot. Some random gangers causing grief, and the players have a reputation to uphold, so step in to save the day. Very much an average day for Blaze. After the fight is over, I seek medical attention for a bullet would that was suffered to the leg. One critical fumble later, and I end up taking enough damage to require a death save, which of course, I fail. No problem though, Trauma Team are swiftly dispatched, and arrive in plenty of time to attempt a recovery. Another critical fumble is rolled, and I start to get nervous.
We make it to the AV ambulance, and another shot at saving my life. No fumble, and I think that I might be out of the woods. But sadly, the amount of damage I took from the first fumble means the roll wasn’t enough. One last try says the GM, and the whole room hushes as we watch the die tumble. Another ‘one’ is rolled. And the character is in the bag…
Died due to a random encounter, and bad luck, in such a way that nothing bar GM fiat could have saved me. And even though it was a sucky death, I’m glad that no rules were bent, as that would have left me feeling cheated, like I didn’t deserve to still be playing Blaze, although that might be better discussed in a blog post all of its own. No awesome death scene for Blaze then, and that’s exactly why I remember it, because his death meant so little in the grand scheme of things.
Fast forward a good handful of years, and I find myself playing Amaruq, stood at the top of a burning flight of stairs, with the woman he loves – and who was currently pregnant with his child (I didn’t know this at the time, or what follows might seem needlessly harsh). The rest of the party had either fled in fear, or were lying dead behind us as we fought our way out through an army. We were both so badly injured that the stairs themselves could have been the death if either of us. And we still had enemies coming at us from behind. I had no other option.
Taking my beloved in my arms, I hugged her tightly and kissed her one last fierce time. Then I pushed her from me, hoping that the fall down the stars wouldn’t kill her, as it certainly would have done me. She fell, tumbling for what seemed like an eternity, before coming to a rest, smoldering from the flames she rolled though. After several epochs – or so it seemed – she lifted her head and looked up to me. There was no way she could come back for me, but at least she was safe. I turned my back on her, hefted my axe in both hands, and walked back into the ruined building, hoping to kill as many villains as I could to buy her time.
She survived, and is still played to this day, and Amaruq’s son is almost two years old. That was a death that mattered. And I will remember it as long as I game.
Now, GMs won’t always get the chance to tweak their game to make every death impressive, but if there’s anything that can be done, to stop the player feeling like it didn’t matter a jot, then go for it. Dramatic licence was pretty much made for this kind of thing. Trust me, they’ll remember it for a long time, and talk kindly of you to others. And years later, when hanging out and having a laugh, getting to hear your name mentioned as the GM who pulled off that amazing character death, well that’s got to feel pretty sweet…