ReRoll Vs Respawn, Part I: Reemis the Braised

Tuesday, June 3, 2014
Our Reign of Winter Campaign suffered it's first player character loss in a recent session. While helping the grieving player roll a new character, a thought occurred to me. Most video games offer death as a means of encumbering the player, and hence, those deaths carry little weight. Tabletop games like Pathfinder and D&D approach death from a very different perspective. Sure, resurrections are possible, but they can be hard to come by. They are notoriously expensive to buy and the spell level puts them out of reach for low to mid level characters. Death is a more serious fear to a tabletop player. Let's examine these two perspectives, shall we?

I still remember the first time I lost a character in D&D. I had a spectacular wizard named Remus (though I think I spelled his name 'Reemis'). He had just made fifth level and the party was headed into a dungeon cooked up by our DM, Kyle. I was feeling pretty good, with a sweet 15 hit points and a bevy of spells including Fireball. I was so excited to finally have a third level spell, especially one that dealt so much damage. Little did I know, that very spell would prove to be my undoing.

As we ventured further into the dungeon, we killed off hordes of wee goblins and a few orcs. There weren't many other beasties around aside from a Mimic - or at least a very suspicious chest - a few floors back. Our Warrior opened the next door and we spotted several orcs sitting around a table, playing cards. So, without hesitation, I cast my super awesome Fireball to cook them all where they sat.

I should let you in on a bit of the rules for the 2nd Edition Fireball spell. If it happens to hit anything along it's route to the targeted square, it detonates prematurely. And that is exactly what happened when my Fireball hit the gelatinous cube sitting invisibly in the doorway. At 1d6 damage per experience level, I was incinerated in an instant.

This guy was responsible for the death in our group.
I felt shock at first. I'd played this character for close to three months. Over the next twenty minutes, I went through every stage of grief, until I found myself rolling my next character's THAC0. It was a loss that really hit me in a way that few other games ever have. The group mourned, we reminisced, and in time, moved on.

I've seen this same thing happen time after time to lots of players. It's like the loss of a real person, in miniature. When my current group lost that character, the players took time to describe the funeral rites they preformed. It's the permanence of the loss that weighs heaviest on the player. That character will never return to the group. No other character will be exactly the same as the last. All the achievements, all the goals and deeds of that character aren't passed on to the next. Lot's of things make tabletop gaming special, but this fact ranks near the top for me.

In the next installment we'll look at death in video games and it's stark contrast from the scenes I've just described above. We'll discuss the possibility and existence of permanent character death in video games, as well as talk about some games that come close to making death more than just an inconvenience.