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Character Death

    One of the more difficult things that you will have to deal with at some point is the death of a character. Challenging characters is important. If there is no threat of failure, even if it is a perceived threat, it is hard for the players to feel compelled by the encounter or the story.

    The ultimate challenge a player will face is avoiding death. Very often, it is also the ultimate failure. The worlds of Legends of Kralis are a dangerous place. Death is always right around the corner. Death is serious business because it means that player can no longer play his character.

    Because it is serious business, we have built in safeguards for the players. First, true death does not happen until the character has been reduced to their Stamina Score in negative health, which can be done by bleeding out over time or by someone continuing to hack at them when they are down. Character's also have a way of "Self-resurrecting" through the use of heroic luck.

    Instead of outright killing the character, they fall unconscious until the party can rest and help them awaken.

    Additionally, you could apply a lasting consequence after awakening. These could be things such as taking on a vicious, permanent looking scar. Perhaps the wound(s) never heal quite right, reducing the total Health Points of the character by 10+d10 points.

    Perhaps the character is shaken to the core and takes on insanity as listed on page 48.

    Finally, when there is no other resort to rely on, the character's adventure ends. When this occurs, allow that character, if the story and narrative allow, to choose to survive the death causing wound, but it is their last adventure as the rigors of missions, exploring and adventuring is too much and they retire. This allows the character to become a part of the world. As a secondary end, you could allow the character and player to make their final moments a heroic sacrifice that saves the rest of party.

    When a character does parish ultimately, the most straightforward response is to allow the character to create a new character. While ideally having them create a 1st rank character is the easiest, it will be more satisfying for the player to create a character at the same rank as the rest of the party.

    When a player has a new character ready to join, arrange the story and circumstances so that you can bring in the new character most quickly and logically possible.

    There is a very fine alternative to the death of a character:

    Mostly Dead: As an alternative instead of the character dying they are critically injured. This allows the PC to teeter on the brink of death but survive. This alternative has the character in a deep coma for some time (typically 24 hours) and is beyond even magical help to revive. The character awakens but is scarred from the near-death experience. This always carry some penalty:

    • Reduction in Movement

    • A permanent loss to a Skill, Attribute or even Defense

    • Social stagnation; Because the character has survived the death others can sense something is wrong with the character.

Total Party Kills

    Total Party Kills, TPKs or Wipes, are often the result of bad rolling, bad player decisions and powerful enemies. TPKs, fortunately, are rare, but they are a constant threat that lurks in the shadows of every combat, and every so often they occur and they threaten your campaign and story as well.

    Total party kills first and foremost should never happen on a random encounter; when they do occur they should happen on an epic heroic level where the PCs go down fighting to the finish.

    As the GM, you have the good and bad fortune of seeing it coming because from behind the screen you have got a more complete picture; you are seeing the rolls of the players, you have the stats of the monsters and bad guys.

    When a TPK does occur the players will feel the impact deeply, they have lost the characters that they have spent that last few ranks building their character into what they want, and suddenly all of this changes. The player's reactions could range from: no worries, let's roll up new characters to demoralization and anger at the lost character. In all these cases, players will turn to you as the GM for what they need to do.

    As the GM you have the power to "fix" the party without losing any of the sting that a TPK delivers so that the party and the players might be more cautious in the future.

    Avoiding the TPK No matter what the cause is there are a few ways that you can avoid a TPK. As the GM the ultimate responsibility for the campaign and scenario design is in your corner. While encounters do not have to be balanced necessarily, death still needs to be a real consequence for individual players, you should attempt to make them fair.

    While you are putting the encounters together, always consider the power of the bad guys vs. your players. The players should always have a reasonable chance to defeat their opponents.

    Secondly, you have a couple of turns perhaps to the last die roll and the last character falling and you have the ability to enact any of the Dues Ex Machina Rules should you decide not to let things play out.

    The players also have a bit of responsibility in avoiding a TPK. Unfortunately, they may not know this until its too late, unless you talked about it in session zero; however, you can relay this information to them afterward, hoping that they can use the information to avoid another TPK.

    Players need to understand that character death is always possible when the dice are thrown during combat. Often, the players do not have a lot say about when a TPK will occur, they do not have any foreknowledge about the encounter, but it does fall to them to try and be prepared.

    Players should learn when to fight or flee. The encounter may have become tougher than they thought, even with foreshadowing of the danger, and they need to run. No one likes to flee from an encounter, but as the idiom says "discretion is the better part of valor" and slipping out of the encounter before things go from not working well to TPK, is a safe and solid choice. While having the players duck and run may put a damper on the next few sessions of the campaign as you get things put back together, it is better than losing the whole party.

    Additionally, if they survive or generate new characters, you can instruct the players that they should attempt to be prepared for any encounter that may come their way. Often this means that they make an appropriate selection of abilities and items, perhaps even purchasing magical items.

    When a TPK does occur, as GM you must make sure that legitimize the death of the party, by making sure it is fair

    Once the last character drops, and the last die is rolled, you have to go to work. Obviously, you will want consequences with in the game world to matter at the table. However, you also want to make sure that everyone is still having fun and will want them to not stop playing, either in the campaign or in the game.

    There are a couple of ways to keep everyone happy after the fact, without diluting the meaning of the party's death and the TPK.

    Campaign Inclusion - The pain of a TPK can be reduced somewhat by allowing the TPK to affect the setting. This allows the players to enjoy seeing their character deaths reflected in the campaign world. This can range from legends arising from their demise. To priests becoming something of a local saint, fighters drifting into myth as their names become the basis for companies or mercenary groups. Memorials of the party begin to appear in the towns or villages that the party used as a base of operations.

    Next Up - One of the quickest and stereotypical solutions to have everyone generate new characters and then send them back into the foray to either pick up where the previous party left off, either by command/request of a contact or to set off on a mission to discover what happened to the missing party. This helps keep cohesion in the campaign and gives the players the ability to defeat whatever killed the last party and possibly pick up where the first group left off.

    Powerful Intervention - This route tends to make the sting of a TPK less powerful and less meaningful. However, if new characters will not work with the player's story, this option might work well. There are a couple of twists that you can put into place that will keep the players actively engaged and perhaps create a greater story.

    Have a powerful entity, preferably a non-deity, such as a powerful demonic lord, a powerful patron, or even a mysterious presence bring the characters back from the brink of death. The resurrecting entity could be on the side of good and understand the need for the characters; on the other hand the intervening entity or power has a more sinister agenda, might demand a tremendous price to be paid or may place the characters into a slavery bond with the entity.

    Not as bad - If there is a need to keep the players alive because of really bad dice roles or a landslide of really bad decisions, then instead of using lethal damage directly, perhaps that last damage dealt to the players was against their fatigue instead, and instead of being dead the players wake up hours later, captured, stripped of gear and forced to deal with the new situation.

    Truly the End - Sometimes, when the characters have failed at the climax of a moment, perhaps the story moves on to allow evil or chaos to succeed in its plan. Allow this to affect the campaign world, and let the players see these effects when they generate new characters for a new story line.

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