I have an admission to make. It’s a shameful one for someone running an old school D&D game, but here it is.
None of my PCs in ongoing games have ever died.
Oh, sure, I’ve had lots of characters die. But always in one-shots, throwaway games at conventions or to pass the time. Not characters I’ve invested in. It’s a dramatic lacuna in my experience. And I have to consider: how did this happen? (Or, more accurately, not happen.)
I’ve been playing RPGs for years, starting with Blue Box Basic back in 1978 or so. My memory of play back then is rather vague, but given our tender age and low attention spans, I don’t think my friends and I tried anything more than one-offs. My friends and I dabbled in other games, such as Traveller, Top Secret and Star Frontiers, none of which lasted long. A group at the local youth center, run by a fellow who seemed ancient to us but was likely a college student or even a high school senior, entertained us with his own brand of AD&D; my eighth-level ranger, his name lost in the mists of time, still survives somewhere, albeit permanently blinded from a nuclear strike on the Great Kingdom of Aerdy.
After a hiatus lasting through high school, I discovered a welter of newfangled systems and settings, such as Amber DRPG, Ars Magica and the entire panoply of White Wolf games — Vampire, Werewolf, Mage, Changeling, Exalted, etc. And then there was D&D3e, in a group that’s hung together for nine years running three separate campaigns in a single setting. Aside from the games I’ve refereed, I’ve played at least two dozen characters in campaigns of varying length, and not one of them has died. (Except for poor doomed Martin the Green, but as that was a plot-mandated death followed immediately by a plot-mandated resurrection, I deem it to lie outside of the parameters of this scenario.)
As a result of this unprecedented feat of survival, I feel some perplexity when faced by the massive death tolls of our group’s old school games. How do my players actually feel when their characters are impaled by bugbears, rent asunder by zombie wolves or incinerated by their own arsenals of ersatz Greek fire? Yes, many of them seem quite sanguine about their characters’ fates; certainly my fellow bloggers have had more than their share of deceased PCs and they show no signs of slackening in their resolve to come back for more. But the actual sensations involved escape me.
Hands-on research is clearly required. But I like my characters and have no wish to kill them off merely for experimental purposes. And in any case, deliberate suicide would seem to defeat the purpose. This is something that should happen naturally, despite all my paranoid in-character behavior.
(PS: Tavis, this is not a request to kill my character. Lucky the Halfling Marksman will die when the time is right; don’t speed that day on my account!)