Player Character Death and Thereafter: It is Absolutely Needed for an Interesting Campaign!

As a Dungeon Master, you’re more than likely going to run into Player Character death eventually. Dungeons and Dragons character death cannot and should not be avoided. If you are running a campaign that is too easy, one where your players beat everything without a challenge to it at all, then your players will become accustom to doing whatever without recourse. Player Character death is what helps keep the game alive, ironically. It brings weight to the Player’s decisions, and makes the ride more meaningful. But, how do you deal with the loss of a character that the Players and even yourself may have grown attached to throughout your campaign? That’s what we’re going to discuss in this post.

First, here’s a short list of things you’ll need to understand:

• Player Character Death is Necessary (In more ways than one)
• Comfort the Player whose character has died
• Hold an out of game Wake for the fallen character
• Help the Player who lost their character to create something new

Player Character Death is Necessary

While it may sound macabre, a character’s death is an intrinsic part of the game. As I said before, it brings the weight of consequence into your campaign. However, that’s not the only necessity it provides.
Let’s say that you’ve been running a campaign for about two months. One of the Players really likes to get drunk when he plays. Unfortunately, this makes him disorderly and belligerent. In your current session, he is intoxicated yet again. To the point that he cannot cognitively make a decision and doesn’t understand the situation. He then begins to knock things over and throw a huge fit over nothing. At that moment, it would be appropriate for you as the Dungeon Master to kill off his character and remove him from the game. It’s your job as the Dungeon Master to ensure that your players are having a good time, and are being respected. In this instance, Player Character death allows you to assert your authority as the Dungeon Master while protecting your other players from such belligerence.

Another example is that one of your Players has created a character that is so powerful compared to the rest of the group that it unbalances the game.

In this case you would have to find a way to boost the other Player Characters, or kill the overpowered one. When you do this, you must express to the player why you felt the character was too powerful for this campaign and that you will help them build a more balanced character to play with. Of course, you could also dumb down the character’s power if the player s insistent on playing that character. Be sure that you are honest and fair to said Player. Otherwise, you may lose them.
Whether the Character’s death was deliberate or an accident, it is necessary to making the game fun.

Comfort the Player Whose Character Has Died

This will typically apply to when a character’s death was not intended. They tried to make an epic leap of faith or take a huge gamble, but lost in the process. Make the character’s end one worthy of remembrance. Make sure it is brave and heroic. Be sure you are encouraging to the player. Let them know that this is not the end for them, but a new beginning. That their lost hero’s deeds will live on forever in the songs and lore of the world you and the others have forged.
Host a great wake, a celebration of the character’s life within the world. Have Bards and Minstrels sing songs and spin poems about the character’s glorious achievements and triumphs. Let the other players give speeches as their own characters to revel in the memory of their lost comrade. This will help to instill the memory of the character within the campaign, and provide closure for the Players.

Host an Out of Game Wake

After such a session full of turbulence, sadness, and death it would be wise to invite everyone out. Take your players to a bar or nice restaurant. Talk about all the wonderful adventures you’ve all experienced with that character. Share ideas amongst each other about what new character should join the fray. Most importantly, try to end the evening on a high note. If you just leave things as they are, your player may get discouraged about creating a new character and continuing with the campaign. Remind everyone to remain positive, and that Character Death is an opportunity for new and exciting things.

Help the Player Who Lost Their Character Create a New One

Often, you’ll find that after a Player has lost a Character they were attached to, they will become discouraged. It’s quite common for this to happen, especially with new players. Make sure you are as positive as you can be, and steer your player to a creative new beginning. Give your player thoughts and opinions about what you think they might like to play as. Help them create an interesting backstory that ties in with the way things are currently in the campaign. Reinvigorate the Player’s creative juices, and enjoyment for the game and the whole experience will only improve for both the Player and everyone else involved.  Matt Mercer from Critical Role also has a YouTube video about player character death in dungeons and dragons.
Thank you again for reading! If you have any questions or concerns pertaining to Player Character Death please leave a comment below! If I don’t have the answer you’re looking for, I’m sure another experienced Dungeon Master will!

Author: Ven’Orik (Zach)

I’m just a regular nerd with a passion for storytelling and fantasy. Growing up I read books by Tolkein and C.S. Lewis, and this solidified my love for the genre. I first started playing D&D when I was 13 and have been pursuing it since. I’m just here to share my knowledge and hopefully learn a thing or two from all of you as well!