Character death in RP

Another MMO RP-related post? Haven’t I said enough already? Hell no, there is more to blabber about. This time the topic is a dark and sensitive one – CHARACTER DEATH! There is a lot to say about this, both practical and theoretical, so bear with me if the post seems a bit all over the place. 


Merlei's funeral

The question of character death is one that sees deep, deep differences within the RP community. Differences that ultimately lead down to the very core of why we RP, our personal reasons for indulging in this hobby, and our goals for it. Often it boils down to the fundamental question of what roleplay even is. What characters are.

While there is no sharp line to divide the sides of this issue, there does seem to be a main difference that is relatively easy to point at: simulated reality vs story. On the first side you have RP that draws towards realism in actions and consequences, where just like in reality there isn’t necessarily a happy ending, and where no one actually holds control over what will happen. On the other side you have RP that draws more towards storytelling, where characters will only perish if it is their time to do so, where things happen for a reason and where the players ultimately are in control. To one extreme you have the player who will let dice rolls determine if her character will die of infection or not after a minor cut. To the other extreme you have the player who has a plan for if/when the character will perish, and any other situation but the pre-determined death will have a happy ending, even if that means surviving a bullet to the head or being suddenly picked up by aliens and brought to safety. Most roleplayers are of course somewhere in between the two extremes, but the basic ideas are still there. Is your character a simulated person in a chaotic simulated reality, or is it the main character in an adventure story where you are the author?

It is a good question to ask yourself even before your characters end up in potentially lethal situations. If IC logic says that your character should die, are you going to let it happen? Should you? I’ll come back to that question later, let’s first have a look at Character Death from a couple of different angles.

Rings on the water

A character that has been active in RP is not isolated. A death does not come without consequence. Friends and family grieve their loved ones. Murderers suffer guilt and potential retribution. Lives change. Never underestimate the impact a death can have on those that remain, both characters and players.

Don’t see character death as the end. Like any other important event a death is a catalyst, sparking change. It forces characters to develop and drives plots forward, regardless of if the death was expected or a complete surprise.

Rings on the water, don’t try to avoid the ripples because they are what will make the death meaningful. A death doesn’t have to be meaningful because it took place in an epic final fight between good and evil, or because a hero sacrificed himself to save another, or whatever great scene a player may have in mind. The real meaning of a death lies in the ripples, the rings on the water, the consequences it has for future roleplay. How it will affect other characters.

Stop death from occurring, avoid tragedy at all cost, and you also will also miss out on the dramatic and interesting consequences, remember that too when you decide how you want to play your character.

replace tears with liqour

Just an attempt on your life

In a peaceful corner of Stormhaven lay Laci’s Bookstore. At least, it used to be peaceful. On this particular evening Avelyn, the owner of the store, was thankfully not alone. She lay in bed, as she had done for days now, and keeping her company at the moment were two of her trusted employees, Felix and Praxee. 

Without warning a man burst into the house, a complete stranger, armed to the teeth. Both Felix and Praxee went forhim but somehow he managed to dodge them both, carrying on at a furious pace. The man jumped up on the bed to straddle the redhaired woman laying there, and in a swift movement he stabbed down at her.

Two seconds later the attacker whispered OOC:

just an attempt on your life

What we see here is an amazing example of how the different views on character mortality and realism can clash. He followed up this whisper by saying, “just dodge the attack.” I, who played Avelyn, frantically whispered back. “SHE CAN’T!” Because she couldn’t. She was already seriously injured and could not physically move from where she was laying in bed.

Now there are a whole host of problems in this scene. The attacker godmoded his way past two defenders and emoted jumping up on the bed and stabbing down – though not with the intention of actually managing the kill. Rather, it was with the intention to create a cool scene, with the victim just barely being able to dodge away and there then being some epic fight, no doubt.

It’s a perfect example, really. The attacker clearly belonged on the “story” side, having an OOC plan and going by it. Not realizing that Avelyn and her defenders played by the principles of realism instead, where a person can’t always dodge. Where failure and thus death is always an option.

So what do we learn from this? COMMUNICATE! Don’t go into violent conflict with others unless you know you are playing by the same principles! 

So what happened in this case? When the attacker realized that Avelyn physically could not dodge the attack, he himself emoted the stab missing its target.Which was probably the best he could do at that point. Disaster averted!

This should be obvious

Here is a simple piece of advice. If you are not prepared to let your character die, do not have the character get in a duel that is supposed to be to the death! 

Yeah, it’s obvious, isn’t it? Still I’ve seen people do it. Get in a duel and somewhere along the way they let the other know that “Oh by the way, my character isn’t killable. He may be beat up and hurt but not killed.” Realize that if you do this,if you bring an unkillable character to a lethal fight, you are basically attempting to force death upon the opponent by OOC means.

You may think you are only using your right to decide over your own character, keeping him or her alive – but in the process you are also stripping away that choice for someone else, by leaving the other person’s character in a fight to the death that they can’t win unless they pull the plug by OOC means or godmode.

So don’t, just don’t. Don’t even think about it, just don’t!

Bloody murder

Murder. Not a brawl gone bad, not a fight with lethal outcome, but the act of deliberately killing another in cold blooded murder. Most often actual murders in RP are planned by both victim’s and murderer’s player, as a part of a plotline or as a calculated ending to a character’s story. Or it may come as a surprise, an unexpected result of IC events no one could anticipate. Either way murder can be a terribly exciting and interesting part of RP. Or, if done badly, it can be absolute shit.

So you want your character to murder someone? There are basically two reasons why you’d want this – it’s usually either because you created the character to be a murderer, an antagonist to be hunted down or feared, or it is because something happened IC that means your character sees no other option but to kill.

ninetoes murder

If you created the character specifically to be a murderer, perhaps made so that law-enforcement characters or good-guy heroes could get a challenge, ask need to start by asking yourself a few very important questions.

– Are you open for anyone stepping in and taking part in this plot, and thus potentially hunting down your murderer, or is your target audience a specific character or group only?

If you do not want unforeseen involvement by other characters, strongly consider using NPC/semi-NPC victims. Any “real” character chosen as a victim will have friends, family, acquaintances, people who will be affected by the murder and who may get involved for the sake of justice or vengeance. Also strongly consider doing the murder RP where other characters won’t stumble upon it. Anything you put out in public may lead to involvement by others and it is not fair to those other players if they get drawn into something of that magnitude without possibility of following up as is logical IC.

– Are you prepared to potentially let your murderer get killed in the process?

If you are not prepared to let your murderer get killed in the process, do yourself and others a favour by not bringing this to public RP. Go after victims where you and the other players have agreed on the outcome and don’t involve others who are not in on it, they will just get frustrated and annoyed at the limits of potential back-lash.

–  Are you going to target actual player characters, not just NPCs?

Remember that even if you use NPC victims the IC impact should be the same as if they were player characters. The same rules apply either way, the same principles. Don’t expect your murderer to get away with a slap on the wrist if caught just because the victim was an NPC and not a player character, that would make no sense and would only frustrate anyone involved in catching the murderer, and potential future victims.

Emotional impact

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that character death can be deeply emotional. Painful, even. And not just for the one who just lost a character, but also for those around. When a character dies it can feel like losing a dear old friend, even if you have done everything right, kept the IC/OOC boundary intact, not put too much of yourself into your character etc etc. Because even when you have done everything right, loss of a dear character still means that the RP you have had with that character – and hopefully enjoyed – suddenly ends. It means IC relationships disappear, the fun you had with that character won’t continue, and even if it is still just a character, it is still loss.

When facing sudden and unexpected character death especially all manner of reactions from the player is to be expected. There may be rage, sadness, anxiety, or even that raw instinct to just flee – which may end up in the player pulling the plug OOC and stepping in to hinder the death.

poetic death

So, please don’t underestimate the emotional impact character death may have, regardless of if you belong to the “story” side or the “realist” side of things. Have your character just killed another? Talk to the other player, be respectful and supportive! Especially if you don’t know the other player too well… be gentle, please.


My take 

How do I personally prefer it then? As you might have guessed, I am pretty firmly rooted in the realist camp. However, not as extreme as one can be, I do have limits.

At the core, all my characters are meant to be mortal, they can be killed in RP even when I as the player have not planned for it, and even when I as the player might not even want it. Rules of realism apply, when it’s a matter of chance  I will break out the dice and roll for what happens.

To take a practical example from RP back on ESO. Avelyn and a group of employees were travelling through dangerous territory and ended up being ambushed by undeads. Arrows were fired towards Avelyn and I let the dice decide if they hit – turned out one arrow did hit her.  To determine how badly it hit I rolled a D20, with 1 meaning just a grazing wound and 20 being a hit bad enough to cause instant death. The dice landed at 19 – terrible! So very close to death, Avelyn would have died if not quickly given intense medical attention, and even so it was damn close. She would take weeks, months even, to heal fully and it left life-long consequences.


Where are my limits then?

I will not accept character death or serious injury if the opposition would not accept the same. An unkillable character that tries to kill one of mine will not succeed. In fact I will try to avoid violent conflict with such characters at all, to avoid that issue even arising.

And of course, I would be hard pressed to accept character death if I don’t think the RP was fair. This is pretty obvious, I would hope – is someone trying to godmode their way to a victory and in the process try to claim my character’s death? Ah, no. Same with metagaming, just no. It needs to be fair play and the opposition needs to have the same take on how to do things.

Obviously, since this is my take on things, it is what I prefer. And thus what I would also recommend if asked!

Letting there be a risk of character death means there is something to lose, and conflict RP becomes less safe but more thrilling. It makes you think twice about how to play your character, stops you from taking unrealistic risks and makes for more realistic characters overall, I think. It does not mean your characters are just “throwaways” or cannon fodder meant to be killed off, which those against character killability tend to claim. Quite the opposite, I assure you. When a killable character gets into combat there is actual risk, with the potential for heavy consequences and an emotional impact on the player – it’s hard to even compare that with RP combat with characters that just can’t die and the player is safe in that knowledge.


So, yes. That is how I see it. But in the end all must figure out their own limits, and I fully respect those who choose not to let their characters be killable. I just wouldn’t want them fighting mine. Fair? I think so!







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