Death

(Book 1, pp 152-153)

(Lee Barklam)

I am more than happy for characters to die from their own stupidity, haste, general unpreparedness, ignorance and\or unheroic behaviour. What I am not happy for characters to die from is poor dice rolling, rules that cause instant death or by actions and events over which the characters either cannot exercise control or have not had an opportunity to influence. In the real world, events over which the people involved have no control claim the lives of thousands (if not millions) of lives each year, but if the same happens in a role-playing game, players quickly lose interest in the game. It is, after all, a game - a means of escaping to a fantasy world that, even at its worst, still outshines ours at its worst.

In the role-playing genre's infancy, rules that could kill on the outcome of a single die roll abounded, and even Dragon Warriors succumbed to this fashion. However, the hobby has matured and, except for some game systems that deliberately pay homage to the early history of the hobby, most of these examples are long gone. One of my disappointments with the revamped version of Dragon Warriors is that these are still here.

It is important to impart the level of peril that adventurers face, and to stress upon your players that the danger of death is very real. GMs that shy away from taking the lives of characters deprive the players of the element of risk - if characters can blunder through an adventure towards the inevitable successful conclusion, they might as well be watching a film. However, characters must be left with an opportunity to lick their wounds and learn from their mistakes, not be killed by them. Taking an example from the introductory adventure in the main rulebook, touching the water in the pool chamber (p231) effectively "kills" the character on a failed Magical Defence roll against a Magical Attack of 22 (most first rank characters will only have a Magical Defence score between 3 and 5). Fhionn is also a 7th rank Sorcerer, so if combat ensues and she has time to cast even a single spell, one of the characters is likely to find themselves Disheartened (Magical Attack of 22 again) - or maybe she'd prefer to use her Deathlight spell with a minimum damage of 13-AF (or as much as 28-AF) to 1d4 PCs that fail to Evade, either of which is likely to fell most first rank characters.

Combat is inevitable, visceral and deadly, but it should be fair and a fully-healthy character should not be dead in the first round of combat unless they've been unbelievably stupid. Similarly, house rules for critical hits (or misses) that kill instantly should be avoided. Conversely, players should know when their characters are outclassed so that when the combat goes badly, they know when (and how) to flee.

Spells and inappropriately scaled encounters aside, Dragon Warriors isn't so bad - Fear and Gaze Attacks might need a tweak here and there, but the GM should probably have dropped enough clues to the characters to ensure they are suitably prepared so I'm not advocating the adoption of a Warhammer-style Fate Points system, just that GMs out there take a look at the rules, spells, situations and encounters for where death may come suddenly and unexpectedly to the characters through no real fault of the players.

Preparing for Death


Of course, though, death inevitably catches up with the characters of even the wisest and most skilled players - be it in the form of injury, age or a fatal Yggdrassian peanut allergy. Players should therefore be encouraged to develop legacies for their characters in the form of families, homes, friends, patrons and adherents to ensure their connection to the world lives on in NPCs, any one of which the player may wish to assume control as their next character so that they may continue to stride towards their goals even after their favourite character has been lost. This role-playing immersion into the world, to create a life for a character outside of adventuring, has many other implications for players than just providing them with some continuity after death - it gives them a whole new way to influence the world, achieve their goals and dispose of their hard-earned cash when there is nothing left for them to buy for themselves, although this is an article for another time!

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