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Tabletop Taboos: Killing a PC


Gamer Talk

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So, I've planned, as part of my game's story, to kill the main character who is played by my friend. I'm the DM, and he is the ONLY player. Is it fine to go ahead and intentionally kill my friend's single player character if it's related to the story and in the end the player can still complete the main quest? The reason for the death and for being able to finish the campaign are both story specific, but could it work without the player raging and actually understanding the artistic motive behind it? I know it's basically taboo to purposely kill a player, but I'm wondering if I intend to do it, and have a way for him to still defeat the bad guy and pull it off, if it it'll be fine in this case. Help?


Ehhh, I dunno. Personally I'd be kind of peeved if I was intentionally killed by the DM.

Maybe if you put him in a situation that would LIKELY result in his death, but still gave him a slim shot of surviving (and coming out of the ordeal stronger than ever as compensation) and then explained it to him without spoiling anything it'd be okay.


Long title is long.

But honestly, it depends on if the player is satisfied with ending his character (and thusly willing to start a new one) in such a manner.

Obviously, it depends on the story and what it all involves. I think it could be very awesome if that were the case.

Shadow Lodge

Or you could ask him if that's okay with him. Most players (in my expierence) are willing to work with this as long as it isn't something that just happens.


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It may not hold the same emotional impact for your player as you hope it to. I advise against it.


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It depends.

If it were me, I'd be okay with it as long as I'm still participating in the art of the story, and by participate, I mean coming up with cool things that are happening. I wouldn't want to be spoon fed the solution to achieving the main quest.

So, if you're leaving room for the player to make valid choices that impact the outcome of the story, it could work.

That said, I would probably talk to the player first. Leave out the cool spoilers, but try to tell the player the general concept of what you're doing and if that seems cool to them, go for it.


things being dangerous is one thing.

inescapable death i would find annoying and contrived, particularly if my characters death was 'required' for the story to progress.

if his character is the type to risk his or her life in the name of a greater good or whatever, then give him a chance to make the choice at least.

railroading of this nature is obvious and upsetting, to me at least.

Andoran

In my experience, it is okay to railroad the character into unescapable events (and even death) if the player okays it beforehand.

No need to go into details of course, as you do not wish to spoil the surprise, but having a vote of confidence from the get-go is an absolute prerequisite for this to work.


How can the player still complete the campaign if his character dies?

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Roleplaying Game, Tales Subscriber

From your own setup, if you can't answer your own question, than it's probably not.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I had a personal experience with something very similar and I still look on it as the worst experience I've ever had gaming. I lost the most fun character I'd had up to that point and the GM was upset with ME for not understanding how great a twist it was to the story.

I beg you, don't do it!


You would have to allow them to still function as a petitioner or something.
I stopped playtesting Ravenloft adventurers at the game store years ago.
Sure, they hand you a character at the beginning of the game, but the character ends up dead if your lucky. Does the player know they are playing in a horror campaign?

Shadow Lodge

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tl;dr...And that's just the thread title.


Also, sorry for the terribly long thread title: this is my first thread, I didn't know the titles were usually short, and I wanted to be straight forward with the question but didn't know how to shorten it! Again, I sincerely apologize.


Cammyfan67 wrote:
So, I've planned, as part of my game's story, to kill the main character who is played by my friend. I'm the DM, and he is the ONLY player. Is it fine to go ahead and intentionally kill my friend's single player character if it's related to the story and in the end the player can still complete the main quest? The reason for the death and for being able to finish the campaign are both story specific, but could it work without the player raging and actually understanding the artistic motive behind it? I know it's basically taboo to purposely kill a player, but I'm wondering if I intend to do it, and have a way for him to still defeat the bad guy and pull it off, if it it'll be fine in this case. Help?

I would need more details to really answer the questions. But with the limited information you gave, I will add my voice to those saying, "don't do this". You know your player, we don't. How are we supposed to know if your player will rage or understand?


Only if your friend is okay with that.

Otherwise you'd just leave him bitter most likely.

And that would make you full of fail as a DM, to be honest.


That's a silly question to be asking us, you should ask your friend this question.


Yes, it is.

I've seen this done quite a bit at LARPS, actually, and those players are often much more invested in their characters than players at a tabletop.

The best and most appropiate way to do this is to talk with the player in advance and arrange how it's going to be done, and give him a really cool pc option to play once his first guy is dead. Effectively allow him to become part storyteller for the scene, and reward him for his efforts with a cooler character to play afterward.


It's a game and in the end does he see that way or is he more attached than that. I have a back up character or two for most games I enter in case I make a bad decision or get hit full on by dragon breath. You don't see many save versus death rolls these days, but in my opinion they are fun and sorely missed.


Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Maps, Modules, Pawns, Roleplaying Game, Tales Subscriber

No. D&D/D20/Pathfinder is not a storytelling game.


If the death is merely a setting change as in the adventure continues in the afterlife then there is little harm. Forcing him to pick up another character to continue might be too much in a solo game.

In a multiplayer game and someone dies it can be helpful to keep a play around til a place where a new player can be introduced or until his previous character is rezzed. In a solo game this would be wierd.


<trips over the thread title>

<stands up rubbing head and glancing back at it>

<double frown with a side of frowning>

You're the DM, you can do whatever you want. It simply comes down to asking yourself the following question:

Does this action make the group more fun?


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I'm in the "unacceptable" camp.
Breaking another person's Lego buildings because you need the bricks for yours, is no way to play.


Cammyfan67 wrote:
So, I've planned, as part of my game's story, to kill the main character who is played by my friend. I'm the DM, and he is the ONLY player. Is it fine to go ahead and intentionally kill my friend's single player character if it's related to the story and in the end the player can still complete the main quest? The reason for the death and for being able to finish the campaign are both story specific, but could it work without the player raging and actually understanding the artistic motive behind it? I know it's basically taboo to purposely kill a player, but I'm wondering if I intend to do it, and have a way for him to still defeat the bad guy and pull it off, if it it'll be fine in this case. Help?

That is between you and the player. There is no right or wrong answer, but if he is the only player I would rewrite the story so that was not necessary if he did not like the idea.


I think this is one of the primary tenets of gaming. A player should always have options. They might not be good options (let die the woman you love, or let die...etc.), but they should be there. If a player - any player, ever - is entirely helpless to change the situation, then it's not a game anymore, it's a story someone's telling you, and why did you bother rolling all those dice?

That being said, if it's that integral to your story, I say go with the illusion of choice, one of my favorite GM tricks. Give him the option of the heroic sacrifice (or whatever), so that he can choose to go for it or not and deal with the consequences. He doesn't go for it, the world ends (or whatever, again), and it's his fault. That, or do what other folks have said - make it astronomically hard, but not impossible. Then at least he tried.


Depends upon the player and the character premise: I know players who would, cross that, who did gladly kill their characters because it matched the story and made it better. I know lots of players that would be annoyed or outrightly angered by that. It's ok as long as the player is ok with the idea of dying, has clearly defined purpose for the character that will be fulfilled by dying.

There should be also involved a choice: survive and achieve partial victory (or even fail) or decide to sacrifice own life to achieve great victory.


Talk with the player first. Tell him what direction the story is going and why you need the character to die. If the character will be ressurected later or the game will continue in the afterlife the player will probably agree. If he has to make another character, make sure the reason why this character should die is suitably impacting. Either 'save the world' epic or 'save your loved ones' emotional. And in any case you should assure the player that the death scene will be epic. Taking a powerful enemy with him or sealing an ancient evil, something along that.
Above all, make sure to okay it with the player first. Doesn't matter how cool or epic you make it, if you railroad or force it you might end up with one player less.

Grand Lodge

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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Roleplaying Game, Tales Subscriber
Drejk wrote:
Depends upon the player and the character premise: I know players who would, cross that, who did gladly kill their characters because it matched the story and made it better.

That's how my Jedi ended his career in the Living Force campaign. There was a module in which an entire race that is trapped in a warped hell space created by a Dark Side artifact. When you've come to the end point you have three choices.

1. Do nothing and report the matter to the Jedi Masters of Almas.

2. Use the artifact to end the races suffering by killing them all.

3. Free the race from it's prison and redeem them, this requires however the sacrifice of a player character.

My Jedi Padawan who was like 30 exp from level 7 and that close to being acknowledged as a full fledged Jedi Knight took the third option. It was a fittng end for the character, who had never taken a life while overcoming his challenges. (in his view, Droids don't count) and he was buried with full honors given to a Jedi Knight. It was one of the last shining Jedi moments before the campaign made it's full transition to the storyline of Star Wars Act 3.


Just as LazarX said. What you can do is make a storyline that will reveal how great the character's death would be in the accomplishment of his mission (following his own values and motivations) and give him the opportunity to do it. But if he choses not to, then that's allright but he will lose that opportunity and will have to get outside his character's consistency.

One thing is clear though, is you should not be able to plan what the exact story will be in the far future as it is basically keeping freedom away from the character. If your friend wants that kind of game, he should just play video games - you're here to lend him power over your world, not just to amuse him.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Pawns Subscriber

The only time this worked that I've seen - was when the DM didn't expect it.

As in the situation was supposed to be unstoppable - and require the party to run away - and create a large disaster that required fixing. (superhero campaign - at the end of a very long 'arc' - this was going to be the 'to be continued...')

One of the characters decided to use a unique power (that once used up killed the character - that was mechanically in the rules) - and dump everything they had into stopping the event.

DM had to take a minute or so to think about it - and heroic death happened saving countless destruction. Was an epic moment.

If he had set it up to force the issue - it would have sucked.


i agree with Rynjin. give 'em a long shot.

i did this once, i had a player who basically played the game for the combat scenarios. in a moment of weakness, i decided to flex my DM muscle and give him a solo arena match up in front of his fellow players against an opponent who should have crushed him in a couple of rounds. bastard rolled lucky, survived by the skin of his teeth, and was so fricken excited he nearly jumped out of his seat.

give 'em a chance, even if it's low - do not remove choice and chance from the game. increasing risk and stakes is ok. besides, unforseeable things may occur that may surprise you.


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This question addresses the very heart of what I call the "RPG Social Contract".

That contract goes like this:

The GM "owns" the story, the plot, the NPCs and the setting. The player "owns" his/her character.

As such this sort of thing would require cooperation between the GM and player.

However, even acknowledging that, I would strongly discourage any "story" where you have predetermined that a PC is going to die.

It's just bad form. There are infinite ways to tell the story without pre-determining that a PC will die. Many of those are no doubt better stories than the one you have in your head. Find one of them.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I'm a big fan of games where the GM hasn't written a novel and where we the players have some say in how things end up, even far away from how the GM 'planned' it. Homebrew campaigns where there's a set story that's going to happen have been an incredibly frustrating experience for me and the other players.


Cheapy wrote:
I'm a big fan of games where the GM hasn't written a novel and where we the players have some say in how things end up, even far away from how the GM 'planned' it. Homebrew campaigns where there's a set story that's going to happen have been an incredibly frustrating experience for me and the other players.

Cheapy, it depends on the GM to me. There are some GMs whose story-telling is compelling enough that I am fine with following the story. Usually those GMs don't overtly railroad the player, but the story is more interesting if you follow the path, so it feels pretty natural.

Conversely I find some "sandbox" campaigns fun on an encounter-by-encounter basis, but I have become bored with some of them due to a lack of a comprehensive conflict that needs to be resolved.

I sometimes view my campaign story writing as a combination of "what" and "how." I generally provide the "what" should happen, but I try to leave the "how" of it up to the players. And if they decide to pursue some other "what" I will adjust to that too. But usually they pursue the "what" I have laid out.


Depends on what you mean by intentional. When you are the DM you are going to kill characters. Now if by intentional you mean put a character in a situation that no mater what he does the character dies. Then that's a no go.

Now if the character goes in a town and provokes the local assassin guild then you got a plot. In these cases I usually give the character a least 3 ways out. A combat option and a couple of diplomacy option. The combat option usually involves a CR+3 to CR+5 opponent. Depending of the circumstances obviously.

Qadira

You're asking the wrong folks. This is something where the answer depends heavily on the group makeup.

I have players who would be happy to be killed if it meant their death was integral to the storyline because they feel it gives that specific character importance, value, and ownership of the storyline. The characters value to the story trumps the players control.

I have other players who think the GM's only role should be to witness die rolls because otherwise they as players have no ownership of the story. The players control trumps the specific characters importance.

Storyteller or judge? Depends on who the player is. Neither is technically wrong. But if you misjudge how your players will react, nothing we say here will stop your players from being upset.

Shadow Lodge

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I absolutely agree with Matthew Winn that this is highly dependent on the player in question. Different players/groups will react in very different ways to this situation.

Brian E. Harris wrote:
No. D&D/D20/Pathfinder is not a storytelling game.

It is for some groups. I've always described D&D/Pathfinder to non-players as "group storytelling with dice."

The problem with the DM just deciding to kill the character is that it takes away player choice. In general, I would either talk to the player ahead of time to ask how he feels about going out in a plot-relevant blaze of glory, or else set it up such that he has a choice to sacrifice himself to save something very valuable to him. However the best course of action probably depends on exactly what you have in mind for the story and whether you think the player will be interested enough to go along with it. Even if you have some idea of how you want the story to go, you should never assume that the player will act how you would like him to act.

How were you planning on killing the character, why is it important to the story, and in what way will the player be able to complete the main quest afterwards?


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frankly talking to him about it before-hand MIGHT work in some cases, but i sorta feel like it cheapens it a bit. the outcome is predetermined, the player knows how it ends - his guy dies and is a hero. why even bother playing it out?

in my 20 odd years experience, the fun comes from feeling like what your characters do influences the outcome of the adventure or whatever. feed him the story in game, build it up, and let him choose. then whichever way he goes, fun is had - no?


As a GM who runs solo games all the time...

Does the player know you're planning this?

If your player doesn't know then this is a bad plan.

If your player thinks this is a bad plan then this is a bad plan.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

So.....

He's your friend, your only player, and you plan on intentionally killing him?

Do you have both back-up friends and a back-up campaign? You might need them. When the sole player character dies, the story is over.

Paizo Employee Digital Products Assistant

Edited thread title and moved.


Killing a PC is not taboo.

Now that everyone is looking at me like I am crazy, allow me to explain:

Death of the character does not need to be the end of the character. They can be brought back by someone that wants their service in exchange, they can continue on in the afterlife or as an undead (or other being the setting says can be "born" through death), or if the player is up for it their PC death can be the passing of a "torch" to a new character to continue towards the PC's goal.

The only times that killing a PC is not okay is when you let the player think they have a chance to survive when they do not (you should never roll dice if you are only going to allow one outcome, just do it as a descriptive scene and move on to the part where the player's choices matter), and when you are doing so to spite a player for some out-of-character reason.


Crud, I missed the original thread title and now it was changed.

Yeah, I did this once for a player of a game with multiple people. He wanted to play a different character for a while, so he sacrificed his character to kill an evil demi-god. An NPC was going to do the self-sacrificing, but when the PC realized what was going on, the PC cracked him on the head and took the Deus Ex Machina and said, "Nobody is dying to save me." and then went and died to save everyone else.

Perhaps you need to remember that it's much better to allow someone to chose to sacrifice their character for the sake of the world than to force them to. Perhaps there is an NPC that the PC dearly loves and that NPC declares that he or she has to do this to stop a resurrection cycle. Yes, it forces the PC to have to make that choice, but then it's the PC's choice. That is so much more interesting when the player decides that they have to jump in the crazy certain death plot thing. Just be sure to have a character sheet for the person who they saved available so that they can continue playing.

Hopefully that's helpful.

~Tundra


If you ask ahead of time and he agrees, maybe. Most players don't like it when their PC dies.

I killed a PC this week and I could have cheated and made it not happen. New player too. I kind of regret that.


st00ji wrote:
frankly talking to him about it before-hand MIGHT work in some cases, but i sorta feel like it cheapens it a bit. the outcome is predetermined, the player knows how it ends - his guy dies and is a hero. why even bother playing it out?

I've known how LotR ends for about a decade and a half now, still I rewatched the movies just a week ago (granted they don't end the same as the book, but whatever, you get the point).


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As a GM, I would never intentionally plan to kill a PC, UNLESS it was a situation where the PC(s) themselves wanted it to happen ("I want to die in a blaze of glory" or "Without high level magic, our only way of getting to this plane is dying, so... ((insert very specific story based plan here))).

Is it right for you and your PC? No clue. If it's a matter of his needing to die as part of a plot point, what I would do is present it to the character as a choice, and explain OOC why it's a plot element. But then what I would also do is not provide that as the only way to complete the campaign. I tend to provide multiple paths to the same goal whereever possible -- I think the only thing that provokes a worse reaction in a player than character death is the player feeling cornered or railroaded.


You have one player.
Without talking to him, you've decided your story requires his PC's death.
If you wanted to write a book, why involve your "friend"? A real friend would have let him go find a game to group with. And thats without going into the *shudder* emo vibe ya got goin on.


If the character's death is that important to the plot of your game, you may want to incorporate it into the character building process instead of the actual game. Assuming that the decisions he makes in generating his character still have some relevance to his ghost, once the player has generated his character, you describe the fight in which he is killed and then continue on with helping him update the character to his ghostly status. Only then does the real game begin.

Of course, before you do any of that you may want to float the question of whether he wants to play a game set in the afterlife. If he seems okay with the idea, then you are good to go.


Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

I had a DM ask if my character could die. We were in a situation and it seemed the obvious next step. We worked out how it would happen and he gave me guidelines for creating my new character. On the night it happened no one knew but us two. Sure enough it played out almost like we thought and the character went out an epic hero. The table was quiet for a moment then the DM moved the game along. It was one of the best role playing moments I have had. But the key was, it was a cooperative effort between us. Not a forced moment.

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