Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Character Attachment

Everyone who plays a fantasy game grows attached to their character. It's a persona that you were able to design (at least in the beginning) grows and changes it with time. You spend hours and even days in-character. When you're not in-character, you think about the ways that your character would react in certain situations. And once you've become so attuned to who your character is, you can even react quickly in ways that your character would react, even if it's different from the way you react.

The problem is, when you're playing games with permanent death, that character will eventually die and cease to be. Not only that, but it could end at any time - ask anyone who went to the recent Vargus event, where four characters met permanent death - something unheard of in my 11 years of NERO.

I have seen a number of people hurt by the death of their characters in these games. So the goal of this post is to help players through the pain of their character.

1. It's All About the Story
A lot of players are very conservative the way they play their characters. They avoid as many large or dangerous conflicts as possible to minimize the chances of death. Fact of the matter, these people are more likely to be hurt by their character death, as it'll be the result of mis-scaling or a fluke - neither of which is a particularly good story.

However, the characters that permanently die in the midst or climax of an epic quest have a story they'll be able to tell to their LARP friends for the rest of their life. So embrace the epic and dangerous plotlines rather than avoid them. You'll feel a lot better if you die taking out the big bad guy than getting killed by spiders.

2. Dive In to a New Persona
I find that I can come up with way more character concepts than I could actually play. I'm actually pretty excited about many of those characters, despite the fact that I'll probably never play them.

So if you're struck with permanent death, don't just NPC or play a secondary character. Start a new one! It'll definitely help you get over the permanent death of your character.

3. Write a Story
The important thing to remember is that you character is dead in that game, but the concept of the character is still alive and kicking. Have something you always wanted to do with that character but never had the chance? Write a story!

Your character suffered a game mechanic, but still exists in fantasy if you so choose. Don't confuse the skills that were on your card with who your character is. You could even play that character in a different game (LARP, Tabletop, WoW, etc). Just don't overdo it if you play those other games with the same people!

Anyone else have any pointers for dealing with character mortality?


  1. I guess one thing I might add is to go to your plot people. Your staff team might be able to help you come up with some new ideas and create a cool backstory. Better yet, they might have an interesting concept that would fit into your game. Maybe they're doing a plotline that calls for a certain race or class or skills; and no one really fits. Maybe they want to work with a certain back-story and no one is involved with it. If those concepts resonate with you, you can not only get interested again, but jump in with lots of stuff to role-play about and your own story to pursue.

    I guess there is also the possibility that the character might come back as an NPC. I'm usually against this - I think it mostly just draws out the pain of the PC, and isn't really fair to the population of people who don't get to come back at all. Plus, I don't think it usually is a good story - but of course there are exceptions! Maybe if your character died with unfinished business, they might come back to tie things up - or even as a villain. Again, I think this should be really rare, but it could make a good story.

  2. Both of those are excellent points.

    I am greatly opposed to characters coming back outside of the basic Spirit Farewell in order to say your good-byes. In addition to your concerns about favoritism, when you foster an environment where characters come back after death, you may find yourself in a situation where the players want to keep interacting with a dead character long after the player has accepted their death. This keeps them from being able to play their new character.

  3. I agree with Bill here. I don't think that characters should return (except Spirit Farewell, a sort of magical funeral in NERO) after perm death. There are so many great ideas out there waiting to be born into characters.

  4. Now, I admit that I don’t have the plot experience that Bill has, but I like the idea of a PC becoming an NPC upon their death. Now, I wouldn’t advocate it in all circumstances, but it seems that there are times when it would work out really well. Did a 1st year player die after three months of play and is eager to start a new character? Sure, let that character be gone. Did a 10 year PC just bite it? That’s a ready-made NPC right there, one with 10 years of history and a personality. I’m not saying that there isn’t potential for abuse, but the possibilities for dramatic, intense role-play seem valuable enough to not warrant a blanket dismissal of the idea.

  5. It's interesting that you should bring that up, Dave. Turning a PC into an active NPC is a terrible idea. When a PC becomes an NPC, the player who played the character (and who one would expect would continue to play the character) has a bias towards the character.

    In the case where that player is not writing the plot, the character will do things that may not align with the player's perspective of how the character would act, thus demoralizing the player. In addition, any players/characters that knew that character would not be able to predict how the NPC would act, which would cause a significant level of frustration.

    In the case where the player is writing the plot for the new NPC character, he will write biased plot for that character. While it may not seem like that would affect the overall quality of the plot, the bias effectively limits what can be done with the plot and, more importantly, what the players expect to be done with the plot.

    It is a ready-made NPC, but it's an inferior writing mechanism that makes the plot predictable or inconsistent.

    The reason I specified active NPC is that using the memory/spirit of a dead character could be a useful tool to drive plot a certain way. For example, if a player's spirit is being swallowed by the void, it would be more likely to drive the PCs to action than if it were just and NPC. However, please make sure that you check with the player before doing something like that. Otherwise, it could be construed as defiling the dead character.

  6. I think is great to be able to experience both situation in a game such permanent or temporary death of a character.

    For example, If you know that your character can die permanently you will be more cautious of your action in the game. At the opposite side, being able to reborn your character will let you try new things in game.

    So either your character die and that force you to build a new one or you can experience more stuff in game if you can reborn it. Both case is an occasion to be more creative.

  7. @Noah
    Well put.

    I agree, both permanent death and temporary death each have strengths associated with them, as long as the character is still PC controlled. The problem I have is with those characters becoming NPCs and receiving the seemingly infinite resources of the plot team.