If you’ve ever gamed with me then you’ll know that my characters die in RPGs… a lot, probably more so in LARP and one-shots than in campaign tabletop games, although that might simply be down to the fact that I tend to play in less campaign games (although this is slowly changing); I certainly don’t go out of my way to get characters killed or place my PCs in ridiculous situations (unless that is part of that specific character’s MO of course), but death is always a possible outcome in RPGs, after all, if there is no chance of failure and consequences then it lessens the feeling of elation when you succeed at a task.
That said, I’ve recently had a PC die in the Thousand Thrones 2E WFRP (Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay) campaign that TheRogueDM is running for us; you can see the video of the session below:
In the campaign I played a young woman by the name of Ariadne who had been raised by her father like a son and went by the name Aidan of Carcasonne (although unfortunately I never really got a chance to reveal this in the game), masquerading as a man since only men can be knights in Bretonnia according to the book, she ventured out in the world as young Bretonnian nobles do to explore new lands and gain knowledge of new people. Being strong in her faith to the Lady of the Lake, Aidan was drawn to investigate the rumours of the God Sigmar being reborn in the body of a young boy, making the acquaintance of Gerhard a follower of Ulric and Weiss, a quiet but learned young monk, along the way.
To cut a long story short we ended up travelling with Karl, the supposed Scion of Sigmar in an attempt to get himself recognised by the Emperor and the Grand Theogonist at Altdorf, one player down and with both Gehard and Aiden injured from the previous session, when one of the Scions own men betrayed him we attempted to help save him and almost succeeded, but at the last second I was cut down by a dagger blow (the crit hit system is brutal in WFRP 2E) and died of blood loss.
Now some people find character death a little emotional or traumatic, but I find that, as long as you have a good death scene or go out in a memorable way that fits your character then it tends to make things more satisfying, so below are my five tips for getting an epic death scene.
1. Don’t be scared of death.
I cannot over-emphasise this enough, if your character is permanently scared of death or dying then they will never accomplish anything, you don’t have to actively court death or continually do ridiculously risky stuff but don’t become paranoid about potential risks to your character.
2. Work out what your character’s shtick is and do it as much as possible.
It’s generally good practice for each of your characters to have a shtick or unique thing about them, this makes it easier to hook your roleplaying onto that and really focus on what is important to the character; if you want your character to have a dramatic death scene where they’re shown in their best light doing what they do, then you need to make sure they’re doing it as much as possible.
For example: My Bretonnian Knight was very much about fighting evil and protecting the weak, so I took every opportunity to be at the forefront of combat and attempt to save those in need; this meant that when my character eventually died it was whilst trying to save a child from the clutches of villainous mutants.
3. Make some arrangements regarding your death.
It seems logical that people whose occupations involve potential death on a regular basis would at least talk with their companions about it, after all, if a character dies then he relies on his companions to bury his body and recover his personal effects; having a conversation like this with other characters gives you an opportunity to add some additional interest to fairly mundane personal effects by giving them a bit of history, it also allows you to emphasise what is important to your character. Make sure you don’t overdo this though, no-one wants to be sat listening to a three hour monologue about your grandfather’s pocket watch.
For example: At the start of the last episode, already being injured, Aiden asked Gerhard to return her ancestral blade to the Bretonnian duchy of Carcasonne and her father should she die; this reinforced that martial power was important to the character and also allowed me to reveal some details about her father and life before the game in a more conversational manner.
4. Leave a legacy.
If you’ve followed the earlier steps then your character should have made an impression on your fellow PCs (for good or ill), this will help avoid the scenario that we see in too many TV shows where a character dies and is mourned for an episode and then never mentioned again; another good way to do this is to leave something behind or bequeath something to your fellows, whether this is a weapon or an item, telling another PC that you want them to have an item when and if you die serves as a good reminder of your previous character.
For example: Gerhard now carries Aiden’s sword, until it is returned to Carcasonne, he always has the option of using it, serving as a reminder that the group lost a comrade along the way.
5. When a character death does happen, accept it and move on.
If the unfortunate does happen and you lose a character then some people can find it quite difficult, especially if the character was a long-running or particularly treasured one; contrary to popular belief, most GMs (in my experience) also don’t take particular glee in killed off good characters, but the risk of dying is an inherent part of most RPGs. In my opinion one of the best ways to show a GM that you are fine with the character dying (and to help yourself) is to chat a bit after the fateful session about what your previous character accomplished (without dwelling on what they didn’t) and then focus on getting yourself excited about what you want to play next.
So there are five tips on how to make sure that you get an epic death scene, I’m sure there are more tips out that but these five should help you ensure that your character at least gets a memorable death scene; I’ve had a fair few characters that have died in various games and the only ones I really regret are the ones who had a boring death or that died due to sheer bad luck. It can be a bit gutting to lose a character before you have a chance to really fully explore them, but at least having a satisfactory end scene can help make it a bit easier to draw a line under that character and move on to the next.