Narrative Control – Episode 40 – Character Death

This episode Erik Woodbury and I are talking about character death and how that affects the players in the game and the story ramifications. This was inspired by an article from Judd Karlman on the Burning Wheel forums.

Hosts: Sean Nittner and Erik Woodbury

Length: 27:15

Show Notes

[00:27] Intro to the Show. My celebration of holiday cheer. Our thoughts on how to make Character death more satisfying in game.
[01:44] What’s up Justin? I mean an intro to Erik Woodbury.
[02:38] Judd’s post. A discussion took place on both his LiveJournal here: and the Burning Wheel forum thread here:
[03:00] An excerpt from Judd’s post.
[03:55] Putting Erik on the spot. Characters of his that have died.
[04:44] What character death means to Sean? The end of player agency in the story.
[05:11] Agency is the ultimate currency in any RPG. Doing stuff is what makes it fun.
[05:35] Erik recalls his character’s “death.”
[07:00] An unfinished story is incredibly frustrating.
[07:11] The “crap” death – a meaningless, unexpected, and one that doesn’t advance the story.
[07:50] What about games where death isn’t permanent? Resurrection, Cloning, etc. Satisfying in games that address it in the fiction. In other games though, Death becomes cheap.
[09:45] We’re not advocating pulling punches though. Death is a powerful effect on the game.
[10:01] The “crap” death though leaves a player feeling cheated. Roll or die situations are way to binary. Worse the confrontation is meaningless.
[10:40] Sean’s mini rant on PCs that rush headlong into violence in games where death is very setting appropriate.
[12:33] For the death to be satisfying, it’s got to be meaningful to the players. The “good” death. My death meant something.
[13:10] A TPK minus one. Awesome Deaths where everyone sacrificed themselves to make something happen that was needed in the story.
[14:50] Dying and feeling like you achieved something that doesn’t make you lose agency. Something changed specifically BECAUSE your character died.
[16:00] What to do after death? Balancing a new character. Re-integrating with the existing group.
[17:57] Characters die and then sometimes players will keep trying to tell their story. Gaming after death? OOTS ( does it, but does it work in an RPG?
[19:35] Find a way to wrap up the character’s story. Allow for player narration and story crafting. Man we like the word “agency.”
[21:04] Song of Ice and Fire books, the last three (of four books) are all about a single character’s death.
[21:38] Total Party Kills (TPK). This can be awesome, but most of the time it means there has been a breakdown in communication.
[24:02] A mis-designed encounter on the GMs part. When challenging becomes overwhelming. This is largely affected by system.
[25:07] How does character death vary in one-shot games vs. campaign games?
Direct download: NC_Episode_040.mp3

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