Apparently, Dying’s Not So Bad After All

Last night in my Pathfinder game, the rogue kicked the bucket (coup-de-grace’d by a mite, of all things). While the player was slightly miffed to lose a PC he liked, he quickly got started on rolling up a new character (another rogue, much to everybody’s chagrin).

"Now I am become Death, the inconveniencer of PCs."

This was the third character death we’ve had in the four sessions we’ve been playing so far. It’s been an interesting experience for me, since I haven’t GM’d a regular campaign in a long time, and the issue of what happens when PCs die and make new characters (rather than trying to resurrect their existing characters, since they’re too low level to have access to that sort of magic) has brought up some unexpected complications.

For example, relative XP for new characters – compared to the surviving characters – is something I hadn’t anticipated. This is a two-fold issue:

First, there’s a question of how to divide experience points among the party when some characters have died. Our group has six players; two sessions ago, two of them died in the climactic battle of the night. As we wound down and I tallied up the XP the group had earned, the awkward question came up of how to divide the XP – four ways or six?

The problem here was that while the fallen PCs had certainly pulled their weight in battle, their characters were no longer alive to gain the requisite XP from their efforts. Likewise, giving it to their new characters seemed a bit too far-fetched from an in-game perspective (even considering that XP is, in and of itself, a metagame issue), since those characters hadn’t even met the party yet. No one was sure how to divvy up the XP that night, including me.

The other problem with XP when bringing in new characters is that it creates lop-sided XP totals among the party. When a player in our game makes up a new character to replace a dead PC, the character is created at the same level as the other party members. However, after last night’s game, the surviving party members were now less than a thousand XP away from third level. If the new rogue came in with just enough XP to be second level, then the other PC’s have a not-insignificant jump on him as far as XP goes – it’s likely that they’d make third level next session, whereas the rogue almost certainly wouldn’t. In essence, since XP is always divided evenly among party members, the rogue would always be lagging behind the group (admittedly this gap would grow smaller and smaller in comparison as time went on and the XP totals rose higher and higher, but for now the gap seems pretty big).

Finally, this same problem raises it’s ugly head once again when it came time to determine the new character’s starting gold. Being a second level character, the obvious answer seemed like giving him the standard, average amount of gold for new characters as listed in the Pathfinder Core Rules (1,000 gp). However, the other party members cried foul, since, having only made second level themselves last session, that was more than any of them had yet – nobody liked the idea of a new guy who just entered the game with more personal treasure than any of them had earned in adventure after bloody adventure.

Eventually, we reached a compromise on all of these problems. We decided that XP would always be split six ways (the size of the party) and that the total XP for a character would always be of the group average. So the new rogue entered the game with exactly the same total XP as the characters who’d survived since the very first session. The issue of starting gold was messier – he ended up with triple the starting gold of a 1st-level rogue (a little over 400 gp).

However, I found that (at least as far as XP went), this seemed to undercut the threat of death by a large amount.

The impact of death in my game.

Now, fear of their characters getting killed is still plenty strong. PCs are attached to their characters naturally, and there’s always the issue of a dead character diminishing the party for at least the rest of that session, putting the others at greater risk by default (since that character’s actions aren’t there to hurt enemies, nor is he there to draw enemy fire). But beyond that…there’s no real loss for dying.

Simply put, if a new PC that’s brought in a replace a dead PC has the exactly same XP total as the dead NPC would, then it’s really like there’s no net loss. Admittedly, there is the issue of gold and gear, but overlooking that, is character death really that much of an impediment when you get to bring in a new PC at the exact same point of progression that your old PC had? Hell, even a resurrected character takes a few penalties for being brought back into the game (at least until you get the higher-level life-restoring spells).

And so I ask you, dear readers, how do you deal with this issue in your games? Do you institute penalties (or at least, not soften issues that arise) with new PCs who replace dead ones? Or do you make sure that new characters start on the exact same footing as the surviving ones?

What’s the impact of bringing a new PC into your campaign?


7 Responses to “Apparently, Dying’s Not So Bad After All”

  1. Will Says:

    Don’t penalize your players for dying; reward them for surviving. Positive reinforcers are always better than negative reinforcers.

    D&D is, first and foremost, a game. Unless you start charging money for it, the players -never- have anything serious on the line. Worst case scenario they’ve just wasted the hour or two it took to roll up the character.

    This will never be a huge investment, it cannot ever be a huge investment. You cannot force value onto something inherantly valueless by making it’s successors even -more- valueless. And, of course, you penalize the other players in the party as well when their party members cannot pull their own weight because you penalized them for dying.

    No, instead, give the surviving party members rewards. Take that boss fight you mentioned; the surviving party members acquire some kind of blessing or magic item that provides, say a +1 untyped or ‘Quest’ bonus to an appropriate stat. Something minor, but worth looking out for. That gives a positive reinforcer; “If i die, i won’t get the phat loot!” rather than a negative one, which is a much more powerful tool

    Ultimately though, you do have to remember that in the end it’s a game, the object is for everyone involved to have fun. The player who gets penalized for dying in a climactic fight because of a mistake or some bad luck isn’t going to be having as much fun as the players who didn’t.

  2. Richard Says:

    I’ve never had issues with varying levels among the party. When a character dies in our groups the replacement character always starts with the minimum XP required to achieve the current level of the group. This will put them a bit behind for a while, but in the long run that gap lessens as you mentioned. We also always split xp evenly from the combat encounters, but extra xp can always be earned fo various things, such as awesome ideas that may have saved the party, roleplaying, etc… Things like that can help bridge the gap sooner. Also if a player/character misses a session (which happens from time to time) they won’t be getting xp for the night’s adventures (assuming the DM can find a valid in game reason for their character not to be there). And assuming it’s not the lower xp character missing out that’ll help him/her catch back up as well.

  3. PC Therapy? | Moebius Adventures Says:

    […] Apparently, Dying’s Not So Bad After All from Intelligence Check ( […]

  4. UWTartarus Says:

    Because of the high level of the campaign, and that they won’t lose their dead comrade’s gear, I give the new character gear in value equivalent to their current level (equal to everyone else’s) -3 to prevent creating the idea of farming new characters. This plus the tedious nature of creating +13th level characters usually keeps players from wanting to die, and only occurs when they’re death was the result of experimental character concepts (first time our group played at such levels in Pathfinder) or where they just were not having fun with their character. Granted, they’ve got the higher level magics to raise and resurrect so those that don’t want to make new characters can get back in the game.

    • Alzrius Says:

      I’ve been trying to correct for not having enough treasure in my games recently, so the fact that a new player gets to come in with level-appropriate gear has garnered some (good-natured) comments about just suiciding and coming back as a better-equipped PC.

      I make sure to up the treasure amount now, just to be safe.

  5. Yong Kyosunim Says:

    In my Carrion Crown campaign, I’ve made death permanent to help reinforce the horror of death. The PC’s get a Fate Point which they can spend should they die once and then find that they’ve miraculously lived from that death-dealing blow or spell (but still out of the fight), but once they’ve spent their Fate Point, that’s it. Next time they suffer damage that kills them, the funeral service will be held on Oathday.

    • Alzrius Says:

      Yeah, kicking resurrection-magic to the curb is always a popular idea, particularly when combined with a “get-out-of-death-free” mechanic to limit the otherwise-high lethality.

      Personally, I’ve found that my players prefer to keep life-restoring magic in the game…but then, that may have something to do with the fact that I prefer a campaign – any campaign – to be somewhat grim and gritty.

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