Jonathan wrote about character death in D&D earlier this week, and since we’ve opened that discussion, I thought I would discuss what to do if you accidentally (or on purpose) kill your game’s primary character.
I propose viewing the death of your duet’s primary character as a problem to be dealt with and solved narratively. I would beg you to not leave the PC dead as that sounds like a really easy way for your duet to stop happening.
The impetus for this post was a boss fight we had a few weeks ago in which an adult green dragon was targeting my character, as we knew she would be, and killed her over the course of one round, which I hadn’t entirely expected.
Leading into this fight and understanding the villain we were facing, I knew that, if it was going to happen, this would be a likely occasion for her to be killed, and so I had some plans in place.
To clarify, our main advice would be for the PC to not die. That doesn’t mean don’t challenge the player or don’t put the party in difficult circumstances, but try really hard to avoid it and, just in case, have some sort of a backup plan.
Avoiding the Problem
We used something similar during the early stages of our duet with my character’s first two central party members, neither of whom could die unless something happened to her or they were separated by a great distance.
This exception to normal hp functions lowered the stakes for me when I was first learning how combat worked in-game and then again when I was learning to manage multiple characters at once.
Those two characters, also, had the same gut instinct as me while playing: to protect my PC.
There are other creative solutions to PC death as well. Perhaps a villain leaves the party members for dead but someone comes along to help them. Maybe a friendly mentor gives them a death ward token to protect them should they fall to 0 hp and revive to 1 hp instead.
Providing a Powerful Ally
But maybe your characters are at a higher level, like ours are now, and it makes sense to take off those training wheels and have them truly engaging with difficult adversaries.
In that case, perhaps you could have the PCs meet a powerful ally of some sort who has healing and revivification spells they don’t have access to.
In our game, I brought in an Autumn Eladrin who functions as a guardian of sorts for our bard. She gave him a way to call on her if needed, and so, if his revivification spell were to fail, or if something were to happen to him, the party could call on her to cast raise dead or another higher-level healing spell that could bring the departed member back to life.
Going on a Quest
My other backup plan for the party not being able to revive my PC (which they were—yay!) was that they could go on a special quest to bring her back. I had a few different ideas for what they could look like depending on who was leading it.
The Eladrin I mentioned earlier serves a Celestial being who could have asked our bard to go on a special mission for them in the Shadowfell in exchange for reviving the PC.
Maybe you have the party go on a darker quest through the Shadowfell to call upon the Raven Queen and ask for her assistance in bringing the character back?
Have an Open Conversation
The best way to prepare for something horrible in-game that would have potentially serious out-of-game consequences (like killing the primary character and dramatically upsetting your duet partner) is to talk about it. Like we discuss in Avoiding Combat-Induced Conflict, make sure that you’re retaining the trust between the player and the DM.
I recognize that each duet will be different, and maybe there are some DMs who wouldn’t be ok with the player taking over the narrative when their PC died (though what a great opportunity to develop the DMPC(s) and Secondary PCs!). So maybe you’ll need to play around with it a bit to find something that works for you.
The possibility of my character dying during that fight was very clear leading up to it, and so I had time to work through different narrative possibilities for how we might resolve her death and bring her back if the healing spells failed. As we use Matt Mercer’s revised resurrection rules from the Taldorei campaign, it has become natural to have contingency plans in place in case a standard Revivify fails.
What bonus narratives or epic journeys do you have in place for if your character dies? Does your duet partner know about your plan, or is it a surprise that you keep in your back pocket in case you need it? We’d love to know in the comments below!
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