Sunday, June 8, 2008

Character Death


So the campaign is going to begin soon, probably in the next couple weeks. I've got everything figured out except for two things...

One of the things I haven't figured out is how to handle character death. Early edition D&D is deadly, and the Basic systems deadliest. When any successful weapon strike could potentially kill any first level character, there will be character deaths. Or maybe continuously if they don't learn that "CHARGE!" isn't often going to be the smart thing to do. ;) I figure I'm going to tell the group to not even put their characters on a proper character sheet until they hit second level - when the characters level up, the players will feel a sense of accomplishment.

When a character dies... what to do?

Obviously the player rolls up a new character and re-enters play immediately. But... what's the death penalty?

In my AD&D campaign, the new character was to be one level less than the dead character, with the minimum experience for that level. In my last BFRPG campaign, PCs got to keep the last level they gained, and the new character, of whatever class, begins again with the minimum XP for that level.

I'm torn. I believe there should be a penalty for character death. Not that it matters much if you lose a first level character (and a healthy boatload of early PC deaths does demonstrate how powerful - or heroic - a higher level character really is, instead of just making it a background assumption like games where PCs have "plot protection"), but what to do about higher level PCs that bite the big one?

Raise Dead/Resurrection is going to be very rare or non-existent in my campaign. Dead is dead.

If the penalty is too steep (everyone automatically starts as a 1st level character, from scratch), then it's going to be more of a pain in the ass for all the PCs to adventure together. If the penalty is too slight, then perhaps the players won't take too good care of their characters...

So where's the balance?

One idea is that the PC would take control of one of their retainers/henchmen... which would encourage players to take them on in the first place, and they'd perhaps be a bit more enthusiastic about the same soaking up experience and treasure... and take good care of them.

Any other ideas out there?


  1. Personally, I like death bumping you back down to 0xp unless you have a retainer or henchman ready to take the PCs place. If the players know that rule, they'll take getting sidekicks seriously.

  2. Starting from scratch at 1st level is not as heavy a penalty as it seems. I do not know how the BFRPG experience tables work, but for 1E, if everybody is at 100K exp, that puts the party at levels 7-8. A new 1st level PC will be over their head and quite vulnerable at first, but will also be benefitting from the higher exp rewards and advancing much faster than normal. The next 100K earned per party member will move the new character up to level 7 or 8, while everyone else gains only 1 level.

  3. I pretty much go with Grug on that. A good party will "look out for" the new character, who may have to be the water bearer (carry the torch, have the potions and holy water ready, etc.) for awhile. That's punishment.

    Alternately, I like to let players build up henchmen along with their main characters, so that if the main goes down one of the henchmen can get promoted. Henchmen don't tend to have as good a stats, however, so if the player wants a less grunt-like character they can start again from scratch.

    (Henchmen tend to be one to two levels lower than the main character, and have the benefit of having their own personalities developed somewhat by the player)

  4. I agree with what Jeff, Grug and Alexis have written. I will add a couple of further thoughts, though.

    1) You do not need a hard and fast rule for this. Much better to go with what seems acceptable under the circumstances.

    2)Consider having the players meet NPC adventurers who are intended to be playable during the course of the campaign. As already established personalities of various levels, races and classes, they can make good options for players to take over temporarily or permanently. This is especially true if they have adventured with them for short periods.

  5. Pfft. I fail to see the reason for the anguish. First level, 0 x.p. Hanging around with higher-level PC's will quickly bring the newbie up to near-parity, assuming they don't get gwacked by area-effect attacks or horrific traps that are mere h.p. drains intended for higher-level characters (which I'm not a great fan of to begin with).

  6. I'll add my voice to the chorus. Between the possibility of promoting henchmen and the speed with which a lower level PC will gain XP with a higher-level group, I don't see a big problem.

  7. HackMaster lets you give xp, treasures, magic items, etc. to a protege npc so when you die, you can use the protege as your next pc.

  8. Hi, I am new to your blog but I have been quickly catching up, but this one caused me to want to post a reply.

    I know BFRPG can be house ruled, but the base rules state that a character can't earn 100,000 exp in a single adventure and then gain more than 1 lvl. So rolling up a 1st level character then bringing him up to 7-8 lvl will take that many adventures. Now, is an adventure a single dungeon lvl then skedaddling back to town to level up? I don't see why not.

    Might as well start him up 2 levels below the character that died. I could have sworn that was in the BFRPG rules, but I just looked and couldn't find it. maybe it was in basic, or just some house rule.

    Also a 1st lvl PC can't hire a retainer, so if he dies he just roles another 1st lvl character. Starting from 0 is punishment enough I think. And even when you get to 2nd level you can only hire retainers that are 1/2 the level of the employer. And then they only get a 1/2 share of exp. So taking over a henchman will also add in sufficient penalty to PC lvl to make death something to be avoided.

  9. Yes, I'm trying to catch up on some blog reading, so this comment is way late.

    Anyway, in classic D&D or AD&D I like the idea of allowing the player of a dead PC to create a new PC with half the XP of the previous PC. This generally places them about a level behind. By talking in terms of XP rather than levels, it handles the different progressions for different classes.

    Don't know whether that works for BF.