I’ve been listening to the Glass Cannon Podcast–a podcast that is playing through the Giantslayer Adventure Path for the Pathfinder roleplaying game–from episode 1. I’m OG like that.
In an effort to obfuscate things as to not exactly spoil things for new listeners, a character dies within the first hundred episodes. Then it happens again within the next hundred. And, by gosh, if you are current with the podcast, you know listeners are starting down character death yet again.
And it’s not just any character; it’s my favorite character! If my wife were writing this, she’d express surprise that I’m showing any form of emotion, particularly emotion over the death of a fictional RPG character. [Danielle, get away from my keyboard!]
But as I listened to the podcast and the reality slowly sank in that the character was indeed dead dead, and not just dead as in ‘oh, the cleric will just hit ’em with a healing spell and they’ll stand right back up as gaming characters do’ dead, I legitimately thought about pulling the car over so that I could contact the Glass Cannon Podcast to tell them they needed to delete that episode and re-record it to give the whole thing a happier ending.
Alas, sometimes characters die in tabletop roleplaying games. (This is true in particular when playing Tomb of Horrors where you die without a savings throw, because, well, because Gygax.)
But rather than continue to mope about it, I’d thought I’d turn this into a cathartic moment. What can the death of RPG characters teach us in the real world?
Resilience in Gaming: The Death of a Beloved Character
First, go ahead and get emotional about it. Let it make you grumpy. Learn to feel a little. Spend a week going over the bad roll in your head. There is no shame in holding a character deep in here [points to heart].
The death of a character can be like losing a dear friend, a fact that might make others squirm and worry about us gamers, but hear me out. In the example of the Glass Cannon Podcast, those characters had been around for hundreds episodes in some cases, which is no small amount of time. Campaigns can last years, a lot of time to spend with a character.
Stop just short of a complete emotional breakdown, of course. It’s a just a game, after all. But go ahead and let it choke you up, acknowledging that the character was important to you.
Second, suck it up and pull out a blank piece of paper. It’s time to roll another PC to jump right back into the game.
The game goes on, and you go on with it, as long as you’re ready to roll up another character and jump right back in. Play passionately, but be detached enough to let go when the dice don’t roll in your favor.
I promised some real life lessons, so here is my best stab at that, fully acknowledging I’m not Socrates or whatever.
It turns out that regularly playing D&D is pretty good preparation for thinking about death. After all, it could happen at any time. No matter how powerful you are, there is at least a 5% change on that d20 that things will go very badly for you.
Car accidents, Alzheimer’s….I know it’s grim to think about, but real life doesn’t always grant us a saving throw. I just lost a dear friend to cancer. She was 47. We aren’t always able to soak up all the damage that cancer’s acid breath throws at us.
So let’s all do our best to level up as Lawful Good.
But enough with the dramatics and hysterics. Sometimes our fears don’t need to be centered around the idea that other adventurers might be looting our corpse for loose change. Sometimes life just hits us with a temporary setback, like we’ve rolled a couple 5’s in a row. A bummer, but no big deal.
Resilience is a life skill. Just like we need to learn to buck up and roll another character, sometimes we need to learn in the real world that obstacles can be overcome if we’d just roll up our sleeves and try, try again. Truly, D&D helped teach me lessons like that at a young age.
So, yeah, it stinks when a beloved RPG character dies. But us gamers are a resilient breed. We’ll get back in the game.