Player Death

Posted: July 12, 2010 in Narrating Advice, Tephra

Today’s Hot Botton topic over at Gnome Stew is “Player Characters Should Never be Killed.”  (You can check it out here.)  Honestly, I’m inclined to agree (some of you may not believe it), and I want Tephra to reflect that.

My experiences with Character Death have rarely been phenomenal. I appreciate it, and I will never take it off the board. But it brings very little to the game table. Fear of death is important, almost vital, to an exciting game. And stupidity inspired deaths will always exist – if you stand in front of the train, it will run you over, and you will die. But let’s take that type of death aside. So, for definition:

The Typical Bad Player Death: You were in battle with a normal enemy, and they rolled a couple good hits and took you out much faster than they should’ve.

I am opposed to this almost entirely, and I have a couple system-side propositions for it. Foremost, I am considering the idea that narrators cannot re-roll Pure 12s, as those are reserved for the players. You could, of course, give a villain the “Villain” story, and allow them to re-roll Pure 12s. Generally, this would prevent a normal combatant from every getting too lucky (which seems to be the primary player killer right there.)

Plus, that might be a fun thing in favor of the players – they’re the adventurers, if they roll a Pure 12, it’s because they’re the protagonists. Nobody else in the world can do that.


Let’s look at another aspect of the game – wounds. I’m not sure that the Wounds Random Effects are 100% where I want them. I want wounds to have a debilitating effect on your character. You take wounds to replace death in Tephra. Your character is the center of the game, and should continue being so, but losing an arm, or an eye, or having a limp – these are character defining traits that speak to their past experiences but don’t eliminate the character from the storyline. Sure, it sucks from a system standpoint, but it’s vital that you be afraid.

(Plus, without those effects, what would be the point of grafts – if you lose an arm, just have a mechanical one! So much more fun.)


And this brings me to the next point – resurrection. Resurrection is a staple of fantasy gaming, but it often kills the story excitement. If you can die and be resurrected, it’s seriously less scary to die. Sure, you may take some experience penalties, but those will come back. And boy, do I hate that. Thus, in Tephra, we have resurrection, but it’s going to leave a lasting scar on your character. Some of those include:

  • Ritual Resurrection: This powerful ritual does not return you to life as much as it recreates your soul based on what other people think of you. In some games, this might be perfect – you may come back exactly as you were with no penalties. But in many games, you’re going to come back different. You may be missing childhood memories, not know that middle name that you never shared with everybody, or lose vital information that your friends did not know. Your time in the army? Gone – all you know is that you left for a couple years and nobody knew where you went. That’s going to have a sever effect on your roleplaying.
  • Frankensteining: I rather like the term “Frankensteining,” and must use it in the future. We’re going to be introducing this in the Crafting Expansion. It’s a way of bringing back your character with alchemy and grafts. There’s going to be a lot that goes into Frankensteining, however, so it’s definitely going to have an effect on you.
  • Undead: Everybody’s favorite – turning into an undead. We’ve already created several alteration stories and specialties for playing as an undead, and this is a system that we’ll be fully introducing in the Adversary Expansion.

So, sure, we can bring you back to life. You just may not like it. ^_^

I’m interested to hear your thoughts on player death and revivification, or know if you have any ideas on the subject.


Mister Clockwork

  1. Well stated! I love the idea of foes not being able to reroll pure 12s. It’s an issue that I’ve ran into running Tephra at cons. I roll three pure 12s in a row on strike and out of nowhere my level one foe decapitates a player turn one!

  2. Martin Ralya says:

    I’m glad you enjoyed the article! I love the ritual resurrection idea — as a player, that fills my mind with all sorts of weird possibilities.

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