D&D 4e and the Death Penalty

The table was pretty silent after Singe the Red Dragon burned Nor, Cleric of Bahamut to a crisp. "You mean he just dies?" they asked. Oh yes, the rules state negative half hit points is dead. As in dead-dead.

What the rules don't state so clearly is what should happen next.

Nobody likes killing PCs. Except for this guy.

I don't believe in punishing players whose characters die. "Permadeath" is about the least fun thing ever. It's also unique to RPGs. Permanently losing all of your progress in video games would never fly. You don't take your copy of Dragon Age out of the xbox and put it away forever the first time your guy dies, saying, Well, I had a good run.

Every other game sets the expectation that every player will be able to see all of the "content". Whether that's areas, cuscenes, plot, customization options, or outfits. Your players are constantly being trained by every game ever that they are entitled to take their character to the ends of the map, fully develop their abilities, save the day, roll credits. Naturally, when a character dies, the first thing everybody is thinking is:

There's got to be a way...

My idea was, "Wouldn't it be cool if the party had to go on a quest to find a raise dead scroll, or even better, a ritual book? How fun. It going to be so exciting. The player who played Nor would get to play a companion character who was well-liked by the party, it would give an epic adventure feel to the whole affair. Even better, I would be able to give out some fun treasure at the end, when the party completed the quest of the warlock's tower.

I immediately had a mutiny on my hands.

What I didn't count on was how strongly the players in my game see their characters as avatars for their own experiences. If their character doesn't participate in the next two sessions, the player feels cheated because in their mind they "aren't playing". I thought the game was the thing. But that's wrong, the game is just a platform - A platform for adventure, fantasy, and role-playing. The character is the only point of interaction for the players to experience this "content", and the game is just this machine in the back room humming reassuringly.

In the end, we decided that we would stick to the rules in the book, and that characters can be raised for a certain amount in ritual components, and suffer a reasonably lengthy -1 penalty to d20 rolls.

I love adventure as much as the next guy, but I've got no stomach for making players feel left out and punished.

Nor was raised in Fallcrest's temple to Bahamut, everyone is still going to the awesome Tower of Markov, doors will be kicked down, monsters slew, and their stuff thoroughly taken. And everyone will be there to enjoy it.