Character deaths are one of the worst things that can happen to a player. We can get attached to our creations, especially if they’ve been with us for a while. To see them die, truly die not just fall unconscious is horrifying. Three failed deaths saves and the only thing that can bring you back is a resurrection spell, dead. Our last campaign was fraught with near misses and many falls to unconsciousness. There were also a couple of death experiences that changed our characters forever.
It can be extremely jarring to find your character suddenly dead. In our session last Sunday, our Bard died and we had no real way to bring him back in the moment. We do have a few things going for us. We have a Cleric that can bring him back but we have to find the diamonds to fuel the spell and we are in the middle of Icewind Dale. We are also super near to a Dwarven town, increasing the chances of finding the necessary diamonds. Despite having those advantages, the death was a blow to everyone, especially the dead character who is floating close to his body as the Spare the Dying spell keeps him in stasis for the next 10 days. The bard faced his mortality for the first time and I think this might bring a more responsible side of him out now. Only time will tell.
There have been other deaths we have faced as a table. In the last campaign, Kaladrax died for the first time alongside Milo as we fought the earth elementals under Sane’s control (Read Attack at High Noon for context). Milo died as his brother, Tylo, stabbed him through the chest and threw him down into the darkness below the platforms we were fighting on. Kaladrax died as he ran towards Aleera trying to catch up and help her instead of protecting himself and attacking the enemy. Milo ended up alive thanks to Terra’s Blessing and the gift of her heart to keep him going. Kaladrax however, was truly dead and Kariss, our Cleric, did not have the spells to bring him back. We had to cast Gentle Repose on his body, stuff him into the bag of holding and hurry back to King’s Crest and hope that Urstil could bring him back.
It changed our characters and party dynamic forever. Aleera, feeling the despair at losing a team member and romantic partner, began gathering and hoarding diamonds and their dust as well as healing and ressurection spells of all kinds. Most of her magical secrets were spent to learn high level ressurection and healing spells. Kariss began using her healing staff more often. Kaladrax began letting Aleera fight in her own way because he couldn’t keep up and was better off helping himself and others in a battle. Milo became more protective of everyone in the party, he would often scout ahead for danger and would willingly throw himself at an enemy to avoid having his own team be hurt. Hepolita stepped up her aggression and critical thinking in battle, focusing on eliminating the greater dangers before focusing on the weaker ones.
I’m not saying “look forward to death” or “always expect death” but it can provide a really cool and interesting reason for natural character growth. Death always provides a great amount of purpose and focus to the survivors, the extra motivation to defeat the enemy and come out on top. As player’s, we shouldn’t be afraid of death but see it as a way to grow. Whether or not the character can come back, it will always be a pivotal point in the story. Just think of how many deaths actually prompted the hero to win the day and take out evil. It is such a potent motivator that even villains themselves have used the tactic to garner support and empathy.
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