LRP is sometimes about death. Lots of people die and yet death is not something we deal with well. The people who died come back as different characters and the end is never as permanent as it seems. In the same way that it’s not always fun to have to pretend to be ill for a while, there’s only so much fun in mourning. Sulking and screaming are good for five minutes – tops – and that’s when you’re the one doing it. If you’re anyone else there’s a tolerance for that sort of thing.
Revenge is good. Give ‘LRP speech no. 2’ then move out and destroy your enemies, but that makes you the brooding quiet character with angry revenge on their mind. It stops you talking to people. It stops you thinking rationally (although this is sometimes fun) and it stops you doing things you may consider fun. People won’t talk to you because you’re brooding in a corner. Even if you’re brooding really, really well.
Too much death cheapens life. At slender we lost a lot of people at one event. At the next event the hosting group had a memorial to them. We told people about them. We used them as a motivation and it felt good. We’ve lost too many people since then, and that helps. We’re not carrying a burden of hundreds of dead. We’ve not got lists and yet death is a thing that happens to us. One or two go at every event and we don’t really know how to stop it. The tap drips, there isn’t a torrent.
Characters should be able to die at many games. It should be a moment that causes pain to survivors. People should remember those moments. As with anything in LRP using the same thing too many times is an easy mistake to make. The impact lessens with each repetition and it’s a surprisingly short time before no one cares. They’ve done this before and it isn’t the event they signed up for. This was an issue with Alone and is part of the reason we’ve moved onto Contact. It gives us a chance to do something really new. Something completely different from the events we’ve run before. As long as characters can die, it doesn’t actually matter if they do. Near death rocks, and enhances games enough without them actually dying. However, this is a hard line to achieve, and we’ve only previously managed it by accident.
Too little death is also an issue. People don’t die when perhaps they should. We can take multiple blows from axes that should tear off arms, and shatter spines, but there’s no gore, no injury – just a bit of a reaction and we are soon walking around again because being injured is dull. I suspect this is part of my preference for modern day, low weapon LRP. It decreases the number of deaths by mundane methods so that they become shocking again. The characters are slightly less odd. They react slightly more naturally to the things happening around us. There is room for them to not function around events. It feels more gritty.
At Mandala we run games where players choose when to die. We’re relying on our players being adult enough not to take a point blank shot to the head and shrug it off, but the benefits outweigh the losses. It allows players to decide that they die gloriously, as the hero, and a good death can make a game.
Death outside of combat situations can really add to a game. Sacrificing a character can become overused. If it’s applied to a character that’s not that involved and isn’t well embedded in the game then it’s pretty much meaningless. You do get a range of situations with which you can play. For example, you can ask a character to sacrifice themselves, force them to choose between their comrades or let them kill off hostages to gain things for themselves or others.
Effectively, death is a tool available to you. As with any tool, consider when to include chances to use it. Don’t use it to often and vary the way you apply it. The effects of repeated uses will greatly diminish its effectiveness. The most important thing with death is that you should never undo it. If a character dies, even if it was an awful death, it’s only just happened, or you didn’t mean it to happen, leave them dead. You may think no one saw. You may think no one was involved, but it isn’t worth risking the damage you can do by bringing characters back to life once they have died. Apologise OOC, accept it was shit and move on.