Tuesday 12 March 2013

PC Death and OOC Factors

Speaking of PC death, players generally don't want their characters to die.  But why is that?  I'd like to divide the reasons into two categories.

Immersive Reasons for Player Caution

Immersive reasons that I don't want my PC to die are due to the inherent nature of Role-Playing.  As a player in a RPG, I become emotionally invested in my character, an adventure, or the game-world.  Some examples of Immersive Reasons are:

  • I like this character
  • I identify with this character and his desire to survive
  • This character and I have been through a lot together
  • I want the mission to succeed, and PC death interferes with that

External Reasons for Player Caution

External reasons that I don't want my PC to die are not inherent to the act of Role-Playing.  These can be Systemic i.e. caused by the way a particular RPG system is set-up.  They can also be quite personal.  Some examples of External Reasons are:

  • It took me a lot of time/effort to create this character
  • It took me a long time/XP to make such a powerful character
  • If my PC dies, the other PCs will take his stuff and my new PC won't have cool stuff
  • If my PC dies then I feel like I'm "losing" relative to the other players

I would like to claim that Immersive Reasons are good for the game, while External reasons are bad for it.  Immersive Reasons draw players into the gameworld, while External Reasons draw them out.  If your game decisions/game-world is being shaped by External Reasons, then you are doing it wrong.

Systemic Solutions

So to a certain degree, you can reduce External Reasons for Player Caution with changes to the game system.  DCC reduces creation effort with it's host of PC generators.  The Polish Resistance game I ran had slow/limited character advancement.  However, the effect of these sorts of changes on player psychology is limited.  Also, there may be factors other than player caution that supersede these considerations, such as wanting to use a familiar system, or players who want room for considerable advancement.

Behavioural Solutions

So the more holistic solution to this problem is behavioural.  Players should try to focus on becoming immersed in the game and try not to consider External Reasons that they want their PCs to survive.  This may be difficult since it requires a certain degree of self-awareness.  At the same time, I'm not the first one to say "don't be a Powergamer" or "you're Metagaming".

So to all my fellow players out, don't forget:

...to live in fear...That's what it is to be a slave...


  1. I agree up to the behavioural solutions. Wanted to write a comment, got too long, wrote a post instead:


    1. Cheers, JD. I'll reply there. In what way do you disagree with the Behavioral Solutions?

  2. The more I thought about it, the more I came to the conclusion, that neither external nor immersive play really help the player to stay alive in the game. It's not the cause to the effect (the effect being that a character is dead or alive). The way you describe it explains pretty good what a players motivation might be derived from. But is a change in that behaviour necessary? Is it possible to play the game without any meta knowledge? Is it possible to be only immersive?

    You know, that's why I liked your post, it raises a lot of interesting questions.