Today, I was thinking about death mechanics. I was thinking about Character death and how unsatisfying the mechanics presented in various systems are. To my pleasant surprise I discovered that I’m not the only one who’s been thinking about this recently. There are two other RPG Blogs that I am a huge fan of: The Angry GM, and Gaming Ballistic. If you aren’t already familiar with either of these blogs, you should stop reading mine and go read theirs for a while.
In any case, I was pleasantly surprised to see a write up from The Angry GM about Player Character Death. If you don’t feel like going and reading the article, the summary is “Death is important for games and stories, and so it is appropriate that it sucks. If you really want to avoid it, here are some alternatives”. I agree with this sentiment – I’d go so far as to suggest Resurrection be removed from D&D. However, The Angry GM’s arguments for how death sucks involve a lot of meta-game pain for the players, as opposed to in game pain for the Characters. That in itself is something I tend to want to avoid, but beyond that I always favor mechanics that increase player choice.
There is a mechanic that is prevalent in RPG’s. It is most obvious in its namesake mechanic from Dungeons and Dragons. It’s Save or Die. An example is the “Finger of Death” spell which kills anyone who doesn’t succeed at a Fortitude saving throw. Here I mean it in a much more general way. I’m going to call Save or Die any mechanic which hinges on a single die roll and results in a failed adventure.