What If Losing in a ttRPG Also Made Your Character More Interesting?

This is a super-unformed thought, and that’s all I have time or energy for right now. So you get to see the beginning of the sausage getting made on this, if I even ever come back around to this idea.

While it’s far from univeral, in most ttRPGs, the closest you come to “losing” the game is having your character die. The Total party Kill is a legendary example of this potentially bringing a game to a close.

And, the argument goes, death and loss of character has to be something that can happen so players get the thrill of the risk. OTOH, actually having your character die generally isn’t fun. It isn’t fun for a few reasons. First, you don’t get to play for a while. Second, if you liked that character, either you don’t get to play them at all anymore, or you or your allies are penalized (even if it’s just with a cost to raise dead) in order for your character to come back to life.

But what if it wasn’t that cut and dried?

For example, what if, when your character died, you became an Omen, or Haunt? A floating spirit that could influence the game in minor ways, on your turn, even though you are gone? Maybe you get to hand out a bonus here, or the GM gives you secret knowledge you can use to create 1-word clues for allies as they stare into their ale mourning your passing? There are a number of board and card games that give players who have been kncoked out some other task so they still have a role to play and actions to take — applying the same idea to a ttRPG has even been done, though not nearly as often.

Similarly, what if there were changes that occurred to a character after dying that left them playable, but altered? Maybe some options *are* taken away, or penalties put in place, but there are also new options that only come from being killed or starving to death or whatever? Or if rather than death, the loss-state of the game was to suffer a scar or trauma that came with penalties, but also with opportunities to be more interesting, though not more effective — we don’t want people throwing their characters into rivers of lava for the cool power-up.

It would be a delicate line, more about taking the sting out and keeping the player engaged than rewarding them for failure.

Food for thought.

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About Owen K.C. Stephens

Owen K.C. Stephens Owen Kirker Clifford Stephens is a full-time ttRPG Writer, designer, developer, publisher, and consultant. He's the publisher for Rogue Genius Games, and has served as the Starfinder Design Lead for Paizo Publishing, the Freeport and Pathfinder RPG developer for Green Ronin, a developer for Rite Publishing, and the Editor-in-Chief for Evil Genius Games. Owen has written game material for numerous other companies, including Wizards of the Coast, Kobold Press, White Wolf, Steve Jackson Games and Upper Deck. He also consults, freelances, and in the off season, sleeps. He has a Pateon which supports his online work. You can find it at https://www.patreon.com/OwenKCStephens

Posted on January 7, 2021, in Game Design, Musings and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Using a character as a haunt could work, but the typical problem with it is that it doesn’t fit the fiction of the world you’re building. And I think that can be a pretty strong objection.

    Of course, I am now considering what Star Wars would have been like if the Force Ghost of Obi-Wan had been sitting next to Luke all through the films and commenting on everything he did! 😉

    It’s a tricky topic, partly because many modern RPGs make it incredibly hard to die in the first place – and with that also comes more of a cavalier approach to death. There is a big difference in mind set between “If I play poorly, my character will die” and “If I am very unlucky, my character might die”.

  1. Pingback: Lore Collage: Library D&D, the Yawning Portal, Stranger Things, and 20 other things to read | Full Moon Storytelling

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