Player Character Death in Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition

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Not All PC Deaths Have to be the Same

Today I want to talk about PC death. A topic very poignant for this week as we saw Juliet’s character fall victim to a horde of skeletal zombies and will-o-wisps. While originally supposed to be a mundane horde encounter, the players struggled (in-part due to my horrid ability to run Morharan, guilty) but also due to the number of enemies and the strength of the skeletal zombies in the oncoming horde.

This is a great opportunity for the players to learn how to manage a battlefield and to also understand the dangers of the wilderness in and around the swamps of Dreadmire. With that said, how do we deal with the death of a character? There are many ways we can tackle this. If the players have access to revivification magics, its a mundane solution. But what if we don’t? Well we have a few options:

Option 1: The players find a way to transport the body to a local cleric for revivification. I personally don’t like this option. It feels cheap, especially when casting a raise dead or revivify is an instant revive without stakes. I often like to use the Critical Role method of rolling for permadeath in this scenario just to raise the stakes of death.

Option 2: We allow the living characters complete a quest to revive the dead character. This is often a preferred method for some groups in order to keep the character alive/in the party. This can bring complications, especially when the player who’s character dies often will play a secondary character. What happens to that secondary character once the original is revived? What if they’d rather play the secondary on their way to revive the original character? This method can be tricky.

Option 3: Permadeath. The character dies. This may feel underwhelming, but is an option and often is the choice of many parties. If the player really wants to keep the character, they often add Jr. on the character sheet and keep playing. Usually the options end here. I offer another alternative.

Option 4: Roleplay revivification. Whatever makes sense in the moment of your campaign. What if a otherworldly being decides to bless the dead character, bartering with their soul in service to this being? What if another player character sacrifices themselves or their soul for the life of the dead character? This could go many ways.

This method could be a great method of introducing a major campaign villain, good aligned god, or patron for a cleric, warlock, paladin, or even druid in your party. Generally, these otherworldly beings will want a task or service accomplished in exchange for the gift of life.

How could this impact your players and their journey? Does it change the focus of the campaign? There’s a ton of ways this could play out and often feels much more rewarding when done right.

I’d like us all to think critically on how death in our campaigns could be done a little bit differently. How can you use roleplay to enhance your experience in game, but also create great stories with your players. Think on other options than just easy revivify magic or permadeath. Be willing to think outside the box.

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