When a Hero Dies
Battling monsters, looting treasure rooms, thwarting bad guys… that’s what rocks about role-playing games. Kids see that instantly and the more you give them, the more they will enjoy the game. But sometimes it’s hard to pour it on at the right speed. What happens if you go too fast and some five-year-old’s warrior gets killed?
Very few kids want to work their character up through 25 sessions before taking on the red dragon. Here’s a pretty standard schedule in most kids’ minds:
Session 1: Create awesome characters, kill a few orcs, get rich.
Session 2: Fight Tiamat.
So, presumably somewhere between session 1 and session 2, the characters miraculously advance 21 levels so that you, the GM and loving parent/uncle/whatever, don’t have to kill the whole party off. Plus, what do you do for session 3?
Sometimes players over-reach. It happens with adults, but at least they don’t break down crying when their level 2 barbarian falls down and won’t get up. This is a real possibility with kids in the way that it’s a real possibility that if you let them eat ice cream in your bed you’re going to need to wash the sheets before you go to sleep tonight.
Rule Number One: Heroes don’t die.
Kids know this but dragons don’t.
Rule Number Two: If you forget Rule Number One, this could be the end of your child’s RPG days forever and it will all be your fault.
I’m not going to dwell on how you avoid character death. There are plenty of ways for a GM to bend the rules, claim to be on a streak of bad luck with the dice, etc. Let’s just assume it’s happened. Little Jimmy’s warrior, Gargon the Unstoppable, thinks he’s invincible and refuses to back off the fight when he should.
Jimmy: I whack the dragon with my axe.
Me: Umm, are you sure?
Jimmy: Yup! Right in the face. Weee-yah!
You can hardly fault the kid. He’s so deep into the game he’s forgotten the numbers written on his character sheet. That’s a good thing. Also, this strategy worked against every orc and goblin so far. Why wouldn’t it work against a dragon? Weee-yah! Jimmy also knows Rule Number One, the hero never dies. Thank you Walt Disney for that. Would his Dad really make the dragon kill him?
The dragon’s at 100 hit points and Gargon is down to his last 3. The dragon breathes fire and Gargon is right in front of it. Pretty hard to convince anyone the story is real if Gargon can just stand there wreathed in flames. So either a miracle happens or Gargon dies.
And that’s where the crying start. The first time I killed off one of my children’s characters it was my youngest. He followed the Gargon strategy and died. My son started to weep so hard I thought he might just fall apart. It was a pivotal moment for both of us.
There are two ways out of this that I know of. One is to sweep it all under the rug, admit that you made a terrible mistake (when anyone with half a brain knows Gargon should have run away), and buy your kid some ice cream. Odds are he wont be back to the gaming table in, like, forever, but at least he’ll stop crying.
Solution number two is to make his character’s death a segue to something something way better. With my son I had the other players finish off the dragon (quickly) then nudged them into scouring the area for something to help Gargon. They found a bunch of gold and some trinkets and then came across a ring. They put the ring on Gargon’s hand and… nothing. (“Don’t worry,” I whispered to my son, “it’s not nothing.”) When they tried to take the ring off it wouldn’t come off. Then a cloud of green vapor surrounded Gargon’s body and hardened, encasing him in something like a giant emerald. The next morning, the emerald was gone and Gargon was alive again, but now he was a Hill Giant. He gained +6 strength and looked very scary and cool. My son was ecstatic. Dying had unlocked a new race to him that was unavailable to anyone else.
The next night, though, the same thing happened only this time he woke up as an elf. -2 strength +2 intelligence. Every night, Gargon died and was reborn. If he fell in battle, all the party had to do was make camp and wait till the next morning when he would emerge from his emerald cocoon a new man (or dwarf or troll or bugbear).
Sometimes the new stats helped him, sometimes they hindered him. Either way, the ring was cursed enough that it could not be removed. Gargon had no intention of removing it though. We named it the Ring of Random Resurrection and it became his more prized possession.
That game took place maybe three years ago. We recently started a new game and since we started, my son has been not so subtly suggesting that maybe his new character might find another one just like it.
The Ring of Random Resurrection
(Major Cursed Item)
Once placed on a humanoid’s finger, the ring cannot be removed. Every nigh, the player dies (if not already dead) and is reborn the next day in a new body. Every morning, roll d20 on the chart below (or make up your own chart and roll whatever dice you use in whatever game you play), and select a race for your character to be. Word of advice: remove your armor and any other restrictive clothing before sleeping. (I’ve styled the table below to D&D but you can use any game you like).
|9-11||Keep original race and stats|
|12||Ogre||+4 Constitution -2 Wisdom|
|13||Hill Giant||+4 Strength, -2 Intelligence|
|14||Eagle||Flight, can’t carry/use gear|
|15||Brain Muncher||Psychic Powers, +4 Intelligence|
|16||Bugbear||+2 Strength, -2 Intelligence, -2 Charisma|