Living and Dying in RP Time by Wes Platt
Recently on OtherSpace, we've had a lively ongoing discussion about dying.
It happens. And on OtherSpace, it's permanent. When your character dies, it's time to apply for something new. There's no brief moment of floating in the cosmic ether before popping back to life in the city square. Done. Finished. Over.
So, naturally, it can come as a nasty shock to a player when they lose a character to death.
Many other intensive roleplaying games follow this sort of format, known by many as "permadeath."
The debate at OtherSpace, sparked by the deaths of three characters at the hands of bounty hunters in admin-refereed combat, rotated around the crucial question: Under what circumstances should characters be allowed to die and when should slack be cut, allowing them to live to fight another day.
Some argued that death should be an absolute last resort, and preferably only if requested by the player behind the character in question.
Others argued that a bounty hunter, for example, should be allowed to kill if he/she wants to and has the means to do so - especially if they're under orders to carry out a contract in-story.
Now, I run the game. It's in my best interests to avoid winnowing the playerbase by killing them off all the time. But it's also in the interest of the evolving story - and the adrenalin-charged atmosphere that can develop within it - to let death be a very real and, under the right circumstances, very likely possibility.
But the fact that we talked about it at all - that we had people of both mindsets in this debate - was a healthy thing.
Losing a character to permadeath can be emotionally painful, especially if a player has invested any amount of effort into the portrayal of that character. But the risk that can lead to serious injury or permadeath is necessary to keep the experience emotionally charged.
How much adrenalin is likely to be generated if someone angers a crime boss who has a reputation for doing nothing more than talking sternly and perhaps slapping someone on the wrist for bad behavior?
Risk is what it's all about.
If you don't want to lose a character to permadeath, the simple solution - at least on OtherSpace, but I'm sure this sort of philosophy applies elsewhere - is to not do anything that might get you killed. Don't choose a line of work where gunplay is ever involved. Don't take on crime lords. Don't get involved in dangerous missions of mercy.
Play it safe.