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Death As An Incentive

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    Nik Vinter

Yesterday one of my players asked me "How are we supposed to make progress if we keep dying and starting at level one? It doesn't seem fun"

And that's a valid question. The simple answer? Don't die.

It might seem a dumb answer at first, but really that's all there is. Death is a core mechanic in the game, moreso than in newer editions of D&D because it's real, it's scary and it can come quickly if you're not careful. I noticed that after the first few levels deaths are almost never unfair (except for some Save or Die traps) and always come because the PCs made some poor decisions along the way.

Dungeons And Dragons, in this sense, is like the father of Roguelike games. Take "The Binding Of Isaac" for instance, where 90% of your progress is based on you getting better at the game. You unlock some new items and get knowledge about bosses and rooms along the way, but when you die, you're dead. It might be a bit frustrating at first but it's what makes the game fun!

You slowly progress, uncovering more and more rooms. And the better you play the further you go. Starting at higher levels devalues death, makes it less scary. After all, who cares if Grog died when you can immediately roll Grog II with the same level and items. Death teaches the players to be careful and, while it is a hindrance when someone actually dies, it lingers in the background making every second the players are alive better.

Also, the more you clear and the further you go, the more treasure there is. If you're at the 5th level of a dungeon it might take you a couple of rooms to reach level 2 or even 3! That said I still think that some sort of progress outside of the meta-level (i.e. dungeon knowledge) should be present, so my homebrew rules allow the players to retrieve and bury a dead PC to get 40% of his XP back (and probably some milestones where if the players manage to reach the 5th level of a dungeon all their next PCs can start at level two or something, it's still a wip thought though).

What about you? How do you deal with character death?