Content of the article: "Embrace Death & Resurrection"
TLDR: One of my best tricks as a DM to actually challenge my players is summed up in this little rule, “Your character only stays dead if you want them to.”
A lot of people worry about appropriately challenging their players. You don’t want the game to be too easy and of no consequence. You also don’t want it to be an adversarial and impossible grind that punishes player characters just for existing. You need to find just the right balance of challenge. I believe that available means of resurrection is a key part of that puzzle.
I unabashedly embrace resurrection in my games. I always provide a way back from the dead, and one that doesn’t take up too much table time, though it rarely comes "free" and often provides an opportunity for other characters to make a sacrifice for their fallen ally. In a current campaign one player made a deal with an evil NPC to raise their comrade from the dead, while another had an opportunity to offer up one of their own bones for the sake of a resurrection.
I do not fear PC death. Because I'm not afraid of killing the PCs at my table, I embrace things like putting monsters in front of players that hit like a dump truck and knock them out, rolling dice in the open and letting them fall where they lie, putting giant mobs of monsters in front of them, making them figure out how to actually overcome difficult challenges or even come back from the dead. The higher level they get, the more I can pour on the gasoline to that proverbial fire. I'm often surprised by their ingenuity in overcoming challenges that seemed impossible at first.
I’ve knocked out and killed plenty of characters in my games, but there’s always that rule “Your character only stays dead if you want them to.” This rule has created deep and meaningful story moments as the players get the opportunity to role play with grief and loss, emotions that we often shun. It’s beneficial for us to experience these grittier emotions, especially if we can do so in a relatively safe way. A bit of grit is a good thing. The grit gives our stories definition.
Character death also has a game mechanics benefit. It gives players an opportunity to re-spec their PCs, or say goodbye and build a whole new character if they like. I find that a lot of times they’re ready for some kind of change. It’s an opportunity for the player to consider their character and if their story is complete just yet.
This rule takes the pressure off of me as a DM from worrying about whether I'll end a PC's story too soon because of a botched encounter or a too-tough monster. The PC's story only ends when the player wants it to. The decision is in their hands.
And if you TPK the party of heroes? Well it’s the same rule. They stay dead only if the players want them to. Mostly a TPK is just an opportunity to up the stakes a bit. Fail forward and raise them up in a hairy situation with an opportunity to overcome defeat.
You can’t learn to rise if you never get the chance to fall.
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