Last time in my D&D Next playtest game the monk punched the wizard while under the effects of a mind control. The monk player rolled a critical hit, and killed the wizard. The characters were third level and would advance to fourth after this fight. The player who was playing the halfling wizard was playing a great character that he wanted to play really bad, and was doing a great job. He also handled the death of his PC by the hands, literally, of another PC with the best attitude that I have seen a player handle a PC death. What does the player play next in the game?
It would seem that the sky was the limit as far as what the player can choose from, but if you stop and ponder for a second you can begin to see the prismatic wall of limitations. The rest of the surviving characters might have been relying on the deceased to insure their survive-ability or a key role in the game or campaign. If you kill the cleric and the group has no other form of healing it can create an issue in some campaigns and systems not ready for it. If you are playing a group of smugglers in Star Wars, Edge of the Empire and you kill the pilot, the group is still going to need a pilot. That could limit the player of the deceased characters choices.
The player might have wanted to play a noble or street rogue, and not had their fill of that background and style. The player might only feel like playing dwarves right now and want to play another dwarf. If the player wanted to play a specific build because those were the powers, talents, skills, feats, or whatever that was of interest at the moment, then you may end up with a new character that feels surprisingly like the character who they are replacing, save for a few minor details like a name or beard color. Unless the DM handles the new character being introduced properly it can create problems in the campaign. If the character is almost identical to the character it is replacing it can really create a few problems in the campaign.
If the new character fails to fulfill the role in the party that the deceased character handled, it could create a deficiency in some area in the game. The other players might feel it important to have this area that they are lacking in covered. One of the players may now want to change his character to be able to cover the area vacated by the deceased character. That will begin to create an avalanche of character swap, continuity issues, and player disconnect to the story. Your job as the DM is to see that this doesn't happen in your game. Players might not always know what is the best for the campaign and just see their actions and it how it affects them. It is your job to see that your game is fun for all involved.
How can you as the DM smooth things over if the player’s choice of new character leaves a whole in the abilities of your party? If it is healing then make sure there are some extra potions, salves, ointments, brews, and poultices to compensate. You might also have a character take on a henchman, hireling, mercenary, etc., to fill the role in some capacity. This of course may create other problems like a player dealing with multiple characters or an NPC taking a lead role in some situations. You may see if perhaps another player character has an advancement plan to cover all or part of the gap. This is perhaps the best solution if it doesn't radically change their character concept since you want to keep as much focus on the PCs as possible.
If the player doesn't feel like what they were trying to accomplish, experience, or fulfill with their deceased character was achieved they may decide to create a new character that moves, feels, works, and plays much the same as their old character. This can cause death and failure in your game to feel like they really don’t have many consequences, which is almost never a positive thing in a game. In these cases you have to deal with the character that the player brings but do your best to make sure that there are consequences to death and PC change. Contacts and favors that their old character had will no longer be available to their new character. If the character had magic items or upgraded equipment and another PC takes it and doesn't immediately hand it to the new PC it will help a lot with creating consequences.
You as the DM can encourage the player to make as many changes to the character as you are able. There is nothing wrong with you making suggestions; after all it is your game as well. The other players will surely have some goodhearted ribbing if Torg the dwarf defender fighter is replace by Corg the dwarf defender fighter and brother to Torg, has arrived to avenge his brother and claim his slain brother’s possessions. The best way to handle the situation, let your players loose on the offender. I say offender because it is a bit lazy and therefore offensive for the rest of the group and you to have a player put forth so little effort in their character creation.
This is what is happening in my game and I am curious to see what the player affected by the character death chooses to do next. These are a few of the things I will do to steer the player in a direction which makes the death of their PC seem relevant. I think it will be much more interesting to hear what you do or would do in your games to smoothly transition from one PC to another PC in your game. So use the comment section to give your feedback and until next time, Roll Hard!
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