Rock and Role: When Good Role Playing Kills

Every once in a while you get a player who is seemingly punished for good role playing. They make decisions that are catastrophically bad for themselves or for the party, but it is what the character would do, so they do it. At times like that, it might feel almost like a heroic sacrifice or comedy relief, but either way, it moves the story forward. But what about the times it doesn’t? What about the times the player looks at his sheet and says “There is no way that this character would go along with this plan. It’s like jumping off a bridge onto sharp rocks!”

So the character does something else. Maybe it’s something seemingly innocuous like alternate travel plans; taking an overland route instead of using the make-shift boat to get down river. Maybe the boat seems like a horrible idea, maybe the player played “Oregon Trail” one too many times, maybe the character has a secret water phobia. Sure, traveling overland is about 10 times more dangerous and will take twice as long, but for whatever reason, it makes more sense to the character, the player, or both.

Except there’s a random encounter. In the middle of the night. The character gets a check to see if he is aware of the giant constrictor that has taken shelter in the tree the character is sleeping in. Fail. Instant kill. Game over.

Some GMs will just fiat that the character woke up for any number of reasons. Some GMs will look at the player and say “looks like it’s about time to start making another character.” Personally, I’m not shy about killing PCs, but there needs to be a solid reason behind it. I never kill PCs just because. I want the players to be attached to their characters, to get in their heads and to walk around in their shoes, metaphorically speaking. It’s hard to do that when they’re gaming under a GM who will kill their characters at the drop of a hat.