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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Player Character death in a solo game

How do you feel about it? How do you handle it? 

I've seen it work great in some actual plays of dungeon crawls that have been posted on the Yahoo group for Mythic. After a while, I got the impression that all of those dead characters added a backdrop, and a sense of emerging history to the dungeon. 

Still, I try to avoid player character death in my own solo games. Often, I find myself fudging results so that the story can go on, rather than come to an abrupt stop. I'm not worthy enough to kiss Hitchcock’s shoe soles, so I won't even try to pull a trick like he did in Psycho by killing the Heroine early on. 

With that pre-amble, I wanted to share an idea that I've been playing around with. I have been calling it Consequence and Repercussion tokens interchangeably as the mood strikes me, but I think "Pick Your Poison" captures the feel better.  Here’s how it works: 

Whenever a result of an action your PC/Hero took leads to a result that spoils the story or fun in some way, you can opt to change that result in exchange for taking a Consequence/Repercussion token. However, what this token means is that at some point you must deal with a negative Consequence/Repercussion that is a direct or indirect result of your change. You can defer it, but you can’t get rid of it. At some point, you have to deal with the Consequences of what you did, and Pick Your Poison.

Here is an example in a noir game: 

Your Hero needs to convince the Gangster’s abused girlfriend to divulge damning evidence, but your random result says she refuses. You think that result sucks so you change it:

"she reluctantly yields some evidence", in exchange for taking a Consequence token. 

Now you have to deal with a Consequence/Repercussion of that action at some point of your choosing in the game. It will affect something or someone you care about, but you choose when and how.

Maybe you decide to deal with that Consequence/Repercussion after your Hero has apprehended the Gangster and sent him to jail. If you like tragic endings, You declare that a now badly disfigured Moll kills your hero in revenge (or attempts to kill your hero in revenge if you want to roll for it), because the Gangster found out she ratted him out and beat her badly. 

Alternatively, perhaps  you decide to deal with the Consequence/Repercussion immediately, and decide that the evidence implicates an NPC you deeply care about (maybe it’s your partner, or your love interest). 

One possible problem: you have to be careful to not accumulate too many Consequence/Repercussion tokens: if you defer dealing with them for too long, you may end up having to deal with many Consequences/Repercussions at once! This may be OK in some places, but at other moments it could threaten the feel of your story  if you care about that sort of thing.

Thoughts? Opinions? Other ideas?

(I've posted this on the Going Solo group in RPGNet, and will post to Mythic Yahoo. I truly want to know how others feel about PC death in solo games, and how they deal with it.) 


  1. Very interesting post. I feel that PC death (or the possibility of that happening) adds tension to play, and consequently, fun and challenge to the game. That said, when I stopped to think about it, I noticed that the games I play often have some "escape mechanism" that may be used to avoid death.

  2. Hi Ricardo,

    Thanks for bringing up that point regarding tension. It is so true, and probably the primary reason why PC death as a concept exists in RPGs. A member in the Yahoo Group for Mythic also made an allusion to this when he expressed the excitement he feels when a PC fights his way to reach a climax (or dies trying to).

    The thing is, though, that in most stories you know that the Hero will survive at least until the climax. You know that the dramatic tension will be resolved at the end, but you don’t know how: the hero might well die at the end, yet still save the world; or he might die as a tragic hero brought down by his personal flaws; or she might live, and save the world, but lose something dear to her; etc.

  3. Hey Dreamer, I've nominated your blog for a Liebster Blog award :) Your posts are missed...

  4. Wow, that's very kind of you, Ricardo! I appreciate that.

    I hope can contribute to the community soon. I've had some abortive attempts at actual plays with some ideas that won't let me sleep at night. :) If I'm lucky, I will find a way to use them that is satisfying-- then I can share the fun!


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