Special Note: For the record....I'm typing this up on a Saturday morning, hours before my bi-weekly game. Just have to mention this in case there happens to be a coincidence between the game and today's subject matter.
I'd like to think that I've had less than my fair share of PC deaths, which is interesting since I like to play HackMaster, which is known to be crunchy and deadly. Of course I might actually have more than my fair share of PC deaths and I just don't remember them because they aren't remarkable or because they were low-level PCs. Who really regrets the loss of a 1st level nobody?
As a GM I have kind of relished killing off the PCs, and have exercised some bragging rights when doing so. In truth though I try to be a bit of a tactician and I'm trying to have and share in the fun at the table. I get a metric shit-ton more mileage out of almost killing a PC. Now I'm not the type to fudge the dice rolls, but bringing a mighty PC down to low single-digits or castrating their abilities in some way......good times. The players fear for the safety of their PCs and the party has to tie up resources covering for the new weakness in their ranks. This can lead to a snowball effect that either makes the party escape by the skin of their teeth or suffer a crushing defeat. I'll risk one for the other any day, but I'll not let you know which one I'm rooting for in the moment......
"Fear for the safety".....do players really have feelings about their PCs? I sure hope they do! I want my players to be proud when their PC pulls off something mighty & heroic, and get a bit miffed when things don't go their way. Downright sad, for a while, when their PC actually dies....this is a good thing. No, I'm not a sicko GM.....well maybe I am, but not for this reason. The way I see it, players should be emotionally invested in their PCs. It's what makes the game fun and I think it's what can help make a game, for the lack of a better term, "real". Sure, players can have fun simply because they are hanging out with their friends and generally having a good time, but they can also just do that over pizza a beer.....don't need to be adding dice to the mix then.
What makes role-playing games an actual hobby is this emotional investment and the bond a good game group establishes with each other. I personally look forward to my next game, my next get-together, and I think this is because of this emotional investment in my PCs. Hell, I would also argue this is one of the reasons so many players don't do regular game conventions, unless they end up going with some of their home group members.
<insert Wayne's World doodly-doo noises here> Deep in my old records I have a write-up from my very first official HackMaster tournament as a GM. It's a rather in-depth (and lengthy) account because my table didn't fair so well and there were quite a few PC deaths. At one point there was some yelling/swearing and a chair was kicked a fair bit. I had heard, and disagreed with, how another table breezed through a couple encounters and assumed that the players from the one home-group that sat at my table would file a compliant (I didn't blame them), so immediately after the game I took my notes and wrote up the game. Wow, did I make a bunch of mistakes. With one exception they were all in the players favor, both the player and I had simply forgotten about one of their PC's magic items, but the players really didn't play well. You'd never guess this was an established home group used to playing together. I think the fact it was a late night game hindered their collective cognitive abilities because one PC could have avoided death simply by side-stepping 5' in almost any direction....and this was pretty obvious. <insert Wayne's World doodly-doo noises here>
Back to the intended train of thought.....this group lost several mid-high level PCs and were super pissed in the moment, and not that happy for the rest of the convention. They had been playing these characters for years and had a lot of investment, clearly not just time, in them. I'm sure they were able to resurrect the PCs, albeit with some new quirks and flaws (par for the HackMaster 4th Edition course) and carry on. I'm certain the extremity of their initial reactions were a bit much, but that's the chance you take.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained......had the players made a couple different decisions, like the aforementioned player stepping left two paces or the one player reminding me her PC could run like the dickens due to her magic item, then the party would have gotten their asses handed to them, but the would have survived. The players would have been high-fiving each other and they probably would have won the tournament.
Just remember this the next time you lose a PC and you're pissed off.......this is actually a good thing. Surely more a silver lining, but still.....a good thing. Stop short of kicking that chair, thank you GM, and figure out how you could have avoided that death. Worst case, pick up your 3d6 and hope you can get pissed when you lose this one as well....hopefully a long, long time (and many more levels) than last time.