A message to newbie DM’s everywhere: avoid falling into the trap of making your PC’s indispensable to your story!
Picture it: You’ve got your epic adventure all planned out. You’re assembling your fellowship of heroes, and are ready to throw them into the fire. In your mind, each of them fills a certain role within your campaign. One might be the heir to a lost throne, while another the subject of a long forgotten prophecy describing him as the most powerful wizard to walk the realm, “He Who Will Save Us”. Together with their companions, they will vanquish the evil that has spread all over the world and take their place in history. There’s only one flaw in your plans though… they better survive every encounter you throw their way. And here then is where I think it may all fall apart.
Once you’ve determined that your campaign will revolve around Barundar the secret dwarf prince on his way to reclaim his family’s throne, then you make Barundar’s survival ultimately too important to your campaign. If your entire story hinges on this guy surviving, then you’ll never kill him, because killing him kills your storyline. Now, you can’t have a PC not face the fear of death, because then there’s no drama. No drama means no conflict, and it makes for a very boring story.
Of course, if your players are in on it, and you guys choose to play out a storyline like a book, where the ending is written and the players have a specific role to fill, then by all means, hand everyone the ritual caster feat and stock them up on “raise dead” scrolls. Who cares then? It’s a Dead Man’s Party!
Most games aren’t run like this though. So when you are crafting your story, be mindful of writing yourself into a corner. Don’t come up with something that yeah, sounds great in concept, but then you’ve got to figure out what happens if things don’t go your way. If the survival of the world hinges on Barundar, and a lucky 20 burns his beard off along with his skin and bones in the dragon’s lair, you’re screwed noob. So think about it before you make him the Frodo in your “Lord of the Rings”.
I am not advocating ignoring cool ideas, plots, or destinies for your players. Not at all. What I am saying is that have a way to deal with a player’s death if behind the scenes he’s that important to your plans.
Your PC’s should all possess great gravitas and a fantastic role within your plot, while not breaking it with their demise.
Now I ask you experienced DM’s out there for your advice. Am I way off the mark? Fill me in on how you’ve handled this scenario. Be nice to me, I’ve only been DM’ing a few months…