Death in D&D

I’ve been thinking about death in Dungeons & Dragons, partly because of a funeral I went to a little while ago. My understanding is that the person whose funeral we were attending shouldn’t have died. He wasn’t very old. There’s a suspect being tried in relation to the death later in the year. So you would be able to understand, there was a lot of grief.

Reflecting on the funeral got me thinking, How is it that we can sometimes approach death so blithely in a game? Normally what you do is just write up another character sheet and continue the adventure with a new character. If you put a lot of work and time into the character you’d proabbly be annoyed, but that’s it. I wonder if there are any ways that we could remind ourselves of the gravity of death when we play?


These are a few ideas I had:

  • We could suggest that surviving adventurers attempt to return the dead to their relatives. This would probably mean having to face the anger and grief of bereaved loved ones.
  • We could roleplay a funeral for the deceased character.
  • We could have each surviving character make a speech about the deceased.
  • We could roleplay a wake after the funeral where the characters speculate about what happens to the souls of the dead.
  • We could allow the death of an adventurer to direct the future path of the story, by having the surviving characters drawn into a quest for restribution.

One of the reasons I’ve been thinking about this is because of Henri Nouwen’s ideas about the illusion of immortality. He believed that our society often tries to avoid recognising the transience of life. Just like attending a funeral should help us to come to terms with our own mortality (as well as expressing our grief for the dead), roleplaying could give us opportunities to reflect on our own mortality. (Not everyone’s game needs to do that – but the opportunity is there.)

Can you think of any other ways to make death carry weight in the game?

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