Dealing with Death in D&D

Dungeons and Dragons death specter

D&D death can happen but the most important tips are to talk to the players, make sure there are no hard feelings and move forward.

The setup

Death in D&D. I will never forget my first Death in D&D. I was young, dumb, and a new DM trying to lead a group of grade-schoolers like myself through a dungeon. A player decided to check out a room filled with fireworks and it seemed fine until someone threw a lit firework into the room. The rest of the party closed the door and Johnny’s character died in a bang.

Johny died and it was hilarious! I didn’t know what to do so I told him to make a new character and we moved on.

Unfortunately, not every Death in D&D is hilarious. Players sometimes think that their deaths were caused by a vindictive Dungeon Master who wanted to see all the joy snuffed out from them.

DM’s perspective

Most Dm’s see Death in D&D as a cthulian nightmare. You see signs; a small questionable decision here, a fatal flaw in the player’s plan there, and finally a completely impulsive decision that leads to their own demise.

Sometimes Death in D&D isn’t as easily seen, but instead happens instantaneously. A player can all of a sudden make a completely unrelatable and stupid decision that kills their character. A great example is ‘don’t worry, guys, I have fire resistance so I can go swim in the lava.’ This is of course based on a character that doesn’t understand what resistance means, but there are many such examples.

You may then try to help the player avoid certain death by saying, ‘resistance doesn’t equal immunity.’ But then the player states, ‘oh I should be fine!’ And goes in anyway. There are many ways to help players avoid death, but at the end of the day, it is all up to the player.

When the player screws up and dies, even if it is not your fault, they can get angry. I am not going to give you 100 ways to stop Death in D&D since that is impossible, situational, and probably not why you are here. Someone has died, and they are angry at you. Instead, you are here to figure out what to do since someone has died and is angry.

Steps to follow if the session ended on a sour note.

Dungeons and Dragons death way

1. Reference session 0

In session 0 make sure you address why a character will die. Can they die only by their own stupidity? Do They die for plot reasons? Can they die when the dice just land in a manner that kills them? These are all things that you need to address and decide for yourself.

When do you kill characters as a Dungeon Master? Think about when players die in your games and are honest when you tell your players.

If you did this, it will help players understand why their character died in step 4.

2. Talk to the player who is angry

This is obvious but rarely done. We as Dungeon Masters have this strange mentality to hide everything from the players since we are the god of the world! Hiding crucial information that their characters do not know is fine, but once the players know, talk to them if there is confusion.

Half the time these feelings are brought about by miscommunication, so reaching out and clearing up a misunderstanding is always helpful.

3. Hear their side

Dungeon Masters have a bad habit of brushing off their players and it causes alienation. If two people are angry but do not communicate what they are angry about, incorrect ideas can be formed. That is why we should genuinely hear their story. Listen first, and once their whole side has been told, think of a response.

Many times people listen and are not truly listening, but instead think about what to say next. This makes the response more hostile which causes the other person to get defensive, angry, and everything to go downhill.

Truly listening gives the person who is speaking a sense of satisfaction and respect towards the listener. Most people can tell when others are just in for a fight and don’t respond kindly so once again, genuinely listen to your player’s side.

4. Tell your side of the story

Now is the time to tell your side since the player is calm and more likely to listen to you.

If the player is mad that their character died due to the player’s stupid decisions, state things from your point of view in a calm tone. For example,

“I saw you go in alone with no backup, fail-safes, or escape routes. That was fine. You got the information you needed and pressed further, you rolled poorly triggering an alarm in the middle of an enemy base with no backups, fail-safes, or escape routes. At that point, what do you expect to happen?”

I did not accuse them of any wrongdoing, I merely stated what I saw from my point of view. Make sure to leave a pause after your story, and add an exasperated sigh. This shows the player that you honestly are asking them what to do since you had no idea what to do at this point and are separating the question from the story with a pause. Now the player will be less defensive and open to considering your position.

5. Give them time.

Dungeons and Dragons death time

People can get emotional over their characters dying, and this makes sense after all the time, emotion, and love they put into these characters. If this happens and they will not even tell you their side, so give them some time to cool off.

Reach out to the player later when they are ready and go through the previous steps outlined above in the article.

Are you at fault?

What if the player still is angry?

If the player still has issues, you may be at fault if the other players are mad at you. This should be an easy thing to tell since they will all be glaring at you, mad at you, etc. If the other players are understanding, then that player either has to learn and grow or get out.

If a person cannot admit they are wrong and continue to hold a grudge when everyone else sees the truth, that player will most likely be a problem player. That is why you have to kick them from the group.

This also applies to you as a DM. You are not perfect and can make mistakes. Be honest with yourself and listen to your players. If everyone is unhappy, figure out how to be better. If everyone has a better idea of how to deal with that situation, listen to them.

Lastly for DM’s

I know I’m sounding like a broken record here, but we as Dms need to talk to and listen to our players.

If you are wondering how a player should deal with Death in D&D, then check this video out on YouTube.

If you are interested in theorizing about Dungeons and Dragons, here is an article about a D&D theory I made.

Lastly, if you want to support the blog you can get stuff for it! We offer The Cube as a custom add on to your game and our affiliates. At Dice Envy they offer well made and cool looking dice and Dungeon Vault helps to help give you extra tools to make your campaign even better! I prefer to use my dice from Dice Evy since they are actually balanced and love to use the tools from Dungeon Vault.

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