OngoingWorlds blog

News & articles about play-by-post games, for roleplayers & writers


So you want to kill a character…

Roleplay character jumping off a cliffA while ago I began asking roleplayers about killing off their characters, why and how they did it, and what the consequences were. The death of a character can have widespread consequences for the rest of your game, both the story and the other characters, as Sarah from RPGRating explains…

Sarah Carney from RPG Rating avatarYour character’s demise doesn’t happen in isolation. If things have gone well, he or she has made connections with other writers’ characters and so his or her death will have an impact on their on-going stories. When considering killing off your long-running character, be sure to be considerate of other writers who’ve invested time and passion into being a part of your character’s life. They don’t get to make the decision for you, of course, but include them in the process and give them space to react in a way that is meaningful for them.

Sarah Carney,

Xexes has a lot to say on the subject of character death, and has these tips to share:

XexesTell the reader why they should care

Emphasize in your writing what was so special about their life, perhaps mentioning some brief key scenes. Does this make a difference in the story? Mention that too. What about others they were close to? What about how they’ve developed as a character? Will others miss them? What kind of legacy will they leave? All of this has the potential to be a novel chapter in and of itself, but concise mentions can give your story the grace it needs without extra length that might intimidate readers.

Do your research

Death has the potential to be a touchy subject because everyone has been affected by it in some way or another. Cancer-ridden people don’t suddenly violently explode. Alzheimers doesn’t mean happy-go-lucky. If your writing is wildly inaccurate, you will probably offend someone who was close to such an event. So by doing your research, you approach the subject respectfully and tastefully.

Short and sweet

You don’t have to go on and on about the light at the end of the tunnel, how many heartbeats they had each minute till death, or all the flashbacks of all their life. We human beings have tricky attention spans, so be concise. This is one place that a single line can be far more effective than a couple paragraphs.

Connect with others

People tend to be self-centered, so why not connect with others to make your story have more emphasis and meaning by having other players play a hand in it? For example, perhaps someone reads their last rites, perhaps someone performs a failed heimlich, and so on and so forth. Writing is all about a collaborative story. Give those other players a story, too, and because they are involved, the death will have more meaning.

Communicate what you’re doing

When your character dies, there’s much room for fellow players to be concerned about you as a writer. Communicate with them to let them know if you are staying or not, or if you have other characters lined up. This especially true if you have only a couple characters.

Xexes from RPG-D

Silent Hunter shared an experience of killing off a character…

Silent HunterAs a prolific GM, I’ve wasted my fair share of nameless NPCs; recently I sunk a French frigate and holed their only carrier in Fighter Ops. However, it’s been relatively rare for me to bump off a ‘name character’.

The first big case that comes to mind was back at AJJE, on a ship called Whisper; in this Firefly sim, I played a rather sleazy character called James Warner – on one occasion, he slept with a fellow crewmember and then announced this to the rest of the crew. Needing to cut down on sims, I had Warner kill his ex-wife in port and then took things to a final standoff in the cargo bay; Warner raised his shotgun to fire. I informed the GM, the lady now called Deborah Leighton Plom, that she could “terminate him with extreme prejudice and drama” – he ended up splattered across the bay in a hail of fire.

More recently at Phoenix Roleplaying, I was playing a pawn shop owner who got caught up in the bombing of a fetish club at another Firefly sim (Greenleaf Skyplex) – a surprise detonation by the GM. I decided on the spur of the moment that she would die in the explosion; if Joss Whedon could kill off a beloved character than I could take out a minor one myself.

In both cases, Ash Leighton Plom did not see it coming and was rather shocked when these characters died.

Silent Hunter, Phoenix Roleplaying

Killing characters can also be fun! As Liv says…

It sounds a little morbid, but I kind of enjoy killing off characters. There’s something about death that brings out pain, suffering, anguish, and very, very strong human emotions that aren’t normally experienced. And when other characters are involved in a death scene, it’s a good exercise to play with different people’s emotions and reactions to the death of a friend, family, or an enemy. It’s actually very therapeutic for me; to reach down inside myself and pull out dark and wicked emotions relieves me of dark thoughts when I put it down on paper or on a screen. A few tips and questions you should ask yourself:

  • Nothing is too corny! It may sound stupid to the writer while putting it down, but if you give it a while and go back and read it again, you’ll see that it’s probably very strong with the rest of the scene.
  • Make sure the cause of death is easy enough to figure out, you don’t want your reader questioning how their favorite character died. You can still be vague or descriptive about it, as long as the reader knows what killed him/her/it.
  • Thoughts are very important to people who are dying, involve a little thought of the person dying or the person who is watching them die.
  • It’s also fun to play with after-life scenarios, is there a heaven? Is there a hell? Is there nothing?
  • Pulse and breath is also good to toy with, their vitals, so it would be a good idea to put a vital sign of a dying person or animal in your piece.
  • Do you want your reader to cry? Or laugh? What emotion do you want to put into your reader as they interpret your work?
  • Make it as dramatic or as simple as you want, your reader may want it to end quickly, or they may want to draw out the last few moments of the character’s life, depends how how much your reader would care about the character and want to see them suffer or not.

Liv. F from Absit Omen RPG

Tell us how you’ve killed off your characters, what impact it had, and any tips you have in the comments box below.