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Coping With Death Of A Player

Losing characters to death is common, losing players to the same can be tough.

by Joe Bingaman

Death is synonymous with all role-playing games. Characters, enemies, and NPC’s die every session. But the one subject no one speaks on, or wants to think of, is the death of a player in a gaming party. While many may be blessed to never experience this, some of us have had it happen more than once. This is not a Dr. Phil article on how to cope, per se, but rather, how to move forward as a gaming party.

About 48 hours ago, my party lost our newest addition. Cody was his name. I met him soon after I started my day job as a line cook. We hit it off right away, which is rare for me, as I lean towards introverted, unless I see many things in common with someone else. After our sous chef mentioned that we both play D&D, well, that was it. It became all we talked about at work. Plans were made, and Cody, who was 27, yet last had played 2nd Edition, was joining our party. I glossed over what editions we play with him, our house rules, we hashed out a loose character idea, and he was introduced to the rest of the party via Facebook.

Tuesday, March 21st, I was working a split double shift. In between shifts, I was working on how to bring Cody into Storm King’s Thunder that Saturday, while scrolling through Facebook randomly. This is how I spend my free time between shifts. As I scrolled through, I started seeing people saying things like “Farewell” on his page. I had a familiar feeling of dread, so I went to his page. There I found a GoFundMe set up for his funeral costs. I quickly tracked down our sous chef, who confirmed the news. Cody had died at 27 from a heart attack.

John. Photo courtesy of the author.

John, the author’s brother and co-conspirator in many adventures, who passed in 2013. Photo courtesy of the author.

I went numb, and that night’s dinner service was somber. I wondered how the party would continue. In the silence, I realized that this wasn’t the first time this occurred in my life. My close friend John, who had moved to Wisconsin, but still plotted things to do to characters as DM’s, had passed in 2013. It suddenly occurred to me that while not the same, it was in the sense that all our players were friends with John, and we still had to move forward.

Death is tough on anyone. At some point, we will all experience loss of someone we are close to. Granted, I only knew Cody a short time, but he reminded me of John so much. It still shocked me, and hurt a bit. But I also see, and know from with John’s death, that it can be something that is hard for the gaming party to cope with and move forward. So I will share my tips on what I have learned from experience.

  • LESSON ONE: DON’T AVOID TALKING ABOUT THE PLAYER
    This can hurt the party more than it can help. Holding in the emotions can just make things more difficult in the long run to everyone involved, and can even spill over into life and relationships outside gaming. Everyone needs to vent their hurt, frustration, and work through the actual grieving process (something I am doing by writing this).
  • LESSON TWO: HOLD A MEMORIAL
    The group should hold some form of memorial, whether it be just a moment of silence of an entire session dedicated to reminiscing on things the player did. For example, after John passed, I regaled those who never experienced playing with John of stories from our days together at the table, both things he said while playing, amazing (or unamazing) rolls he made, or great thinking and roleplaying.
  • LESSON THREE: THEIR CHARACTER DESERVES A TRIBUTE
    It’s not always right to kill their character too; in fact, this could upset others in the party. Then again, having someone else run it could upset party members as well. My stance is a neutral one: the character retires and becomes a permanent NPC, one that is off-limits to kill. While there was not yet an active character fully built for Cody, nor was there an active one anymore in our campaign for John, as he and I had both moved, both are forever immortalized in mmy home campaign. John has an NPC named after his nickname, Ghost, who is a ninja/assassin that occasionally hires the PC’s for a job, and one that they can hire for a job. Cody is having an NPC named for him that is an anagram of his name (I won’t publish that here for the privacy of his family). Neither can be killed, and all players, present and future, are informed of this. While not high-level, they are just…off-limits.
  • LESSON FOUR: NEVER STOP GAMING
    If you just think about quitting, think again. Seriously, would the deceased player want you to just stop, even briefly? I asked myself this just yesterday about Cody, and I swear I heard him say that the show MUST go on. The dice must still roll. Think about it, if the player loved gaming, they would expect you to keep gaming. Cody and John both loved to play D&D, and I’m certain both expected it to continue after they were gone. Only a selfish person would expect everyone’s worlds to stop after their death, and neither one was selfish.
  • LESSON FIVE: REMEMBER EVERYONE FEELS DIFFERENT
    A death will affect each party member different. While a gaming party is in ways like a family bond after it spends a lot of time together, it also can be like a sibling rivalry. If a player seems indifferent to the death, do not get offended. Perhaps they were not that close to the deceased, perhaps they only saw them at the gaming table. I expect this from our current group with Cody; while Facebook introductions were made, only my daughter really talked to him, as my wife was busy and my best friend was in the process of moving here. So while there were introductions, only two of us really had any connection with him.
    SIDE NOTE: My daughter embraced me when I got home from work, and would not let go for 15 minutes…not because she was upset, but because she knew I was. I have a great kid.

    Cody. Self portrait photo, printed with permission of his family.

    Cody, the author’s newest party member and first friend in his new home city, who passed a week ago. Self portrait photo, printed with permission of his family.

There it is, in a nutshell. Okay, so SOME Dr. Phil-like stuff wound up in there, but it’s important to get through the grieving process the correct way. I want to thank all of you for taking the time to read this, and hopefully, if you are ever unfortunate enough to experience the death of a player, you will remember this article and my advice, and find a way through the darkness back to the table. If you know a gamer who has experienced a death, and is having a hard time coming back from it, share this with them, and maybe it will inspire them to return. If anyone has experienced this, I am sorry for your loss, and feel free to comment below. We are a community as gamers, and we are there for each other.

Rest In Peace Cody and John. Your laughing voices are missed by all, both at the table and in all aspects of your lives.

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