Embracing Resurrection

One of the things that never scares me as a Dungeon Master is whether or not I’ll be able to challenge my players.

A lot of people worry about this. As a DM you don’t want the game to be too easy and of no consequence. You also don’t want it to be an adversarial and impossible grind that punishes player characters just for existing. You need to find just the right balance of challenge.

I’ve got lots of little tricks that I’ve learned along the way, but the one that has been the most freeing for me has been this little rule: “Your character only stays dead if you want them to.”

I unabashedly embrace resurrection in my games. I always provide a way back from the dead, and one that doesn’t take up too much table time, though it might provide an opportunity for other characters to make a sacrifice for their fallen ally. In a current campaign one player made a deal with an evil NPC to raise their comrade from the dead, while another had an opportunity to offer up one of their own bones for the sake of a resurrection.

Embracing resurrection in your TTRPG also teaches an important faith lesson: Death is not the end of our story. God overcame death, so that we could do the same. Death need not be feared.

Without being afraid of killing the PCs at my table, I embrace things like putting monsters in front of players that hit like a dump truck and knock them out, rolling dice in the open and letting them fall where they lie, putting giant mobs of monsters in front of them, making them figure out how to actually overcome difficult challenges or even come back from the dead.

I’ve knocked out and killed plenty of characters in my games, but there’s always that rule “Your character only stays dead if you want them to.” This rule has created deep and meaningful story moments as the players get the opportunity to role play with grief and loss, emotions that we often shun. It’s beneficial for us to experience these grittier emotions, especially if we can do so in a relatively safe way. A bit of grit is a good thing. The grit gives our stories and our lives definition.

Character death also has a game mechanics benefit. It gives players an opportunity to respec their PCs, or say goodbye and build a whole new character if they like. I find that a lot of times they’re ready for some kind of change. It’s an opportunity for the player to consider their character and if their story is complete just yet.

And if you TPK the party of heroes? Well it’s the same rule. They stay dead only if the players want them to. Mostly a TPK is just an opportunity to up the stakes a bit. Fail forward and raise them up in a hairy situation with an opportunity to overcome defeat.

You can’t learn to rise if you never get the chance to fall.

The First 15

A group of people sit down around a table, eyeing one other warily. Each has come in search of adventure and will spend the next few hours finding it, or will leave with regret. Few talk, unsure of what to say to these strange new companions. It’s an introvert’s nightmare. And I, dear reader, am an introvert.

Games played through Dungeons & Dragons Organized Play, also known as the D&D Adventurers League, often begin in this dubious fashion. They take place at game stores, gaming conventions, and other public spaces – united in that initial awkward moment.

Thank God there is a game to play. Eventually the Dungeon Master calls the table together, you get to introduce your character, and you’re off and running with fantastic companions like Crouton the Human Barbarian and Daryush the Aasimar Bard. The awkwardness of those first 15 minutes is behind you, eclipsed by this new world of wonder that’s being created together at the table. Thank God there is a game to play; it almost makes that initial awkward moment disappear.

Almost.

A great rpg like D&D can cover for a multitude of social sins. It builds community and friendships. But in my experience, at an organized play game those friendships are often felt more by the characters than they are by the actual players. Your character may have saved the life of another character at the table, but 4 hours can pass and you can leave the table without even learning the name of the person playing that character.

Now there is a lot that I love about organized play. I love that I can drop in and out of a game according to my life’s hectic schedule. I love that I can take my character to a multitude of different tables and play them with a multitude of different companions. I love my experience as a DM, where I don’t have to manage other people’s schedules and have weeks where we can’t play because schedules didn’t line up. Instead I just announce that I’m running a table and every week it is full.

But those first 15 minutes… woof!

I love home games too. I recently finished DMing two simultaneous 3 1/2 year campaigns in a shared world. It was a blast. If that awkward initial situation was happening at a home game, it’s probably right at the very beginning of the campaign. In that case we could do a Session 0. A Session 0 is a time for you to get together as people, introduce new faces, and talk about what you hope to get out of the game. You can build your characters together, co-create the world, and importantly get to know your fellow players as people. A Session 0 is an awesome thing, lots of people have written about why and how to have them, but for Organized Play games the idea of a Session 0 is completely useless. There’s not enough time!

But there is 15 minutes. You might not build a lifelong friendship in that time, but you can at least start to build a sense of person-to-person community.

As a Pastor, one of my jobs is to facilitate community building, sometimes in these same tiny windows of time. As a Dungeon Master, I’ve been bringing those community creation skills to my Adventurers League games in something I call The First 15, and I think every Adventurers League DM should implement it, because that awkward initial moment? I don’t worry about those anymore.

first 15

THE FIRST 15

  • As the Dungeon Master, your first task is to welcome your players to the table. This is your table, and only you can share its hospitality. Make the first move and at least say, “Hello,” to each person as they arrive.
  • When your players are all there, invite them to go around the table and introduce themselves. Here’s where it gets important! As people introduce themselves, have them share their name and pronouns, their character’s name and the standard race/class/etc. AND ONE MORE THING.
  • In addition to simple hospitality, this one more thing is the crux of the whole First 15. It must be one more thing about the player, not the character. A simple icebreaker question can give the entire game session a different feel, and leave a much better impression in people’s minds when it’s over. Here is a list of great questions you can ask that will pull out that one more thing.
    • What are you excited about today/ tonight?
    • What is one thing you need to have a great game session?
    • What fear do you have as we begin this game?
    • On a scale of 1-10, where is your energy level right now?
    • What are you hoping for in this game?
    • What is one expectation you would like to set for the entire table?
    • What has been the best part of your day so far?
    • What is your favorite/least favorite thing about your character?
    • Besides your own PC, who is your favorite fictional character?
    • What is your favorite movie/book/tv show?
    • What power or ability does your character have that you wish you had in reed life?
    • What is your most prized personal possession?
    • What color best fits your personality?
    • What is your favorite pillar of play (Combat/Exploration/Role Play) and which pillar would you most like to improve your play in?

Asking even a single question about the person behind the PC lets people know that they matter. A question like one of these can uncover otherwise hidden expectations, anxieties, or dreams. Having a space, however brief, to share these things before starting to play can make the whole gameplay experience better. People might hear something that helps them remember someone’s name or interests.

It’s far from rocket science, but instituting the First 15 in your game is a simple first step to an even better game.