Monthly Archives: September 2011

The Philosophy behind ‘Player Death is Optional’

Those of you who have enjoyed “Of Gods and Relics: Vendai” or “Deniable Asset: Hiding in the Mosque” will have become acquainted with the concept. Simply put, if you don’t want your character to leave the story, that is your choice. There are consequences (Macula, flaws) that you must suffer as a result. But in the end, the decision is the player’s: simple in explanation. The reasons behind it are far more in depth.

1. Story
2. Shared Story Building
3. Role-Playing

It’s all about the Story

This is a story building system. Characters are built around what motivates them. Actions are performed based on what motivates the character to perform that action, be it “why” or “how”. Adventures and missions are conducted based on what characters want to, need to, or must do. This is set up by the GM. This is supported and altered by the players. “Sorry, we don’t have a thief, we can’t open this lock. Therefore, we will never get that clue and we’ll never know what to do next.” How do gamers even get caught in that kind of thinking? Because the history of RPGs is embedded in the table top miniature gaming industry. RPGs began as a spin off, an extra dimension of miniature battle games. I love those games. Do not bother to count the number of figures in cases that I have painted and lined up on the field of battle: you’ll need a team. However, a good table top miniature battle game does not an RPG make. There, rules trump story. There, rules stop you. There, rules limit you. There, rules say “no”. In the Power of 12, rules are there to inspire, “yes.” What about this “player death is optional” thing?” We are getting there.

Shared Story Building

Players contribute as much as the GM to the story. Even a story built by some 3rd party off in the corporate distance somewhere. If not then you aren’t in a role-playing game. If you are just asking where to put your figure and what you need to roll to hit, then you aren’t, in my opinion, in a role-playing game. I understand this is not an original thought. I wanted the Power of 12 Roleplaying System games to be about role-playing. And since the players usually comprise 66% or more of the group around the table, for goodness sake, they should have some input! To that end, among many other things, “death is optional” was put in place. Simply put, the player decides when his character is defeated for the final time, when he leaves the story for good. The player decides when to set that sheet aside and conjure up a new character, a new persona through which to experience the make believe: player choice, shared story building.


Haven’t beaten this one to death yet? You can never say enough about role-playing. My games are built around it, they insist on it, they require it. Role-playing often requires props. But props are just that: props. What drives Power of 12 characters are personal motivations (Foci) or classic, signature methods of accomplishing what you need to do (Modus Operandi). Nothing trumps role-playing. I only need one example. At the bridge of Khazad dum, why did the demon of the ancient world roar, snap his whip and “wait” for Gandolf to utter the words, “You! Shall not! Pass! “ It was Gandolf’s turn to Role-play. And he did a fine job.

I leave you with a pleasant and somewhat related quote from Walden Pond, by Henry David Thoreau:

“One inconvenience I sometimes experienced in so small a house, the difficulty of getting to a sufficient distance from my guest when we began to utter the big thoughts in big words. You want room for your thoughts to get into sailing trim and run a course or two before they make their port. The bullet of your thought must have overcome its lateral and ricochet motion and fallen into its last and steady course before it reaches the ear of the hearer, else it may plow out again through the side of his head. Also, our sentences wanted room to unfold and form their columns in the interval. Individuals, like nations, must have suitable broad and natural boundaries, even a considerable neutral ground, between them. I have found it a singular luxury to talk across the pond to a companion on the opposite side. In my house we were so near that we could not begin to hear — we could not speak low enough to be heard; as when you throw two stones into calm water so near that they break each other’s undulations. If we are merely loquacious and loud talkers, then we can afford to stand very near together, cheek by jowl, and feel each other’s breath; but if we speak reservedly and thoughtfully, we want to be farther apart, that all animal heat and moisture may have a chance to evaporate.”

So, gather around the table, get some dice, and raise your role-playing sails. But like Hank suggests, just make sure that it’s big enough… the table that is.


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