I dunno. Surely everyone knows that playing D&D means you might die and have to sit out the game? Why’s that such a ball ache?This started as a reply to the "question for zero character death players and DM's", but it wasn't what the OP was asking for. I deleted it, but it kept rattling around in my skull.
In my time as a DM, I've come to see death as a sort of fail-state. Nothing can derail a session faster than a character dying in the second encounter of a multi-encounter dungeon in the middle of nowhere. It's for this reason I don't run time-sensitive adventures, because saying "you must press on, without rest, through five encounters to save the princess/kingdom/world/multiverse" inevitably leads to "well great, we're at the final battle, we have no resources, and the Cleric is dead."
I've tried NPC's that can be played. Lackluster response- people want to play their character, not an NPC. I've tried pausing the game for them to make new characters. "I just don't have any inspiration."
I once even had a guy just walk out of my house in the middle of an encounter where his character dropped, because, in his mind "I wasn't going to be able to play my character for the rest of the night, so I have better things to do than sit around and watch you guys have fun".
I always said I was OK with death if it was obviously the player's fault. But too often, it's not.
Look at the classic "front-line Fighter". He believes it's his job to run into the fray, and hold the line, taking a beating so his allies don't have to. If anyone is going to be laying on the ground, taking death saves, it's him. For...doing what he's supposed to do?
Few people have any real way to mitigate hit point loss. Monsters can do tons of damage, and a lucky crit can turn you from "fine" to "bleeding out" without any real warning. You hide behind a number (your AC) and pray it doesn't get hit, but it can be, at any time. Even having a Cleric constantly throwing out their best healing spell won't stem the tide (even assuming that they don't somehow get targeted instead), and even if it did, well, now the Cleric is out of spells.
I had a friend who decided to replace death with "consequences". But after seeing these consequences in play, like losing an eye for having the nerve to get taken down by a monster when heroically holding it off for one's allies, it just reinforced something in my mind.
Death has always been punitive in D&D. You die, and being brought back is expensive. You might suffer a loss of level. "Resurrection sickness". Maybe lose a point of Constitution.
My very first 3e game, I played a Human Fighter with the worst Feats ever (what did I know back in 2000?). I ended up facing off a vampire, trying to keep it away from an NPC we were protecting. I died, but not to worry, my friends scraped together some money (we were, of course, perpetually poor, because the DM didn't know what "wealth by level" meant, lol) and found a Druid to reincarnate me.
Huzzah, I'm back! And my reward? A loss of a level and 2 Strength (actually 3, because I went from level 8 back to 7), because now I'm a Gnome. My armor doesn't fit, and I can't even use my two-handed weapon that I'm specialized in! The only reason I didn't choose to stay dead was that my allies went to so much effort, but it was a real downer, let me tell you.
Some reward! Meanwhile, the other melee character, an annoyingly neutral jackass who cut and ran from the vampire like a coward, claimed a cool magic item and is halfway to level 9 (you don't earn xp if you die, the DM sadly told me).
So being a hero is a sucker's game? I refuse to believe it.
But despite that, I've never taken death off the table. I try to avoid it, as a DM, because it sucks for everyone. But I'm not sure what to replace it with. And if there is to be a penalty to a close brush with death...what the heck can it be, that doesn't seem grossly unfair at times?
Like, you want to jump off a building to try and body slam a guy three stories down, or you blindly jump into a green devil's mouth, hey, you earned that death. But dying because you were doing the thing you're supposed to do?
It's no wonder most people who lose characters are perfectly fine bringing in a brand new one.