RPG Evolution: The Immortals

What happens to your character after you die ... in real life?

What happens to your character after you die in real life?


Picture courtesy of Pixabay.

Tabletop gaming has been around long enough that it is outlasted many of its founders, and will long outlast new players. Soon, there will be no first-generation gamers left. What happens to the characters they created when they pass?

Who Owns Who?​

In TTRPGs, character creation is a deeply personal process. Players invest not only time but also creativity and emotional energy into crafting these personas. However, unlike traditional intellectual property like books or music, character ownership is a little murkier.

Consider the Streamer​

With the explosion in popularity of streaming games, this issue has been tested, and the results are mixed. Several tabletop inspired content from Dungeons & Dragons has had the "serial numbers filed off" to make it suitable for publication elsewhere: Critical Role uses D&D tropes but subtly altered them for its Vox Machina cartoon; The Adventure Zone published a comic that involved a playthrough of The Lost Mines of Phandelver and just changed a few names. In both cases, it's clear that the artists (and their lawyers) felt they owned their characters, and Wizards of the Coast hasn't challenged them publicly on this claim.

Of more relevance to home games is agreement between all the players what constitutes ownership. Does a game master own the character too? For groups that have separated, this can be a concern, especially if they're no longer on good terms. Generally speaking, it's a good idea to assume any character is owned by the player, full stop. I asked for permission for all my players before I referenced them in my fantasy novels.

You'll need to define that constitutes your character too. Is it the character sheet? The miniature? The stories you wrote about them, the art you drew of them, the memories shared about them? Or is it all of these things?

By far the best way to avoid any confusion about ownership is to decide what will happen to your character before you die. After all, if you invested a significant amount of time in your character, they are part of your legacy.

Preserving Your Character​

Beyond the question of copyright, which varies by country, and assuming you're not trademarking your character legally, you have some options.

Characters that are sufficiently popular (say, appearing in published novels or other content) might warrant active ownership. You could bequeath them to a spouse, a child, or another player to play or manage.

If you don't want to "give" your character to someone, you could ask the game master (assuming they're still alive) to continue the character as a NPC who can be brought out on occasion to remind other players they still exist. When my friend and long-time player Joe passed, I did just this and shared this legacy with his family (his character, Beldin Soulforge, is now king of the dwarven nation in my campaign).

You could simply create a digital memorial of sorts, so that others can find the character. This can be as simple as a web site or social media page, or as complicated as a NFT in a form of digital permanence (presumably, a NFT of the character sheet).

Or you could have the character not preserve at all, but let them pass as you pass. If the character has already died in game this isn't a big deal (although in some games, people can come back in all sorts of ways). Having them permanently laid to rest is a nice way to honor someone's memory outside the game.

Rest in Peace​

Whatever you choose, it's important to think about this now before it's too late. Your character might not mean that much to you now, but it could mean a whole lot to the people who gamed with you. Few things we create bear our marks so strongly as a character you role-played, and characters in campaigns are the sum parts of what can be years, even decades, of effort. For your friends and family, it's a lovely way to remember you too.

Your Turn: What happened to the characters of players in your game that passed?

log in or register to remove this ad

Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca


So far I have only had one player pass on. I have his character sheet for the short time we played together and it's in a folder with the other characters for the game.

After his death we abandoned the game and moved on to something else.

I did however reclaim his dice, including the set I bought him as a gift. The dice were unused by him and have never been used by anyone.


Shirokinukatsukami fan
In one of my campaigns, we paused a game on a cliffhanger, with the PCs being overcome during a difficult encounter. One of the characters was hiding in a cupboard from a bebilith when we paused. A week later the player of that character died suddenly in difficult circumstances.

Often when a player couldn't make a game, someone else would temporarily play the missing person's character. We considered doing that to finish the game, but it didn't feel right, so when we next (eventually) convened to play, we did a time jump to a few weeks after the last adventure, and the deceased player's character was simply absent for unstated reasons. The conclusion of the previous game was hand-waived.

Nearly a year later, I ran a game dedicated to the missing character. The other PCs finally got around to investigating what had happened to him, and why their memories of the last adventure with him were so hazy. They discovered he'd vanished while on an epic planar mission and as they traced his steps they uncovered all of the brave and dangerous adventures he'd had along the way. They never managed to find him, and concluded he'd travelled on to a remote plane to continue his adventures. It may sound a bit cheesy but it was one of the best games of that campaign, as well as a heartfelt tribute to the deceased player.​


Laws of Mordenkainen, Elminster, & Fistandantilus
My two best players ever both died...one when he was 17 and one when he was 38. Both of their characters continue to motivate stories...one as a demigod whose children are influential in the world and the other as a figure of legend who disappeared and no one has yet to learn what became of him.
Losing good friends is one of the inevitable sorrows of life. Having collaborated on so many stories with these friends has provided wonderful memories.

aramis erak

I've lost a number of gamers over the years. Most were friends.
Jay died at 20 - heart failure.
Dale, nearly 40 - Metastatic Cancer.
Mike - last year - sleep apnea. He fell asleep without his CPAP in the sleeper of his rig. He suffocated.
Larry - Congestive Heart Failure. In his 60's.
Jesse - suicide
Gary - suicide.
Dave - suicide

I'm certain there are more amongst the over 100 people I've run for... I'm not in touch with most of them... but that's what happens when you run demos &/or store games for 10+ years.


i've had too many pass away. It seems that far too many have passed on way to early. Or maybe I'm just getting older.

Not such a fun thing to be reminded of.

I was one of the younger ones when I first started, but now I am probably one of the older players left. I plan to live forever though.

Someday I'll probably pass and the only sign that anyone here will even be able to know about it is if anyone notices I don't come around these parts no more.

Has happened to a few already on these forums, they just one day stop coming to the forums, not because they decided to stop, but because they passed onto the great game in the outer planes.

Voidrunner's Codex

Related Articles

Remove ads

Voidrunner's Codex

Remove ads