Character death in DnD is a natural consequence of the game. Just like in real life, it’s often surprising and very unfortunate. But just because a character dies, that doesn’t mean the player is out of the game for good. So how do you deal with a character death in the game and get the player back in?
When a character dies, the party will be forced to make some immediate decisions. Do they try to resurrect them? Do they bury the body or preserve it in case they can be brought back? What about the character’s stuff? Can we carry on in this quest without them? Sometimes those decisions are made for them due to combat, traps, or other actions outside of their control.
While all this is going on, you’ve got a player at the table who has no direction. As the DM it’s important to take this time, while the party is planning their next move, to speak with this player about how they’re feeling and what their options are.
Some players may be able to bounce back and roll up a new character immediately. For others though, the death of their character might be the death of a part of themselves. It’s important to be sensitive to the needs of your player during this time.
It’s also important to check in with the other group members. They may be taking the death of the character hard as well. Allow time for both the group members and their characters to grieve inside and outside of the game.
Rolling a new character takes some time, and players need to know what they can roll up. Backstory might be more restrictive depending on where you are in the game, and getting them back in the mix next session could be difficult.
Be Ready For Character Death
One issue both you and the player will have is the lack of preparation. Even thought you can’t always anticipate it, you need to have a plan for handling character deaths in the campaign in general as well as how you would re-introduce new characters at certain parts of the story.
First, have a set of guidelines written up for new character creation. Know what races, classes, and regions these character can come from. If you’re ready to hand this information off to a player as soon as they die, they have something to do immediately rather than sit and wait for the game to come back to them. Most of this should be discussed with the group before having a session zero, but sometimes new restrictions are necessary due to where players are in the campaign.
Beyond just having rules ready, have a few options for a player to choose a re-entry point to the game. We’ll talk about re-entry points down below in more detail, but the main idea is that you should have some story elements to explain where this new character has come from and why they would join the party. Let them choose their background and circumstances from a list or allow them to brainstorm ideas with you so that they still get a say in how things are handled.
New Character Entry Points
What is an entry point? It’s any part of the story where a new character could join the party. If you’re trying to put one together last minute, you may have trouble coming up with one on the spot. Once you’ve gotten into the habit of identifying character entry points, you can find easy ways to add a player back in the game organically.
Common Entry Points
There are no limits on ways you can add a new character to the game, but there are some common ones that we’ve seen people use successfully in the past. Let’s look at a few and discuss what they have in common.
Sometimes the easiest way to add a new character to a party is for the party to be seeking them out. The party might need to fill the role that was left vacant depending on who died. Hiring someone to join them or posting a listing for someone is a logical next step. This is the most like starting fresh and doesn’t interfere with character story nearly as much as other entry points.
An Assigned Escort
In some cases players may be working with kingdoms, towns, or cities and important NPCs might assign a guard or escort to the team after they hear of the loss of someone in the group. This allows for a new character to come into the story with more understanding of what is going on and can tie the group to a point in the storyline really well.
After the group comes back from a quest that saves a village you might find someone volunteering to join their cause. This is a great entry point for any party that lost someone defending a village or city.
Sometimes the enemies don’t treat their people well. Having a new character betray the enemy team and join your party can make for a dynamic story line. This restricts story choices a bit, but is a good mid-dungeon option for getting a player back in the game as quickly as possible.
This option really highlights the dungeon part of Dungeons and Dragons. Freeing a prisoner and having them join your party makes perfect sense, especially if they “lost everything” which gives them a new chance to start their life over. This is another great mid-dungeon option for players who lose a character in a multi-session quest line.
A god steps in and assigns their follower to join your righteous (or un-righteous) quest. This is a good way to introduce paladins, warlocks, and clerics to the game. Be careful with this one though! If you do this, the players might ask why the lost player couldn’t be brought back to life. They could be, but death needs to have consequences in DnD for it to be meaningful.
This one is weird, but we include it so that you have something to think about. A new character is in their party. They joined awhile ago, right? Why doesn’t anyone remember that? This is a plot device, and not one that should be used lightly. I have used this for when a party picks up a curse or frees an unspeakable evil and the players have to deal with this later. The player in this case can be a knowing or unknowing participant in this story line, but you at least need to clue them in on the fact that it has to do with future plot points.
Entry Point Commonalities
With all the examples we covered above, you should have more than a few ideas on how to add a player back to the group. We’ve just barely scratched the surface on options, but you should be able to see some of the main points that these all share. The most important features are the following:
- The new character has a reason for joining the party. Each option is its own introduction story.
- The new character has options on class and race. These might be more restricted in some methods and campaigns, but the player should not be forced into their next character.
- The introduction fits the story. Usually the death is a catalyst for the new player joining. The idea is to facilitate a natural introduction, otherwise the story can feel stilted and uneven. Using death as a catalyst for a new addition helps make the transition smoother.
Don’t be Afraid to Add New Characters After a Death
It can be a lot of work to keep your game moving forward after a character death, but a little planning can go a long way into overcoming this challenge. As long as you let players know you have a way to add them back into the game, you’ll be able to deal with all the challenges of player death and new character introduction.
If you have any stories of how you introduced new characters to your game after a death, tweet at us or send us an email!