Save vs Death

Once again, the Penny Arcade  forums provide blog fodder. This time, the thing that’s got the 4e fans all atwitter is Save vs Death, and player death in general. Save vs Death is a very controversial concept apparently, one that for some people is enough “bad wrong fun” to turn them off of the game completely if they’re used. This is despite the fact that Save vs Death is a common element of mythology. Consider Medusa of greek mythology, whose gaze would turn any onlooker to stone, or the Basilisk. Of course, as the 4e fans point out, the Greek legends would have been rather dull if the story ended with “And Perseus accidentally gazed upon Medusa and was turned to stone. The End.” But D&D isn’t a book, or a movie. Sure, your character is supposed to be a hero, but heroes aren’t made until the end of the story. Frodo wasn’t a hero until the ring was destroyed. If he had failed, he would have been just another in a line of people who fell to the ring’s evil. The hero’s are the ones who beat the odds, whose side lady luck seems to favor. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t good or exciting stories to be told even of those that die. Do you suppose the story of Isildur was boring because he failed? Did those who tried to stop Medusa before have no heroic stories or pasts because they’re now statues? Why should it be any less so for your character?

Of course D&D recognizes that we have attachments to our characters, and if you spend years building a character, it sucks to lose it to a streak of bad luck. That’s why D&D has resurrection, to let you get back a character that you want to keep. So why the controversy? Why is rolling up a new character, even temporarily, such an imposition or a fun killing endeavor? Maybe it’s just a different way of looking at games and the world, but I look at a dead character as a “Game Over. Continue?” screen, as long as you keep putting in your quarters, the game isn’t over.

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