Death is difficult, if not impossible, to deal with, and I’m not sure that you ever “get over” losing a loved one--nor do I profess to have experience in it. What I do have experience in is character death.
Playing tabletop role playing games (or TTRPGs), it’s inevitable that characters die. After all, they’re adventurers, or supernatural creatures, or superheroes, or some combination of those (depending on what system you’re playing). It’s normal that they’d burn bright and then die quickly, but that doesn’t make it easier. For a period of time, my friends and I were embroiled in a years-long Dungeons & Dragons campaign, in a group of heroes called The Lightbringers. In that game, we travelled to Barovia, the gothic, mist-covered land of dread, which was filled with monsters, ghosts, and a vampire that wanted nothing more to kill us.
We also had a (perhaps) unhealthy obsession with our characters, and felt like we would be devastated if they died in game. Which they did. Sometimes for good.
Now, we have better, more reasonable beliefs about our characters, and feel a healthy level of separation from fiction and reality, but it’s still difficult to prepare for eventual character death and figure out ways to move on. As a current DM, I’ve been thinking a lot about character death recently--how to manage my own expectations and those of my players--so I’ve compiled a handy list of steps you can use to consider your relationship to your character and, ultimately, how to move on.
Make a new character.
This sounds silly, but other DMs agree. Sometimes making a new character is the best way to get over an old one. For me, the most fun part of TTRPGs is getting to explore fiction in an interactive way, especially through characters. Making characters is a fun process, and allowing yourself to get excited about the new potential stories a character can unfold. It’s okay to be excited over something new.
2. Think about what’s best for the story.
In a game I’m running right now, Todd’s (as in friend of the pod/boyfriend of the Mary Todd) character Ebb Holderhek found himself locked in a magic vault with Jarlaxle Baenfree, a vicious Drow pirate and Big Bad of the campaign. We ended the game before finding out what happened to Ebb, and have been debating--as two DMs who love stories--what would make the most sense story-wise for Ebb. Should he die? Should he find a way out of the vault? Be used as a bargaining chip by Jarlaxle? There’s no right answer, but there is a wrong one: wanting to keep a character in the game for the sake of keeping the character. Sometimes it makes more sense to let that character’s story end there.
What’s the better ending for a hero? Fighting to save his friends’ lives by fending off an enemy, or heading back to die in a less climactic battle? Think about what fits best with the story, what you’d like to happen in the movie version of your campaign.
3. Put yourself in another player’s shoes.
Sometimes I think back on when I was playing Vektro Velikov, the fiery genasi I had so much attachment to. It must have been awful watching me do mental gymnastics trying to save Vek over and over, trying to bargain my way out of death. After all, there’s nothing I love in an RPG more than roleplaying, and I thought I could talk my way out of most things, even with a low Charisma score.
If I’d thought about what it all looked like from the other side, I might have behaved differently. Other players have to sit through one player’s bargaining, and they have to watch the story you’ve all crafted together get potentially derailed. Ultimately, TTRPGs are a collaborative mode of storytelling and it’s important to remember that everyone is playing the game, not just you. It takes me some time to remember that, and it’s always good to check in with yourself and others.
4. Take a step away from the table.
This is a good rule of thumb with anything that gets you frustrated, honestly. If you’re struggling with a situation, it’s okay to take a moment and walk outside, or go to the bathroom, or get some water (or all three!). Sometimes, it’s important to remind yourself it’s a game and it should be fun. This becomes particularly true if you’re dealing with an overbearing DM, or a problematic co-player. Take a break and look at what else is going on in your local game store, home, or wherever you’re playing!
5. Communicate what you need from your DM and the other players in your group.
Communication is key at every point of creating stories in TTRPGs, but it’s easy to forget or awkward to articulate. On Twitter, where everything is more intense, the TTRPG community often argues about how players these days (and specifically marginalized communities like people of color and women) are sensitive and require more discussion of the game outside the game. I’d argue that RPG players today are the exact same amount of sensitive, or maybe even less so, than the boys club of TTRPGs in previous decades. Regardless, everyone can benefit from communicating what you need in a game. Sometimes this means saying up front what you’re not comfortable discussing. Sometimes it means putting a system in place to show you’re uncomfortable with the way the game is going (like the x-card system). Sometimes it means messaging your DM or another player privately, or discussing the previous session with your group before you start the next. No matter how you choose to communicate, the important thing is that you do it, and feel comfortable doing it. And if you can’t talk to the people you play with, maybe it’s time to find a more accepting, better tempered group to what you need!
You can find additional resources for handling player character death, both as a player and DM here:
Matt Colville (who makes excellent videos about D&D) gives some tips specific to his campaign. Lots to learn from here. He has another, more generalized video about “losing” the game that’s good as well!
The IdDM has a post about grief over characters (though I’m not sure I personally agree with comparing fictional death to the stages of grief)
Another account of death in The Curse of Strahd, the module where we all got so attached to our characters!