My friend Wayne Basta, aka Agent 47 and author of the Aristeia: Revolutionary Right and Aristeia: A Little Rebellion novels, posted up a piece over on the Gamer Security Agency website. It's based upon our recent Star Wars Saga Edition gaming session, run by Ben "Cyril/Agent 66" Erickson.
He's right in that it's a very tricky thing to handle the deliberate death of a player character. In many cases, the player has an emotional investment in their character, and the GM just spuriously killing the PC off can lead to some ill will towards the GM, particularly if the player wasn't deliberately trying to get themselves killed.
On the other hand, a player that just arbitrarily decides that their character needs to die without letting anyone else know beforehand, especially the GM, can be just as bad. It might even lead to the dreaded TPK as the rest of the party tries to save their foolish comrade.
But, when the player and the GM work in tandem, the results can be pretty freakin' cool, not only for the player in question, but also for the rest of the group.
All I knew going into this session was that my character, an ex-CorSec agent named Rann Antilles (who was a Near-Human, a trait that wasn't often remembered, even by myself), was going to die. I didn't know how or exactly when, but the Grim Reaper was going to come calling.
Well, it turned out to be a great session, giving Rann one last bit of character development, and I even got one last opportunity to give the rest of the party a much-needed leg-up thanks to a well-placed and well-hidden datapad (Niera, you're welcome). I also got the chance to explore an element of Rann's backstory that I had thought was simply going to be relegated to backstory, namely the appearance of his Twi'lek ex-girlfriend. It lead to some difficult role-playing, and I hope that it didn't prove boring to the other players as Rann struggled in vain to get his beloved Seela to remember their time together, when he'd been a CorSec rookiee and she'd been a waitress at a Corellian cantina. Wayne's already covered how the session ended, so I won't go into any great details there, but talk about a cliffhanger to end the session on.
Now I could have very easily just had the character leave the group, as one of our founding members opted to do as his schedule changed, leaving him unable to game with us for the foreseeable future. But to me, that felt like a cop-out. In a way, I wanted Rann's exit from the group to be memorable, and to mean something. There's a scene in the first season of Babylon 5 (great series btw) where Sinclair and Garbaldi wind-up on Babylon 4 and in the midst of a time distortion field. Well, there's a flash-forward of what seems to be Babylon 5 being invaded by some mysterious force, and the bad guys are winning. The scene centers around Garibaldi telling his CO to get out of there, and when Sinclair asked about his old friend, Garibaldi's response was "This is what I was born for!" as the security chief goes off to make his last stand in the valiant attempt to buy time for Babylon 5 personal to evacuate. So in some respects, that's what I was hoping for, a valiant stab at the bad guys, using one death to pay for life while spitting one last time in the face of evil. More like firing off a concussion grenade in the face of evil, but you get the idea.
While it wasn't quite the heroic last stand I'd initially conceived, in a way Rann's sacrifice is all the more powerful in the fact that it wasn't such a cliche bit of heroism as that. He acted to save the woman he loved, to try and make good on his promise to smear the innards of a particularly Sith Lord from one end of the station to the next, and did with with a big toothy grin on his face. While the Sith Lord will likely appear again (hopefully with some lingering injuries), the fact that the rest of party have now just lost one of their one, a comrade that's been there since the beginning... well, I puts my in a mind of Agent Coulson's death in The Avengers. Where as the mission we were on had simply been "the mission" and was being done because it needed doing, now there's a personal stake for the rest of the party, something to drive them to see this Sith Lord's twisted plot brought crashing down around his pointy-horned head.
Of course, the flip side of this is that I'm still playing in the campaign, but will be doing so with a different character. I've no idea how said new character will be received, but I trust Ben to avoid the usual cliches involved with bringing a new character into the group. After all, he's already done it once, so setting things up for it to occur a second time shouldn't be much of a stretch. Granted, it won't be happening for a few weeks yet, with me being absent for our next scheduled session, but it's definitely something I'm looking forward to.