Lighthouse System: Character Death

Character death isn’t something that can happen randomly in the Lighthouse System. Both the player and the guide have to agree to it. If the player has invested a lot of time developing the character, and they’re not ready to let go of them, don’t kill them off. When the impact of a major death will hurt the story you’ve all been collaborating on telling, rather than enhance it, don’t kill them off. It seems simple and obvious, yet it’s one of the things I have to explain most often.

The ridiculous comeback I get to this I often something like “but if there’s no chance of death, then failure doesn’t mean anything”. This is more a matter of legacy roleplaying games investing everything into combat, making death and leveling up the only real stakes. It’s almost a video game paradigm. There are other possibilities, and far more interesting complications, than can accompany failure.

In life we face failure every day. Kids fail tests in school. Jobs don’t work out. Projects don’t pan out. Relationships fall apart. Very rarely do we worry about whether we’re going to be killed as a result. We will be concerned about other things, the reactions of others, own own self-image, our financial security. But death isn’t the go-to consequence.

Most of our fictional entertainment shows us that failure is not always fatal. It makes life difficult, and throws up new obstacle between the protagonist and their goal, but they don’t die. Sometimes failure is the inciting incident, the thing that upsets the status quo and sends the characters on their journey. A lot of times it’s the thing that brings us to the end of our seat, wondering what happens next. Cliffhanger endings are essentially about the appearance of failure, luring you to continue watching to learn how the hero gets out of a jam.

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