Got your attention, didn't I? Anyway, if you've got time, sit a bit and read. This is gonna be a long one.
Except you! Yes, you! Get your butt back to work! You think they sign your paychecks for you to stand around and read my crap? Come back when you're on break or off the clock. It'll still be here, I promise.
Now, the title of this journal raises a very important question: why must your RPG characters die? To be clear, I've nothing against any of your characters; indeed I wish them long life and happiness, even if they're just fictional. Unless they're evil, in which case I'd rather they be reformed, incarcerated, or killed outright. Nothing personal either way, I promise. However, I think there's a case to be made for your characters dying. Or at least, having the potential to die, in the middle of a campaign, with little to no warning, and very slim chances of getting resurrected.
"But I don't want my character to die! They're too cool! I love them! And I really don't want to go through the mind-numbing character creation process again!"
All of those are good reasons. Except perhaps the last one, which tells me you may need to play a different system or have your GM keep some templates on hand. But let me show you why the risk of character death is worth it, and why you should include it in any campaign you play in.
Yesterday, I spent a great deal of time, too much really, watching some fan animations of people's favorite moments from a podcast, Critical Roll. The majority of them were hilarious moments, showing the strange and quirky (mis)adventures of their party. But a few were spoilers. And the reason most of them were labeled so was this:
People die in their campaign. Not just their enemies or random NPCs, but player characters. It can be quick and sudden, and even quite unfair. Of course, so far as I know, the unfairness lay with the dice, not their GM. And that, perhaps, was the worst part about it. There was no one to blame. In fact, these animated moments rarely had context, but it felt like many of the deaths were senseless or random. One was from a magical trap that gave no warning. She was alive one moment and gone the next. Later, the barbarian of the group, who's usually a source of hilarious shenanigans, found the party around one who was his dear friend. He kept repeating, "Fix him!" Over and over, he yelled it. But for whatever reason, none of the party could heal the fallen. Silence met the accusations of one whose heart was torn open by loss.
Loss. Yes, that's it. Loss. That's what I'm really after. That's what's missing from many a campaign. Or at least, most of the ones I've played in. And I think that's a mistake.
Loss is a part of life. It's something we have to deal with. And there's no one way to do that, though some are healthier than others. Maybe you lose your faith. Maybe you start to lose yourself in booze or drugs. Maybe you vow to bring them back, or improve yourself to stop it from happening to another friend. Maybe you go mad with grief. Maybe you just don't deal with it and start making bad choices until the party has to force you to sit down and mourn. Maybe you seek revenge or someone to blame. Maybe the party splits because the pain is too great.
Loss hurts. And we don't like pain. But sheltering ourselves from pain doesn't do us any favors. In fact, it can make us weaker. At least in an RPG it's fictional, and even if you care for the character, it's still better than having real people you care for be lost. I can't say that it's good therapy, but it might help you toughen up and learn how to deal with grief properly. And if not, you at least get a richer story when death isn't cheap. Whether it's scrounging up an obscene amount of crushed diamonds or a long campaign that stretches across multiple eras of history, the loss must be real, it must be felt, and it must not be cheapened.
Now, that doesn't mean the loss has to come from death. People can be lost in many, many ways. Maybe your boat capsizes and one or more of the party isn't there when you wash up on shore. Maybe your wizard suffers from an early onset of dementia due to his magic use. Maybe an enemy turns one of the party against the rest, making them treat their old friends like the real bad guys.
Or maybe someone just gets hit by a spell that no one can "fix", and you're miles away from any hope of resurrection.
Remember: it must be real, it must be felt, and it must not be cheap.
As to unfairness, it can be unfair within the context of the story, but must never be unfair due to mechanics. Both the system and the GM must give you a chance to avoid the loss. The only exception would be for the sake of humor, as some systems are meant to be played for laughs instead of drama. Even then, there's usually still a chance, however slim, to escape your doom. To simply kill your character by default, or GM fiat, is almost always a sign you're dealing with a jerk of a GM. Either that or you're the jerk at the table, and you haven't listened to their warnings or anyone's advice on how to be a decent human being. In which case, you may just deserve everyone throwing your character under the bus the first chance they get.
(A word of advice to all GMs: Never be unfair to your players. That's the job of the dice and your players' own stupidity and/or foolishness. Being unfair to your players is a one-way track to having your own Old Man Henderson incident. Such things don't just derail your plot, they plunge it into a deep ravine where it crashes at the bottom in a giant, thermonuclear explosion. You really don't want that.)
To sum up, there is a lot of rich character development you're missing out on if you don't let your characters experience loss. And while you can do this with the death of NPCs, like family or friends of your characters, you might learn something from having to write up a new character to continue the campaign. And the victories will be much sweeter, even if they're still bitter, if you've suffered loss along the way.
Don't avoid loss. Experience it, and learn from it. It will help your character grow, and maybe you as well. If nothing else, maybe you'll finally get the hang of character creation and it won't be such a slog for you anymore.
Unless you're playing a really complex version of GURPS. In which case, you might want to consider switching GMs. Preferably before the heat death of the universe.
I hope I've convinced you to risk a little more in your tabletop campaigns. Feel free to discuss this in the comments below. Be civil and keep an open mind. I'll do my best to do the same.