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The scenario: The BBEG is preparing to unleash a sealed monster and devastate the civilized world. The seal has already been weakened by prior actions. The PCs engage the BBEG as the campaign finale. However, even if the BBEG is defeated the seal will continue to (slowly) deteriorate unless one of the PCs sacrifices themselves to fuel a ritual to re-seal the monster. The players are aware of this requirement before heading to the final battle. In theory this would be a cool narrative moment, but something is bothering me about the sacrifice requirement.

To be clear, the sacrifice would be 100% voluntary, but would be required to achieve the best ending. The campaign hasn't started yet, so nothing has been set in stone. I also think I have a pretty good feel for the players and at least one should be willing to be sacrificed.

My question is: How should I handle this setup to ensure that the players have agency and don't feel like I'm trying to force a character death just because I can as the DM?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I voted to close as primary opinion based. "is it OK" depends on the group. One suggestion for an alternate question would be: "How can I introduce a PC sacrifice into the campaign finale without being a pushover?" - also keep in mind that the players (specially with high level characters) might find an alternative to the sacrifice. \$\endgroup\$ – Mindwin Aug 6 '17 at 22:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mindwin I'm trying to come up with a better way of asking. Could you explain what you mean by "without being a pushover"? \$\endgroup\$ – Saladani Aug 7 '17 at 2:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have attempted to re-work the question into something more based on experience DM'img as opposed to opinion. Hopefully I succeeded. \$\endgroup\$ – Saladani Aug 7 '17 at 2:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ I like the updated question... waiting on editing my answer pending the question being taken off of hold. \$\endgroup\$ – nijineko Aug 9 '17 at 3:24
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As asked, the answer would be NO.

It is never okay to require a player to sacrifice their character in order to accomplish the best ending or a desired goal. Especially if it is sprung on them without (lots of) appropriate in-game foreshadowing AND prior player consent.

On the other hand, it is completely okay to ask the players in advance if they are cool with the idea, and if so, to then proceed with your idea as written. Some players might like the idea of participating in a heroic sacrifice which saves the day. Others will see it as forcing them to roll up a new character.

Providing an NPC scapegoat, should the PCs be unwilling, is one alternative approach, though that route is fraught with moral and ethical (not to mention religious) complications. Some players may have issues with this route.

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No, you should not require the party to sacrifice one of them, because it should be up to the players to decide how they approach a problem. That's called player agency. If self-sacrifice is their solution to the problem, go for it. But when they manage to find an alternative solution, let them try that too and let them succeed, if it makes sense.

But if you want to build up to a moment where self-sacrifice is a viable and heroic solution which ends the campaign at a dramatically appropriate moment, you should make sure that this is known to the characters long in advance. When it doesn't come as a surprise to them, they might either have decided if they actually want to go through with this or came up with an alternative plan to resolve the story.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah if the players know in advance they need a sacrifice, they could probably find one (especially if they have a social class in their group, like a bard, he could describe an epic sacrifice to save billions of lives, and impress at least one stupid guy to be willing) before heading to the villain, thus protect the scape goat during the final step to the adventure ;) \$\endgroup\$ – Alkano Aug 7 '17 at 8:05
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Go for it. It makes for a fun story about the legendary hero that paid the ultimate price in a future campaign. It adds drama to a climatic part of the campaign. It forces the players to face a tough choice.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @JesseCohoon Please stop using comments to tack on additional notes. If you want to contribute an answer to the question, write an answer. If you want to suggest someone modify their answer, please actually put it forward as a suggestion they add or change something. Comments removed. (ToothlessRebel, if you wish to see the removed comments, I can reproduce the text for you to read upon request.) \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Aug 6 '17 at 21:14

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