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Is a character that's about to die just before a campaign is abandoned effectively dead?

We have reached the climax of the game — the end all, "winner takes all" type situation. Two of us are unconscious (but stable), and 3 of us are in really bad shape, facing off against the big bad boss. It really doesn't look hopeful.

But here's the situation: One player has left, and we've agreed that we shouldn't, and even can't continue the campaign without him, stopping the game in it's tracks. While the member in question has left (can no longer attend game sessions for the foreseeable future) he is an old friend of the DM, and I'm uncertain if he would allow the PC to be replaced by an NPC, in case the character dies under his care. Plus, the group has been known to ditch stories if left too long, regardless of progress.

So my question is, if the game never takes off again is my character "dead" since he's effectively been left alone in a hostile environment, even if the situation never moves forward?

The reason I wish to know is so that I might be able to use the character again in another campaign.

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An author writes 99% of a book, and then never finishes it and won't give away the ending.* The hero is at the figurative precipice facing certain death, but the character's end is never written and the reader can never find out the true ending. Is the character dead?

No, yes, maybe, neither — because this isn't a meaningful question to ask about a character in an unfinished story. Does the character die? We don't know — the ending doesn't exist to tell us. Is the character dead? Well no, because they didn't have the chance to die or live.

The character is in literary limbo, neither alive nor dead. Which is to be expected, since as soon as the norms of the medium are broken — the story unfinished, the campaign climax unplayed — you are no longer relating to them as a person in a living fictional world, and have begun relating to them as a broken fragment of an unfinished make-believe exercise.

Practical answer

Does it even matter if he's alive or dead in that campaign? Not practically, no. You have the character, so do whatever you want with it.

The character is whatever you want them to be. Nobody can take them away from you, so you can finish their story however you would like to finish it, in the privacy of your own head or your personal fanfiction writing, or even, yes, as a character in some other DM's campaign.

Go for it! Take that character sheet and find a DM who's cool with transferring the PC to their campaign.

Emotional answer

They're not even dead, they're extra-dead. When the universe that sustained their personal reality stopped existing they stopped existing with it.

Looked at alternatively, the character in isolation isn't what compels us during an RPG, it's the character in motion and in the context of the unfolding plot, which gave them their initial reason to exist, that compels us. Not only that, but in the context of an RPG our character's existence is validated by the collective belief in them granted by those other players and the GM. You could imagine him alive, or take the character sheet or even just concept to another game and play him again, or finish off his story in your own head, but it doesn't feel the same, does it? The character that lived and breathed in that world that was made up of your shared imaginings can't continue in it, can no longer receive the collective blessing of those who validated his existence for so long, and so he might as well be dead.

So

It's up to you. As good as dead, because the campaign died? Sure. Still alive in your own mind or a different DM's campaign, cloned into a different imagined reality that still exists? Sure, that's true too.

The point is that however you feel about it, is how you feel. Whatever you do with the character in the future is what you do. Questions about living or dead don't really apply to a character once their fictional context becomes invalid by stuff happening in the real world, so you just have to do what you're going to do.

* Can you imagine the hate-mail that author would get?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The Amtrak Wars did just that... 6 books leading up to the birth of characters that was the central plot of the whole series, only to stop there. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Apr 18 '16 at 4:03
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For purposes of Organized Play, which is about the only time a question like this is particularly relevant, only what has happened in session has happened. What's obviously about to happen doesn't until it happens.

This is particularly important for players who have access to multiple sessions per week...

EG: Joe uses his character in both Wednesday and Saturday sessions. Joe uses the same character, in different adventures. If Joe's character dies in Saturday's session, he either spends the downtime days to recover from the raise Dead spell, or he sucks up the penalty in Wednesday's session. Let's say they play wednesday, and he sucks the penalty, and they take 2 long rests, and start a third, but the GM doesn't complete it. Joe can only note the two his character took. So Saturday rolls around, he's still got 2 points of penalty left to burn off.

Likewise, if Tiamat turns to flame, but the GM packs up, she's not flamed, and no PC's are dead.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Having said all that, Organised Play also usually says you can't use a character in another scenario if he's involved in a portion of a game that isn't finished. \$\endgroup\$ – YogoZuno Apr 18 '16 at 21:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @YogoZuno I've seen the opposite in D&D AL. Being involved in Game A on wednesdays not only does not preclude, it does not affect at all playing in game B on Saturdays. It is explcit that XP must be awarded only for the session played on the day awarded. \$\endgroup\$ – aramis Apr 21 '16 at 3:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've not played AL for a while, but I'm pretty sure that the larger modules (i.e. Rise of Tiamat and it's ilk) specifically said you had to complete a chapter before the character was usable in another game. I recall this causing some angst at the time. \$\endgroup\$ – YogoZuno Apr 26 '16 at 21:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @YogoZuno I find nothing of that in Horde of the Dragon Queen, nor the season one player's guide. Note that if you were playing Rise of Tiamat in Season 1, there were no other adventures available for your character to play in... because there were no tier III adventures. \$\endgroup\$ – aramis Apr 27 '16 at 1:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ Maybe we were misinterpreting something...I can no longer find the quote either. I haven't played since Elemental Evil, so it could be faulty memory, but I recall us hitting the issue of not being able to use characters from Encounters (which was generally running Horde at slightly less than a chapter per 2 nights) in the Friday night AL scenarios. \$\endgroup\$ – YogoZuno Jun 23 '16 at 20:35
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I would say that, given play styles that allow you to move your character between campaigns and DMs, your DM has an ethical imperative to not deny you the right to play your character through unwillingness to continue his campaign.

If the action will never resolve, either ask you DM to resolve it by fiat in a way that allows you to access your character, or to do it yourself, since it seems that interaction with the previous DM's campaign will never occur again.

If however, the subsequent campaign is with the same DM, he is not under any ethical imperative to allow you to play any particular character — any DM has the right to decide what they will allow in their campaign.

In any case, appeal to your friend. Explain your position and try for a resolution through reasoned discussion.

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