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I have a solid group of 3-5 players who regularly play together and I DM for them. One of these players regularly dies during our campaign (sometimes multiple times). I typically allow people to re-roll a new character and have them rejoin the campaign when this happens.

Based on observation, I find the cause of this to be a combination of factors:

  1. My campaigns are hard, and I do not curb them based on dumb decisions they make (and yes, they generally admit after something bad happened that they could have done better or avoided the obvious trap).
  2. He generally expects to die and creates multiple characters to re-roll into the campaign right away.
  3. He sometimes takes egregious risks because he knows he can just join on a new character with little/no penalty.
  4. A TPK is handled by ending the campaign. If everyone dies before the next session or during a fight then the campaign is over.

My question: What can I do to curb the "risk taking" behavior? I have already tried a couple of things but did not find them effective (such as lowering difficulty, and punishing re-rolled characters). I feel it is an issue since they have a "prepared to die" attitude and are willing to take egregious risks nobody else would. This could (and almost has) caused a TPK multiple times.

Examples:

  1. Why sneak past the dragon when we could simply attempt it and see if our first few rolls go well - then abandon it when he dies as our front line?

  2. It slows down the campaign as a whole (having to find a way to add a new character to an existing party). Not to mention sometimes having to wait while the player creates a new character.

  3. It happens so often that it is a common joke at the table,

    Oh, you did not die during this session? That is rare.

I have tried punishing re-rolling characters through various methods, including giving them starting gear (as opposed to level adjusted gear), loss of a level (e.g. if the campaign average is 10 they would be 9), loss of all previous gear, and a harder "dice roll" for stats (normally I do a 4D drop lowest, instead I might ask for a flat 3D roll). I found that making re-rolled characters weaker didn't work — typically this just causes them to die again quicker, since them being weaker means there is less holding them to keep the character alive.

Please remember that answers to questions like this should adhere to the SE-wide guidance of Good Subjective, Bad Subjective; this means you should back up your answers with something you've done/seen done or can back up with a reference. Do not answer with 'guesses' of what you might do, answer with things that have been done in this case. See How do we ask and answer subjective questions? for more.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Please remember that here on RPG.SE good answers come from experience. Please don't just suggest random ideas. Our Good Subjective, Bad Subjective guidelines indicate that questions like this should be answered with things you've tried or seen tried, and you should explain how those attempts worked (good and bad). If this is "brainstorming" it'll get closed as opinion-based. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Jan 7 '17 at 1:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ More concretely on that note, what we're looking for is “I have seen/experienced this problem. This is the solution I suggest. How this solution did/didn't work for me when I used it for that problem was …. I've put [citation needed] notices on answers that lack that critical third portion. (The “when I used it” data can come from someone else with either a proper citation, or a personal account if the answerer was a witness, of course.) That's the minimum required when answering subjective questions: How do we ask and answer subjective questions? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jan 8 '17 at 1:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ I've closed this question because most if not all answers appear to be brainstorming possible answers, not answering from experience. Or are generic and could be posted for any group problem question (talk to them...). If the answers shape up, then I'll reopen. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Jan 8 '17 at 3:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ It would explain how someone has handled a situation like the above, or seen it handled, and what the results were. Not describe "how I would, I guess, if it did." See SSD's link in his comment for more on the Back It Up! principle we use to keep subjective/techniques questions workable here. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Jan 8 '17 at 4:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ How open are you to playing other RPGs where that behavior is sensible? \$\endgroup\$ – Wesley Obenshain Jan 8 '17 at 17:58

13 Answers 13

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Addressing the issue in-game

We can take a few cues from video games, as they often have the exact same problem (life is cheap because you can always just respawn), and have many different ways of solving it. A few ingame "punishments" you might want to try are:

  1. Item recovery. MMORPGs do this all the time; you can respawn whenever you'd like, but if you want to recover that rare and powerful magic item, you'll have to make it back to where you died. If you combine this with being very sparing in your magic items, this might give them an incentive to not throw themselves into a dragon's den.

  2. Resurrection quests. If the PC dies, give them control of a weak hireling instead. The party then needs to recover the body of the PC and resurrect them in order for them to play a real character again.

  3. Kick them out of the session. You mention that contriving a way to introduce a new party member is a problem, but you could just ignore that and only add the character when you feel that it is appropriate. In this case, you're punishing death by taking away playtime. Counter-Strike, for example, only allows players to respawn at the beginning of rounds--if you die, you have to wait for the round to end.

Addressing the issue out of game

Honestly, I don't think that this is a real problem, and ultimately boils down to playstyles. You're going to have to talk to your players and hash out exactly how you envision your game and how that compares to their visions of the game.

For example, in a game that I've run, the PCs get resurrections for free: the moment they die, they respawn at a home base. This explicitly makes death cheap, as there's no real punishment for it. Since everyone's on the same page about this, I can give the PCs very risky scenarios, which can be a lot of fun. Remember that D&D is heroic fantasy, and that characters like raging barbarians and devout paladins might not actually fear death.

Ultimately, like other answers have mentioned, this is a "problem" that needs to be worked out outside of the game, with your player, rather than ingame.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think your third point deserves highlighting. Part of the problem here is that the player knows that if the character dies, the DM will make sure they can rejoin with a new character - the world will bend to acommodate this new character joining. They need to learn that this may not always be possible. If you're deep into a dragon's lair, chances are it won't be possible for some new person to just stroll in and join you. Next time they die, make the rest of the party play one member short for a while, and see how they feel about it. \$\endgroup\$ – anaximander Jan 7 '17 at 19:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ I want to upvote this, but suggestion #3 can be harsh and alienating for a social group, especially because it will hit players other than the one the GM has an issue with. The GM doesn't specify their relationship with this group, but in a game meetup I'd consider just packing up and leave if this happened at all often, and potentially eventually not bother coming at all -- and again, I may not even be that one player. In a group of friends I'd feel pretty unhappy. Have you actually tried that? What impact did it have on the game and group? Was it OK or did it suck for the group? \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jan 8 '17 at 3:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ It actually happened to me in a game that I was playing. My character died, and I had to wait until the PCs made it out of the dungeon and into town before I could rejoin, which happened at the beginning of the next session. Honestly, I assumed that that was how it was supposed to go, and my fellow players did too. I wasn't super happy, of course, but it seemed natural to all of us. \$\endgroup\$ – Icyfire Jan 8 '17 at 3:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ The good side of having to wait is that you can take this time to design your reroll. \$\endgroup\$ – Anne Aunyme Jan 9 '17 at 15:10
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Have a talk with the players. Explain them your concerns, especially the fact that you would like the characters to behave like characters in a story, like real (if fantastic) people and that using them as disposable pawns is disrupting your suspension of disbelief and possibly the balance of your game.

If your players do not agree that this is a problem (as usual I suggest talking with the whole group since they seem to like that disruptive behavior, but don't talk about it during gametime or it might feel like you're wasting precious time), you probably want to play different games. That's sad but fine: either adapt, compromise or look for a different party.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for being one of the few answers that recognize that this is a true meta-issue, and not just looking for in-game solutions that would likely just exacerbate the underlying problem(s). \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jan 8 '17 at 1:46
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Some of this may be on you and some may be on him. It sounds to me as though the player doesn't get attached to their character because of a series of early deaths and now doesn't mourn their loss in any meaningful way anymore. Instead the player is just viewing them as a piece of meat to get tossed into a grinder that churns out story. In this way, they're not really an active player in the game, just a prop that's trying to move things along.

The closest solution I can think to resolve this problem is to not permit long-term character changes. For example, if the character dies, the party will then work to resurrect them. Assuming this isn't immediately available, the player will utilize a short-term character who is effectively a penalized character as per your guidelines listed in your OP until they can resurrect the original character.

I would recommend discussing this decision with the player privately and then with the table as a whole so players can guide their character decisions toward this end. Furthermore, I would recommend not going full hard mode when it comes to getting a character resurrected as it will only serve to impede your overall goal, which I think is actually to get the player to care about their character.

Sometimes players bemoan the revolving door for life and death, I suspect your game might need a little bit more of it, though.

I find this can lead to some fun adventures as the party will get to encounter the trials of trying to acquire wealth beyond their means or maybe consider tempting fate with a reincarnate.

Regardless, this mandatory effort associated with resurrection will make the death and subsequent resurrection mean something because it would have cost something besides a little time. It will cost real life experience (which is way better than 3.5's loss of in-game experience).

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    \$\begingroup\$ We're looking for answers that are supported by citations (either to direct experience or to others' experience); this answer gives a tantalising hint that it's backed by experience with the sentence starting “I find this can…”, but it doesn't end up sharing a meaningful amount of experience with the reader. Evidence of a solution working in practice is actually the most important thing an answer can contain on questions like this — could you expand on that sentence? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jan 8 '17 at 0:44
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It certainly depends on the person but I find that when a player connects with a character, they value its life more. Try adding additional story-telling elements to the game in order to enrich the characters.

Try having the characters develop social relationships with NPCs, or giving them a background. These relationships could also be advantageous in more ways than one if for example, a friendship yields access to places or items not usually available.

You could also make them write their own character background along with re-rolling. That'd stick a potato in their tailpipes.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 I like that this reminds of the key issue of PC/NPC relationships. If your game doesn't have these, then the players may as well just be video game characters. The intangible boons these provide cannot be easily replicated by simply bringing in Joe II who also happens to be a fighter. \$\endgroup\$ – Pyrotechnical Jan 6 '17 at 22:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ I like this idea - and the social relationships with NPCs could also contribute to minor in-game consequences when the player dies. Perhaps the party is treated differently NPCs - the party is viewed as reckless/foolhardy, more difficult to trust or take seriously. \$\endgroup\$ – Gregor Jan 6 '17 at 23:00
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What can I do to curb the "risk taking" behavior?

At some level, nothing - your players are going to play the game the way they want and, to some degree, you just have to respect that.

With that said, and I'm shooting from the hip a little here as I've never had this problem, I think I would try to write in more time-sensitive and fluid plot points into your campaign. These would have longer-reaching effects of a single character dying, as the party as a whole can't continue right now, and some undesirable consequence for everyone would occur as a result of one character death (assuming the party is then forced to retreat).

For example, "Why sneak past the dragon when we could simply attempt it and see if our first few rolls go well - then abandon it when he dies as our front line?" The answer to that question needs to be something to the effect of "Because the dark ritual will be completed if we don't get past him in the next hour." If the scenario has an inherent sense of urgency, players may be more inclined to make thought-out, optimal decisions as opposed to trial and error ones.

If your party can arrive at junctions where they can try something, one of them dies, they retreat, regroup, and can try the same thing again, I would say the campaign is, perhaps, too linear. D&D isn't supposed to be a video game with these 8 levels and when you beat all the bosses you win (not that I'm accusing you of this, just emphasizing a point). It's supposed to be a living story where the bad guys are actively pursuing their own goals while the party takes counter-measures. If you strengthen this notion and go so far to even deny your players a final showdown with the main antagonist because he out-maneuvered the party as a whole throughout this campaign, that may provoke your players into making more of the decisions you're hoping for in future campaigns.

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I have had exactly this issue with some of my players. Usually because the get tired about their character or want something more powerful. If a character does not like the character any more, you cannot do almost anything except to change it to a new one (you play for fun), but still, I have appreciated that this demotivation is due to some external feelings outside of the role game and are transitory (my players are humans!). This demotivation tends to finish in a kill or be killed playing stile. Does not matter about role interpretation or the kind of adventure you are playing.

I want to remark that I usually play long campaigns where we use the character for several months (or years) where each character has the progression that the players has chose when level ups.

To avoid it, I have created a new character that is a kobold "street sweeper". As creating a new character takes some time, I have told to the party that the next one that will die, must use this character until we have time to create a new one. And I am very busy...

Of course, this is a joke (or I hope they know it is a joke!), but I really have this character sheet and I have show it to them several times. The problem was solved immediately. Do not take as a order to the player, but is like a funny warning to my players: 'I am not going to stop the campaign if one of you die, use this character until we have some time to create a new one'. This is enough if some of my players have a bad day and wants to suicide as a diversion.

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    \$\begingroup\$ As far as I can tell, the “I am bored of my character” problem player is working with unrelated motives to the “I'm going to die anyway, might as well play the odds” problem player that this question is about. Can you provide some more information (by editing) on how you're sure that your solution for the first kind of problem also works for the problem in the question? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jan 8 '17 at 0:40
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If I'm understanding you correctly, your problem is that your player is taking advantage of the "free new character" policy. You don't like this because (1) it's weird tactically to have players throwing their characters' lives away, and (2) it's not a good match for the tone of your campaign -- you want to run a heroic campaign, and suicidal characters spoil the mood.

The solution is to stop having a "free new character" policy. Let people replace dead characters, sure, but find a price that will make them think twice about it.

You've told us that you don't want to give new characters an experience or equipment penalty, and I think you're right in that. But you've also told us that, if there's a TPK, you're willing to end the campaign as a loss for the players. What you need to do is extend that TPK rule a little: add a rule that, if there are more than X player character deaths, the campaign ends in a loss for the players.

I don't know what the right limit is. It should be high enough that "normal play" for your campaign should never hit that limit, but low enough that your player can't get his character killed every session. Here are some guesses:

  • flat limit of five PC kills -- so, a TPK would end the campaign immediately, but slow attrition will also end it
  • limit of three PC kills, plus one "extra life" every three sessions
  • each player gets two "spare lives"; if one player runs out of spare lives, they can beg lives from other players

If your player is suiciding his characters out of a genuine desire to help the party win, then changing the rules in this manner will make your player stop wanting to suicide his characters.

Good luck with it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I prefer this answer because it addresses the main thing enabling the problem. The "end the campaign" idea (for the other players) seems odd. I would suggest starting with the tried-and-true original mode of D&D play, where new characters start at beginning level, not at party level -1. I would also suggest that the problem of the campaign needing to slow down to allow a new PC to join also be reduced so that it's the player who has to wait for a good opportunity for someone to join. What I like to do is have NPCs already on scene be run players in need of characters. \$\endgroup\$ – Dronz Jan 7 '17 at 3:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Dronz keep in mind that starting at level 1 will induce this player to throw their lives away even more. His character would be so weak that nothing else would be tactically viable. \$\endgroup\$ – Zachiel Jan 7 '17 at 13:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Zachiel Not necessarily, depending on the game situation. Everyone was starting level at some point. Unless the game danger level has escalated to where no one but a superhero can stay alive near the PCs, there can be appropriate ways for lower-level PCs to contribute, especially when backed/boosted by powerful PCs. They can fight lesser foes, protect flanks, use ranged attacks, etc., and the way D&D experience works, they'll tend to level up quite quickly... if they survive in the company of higher-level characters. And all the effort leveling up tends to make players want to stay alive... \$\endgroup\$ – Dronz Jan 7 '17 at 19:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Dronz I mean in this specific case. I quote from the Question: I found that making re-rolled characters weaker didn't work — typically this just causes them to die again quicker, since them being weaker means there is less holding them to keep the character alive. \$\endgroup\$ – Zachiel Jan 7 '17 at 23:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Zachiel Well that's not my experience, at all, and I tend to play more random & deadlier systems than D&D 5e. From what OP wrote about having merely reduced from lvl 9 to lvl 10 and having standard equipment, and from his confusion on this point, it seems to me from experience that lvl 9 is not much weaker than lvl 10 and if he keeps dying/replacing at lvl 9, then there was only minor consequence once - when he died the first time. The others survive ok, so I think OP is simply incorrect, as his conclusion does not match my experience. \$\endgroup\$ – Dronz Jan 8 '17 at 4:45
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Start making the Big Bad Guy of your campaign use his corpses to great advantage and mischief. Basically, start making those deaths have consequence.

A reckless group is pursuing the Big Bad Guy of your campaign and they always tend to leave a body?

Well, time for the BBG to employ a high level cleric and some torturers to get as much information about the party as they can.

So every time this guy drops a character with seemingly no consequence, have the BBG recover the body covertly, and then extract information about the party. Route movements, equipment load outs, classes, tactics in combat, etc.

Then, at the next city, have a beautiful female or handsome male (insert appropriate race) assassin poison their cups at the local bar. Then, when they head out the next day, start incurring levels of exhaustion on the party during their travels.

I'm sure they'll eventually investigate and start figuring out that the BBG is recovering the corpses of your reckless player. Once this happens, start sending the former player's characters against the party. Only now they've been flipped by the BBG, and outfitted with weapons, feats and abilities/spells specifically designed to counter the party.

If the party starts bringing the corpses back to town for a proper burial, ensure that there's a chance for some form of curse (like a plague), or object that causes all of the dead in the graveyard they buried him in to start arising.

At the end of the day, my recommendation is to start making the endless deaths HAVE some form of real consequence. The easiest way is to give the BBG information about the party. The most fun way is to start using those deaths against the party to cause havoc.

I mean, how welcome are you going to be when Gerald the Barbarian, who was a known member of your troop, raped and murdered three women in the next town, and then killed nine guards on his way out, all while you were attacking Goblins and Orcs out in the woods last week? Do you think the King is going to find your excuses that he died plausible when he's alive and rampaging through the town?

What kind of problems is that going to start causing for your group? Is the player likely to start being a little bit more cautious? I think he will. You obviously don't have to do this every time he dies, but the next time he does, you can have some serious fun with it.

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If you expect your PCs to be disposable, why would it surprise you that your players do too?

When you say, "My campaigns are hard, and I do not curb them based on dumb decisions they make," it sounds to me like you generally run fairly lethal campaigns (or worse: crippling ones). That can definitely be a fun playstyle, but the fun part is the exact gonzo recklessness which you're seeing now. The higher the risk to the character is, the less attached the player will be to that character.

Note: if everyone else is having fun with this, you may want to just keep going! Don't let some mistaken notion that your group is having fun the wrong way make you stop having fun.

I've seen two major reasons this happens: Economics and "Character ADD". I've also heard that it used to happen more often in systems where classes had minimum stat requirements, but haven't seen that personally. I'll talk about each. It could also easily be a reaction to the player feeling like he doesn't have any agency in your game (rightly or wrongly), but I don't have any useful way to assess or address that based on the information provided.

Economics First, take a look at this purely as a value problem. You have some character, who will die before long. Since the penalty for failing at reckless tasks is low (a short time-out until a new character arrives), and the rewards of success are high (succeed at whatever task), the utility to the party of taking risks is very high, and the amusement value of succeeding is similarly high.

You can't fix this by penalizing the new character; that will just make the penalty for taking future risks even lower. If he's willing to throw away a level 10 character, why would he be less willing to throw away a level 9 character? You can increase the out-of-game penalty by making him wait longer, but that's a terrible approach (as is any other variant of "just make the game less fun for everyone at the table!").

Worst, this loop is self reinforcing. If you're playing cautiously, iterative probability is your enemy, but you can build up a better character with long-term resources. If you're playing recklessly, iterative probability is your friend and you can shed long-term detriments.

So, what can you do to fix this? The best answer is a little counter-intuitive: make Raise Dead (and similar spells) more easily accessible, and keep reusing the same characters. You aren't going to be able to prevent recklessness at this point, but you might be able to get players attached enough to PCs that you can mitigate some of its excesses. With the penalties, Raise Dead is strictly inferior to creating a new character at the same level. Without them, it has a cost (the gold cost) but is still a good option. This will let him continue playing the same character for long enough to develop a personality, which will at least provide some emotional investment in the character.

"Character ADD" There are a lot of people who find character generation more fun than actually playing. For less-engaging dungeon crawls, I find character generation more fun than actually playing. That's not meant to say anything about your game, but if that's the cause, understanding it may help you address it. The solution would depend on what he enjoys about making new characters, but many people who like making characters also like playing characters with more options (like a wizard).

Minimum Stat Requirements Some earlier editions had minimum stat requirements to play as a given class. For example, paladins required you to roll Str 12, Con 9, Wis 13, Cha 17 or play something else (per this forum post, but I remember the limitations generally). If you want to play a paladin, that requirement apparently saw a lot of players roll characters, suicide ASAP, and roll again until the dice allowed them to play the character they actually wanted.

It's possible that your player is similarly fishing for an 18 before making his "real" character. Speculating freely, if that were true you might be happier if you negotiate just giving him a mutually-agreeable set of stats as a one time deal.

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As others have said, if the problem is that death comes without consequence, then make death have consequence. These can be consequences for the player and, if necessary, for the group:

1) No new character until next session, or until it makes sense for a replacement to show up. Please sit quietly and keep to yourself. (This is a social penalty for the player, and also for the group since they are at reduced combat effectivity.)

2) No gear stripping, if this is something in practice: All loot and buffs are lost.

3) Make the character deaths result intactical issues for the rest of the group-- blood-curdling death screams that alert the enemy, enemies that can re-animate fallen adversaries, etc.

4) What kind of insanely bad reputation must this group have, if there are any NP/NPC interactions at all? At some point, they start looking cursed, stupid, or like a group of killers who lead new adventurers to their deaths.

5) Don't kill him. Maim him. (I can't believe I just said that.)

6) In some sense, point 4 on your list implies to me that at some level, conscious or unconscious, bluffs are being made and called: You are saying to your players, "Don't call my bluff, I will kill your characters." Your player may be saying to you, "I see your bluff and raise it: You might kill me, but you won't TPK. I will now saunter past this dragon, who will somehow manage not to kill us all and trigger the campaign restart."

This is generally a bad position to be in as a GM. Consider these implicit bluffs, whether that means doing the TPK ("I had to destroy the campaign in order to save it!") or somehow climbing down from the high-death style game.

Neither of these are good options, but this is where you are.

7) Ditch the player.

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This is an issue with them thinking in terms of Meta-Game, which you are apparently, if not inadvertently encouraging.

By allowing them to reroll and have backup characters ready to join at a moments notice you are taking all of the risk out it for them. The sheer number of PCs just wandering around waiting to join up to the main plot line is staggering in this case.

If your campaigns have gritty realism, as in real chance of death frequently, there would be fewer people willing to take that risk and definitely not anyone walking around alone in the wilderness waiting to join up. They would be in towns or in numbers (caravan guard or the like) looking for a possible adventuring group, this could prove problematic on timing if they are in a dungeon type setting where it is extremely inconvenient to introduce new PCs. Necessitating a trip back to town which could put them past a deadline on the adventure should there be one, meaning that if one of the PCs dies it could jeopardize the mission as a whole (princess dies, town is overrun etc.). Time limits on rewards also have a very nice way of forcing more intelligent in-game thinking instead of the video game Meta thought.

TL; DR

  • Newly introduced characters can start 1 level below the lowest living PC (I do this and it seems to put more emphasis on living).
  • Time limits on the mission at hand.
  • Make it harder to introduce new PCs given your environment.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ This isn't an answer, it's a request to clarify the question. I'll put the question on hold till we get clarification. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Jan 6 '17 at 20:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk Not sure I can count how many answers I have seen in this very format. None of which have I ever seen put on hold. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Jan 6 '17 at 20:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, the querent should very well know on his own if this is a problem for them, so I do agree with @mxyzplk here. You can probably ask a Role-playing Games Meta question if you think you saw answers like this somewhere else and feel like there's a disparity in treatment - but in all honesty, I think we will find some differences (maybe those answer you saw talk about how to solve the problem by talking to the other person involved?) \$\endgroup\$ – Zachiel Jan 6 '17 at 20:50
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I agree with Dan B that the solution I would prefer would be to correct the root thing that enables the problem: the lack of consequences for death. Having death be unimportant removes what would otherwise naturally be a major consequence to avoid at all costs, which can be valuable both in gameplay terms and in roleplaying terms.

I'm writing a separate answer because my suggestions are different from Dan B's on what consequences I would suggest.

First, I suggest questioning your idea that your campaign is hard. If only the sloppy player is dying, and dying is only a very minor setback, how real is the difficulty?

Next, I don't think that starting one level lower than everyone else, with normal gear and 3d6 attribute rolls is much of a penalty, especially not after the first death. I would recommend either:

1) Starting new characters at beginning level for the campaign. As in, level 1.

2) Have replacement characters start at decreasing levels per replacement. So if starting characters were level 10, the first replacement is level 9, the next replacement is level 8, or some such system.

3) Have a limited number of replacement characters allowed per player, and/or per player per amount of real time.

On the issue of:

"It slows down the campaign as a whole (having to find a way to add a new character to an existing party). Not to mention sometimes having to wait while the player creates a new character."

I suggest not slowing down the campaign for players who get their PCs killed. If they haven't rolled up a replacement, don't stop playing to help them do that. If you want them to be able to play, let them play an NPC already with the group, or some other pre-existing NPC who may want to cooperate with the group. Only allow a replacement PC who wasn't an already-there NPC, if/when it makes sense for a new character to join.

All of these reduce the impact of death and replacement for the group, and increase the consequences of dying, and of dying frequently. (You said you'd tried lowering the replacement level by one and reducing equipment, but that isn't much of a reduction, and if the reduction doesn't increase on repetition, then it's not a reduction from what they just had. As you noted, the issue is the lack of consequences, and these suggestions provide them. I usually run with suggestion 1 and little-to-no way to revive dead, and my players pretty much always take their PCs' safety quite seriously.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ OP writes: "I found that making re-rolled characters weaker didn't work — typically this just causes them to die again quicker". If you're going to suggest something that OP tried and found not to work, you should add some explanation for why you think it will work this time. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan B Jan 7 '17 at 14:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DanB I read that and took it into consideration, and thought it was clear my suggestion was different to what he'd tried, and why. I guess it wasn't entirely clear. I'll add a bit. \$\endgroup\$ – Dronz Jan 7 '17 at 19:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AnonymousWarning What information in this post requires what sort of additional references, exactly? (I didn't think this site's policies would actually get more stifling, but evidently, they have.) \$\endgroup\$ – Dronz Jan 8 '17 at 4:39
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Is this a reaction to your DMing style?

First, find out whether this player behavior is specific to your campaign. If this is an experienced player, and he plays in other campaigns more traditionally, then this risk-taking is likely a strategy the player has adopted, in reaction to the level of mortal peril in your campaign.

The other possibility is the player doesn’t take the game very seriously, and this is just a play style he’s adopted.

I've seen both of these cases, but based on your description, I more suspect the first possibility is what you are seeing. Your strategy to address this would be very different, depending on whether the behavior is a deliberate strategy a goofy play style.

The Guy Who Dies to Prove the Situation is Serious

If the player, or the party as a whole, feel that your campaign is a little too deadly, it may be that this player is “taking one for the team.” If he sneaks into the dragon’s den, then nobody else has to. In this way, he can protect the other players’ characters.

Ask yourself: Do you have players who might be particular upset if their characters in your campaign got killed? And the problem player — was he upset about his first character that got killed? Did he feel it was unfair? If you don’t know, find out.

You won’t be able to punish your way out of a strategy like this, as this would just reinforce the idea that this player is protecting his party mates.

In this situation, you might reduce the feeling of deadly peril of your campaign. This is a little different than “reducing difficulty” that you have already tried. It would involve making the game feel less arbitrary, mostly by giving more hints to guide the party to success.

Next time your player wants to plunge into the lion’s den, just try saying something like, “Before you jump, you are struck by the feeling that there’s no need to throw your life away like this. A little voice tells you there’s a better way, where nobody has to die. And if you just give it a little more time, you’ll find it.”

Otherwise, you might simply need to find players who are more onboard with a gritty game of mortal peril.

The Crash Test Dummy

If on the other hand, the player thinks it’s just a lark doing crazy things and getting his characters killed, you’ve got to figure out what the player wants out of the game, and use that as leverage.

Using strategies that would affect a player who is invested in his character, like starting at a lower level or with less equipment, are not likely to have any effect.

But the player seems to want to play. He brings extra character sheets in, to jump back into the game in the middle of a session. You can try limiting when the new PC enters the game. This would at least make the remaining PC’s solve problems without their crash test dummy to toss into peril.

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