For the Screenplay playtest group, we had what was intended to be the last game in our High Plains Samurai campaign. Didn’t turn out that way, mostly because of a late start and a couple of extended rules discussions. Turns out, I have very strong opinions about protecting player agency in regards to their characters.
GMs should not fuck with player’s characters.
For me, the character is the one part of an RPG that the player truly owns. Even if the player is involved in creating the campaign (in something like Spark, or the campaign creation system in Nefertiti Overdrive) or has shared narrative control, it’s not the same as the player’s character. The character is the player’s avatar in the game, it is the focus of the player’s wish-fulfillment in some cases or a finely crafted drama-machine for the player’s interests in others. In games in which all other aspects of the story is taken away from the player, the character is the focus of the player’s creative efforts.
The character is the player’s.
Now, in consultation with the player, the GM can certainly mess with that character. If the GM has an idea to create drama, excitement, or pathos, and the player is onboard with this, awesome. Who doesn’t love a chance to increase the importance of the character to the plot? But don’t do this without the player’s buy-in.
I would honestly refuse to play a game in which the GM could permanently effect change on a player’s character without that player’s consent. And, honestly, that includes death. I, personally, am okay with my characters getting killed -though I would prefer it be done in a suitably dramatic fashion -but I honestly don’t believe that death must be a viable option in order to create tension. Did anyone honestly believe any of the main characters in the X-Files could die? Or Star Trek? Did that remove tension?
But that’s kind of a whole other story. If the player isn’t happy with offering up their character for death, it shouldn’t be forced on them. That isn’t fun and the whole point of this exercise is fun. Why would we do something that isn’t fun for one of the members in our group? Don’t be a dick.
In the end, the player character is the player’s character, and it should be sacrosanct. In many games, the GM has all the other power, and it is unnecessary to give them power over PCs.
In my (not so) humble opinion.
You can find more information on Screenplay here.
You can find more information on High Plains Samurai here.