I wanted to take a break between PAX-inspired posts to share a blog article forwarded to me by reader and friend Paras. It’s called The 8 Most Common Ways D&D Characters Die from the Topless Robot blog. I have characters killed off for all 8 of the mentioned reasons, although of the 8 only #8 “Being Eaten”, #4 “A Dragon”, and #2 “The Goddamn Dice” are actually non-meta game possiblities. The other 5 ways come down to life/tiredness (#7 “Death by Edition” and #1 “You stop playing”) or the others at your table (#6 “Another PC isn’t taking it seriously”, #5 “Friendly fire(ball)”, and #3 “You piss off the cleric”). And although the article is a bit tongue in cheek, they are all serious matters that occur more commonly than we’d like.
There’s not much you can do to prevent being eaten by a grue or slain by a dragon other than by leveling up and having the right equipment. But there’s a lot you can do before you get to the other points.
Respecting the other players goes a long way towards having the cleric (and everyone else) covering your character’s back. That means helping out allies in combat, sharing the spotlight, and being nice to each other. If you show up to a game and your head’s not in it, don’t be a distracting dick and pick a fight with the blacksmith! Instead either excuse yourself for the night and sit this one out, or at least fake enthusiasm, but don’t ruin anyone else’s time. If someone is being a jerk, call him or her on it, and if your DM lets a situation devolve into a intraparty fight (and your group is not okay with it), stand up and call a time out. D&D is a game and it’s supposed to be fun. If your game is not fun, and you’re not playing in prison, you can get up an leave. Find a new gaming group or game.
Death by fireball is the most interesting of the eight scenarios, because it implies it is neither due to luck nor jerkiness. In my group we ask the others at table when it’s okay to use a power that will damage an ally, and trust in each player to know his character’s ability to survive an attack. Sometimes mistakes happen or a crit gets rolled, and that’s just party of the game. It sucks, but as long as the fireball wasn’t cast carelessly or maliciously it’s okay. If a player is carelessly lobbing fireballs into melee, you should once again talk to that player about it and see if there is way to retool the character so she’s still effective, but only on enemies. And if that doesn’t work, withhold healing.
In the case of edition-cide, you can try one of the (un)official conversion guides, but sometimes if the group moves on to a new game, it’s time to retire your hero while he is still in his prime. Finally, as someone who has been able to get back into gaming after a long break, there’s not much advice I can offer if you stop playing other than to stay atop the hobby and get back in when time frees up.