...hurt their friends!
It's time for an RPG articles, and if I go into my suggestion box (filled by readers like YOU - use the Comments section), I pull... "Collateral Damage" as suggested by Anonymous! It just so happens it is my favoured means of hurting player characters. Everybody recovers from damage, but can they recover from collateral damage?
See, I'm one of those narrativist GMs that likes to keep the PCs alive until it is dramatically satisfying for them to die. I treat all my games like episodic TV shows or serial comics, and it wouldn't do to kill a character off on unlucky rolls, or in the middle of adventures, in shit-ass combats with grunts or when the odds are less than epic. No, I want their deaths to MEAN SOMETHING. I want it some meaningful, the player goes into it WILLINGLY.
But where's the suspense in that?
In collateral damage, that's where. I'm unwilling to kill off a PC willy-nilly, but her clumsy boyfriend? Sure! Blow up the warrior's stronghold? Anytime! Have the Kingpin erase the superhero's credit margin? Oh yeah! Even ye olde innocent bystander will do the trick in a pinch. Oh the guilt! And demotions and loss of privileges are always a nice consequences for failure. You won't die, but I can't guarantee you won't get nerfed!
The beauty with making a character miserable is that it creates drama, it doesn't take drama away. A guy can't very well suffer if he's dead. A character that fails in the above examples might struggle with guilt, public scorn or an employer's ire. Or maybe he has to deal with the loss of a loved one (who's finished their own arc, naturally), rebuild their headquarters anew, or change their status quo from millionaire playboy to grungy public defender. In fact, those endings should be new beginnings.
And after the ups and downs, when the world is really at stake, in that big climax, then the character's life is up for grabs. And if she loses it, then I hope it was enough to save us all. And that, as they say, is EPIC.
Who's with me?