When your mother dies, what do you do? You have a funeral, you mourn, you’ll visit her grave. What do you do when a player character dies in an RPG? You hand them a new character sheet and leave them to fill it out.
Okay, so the PCs are supposed to be main focus of the game. Pretty much all AWengine games tell the GM to be a fan of the characters and other games that don’t are just plain wrong (well, not all, but most). You follow their lives and cheer them on when they do whatever their doing. Whether they’re cowards, impulsive idiots, magnificent bastards, lowly farmers or priests fighting their pedophiliac tendencies, they should be and always are the most important and the most central character to at least one person: Their player.
So, when the character dies, why would you trivialize it? This is one of the major characters in the story dying. Shouldn’t you at least take notice? You are missing an opportunity. Why wouldn’t you have a memorial service? Why wouldn’t the death of their close associate affect the lives of the other characters? This is not only an opportunity to roleplay sides of characters you don’t necessarily see very often, but its also a way for the player, who lost their character to get some closure. After all, we like our characters and even the players, like me, who generally don’t care about their characters dying that much, don’t like my characters’ deaths to be meaningless.
So just hold a memorial service of sorts. How good would you feel if your long time character just dies and you heard another character talk about that time you saved their lives or about other meaningful moments in their often quite short careers. If you don’t encourage your players to do this as a GM, you are doing something wrong.
It can also be a moment of learning. When you reflect on the career of a character, that character’s player and others, can take note of what everyone thought was important and memorable. Basically its positive reinforcement. You’re telling the player they did good work here (as a player, not necessarily as a character) and this is the kind of approach they should take in the future. Preferably not doing the exact same thing, but something similar. Everyone else can take note of that too.
How should you do all of this? Well, obviously don’t stop the action to have a funeral, but it could be either a good coda to a session, the start of the next session, or, if you have an idea on this, a whole session. The last one can be a bit problematic if the player of that particular character can’t really do anything besides listen, but that depends on the player. I wouldn’t want to do it, because I want to be active, but I know people who would.
Anyhow, don’t let anyone’s death go to waste. They should be key moments in the story, not just something that happens every once in a while.
Is it really the GM’s thing to worry about it? I think that it’s up to the players to decide how their characters react to the death of a player character (or an NPC, for that matter). If they just loot the body (provided there even is a body) and move on, maybe they just show what kind of people their characters are? Likewise there are many ways to react to death: it might change the survivors’ motives, objectives or procedures even if they don’t actually arrange a funeral.
Also, talking about the dead character out of game is different thing than how the characters react to it in a fictional situation. I do agree that it’s often worthwhile to do a bit of a debrief after someone loses their character, but pushing other characters to hold a memorial service seems a tad heavy-handed to me.
Well, of course my goal is to get people to think about this stuff rather than tell the gospel truth (although, if anyone wants to take is such, I’m game).
Generally I’m all about putting the onus on players, but nudging them to have some sort of remembrance of the dead character would be great. Admittedly I’ve only seen a good memorial for a character a few times in my almost 30 years of roleplaying, but this is clearly a trend that shouldn’t be.
I don’t see having a funeral for the character as heavy-handed. To me it seems like a basic courtesy for a fellow player. “You did good, and its worth this scene.” It would especially help if the player is someone who is new and hasn’t lost many characters before, but as I like to point out, even if a player character isn’t a main character objectively, its always going to be the main character to the player and it would be a mistake not to respect that.