What advantage does killing a PC actually bring to a game?
Does it add to the drama? Probably not. Does it add to the story? Again, probably not.
Imagine that a PC party is fighting a gang of orcs and the main fighter is knocked out cold and the fight goes badly. In the end the magician grabs the cleric and using long door they escape.
So what happen next?
The GM has two options. The fighter is dead and the game session pretty much ends for that player has they have to create a new character*. The rest of the party head back to town and try and recruit a new muscle man for the adventure to continue. The other option is that the character is a captive of the orcs and the remaining PCs now need to mount a rescue. The fighter is master of his own destiny to some extent and can try and engineer their own escape.
I am not suggesting for a minute that the PCs should never die. Without that threat it robs the game of some of the sense of danger. A one hit death on the other hand adds nothing. An unconscious character is maybe capable of being revived if the party have the right healing. An unconscious character is still an active part of the story. Even if they cannot talk then are a burden that needs to be carried, slowing the party and changing their tactical choices.
Sure, the orcs can kill the character, maybe even eat them, but does a random roll of 66 on the critical table need to be so fatal?
There will be times when the characters death is inevitable or even desirable and a heroic death can top off a campaign perfectly.
This is an off the peg critical:
Neck strike shatters bone and severs an artery. Foe cannot breath and is inactive for 12 rnds. The poor fool then expires.
What are the chances that the foe will live for 12 rounds? I am guessing that if it is an orc then the PCs will finish it off just to make sure of the exp. If it is a PC that has taken the critical then either some kind of Fate point will be spent which reduces the fatal result to unconscious or causes a complete re-roll or the party healer averts the death or the GM fudges the result to keep the PC alive or the PC dies.
The Fate point option just reinforces what I am thinking, that the death doesn’t add anything to the game so additional optional rules are required to fix the broken rule.
The Healer healing the wound is the perfect outcome, even more so if the healer is another PC and not a rent a medic NPC. The rent a medic is really just a walking, talking GM fudge.
If the GM fudges the result then it is just pointing to the death being ‘not fun’ and so why is it in a game?
If the critical read Neck strike shatters bone and severs an artery. Foe cannot breath and is inactive for 12 rnds the passes out. The victim will die eventually unless help arrives.
The effect during the combat is identical but the death is no longer certain. It is down to the narrator to decide what is best for the heroes story.
What I think I would love to see is a critical that reads:
Crush foe’s skull. +30 hits. Opponent dies immediately or if they are a PC then they are unconscious. Add +20 to your next swing. You have a half rnd left to act.
Yes, an entire two-tier system with the odds inevitably stacked in the heroes’ favour. Surely, we are sat around the table to tell the heroes’ story and have fun doing it?
*not all new characters are 1st level so creating an 8th level character, for example, can take a damn sight longer than just a 1st level one to re-join the party with.