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For the past two years, I've been playing the tabletop roleplaying game Dungeons and Dragons with a single group of 5 friends.

Up till now, we have played as the same characters, which grow as part of the story the designated "Dungeon Master" develops. This has included backstories that have been created in profundity and a lot of story tie-ins that have been developed by this person.

I have recently been feeling like it's time to move on from my current character, for various reasons that are not the fault of our Dungeon Master. With this, I would then be creating a new character to play and continuing to play with this group.

The issue is, the Dungeon Master has spent countless weekends through the last two years creating the fictional universe we play in, including an interesting plot that continues to involve each of our characters. As such, asking to have my character die/leave may cause a significant amount of effort for them to be lost, and a significant amount of work to be required to bring a new character into the story suddenly. This obviously will be frustrating and potentially hurtful to the Dungeon Master.

How can I approach the Dungeon Master about removing my character from the game, and creating a new character, while showing them I appreciate the amount of effort they have gone through?


For non-DnD players, to clarify the work involved for the Dungeon Master: Removing my current character from the story means that any items or plot hooks that are planned are now effectively wasted or need at least some effort to make useful again.

Although the creation of my new character's backstory would be my responsibility. It will still involve input from the Dungeon Master to ensure what I have created is viable within their fictional world.

Importantly, the main work involved for the Dungeon Master is the creation of non-playable characters and story arcs, which I am not able to help create - as the underlying story must remain secret to the players, as we discover and interact with it. As such, a new character means the Dungeon Master must now think of ways to make the world interesting to this new character and involve their backstory in the current world politics (again, without my involvement).

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    Related (on RPG.SE): My 5e character isn't very fun. How do I kill them off? – doppelgreener May 3 '18 at 10:29
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    Just to be clear, I am not asking for ways to remove my character mechanically - which I can look to the RPG.SE for. I'm looking for the interpersonal help, on how to approach my Dungeon Master with my decision - which will cause them to lose invested effort. – Bilkokuya May 3 '18 at 10:31
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    Just FYI, RPG.SE also facilitates questions about interpersonal/social dynamics, we're not just about mechanics -- e.g. we have a few tags devoted to interpersonal stuff. The question I linked was indeed asking about mechanical methods but received recommendations for an interpersonal approach instead relevant to your situation, hence why I linked it. You're free to ask interpersonal RPG questions here too if you'd like, I'm just posting this in case you were unaware. – doppelgreener May 3 '18 at 13:26
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    In the title you mention "killing off" your character. How literal should we take this? If you would be fine with turning your high level character into an NPC, then you retiring your character actually sounds like a pretty big payoff for all the work your DM did, he get a well-developed NPC out of the deal. (Maybe your character goes crazy and becomes the next big bad, maybe your character becomes an important advisor to the king, etc...) – Peter May 3 '18 at 13:59
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    @Bilkokuya It is not clear to me that "large amounts of work will become irrelevant" if you turn your character into an NPC, after all, your character will still affect the world. Do you mean that the DM already has future plothooks prepared that rely on your character still being in the party? – Peter May 3 '18 at 14:31

11 Answers 11

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I would approach this not as a "waste of effort" but as an "opportunity for new things".

Your dungeon master has been enjoying writing an interactive story for you guys for 2 years already which by no means is lost effort. You guys have been immersed into his story and been enjoying it so much that even though you're tired of your current character you actually want to keep playing with a different one in the same story he created. I'd say this is a huge compliment to his abilities.

So start by making it clear to him that you love the immersion so far and would love to keep playing, but that your current character doesn't really fit your preferred style (or whatever reason you have for wanting to kill it off).

Then depending on how he reacts to this you can suggest you want to work with him (as far as possible since you can't know the story he's going to tell) on how to handle switching your character to something different. Alternatively he might have been waiting for a way to introduce new things into the story but didn't know how until you provided this excellent opportunity to him.

As long as you show how much you loved his work up to now and don't expect impossible things of him (like making the switch in a couple of days) I don't think you have much to worry about.

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    As an update, I have tried this approach and it has worked extremely well. Not only were they not disappointed, but they seemed glad to hear I was getting invested enough and had developed as a player enough to want to try something new with them. We are going to spend time finding a way to transition to the new character; but this answer has avoided an otherwise unpleasant situation. Importantly, phrasing it as a problem with my relation to my character (as suggested) and not the character itself - has worked well with showing I'm still interested in the content of his world. Many Thanks! – Bilkokuya May 3 '18 at 16:20
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    Bonus points for coordinating with the Dungeon Master to make it a big surprise for the rest of the group, could make an epic unexpected twist/moment – Outsider May 3 '18 at 17:30
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Then don't kill the character. Just have them "retire". The character buys a farm/tavern/smithy and settles down. Or perhaps the character goes off on a vision quest.

The nice thing about this is that if the DM really is attached to the character, its still available for the DM to use as an NPC, if the DM can think of a good story reason to have that happen.

The point here is that you aren't taking the DM's creation away, but rather are rendering it back into the DM's care.

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    As an ex DM and player, I can relate to the question asked, and this is the perfect answer. No harm done, and the player can always go back. – Rodia May 3 '18 at 15:21
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    Yep, you just tell the DM that you want to play a new character idea, and suggest they take over your character as an NPC, and ask how they'd like to handle the transition. Oh and don't give the GM headaches with wanting to do something like have your old PC give your new PC their magic items or anything. – Dronz May 3 '18 at 22:48
  • This was my first thought as well. The nice thing about it is that the DM can use encounters with this character as foreshadowing in the campaign. – Doug R. May 4 '18 at 15:23
  • That's interesting, to think of a player meeting his former character, and how well the DM captures his style (probably well, as it sounds like these guys are pretty serious). – SexxLuthor May 5 '18 at 19:50
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    As an ex-GM, I always treated retired player characters this way (both in cases where a player wanted to change characters and when they had to or wanted to leave the campaign). They were still characters in the story, and their prior relationship with the party members made them some of the most evocative npc's in my toolkit. – JKreft May 6 '18 at 1:52
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This is not a waste. The time they spent on including the character in their world was not a waste. Why?

You had a good time playing them so far (I assume). This character is a part of that world's history and always will be. If they die, their death will become part of the history as well. It is likely they have been a hero and that there are people who will always remember them for that. It is likely that they do have friends and they have already unchangeably influenced their life. Those friends will always remember fond memories of them. (And that one time, where they stood in front of that wall which clearly had a hidden door they could have used to rescue everybody else, but they missed the roll and did not find it and then they went through that dungeon for another hour with the whole rest of the group sitting in a trap and waiting... but let's forget about that for now.)

A new character will not erase the old one from that game (actively yes, but passively their influence will still be there). A new character also does not increase the DMs work too much. Characters change all the time, it is a constant adaptation to the events. And this constant adaptation, this thrill of introducing new things and modifying old and building and building the world and its history is something many DMs love (as far as the ones I met). The effort the DM would have put into your old character further on they can now put into the new one.

But most importantly again: Their previous effort is not lost.

So talk to your DM with all the good times in mind that your character had. And this annoying habit, as well. Won't they be glad to be rid of dealing with that? Won't they be glad to be able to try out new stuff, get a little fresh air into the whole thing? It is nice to have an established group of adventurers, but sometimes one of them dies or retires and they welcome a newcomer with all those unrealistic ambitions those green ones have and take them under their wings.

The only thing I would try to avoid is to start a discussion about how maybe everyone else also got bored with their old characters. In that case, make a deal. Let them experience adventuring with their new companion and then maybe if the whole "new friend thing" is not exciting enough for some, they might also change their characters fate. Just not all of them, not all at once.

  • Good point about not wanting to provoke a party wipe. Perhaps it's a good idea to talk to the DM alone when discussing the character swapping so that when it actually happens he'll have had enough time to provide most of the story changes already and will be able to start discussions with another player in case someone else also feels tired of their current character. (Alternatively, it could also be possible to start a new story with a new group of characters that want to follow in the footsteps of the previous one... So many intersting possibilities :) ) – Imus May 3 '18 at 13:10
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Don't forget, the primary purpose of tabletop RPG's is for everyone at the table to have fun. This includes the DM as well as the players. As a DM, if one of my players is not having fun, then I'm not doing my job properly, and I want feedback as to why. Here is what I would suggest.

Figure out why your character isn't right any more

What has changed? Obviously the character was fun to begin with, so what changed? Are you unhappy with the way the story is developing? Is your character not going in the direction you pictured? What aren't you happy with? Knowing this going into any conversation will help, rather than the DM asking what's wrong, and getting "I dunno, it's just not...right" as an answer.

Just ask for a meeting outside the normal game time

Could be a facebook chat, meet for coffee, phone call, whatever. Just let the DM know that you want to talk outside of the game setting about the direction the campaign/character development is going. Be prepared to outline how you are feeling, and what you feel the reasons are. It might be a little uncomfortable, but know that they probably want it to work out as much as you do.

Explore options

Do you necessarily need to kill off your character? Do you want to play another class? Race? Gender? Depending on what you are feeling, it might be feasible to shift your characters focus rather than kill them off. People do change. Or, if you really feel a new character is the way to go, maybe your current character develops a short arc that makes it necessary to leave the group, rather than die. That opens the door for NPC encounters with them later, or for the character to come back to the group after a while. There are a lot of ways to game it.

Talk to the group

Once you have kind of an idea of where you want to go, let the gaming group know that you need 5-10 minutes at the beginning of the next game, and talk about what you are feeling. They might have other options you haven't considered, and this is kind of a major shift in the game that will impact their characters and their play as well. If you are playing the games only tank, and choose to be a different type of class, that has a major impact on the party and how they play. Their characters may have plot hooks with your character, etc.

RPG is all about communication

Both in game, and out of game, RPG play is all about communication. For a big shift like this, it is something that needs to be talked about with the DM and the party, to accommodate it. It's not difficult, but it can be awkward, and unless it actually is something specific with certain characters/individuals, stress that it is just how you are feeling. It may also open up a different story arc that everyone else will enjoy as well.

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I know you say the other players are your friends in real life, but let's be frank here - the role of "Dungeon Master" is just as fictitious as the character you want to kill off. You might as well be asking how to kill an Orc without offending an Elf. Let's try and separate your real-life friend from the Dungeon Master.

Within the context of the game...

The Dungeon Master makes decisions that affect the other players. He can allow characters to die if he chooses, so really what should it matter to him if you choose your character to die? Other characters and elements of the story will have taken just as much time to create and many of these will be quickly disposed of for the sake of the story.

In real life...

Sure, your friend who takes on the role of Dungeon Master in your game has put some time into your character and the game, but DM is the role he has chosen and so you have the right to choose yours. He must enjoy being DM otherwise he wouldn't spend as much time on it as he does. Also the time spent will be on all the characters and story as a whole, not just your character, so you may be over-egging his response to your decision. He should understand that is is "just a game" (to be clear, I am not disrespecting D&D - all leisure activities should be viewed in perspective).

If you think he needs convincing of your decision then my advice would be don't be negative about it. Instead, present your decision to him as something that will be an exciting twist for the game. It isn't like you are refusing to play, you just want to play with a different character. He should be able to separate his in-game role from his real-life role as your friend.

EDIT

Some comments have suggested that I don't understand D&D, or appreciate how much time the DM spends preparing the game.

While I don't play D&D, I do have some appreciation for what it is, and what is involved (I played MERP and also multiplayer Fighting Fantasy games when I was at school 30 years ago). But the reason I answered is because I believe that the interpersonal skill required is applied outside of the game and therefore it is very important to separate the game from reality. If the DM cannot separate the two, that isn't the OP's problem. The OP has to see this objectively even if the other party doesn't, and that is true of any interpersonal solution on this site.

If you really believe that the DM has a right to be indignant because the OP's character has died, ask yourself this - would he have a right to feel angry at his wasted time if the OP died in real life?? If the answer is no, of course not, that's ridiculous, then you have to accept that this interpersonal problem is not specific to D&D at all - it is about appealing to someone who may take a leisure activity too seriously and react badly in real life to an in-game decision.

  • The role of DM isn't any more or less fictional than the role of Chief Executive Officer of a company - it's a position of authority which means investing time and effort in the continued well-being of the group of people depending on that person for leadership. Sure, the stakes are different, but if a CEO spends 1-on-1 time helping/training/educating an employee, figuring out their role in the strategic plan, etc., only to have that employee abruptly quit, then yes, some frustration is understandable. OP knows this is real life, the question is how to waste DM's IRL effort without offending. – A C May 4 '18 at 4:38
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If it will disrupt the story too much, don't kill off your character. You can transition him to an NPC under the DM's control while introducing your new character.

Talk to your DM as soon as possible. This will allow the DM to retain plot hooks as he sees fit, especially if your existing party feels a bond with this character such that they will help him out.

The character can become less relevant to the group over time before deciding to part ways, or he can be pulled away suddenly by outside forces. The DM can decide whether a gradual or sudden approach is better once he knows what direction you want to try with a new character. Plan on giving the DM some time to develop your new character and make plans for the old character.

It already sounds like you're being considerate of the DM and the other players from the start, so that's a good indicator for this situation resolving well. If the DM wants everyone to have fun (like any good DM does), this will feel more like a cooperative problem-solving effort than a conflict.

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Fundamentally, role-playing is a collaborative story writing experience. And in many stories, major characters do die off. This doesn't detract from the story as a whole, but it can be a very emotional experience, even for the writers of that story.

I suggest you talk this over with your DM - it's clear that you want to shift into a new character, but you should retire your existing character as gracefully as possible. In most games (and I assume yours) the DM controls the narrative of the non-player characters, so he could try to work with you in order to ease your character into retirement - or he may even have a better suggestion for how to retire the character and move on to a new one.

It's also important to be clear about your intent to the DM - you want to play a new character, and that's completely valid in a tabletop role-playing game. But a new character is also a major dynamic change, so you'll want to work the new character into the story just as gracefully as the old character departs.

This may take more time than you'd initially planned to retire your character, but the effort put into it will create a much more memorable experience, which (for me at least) is the ultimate goal of any role-playing game.

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I played in a long-running, story-heavy campaign that had a few major, unplanned changes. One of these was the departure of a player, and it did not make sense for anybody to take over the character. (We were all pretty immersed in telling a shared story and felt that one character per player was what we needed to do that.) We addressed it by having a conversation about consequences, retcons, and adjustments.

We were all invested in the story and, thus, not messing up the story. The GM allowed us to make some retroactive adjustments in skill/spell advancements to cover gaps left by the character. He told us that he was going to be moving some plot hooks and we all agreed not to point and gawk about anything that was less than smooth. And because our party was now reduced in number, we talked about ways to increase the role of some of our recurring non-player characters without stealing focus from the players.

Drawing from that experience, I recommend that you have a conversation with your GM, outside of the game, and include the following points:

  • (As others have said), you really enjoy the game and don't want to mess up the story.
  • But you want to make a change that is inherently disruptive. If you're open to making changes to your character to make play more interesting, instead of completely replacing the character, explore that path!
  • You appreciate all the work he's put into integrating your character, plot hooks, etc and you don't want to mess that up. Maybe some of them can be transferred to other characters, and maybe some things can be retconned?
  • How can you help?

Your GM will probably need some time to think things through; your goal in this first conversation is to open the door, not to resolve everything. We discussed the departing character over the course of a few weeks, in person at one game session but mostly through email and some one-on-one chats. We continued to make small adjustments after the initial changes, as we discovered things. Allow your GM that flexibility too.

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I know that this doesn't answer exactly you question, but I have to propose it: maybe you shouldn't kill your character.

You have to think that all work made by the DM is a voluntary work that he makes in benefit of all the group, more than for his own benefit. Because of this, I think that players should value his work A LOT, and don't make him spending even more of his precious free time.

You didn't tell the reasons that makes you wanting to change your character, so I can't say if they are enough important reasons to force the DM to make the extra effort or not, but in general, I think that all this must be carefully considered.

Maybe you can comment your desire with the DM, but asking him if this would imply a lot of work for him, and telling that you are willing to continue with your current character if it does. You can explain him why you want to kill your character, and if the amount of work for him is not very high, he will be sensitive and let you doing it.

Also, you also can ask him if it would be better to kill your character in the future, in a moment when the story is not yet prepared (supposing it's not finished yet). This way, he can continue the story taking into account that you are going to kill your character and without adding extra work.

Maybe you and him together can find another solution that satisfy you and is not a big charge for the DM.

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We had a similar (but not as quite time-expensive) situation, where one player noticed after a few sessions that his character isn`t matching his play style.

Note: this only works for you, if you don´t have radical differences between old and new character (like race or gender).

What we did: we intruduced a plausible time gap, where the characters would go on journey to find themselves, maybe settle down, change their names or earn other titles, marry, train etc to come back changed. Maybe he had Amnesia and started anew. Whatever your fantasy can come up with to justify the desired change. Its the same character, with his backstory still valid, which he chose to leave behind (or at least tries to).

It´s a new wrapping while leaving the old scaffold intact

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How do you think the DM would react if you proposed the loss of your character as a surprise element for the other players?

It sounds like the story being developed is really interesting to all of the players, so the death of a character could be a great plot twist to throw in.

(Hmmm...how much more fun could it be if your "old" character got killed by your "new" character? :)

  • Perhaps (although I have played a few times). But considering this section of the OP, "...Dungeon Master has spent countless weekends ... creating ... an interesting plot", I see this a s a situation where normal story-writing overlaps the interactive aspects of game play. I know that if I'd been playing a game for a few years, then all of a sudden one of the characters is removed it would (should) result in a LOT of RP for dealing with the new team dynamics. Especially when it's time for a new character to join in. – theGleep May 3 '18 at 16:07

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