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I started teaching again, so this post is very short!
In my COS game, I had a poll during zero session asking whether players wanted a gritty, difficult game where they’d likely burn through a couple of characters each, or a game that was character-centric and where, even if things were difficult, character death was less likely. Mostly everyone wanted the gritty hard version, but a few people in the (…large…) group wanted character death to be less likely. They also both ended up creating Fey (a sprite and an eladrin), so I told them that they’d play by the same death rules as everyone else, except that if they died, they’d respawn in the feywild. (Not knowing that the campaign takes place in Ravenloft, and no one can leave – so in effect, they just respawn at the gates of Barovia.)
Then, in my IWD game, one of my players told me that she has a ton of anxiety wrapped up in character creation. As in, it gives her panic attacks, and the character she made took her a long time to get through. So in that campaign, people have the option of, instead of dying, getting tossed out of sight like in films (for example, Black Panther going over the water fall). The player will get a small healing montage and join up later.
I was worried that this would cheapen the game. That without the threat of character death, my players would take amazingly stupid risks whenever they wanted and ultimately find some way to abuse the mechanics (like ‘teleporting’ an important object, for instance).
None of this happened. They’re playing the game the same as they were before – except that they’re not as anxious. They still avoid things that might be traps, try to think strategically about fights and avoiding fights, and they’re just as invested – if not more so – than in other games I’ve played with them (where they’re not new players to my group all-together.)
I think the lesson here is that zero sessions and listening to your players are a critical part of the game – but also that fundamentally removing the risk of permanently losing a character doesn’t change the game as much as you might fear, if your players are especially attached to their characters.