One of the special moves in Dungeon Worlds happens when you’re reduced to 0 hp. This move is called Last Breath. The move is described below:
When you’re dying you catch a glimpse of what lies beyond the Black Gates of Death’s Kingdom (the GM will describe it). Then roll (just roll, +nothing – year, Death doesn’t care how tough or cool you are).
*On a 10+, you’ve cheated Death – you’re in a bad spot but you’re still alive. *On a 7-9, Death himself will offer you a bargain. Take it and stabilize or refuse and pass beyond the Black Gates into whatever fate awaits you. *6-, your fate is sealed. You’re marked as Death’s own and you’ll cross the threshold soon. The GM will tell you when.
On one hand, this certainly seems deadly. 50% of the time that your character is reduced to 0 hp, you’re going to die. Other systems have you make death saves over and over, and you have to fail a bunch of them before you actually pass away. Not so here.
On the other hand, the 6- death gives a specific example of the GM allowing the character to continue on with death hanging over their head. Basically, the game seems lethal, but gives everyone room to maneuver if the character death is either not convenient to the story of the game, or not popular with the player whose character died.
While I kind of like the Last Breath mechanic as a lethal but interesting hook for adventure, resurrection is also included in the rules, and seems like an option specifically encouraged a bit in the text. The text even recommends that the GM not make things too difficult on the players around this, and maybe let them go to the next town and drop some coin donation on the temple in return for a resurrection.
“GM, when you tell the players what needs to be done to bring their comrade back, don’t feel like it has to derail the flow of the current game. Weave it in to what you know of the world. This is a great opportunity to change focus or introduce an element you’ve been waiting to show off. Don’t feel, either, that is has to be some great and epic quest. If the character died at the end of a goblin pike, maybe all it takes is an awkward walk home and a few thousand gold pieces donated to a local temple.”
The game even make some allusion, although doesn’t specifically mechanize, a group “decision” for Resurrection.
“If your character dies you can ask the GM and the other players to try and resurrect you. The GM will tell them what it will cost to return your poor, dead character to life. If you fulfill the GM’s conditions the character is returned to life. The Resurrection spell is a special case of this: the magic of the spell gives you an easier way to get a companion back, but the GM still has a say.”
When I first looked for the resurrection spell, I couldn’t find it. That’s because I made the mistake of looking at the end of the cleric spell list. Instead, I found it in the list of 3rd level spells! So, while death is common, overcoming death seems pretty easy. I have a real hard time with this, because it seems like on one hand, it encourages players to play various characters and get people used to character death a bit, but on the other, it make character death pretty weak and creates a situation that’s hard to explain into the rest of the world fiction!
I get this is a story game and many of the rewards are based around building and playing a dynamic character, but why not follow through with being an ode to old-school gaming and let those characters die. Surely the rest of the party will experience more depth and change if comrades perish and new characters are thrown into the mix. Of course, the system does not specify this game mode, but it does feel a bit wishy-washy, and a little pulp, around character death.