Therefore, because many of the details of 3e, 4e and 5e are unknown to me, I'm going to be general in my descriptions - and when certain details are not known to me, I'm going to say as much.
In light of the previous post, let's take a situation:
The players complete their characters and begin the adventure; they need to climb into the forest above the town, to locate the cabin of a druid, who has information they need in order to locate the Palace of Pickscale Peak. On the way, the party encounters four giant ticks ... and within two rounds, one of the ticks rolls a 1 in 100 critical attack, killing the party's strongest fighter.
The Reaction I'm Hearing
At this point, the player goes off, ranting about how unfair this is, how wandering monsters or verminous monsters shouldn't have the power to roll critical hits, etcetera, apparently at length and in general disturbing the "good times" being had by the players on the one day this week they are allowed to play.
Here are reasons that I have heard given for why death sucks. To begin with, the player has spent much time making their character. I am not sure how long this takes in 5e. I have heard that in 4e it can take an entire session. I suspect it was not a short time in 3e either, what with the varying feats and builds that were part of that system. I have never made a character in any of these systems, so I am only going on the considerable amount of time that people online have given to describing the considerable amount of time it takes to make characters.
3e, and presumedly 4e, had a lot of choices to make, to create the carefully crafted character of the player's intent. I am guessing this was a cross between pimping out one's ride and buying a car from the worst car dealership in Michigan. After choosing skills, there is the problem of equipping the character, and according to most descriptions I've heard about present-day games, a lot of time spent writing a backstory. Now, even a two-page backstory is a steep hill for someone who doesn't write all the time. If the player really got into the process, the backstory might be longer, or really considered, perhaps even written multiple times between the running when the character was made and the running just before the character died.
Of course, now that the character is dead, the game stops. This has been described as onerous in the extreme ... though I've heard it said and seen it written constantly that the player is free to leave the table, go to a corner, and roll up their character entirely on their own without any supervision whatsoever. Which is just ... well, I have no words.
AND it's a big issue of the DM. After all, the DM has planned everything for Gespacho the Gwistbaker to take the lead in every part of the adventure going forward, and now there is no Gespacho. What now? What if the player doesn't come back with another fighter? What if the new fighter isn't strong enough, or is the wrong race? What then?
These are all problems that seem to seize the very heart of the gaming community. I cannot relate.
What Happens in My Game
Because the time needed to roll up the character was about half-an-hour, there's very little investment at this point. The player hardly cares that the character was killed, unless the character was something really unusual, like having two 18s or three 17s.
Since I generate a background, rather than have the characters invent one, there's not much investment there, either. Oh, the character might have been terrifically lucky, been of noble birth or with some unusual extra skills, but again, there hasn't been time to play them and at any rate, the background is rich with extra skills. So there's always an expectation that something like it will turn up again, only better.
The player starts picking out dice to roll up the new character, while the other players make a few jokes about the death or chat amiably about whatever. There's no sense that the game is "stopped," because ALL the players are anxious to see what the new character is going to be. They, and I, watch earnestly as the dice are rolled, giving congratulations at each good roll and good-natured humour at each bad roll. The player may not roll well enough to meet my minimum stats (either at least one 15 and one 16, or a single roll of 17 or 18), which aren't super-high. No one minds the re-roll. They want to see how much power is joining the party.
Quickly, the player sorts out which numbers go under which stats, picks a class, picks a race and starts thinking about spells, weapon proficiencies or sage abilities. These are really easy to choose, especially for anyone who has played in my world a few months, so it is past in 5-10 minutes. If the player really wants to think before choosing, I'll forego spells until the first combat, or a sage ability until the next running. I don't care if the player chooses an ability for a specific situation, because the player is then stuck with that ability forever, whereas the situation may not come up again for months. So it doesn't matter.
15 minutes have passed. Now comes the biggest timewaster: the player has to pick a name. Meanwhile, I automatically generate a background, which I post as a file on the net which can be downloaded on the player's phone. I read off anything that looks interesting, not for the benefit of the player, but for everyone's benefit. If there is a sailor or an armorer or a physician in the party now, everyone wants to know.
25 minutes gone and the player can now start looking over the equipment table. The new character is THERE, in the game, buying equipment at the table as they are introduced to the party. Basically, the character comes stumbling out of the forest, expresses surprise at the party's survival, pity at the dead body, and asks to join. There is usually no role-playing; everyone has done this dozens of times and they don't care about introductions. Bang, we're off and the adventure continues unabated. After a bit, the character says they have finished buying equipment. Total time before adventuring again: 25-30 minutes.
I think that the need to tailor characters has resulted in this unhappiness connected to player deaths. The issue, it seems to me, is that with so much lead effort before actually playing, we are creating a deep attachment to something that hasn't proven itself in the field.
People aren't going to give up this habit. The later editions have emphasized all these build time and effort, in effect expanding the mini-game of making the character to meet certain expectations of the player (who wants total control over who they will BE). They're not going to give that up.
I'm glad I never went this route. By maintaining the class system, the class abilities are standardized across the board - and though these may be boring to many players, actual experience of seeing and doing things seems to be more eloquent in character development than trying to do it all at one go before actually starting.
If a fighter in my world fights, and has little else in their skill list, that means the player has to come up with some other way of defining themselves beyond what they "do." If the background tells them what their past has been and who their people are, then players can't define themselves by their past. Instead, they have to define themselves by what they want, what things they wish to acquire, what plans they wish to put in motion ... and then to see if they have the stuff to succeed at that, regardless of what class they happen to be and regardless of where they came from.
I find it curious that as the game moved away from the class system, the need to identify with the job title, or the personality of the character, intensified. Though there are fifty different ways to be a paladin, or more, the most important fact about a character is still what the character does for a living, rather than the aspirations of the character. I think that's lacking.
In any case, death is always a hard thing. If a character that has run in my world for years dies, that's a hard day for the player. But it isn't a pox on the game. Not at all.