How do you manage the death of a player?
I don't mean a character, I mean the player themselves; the actual person you used to have sitting at your table Friday after Friday, munching through your refridgerator, swearing at your die rolls, laughing fit to kill. What do you do when they pass on?
As it happens, I haven't had a player die recently. I did know a fellow in the '90s who at the age of 21 developed scleroderma, who ran an 8th level ranger. He ceased playing before the disease intensified, and he passed away within a year. And of course my first wife Michelle, who died some years ago of complications arising from multiple schlerosis, will never run her 10th level thief again.
Still, I did run into a fellow who used to be the verve and center of the campaign I ran for the nine years between 1983 and 1992. This was that fellow that emerges in your campaign who knows all the rules and who anticipates your twists and turns. It is he who resolutely devises the brilliant scheme that brings down the indefeatable monster and it is he who steadily piles up paper notes upon your campaign until his character is a series of folders that he's bought a special briefcase to transport.
Jeff was just such a fellow. Jeff rarely missed a session (maybe thrice in 9 years?), played in other campaigns on different nights at the same time as mine, was connected with the wargaming community and with the committee that organized the yearly city gaming convention. He also graduated with honors, finishing his engineering degree while playing in my campaign.
He tolerated my politics (he was conservative), my odd proclivities and my repeated, disastrous attempts to construct a trade system. The last took a lot of toleration. Jeff also helped me work out the details of my stun-attack combat system. He and I spent a lot of late night 12 and 14 hour sessions playing Panzer Leader, Car Wars, System 7 Napoleonics and chess.
I hadn't seen him in more than ten years. I ran into his sister, got his number, and we agreed to meet for a drink. Jeff doesn't play D&D any more. He's not busy; in fact, he's hardly working. He is not what I could call happy. While I walked him from the cafe to the downtown train, we had a talk about his admitted suicidal tendencies. Like any part of him I remember, he spoke about the matter frankly, in terms of its causes and purpose, not looking for sympathy. I could see that he had reasons that made sense to him. Knowing him as I had, I offered a few points I hoped were of value; I did not hear any acknowledgement in the tone of his voice.
What I did manage to learn - this is not the first self-confessed suicidal dilettente I've spoken to - what that nothing had happened. Nothing happening was probably the central problem. Jeff experienced the same thing a lot of fast-moving academic teenagers experience: scholarships, notariety, an audience applauding as one walks across the stage to accept an award, the certainty everyone has that such-and-such will go places, will do things. Then, nothing. Or very little. The world stays the same place, the awards get moved from shelves to boxes and the whole game loses its clarity.
That's what I got from Jeff. Just a sense that it's all for naught, so why bother?
I don't know how he's going to be. I don't know if I'll ever see him again. I know he won't call. I'd like to think that a really good game of D&D might set him right, but in truth I don't think so. I wish I could do something - but I'm old enough to know the decision making process of someone as old as me. Something might sort Jeff out; I hope it does. Truth is, people quit because they've had too much of a thing - good or bad.
Too often we press upon people to go on playing at something because we're playing at it. We don't like that they do not want what we want. We call them quitters and impose a moral superiority upon ourselves, as though not quitting is a noble and grand gesture we're giving to the world. Even if we wanted to quit, we lie to ourselves, we wouldn't because we're not quitters.
It's all ridiculous. Players quit. We don't like it.
'Like' has nothing to do with it.