Have your PC's suffered enough?

Suffering follows a hero like stink follows a Stench Kow. If you take a look at almost any hero from mythology you have the immediate realization that being a "hero", or for that matter anyone of consequence in history is a pretty shit deal. Not only are there terrible responsibilities and grave decisions to be made, but almost everyone you will ever meet is probably dependent on you in some way or another.

So, I guess this begs the question:  If being a hero is so damn shitty why would anyone want their characters to even bother with it?

Simple answer,  its a game. You don't have to suffer the travails of your character, but you get to reap all the fun from going through them. What, suffering is fun? Sure is, if its imaginary.Where real suffering sucks, imaginary suffering brings you closer to the character you're playing.

We are all bound by our suffering. It is a universal truth and the root of compassion and empathy. So it makes sense that if suffering evokes emotions in reality it will also evoke emotions in the imagination. When our characters suffer we feel it in some small way, and are drawn closer to them and the world they inhabit. We all know what it feels like to fight a crazy awesome battle in a game. You barely survive, but in the end you triumph over great adversity and the game is enriched by the shared experience. Real battles are awful, you never for one second want to be in one, especially one from the medieval era. But damn it feels good at the game table.
If imaginary suffering is good, and makes your players bond with their characters, how can it be utilized in a game?

I have to put in a disclaimer here:
In absolutely no way do I support gamemaster douchebaggery. Making your players characters suffer needlessly, ridiculously, or as some type of power play is not only despicable but hints at a pathology that left untreated will result in a sad lonely life bereft of friendship or love... and also fuck you for being a dick.
Moving along.

The kind of suffering that I'm talking about is meaningful suffering. After it happens you've grown in some way as person, or an imaginary person in the case of role playing. I typically use three ways to up the level of meaningful suffering in my campaign.

  1. A hopeless situation where loss is inevitable but some greater good is served. Example: The players must stay and fight to protect the city. They are hopelessly outnumbered, but if they can hold off the mad wizards hoard the people may have time to escape through an ancient tunnel system and get word out to the neighboring kingdoms. If the players manage to survive (and a good GM will give them at least a chance, and avoid pulling a Deus Ex Machina) they will have, to turn a phrase, been through the shit and come out shinning. This would also assume that the GM took a fair amount of time establishing the city and its populace as something the players wanted to save and actually cared about.
  2. Bad guys acting badly. You have to be careful with this one. You can't pull a "orc's ate your family, you better get out there and fight 'em." This one is best suited for individual characters. For example: Having the wizards beloved familiar killed by the henchmen of the big bad guy. Not only is the wizard saddened by the loss it also fuels his desire to defeat the antagonist. Real bad guys always strike us where they know it will hurt, so why wouldn't fictional ones. Just be careful not to go overboard or be to cliche with this one, or the only thing you'll succeed at is pissing off your players.
  3. Oh Tragedy. The granddaddy of suffering, tragedy is often the destiny of the hero, that is if if every Greek myth is to be believed. Example: The PC's rescued the beautiful priestess of Isis from the demon of  Set. They nurse her back to health, and one of the players starts a burgeoning romance with her. All is good until she is slain by a random arrow in a simple encounter with some goblins, nooooooooooooooooooooooooo...
Although there are many ways to help players bond with their characters, I have found suffering to be one of the most effective. What do you think?

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