This month's RPG Blog Carnival, hosted by Campaign Mastery is about Life and Death in RPGs.
Life is cheap in most of the games I run. Well, for the NPCs anyway. My player's PCs mostly tend to do pretty well for themselves, unless they're stupid or unlucky. I just never really had that killer DM instinct. I'd rather just put the challenge in front of the players, and see what they do with it.It's often more entertaining than anything I could have come up with on my own!
I have given players some morally ambiguous situations, specifically the orc/goblin/kobold baby situation. I've only done it a couple of times, as each time resulted in a less than satisfactory session for just about everyone involved. I really don't recommend it, at least not for the average D&D group. It may work better for other games, and groups that are interested in exploring such gray areas.
For the occasions when player death has been the end result, it is often the final result. As magics to return the dead to life are fairly high level and generally divine I have kept them rare in my games. I dislike the idea that bringing someone back is a simple thing, an easy thing, or an inexpensive thing, so made it complicated, difficult, and expensive. It's probably helped that no one ever played clerics that achieved high enough level to receive such magics. I'm less sure how I would have handled it in that case. In fact, I'm much more likely to allow the players to make a quest of it directly, rather than just going off and doing X for the high priest and bringing back a sack of ground up diamonds. It's much more satisfying for everyone (except maybe the high priest) if they can go to the underworld and bring their friend back themselves.