|Art by Jack Chick. Yes, that Jack Chick.|
What I'm about to say might sound like hyperbole to some people, but that combat encounter was one of the most entertaining and tense moments I've had while playing Pathfinder in the past few months. Although I believe there were other factors to why that encounter was so fun, I believe the main one was that chance our characters might have died and the adventure would have been over. That simple chance made us fight harder and play more intelligently, doing everything possible to win in the end and remain alive.
This encounter reaffirmed my belief that character death (or, at least the chance of it) is an important element in roleplaying games and should be present.
Now, I know there are some people out there who abhor the thought of character death. They don't find it fun and hate the idea that a character they've put so much time and creativity into might perish. I understand that, and I don't like seeing characters that I care about die either. I also don't want to play a game where ever session feels like we're delving into the Tomb of Horrors and each player has a stack of blank character sheets sitting close by just in case.
However, I don't want the other extreme either. I believe character death (or at least the chance of it) can add a lot to an adventure. For a cinematic example, lets take a look at Die Hard. Throughout the movie, John McClain is faced with numerous situations that might end with his demise. Those scenes can be incredibly tense because we as an audience are uncertain if he'll make it out alive.
Death can also be a great motivator. For example, the chance that your character might perish can motivate you to play him or her more intelligently so you can lessen that chance. That's what made us fight so hard in that Pathfinder Society scenario. We didn't want our characters to die, so we did everything we possibly could to survive.
So, I believe we can have a balance between the two extremes. Death shouldn't be a constant where you're bringing a new character to each session, but the chance of it happening should be there. If a character does something and the natural consequence to that action would be that character's demise, then the character should probably die unless you can find a way to logically save them. Also, the death of a character can lead to adventures as well. Maybe the remaining party members decide to travel to the Realm of the Dead to retrieve their fallen comrade's soul so they can resurrect him. Maybe they have to make a deal with the deity of death, who promises to give them the character's soul if they make an equal exchange (which could be anything really).
Character death isn't a dead end. Its just another door which leads to new possibilities.