At least in 2nd Edition, you're supposed to re-draw a new character at random if you die. This only stops once a player has reached the center space (Crown of Command by default).
You generally don't want to leave the Outer Region until you've gotten a pretty powerful character. If you do want to cross the river, you can buy an axe for 3 gold and build a raft. Bags of gold are easy to come by - you're practically stubbing your toes on the things if you're going around drawing Adventure cards.
The main knock on 2nd Edition is that it does take a really long time to play. But it's still fun once in a while.