In this week’s Legends & Lore, Mike discussed a save or die mechanic. To follow up that discussion, I’d like to explore death in the various editions of D&D. The play-by-the-rules level of lethality in the game has changed a lot over the years. The general trend has been to make the game less lethal overall, although an argument could be made that the game has become slightly more lethal at the higher levels since it was more common to end up with an unkillable (unchallengeable) character at the upper levels in older editions.
Is this a good thing? Or is it bad? Let’s go over some viewpoints.
Obviously, no one likes to lose a character. The more you have invested in the character, the truer this becomes. Later editions essentially require more investment from the get-go because the mechanics of the game make the character more complex to create. I remember way back in the earliest days of the game how someone told me that people didn’t even bother naming their characters in their campaign until 2nd level because there was so little chance that a 1st-level character would survive. As silly as that might sound, the feeling of accomplishment at surviving such a lethal game, even for a little while, must have been great.
Of course, one could argue that the D&D game isn’t about feelings of accomplishment. It’s about creating characters and developing fantasy stories. Characters perhaps shouldn’t die unless circumstances dictate it, rather than when the dice go against them.
In any event, controlling the lethality level of the game (while always at the discretion of the Dungeon Master, who can fudge things) is a function of the mechanics. How often a character is hit, how many times he or she can be hit, how hard it is to resist effects, and what happens if he or she fails are all mechanical functions of the game that determine how often characters face death. But how lethal should the game be?
We want your opinion on lethality in the D&D game! Choose the one option below that best represents your opinion: