When to let PCs die

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Ok, I'm facing a small problem in the table I'm DMing. And that's the death threat. One or twice I had to let the PCs survive an encounter they were going to fatally lose, due to some bad strategies from them, and some overpowered encounters from me (the encounters were about 4 or 5 levels above them). I don't want the PCs to die, but I also don't want to erase completely the death threat. I just don't know when to let them die. So, any of you have had this kind of problem? What would you do?
Personally I have given much of that power over to the players. If it reaches the point where they are close to death, they dictate if they are fine or not with dying. I essentially give them control over the story. Since that is how I view death it is a story point, so should fit with the story.
step 1 (bit late for that):
ask your players how they view death in the campaign. ask them how their opinion is.

step 2:
act accordingly, this can even be different for different players, as long as all are ok with that.

step 3: if someone dies, make sure that the game stays fair, i.e. that the new character is not somewhere behind the old ones (equipment, power, levels), and try to write him into the story so that it makes at least partial sense. that way, death loses some of its fright. also, keep in mind that the raise dead ritual, while expensive, is not really hard to come by. so if someone insists on coming back, all you need is to sell one or two of his items, or have the part pay for him.

---
i only pull punches when the encounter was overpowered. stupid heroes deserve to die. however, i do not use CDGs or attack dying players unless it's an especially hideous monster.
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56767308 wrote:
Sadly, I don't think this has anything to do with wanting Next to be a great game. It has to do with wanting Next to determine who won the Edition War. [...] For those of us who just want D&D Next to be a good game, this is getting to be a real drag.
57870548 wrote:
I think I figured it out. This program is a character builder, not a character builder. It teaches patience, empathy, and tolerance. All most excellent character traits.
I agree with letting them go when you realize the homebrew encounter you playtested in your head goes awry and the monsters are just too strong. For example, though the encounter was appropiate in the way that the enemies were of the same level and number as the PCs, the artillery units behind cover would've made more than short work of the off-guard heros had I not intervened a little bit.

My general rule:

-If it's something they decide independently to do and know the risks of, let the dice fall.

-If you're forcing them into it or trying something you aren't sure of, be a little wary.

If you need help setting up encounters: having multiple easier ones back to back can provide the challenge of balancing resources and incoming damage, I think this is how 4e functions best, rather than any one hard encounter being able to kill them off with a few lucky shots.

3.x has a variety of articles and discussion on this that you can search for, i wouldn't be much help



I would like to pose a question as well: how do you handle death with a character that has had alot of painstaking backstory put into them by the player? A pregen cardboard cutout doesn't provide much sympathy, but an orphan boy turned hero leaving his quest unfinished because he got eaten by a big beetle in a cave leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
I would like to pose a question as well: how do you handle death with a character that has had alot of painstaking backstory put into them by the player? A pregen cardboard cutout doesn't provide much sympathy, but an orphan boy turned hero leaving his quest unfinished because he got eaten by a big beetle in a cave leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

a) there's always raise dead. let him sit out for a session or two, put in an npc or replacement character, while they figure out how or where to do this. most of the time, works like a charm. in some campaigns, this would not work - but in that case, you'd be better off not sending overpowered non-quest-related monsters at them.

b) bad stuff happens - all the time. backstory should not be a "get out of jail for free" card, however i understand the distress that's happening there. we kinda have an unspoken agreement, that you can't die on the first one or two levels of play. later, well, see above.
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56767308 wrote:
Sadly, I don't think this has anything to do with wanting Next to be a great game. It has to do with wanting Next to determine who won the Edition War. [...] For those of us who just want D&D Next to be a good game, this is getting to be a real drag.
57870548 wrote:
I think I figured it out. This program is a character builder, not a character builder. It teaches patience, empathy, and tolerance. All most excellent character traits.
Asking the players for their opinion seems like a nice way to proceed. I also liked this:
My general rule:

-If it's something they decide independently to do and know the risks of, let the dice fall.

-If you're forcing them into it or trying something you aren't sure of, be a little wary.

Thanks for your opinions.
IMO in general you should just about always find some way out for your PCs as long as they are:

a. roleplaying well, and
b. doing the best they can.

DnD is an RPG, not a strategy wargame. If you want to play it like the latter, disregard what I say of course. Personally, I prefer role-playing, and from a player's perspective it often takes a few adventures to really grok one's character. If you keep killing guys off, it can get hard to get into *any* character you're running. The final object of the game is to have fun, after all. There's this adversarial nature some DMs seem to have (and, in fairness, a lot of players have as well) that just doesn't strike me as congruent with the concept of an RPG. You're collaborating on a story, not setting up obstacles for the "opponents" to knock down, or to demonstrate how clever you are.

That being said, if guys are powergaming and/or seem to be taking advantage of the fact that you fudge die rolls when they need food badly, you can probably kill someone without a lot of compunction. Also, sometimes PCs will roleplay themselves into a situation where they more or less *have* to die. I remember having a much-loved character in a Talislanta campaign I was in (yes, Talislanta) who was offered some sort of immortality in exchange for accepting a bargain with a demon. In character, I refused and the demon killed my Sindarin. It sucked that I had to create a new dude to play (a priest of Jamba if memory serves), but the old characters' exploits and ending were a major story in that campaign until it ended.

Also, it stands to mention that there are many, many things short of death that you can do to the PCs that will get the point across. After a TPK, have them wake up as captives of the monsters that killed them, or sold into slavery, without weapons and only the ability to improvise their way out of this mess. Or take a guy's character sheet and have the character come back as a recently-raised NPC a few sessions later (your choice as to whether or not to allow the original player to play him again - maybe the character is done with adventuring, or maybe they turned evil). Have a much-loved minion or familiar leap in front of the killing blow. Or make the character suffer a debilitating disease or loss of a limb that can only be cured by going on a special quest. A power-gamer might hate that last option, but a real role-player who was super-into their player would *love* the tension and conflict.
Write on a sheet of paper, a series of strikes. Tell them eventually they run out of strike - when, who knows. So best not to rack up more strikes aye, because when they do, their just dead.

"In the game there is magic" - Orethalion

 

Only got words in my copy.

To the question, when they ask to die. I actually had this a few weeks ago. Don't be afraid to kill a particular PC if a player asks for it. Now, he did replace his character with a doppelganger bard that stole his identity without the party knowing as he killed his character off screen. However, if someone wants to do this, look at the character they want to replace their previous one with. If it is an attempt to over power their character, don't allow it, but if someone is unhappy playing their character, it's better to allow the death so they will enjoy the game more. Now if they try something like the above, make it come back to bite them in the rear.
Whatever happened to parties knowing when to retreat? If they're dying, it's their own fault.
I will let a player know when his PC's next roll could be his last. I will also ask him if he's okay with losing the character on this gamble. If he is, I have a stack of generated characters ready to go. He can sort through the gallery while the "new guy" gets written into the story. If he's not okay with it but has no real choice but to make the roll (like the bridge is collapsing into the lava below and it's not going to be an easy jump to the ledge), a little Deus Ex Machina is in line.

Bear in mind, I'd never subject my players to "Your god still has work for you, so he extends his divine hand down to lift you to safety." Nah, I'd rather pull a "As you realize that you aren't going to make it and begin your plunge to the molten river below, the deafening flap of wings fills your ears, even above your own girlish screams. Large talons wrap around you and an ear-piercing shriek fills the air. It's not you. You are in the claws of an enormous bird of prey. You have the feeling that this is no savior. There are probably hungry nestlings where you're going." This gives the PC a situation from which he has a better chance of escaping than the save-or-die scenario. His party may do all they can to follow the giant bird, or I may have to set up a quick one-on-one. Sometimes I can run the two scenes simultaneously: "Uffy, Spazz, and Felis, you guys have found some horses. They're pretty spooked, trying to get away from the terrible heat radiating from the lava. Stormy, you've been unceremoniously dropped into a large nest where three hungry, beaked maws are opened wide and starting to lunge at you." I usually find that everyone is so concerned about their own situations that they don't metagame with info the one lost party member is receiving.
Well first off, as a DM, I have a bit of a reputation as a PC killer, especially at lower levels. So that's the context of what I have to say...

I don't seek to kill PCs, I really don't enjoy it much. But it enriches the game experience enough that I feel it's important. The threat of dying is part of the game...why is adventuring interesting when you can't die, and you can't lose? There is no challenge in the game, and the story stagnates, so in comes death.

One of the hard parts of player death is how to deliver the news. Something like this...

*PC is at 9 HP*
*PC swings at orc raider, attack of 11, miss*
*Turns continue*
*Orc attacks PC, deals 12 damage*
*PC falls over, five turns pass*
*PC fails last save*

Now, at this point, the DM has to deliver the verdict...does the PC live? At it really is up to DM discretion which way it goes. I find when it comes down to the wire, I just come right out and say it. "...and PC is gone, he stops breathing visibly". But there are situations when you would want to avoid this...

If you think there is a good psychological reason to spare the character (a player is overattached of such), you might consider sparing them. The game isn't worth hurting someone over.

It's important to set the context about PC death early, as in before the game starts. Explain how death will go, what the player can do to rejoin the game, etc.. Once the ruling is made, pregame, be consistent with it.

If the PC death is the fault of poor DM planning, or an unlikely event, or it damages the story, or even if it feels tacky, show some mercy. For example, in the movie Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (terrible movie), it begins with the ending of the original, and all of the original characters are present. For no reason, as soon as the film starts rolling, one of the main characters is killed, just thrown away. Regardless of opinion of the character and what not, it was a waste and it was a pointless scene. The PCs are the heroes and focus of the story...if their death is a throwaway, it's meaningless.

But sparing PC death sets a tone for the game, one you will be forced to live with throughout the game. If you let PCs live, it will be expected as the game goes on. So you pretty much have to decide which way you want to go.

As usual, the "fun" disclaimer applies. If not dying is fun for your group, run with it.
One thing to remember is; sometimes people just suck at tactics. D&D might be a roleplaying game, but with several handbooks devoted to what each character can do on the battlefield, it is clearly a game rooted in strategy and tactics as well. If your players are enjoying the game you might try these tricks that I have used in the past when my players weren't so savvy when it came to surviving a fight:

Give monsters less hit points. If it only takes two hits to drop a beastie instead of four, your PC's will have a better chance of walking away at the end of the encounter. Use minions too. Minions are a great invention. Sprinkle them in with your soldiers and brutes. Nothing makes a player smile like seeing his/her enemies' broken bodies strewn about the field.

Let them find healing goodies like potions throughout the adventure. make sure they use them. I once gave a player a wand of Cure Light Wounds in a game along with some potions of curing and he tried to hoard them. I advised him to use them up and he got the message. The party did very well from then on.

Fudge rolls behind the screen. Not every one, just what would be a killing blow. Nerf the damage on your greataxe-wielding orcs and your players might have some interesting stores to tell at the tavern later on instead of waking up in the temple with an apologetic look on their faces. Save the natural 20's for when the party is at full hit points.

Make stupid monsters act stupidly. Brutes charge right in. Controllers and artillery run when faces with stiff opposition (only to regroup later of course). remember that the kobold slinger probably wants to live to fight another day. They don't all have to be sword fodder for the PC's.

Have a high level NPC become the benefactor of the players. He could cast buffing spells on them before they go on their quests or give them a potion or one-shot item that helps them out. He might even raise them from the dead if all goes bad.

I hope this was helpful?
Everyone has said great things for actual campaigns--I have nothing to contest about that since everyone seems to be in general agreement.

However, what about quick games, like one-shots? I know for some people, life is still important in the story. The best example would be playing through with some former characters at a much higher level. I would assume that most players would prefer to avoid the death of their character in that situation.

Right now, I'm running a "one shot" *cough*its taken three sessions! *cough* at 26th level. My players aren't expecting their characters to do anything special and this game is a chance for myself and the others to experience the new monsters from the MM2 and test some of the new classes that we've not tried from the PHB2. In fact, its become a game to them whether they'll die or not. So far, I've brutalized them quite horribly with some long battles and some pretty neat traps I found, but they've yet to experience the boss. (I'd elaborate, but it'd likely give away the plot to them, since they lurk here) Its my job in this particular game to kick their sorry asses, and i'm proud to do it.

Isn't that what one-shots are about?
Well a one-shot is whatever you and your players want it to be. If your Players are okay with an adversarial type of game (DM vs. Players) then have at it. Just remember that in a game like that the DM will always win. You have two books full of monsters that you can sic on the players and you can always create NPC's from the player's handbooks. You can send an infinite number of critters against them and sooner or later every minion rolls a critical hit, so you, the DM will always end up "winning".
"If he dies, he dies." Ivan Drago
You can always use encounters of a less lethal level...

Vatras

 

Having PCs get rescued by some NPCs can be done well. Instead of a Deus Ex Machina, have the NPC expect a favor in return, something the players don't necessarily want to do.
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I think PCs should be responsible for their own fate, that means I won't take away their accomplishments (even if their ideas circumvent my plans as DM) and I won't take away their failures either. That said, PC defeat should be a setback - not the end of the story (that isn't fun for anyone).

If a single PC is going to die, I usually let it happen. Raise dead is always a possibility as is bringing in a replacement character. However, TPKs have a way of grinding the entire campaign to a complete halt and ending everyones fun. To counter this, I try to design encounters (particularly ones that I will be near the upper end of difficulty) with a possible out built in. The villains might have a reason to capture the players, flee before finishing them off, or have some other means of keeping the party alive. Of course, their defeat still has to have consequences but their are many options other then death (loss of allies, destruction of a home base, the big bad gets stronger, shame, etc...)
I just don't know when to let them die.

That's easy:
a) When they run out of HP
b) When they fail enough death saves.
c) When the dice say they do.
d) If they do something really stupid/silly.
e) When there's no chance of casting any of the rez spells, using the ritual, etc. - either because the players who'd be casting such things refuse to do so, can't themselves, haven't actually brought the body back.....
f) if the player secifically states he doesn't want to be restored.
The only time that I will ever fudge the dice to "let" a character die is when I make a mistake and put them up against an encounter that is too difficult for them. If the dice are against them or if the players do something stupid then when their hit points cross the "death threshold" then they are dead.

Also, on a slightly different tack, if a character does die one alternative option for the player for the rest of the session is to run some of your monsters for you. It gives them something to do until the end of the session.
Gygaxian is NOT a slur. Those who use it as such should be punched in the face. Repeatedly.
That's easy:
a) When they run out of HP
b) When they fail enough death saves.
c) When the dice say they do.
d) If they do something really stupid/silly.
e) When there's no chance of casting any of the rez spells, using the ritual, etc. - either because the players who'd be casting such things refuse to do so, can't themselves, haven't actually brought the body back.....
f) if the player secifically states he doesn't want to be restored.

I basically agree with this.

As a DM I do not set up situations that are "unfair" as far as the rules are concerned, so I feel no need to worry about the outcome of the dice rolls.

But then, when the party is getting hammered by their bad planning, bad luck, or a string of strange circumstances - I just keep going with it, and if they end up with dead characters I would be the first guy to ask "So, why not retreat?"

There are a lot of options open for the players to keep their character's alive, and it's not actually difficult for the DM to run the game in a way that gives the PCs a better than 50/50 chance of surviving any given situation (which is how I run things) - so whenever the dice & rules talk it over and say "oh, that's a dead character." Then that is a dead character.

I have one player that develops great amounts of back story for his characters, including frequently comissioning artists to render his character - and when one of his characters die, he makes another... so when one of my players that does less to show they are "into" their character happens to have a character die (which is actually pretty rare in my games - I have been running an average of 2 games a week for 4 years with this group, and have only had 4 characters die) they get nothing more from me than "Care to make another?"

ATTENTION:  If while reading my post you find yourself thinking "Either this guy is being sarcastic, or he is an idiot," do please assume that I am an idiot. It makes reading your replies more entertaining. If, however, you find yourself hoping that I am not being even remotely serious then you are very likely correct as I find irreverence and being ridiculous to be relaxing.

Ok, I'm facing a small problem in the table I'm DMing. And that's the death threat. One or twice I had to let the PCs survive an encounter they were going to fatally lose, due to some bad strategies from them, and some overpowered encounters from me (the encounters were about 4 or 5 levels above them). I don't want the PCs to die, but I also don't want to erase completely the death threat. I just don't know when to let them die. So, any of you have had this kind of problem? What would you do?

Forget about the death threat; it's a bad idea because it's equally punishing you by screwing with your campaign, and it's also a bad idea because it's binary - you can only hit your players with it once, after which point they'll stop investing in and caring about any new characters they roll up.

In real life, very few people walk around worrying that they're going to die. I mean, people do, but it's not the central fact of daily life. People worry that they're going to get hurt, that they're going to get permanently damaged, that they'll go blind or get ugly or be crippled or be in pain either temporarily or permanently. They worry they'll look bad in front of people whose opinions they care about, that they won't find love, that they won't get the things they want or get to do the things they want to do. They worry they'll lose possessions they have or have them break. And on top of all that people get irrationally unhappy at being outside their comfort zone.

That gives you about a million and one ways to tax players for bad choices and tactical errors, a million and one ways to make them keen to hold on to what they've got, all of which they will live through and learn through and maintain continuity of your story.

If death is the only glove you've got left to slap your players with your mistakes have been much earlier in your campaign than simply giving the players a battle that was too hard.
Forget about the death threat; it's a bad idea because it's equally punishing you by screwing with your campaign, and it's also a bad idea because it's binary - you can only hit your players with it once, after which point they'll stop investing in and caring about any new characters they roll up.

In real life, very few people walk around worrying that they're going to die. I mean, people do, but it's not the central fact of daily life. People worry that they're going to get hurt, that they're going to get permanently damaged, that they'll go blind or get ugly or be crippled or be in pain either temporarily or permanently. They worry they'll look bad in front of people whose opinions they care about, that they won't find love, that they won't get the things they want or get to do the things they want to do. They worry they'll lose possessions they have or have them break. And on top of all that people get irrationally unhappy at being outside their comfort zone.

That gives you about a million and one ways to tax players for bad choices and tactical errors, a million and one ways to make them keen to hold on to what they've got, all of which they will live through and learn through and maintain continuity of your story.

If death is the only glove you've got left to slap your players with your mistakes have been much earlier in your campaign than simply giving the players a battle that was too hard.

I have to disagree. D&D isn't the exploits of their people next door, it's not a game of ordinary people. It's a game about people who, on an average day, decide to go into dark caves and dungeons and pick fights with brutal beasts with homicidal tendencies. Sure, the baker and merchant NPCs in town don't live with the reality of death. They aren't having battleaxes and maces banged against their heads all day. The life of a PC is not unlike a deployed soldier, in many way (and different in many others). When combat is part of life, fear of dying exists, and is often suppressed, but present.

If PC death is overused, it does lose its sting, but it doesn't happen immediately. I've had enough PCs die, and the general response from players is it's a frustration, or an annoyance, and something to be avoided. It is neither heart breaking, nor "blah". If you are DMing in such a way that newly rolled up PCs are still dropping like flies after PC death, you are doing something very wrong...you are not learning.

Death should never be the only deterrent, but it is still a deterrent.

They worry they'll look bad in front of people whose opinions they care about, that they won't find love, that they won't get the things they want or get to do the things they want to do. They worry they'll lose possessions they have or have them break. And on top of all that people get irrationally unhappy at being outside their comfort zone.

Sounds like you should be writing a new campaign setting..."Heroes of Emo"
Sounds like you should be writing a new campaign setting..."Heroes of Emo"

Check it out in any of the existing WOTC settings (or for that matter, any literature ever). My personal favourite of the official worlds is Dragonlance, so look at the Heroes of the Lance - are any of them worried about death on day to day basis? Not that I can recall. Caramon wants his brother's approval, Tika wants Caramon's approval. Sturm is worried he won't be able to live up to his birthright and his obligations and his honour and that he'll let his friends down. Tanis is worried he'll let his friends down, that he'll let Laurana get hurt, that the Qualinesti will be hurt by the dragon armies. Et cetera.

With the possible exception of Dark Sun, generally characters in any well-realised game are looking to do more than simply survive, and the threat of failing to achieve the things they want should always be a more potent threat than that of death.
This is probably my favorite subject, "Killing PC's".

I have 3 rules for my games that I make clear.

1. The dice fall where they may. I roll in the open because I don't cheat for the players or the monsters.
2. There is no level 0 land. Some things the characters encounter will be able to kill them without trying, learning to run is a good thing(Players have forgotten to be afraid... too much DM coddling) Funny story... I set up a fight that they SHOULD NOT have beaten(need 18+ to hit and lots of special abilities) they party tooled it down in 2 rounds due to a staggering number of crits during the nova round.
3. Don't TRY to kill the PC's. Unless it's important to the plot I won't send things specifially to kill a PC, but if they do something stupid and get surrounded by hobgoblins.... See rule 1.

Because of this... I've killed 1 PC so far, due to hobgoblin pwnage, and not knowing when to retreat. I did a quick conversion of Keep on the borderlands. levels 1-3, with fights including an owlbear, a bunch of hobgoblins, a bunch of bugbears, a medusa... only managed to kill one PC despite it all... ah good times.

Additional: I HATE the deus ex machina BS that happens in some games... Unless it was previously planned I don't want/need to be saved. The problem I see is that DM's, more often than not, build massive campaigns around the PC's never really changing. That does lend itself to a more "epic" feel but "plot armor" isn't cool.... The next major plotpoint I have going for my game relies on me running the party into TPK, but it's mostly for plot... not that I'll reaveal that.

Preferences... Not where they should be. Asking someone if they're Trolling you is in violation of section 3 of the Code of Conduct.

If you need help setting up encounters: having multiple easier ones back to back can provide the challenge of balancing resources and incoming damage, I think this is how 4e functions best, rather than any one hard encounter being able to kill them off with a few lucky shots.

I've actually heard opposite advice to this. I've been told 3.5e had a habit of encouraging a sequence of easy fights in order to winnow the players resources down and that such a set-up doesn't work in 4e because encounter powers and at-wills are where most of your power lies and these can't be winnowed down.

I don't know which advice is accurate of course ;)

I'm getting ready to start running my own homebrew adventures. I've run LFR for quite a few months now and so I'm fairly confident I know what makes up a good encounter. HOWEVER I'm not a 100% sure.

As such, I'm pre-writing my adventures and I'm including a variety of encounter make-ups for each fight. Here's an example of what I mean.

XP totals are per player with the assumption that there'll be 5 players.

Level 1 Encounter - Easy (XP 103):
* 3 Zombie Rotters (Monster Manual)
* 4 Ghouls (RPGA: Shades of the Zhentarim)

Level 1 Encounter – Standard (XP 106):
* 4 Zombie Rotters (Monster Manual)
* 3 Zombies (Monster Manual)

Level 2 Encounter – Standard (XP 135):
* 3 Zombies (Monster Manual)
* 2 Skulk Zombies (Open Grave)

Level 4 Encounter – Easy (XP 173):
* 5 Zombie Rotters (Monster Manual)
* 3 Zombies (Monster Manual)
* 2 Skulk Zombies (Open Grave)

--
I'm a bit unsure which make-up to throw at my players. So I've written up 4 different enemy compositions. On the day I can select one based on how well they've done in earlier fights and how much of their dailies are left. If they've completely breezed through the earlier encounters and have most of their dailies, I'll probably throw level 4 at them. I've they've had a really hard time of the game so far, I might throw level 1 Standard at them.

By doing that for every encounter it causes me more work preparing for the adventure. However it gives me more flexibility at the table and hopefully it will be more fun for my players.
With the possible exception of Dark Sun, generally characters in any well-realised game are looking to do more than simply survive, and the threat of failing to achieve the things they want should always be a more potent threat than that of death.

I have a couple problems with this statement

1. There a million things other than "survive," that character in Dark Sun could be looking to do, just like in every other setting out there.

2. Dying is, typically, failing to achieve the things you want

Further, in response to your ideas that character death is bad for a DM's Campaign as well as for the player - Not every writer in the world that is successful uses the same approach, just as not every DM or player takes the same approach to playing D&D.

I write my campaigns around goals - not people. Goals are things that can transcend a single character, and are easy to use to help smooth over transitions between characters. The campaign being about a group of heroes that accomplish [x, where x is a set of sufficiently epic goals] instead of the campaign being about [list of names of heroes that are the PCs] and their adventures - that way if one of the characters dies, or one of the players decides they would like to play a different character, the story has already made the accommodations for the how and why just by the way it is set up.

Also - I have asked each of my players how they would feel if they found out that I was preventing their characters from dying instead of just running the game by setting up "fair fights," and having the dice decide the rest. Unanimously they responded that they would feel cheated, become upset with me, and probably stop allowing me to DM for them.

Each group has their own dynamics, so no universal approach will work.

ATTENTION:  If while reading my post you find yourself thinking "Either this guy is being sarcastic, or he is an idiot," do please assume that I am an idiot. It makes reading your replies more entertaining. If, however, you find yourself hoping that I am not being even remotely serious then you are very likely correct as I find irreverence and being ridiculous to be relaxing.

1. There a million things other than "survive," that character in Dark Sun could be looking to do, just like in every other setting out there.

Sorry, we're in agreement. That's how I'd run Dark Sun too. It's just I've seen a lot of people say that one of the unique things about Dark Sun is how large the margin between survival and extinction looms, and I was giving a nod to the idea that sometimes that's actually an attraction to a game. Outside that setting, though, it shouldn't normally be the default position.

2. Dying is, typically, failing to achieve the things you want

Well, yes, but it's (no pun intended) overkill. It's a final solution - the player has no option to learn from their mistakes; they're heavy-handedly shunted into a new body and instead of being able to pick themselves up and move on and live with the consequences of their actions they're sent back to the start of the character development process and told to "do it again, stupid".

There is, occasionally, a time for the bludgeon, but that time is exceedingly rare, and in almost every situation it is the subtle knife whose edge prevails.

Further, in response to your ideas that character death is bad for a DM's Campaign as well as for the player - Not every writer in the world that is successful uses the same approach, just as not every DM or player takes the same approach to playing D&D.

Well, yes, but clearly the OP is in my camp or he wouldn't be agonising over killing characters, he'd just be nuking them left and right. The hesitation to kill a character stems from the fact that you yourself will reap a negative consequence, either by the disruption of your game or the disruption of your friendship. Why use the option that draws your own blood when there's so many better tools that don't?

I write my campaigns around goals - not people.

Punching at this one tends to start an argument that has no winners, only losers - but I can't help it. If your game isn't about people, it's not a story, it's a history, and it's not roleplaying, it's re-enactment.

And damn it, there's no such thing as a fair fight when the DM is balancing the encounters. There's only fights; fairness is as much a narrative illusion as character and conversation. Every character death lies directly at the feat of the DM who put that monster into the encounter; the DM's entirely responsible for deciding the severity and frequency of threats, and in making that decision he's making a judgement as to acceptable PC casualties. To say, "there's a 5% chance of a PC dieing in this encounter" is the same thing as to say, "I will kill a PC every 20 encounters". It's DM fiat disguised behind dice, and to claim otherwise is a kind of deceit.

Probability's an understandable beast and the DM who won't own up to taming it can plead only ignorance or malice as his defence. If you know odds then you know how long it will take for a possibility to become a practical certainty and when that interval is longer than the length of your campaign then it's something you have deliberately and specifically decided will occur.

And finally, seeing as I'm sticking my chin out for a punch in any case, to everyone who likes playing this way, it's fantastic that you're having fun with your game, and I love that you're exploring that strange new gamespace that you've discovered out there, and I can only hope that eventually you'll come over here to our side and try out roleplaying. Also, tell yo mama I said hi. :D
Always and brutally! "I step through the door" "You fail to notice the spike trap, you die!"
"I open the treasure chest" "You fail to notice the hidden trap, a poison dart hits you in the neck and you die!"
"I attack the Kobold with my sword" "He summons a dragon who eats you whole"
"I walk into the magical portal" "You get incinerated"


Players get it too easy these days.
What would you do?

Sometimes the PCs run out of hit points and then their journey is over.

On the issue of player character deaths, you should first determine what your group, as a whole, thinks of it. Most players I know prefer the risk of their characters dying since that makes the rewards they reap all the more rewarding. So I tend to let the dice fall where they may. Other groups I know of find think their characters is what makes the game fun, so losing their character would have a significant negative impact.

Assuming that they both want the risk and have character deaths be less of a set-back, I suggest you stop holding back and let the PCs die. You should, however, have mechanisms in lace to allow the players to get back into the action.

* Ressurections are a straight forward way to get the same character back into play. It makes the game a bit more laike a video game and strains the suspension of disbelief, but it may be just the thing you need.

* Protegés - have each player maintain a back-up character that can step in if the main character dies. The main character can siphon off gold and items during play to his protegé as needed. Just keep the protegé a level or two below the main character.

The real trick, however, is to make your campaign story independent of the PCs. By this I mean that even though the PCs are the prime driving factor of the campaign, a total PC wipe-out should not spell the end of the campaign. The players should be able to pick up the pieces in some fashion.

-DF
Sorry, we're in agreement.

That's cool, I didn't exactly think that we weren't... just that your statement was too easy to interepret as being that Dark Sun only allows for characters to care about surviving.

Well, yes, but it's (no pun intended) overkill. It's a final solution - the player has no option to learn from their mistakes

The player has every option to learn from their mistakes - it is the character that does not (barring that the character be returned from the dead or played into the afterlife).

Well, yes, but clearly the OP is in my camp or he wouldn't be agonising over killing characters, he'd just be nuking them left and right.

I would not say that it is clear which camp the OP is in - it seemed more to me he was trying to see what camp options he had available, so as to be able to decide which one he belonged in.

Also - you seem to be painting the issue as only having two outcomes: one, which you have declared your camp, where PCs are never actually going to die because you have given them "plot armor." and the other, in which characters die so often that "nuking them left and right," seemed to be an appropriate phrase to use.

That is just wrong. I, and I am sure others as well, have run games for years and years (13 in my case) making sure that there is some chance of character death, but not too much (My specifics typically give around a 60-70% chance that the PCs make it through the encounter with no PC dying) and, despite how you say "the PCs have a 5% chance to die" is equal to "I will kill a PC every 20 fights," I can count out the number of character deaths in games I have DMed on my hands (the number is 9 actually, 9 ever in the span of 13 years with at least 1 game every week) - which I would say is hardly something I would describe as "nuking characters left and right."


If your game isn't about people, it's not a story, it's a history, and it's not roleplaying, it's re-enactment.

My game is about people - people that are attempting to accomplish a goal, which happens to be the focal point of the writing portion of things.

I do not write assuming that Bob, Nancy, Wizelwyx, Kran, and Doog are going to be the 5 characters that do everything to accomplish the goals that the story centers around - I write assuming that some adventurers are going to be the character that accomplish the goals the story centers around.

Two notes here: 1)Role-playing is not defined as "telling a story about people," it is defined as "portraying a specific character(s)" so campaign writing cannot actually prevent it, and 2)you can't re-enact something that has never happened before...

And damn it, there's no such thing as a fair fight when the DM is balancing the encounters. There's only fights; fairness is as much a narrative illusion as character and conversation.

I know that you won't see it... but that statement is a bit ridiculous. Because D&D uses clearly defined rules - it is easy to see what is fair, and what is not. For instance - a DM who decides that a 14th level solo (like a dragon) is going to fight his 5 PCs that are all 1st level... has created an unbalanced (which is synonymous with unfair in this case) encounter, where a DM who decides on that same 14th level solo monster for his 5 PCs of 12th-14th has created an encounter that the rules say is balanced (which is synonymous with fair in this case)

Every character death lies directly at the feat of the DM who put that monster into the encounter; the DM's entirely responsible for deciding the severity and frequency of threats

No. The DM, while he is in charge of severity and frequency of threats, is not entirely responsible if a character dies - as the DM is not responsible for how the Player handles the threat, and we all know that more often than not a PC can retreat.

To say, "there's a 5% chance of a PC dieing in this encounter" is the same thing as to say, "I will kill a PC every 20 encounters". It's DM fiat disguised behind dice, and to claim otherwise is a kind of deceit.

The only deceit here is that an absolute is the same thing as a probability. If you want proof that your statement is wrong - roll 1d20 20 times and count out how many 1s you roll... go ahead and roll a few sets of 20 if you would like... if any of them come up to where more than a single 1 showed up, then you should see how "5% chance of death per encounter," and "1 character death every 20 encounters," and not equal.



Probability's an understandable beast and the DM who won't own up to taming it can plead only ignorance or malice as his defence. If you know odds then you know how long it will take for a possibility to become a practical certainty

Probability is understandable - which is how I know what is or is not fair. I think the only real difference between your approach and my approach is that I make the claim that I am running the game in a way that the rules dictate as fair - and doing nothing beyond that to prevent character death - and you are probably doing near the exact same thing - and are claiming it as a method of preventing character death.

If I am wrong, and you do in fact run your game in a way other than how the rules dictate, or are doing something specific to prevent character death - so be it, but I see no reason why.

And finally, seeing as I'm sticking my chin out for a punch in any case, to everyone who likes playing this way, it's fantastic that you're having fun with your game, and I love that you're exploring that strange new gamespace that you've discovered out there, and I can only hope that eventually you'll come over here to our side and try out roleplaying. Also, tell yo mama I said hi. :D

And a few notes here:
1) It's not "strange new gamespace," to play a game as written. There are rules for character death, therefore character death is a part of the game.

2) Characters dying, and players role-playing are not mutually exclusive.

3) Friendly suggestion: watch it with any sentencing containing "Yo mama," as that can be construed as an insult... no point in getting a post deleted for a bit of jest.

ATTENTION:  If while reading my post you find yourself thinking "Either this guy is being sarcastic, or he is an idiot," do please assume that I am an idiot. It makes reading your replies more entertaining. If, however, you find yourself hoping that I am not being even remotely serious then you are very likely correct as I find irreverence and being ridiculous to be relaxing.

but why are your encounters so ridiculously high leveled in relation to the party? i get that if it's a boss battle you want it to be an ecounter a few levels above that of the party but other than that the encounters should be pretty standard. also an encounter doesn't need to be high leveled to be dangerous. clever monster combinations, tactics, and an interesting and active environment can be just as challenging.
That's cool, etc

Okay. You make a good argument, and I'm pretty comfortable that even if I'm right that your playstyle is, on average, sub-optimal, that your players are having a blast because you're someone who's able to back up their strange (wrong) opinions with well-reasoned, intelligent argument.

:D

Regarding probability; the maths come out to, on average, 50 combat encounters a tier, or 150 over the course of a player's journey from level one to thirty. So if your player's chance of death is 5% per combat, tell me that you're not choosing to kill him long before he hits 30.

I mean, this whole argument is, naturally, in the absence of Raise Dead and "once per day, when you die" powers. We're talking about the end of a character, I assume, not just another turn around D&D's revolving door of death? I suppose we should clarify that.

Regarding learning from experience - it's only learning if the player gets to do the same thing again, and do it better. If the character's dead, he's not ever going to get to do that -I've got a whole bunch of mixed metaphors here about burning the same bridge twice because you can't ever go home, but I'm sure you can make your own.

Regarding fair - yes, D&D has the concept of a level-appropriate encounter. It doesn't have the concept of a level-appropriate encounter sequence. How many encounters do you throw at PCs in a row until they rest? How many clues do you give about monster weakness, about upcoming traps, about potential secret doors? Every second of every session, every time you open your mouth, you as DM are making decisions that adjust the difficulty for the players, and very few of them are governed by balance guidelines. The same level-appropriate encounter can be lethal in the hands of one DM and a cakewalk in the hands of another (check out the Irontooth fight in Keep on the Shadowfell).

When a PC dies, of course it's your fault. There is no random element here. Dice are only unpredictable over short courses; by the time you've rolled them through 150 encounters they're damn near the Rock of Gibaltar, staid and unvarying. The PCs are not, no matter how much you wish it, engaging with a cut and dried tactical encounter in full knowledge of all relevant circumstances. They are blind men feeling the elephant, and you as DM are constantly defining the parameters of their interaction with the world.

The DM is, in all practical ways, omnipotent. And with that omnipotence comes responsibility. What happens in your game world is by your will, and that's something you have to own up to. You can mask your choices behind dice, but they're still choices, and when a PC drops dead it's because you decided it would be here, and not some other time.

Also, yo mama. By which I mean that getting a passionate and intelligent response is more important to me in this regard than being right. I know I'm right; I don't need to convince myself. I'm out there looking for someone with the argument that'll prove me wrong. Please don't take a provocative argument as belligerance because that's not what I'm after here.
That's easy:
a) When they run out of HP
b) When they fail enough death saves.
c) When the dice say they do.
d) If they do something really stupid/silly.
e) When there's no chance of casting any of the rez spells, using the ritual, etc. - either because the players who'd be casting such things refuse to do so, can't themselves, haven't actually brought the body back.....
f) if the player secifically states he doesn't want to be restored.

You don't need a full body to perform raise dead, only part of one, like a hand, or a skull.
WoTC has gotten rid of the forums I came to know and love, if you think that the old Gleemax forums should be restored, add this to your signature.
You don't need a full body to perform raise dead, only part of one, like a hand, or a skull.

Thanks for clearing that up...

Anyways, back to the topic at hand, I agree with GregT here. The DM is, as he articulately explains it, essentially omnipotent, and the DM has to own up for the responsibility of character death. Character death should, IMO, be meaningful to the story. Otherwise you are encouraging player detachment from their character. Why should I invest creatively and emotionally in a character if the winds of fate (two crits in a row) will kill that character?

I want my players to be invested in their characters. The problem for some is that if the players don't fear character death, then it takes the edge off the game. But I believe that this is a narrow sighted view, because there is more to the game than life/death. There are most certainly other consequences that hinge on the success or failure of the characters. I think this is what GregT was talking about when he said that there are other things that PCs fear, and fear more frequently than death. The BBEG succeeding in (insert sinister evil scheme) is more interesting and, IMO more punishing than a PC dying. Of course PC death in the right circumstances and for the right reasons can lead to great stories as well. Think Sturm.

I would encourage the OP, and other DMs, to be careful with how you use death in the game. If the player can't resurrect their character, then you are going to effect the players willingness to attach creatively and emotionally with their characters. We always stress how D&D is supposed to be a game about heroes. How heroic is dying to a random mook in some non-climactic combat for no reason other than because the dice fell a 20? It's the players responsibility to make their characters heroes, and it's the DM's job to give those heroes platforms to shine and be heroic. Death by orc crit is not heroic.
I agree with everything GregT said and want to add that just from a having fun playing the game aspect it is so much more *interesting* to put a character through all the enemies, allies, situations, and so on that they've built up through the campaign than to have guys re-roll characters all the time (or even more often than occasionally). Don't get me wrong, I am all about conflict and harmony doesn't have much of a place in a DnD campaign IMO (maybe between some of the PCs, just to heighten the disharmony occurring elsewhere), but there's flat-out more opportunity for conflict on different levels with characters that have been brought up for a while and yes, have a hard time dying than a bunch of red shirts in a lost episode of Star Trek: The Medieval Generation.

I'll go so far as to say that while the first couple adventures in a campaign can be fun in their own right, the real fun stuff starts with player and PC development.

That being said, I agree that obvious deus ex machinas suck. Everybody's going to feel cheated if you bring in the Hand of God as mentioned before, and frankly they'll feel that way if you bail them out with a powerful NPC (although there's a lot of opportunity there to increase PC distress - for example, you have to ask why that guy's in the middle of the dungeon saving a TPK. Is he some overpowered guy dungeon-crawling for kicks? A disciple of the civilization god bent on removing chaos? Seems like a guy who could seriously steal some PC limelight and eventually force some kind of confrontation even if he doesn't have ulterior motives) (see what I mean? Conflict > death). That's where your own creativity has to come in. Just as you're not going to find a lot of kobolds and goblins who will fight a bunch of PCs until the last man dies (except in special circumstances), a lot of monsters should see the advantage in capturing, for example, dying characters. Ransom, for example. It was more common than you might think during the actual medieval period. A lot of knights made their living by capturing nobles in battle and getting paid for letting them return to their domains safely.

And oh yeah, I agree totally that a DM is making a decision to allow random death into the game just as much as they would if they decided to TPK by overpowering an encounter. The attitude kind of reminds me of those government bureaucrats and large business customer service reps who refuse to help you and cite "policy" as why. Okay, that's nice but why do you have the policy? In a sense, it's even worse with a DM because you don't have the threat of losing your job if you don't adhere to it.
Every character death lies directly at the feat of the DM who put that monster into the encounter; the DM's entirely responsible for deciding the severity and frequency of threats, and in making that decision he's making a judgement as to acceptable PC casualties. To say, "there's a 5% chance of a PC dieing in this encounter" is the same thing as to say, "I will kill a PC every 20 encounters". It's DM fiat disguised behind dice, and to claim otherwise is a kind of deceit.

Probability's an understandable beast and the DM who won't own up to taming it can plead only ignorance or malice as his defence. If you know odds then you know how long it will take for a possibility to become a practical certainty and when that interval is longer than the length of your campaign then it's something you have deliberately and specifically decided will occur.

And finally, seeing as I'm sticking my chin out for a punch in any case, to everyone who likes playing this way, it's fantastic that you're having fun with your game, and I love that you're exploring that strange new gamespace that you've discovered out there, and I can only hope that eventually you'll come over here to our side and try out roleplaying.

I'm going to have to give you that punch, though I would buy you a beer afterwards

* Every character death is in the hands of the DM??? I guess, but only if you place all blame on the DM for including sharp objects in his campaign. Nobody dies in Candyland (well, unless they are diabetic...). Good DMs (and yes, I'm of that group that doesn't accept all DMing as good DMing) do not decide by fiat that a character will die OR live. Allowing tactics and dice rolls to determine outcomes maintains the integrity of the game. You can't say that allowing dice rolls to determine outcomes of challenging combats is a form of predetermined execution even though we all know that given a number of fights eventually and inevitably that will happen anymore than you might argue that the NBA is forcing the Lakers to lose a basketball game by making them play enough non-rigged basketball games. Failure is something that we overfear in modern society. Failure can be a gift. It can make us come back better and stronger. No failure means no evolution and worse it means no challenge, and no challenge ultimately means no real fun.

* I plead neither malice nor ignorance, and I reject the notion that I have to put forth a defense. I don't apologize and am unrepentant for characters being killed in my campaigns. In fact, I would argue that I show my players far more respect by not nerfing the world or dice results for them. They are not children that need coddling. The dice may not be fair on a given day, but I always strive to be and that means allowing the results to occur by the book and by the roll.

* Roleplaying is actually enhanced when you have to adapt to the unexpected and when your characters live under a plausible threat. Just because characters die in my campaign (and yes, they do die with a frequency that might alarm others) does not mean we do not strive to tell great tales and to develop dynamic personalities. In fact, enforcing the mortality of characters makes it much more rich and fulfilling.

I'll leave you with this quote --

I'll tell you a secret. Something they don't teach you in your temple. The Gods envy us. They envy us because we're mortal, because any moment might be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we're doomed. You will never be lovelier than you are now. We will never be here again.

--Achilles, Troy
No failure means no evolution and worse it means no challenge, and no challenge ultimately means no real fun.

Why is death in combat the only challenge they can face? Is life/death in combat really the only challenges faced by your players? Why can't they face success/failure in other areas? There are other more interesting story based consequences for failure the players can face than death in combat by a random mook's random double crit. Again, where is the heroics in this?

If I read a story about heroes, and said heroes that I grew attached to died for random unimportant reasons I'd stop being attached to the story and the characters. Random, meaningless, chance deaths for undramatic purposes does not a great story make. If you're looking to run a "fair" tactical combat game then I'd agree with you. But if you want to run a game where the DM and players are working together to create a shared story, then I have to disagree with you.
Why is death in combat the only challenge they can face? Is life/death in combat really the only challenges faced by your players? Why can't they face success/failure in other areas? There are other more interesting story based consequences for failure the players can face than death in combat by a random mook's random double crit. Again, where is the heroics in this?

If I read a story about heroes, and said heroes that I grew attached to died for random unimportant reasons I'd stop being attached to the story and the characters. Random, meaningless, chance deaths for undramatic purposes does not a great story make. If you're looking to run a "fair" tactical combat game then I'd agree with you. But if you want to run a game where the DM and players are working together to create a shared story, then I have to disagree with you.

PCs can die from a lot of non-combat related reasons. They can get poisoned by evil cultists in an inn. They can get buried by land slides. They can fall off walls they attempt to climb. No, combat isn't the only way a PC can come to journey's end. It's just the most likely situation since there will be people or monsters present with a vested interest in taking off his head!

Ok, it's not very heroic to have one's character killed off by a mook. But I really can't muster up any amount of empathy with those that feel that all PC deaths should be heroic. I'd rather see that the PC lived a hero by facing actual threats and, hopefully, overcoming them. A character that defeats an enemy capable of defeating him in turn is a hero. A character that defeats an enemy that is harmless is a bully.

Anyone uncomfortable with putting their characters at risk is welcome to join GregT_314* at the fireplace and take turns in weaving a story. Bring eggnog and a blanket, 'coz it's gonna be cozy!

-DF

*) GregT_314 being picked on here as he is the only person I've ever seen to advocate dice-less RP'ing.
he is the only person I've ever seen to advocate dice-less RP'ing.

I have no problem with diceless RP in D&D, actually. Not in all cases, but it has its place. You might also want to look at any of the White Wolf games...dice are only used in certain situations, most of the game is very free-form.

I do have a bit of an issue with the misunderstanding of what death and the fear of dying are. If I ever get a chance to play in a game with some of the DMs in here, I will immediately charge past the monsters, ignoring any OAs, room by room until I complete whatever quest or mission the party is on, solo...because I know I don't have to fear death. It's just wrong, on many levels. When I start a game with new people, I make the concept of death in the game very clear. It is an important aspect of my games. There is no reason death and fear should ever be the biggest motivators (a PC with a fear of death will most likely never go into a dungeon in the first place, and will be taken with an anxiety disorder making them unlikely to leave their house). PCs are people with an awareness of risk and death, by extension a fear of it, but also a distance from it. They are functionally afraid.

I will take a literary example from Tolkien...Boromir has his confrontation with Frodo, then pulls himself together, and decides to redeem himself. Suddenly a good character with a lot of backstory and depth, potential waiting to be filled. He finds himself in a battle where two characters are in danger. He engages the enemy, only to be shot by a few arrows. Maybe in the imagination of the reader it was a dramatic death, but in telling, it was rather point of fact. It was a very D&D-like death. What would the book have been like, what would Return of the King been like, had Boromir lived? Would it have been as interesting and rich? Would Denethor's story even have made it in if he had lived? It was just a combat death. But it had an impact...it made the danger of the quest even more real.

Contrasting this to the Mortal Kombat throwaway death...this is a very different situation. And I find a good DM is able to know the distinction, and use death positively when needed, and handle it in a way that is not insulting to the characters.

Death has a lot of potential. In my newest game, a PC made the decision, when the party was wounded, to disguise himself and sneak through a monster's lair. He managed to get details on the entire lair for the party before being caught. He was left alone and already battle wounded, and caught using a spell to signal to the party. He was struck without warning when he was spotted, dropping him to 0 HP. I had previously characterized and planned who the leaders in this room were, and what their did, so their reaction to having a dying "spy" in the room was obvious. It meant a PC was executed. Later the PCs return and raid the lair. They find the remains of their friend, which motivates them to finish off the monsters, and pursue their leader. The party now has a motivation to keep the game running, a new PC was introduced to take the old PCs place. If I had spared his death, the adventure would have taken a much different turn of events...one I would consider quite boring.

In an other note on PC death...PC death only occurs in a few cases. One is the DM didn't plan the events well. Another is that the player was not using their powers and abilities well enough, or wasn't following their role. The third is a party not doing their job, a failure in teamwork. Only the first situation I consider worth sparing a PCs life for, in most cases.
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