I was having a discussion with another DM (to be clear I actually haven't been DMing very long) and he told me about a campaign he was running where all his players are super powerful. Now, as DMs it's our job to reign in that sort of game-breaking power, but what he told me next was puzzling as I had never encountered it before: his players told him that they never wanted to die. Okay, okay, I'm sure we've all told our DMs now and again that we would prefer not to die, and some of us have been so attached to our characters that the DM may or may not have fudged a die here or there, but this was different. He said that at the end of one session where one of the player's characters was almost killed they approached him after the game and said that, for the sake of everyone's enjoyment, that they just not die...ever. I know, right? Where do those players get off?
Now, this got me thinking. I know that I'll never tell a player, "Hey, don't worry about dying, I'll never throw anything challenging at you ever," but it got me thinking about where the limit is for the sake of the player's enjoyment. I personally wouldn't be able to enjoy a campaign where I knew my character would never die. Death is part of the excitement of the game, it's actually a pretty big part of the game in my opinion, seeing how long your halfling barbarian can bite people's knees before biting the dust is quite enjoyable and the stories of character deaths are usually quite entertaining (from dying heroically in the depths of hell surrounded by the corpses of demons, to the humorous time your cleric tried to turn that lich) without death the game itself sort of...dies. I make it a point in my campaigns to make ressurection almost impossible. Only high level clerics can do it and even then they need a good reason to. They're not going to bring some random third level dwarf thief back from the dead...why would they? This forces players to really covet their characters because death may come at the next trap, chest or room of monsters. But looking beyond death and its implications, at what point do we measure the rules of the game to the enjoyment of the table? I'll toss a rule out if I think it's not really jiving with the group. That's fine. But if a player tells me, "Hey, healing potions are too expensive. Lower the prices or else I'm no longer going to have fun," then what am I to do?
The DM is always right (except when he's not and the player's assault him and he admits that he was just making stuff up and he buys them a pizza) but there's another golden rule: The players' enjoyment is the DM's main responsibilty. My friend decided that, because the players just didn't want to live with the fact that they might die, that he'd go ahead and let them do whatever they want. Once that cat's out of the bag though imagine the implications. To me it would cease to be a roleplaying game, it would become a computer game where when you die you just respawn with all your stuff and you're just as powerful as you were three seconds ago.
To be clear, I was raised on a deadly kind Dungeons and Dragons with unforgiving DMs and I was perfectly okay with that. We got used to death after awhile. In fact, I died more than anyone else and it became sort of a running gag. But in the midst of all that death there were some who survived. Getting to a high level was an accomplishment and the fact that death could come at any moment, around any corner (with completely random encounters) turned you into someone who was passionate about your character and when he/she did die you certainly felt it. Those who reached the pinnacle, level 20, were exhalted and became legends, in and out of the game, and it was a rule that once you reached that point you were granted demi-god status and would ascend into the great unknown.
Without death...what's the point? If you know you're going to make it out of the dragon's lair alive then who cares about all the treasure that's inside. Loot is there to make your life easier as an adventurer but how much easier could it get than being immortal?
Also, players' enjoyment is rather important but what about the DMs enjoyment? I love designing dungeons with deadly traps and monsters but if my players don't like the challenge then...yawn...here's encounter after encounter of low level goons. Rinse. Repeat. I guess at the root of this is really player's whining about stuff. There are sometimes legitimate gripes about the mechanics of the game or maybe not enjoying a certain feature of your class so you want to swap it with something else, I get that, that's fine, but whining about the fact that you haven't gotten a magic item in a while, or stuff costs to much, or why can't we just teleport to the dungeon, or I'm not going to do that cause I might die are things I really can't agree with. You can't raise the gold for that +2 Elven Chainmail? Go steal it. That's an adventure. You're tired of walking everywhere? Maybe there's a tale of an ancient airship buried in the deserts to the south if you just do some investigating. I'm not behind the screen to shower my players with magic items and rewards all night so they feel better, but I'm also not going to say that what they want isn't impossible to have, they just need to pursue it. Hell, if they want immortality I'm sure I can come up with an adventure for that as well, but I'm not going to give it to them because they don't want to deal with dying.
Well, anyway, I thought I talk about this cause I found it interesting - not just about the whole "death" situation but what DMs do to try and make the game enjoyable and where to draw the line.