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Beagle

Death and Injuries to PCs in RPGs

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Death, injury, etc (referred hereafter collectively as "bad things") should be present.  The amount should be fair, but the balance is hard to get. 

 

Fair means that a character played smartly should have better odds (this is the choice part of the equation) but random dice rolls can still be nasty.  This, IMO, is "acceptable risk" and not worth complaining over.  Playing well should help mitigate bad things, but bad things can still happen.  That's why most people in the world don't take the risks of being an adventurer.

 

But if a game is too deadly, then clever players are going to adapt.  I was one of these in AD&D.  I was helped somewhat by the reluctance of other players to play clerics, and made a show of protesting being stuck with the role, but secretly I didn't mind.  As the healer, and a standard cleric or better (if splatbook options were allowed) then I had all the cure, good armor, and a whole party of meat shields.  Odds of survival increase.

 

I would also never get greedy about treasure division.  Money wasn't that important to me, magic items designed for a cleric would come to me anyway, and when other people croaked I'd get some of their good stuff (usually protective) anyway. 

 

If I acquired magic items I would use them very sparingly - mostly so the DM would forget I had them until I needed them.  If you play like you're magic-poor then it throws off the gauge and makes me appear weaker than I actually am. 

 

This was a successful way to play, but not a fun way to play.  In order to get anywhere I had to play against the DM and use trickery (without cheating) to gain an edge.  I mean, I tried my best to roleplay well in addition to this - but I was compelled to factor in survival advantages in order to live long enough to have something worth investing effort in. 

 

To their credit, an assortment of house rules got introduced to mitigate the worst effects - but I always felt that each one moved us a step further from the heart of the game, and we would have been better served with a better balance of risk instead.  Of course, for that to work we may have also required a better class of player, which was always the failing of that game.  We had some good ones, but there was always that one idiot who made a mess of things. 

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2 minutes ago, buglips*the*goblin said:

Death, injury, etc (referred hereafter collectively as "bad things") should be present.  The amount should be fair, but the balance is hard to get. 

 

Fair means that a character played smartly should have better odds (this is the choice part of the equation) but random dice rolls can still be nasty.  This, IMO, is "acceptable risk" and not worth complaining over.  Playing well should help mitigate bad things, but bad things can still happen.  That's why most people in the world don't take the risks of being an adventurer.

 

I think I'd have to agree with this. Being an adventurer is tough work, yo! 

 

In my DM experience, I've found that injury and death don't annoy players nearly as much as screwing with their gear/loot (E.g., "Oh look! a Rust Monster for you to kill!") :devil:

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7 hours ago, Dilvish the Deliverer said:

There is a phrase that comes to mind: The stupid shall be punished...

 

I would like to say that this is true. I was playing the son of Loki in a Psion game. We were fighting a Hydra, the miles long, world ending kind. Uncle Thor sent a Valkyrie with a pair of monster killing assassin daggers for me. My dumb face, sees his chance for glory, grabs the daggers and jumps down the Hydra's throat, thinking 'Look out Valhalla! Here I come!' Kills the Hydra, then looks around and realizes that he is about to be buried. The game master had specifically mentioned that cars had fallen down in the Hydra hole. Using the gasoline I was able to make a big enough fire to use my fire jump power to jump back up to the city, where I had made other fires for this purpose. Neither I nor the GM could convince the character that he was not basically immortal after that. Not that he couldn't die (the Valkyrie hung around ready to drag him off to Valhalla at a moment's notice), but that he wouldn't.

 

He should have died several times. It was never written down, but the strongest influence he got from his dad was the unnatural ability to get himself out of whatever trouble he caused. 

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So, we had our big battle at the end of Curse of Strahd last night.  Due to proper preparation, and small unit tactics that would make a SEAL Team proud, Strahd was handily defeated.  Adventure League sheets were updated and loot was parted out.  Then non-AL clone sheets were brought out and Strahd Avatar of the Dark Gods appeared (in a "but you have not yet seen my final form" way).  This was a true nail biting, edge of the seat final battle.  THIS Strahd could bite and Drain for 20-30 hp (and reduce your max hp by the same).  His lair action could gen up a one round magic nullification field.  the room split apart and floated in a negative energy void and outer sections of the floor would fade away every round.  Of the six characters, 4 of them went unconscious at various times, the Eldritch Knight 3-4 times and he got thrown out into the void unconscious (luckily we ruled that he stayed flying even unconscious as I was the one concentrating on the spell).  We finally defeated Strahd with the EK on his 2nd failed death save and the Wild Magic Sorcerer unable to speak and blowing bubbles (his wild magic went off early in the fight and pretty much side lined him except if he spend sorcery points for subtle spell metamagic).

 

The first, by the book, battle didn't seem challenging or as fun because we didn't feel as if death was a strong possibility.  The second encounter, where we were having to make DC 20 saves every round, seeing the mainline fighters going Chumbawumba and having a hard limit before the ground literally disappeared beneath our feet was much more exciting, and rewarding when we finally prevailed.

 

TLDR; the chance of death increased my enjoyment of the game. 

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16 hours ago, buglips*the*goblin said:

Death, injury, etc (referred hereafter collectively as "bad things") should be present.  The amount should be fair, but the balance is hard to get. 

 

Fair means that a character played smartly should have better odds (this is the choice part of the equation) but random dice rolls can still be nasty.  This, IMO, is "acceptable risk" and not worth complaining over.  Playing well should help mitigate bad things, but bad things can still happen.  That's why most people in the world don't take the risks of being an adventurer.

 

But if a game is too deadly, then clever players are going to adapt.  I was one of these in AD&D.  I was helped somewhat by the reluctance of other players to play clerics, and made a show of protesting being stuck with the role, but secretly I didn't mind.  As the healer, and a standard cleric or better (if splatbook options were allowed) then I had all the cure, good armor, and a whole party of meat shields.  Odds of survival increase.

 

I would also never get greedy about treasure division.  Money wasn't that important to me, magic items designed for a cleric would come to me anyway, and when other people croaked I'd get some of their good stuff (usually protective) anyway. 

 

If I acquired magic items I would use them very sparingly - mostly so the DM would forget I had them until I needed them.  If you play like you're magic-poor then it throws off the gauge and makes me appear weaker than I actually am. 

 

This was a successful way to play, but not a fun way to play.  In order to get anywhere I had to play against the DM and use trickery (without cheating) to gain an edge.  I mean, I tried my best to roleplay well in addition to this - but I was compelled to factor in survival advantages in order to live long enough to have something worth investing effort in. 

 

To their credit, an assortment of house rules got introduced to mitigate the worst effects - but I always felt that each one moved us a step further from the heart of the game, and we would have been better served with a better balance of risk instead.  Of course, for that to work we may have also required a better class of player, which was always the failing of that game.  We had some good ones, but there was always that one idiot who made a mess of things. 

 

Danger in games can sometimes act like "Raising the Stakes" in writing.  It can create a deeper involvement, but it can also be done gratuitously because the GM or writer thinks it's necessary and that without it everything will be boring.  But often the opposite is the case.

 

One of the games I'm playing in now is a variant of Shadowrun.  The first adventure of which was extremely bloody and dangerous.  Since then we have worked very hard to avoid direct battles in the game.  The GM will set up a dangerous objective and we will spend most of the session working out ways to accomplish a goal that is close enough to the goal or solves the underlying problem of which the goal is only one possible solution without getting anywhere near what he's set up.

 

Sometimes the GM expresses frustration with this, but he enjoys doing this, and besides, we learned this lesson about him many years ago.

 

<Digression>

The same GM was running a game of Champions a long time ago.  He also loves making mazes.  He came to the session with a huge maze full of enemies and traps.  And we kind of felt obliged to go through it because of the work he had done.  It turned out that the whole thing could be circumvented easily and he had just made the maze for the fun of it.

 

<Digression within Digression>

As a player he's been known to do the same sort of thing.  Again, years ago I was running a high fantasy type game with home brewed rules.  His character was fated to marry a particular NPC, but his family and hers (both deep magical lineages with non-human ancestors) had been feuding for centuries.  So her relatives set him a fairy tale style quest to obtain the materials for and make her wedding dress.  He dutifully wrote down the long, complex, mythic requirements they had set.  Then he turned to his bride to be and said, "Would white satin do?"  and she replied "That would be lovely."

Best short-circuit ever.

</Digression within Digression>

</Digression>

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I suppose that, to some extent, we have to step up to what the GM has planned otherwise we move swiftly from game to real life.

 

Gandalf the Wizard arrives at Frodo Baggins home and explains that his uncle's ring is an item of potent evil and Sauron the Dark Lord of Mordor, will do anything to obtain it and conquer Middle Earth. Gandalf tells Frodo that he must journey to Rivendell where they will consult with the mighty Elf Lord Elrond.

"Sod that" says Frodo, and flings the ring into a nearby pond "I'm off for some lunch, You coming?"

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I like my players to know that I don't set out to deliberately kill their PCs, and that I might rescue their PCs from just plain bad luck killing them off (unless the story is better with the death).   But that despite that, I absolutely WILL NOT protect their PCs from themselves. If you make a stupid decision that gets your PC killed, then they're dead.  That includes stepping into obviously dangerous situations beyond your abilities, failing to retreat when you're close to death, etc. 

I think over the 40 years I've been DMing, I've killed 7 PCs total.  Five of those were in a TPK that happened in like the 3rd or 4th session of a new campaign with people I'd just met for that campaign.  In that one, I explained to the players how stupid their decisions had been, what warnings I had given them that they had missed/ignored, and then gave the group a choice of either all rolling brand new PCs, or I would work it into the story to bring their PCs all back.  They chose second option, and the campaign lasted for another 3 years.  One of the most satisfying moments of that campaign came much later when a new player had been with the group a few sessions, and the PCs encountered what was basically a "door to hell" with all sorts of dire warnings about how dangerous it was.    The new player kept insisting "the DM wouldn't put a door there for us if it was too dangerous for our PCs"  and the other (now-experienced with my DMing) players nearly yelling "Oh yes he would!" 

The other two PCs were killed in a Traveller firefight they never should have started - even the other players were calling the players stupid for trying it. 

But even though I've only killed off those few of dozens, maybe even hundreds of PCs to grace my campaigns, almost every PC in my games has come close to death more than once, and were saved by the actions of the player(s). 

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2 hours ago, Beagle said:

I suppose that, to some extent, we have to step up to what the GM has planned otherwise we move swiftly from game to real life.

 

Gandalf the Wizard arrives at Frodo Baggins home and explains that his uncle's ring is an item of potent evil and Sauron the Dark Lord of Mordor, will do anything to obtain it and conquer Middle Earth. Gandalf tells Frodo that he must journey to Rivendell where they will consult with the mighty Elf Lord Elrond.

"Sod that" says Frodo, and flings the ring into a nearby pond "I'm off for some lunch, You coming?"

Almost, but not quite, the plot of Bored of the Rings.

5'11"s your height.

180's your weight.

You cash in your chips.

Around page 88.

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2 hours ago, Beagle said:

I suppose that, to some extent, we have to step up to what the GM has planned otherwise we move swiftly from game to real life.

 

Gandalf the Wizard arrives at Frodo Baggins home and explains that his uncle's ring is an item of potent evil and Sauron the Dark Lord of Mordor, will do anything to obtain it and conquer Middle Earth. Gandalf tells Frodo that he must journey to Rivendell where they will consult with the mighty Elf Lord Elrond.

"Sod that" says Frodo, and flings the ring into a nearby pond "I'm off for some lunch, You coming?"

 

I like giving my players the option of answers like this. 

 

Gandalf wanders off in a huff to find someone else to save the world. Things in the shire get steadily worse as they have to fend off attacks by nazguls and orcs. Maybe someone gets kidnapped; maybe saruman shows up, who knows? And now I want to write that. :rolleyes:

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At our D&D table, death and maiming (of the PC's) is rather common. The DM's don't usually pull punches, they allow the players to go wherever they want and do whatever they want. Some areas are not meant to be visited and some things are not meant to be fought throughout the worlds. It's the PC's who decide where they want to go, what they want to do, and who they want to try to tangle with. There's always an option to run away and live to fight another day if you get in over your head, or try to be dogged about it and muscle through a situation. 

 

In my current game it's a bit different - all the PC's are demigods, they were gods before mortals stopped worshipping them about 3000 years ago. They are slowly regaining knowledge of who/what they were and I've told them if they die they get 2 more incarnations of that god(dess) where they have to keep the same domains, but the class will change the first death, if they die a second time - they will get a random race and class of my choosing and keep the same domains. So far, nobody has died and they are all 9th level, a few have come pretty close a few times...

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3 hours ago, kristof65 said:

I like my players to know that I don't set out to deliberately kill their PCs, and that I might rescue their PCs from just plain bad luck killing them off (unless the story is better with the death).   But that despite that, I absolutely WILL NOT protect their PCs from themselves. If you make a stupid decision that gets your PC killed, then they're dead.  That includes stepping into obviously dangerous situations beyond your abilities, failing to retreat when you're close to death, etc. 

I think over the 40 years I've been DMing, I've killed 7 PCs total.  Five of those were in a TPK that happened in like the 3rd or 4th session of a new campaign with people I'd just met for that campaign.  In that one, I explained to the players how stupid their decisions had been, what warnings I had given them that they had missed/ignored, and then gave the group a choice of either all rolling brand new PCs, or I would work it into the story to bring their PCs all back.  They chose second option, and the campaign lasted for another 3 years.  One of the most satisfying moments of that campaign came much later when a new player had been with the group a few sessions, and the PCs encountered what was basically a "door to hell" with all sorts of dire warnings about how dangerous it was.    The new player kept insisting "the DM wouldn't put a door there for us if it was too dangerous for our PCs"  and the other (now-experienced with my DMing) players nearly yelling "Oh yes he would!" 

The other two PCs were killed in a Traveller firefight they never should have started - even the other players were calling the players stupid for trying it. 

But even though I've only killed off those few of dozens, maybe even hundreds of PCs to grace my campaigns, almost every PC in my games has come close to death more than once, and were saved by the actions of the player(s). 

7 in 40 years?!? Not counting DCC, where death is common, I'm pretty sure I killed around 7 PCs last year alone. And half of them were in my 5e game... 

Edited by Crowley
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4 minutes ago, Crowley said:

7 in 40 years?!? Not counting DCC, where death is common, I'm pretty sure I killed around 7 PCs last year alone. And half of them were in my 5e game... 

Well, to get technical, my campaigns have probably only run for 19-21 years of that time.  There have been some gaps where I didn't run campaigns, usually due to work, moving or both.  I'm also not counting a few other PC deaths because of circumstances surrounding them, such as my friend Jeff who, IRL was dying of brain cancer, so his PC was given a heroic death that served the story line when he became unable to play any more, or the PC Dexter who was cursed to be reincarnated as a small animal, and technically died about a dozen times himself.  


I also don't run campaigns filled with a lot of powerful monsters and deadly traps. My campaigns tend to center around fulfilling prophecies and dealing with mortal men & women in pursuit of those prophecies. Smart PCs stay alive, and players who can't play smart PCs tend to drop out of my campaigns early.  Many of my campaigns were using the WFRP rules in my own setting - if you've played WFRP,  you know how deadly combat can be - so the players in those campaigns avoided combat a lot more than the players in the same setting using D&D did. 

 

But, again, that doesn't mean I try and save PCs.  The last session 5e I ran just a couple days ago, one of the PCs went down fighting a Rust Monster, and failed his first death save. I was perfectly willing to let the PC die, but the rest of the players rallied around, slew the Rust Monster and saved their friend.  The session before that, the entire party was 2hp or less after fighting some goblins.  Had they been stupid enough to pursue the one Goblin who got away instead of leaving the area, they would have died. 

 

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On 1/24/2018 at 11:44 AM, Beagle said:

 

 

 

Certainly wouldn't work for me, I think I'd find it tiresome if the same two players were the ones consistently losing their characters but player x's character always seems to come through OK. Feels a bit too much like Captain Kirk and his redshirts

That assumes death occurs frequently enough to call it episodic. It doesn't. It also assumes that the PCs who die are treated as extras with no lines. They aren't. It also assumes characters do not leave the game in ways other than death. They do.

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1 hour ago, Bruunwald said:

That assumes death occurs frequently enough to call it episodic. It doesn't. It also assumes that the PCs who die are treated as extras with no lines. They aren't. It also assumes characters do not leave the game in ways other than death. They do.

But what about if the players end up in a battle against a very powerful enemy? Aren’t you left with a situation where the players who want their characters protected can run outrageous risks that are likely to kill the characters of players who are prepared to lose characters?

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I’ve never run a game where an entire group has been wiped but I have run a long campaign that ended in complete failure.

There’s a Call of Cthulhu campaign called ‘The Fungi From Yuggoth’ - one of the possible climaxes occurs outside Cairo with an avatar of a god possessing and animating the Sphinx. My players had discovered a spell which created an impregnable barrier for 24 hours. The opportunity to use this spell was obvious, or so I thought.

So the players follow some cultists into the desert where they witness a great throng gathered before the Sphinx. As the players wait patiently they witness a great black cloud descend from the sky and then dissipate around the Sphinx, which slowly begins to move. Sanity rolls are made and the players begin the short ritual that will enact their spell, and create an impregnable barrier.......around themselves.

They watch helplessly as the avatar of Nyarlathothep goes on to trash Cairo, killing thousands as it does so.

The players couldn’t believe what they’d done or why they’d done it. An inglorious end to an otherwise fun campaign

 

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