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Beagle

Death and Injuries to PCs in RPGs

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Met up with some of my hometown friends today, and we ended up talking about our RPG past.

We don't play anymore, but RPGs were part of my life for 20 years and during that time our group went through many of the mainstream games but the three big games for us were Call of Cthulhu, Pendragon and the World of Darkness (honourable mentions to MERP, Cyberpunk, D&D and Seven seas).

We had very long, enduring, linked campaigns for Cthulhu and Pendragon, 15 and 8 years respectively. Most other games got played for a single campaign or ditched pretty quickly.

So our conversation ended up being about the most memorable campaigns/games and why they worked when others didn't. The group of players was fairly consistent and our playing style was established and worked so the overall experience was pretty much the same every time we played with some sessions that didn't work so well and some that were exceptionally good. But in terms of what gave a campaign longevity, we decided it was the rate of mortality/injury for the PCs. This was by no means uniform as the casualty rate in Call of Cthulhu was many times greater than in Pendragon, but it felt properly scaled to the danger being faced. The players felt that their character had a fair chance but not that they were invulnerable and indispensable to the story.

In marked contrast was a MERP campaign we played in which the players started taking greater and greater risks and always came through unscathed. When I questioned the GM about this years later he told me that he didn't want to disrupt relationships built between characters or ruin the momentum of the campaign by brining in new PCs, in his opinion it was all about the storytelling and not about killing players. I have some sympathy to this approach but it was never the type of game I enjoyed.

 

What about you? What impact does PC death/madness/injury have on your enjoyment of the game

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Ideally, when I run a tabletop campaign, I kill a character during the first adventure (also ideally it was prearranged with the player of the character). This sets up the expectation that the world is dangerous.

 

I'm staff for an online West Marches style campaign set in my favorite RPG setting, which is rather dark. We've had forty-odd characters roll through and somehow only one has managed to permanently die. Still, the players are aware that, while we might pull our punches to avoid a TPK, we don't generally fudge die rolls and have occasionally one-shotted characters in the first round because DICE.

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Death of characters is one of the things that should be discusses when starting a new game. Some games and settings are appropriate for having characters die, often even. My favorite games though, are ones where the characters are intimatly tied to the setting and story. This makes me reluctant to leave something like PC death up to random chance. When characters are connected to the setting, there are other things they can lose that can drive the story. 

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I treat this on a player-by-player basis. Some players are pretty vehemently against PC death, while others cherish it in absurdist, almost fetishist ways. Then there are those in-between, who expect it and want it to matter.

 

The tastes of all the players in my group are well known to each other, so nobody is surprised at one-another's reactions to these things, or to how I manage the danger across the board.

 

GM Fiat is in full force. BECAUSE THAT IS HOW THE PLAYERS ENJOY THE GAME.

 

There is danger for everybody, of course. But since fun is the ultimate goal, "fair" can screw itself in the conventional sense. I am being fair. Fair to each player's style and enjoyment. If one player wants me to come at them with a dagger every five minutes, I am happy to work that into their story. If another likes it when the cavalry shows up, that person can have that too. I am good enough at my job that I can scare the bejeezuz out of them in the process.

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When I've gone through the effort of character creation (usually several game sessions) and developed a persona with a background story I expect the character to hang around a little while. I've gamed with GMs who thought it was their job to kill the PCs as soon as possible, and it's not my idea of fun.  There has to be an element of danger or risk  in the game, a real chance the character could die, but also a good chance to survive the adventure. That's what it's all about for me.  A good GM can balance that, make a good story, let the characters come close enough to death to feel it (and those are the best stories afterward) but not kill them out right.  A PC death should mean something, should somehow advance the story, or be heroic, not just a cheap shot on the GM's part.  Unless the player is doing stupid stuff to the detriment of himself or the party, then he deserves a smacking. 

 

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I mostly frequently GM'd 'Call of Cthulhu' and you simply can't have a situation where some players get a pass on character death (or madness). My preferred method was akin to saying to the player 'are you sure you want tog o into this fight?' or 'are you sure you want to climb onto that sinking ship?' . If the player decides to remove their character from danger then they'll probably be OK, but if their going to be action heroes trying to thwart the will of terrible evil 'Gods', then anything goes.

I would never create a situation where a vastly superior enemy just shows up and kicks their arse but I have rarely pulled punches when players seek out the vastly superior enemy and choose to go toe to toe.

We had one player who hated losing characters. In one scenario, based on a German Zeppelin, his character found himself holding off the cultists while the others made their escape in an attached glider. Backing up to propeller shaft he grabs a nearby parachute and leaps into the air.

So I, as the GM, ask the player what experience his antiquarian had of parachute use...........none it turned out. Before I could suggest a possible outcome the player suggested that a DEX roll x5 would be fair, followed by DEX x4, then DEX x 3 and so on, this would reflect the panic of the character (and increasingly velocity) as they neared the ground. Rolls were failed and the character went splat. The player started to protest but realised that he'd fallen foul of his own suggestion so didn't really have a leg to stand on. He soon got over it and was playing one of his pool of reserve characters within 30 mins.

 

 

28 minutes ago, Bruunwald said:

I treat this on a player-by-player basis. Some players are pretty vehemently against PC death, while others cherish it in absurdist, almost fetishist ways. Then there are those in-between, who expect it and want it to matter.

 

The tastes of all the players in my group are well known to each other, so nobody is surprised at one-another's reactions to these things, or to how I manage the danger across the board.

 

GM Fiat is in full force. BECAUSE THAT IS HOW THE PLAYERS ENJOY THE GAME.

 

There is danger for everybody, of course. But since fun is the ultimate goal, "fair" can screw itself in the conventional sense. I am being fair. Fair to each player's style and enjoyment. If one player wants me to come at them with a dagger every five minutes, I am happy to work that into their story. If another likes it when the cavalry shows up, that person can have that too. I am good enough at my job that I can scare the bejeezuz out of them in the process.

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

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I don't mind when the GM cheats to keep the PCs alive, as long as they are fair about it.

 

I know that Grump sometimes FUMES about a GM that gave his favorites "preferrential treatment" in a LARP. I was in the game, and didn't know about it at the time.

 

But in retrospect, it was obvious that he was doing it. The Werewolves had their Favorite Five, and all the rest left to shift for themselves.

 

The Changelings, Grump's group, had plots enough left over for non- Changelings to share in the fun.

 

And the Changelings brought FOOD.

 

The Vampires, they had plots that involved the others on a case by case basis, sticking their fingers in other people's pies was part of what they were all about.

 

The Mages had big plots that impacted the WHOLE CITY.

 

But the Werewolf GM would disappear with his Favored Five, leaving the others just wandering around the campus, looking for something to do.

 

I was a Vampire, and stayed AWAY from the Changelings, because I was SURE they were up to something.

 

DODGED the Mages, because they were scary.

 

And fought the poor wandering werewolves because they got in the way when they had nothing to do.

Edited by PaganMegan
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Never tried LARP, I’m curious to know how it would work with mixed factions in the WoD and how changeling powers could be simulated

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It depends on the game, but...

 

For me, as a gm and player, the play revolves around a storyline, with lots of sub-stories going on with the characters. If a player wants their character to die, I will accomodate, and have, and will ensure the plot/adventure makes the death sensible.

 

I've been in games where the gm set out from the start to make things so hard the pc's never stood a chance. These games were not fun. Even on CoC, where death and madness are almost run-of-the-mill, I feel the deaths need to have impact on the story.

 

The best games I have run are those where I take each player's style and character into consideration and give everyone a way to build and advance. I have found roleplayers in hack'n'slashers with my methods. I have never had to kill a character in order for the players to understand how dangerous a world is. I have killed NPCs to show ruthlessness, but never a character.

 

I also, at the end of every session, ask each player to say one good thing and one bad thing about the session. These critiques help me learn what each player wants and how I can improve. It's amazing what insight you can receive.

 

It also cut down on "middle of battle rules lawyering." If a problem arose, I would use GM Fiat, declare "this is how we do it right now," and then we'd discuss it afterwards with clear minds and find a resolution we can all agree on for the future.

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One of my coworkers keep trying to get me into LARPing, even more so given that he found out hubby is interested as well...  It's just that the local scene, to get into it there's all those fees, all the costumes, and worst of all....  Having to commit an entire weekend to something, despite the event(s) only being like twelve hours total. 

 

Character development I love though, it's just the whole "ugh a whole weekend?" bit. 

 

 

As for the question at hand, I've never had a character die.  Not quite because the GM saved me (although our Rifts GM sure liked to give hints that mayyyyybe doing more than a peek out that door would be dangerous to my character's health - this was a high school lunch campaign after all, so re-rolling and doing introductions could have taken a full week), but... I dunno.  All of my characters have been in harrowing situations, but we were always given options, even if that option really was "surrender, and find a way to escape the prison before the executioner decided being on time was a good thing".   Interesting part is we almost never rolled in that game - you did have to figure out and come up with physically spoken ideas as to what you were going to do. 

 

I have been in PBEM games (play by email) where player characters have died though, and almost lost my tiefling (can't remember class) after being captured and separated from the party, and then dragged off to the demon capital of the world we were in.  Yeaaaah, that took three weeks to be able to escape from, and he left a part of his sanity behind when he did, wound up becoming chaotic neutral for a while, and for six months in game he struggled with the decisions he had had to make to live.  On the plus side, the insomnia he gained made him excellent as backup night watch since he quickly adapted to not much sleep every night... 

 

Only time I've been in a campaign that had death was a game of Paranoia, and I'm never playing that again, especially with that GM.  He took so much pleasure in deliberately killing off our clones/PC's, and it wasn't fun at all. 

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9 minutes ago, Beagle said:

Never tried LARP, I’m curious to know how it would work with mixed factions in the WoD and how changeling powers could be simulated

One of Grump's plots was the Changelings running a pirate LARP in game.

 

And harvesting glamor from it.::P:

 

The best thing about THAT plot was it got the abandoned Werewolves out of the way!

 

But I think the games themselves discouraged mixing the types, but that was half the fun.

 

I can't tell you how Changeling powers worked, they tried not to do it in front of others.

 

But the ANNOYING thing was that supernatural creatures were supposed to be less than 1% of the populace, but the only "normal" people were NPCs - played by the GMs, who were fewer than one in twenty of the people at the game.

 

Gawd, I can't believe I was only sixteen back then, and that I MARRIED the guy running those weirdo Changelings! :lol:

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27 minutes ago, WhiteWulfe said:

One of my coworkers keep trying to get me into LARPing, even more so given that he found out hubby is interested as well...  It's just that the local scene, to get into it there's all those fees, all the costumes, and worst of all....  Having to commit an entire weekend to something, despite the event(s) only being like twelve hours total. 

 

Character development I love though, it's just the whole "ugh a whole weekend?" bit. 

 

 

As for the question at hand, I've never had a character die.  Not quite because the GM saved me (although our Rifts GM sure liked to give hints that mayyyyybe doing more than a peek out that door would be dangerous to my character's health - this was a high school lunch campaign after all, so re-rolling and doing introductions could have taken a full week), but... I dunno.  All of my characters have been in harrowing situations, but we were always given options, even if that option really was "surrender, and find a way to escape the prison before the executioner decided being on time was a good thing".   Interesting part is we almost never rolled in that game - you did have to figure out and come up with physically spoken ideas as to what you were going to do. 

 

I have been in PBEM games (play by email) where player characters have died though, and almost lost my tiefling (can't remember class) after being captured and separated from the party, and then dragged off to the demon capital of the world we were in.  Yeaaaah, that took three weeks to be able to escape from, and he left a part of his sanity behind when he did, wound up becoming chaotic neutral for a while, and for six months in game he struggled with the decisions he had had to make to live.  On the plus side, the insomnia he gained made him excellent as backup night watch since he quickly adapted to not much sleep every night... 

 

Only time I've been in a campaign that had death was a game of Paranoia, and I'm never playing that again, especially with that GM.  He took so much pleasure in deliberately killing off our clones/PC's, and it wasn't fun at all. 

Never lost a character? How long have you been playing.

 

If you can get the balance just right in a RPG I think deaths can not only create memorable moments but they create backstory for the surviving PCs.

 

In Cthulhu the players always had a minimum of 4 reserve characters each, often playing all of them over a course of a campaign rather than one after the other. As a system it works well

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I used to be an 'All die rolls out in the open. What happens, happens!' GM.

 

But eventually all my players ganged up on me, and taught me to hide the die rolls, so that I could lie if needed. :devil:

 

I still don't cheat very often - not that I really need to, my dice hate everybody!

 

*EDIT* The best thing about LARPs - you have no clue what is going on where you aren't.

2017-11-20.jpg

 

The Auld Grump

Edited by TheAuldGrump
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1 hour ago, PaganMegan said:

I don't mind when the GM cheats to keep the PCs alive, as long as they are fair about it.

 

I know that Grump sometimes FUMES about a GM that gave his favorites "preferrential treatment" in a LARP. I was in the game, and didn't know about it at the time.

 

But in retrospect, it was obvious that he was doing it. The Werewolves had their Favorite Five, and all the rest left to shift for themselves.

 

The Changelings, Grump's group, had plots enough left over for non- Changelings to share in the fun.

 

And the Changelings brought FOOD.

 

The Vampires, they had plots that involved the others on a case by case basis, sticking their fingers in other people's pies was part of what they were all about.

 

The Mages had big plots that impacted the WHOLE CITY.

 

But the Werewolf GM would disappear with his Favored Five, leaving the others just wandering around the campus, looking for something to do.

 

I was a Vampire, and stayed AWAY from the Changelings, because I was SURE they were up to something.

 

DODGED the Mages, because they were scary.

 

And fought the poor wandering werewolves because they got in the way when they had nothing to do.

Hungh... Dave.

 

He ended up marrying one of those favored five.

 

And his tabletop game was worse. Keeping the PCs from spending their XP, because it was easier to run games with inexperienced characters.

 

In the LARP, at least, the XP were given by all the GMs, so he couldn't cheat his players that much.

 

He is the only GM I have ever seen where all of his players, except for his wife, bailed at the same time - without coordinating with each other.

 

The Auld Grump - 'I couldn't be so generous with the XP if I just let you spend them!'

'Dave, you have been awarding less than half the suggested XP. That isn't 'being generous'.'

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