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Author Topic: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?  (Read 1676 times)

Omega

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #15 on: September 14, 2020, 11:50:38 AM »
Problem is... There is also the not so little fact that from the get-go the PLAYERS were increasingly coming up with all manner of ways to not get killed to the point that Gygax was having to come up with increasingly more convoluted ways to endanger the PCs as the players were taking ever more intricate steps to avoid their characters getting offed.
And this follows through all the way to 5e where the OP mentions players teaming up to get spells and cantrips that counter PCs getting killed. Whereas in all the play I and others have had. That was not the case and PCs that go down tend to stay down unless someone does something about it fast. And that is not always possible.
I would not say 5e is "death free" as some detractors keep screeching. Because thats not true.

It is though hard to keep a PC down by the current rules and how 5e treats HP as more like fatigue even more than older editions of D&D did. That combined with some just jaw droppingly stupid long rest rules and things can get vexing.

All this depends on the DM and the players more than on the rules. Different play styles are going to make 5e easier, or harder. And that applies to any other game too. For some a games going to be far more deadly than intended. And for others its going to be a cakewalk,

Good example is Albedo. The combat system is unforgivingly deadly. Normally. But a DM running a non-com campaign or PCs who get really cagey with gear will skew this to not deadly at all, or maybe-once-in-a-while deadly. Whereas for players in a more war heavy campaign where the bullets are flying every session. Its going to make Tomb of Horrors look like a kiddie park for sheer lethality.
One thing though that for at least D&D as a likely contributing factor to an increasing aversion to PC death was the shift away from having hirelings and the like as back-up characters. In O, BX and to a much lesser degree, A, hirelings, retainers, and so on had a larger role in adventuring. PC death then meant you just swapped in a new character from this pool of potentials and soldiers on. And even without retainers for many PC death was just a speed bump on the road of adventuring as you just roll up a new character and wait for a good spot to have them show up and join in.
As noted in an older thread on a similar subject of PC death. Another factor may be that the players are both more inclined to be invested in the character due to gradually increasing chargen time and investment, and more dis-inclined to see them get offed due to that investment and just not wanting to go through chargen again.


Chris24601

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #16 on: September 14, 2020, 12:46:38 PM »
Strangely enough, even though I prefer rare death, I don't care whether the death is meaningful or not, in the usual sense of the phrase.
That's the reason why I specifically phrase it as "tend towards meaningful" instead of "must be meaningful."

I think perhaps a better way of putting it is that my preference is that PC (i.e. protagonists of each player's own story*) deaths not be random.

Any by "not random" I mean, not the result of a single bad roll that the player/PC had no ability to anticipate or react to. If they don't take reasonable precautions and/or make foolish choices/reactions then death can and should happen (ex. you come across a room filled with incredibly detailed statues of people frozen in poses of terror and do NOT start using mirrors to look around corners going forward... well, you deserve to be the latest addition to the menagerie).

Its when players/PCs take reasonable precautions, play smart and STILL get insta-killed by a random roll out of nowhere that PC death feels grossly unfair and un-fun; particularly if the chargen process is more involved/tailored.

HappyDaze

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #17 on: September 14, 2020, 05:59:17 PM »
Generally, I prefer systems where death requires a string of bad decisions to occur; definitely not just a single bad roll.
The string often begins with the following bad decisions:
  • Had great potential but ignored career advice and decided to become an adventurer.
  • Joined up with a bunch of other people that made the same stupid career mistake.
  • Voluntarily went to a place that has a reputation for costing people their lives.
  • Figured, "We're better than all those others--we're PCs!"
  • Saw another PC die but figured it was a fluke and proudly shouted, "PCs never need to make morale checks!"

LiferGamer

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #18 on: September 15, 2020, 12:15:59 AM »
I assume it's part of the general infantilization of society, the wimpier rulesets, and the storyfags rise to prominence.  Everybody has their Half-dragon/Tiefling snowflake that is DESTINED to blah blah blah.

Players that are cool with PC death would DEFINITELY prefer their characters are each riding and blasting/hacking away at a separate one of Tiamat's heads as she plummets towards earth with broken wings while Planars and Solars sing in the chorus*, rather than run over by a drunk gnomes steam apparatus on the way home from the tavern, I totally get (and empathize) with those comments - depending on the ruleset you may have built in failsafes (Savage Worlds bennies, 5e Death saves, Resurrection spells).

Setting clear expectations is key.

I definitely make it clear up front to my players, that I'm not an adversarial DM, I do make clear that:
  • Campaign areas are not necessarily level gated.  This isn't an MMO.  You see Troll sign at first level, you better bug out.
  • Decisions have consequences.
Like Tim Kask and the original crew my original group(s) coming up always had a few characters floating/active - everybody had a favorite, but we all had a rogue or magic-user tucked away, and a couple of good sports even had a cleric.  Someone lost a character, they'd grab one of their backups, and the DM would find a spot to work them in.

One of my favorite bits from Hackmaster 4th Edition (the first one... never mind) was the Protege rules, and since then I've tried to have some codified, measurable way to prep a backup character. 

Since starting the 5e game, because we're mostly fulltime+ workers, I set it up with Adventuring guilds competing in the wildlands - so everyone has a reason to already know the replacement characters, and has some kind of connection built in. 
For replacements, I'm using a simple version:  Everyone has an alt, new ones start at the lowest level of the next tier from the highest characters:  i.e. now that they're level 11, newbs come in at level 5.


*At least, that's how I hope the campaign ends!
Your Forgotten Realms was my first The Last Jedi.

If the party is gonna die, they want to be riding and blasting/hacking away at a separate one of Tiamat's heads as she plummets towards earth with broken wings while Solars and Planars sing.

Marchand

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #19 on: September 15, 2020, 01:41:59 AM »
Like Tim Kask and the original crew my original group(s) coming up always had a few characters floating/active - everybody had a favorite, but we all had a rogue or magic-user tucked away, and a couple of good sports even had a cleric.  Someone lost a character, they'd grab one of their backups, and the DM would find a spot to work them in.

One of my favorite bits from Hackmaster 4th Edition (the first one... never mind) was the Protege rules, and since then I've tried to have some codified, measurable way to prep a backup character. 

Since starting the 5e game, because we're mostly fulltime+ workers, I set it up with Adventuring guilds competing in the wildlands - so everyone has a reason to already know the replacement characters, and has some kind of connection built in. 
For replacements, I'm using a simple version:  Everyone has an alt, new ones start at the lowest level of the next tier from the highest characters:  i.e. now that they're level 11, newbs come in at level 5.


*At least, that's how I hope the campaign ends!


Like I said, we are really talking about calibrating the death penalty. In your game it is roughly a tier. That sounds like it would work.


If things go badly, the group as a whole could be dropping down towards 1st! Which would not be a problem, so long as the players are cool with it.

S'mon

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #20 on: September 15, 2020, 04:36:24 AM »
Like Tim Kask and the original crew my original group(s) coming up always had a few characters floating/active - everybody had a favorite, but we all had a rogue or magic-user tucked away, and a couple of good sports even had a cleric.  Someone lost a character, they'd grab one of their backups, and the DM would find a spot to work them in.


Players having multiple PCs of different levels in an open D&D world set up is something that definitely needs to make a comeback IMO. This is one of the few things that MMOs and Organised Play do better than modern tabletop. D&D Adventure Paths are the worst - most encounters are combat, but if the PCs die, the assumption is the campaign ends!


5e D&D is, ironically, very well set up for this kind of play, with its Bounded Accuracy, defined Level Tiers, and quick generation of Level 1 PCs.

Steven Mitchell

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #21 on: September 15, 2020, 08:46:18 AM »
There is a feedback mechanism in character design and death that is stronger than just the length and complexity of creation.  Not that length and complexity aren't important factors.  They very much are.  But I think it goes deeper than that.

For example, if the campaign doesn't use henchmen or hirelings, then the PCs need to be more self-sufficient.  Now there is pressure for the wizard to be able to fight a little better (or have more spells or some craft ability or something else), and likewise for other characters.  As the characters become more self-sufficient, not only are they more involved to run, but they also don't need support from NPCs.  Being more complex produces a negative feedback against using NPC support.  Being more self-sufficient produces a positive feedback against needing NPC support.

As the PCs become everything, losing one becomes more deadly.  Not only does the player need to spend considerable time designing the replacement, the replacement has to integrate into what might be a well-oiled machine--but a somewhat brittle one.  This is one case where 5E skews strangely, being rather generous in its avoidance of death but subject to a sudden TPK if things get even a little out of kilter with the machine.  It's like 5E replaced the infamous "save or die" effect with "party save or die".

If you think of the party as the narrative protagonist, old school has not only the hit points and saves of the individual characters, but also individuals to die as a means of a warning.  You went in too deep, then Willy the Cleric bought it.  Willie's player grabbed Bob the link boy as something to play and the party retreated in confusion but mostly intact.  Whereas in 5E, the players need to recognize that "our total recovery options are dangerously low" as the same sign.  I mean, it can work.  But it depends on the players to read signs that are a little more subtle, with the costs potentially much higher for the party protagonist. 

Chris24601

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #22 on: September 15, 2020, 11:12:51 AM »
As the PCs become everything, losing one becomes more deadly.  Not only does the player need to spend considerable time designing the replacement, the replacement has to integrate into what might be a well-oiled machine--but a somewhat brittle one.  This is one case where 5E skews strangely, being rather generous in its avoidance of death but subject to a sudden TPK if things get even a little out of kilter with the machine.  It's like 5E replaced the infamous "save or die" effect with "party save or die".
In video game terms it’s the difference between playing an MMO and a RTS. In the former you’re managing resources of a single individual who provides a specific role for the team and the team is in trouble if one of the members gets dropped on a raid. In the latter you’re managing an army where each unit has one role, but each allied player in a multi-player match covers all the roles for their own forces and replaces losses as needed (sure it sucks to lose a very expensive unit, but you can get another one as soon as your factory/barracks finishes it’s production time... the individual unit is only important as a tool of the larger force).

I’d suggest that, if you want to bring newer players into this old school player mentality, that you approach the campaign along the lines of a RTS setup. The player is the commander and his PC is an elite unit he commands along with other units. If the PC is lost you can promote another unit to make it your new elite unit.

Basically, add “create henchmen/hireling assets” to the initial character creation process so they start out with the mindset that their “character” is actually the whole team rather than just “the fighter” or “the cleric” (though as your elite unit that will be the one you spend the most time directing).

Or even START with generating the pool of largely faceless forces and then promote one of them to PC status as part of the initial creation process (something like a funnel only they’re all still alive/used afterwards).

In terms of getting players who are used to the “FPS-style” into the “RTS-style” you’d probably want to start with a more modern or sci-fi setting where you can justify the player’s viewpoint “character” not actually being at risk as they employ their elite unit/PC and support units/hirelings on adventures while you get them used to the mindset, but once you get them used to it, it should be pretty easy to port it over to fantasy or whichever setting you prefer.


ETA: to expand on this thought, I could see an initial setup being something like; you have X slots in your unit (or a budget of X to hire team members); available options are say; warriors, experts, acolytes and apprentices. After you decide how many of each you want on your team, you promote one to a fighter/warrior, thief/expert, cleric/acolyte or wizard/apprentice.


Use the gold = xp and training to level approach and allow the player to then apply the promotion/leveling to ANY member of their unit; essentially allowing them to spend some of their wealth on getting backup PCs that start better than just the basic level.


Get them thinking that way and death becomes a resource cost (proportional to what the player put into that character) and it’s only game over when you’re all out of units and it’s a very dangerous time when you lack the resources to hire/train replacements.
« Last Edit: September 15, 2020, 11:24:18 AM by Chris24601 »

Steven Mitchell

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #23 on: September 15, 2020, 11:27:36 AM »
I'm planning on doing something like that in my next campaign.  Since my players have a love/hate relationship with random character generation, I'll probably take advantage.  Have them start generating 2 or 3 semi-random characters.  After part way through, pick one as the PC and make choices for it through the rest of the generation.  For the others, determine the remainder of the character randomly (or mostly randomly), as needed, and use them as a pool of potential henchman.

I'd already decided that death was going to be old school, which means I need character generation down to the 5 to 10 minute range.

hedgehobbit

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #24 on: September 15, 2020, 12:07:39 PM »
Basically, add “create henchmen/hireling assets” to the initial character creation process so they start out with the mindset that their “character” is actually the whole team rather than just “the fighter” or “the cleric” (though as your elite unit that will be the one you spend the most time directing).
At this point, you are playing a tactical miniatures game, not an RPG.


All this talk about quickly generating new characters and having backup characters misses the point. A player that doesn't want his character to die doesn't want his character to die. The fact that his character can be easily replaced doesn't address this.

Chris24601

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #25 on: September 15, 2020, 12:22:28 PM »
I'd already decided that death was going to be old school, which means I need character generation down to the 5 to 10 minute range.
I'd take a look at either OD&D where high/low attributes only make about a +/-1 difference in performance so you could just as easily say, they're all 10's except for 1 score which is X (whatever the XP bonus kicked in on). Class, Race, basic gear... done.


Alternately, if you're doing 5e D&D use the ability score arrays instead of rolled or point buy and skip skills/feats/multi-classing.


At this point, you are playing a tactical miniatures game, not an RPG.

All this talk about quickly generating new characters and having backup characters misses the point. A player that doesn't want his character to die doesn't want his character to die. The fact that his character can be easily replaced doesn't address this.
There's no "one true way" to set up or run a game. If there were there'd be only one game system out there.


The person I was addressing was addressing a campaign where characters are largely just cogs in a larger organism that is "the party" so, yeah, a bit more like a tactical miniatures game where the role you're playing is "the commander." This is true to a lot of early old-school play as it evolved directly out of war gaming and the move from treating PCs as third-person characters ("my character does this") to first-person ("I, in the role of this character, do this") was a sliding scale and remains so to this day.


Ex. I rarely address my PC's outside of third-person; "my PC says X." This makes it really easy for my GMs to tell when I'm speaking in character or not too, because unless I precede a comment with "my PC says" they know what I'm saying is meant to be taken as out of character discussion rather than my having to use gestures or preface something by saying "out of character."


Anyway, if you're more concerned about individual PC survival then you use a different system where death is less prevalent and/or easier to bounce back from. Simple as that.

LiferGamer

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #26 on: September 15, 2020, 12:31:22 PM »
Basically, add “create henchmen/hireling assets” to the initial character creation process so they start out with the mindset that their “character” is actually the whole team rather than just “the fighter” or “the cleric” (though as your elite unit that will be the one you spend the most time directing).
At this point, you are playing a tactical miniatures game, not an RPG.


All this talk about quickly generating new characters and having backup characters misses the point. A player that doesn't want his character to die doesn't want his character to die. The fact that his character can be easily replaced doesn't address this.


Then he should retire the fucking thing and open a bar.   They're in the wrong line of work if they want a risk-free life.
Your Forgotten Realms was my first The Last Jedi.

If the party is gonna die, they want to be riding and blasting/hacking away at a separate one of Tiamat's heads as she plummets towards earth with broken wings while Solars and Planars sing.

S'mon

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #27 on: September 15, 2020, 12:42:14 PM »
Alternately, if you're doing 5e D&D use the ability score arrays instead of rolled or point buy and skip skills/feats/multi-classing.


I did this in my first 5e campaign. It mostly worked great except I found that not using skills created more hassle than it saved. So for my current newest game the player side stuff is RAW, just not using the optional Feats & Multiclassing modules.


One thing that would work though is not using Backgrounds, which are quite a time sink, & just give PCs 2 more class skills, or even give them *all* their class skills so no need to choose.

ShieldWife

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #28 on: September 15, 2020, 12:46:38 PM »
I may be the exception here, but I personally lean towards minimal PC death. Not necessarily that it should be impossible, but just rare and meaningful. I prefer a campaign where characters become immersed into some ongoing plot and, in fact, where the character's personality and how they change over time and achieve or fail to achieve their goals causes that character and their relationship to the world to change. A PC dying substantially hinders that and while the new character may have both some interesting backstory and some well reasoned justification for joining the party, it still undermines the continuation of that shared plot. If new characters start off at a lower level, then you have not merely punished (if they even deserve such) the player for a single night, but perhaps for many months to come as their character continues to lag behind - depending on how the system works. If death is common, I feel that it encourages a certain sort of game play, a more strategic and less immersive sort of play, and can be limiting of character types and styles of play.


That isn't to say that characters can't fail, they should be able to fail, and sometimes an old character failing but surviving can have more emotional impact on a player than death can if there is already a sense that death is common, nobody is too attached to characters and their goals, and a new character sheet is on standby.


I'm sure some of you are furiously typing to say how wrong I am, but I can't necessarily say that others are wrong for being more open to PC death. I think it depends a lot on what people want from the role playing experience and rare or common death (or as others have said, negative consequences along a continuum for player/character failure) can have a major impact on other aspects of play.
« Last Edit: September 15, 2020, 12:51:31 PM by ShieldWife »

Chris24601

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #29 on: September 15, 2020, 01:16:13 PM »
I may be the exception here, but I personally lean towards minimal PC death. Not necessarily that it should be impossible, but just rare and meaningful. I prefer a campaign where characters become immersed into some ongoing plot and, in fact, where the character's personality and how they change over time and achieve or fail to achieve their goals causes that character and their relationship to the world to change.
Nah, I'm in the same boat. I like death to be more due to a series of bad choices (and not just the choice to become an adventurer in the first place) than just bad luck. I even adjusted 'hit points' (though I had to rename them because the association with meat) to be entirely "plot armor" (ex. falling 'damage' is based on the difficulty of catching yourself before you plunge down the bottomless pit instead of actually rolling for damage when you hit the bottom) with wounds more severe than minor cuts and bruises coming up only when your "plot armor" is gone.


I just also understand that others play for different reasons and so try to offer constructive help to make those preferences work for those who want them.