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Author Topic: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?  (Read 1677 times)

BoxCrayonTales

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #30 on: September 15, 2020, 01:27:59 PM »
The impact of death is a sliding scale and varies by playstyle.


I didn't play AD&D during it's heyday, but the impression that I get is that players didn't really identify with PCs like they seem to now. Whenever a PC died, the player would just roll a new character with the same XP and wealth and then shoehorn them into the party. It was not unlike Call of Cthulhu in that respect, but unlike CoC the party still existed as a unit from adventure to adventure.


Putting the events of the adventures into a coherent narrative entered the conversation at one point, basically crossing over with improv theater. While you can still tell stories about a party with a constantly revolving roster, this doesn't lend itself to character arcs. Unless the characters are clones or something, which probably happened fairly often IDK.

If you're telling the story as a meta-narrative where the players are the characters roleplaying as their PCs, then PCs dropping like flies isn't much a problem because they're just extensions of the players.


If you're telling the story as improv theater, then leaving character deaths to the whims of the dice gods won't result in a very satisfying narrative. Audiences invest in the characters of a story, and killing and replacing those characters forces the audience to continually reinvest their emotional effort, which typical audiences will give up on if they don't feel it's worthwhile.


So it's really going to depend on your playstyle. How important are the arcs of the PCs? Are they genuinely characters in a story or just vehicles for the players? That's going to inform how often and important dying will be.


Although if you're going for something Kafka-esque, then all bets are off.

S'mon

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #31 on: September 15, 2020, 01:41:01 PM »
I'm ok with rare PC death (eg it's rare in my Mini Six Primeval Thule game - one PC dead in 23 sessions), but I hate the bait & switch you get where the premise of the campaign is "Can your PC survive?!" and it turns out the answer was always "Yes". Adventure Paths centred around combat encounters are terrible for this.

mAcular Chaotic

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #32 on: September 15, 2020, 01:48:50 PM »
I’m two sessions deep into my 5e-as-OSR game and there’s been one death each session. I wonder if that’s too much, but on the other hand the players are still learning their limits — right now they only turn back once someone has died.
Battle doesn't need a purpose; the battle is its own purpose. You don't ask why a plague spreads or a field burns. Don't ask why I fight.

Steven Mitchell

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #33 on: September 15, 2020, 01:58:57 PM »
Well, I don't so much want more death as that I want to set up a campaign where there is even more risk involved than I normally use, with less of a safety net in the mechanics.  (Not no net, but not much of one, either.)  So given that I don't fudge anything, that means that statistically there will be some deaths.  I'm willing to accept that to get the other things I want.


Also, I'm testing a home brew game in this campaign.  It's one that takes Rules Compendium as a base but twists it sideways all over the place.  So the usual bit of uncertainty in something new and untested, which will probably lead to a few more deaths AND the players wanting to experiment with the rules and characters.  So I expect less attachment the same way I'd expect less attachment trying any untested, new system in a one-shot adventure.  Hirelings being important is a central design goal, and since I like for players to do a lot of the heavy lifting there, some of the attachment will be to those quasi-NPCs.


Mainly, though, we are extremely on the side of "develop characters in play," by both what we find works for us and attitude.  Which means practically no one gets real attached to a character until they've played them for some time. 

Steven Mitchell

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #34 on: September 15, 2020, 02:05:30 PM »
I’m two sessions deep into my 5e-as-OSR game and there’s been one death each session. I wonder if that’s too much, but on the other hand the players are still learning their limits — right now they only turn back once someone has died.
I don't know what a reasonable amount for your game is.  Only you and the players can say that.  But I will say that when working out new boundaries deliberately set the way you have, it is far better to lose a few characters early to find out, than it is for the players to get lucky and not lose any until 10, 20 sessions in. 

Ghostmaker

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #35 on: September 15, 2020, 02:12:32 PM »
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.
Funny you should say that. That happened to a PF character I had who suffered ALL the effects of a baleful polymorph. He got better, but the effect rattled him so badly he retired.


(On a meta level, our wizard player had to quit, so I opted to roll up a sorcerer to replace him with the GM's blessing. It worked out.)


While I'm not absolutely 'out to get' players (and in the case of premade adventures I reserve the right to rewrite an encounter that strikes me as blatantly unfair), at the same time adventure IS risky. Nothing shows the party rogue the transience of life quite like being attacked by a rug of smothering.


(on a side note I ran the Goodman Games 5E conversion of B1: In Search of Adventure this past weekend. Haven't killed any PCs yet, though they've come close a few times.)

S'mon

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #36 on: September 15, 2020, 03:13:39 PM »
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.


My ideal is probably something like Game of Thrones level mortality rates, at least Game of Thrones seen from the start of Season 1 where us non-book-readers didn't know who had plot armour and who didn't.  My players tend to think I'm a tough GM as I roll in the open, no dice fudging, and PCs certainly can die. But I've seen PC groups where no one died in the whole campaign. One thing I see quite often is the newbie phenomenon where the new players see their first-session PCs killed quite often, while the old hands get good at measuring risk and staying alive.

S'mon

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #37 on: September 15, 2020, 03:17:14 PM »
I’m two sessions deep into my 5e-as-OSR game and there’s been one death each session. I wonder if that’s too much, but on the other hand the players are still learning their limits — right now they only turn back once someone has died.


I'm 8 online sessions into mine, couple PCs now at 2nd level - http://frloudwater.blogspot.com/2020/09/fa-8-day-14-t3m51359-dr-241-xp-ironwolf.html - and the only death so far was an unlucky Sidekick NPC shanked by goblins. I've been quite impressed by the newbie players, we've had a few go-to-0 close calls but no actual PC death. Liberal use of NPC companions definitely helps, both to reduce mortality and to keep advancement slow as they eat up half the XP!

hedgehobbit

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #38 on: September 15, 2020, 03:18:30 PM »
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.
I played my first "death free" RPG session back in 1981. The game was Champions and I was the GM. So, I don't think that death free gaming is something new, nor does it reflect any sort of change in gamers.


I have, however, seen a huge change in the basic assumptions of Fantasy. Pre-D&D the genre tropes were not focused on a single person destined to save the world, certainly not someone like Conan. Even Frodo, who does save the world, only does so because he thinks he can resist the ring and there's no one else willing to try. Now everyone expects to be the Chosen One and, thus, dying is out of the question.


Personally, I blame Joseph Campbell and his bullshit "Hero's Journey".

hedgehobbit

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #39 on: September 15, 2020, 03:20:27 PM »
I didn't play AD&D during it's heyday, but the impression that I get is that players didn't really identify with PCs like they seem to now.
That's only true at low level. Resurrections were easy to come by for high level character in AD&D so death was barely an inconvenience. But that's another issue entirely.

Anthony Pacheco

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #40 on: September 15, 2020, 03:25:09 PM »
I would say, "probably."

Much of the "no PC death" trend is all about the types of games run today.

Putting on my adventure designer hat, we gave this area a lot of thought. We concluded that while players do have MMO expectations that were not present in the days of D&D yore, and while that certainly adds to the "pressure" of the DM to cuddle their PCs, there are a lot of factors at work.

As discussed above, in 5E, there is a de-emphasis in followers and henchmen (it doesn't help that the premier 3rd Party product for this rule-set, Strongholds and Followers, abstracts retainer survivability to the point it's a separate system to keep track of). So without the AD&D and 2E "mule," PC death in a dungeon, by the very design of the 5E system, it becomes difficult to recover, game-wise, of a PC in the middle of the game session.

This trend has been going on for some time; 5E is just the latest expression of it. Pathfinder 1E, super-popular before 5E, doesn't have an old school follower/henchmen mechanic either, made worse that Pathfinder is a character-customization bonanza of choices. Death of a 1E 8th level, carefully designed PC is painful because not only did the player carefully tweak the PC, they had a carefully laid out roadmap of what that PC looked like in the future. Half the fun in Pathfinder PC creation is playing the metagame of Mathfinder.

Then, in 5E, the design around challenging encounters does not come from the Dungeon Master's Guide even after all this time. The DMG is a handy reference. It doesn't help DMs design challenging encounters. It tries--but fails. Spectacularly.

But, if we dig deeper, the lack of a PC death is a systemic attribute landing squarely on the DM. Because of the Storytelling Trend(TM) inside the game session, as opposed to outside the game session, DMs, supported by players, compose narratives to "tell a story" (is this sounding familiar, heh). And in your carefully crafted story, the most disturbing thing that could happen is PC Death. Is the DM a Referee of the game world? Or is he a storyteller?

Show me a game world where there is PC death, and I'm willing to bet that's a game world that has player agency for realsies. A campaign world designed to support a story the DM is trying to tell by its very nature is antagonistic towards that agency.
« Last Edit: September 15, 2020, 03:27:48 PM by Anthony Pacheco »
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oggsmash

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #41 on: September 15, 2020, 04:40:16 PM »
  5e seems fairly hard for a PC to die.  I wonder if the avoidance of death is as much due to the influence of video games in the minds of game developers and game masters.   It is an interesting cycle as D&D has had an influence on video games since the beginning and it seems like now the influence has been reversed.   I do not care for killing players, but as I think Happy daze pointed out very well, these are people entering a situation probably 100 times more deadly than coal mining in the 19th century.  If getting the goodies were easy, everyone would be doing it.

jeff37923

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #42 on: September 15, 2020, 04:49:24 PM »
I think that 5e's lack of death threat for characters due to the hit point recovery results for short rests and long rests was brought up on this board back during the playtest. Death free DnD should not be a surprise for people.

Anthony Pacheco

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #43 on: September 15, 2020, 04:53:59 PM »
Since my post was turning into a book, I split it up. No need to thank me, gents, that's the kind of guy I am!

I designed a death mechanic for a campaign product that play-tested well, based on the overriding circumstance that the PCs are cursed nine-ways until Sunday.  I didn't want to tell the PCs that they are cursed; I wanted to show them at every opportunity.

Death is not enough to release a PC from their f-ed up little world. If the PC dies, they "ride the lightning" (a literal lightning bolt) to a great Druid Tree with hollowed-out rooms in the middle. They reform, without their gear, minus 1 to all of their stats in the middle of a tree.

This stat loss has a cap at 8. The only way to regain stats is to level, in which leveling erases the stat loss when the player earns it.

This death mechanic is a rip-off of the design from old Everquest, including the "corpse summoning," which in turn is a rip-off of several MUDS.

I've had several people read this mechanic (before trying it) and hate it.

But I've got a customer campaign summary where it works. It works to the point where a group of players that refused to cooperate in "imma single-player in the MMO in my head and everyone including the other players and DM are NPCs" mode started collaborating because the mechanic began a death spiral. They were in a rugged portion of the module, and everyone's stats were 8 due to repeated TPKs. No longer was it do or die. It was now only Do.

Hahahahahahahahaha. In the next module, I'm going to double-down. You die, you ride the lightning, and ALL the PCs get 1 removed from their stats. Now the players have to deal with this mechanic and the player-dynamic that Player Bob is a wanker and looking at his phone too much.

Anyway, my point is, I believe there is also a lack of thought and design around PC death baked into the game. In 5E, the only mechanic "philosophy" around PC death is to bring back the PC. Anybody who wants to go beyond this is rolling their own. The lack of other designs in this area puts everybody into "cruise mode."
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jhkim

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #44 on: September 15, 2020, 06:22:03 PM »
I can't speak for D&D campaigns in general - I don't really know. But on the general topic, I think that high PC fatality games have been less common for a long time now. Since the mid-1980s, the overall trend has been towards more involved character creation and less frequent PC death. In terms of D&D editions, I think 5E is a notable exception to that - with slightly easier character creation than the previous two editions, and it's at least as lethal as those.

Mechanically, it mostly comes down to the GM and the group. I'm used to PC death from Call of Cthulhu play (among others), but I think Call of Cthulhu is on the fringe among games. I've played a number of D&D convention games, as well as others, and PC death and getting a replacement character sheet has always been rare.

I think that 5e's lack of death threat for characters due to the hit point recovery results for short rests and long rests was brought up on this board back during the playtest. Death free DnD should not be a surprise for people.
My experience with 5E is that it is easy to kill PCs with a crowd of small creatures, but difficult to kill them with a big tough opponent. Throwing out big attacks, there's usually enough time for another PC to get in a heal or a Medicine check to move a downed PC out of dying before they're hit again. But with a stream of small attacks, it's easy to force 3 death check fails on a character after they drop. One of my more difficult decisions as a GM was trying to decide when opponents would take shots at a downed PC, since that was life or death.

I found that mildly annoying, and I've been considering house rules to modify the pattern so it is more consistent.