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Pen & Paper Roleplaying Central => Pen and Paper Roleplaying Games (RPGs) Discussion => Topic started by: Simlasa on September 13, 2020, 06:15:50 PM

Title: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Simlasa on September 13, 2020, 06:15:50 PM
On our local FB group (predominantly focused on 5e), a fellow was claiming that it has become the norm that no PCs should fear death in any games.

I was not aware of that. I know there have always been groups that played that way... with the GM fudging rolls and making sure everyone kinda got what they wanted.
When I asked him why he thought that he really had no evidence to support it... it's just seemed to be what he liked and had experienced.Myself, I have tried to stay out of those groups... or dropped out when I found that's how they played.

Whenever the topic comes up online (in the places I frequent) there always seems to be a mix of preferences, no solid majority one way or another... though the 5e crowd seems to talk about what makes a 'good story' a lot.

Our local group has had a few people rage quit over the years when things didn't work out for their PCs (not just death)... one guy insisted he should get a 'save point'... but it's rare.

So what have y'all experienced? Is 'death free' (or just consequence free) the current trend? More than it used to be?
I can only speak of the folks who I've chosen to game with... and PC death is always on the table.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: HappyDaze on September 13, 2020, 06:30:14 PM
5e certainly leans into being "consequence light" if played by RAW. Generally, PCs get knocked down, then pop right back up after a healing word and then continue the fight. Repeating as necessariy. This requires some effort in party creation--making sure several PCs can cast healing word is a massive increase to PC survivability, but it's not hard to do. Remember too that, per RAW, an overnight sleep (long rest) restores full hit points, and with healing types generally able to reconfigure their spells in the smae period of time, anything that didn't lead to instant death is largely shrugged off within 24 hours. That's not to say that death is impossible, but in a game that's largely based on attrition, PCs have a hell of a lot of ways of avoiding being worn down.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Pat on September 13, 2020, 06:34:33 PM
Back when death was hardcoded in D&D's DNA, most DMs fudged away death to a greater or lesser degree. And many of those shifted to other more forgiving games, where fudging was easier or death was entirely elective. Over time, D&D also got softer and more forgiving, making BTB death rarer and easier to avoid. I think a default safety net did become the norm, at one point. But I also think the first wave of the OSR pushed back against that idea, and there's been stronger advocacy for games where death can happen at any time.

So I believe the norm is a spectrum, partially indicated by choice of games, but even more by what goes on behind the DM's screen. I suspect few DMs truly let the die fall as they will every time, but whether a particular DM intervenes in rare cases when it seems particularly unfair or disruptive, or whether they do so regularly, will vary.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Simlasa on September 13, 2020, 07:04:44 PM
But I also think the first wave of the OSR pushed back against that idea, and there's been stronger advocacy for games where death can happen at any time.
That might be part of what attracted me to the OSR and back to earlier (earlier than when I'd started) versions of D&D. Not specifically looking for games that happily kill PCs, but a step back from the PC as precious ubermensch that seemed to be coming out of what little I saw of 3e (and in other D&D fans I'd run into). I wanted games where food, water and torches can run out... not everyone having magical gewgaws that removed those concerns.
I think I just wanted to be playing games that were scarier, and less about power fantasy.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Marchand on September 13, 2020, 10:00:20 PM
Here's the thing. It's all very old school that death is a possibility.


But... in practice you can't have a guy sitting out the rest of the campaign because his PC got offed in the first session.


So he rolls up a new PC and dives back in. Possibly at >1st level, if everyone else is higher level.


We are really talking about calibrating the death penalty. At one extreme, start again from 1st level. At the other, no PC death. In the middle, restart somewhere behind your peers.


It is easy to see how a table could soon decide effectively no PC death, to avoid anyone feeling like a "loser".


But it's worth emphasising (maybe to newer players reared on 5e in particular) that you can have fun another way, where there are real stakes because of harsh death penalties (restart from 1st or from previous level -5 or something), but where those penalties can happen to anyone, and there is real satisfaction from surviving.


Slightly separate thought: death penalties can also work in in-game-world terms. Classic Traveller supports this kind of approach because there is no levelling up and PC advancement is in-universe i.e. more stuff, more power. That sort of automatically enforces a meaningful death penalty, so long as you don't go the cheeseball "I left all my stuff to my long-lost twin brother" route.

Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Stephen Tannhauser on September 13, 2020, 10:19:06 PM
There was always a tendency to steer away from death in the games I ran, because we tended to be fairly story-focused and having heroes die undramatically or anticlimactically ruined a lot of what we were looking for out of the game. But it does make a difference when that's a sort of informal, behind-the-scenes fudging that the GM can turn off when appropriate (like in big boss battles) and when the rules are explicitly set up to make it very difficult for PCs to die (q.v. 7th Sea).

Some possible thoughts on the topic which occur to me:

- Probability/frequency of character death should be directly related to ease of player re-entry. If it takes ninety minutes to generate a character, but half the characters you generate die within thirty minutes, the game is definitely on the losing side of the EROEI (Entertainment Return On Effort Invested) equation.

- Even games where it's very difficult for characters to die should make it quite possible for characters to lose in some way, so the game has to create stakes the players will value. 7th Sea does this by encouraging PCs to get very invested in the in-game relationships, so getting beat by a hated enemy really hurts even if they survive it.

- Even in non-story-focused games, death is more meaningful when the players can see how it comes out of their own choices, and those choices have to be meaningful themselves, i.e. the player has to have at least some sense of the stakes and the odds and a chance to take another path. Sphere-of-annihilation-in-the-statue's-mouth gags aren't fun for anybody but the GM, and even single saving rolls vs. death that come out of nowhere can feel cheap; nobody wants a character built up over months to be wiped out in one instant by a single fluke 1.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: cenmarik on September 13, 2020, 10:28:06 PM
I saw that in the PF1E era as normalized behavior. Which was incredibly strange to me. With lighter systems, the storygamer element is understood. But crunchy where the numbers could go south quickly, and then going full bitchlord when it happens? Very strange.

When we do open calls for players, it's kind of fascinating... wondering what's in some of these people's heads. "Gaming in the style of Conan, where life is cheap. Death isn't always waiting, but if you're not paying attention, and the dice rolls align, it can happen."

First dude we got wanted to play a 13yr old anime tutu girl that had a small book as a backstory. (We got the feeling he used the same character in every game.) WtF? No, dude.

People are a trip.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Steven Mitchell on September 13, 2020, 11:59:07 PM
There's a plus and minus to character death being on the line. I've seen it go both extremes:

A. Characters have things go their way until they don't.  Hilarious string of modestly bad choices escalates into pear shape really quick, possibly even a TPK.  Everyone laughs.
B. That one players seems to be the "walking landmine detector". It doesn't seem to matter what they do, they go through characters like water.

 In the second case, sure it happens with an inexperienced player.  But I've also seen it happen where the player has a string of what can only be called really bad luck over an extended period.  It's funny the first 2 or 3 characters that buy it, but increasingly less funny as it continues.  Eventually it turns around.  I've even seen a few players take it all in stride.  But it isn't exactly fun while it lasts. 

In games that I run, I prefer that death be on the line most of the time but relatively rare in practice, with zero fudge from the GM to make it so.  Which in effect means that I want something like the 5E death saves or some kind of hero points or similar, limited mechanic that gives players a few outs.  (Default 5E isn't enough threat.  5e with some of the more deadly options in place can be.)  Not enough to stop deaths or even TPKs when bad choices escalate, but enough to stop the seemingly random, "Pick on Joe for 5 sessions" streaks.  Or you could say that I don't care if a character ever dies, as long as the players are afraid that the characters could die at any moment and know that I won't save them if it happens.  Some players only learn that by getting a character killed, but a few learn it by watching someone else get a character killed.

Since I also run heavy "secrets" in my games and expect the players to scout and research or quickly risk getting into something deadly, the more likely consequences instead of death is that the characters fail.  Mainly, because I'll set up situations where they'll need to try something risky at some point, and sometimes the players decide it isn't worth it.  That's OK too:  You didn't think you could stop the zombie horde so now the village is overrun and you are retreating through the woods.  It makes the times when the players decide they have to try it anyway that much more meaningful.  Plus, it means usually when the players put their characters on the line, they know it.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Spinachcat on September 14, 2020, 01:48:01 AM
As social media has proved beyond a doubt, 5e has swamped the hobby with losers, so its no surprise that "auto-win, no-dying" would become popular.


PC death should depend mostly on the genre. Death should be rare (but not impossible) in some genres, but more common in others.


I enjoyed running superhero RPGs in the past and I doubt we had more than 1 death in 100 sessions. However, I mostly run horror, fantasy horror and space horror (hmm...there's a trend there) so 1 death every 2-3 sessions is totally acceptable.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: HappyDaze on September 14, 2020, 05:40:52 AM
Once I came to the realization that 5e was fantasy superheroes with death being about as uncommon (and even more commonly reversible) as in an Avengers comic or film, I felt much more comfortable with the game. If I play/run it now, I know to take that mindset rather than fight it and become frustrated. If I don't want that feel, I don't play 5e, and instead turn to something like WFRP, L5R, or something else more deadly.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: JeffB on September 14, 2020, 07:20:07 AM
I guess I sit somewhere between OD&D and 4/5E- I'm not into Save or Die, Immediate Level Loss from Undead, and similar old school mechanics ( I hated them back in the OD&D days too-I always toned this stuff down)

But I prefer the game to have some lethality. Not RQ lethality, where every combat is chance of permanent limb loss or death.  I generally set up my own adventures to have few, but meaningful/tough fights, I tone down healing overall, but even in my OD&D games I use a "recovery" type mechanic because healing and magic items are rare.

I kind of like 13th Age's approach, and I tend to use it- PC's can't be killed by low level minion types. Sure they go down and out for the session if appropriate, but not killed. They likely receive a campaign loss.  Only named/important/boss type NPCs or Monsters can perma kill the PCs.

This all goes out the window if it's a one shot type game or an alternate to our normal campaign and characters like CoC or RQ, or Star Wars or something.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Chris24601 on September 14, 2020, 08:36:24 AM
I tend to fall into the “death should happen, but it should be on the rare side and tend towards meaningful” camp.



Even if adventures are not actually stories, the PCs are their player’s chosen protagonists for any story you are recounting after the fact and “I slipped and fell to my death on the way to the dungeon” is just not terribly interesting.


Generally, I prefer systems where death requires a string of bad decisions to occur; definitely not just a single bad roll.


It’s part of my reasoning for having rather high starting hit points that increase slowly (a max level PC has just less than 4x the hp of a starting PC) with even high-level attacks only able to deal that base level in a single attack on a crit.


The idea being that, as protagonists, PC’s have got just enough luck that if they’ve unexpectedly entered the lair of a very powerful creature (possible because I run sandboxes) AND they turn and run immediately they’ll most likely survive. If they stay and fight after seeing an ally lose 90% of their hit points in a single attack... that’s on them and they’ve chosen a path of certain death.


Now, I will also make the distinction between systems where the character generation is fast and often heavily randomized (ex. roll 3d6 in order, then choose a class and basic gear and you’re ready to play) vs. systems where you have full control of the character creation process and that system is a bit more in depth (ex. assign stat array, choose race and racial options, choose class and class options, choose background and background options, choose equipment).


The former can get away with a lot of PC deaths/churn; particularly if the campaign is set up for easy replacement within game sessions because there’s no particular investment; you’re not even guaranteed to get a class you really want to play because your rolled stats were only good for something else.


The latter tend to start with stronger investment by the player both because they spent longer and because each choice was their first choice and each time they have to make a new character due to death they’re penalized by having to go with second or third choices if they want to avoid the “identical twin” PC (which, at least in these parts, is fairly stigmatized). Such systems generally need a softer approach to PC death as a result.


Similarly, another factor in the equation is permanence. A system where a relatively trivial expenditure (for PCs anyway) can easily restore a dead PC to life (bonus points if, like 3e, the XP system was geared to allow PCs who fell behind due to level drain/death to catch back up) then death can be common and cheap because it’s not REALLY the end of the PC, it’s a speed bump.


By contrast, a setting where death is virtually always permanent needs protagonist death to be relatively rare... though such settings tend to use “badly beaten/wounded and need time to recover” the way those casual resurrection settings use death.


So at the two extremes... a setting where chargen is quick and randomized with easy resurrection for PCs you care enough about to bring back can get away with cheap and common death. By contrast, a setting where chargen is detailed and all aspects are player chosen and where resurrection is nearly impossible at best will be best served by systems where death is rare and, ideally, other setbacks can be employed to inflict loss.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Steven Mitchell on September 14, 2020, 08:46:56 AM
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.  In fact, the last 4 deaths I had in game where all rather meaningless by that criteria.  It was the very meaningless that made the deaths stick and be poignant to the players, though.  It reinforced that the world was cruel, even if the game system wasn't. :)
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: S'mon on September 14, 2020, 10:14:41 AM
I've not seen many players expect or demand death-free gaming, at least with D&D. I also don't think it's more common than ca 2008, the first time I saw it.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Zalman on September 14, 2020, 10:45:43 AM
If any of my players have expected a death-free game, they never mentioned it to me, and have been quickly disabused of that notion in play. What I do know is that they keep coming back each week.

As far as the quality of death goes, how "meaningful" it is in terms of the story is up to the players -- whatever they want to make or not make of it is fine with me. I do prefer deaths that result from player decisions, so I tend to avoid mechanics that encourage random death. But my games are certainly dangerous enough to make plenty of those decisions critical ones.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Omega 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.

Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Chris24601 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.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: HappyDaze 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:
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: LiferGamer 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:
Like Tim Kask and the original crew (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9vECzikqpY&list=PLMPuz-w60c2isajsXnYkh-gF1358aCA5J&index=7&t=0s) 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 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIaIdv79Xz4).

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!
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Marchand on September 15, 2020, 01:41:59 AM
Like Tim Kask and the original crew (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9vECzikqpY&list=PLMPuz-w60c2isajsXnYkh-gF1358aCA5J&index=7&t=0s) 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 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIaIdv79Xz4).

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.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: S'mon on September 15, 2020, 04:36:24 AM
Like Tim Kask and the original crew (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9vECzikqpY&list=PLMPuz-w60c2isajsXnYkh-gF1358aCA5J&index=7&t=0s) 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 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIaIdv79Xz4).


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.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Steven Mitchell 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. 
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Chris24601 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.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Steven Mitchell 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.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: hedgehobbit 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.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Chris24601 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.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: LiferGamer 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.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: S'mon 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.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: ShieldWife 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.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Chris24601 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.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: BoxCrayonTales 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.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: S'mon 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.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: mAcular Chaotic 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.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Steven Mitchell 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. 
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Steven Mitchell 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. 
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Ghostmaker 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.)
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: S'mon 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.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: S'mon 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!
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: hedgehobbit 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".
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: hedgehobbit 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.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Anthony Pacheco 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.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: oggsmash 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.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: jeff37923 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.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Anthony Pacheco 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."
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: jhkim 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.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Omega on September 15, 2020, 06:34:29 PM
Basically, add %u201Ccreate henchmen/hireling assets%u201D to the initial character creation process so they start out with the mindset that their %u201Ccharacter%u201D is actually the whole team rather than just %u201Cthe fighter%u201D or %u201Cthe cleric%u201D (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.
Exactly. There are just players that get really attached to their characters and can and will go to whatever lengths to make sure they dont permanently shuffle off the mortal coil. And that as said, goes all the way back to the early play with the original crew.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Shasarak on September 15, 2020, 07:40:39 PM
Pathfinder 2e is good for bringing the fear back to the PCs.
I have found that PCs get Crit often when fighting high level creatures and we almost had a TPK fighting a Lich saved only by a nat 20 save vs Chain Lightning.
Ah, good times, good times.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: LiferGamer on September 15, 2020, 08:26:37 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.


If the PCS are fighting intelligent evil Critters then the right time for them to take shots at a downed player is anytime it doesn't put them at greater risk.  If it's a low intelligence Critter it might assume that they handled it and stop, and if it's someone who's not necessarily bloodthirsty, they may even stabilize the PC with an eye towards taking them prisoner.


When your opponent drops is not when the fight is over it's when the kicking starts.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Anthony Pacheco on September 15, 2020, 09:50:50 PM
Rule of thumb on down 5E PCs at my table:

Beast: imma gonna bite the last person who poked me. If nobody pokes me imma gonna bite this here body until I'm full.

People who have never been in combat: May or may not shift targets

Experienced Combatants: If the PCs go down, they will continue to wail on the PC until they are satisfied with no Healing Word or other monkey business will bring them back. One of these shots is automatic two failed death saves. Another one is a PC death. This includes other bad guys, not just the one that dropped the PC to 0.

These rough rules dramatically change gameplay and 5E lethality, especially with the prevalence of multiattack.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Razor 007 on September 15, 2020, 11:18:27 PM
Unfortunately, pretty much.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: S'mon on September 15, 2020, 11:58:00 PM
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.


I agree, but it's more about number of attacks. Above the lowest levels, creatures need multiple attacks to be able to kill a PC. With 3 attacks you can drop a PC then finish them off.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Shrieking Banshee on September 16, 2020, 12:00:19 AM
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.
"Realistically" and "Grittily" speaking, this sort of work would be done over a period of time by trained professionals. None of this is very realistic, so I can't really fault players for wanting a more involved thing.


I find if I want a rougelike dungeon puzzler experience, a videogame it massively beats out tabletop RPGs at this sort of thing. Where I can have a new character made in seconds and have it be brutal and engaging without slowing down the party. I can see why they shifted niches.


My penalty for death is a drop by 2 levels and using a NPC class until the hire-ups can arrange for a replacement.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Shrieking Banshee on September 16, 2020, 12:01:10 AM
doublepost
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Stephen Tannhauser on September 16, 2020, 12:09:28 AM
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.

Not a lone exception; this is pretty much how I approach it too.

It's all about creating tension and excitement, both in old-school and story-focused gaming; the Eight Deadly Words ("I don't care any more what happens next" or "I don't care what happens to these people") kill games as much as they do books or movies. It's just a question of where you set the stakes.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Chris24601 on September 16, 2020, 10:07:34 AM
It's all about creating tension and excitement, both in old-school and story-focused gaming; the Eight Deadly Words ("I don't care any more what happens next" or "I don't care what happens to these people") kill games as much as they do books or movies. It's just a question of where you set the stakes.
In WotC-era D&D I generally found a much better place to set stakes than "life-or-death" was "magic items."


Nothing ever instilled more terror in PCs in all my years of playing/running 3e than the dreaded words "Mordenkeinen's Disjunction." Death was trivially easy to come back from with little penalty, but losing your weapons, armor and stat boosters could be the equivalent of losing 5+ levels that could take tens to hundreds of thousands of gp to recover from... per character.


One of my favorites in lower-lethality games in general is ambushing lower level PCs with bandits who, if they defeat the PCs, take all their stuff but leave them alive (even binding their wounds) because "you can only rob a dead man once." Not only did it provide a consequence for failure, it also gave the PCs a mission to hunt down the bandits and get revenge/their stuff back.



Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: sureshot on September 16, 2020, 10:20:05 AM
Death from because of a stupid decision, not listening to the other players advice or because of bad dice rolls I am fine with. The "rocks fall you are all dead" especially when it comes to killer DMs not so much.


No one likes character death. Even those who bullshit and lie about liking don't like it they just refuse to be honest about. Character die it is part of the game. All that many players ask including myself is to try and make it a meaningful death.


Any edition of D&D with the right DM can be deadly imo. I rather not make a character with a backstory and have him die within two minutes of the start of the campaign. It happens I get past it yet the new replacement looks alot like the character that died with a new name.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: LiferGamer on September 16, 2020, 11:06:55 AM
Rocks fall, everyone dies is bullshit.  Save-or-die spells and poisons I grudgingly admit were bullshit also.

In 5e, after a certain level, if a character dies -permanently- 99% likely its the players fault for pushing their luck too hard.  There are SO many fail safes, second chances and stacked healing.  My players realized their main healer was unreliable (player's a bit of a flake) so quickly started figuring out how to spread healing duties around the party, and got chummy with the local alchemist.

It varies by edition, but IF you allow resurrection/raise dead in your campaign (different rant, don't get me started), there's always extra chances.

Early levels?  Meat grinder.  You have to be intelligent AND lucky.  Just like surviving in a war zone.  One of my players lost two characters in a single session.  It sucks, but green troops always have the highest mortality rate. (this is why I'm so interested in DCC and Funnels in general, but haven't gotten buy-in.)  The players need to figure their shit out, get the right combo of characters and tactics, and have each others back.

Why aren't there an assload of high level NPCs running around in my campaign?  Because lower levels are DEADLY.

BUT if your players aren't idiots, and you apply the rules fairly, over the long haul, there IS minimal PC death.  My current campaign has been running mostly weekly (figure 40 sessions a year) for a year-and-a-half with three PC deaths.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Steven Mitchell on September 16, 2020, 11:47:26 AM
I don't even mind "save or die" in some contexts. It's fine for situations where, "You, the player really screwed up. But maybe your character manages to get lucky or is so twitchy or stubborn that they survive despite the screw up.  Or maybe not."  After all, players have their off days.  Though I do think in those cases saving throws should really reflect that dynamic in their math.  They mostly do in earlier editions and mostly don't in the later ones.   As a character gains levels, the player should have a better sense of how to play it AND the character should get lucky or twitchy or stubborn more often to escape the infrequent screw ups.  Those effects magnify each other.

Only "drawback", if you can call it that, is that such saving throws require the GM to run the game so that players can make informed decisions about risks and have some idea of when to be cautious.  If the GM isn't willing to do that--or maybe the tone of the game is supposed to be more bold and zany--then "save or die" doesn't work.




 
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: ShieldWife on September 16, 2020, 12:01:06 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.

Not a lone exception; this is pretty much how I approach it too.

It's all about creating tension and excitement, both in old-school and story-focused gaming; the Eight Deadly Words ("I don't care any more what happens next" or "I don't care what happens to these people") kill games as much as they do books or movies. It's just a question of where you set the stakes.


I loved A Song of Ice and Fire, both the book series and as Game of Thrones on HBO, but I have to admit, after a certain set of events where good people died and lost, I became emotionally detached and it was never quite the same for me after that. I think something similar can happen in table top role playing, and can even get worse as lethality increases.


Long ago, when I was relatively new to gaming, I got involved in a D&D campaign in the back of a gaming store. Guy time running it was an old timer even then and still ran 1st edition AD&D. He ran us through dungeons, full of traps that continually reset, where we constantly encountered rectangular rooms with seemingly random monsters. In one room there would be a young dragon, who knows how it fit through the door or what it ate, and in a room across the hall was a vampire. A bit further down the hall way was a room with gnolls in it. How did these creatures live in this dungeon and coexist dozens of feet from each other, constantly having to face these traps that always reset themselves every day? Who knew. Why were we in the dungeon to start with? Who knew, we created a character with random die rolls and shazam, we're there in the dungeon with the rest of the party going from room to room checking for traps and preparing to fight. There was almost always at least one death every gaming session. When you died, your next character would just appear and seamlessly join the party, always at level 1 regardless of what level the rest of the party was at. Experience for monsters was only rewarded to the person who dealt the killing blow, or what ever the person dealing that blow wanted to share with those who helped.


As you might see, this setup was not at all conducive to creating attachment to either your character or any sort of overarching plot or narrative. Most people didn't feel any sadder over their character's failures or death than they would express sadness over their horseman who went bankrupt from staying in a Boardwalk hotel in Monopoly. Well, people wouldn't feel personal sadness over character death, but it could be very frustrating because a dead character meant not only that you would fall behind the surviving members of the party from starting back at level one, but that you would be much more likely to die in the future and less likely to gain experience.


This is probably an extreme example, I do acknowledge that, but it left a lasting impression on me of how both common death and harsh punishment for death can have a negative impact on the essence of what a role playing game is. At some point, it can become more of a war game or board game.


So now the group I play with, which is the same private group I have played with for 15 years or so, has a policy of very rare death. Death is rare, but defeat does happen from time to time and can be very emotional. Our party members have been captured and held for prolonged periods by enemies, have been permanently maimed, experienced terrible pain or terror, been emotionally scarred, lost all of our possessions including magical ones, seen close allies (NPC's) die, saw villains victorious as they rampaged through innocent populations, experienced our character's emotional turmoil as they failed at their lifelong goals or in some cases had to reexamine their deeply held convictions. No actual PC deaths involved in any of the above cases, but they were all much more emotionally significant than a character dying that you had only rolled up that night and where you had a backup sheet on standby. When you've had a character go through those things, including successes too, over the course of a year of play then all of their victories and defeats are going to matter to you more, because they are like a beloved fictional character in any good story, you're connected to them not just as a matter of how much damage they do each round, but as a person whose feelings are important too.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Libramarian on September 16, 2020, 12:04:43 PM
As the game becomes more deadly, you will have more players rage-quitting, even if everyone else is having more fun.

This tradeoff is only worth it if players can be replaced. If the standard playgroup is a closed group of nerds who only play with each other, and therefore one where each participant has something close to veto power, then naturally the game will evolve towards being less deadly. As that was the norm for D&D for decades, the game evolved in that direction.

However, that seems to be changing. The enormous popularity of D&D now combined with the COVID-accelerated shift to playing online has made the player market much more liquid. Players have a broader choice of games, and DMs have a broader choice of players. This shift should cause a renaissance of sorts for deadly games (and more generally, any game or playstyle that is polarizing and not bland).

For my online OSR game (where I play with a mix of friends and strangers), I get one or two new player applications a week. Consequently, I have no fear of a random PC death imploding the whole campaign.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Stephen Tannhauser on September 16, 2020, 12:53:49 PM
Nothing ever instilled more terror in PCs in all my years of playing/running 3e than the dreaded words "Mordenkeinen's Disjunction." Death was trivially easy to come back from with little penalty, but losing your weapons, armor and stat boosters could be the equivalent of losing 5+ levels that could take tens to hundreds of thousands of gp to recover from... per character.

One of my favorites in lower-lethality games in general is ambushing lower level PCs with bandits who, if they defeat the PCs, take all their stuff but leave them alive (even binding their wounds) because "you can only rob a dead man once." Not only did it provide a consequence for failure, it also gave the PCs a mission to hunt down the bandits and get revenge/their stuff back.


That's actually a brilliant insight. I'll have to remember that.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: LiferGamer on September 16, 2020, 12:55:25 PM


As the game becomes more deadly, you will have more players rage-quitting, even if everyone else is having more fun.

This tradeoff is only worth it if players can be replaced. If the standard playgroup is a closed group of nerds who only play with each other, and therefore one where each participant has something close to veto power, then naturally the game will evolve towards being less deadly. As that was the norm for D&D for decades, the game evolved in that direction.

However, that seems to be changing. The enormous popularity of D&D now combined with the COVID-accelerated shift to playing online has made the player market much more liquid. Players have a broader choice of games, and DMs have a broader choice of players. This shift should cause a renaissance of sorts for deadly games (and more generally, any game or playstyle that is polarizing and not bland).

For my online OSR game (where I play with a mix of friends and strangers), I get one or two new player applications a week. Consequently, I have no fear of a random PC death imploding the whole campaign.
Don't let any one player hold the game hostage.  Someone threatens to drop out, call their bluff.  Modern games run fine with three players.  They'll get bored and come back, or not.  Fuck em.  Life's to short to dance with ugly women, and too short to play with prima donnas.

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.


Not a lone exception; this is pretty much how I approach it too.

It's all about creating tension and excitement, both in old-school and story-focused gaming; the Eight Deadly Words ("I don't care any more what happens next" or "I don't care what happens to these people") kill games as much as they do books or movies. It's just a question of where you set the stakes.


Is the game that dull?  What the fuck is wrong with those players?  Those are two different problems; if they don't want to see what happens even if their character died, then the story/villains/adventure might be shit.  If they don't care what happens to their character, that's their problem.  My character goes down, I'm cheerleading my companions to avenge me.  I'm not checking out or moping.  I might be angry, but I'll focus that at the monster/trap/villain that did it, or myself for being stupid, not take it out on the DM or other players (unless some fucker didn't heal me when he should have).


'Random' deaths also add some verisimilitude.  Shit happens, people die doing and for stupid reasons.  Richard the Lionhearted didn't die in battle, he died from an infection.  No glory.  Just death.  Death isn't meaningful, it just happens.  Make LIFE meaningful.  I've gotten more mileage out of a group coming together over the death of a companion than any Harry-Potter-plot-armor-chosen-one-bullshit.

DMs - is your story SO IMPORTANT that you remove player agency?  Most of you are shouting NO! OF COURSE NOT!  But if you're throwing softballs, you're basically guaranteeing victory, and rewarding failure.  Your PCs are just going to fail upwards.

I'm running a HEAVILY MODIFIED Tyranny of Dragons campaign - the players are VERY aware that if they fail, the followup will be years later, where the rebellion against Tiamat's kingdom has begun.  I don't assume they will succeed, and I DAMN SURE won't 'MAKE' them succeed.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Stephen Tannhauser on September 16, 2020, 01:10:32 PM
My character goes down, I'm cheerleading my companions to avenge me.  I'm not checking out or moping.  I might be angry, but I'll focus that at the monster/trap/villain that did it, or myself for being stupid, not take it out on the DM or other players (unless some fucker didn't heal me when he should have).


This is a good approach and I endorse it, in principle.  Still, I think it's worth pointing out that in practice this can be harder to do than it might seem, for many people.

Depending on how long it takes a player to create a new character and for the game to find a plausible in-setting "re-entry point" for him, character death can mean you're out of the game for hours, possibly even the rest of a session; it's hard for a lot of people not to "check out" at that point for simple lack of being able to contribute, even if they know better than to let themselves get into an evening-ruining bad mood over it. And on a gut level, every player knows that the monster/trap/villain which killed their character is the DM, in the end, so that's where our limbic systems naturally want to direct our displeasure.

Emotional maturity is the ability to put aside these reactions as needed, of course, and it should always be recommended. I just think it's a good idea to design games with at least an optional mode for groups where it's, shall we say, not as developed as might be preferred.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Steven Mitchell on September 16, 2020, 01:37:01 PM
There is a huge difference in deaths in these two extremes:

You owe the players a lot more outs in the second than you do in the first. The longer the adventures and campaigns in those extremes, the bigger the difference.  (That is, a one-shot linear, no bones about it railroad, with pregens, is not the same as crafted characters running through a mostly linear campaign.)

Now, I run mostly sandbox.  And I usually make sure to have plenty of options of varying difficulty, with chances for the players to make an informed choice.  But sometimes the players show up and they don't want to risk their main characters today on what is available (usually because the players are tired or just not that with it today but possibly because I'm short of prepared stuff).   So we might play different characters those times.  And sometimes they just pick something relatively easy, accepting that the experience and treasure will not be that great, either.  The game might even be a little flat.  That's OK, because the mental energy wasn't there to do more than that, but what we are doing is fun as a change of pace.  Likewise, if they decide to really push the envelope on what they think they can handle, the rewards for that should they succeed should be great.

This works for us because the dynamic is consciously chosen--and the players make a point to check with each other to see what they want to do as players before they get engaged as characters.  It wouldn't work for people doing the heroic journey style of campaign or for players that want it pushed to the limits all the time.  We have a high tolerance for temporary lulls for the sake of a high focus on player decisions and allowing casual players to fit into the group.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Omega on September 16, 2020, 02:42:17 PM
Some idiots here seem to think PC deaths is some sort of "quota" they have to fill per session or adventure.

THIS is the real problem.

Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Simlasa on September 16, 2020, 04:04:25 PM
Some idiots here seem to think PC deaths is some sort of "quota" they have to fill per session or adventure.

THIS is the real problem.
Who? Where? I hadn't noticed anyone saying that.
I'm mostly speaking as a Player, I want/need to know my PC can be destroyed if things go badly. If I do something really dumb that should have negative consequences... if my PC takes damage in a way that should destroy them... then I'm going to feel a disconnect when that gets retconned/erased.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: mAcular Chaotic on September 16, 2020, 06:30:37 PM
This came up today with the latest D&D 5e adventure, Rime of the Frost Maiden. There was a lot of criticism about how the beginning level 1 encounters were basically TPKs and the level 1s couldn't face the enemies up front.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: LiferGamer on September 16, 2020, 06:47:41 PM
Some idiots here seem to think PC deaths is some sort of "quota" they have to fill per session or adventure.

THIS is the real problem.
Receipts?  Citations?  If you're referring to me, you haven't been paying attention; I've had three in a year in a half - because they play smart.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Shasarak on September 16, 2020, 07:51:21 PM
Don't let any one player hold the game hostage.  Someone threatens to drop out, call their bluff.  Modern games run fine with three players.  They'll get bored and come back, or not.  Fuck em.  Life's to short to dance with ugly women, and too short to play with prima donnas.
[/font]
I agree, dont let one player hold the game hostage even if that player is the DM.[/font]Especially if that problem player is the DM.[/font]
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: LiferGamer on September 16, 2020, 08:17:03 PM
Don't let any one player hold the game hostage.  Someone threatens to drop out, call their bluff.  Modern games run fine with three players.  They'll get bored and come back, or not.  Fuck em.  Life's to short to dance with ugly women, and too short to play with prima donnas.
I agree, dont let one player hold the game hostage even if that player is the DM.Especially if that problem player is the DM.


Yep.  DM is also one of the players; it's usually OBVIOUS when they're the problem; sometimes simply passing the screen over and trying again is all it takes.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Darrin Kelley on September 16, 2020, 08:35:12 PM
Random character death flies in the face of a game where the players are playing heroic protagonists. It's against the spirit of the game for protagonists to die meaninglessly.


Heroic sacrifice is absolutely within the themes of the game. A character going out in a blaze of glory. Or offering themselves up to save the rest of the group? Absolutely within the perview of the genre and good play. Such is definitely the sort of in-genre thing a player should be congratulated for and look forward to doing. Because they make the game memorable. It an act supportive of good story.


Random character death I balieve is a holdover from the wargaming days of the hobby. Where characters were treated as playing pieces and viewed as expendable as an extra life in classic video games. It's something that came from a forerunner of the medium, but never truly suited it.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: LiferGamer on September 16, 2020, 09:12:50 PM
Random character death flies in the face of a game where the players are playing heroic protagonists. It's against the spirit of the game for protagonists to die meaninglessly.

Heroic?  It's mostly graverobbers, barbarians and thieves.  Aside from that, you know what I find even -more- meaningless?  One sided contests that I know I can't loose.  If I'm designated hero, and you've got a script, I know I'm good at least till the third act.  In fact, lets just skip to the boss fight, since I'm sure me, Harry and Hermione will be there at the end.

I assure you none of my character deaths were meaningless; in fact thanks to my first PC I've got a better idea what to do about a rot grub infection than what to do about a snake bite.

Quote
Heroic sacrifice is absolutely within the themes of the game. A character going out in a blaze of glory. Or offering themselves up to save the rest of the group? Absolutely within the perview of the genre and good play. Such is definitely the sort of in-genre thing a player should be congratulated for and look forward to doing. Because they make the game memorable. It an act supportive of good story.

...and there's only one way to write a good story.  Well, at least three.  Harry Potter/The Alamo/300.  Everything else is apparently 'out of genre' or 'bad play'.

Quote
Random character death I balieve is a holdover from the wargaming days of the hobby. Where characters were treated as playing pieces and viewed as expendable as an extra life in classic video games. It's something that came from a forerunner of the medium, but never truly suited it.

The medium is good at telling more than one kind of story.  What about your heist stories that end more like Reservoir Dogs?  My thieves guild campaign that played out like The Godfather.  My City of Greyhawk game that morphed into something like Batman.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Chris24601 on September 16, 2020, 09:59:35 PM
Heroic?  It's mostly graverobbers, barbarians and thieves.
Maybe in YOUR games, but... say it with me...


“Not everyone plays the way I do... and that’s okay.”


In our latest campaign we have a borderland lord’s court wizard, captain of the guard, warden and the priest of the hold as the adventuring party (the Lord and his family are NPCs) and keeping the hold safe from the surrounding threats is the theme of the campaign. Money doesn’t even enter into it directly; the lord supplies what he can for matters in each PCs purview and gives out gifts/boons when we successfully overcome threats to the realm.


Because all the PCs are much more developed (they have established relationships with many NPCs), reinforcements are limited (civilization is a dangerous trip through dangerous wilderness), and the nature of adventures more linear (they deal with threats to their lord’s lands as they arise) it makes sense to use a system with less frequent death than most OSR rulesets make themselves out to be.


The only “right” answer to how deadly a campaign needs to be is what’s right for that campaign and it WILL vary from campaign to campaign.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Darrin Kelley on September 16, 2020, 11:09:36 PM

Heroic?  It's mostly graverobbers, barbarians and thieves.


Maybe in the games you play. But D&D has always set out its default assumptions at the PCs being heroic protagonists.


D&D can be played as a wargame. But that is not its default mode. And it never has been.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: LiferGamer on September 16, 2020, 11:23:27 PM
Heroic?  It's mostly graverobbers, barbarians and thieves.
Maybe in YOUR games, but... say it with me...

%u201CNot everyone plays the way I do... and that%u2019s okay.%u201D

Yeah, no shit.  That's the point I was trying to get across to Darrin.

<snip>  Good setup for a campaign.

Quote
The only %u201Cright%u201D answer to how deadly a campaign needs to be is what%u2019s right for that campaign and it WILL vary from campaign to campaign.

No argument; I seem to have fallen into the role of devil's advocate for being a killer DM - even though I'm not - I DO hate playing in games where the DM pulls punches often - I'd bet we all do it sometime. 

A three-musketeers game where swashbuckling foes live to fight another day is fun too, but make sure you're doing it in a system that supports it, and everyone knows it.  Lying to the players and letting them THINK your game is dangerous and deadly, but instead you're playing the He-Man cartoon series sucks.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: LiferGamer on September 16, 2020, 11:25:04 PM

Heroic?  It's mostly graverobbers, barbarians and thieves.

Maybe in the games you play. But D&D has always set out its default assumptions at the PCs being heroic protagonists.

D&D can be played as a wargame. But that is not its default mode. And it never has been.


Bullshit.  D&D hasn't always done anything.  The early stuff was just as inspired by Moorcock and Howard as Le Morte de Arthur.


My games aren't tabletop wargames either. 
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Darrin Kelley on September 17, 2020, 01:15:28 AM

Heroic?  It's mostly graverobbers, barbarians and thieves.

Maybe in the games you play. But D&D has always set out its default assumptions at the PCs being heroic protagonists.

D&D can be played as a wargame. But that is not its default mode. And it never has been.


Bullshit.  D&D hasn't always done anything.  The early stuff was just as inspired by Moorcock and Howard as Le Morte de Arthur.


Then your reading comprehension is null. Here! Have a dessert! 💩

(Thank you Pundit for enabling emoji's!)

The D&D rulebooks always set out the intent of the authors regarding how it was to be played. It described the purpose and the intent. I know this, because I owned most of the editions of D&D that were put out.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: LiferGamer on September 17, 2020, 01:32:42 AM

Heroic?  It's mostly graverobbers, barbarians and thieves.

Maybe in the games you play. But D&D has always set out its default assumptions at the PCs being heroic protagonists.

D&D can be played as a wargame. But that is not its default mode. And it never has been.


Bullshit.  D&D hasn't always done anything.  The early stuff was just as inspired by Moorcock and Howard as Le Morte de Arthur.


Then your reading comprehension is null. Here! Have a dessert! 💩

(Thank you Pundit for enabling emoji's!)

The D&D rulebooks always set out the intent of the authors regarding how it was to be played. It described the purpose and the intent. I know this, because I owned most of the editions of D&D that were put out.


I've been gaming since the Red Box myself, chief.  I also know that you got experience for loot, got loot for getting treasure out of dungeons by killing the shit that lived there.  You could have Chaotic alignment, and play rogues.   Later, Assassins and outright evil characters.  Maybe you also need to read between the lines? 



This is ALSO the period where character death was expected and had more tools for easy replacement...  So which is it?  Are we playing as intended by reaching back to a prior time or not?
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: S'mon on September 17, 2020, 02:05:07 AM
This came up today with the latest D&D 5e adventure, Rime of the Frost Maiden. There was a lot of criticism about how the beginning level 1 encounters were basically TPKs and the level 1s couldn't face the enemies up front.


This is a very common problem with published 5e adventures; the authors rarely take account of how much more deadly 5e goblins, orcs, hobgoblins et al are than in 1e-3e, nor the extreme vulnerability of level 1 5e PCs. OTOH at higher levels they are rarely challenging. If a published adventure says for 1-15 you're better off running it for 3-10. Which can usually be achieved simply by starting at 3rd & using the official XP system, rather than the 'milestone' power levelling assumed by the hardbacks.


For my Tier 1 5e game I came up with a bunch of weakened monster stats - goblin minions, pig orcs, decreipt skeletons etc - more suitable for 1st level PCs. It's still been a fluke that no PCs dead yet; they lost their second sidekick NPC last night.  :(
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: S'mon on September 17, 2020, 02:07:54 AM
Random character death I balieve is a holdover from the wargaming days of the hobby. Where characters were treated as playing pieces and viewed as expendable as an extra life in classic video games. It's something that came from a forerunner of the medium, but never truly suited it.


Try reading some of the foundational literature, especially Jack Vance's The Dying Earth. Random demise of protagonists is within the genre norms of some of the material that informed D&D.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: S'mon on September 17, 2020, 02:18:56 AM
D&D has always set out its default assumptions at the PCs being heroic protagonists.


This simply is not true of OD&D or 1e AD&D. In BX to a very limited extent. You do see this assumption beginning with BECMI then 2e AD&D.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Ghostmaker on September 17, 2020, 08:10:59 AM
I've been gaming since the Red Box myself, chief.  I also know that you got experience for loot, got loot for getting treasure out of dungeons by killing the shit that lived there.  You could have Chaotic alignment, and play rogues.   Later, Assassins and outright evil characters.  Maybe you also need to read between the lines? 
That's nice. So have I.


Doesn't mean every campaign is the Darkest Dungeon.


This came up today with the latest D&D 5e adventure, Rime of the Frost Maiden. There was a lot of criticism about how the beginning level 1 encounters were basically TPKs and the level 1s couldn't face the enemies up front.
Check the party number and loadout versus what the module recommends. I was running the 5E conversion of B1, and the first encounter thrashed the initial three-person party -- they survived but it was a near thing. After that I let them go back to town to heal up and hire some extra help (additional PCs) and things started going a lot more smoothly. Still dangerous, but less chance of TPK.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Armchair Gamer on September 17, 2020, 08:34:28 AM
This thread is reminding me that IMO, a major and largely unacknowledged problem with the hobby is how 'D&D' has become the default, while at the same time shifting dramatically in both mechanics and tone over the past fifty years.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: BedrockBrendan on September 17, 2020, 03:14:46 PM
Death free has been a thing, maybe a bit off and on, for a while. I remember in that by the early 90s (maybe the mid-90s) there emerged this assumption that the GM should never kill PCs unless they do something genuinely stupid. I have seen various forms of that come in and out of fashion over the years. For me personally, I just realized that this kind of advice produced a game I didn't enjoy playing that much (there are some exceptions of course depending on the core concept of the RPG or setting). But I think for your typical rpg, nothing is more exciting than death being on the table.


Lately I have seen an uptick in this assumption that you shouldn't kill PCs. At the same time, I have not had a problem in my own campaigns with characters dying. Once in a while you meet a player who reacts more strongly than others, but I think as long as you are a fair and impartial GM, most of the time, it won't create issues. Usually if I get a player who comes from a different style campaign, where maybe death isn't on the table, I just explain to them that my campaign may be different from what they are used to.

Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: mAcular Chaotic on September 17, 2020, 03:56:00 PM
Death free has been a thing, maybe a bit off and on, for a while. I remember in that by the early 90s (maybe the mid-90s) there emerged this assumption that the GM should never kill PCs unless they do something genuinely stupid. I have seen various forms of that come in and out of fashion over the years. For me personally, I just realized that this kind of advice produced a game I didn't enjoy playing that much (there are some exceptions of course depending on the core concept of the RPG or setting). But I think for your typical rpg, nothing is more exciting than death being on the table.


Lately I have seen an uptick in this assumption that you shouldn't kill PCs. At the same time, I have not had a problem in my own campaigns with characters dying. Once in a while you meet a player who reacts more strongly than others, but I think as long as you are a fair and impartial GM, most of the time, it won't create issues. Usually if I get a player who comes from a different style campaign, where maybe death isn't on the table, I just explain to them that my campaign may be different from what they are used to.


There is also a line of thought, where dying is LESS interesting than surviving with some sort of failure or setback.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Lurkndog on September 17, 2020, 07:11:09 PM
And then there's Traveller, in which your character can die during character generation. (That's a balancing mechanism to discourage minmaxing your career paths, btw. The ones with the most pluses are also the ones most likely to kill your character off, and it's enough of a PITA to keep people from trying to roll up Rambo over and over.)

I've played in games where character death was common (1st level D&D) and in games where character death was impossible. I think what is important is that your characters believe that they can die, and act accordingly.

I've played in death free games that were badly disrupted by players who abused the fact that their characters could never die. "I'm going to fly straight at that star destroyer with my antigrav belt and pistol." "I'm going to step on Superman's cape." "I'm going to experiment with explosive chemistry in my cabin on the ship." Eventually we had to kick the player out.

On the other hand, some death prone games were so lethal that you were actively discouraged from doing stuff (1st level wizard), and that was un-fun and counterproductive.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: jhkim on September 17, 2020, 09:17:59 PM
OK, a couple of things here on the general topic of characters death.

I think character death is fine - I enjoy it in my Call of Cthulhu games, for example. However, no character death is also fine -- and contrary to what LiferGamer suggests, it doesn't mean that the action is all scripted or that there is no failure. I've played a fair bit of Champions, for example, which usually had no PC death. It was just a given of the genre. PCs can still fail - in which case the villain gets away with their loot, or innocents get hurt or killed, or catastrophes happen. Maybe authorities and allies lose faith in the PCs, and abandon them.

If the only possible way to fail is to die, then I think that implies an extremely narrow view of adventures.

'Random' deaths also add some verisimilitude.  Shit happens, people die doing and for stupid reasons.  Richard the Lionhearted didn't die in battle, he died from an infection.  No glory.  Just death.  Death isn't meaningful, it just happens.  Make LIFE meaningful.  I've gotten more mileage out of a group coming together over the death of a companion than any Harry-Potter-plot-armor-chosen-one-bullshit.

DMs - is your story SO IMPORTANT that you remove player agency?  Most of you are shouting NO! OF COURSE NOT!  But if you're throwing softballs, you're basically guaranteeing victory, and rewarding failure.  Your PCs are just going to fail upwards.
Random character death flies in the face of a game where the players are playing heroic protagonists. It's against the spirit of the game for protagonists to die meaninglessly.

Heroic sacrifice is absolutely within the themes of the game. A character going out in a blaze of glory. Or offering themselves up to save the rest of the group? Absolutely within the perview of the genre and good play. Such is definitely the sort of in-genre thing a player should be congratulated for and look forward to doing. Because they make the game memorable. It an act supportive of good story.

Random character death I balieve is a holdover from the wargaming days of the hobby. Where characters were treated as playing pieces and viewed as expendable as an extra life in classic video games. It's something that came from a forerunner of the medium, but never truly suited it.

I think in principle a death can be both random and meaningful. A PC dying in deadly combat with monsters is not the same as Richard the Lion-hearted dying of an infection. They died fighting an enemy - which calls for mourning and possibly revenge, and so forth. In real life, when someone dies in war, people often ascribe great meaning to it - even though the death was presumably random.

That said, I do think there's a tendency in many campaigns for PC death to be not very meaningful. In part, by the nature of the role-playing, the player most involved has now been thrown out of character. Often, the other players' reactions are something like "Sorry, that sucks, Barb" or "Well, you should have been more careful, Joe." The player of that character is still there at the table, so it's natural to talk to that player out of character.

I do think that the character deaths that have been the most meaningful have been planned in some way - either in-game (as the PC choosing to sacrifice themselves) or out-of-game. But there is a spectrum, and some random death does have meaning.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: LiferGamer on September 17, 2020, 09:35:58 PM
I thought I'd been pretty clear from the get-go - some genres/campaigns are suited for no deaths.  Some people want the Saturday morning cartoon experience, cool.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Darrin Kelley on September 17, 2020, 10:01:59 PM
I wasn't arguing for a "death free" experience. I was arguing more for character death to be given more regard than it is in some corners of our hobby.


RPG characters do not usually have "extra lives".
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: LiferGamer on September 17, 2020, 10:07:03 PM
I wasn't arguing for a "death free" experience. I was arguing more for character death to be given more regard than it is in some corners of our hobby.

RPG characters do not usually have "extra lives".
If they have resurrection spells, sure they do.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Darrin Kelley on September 17, 2020, 10:12:21 PM
If they have resurrection spells, sure they do.


I have never been in any fantasy campaign where resurrection spells were commonplace. Not with D&D, Rolemaster, or any of the other major fantasy systems I have played over the years. if a resurrection was ever sought after, it was the end point of a huge epic quest. With no guarantee it would actually work in the end.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: S'mon on September 18, 2020, 12:25:12 AM
That said, I do think there's a tendency in many campaigns for PC death to be not very meaningful. In part, by the nature of the role-playing, the player most involved has now been thrown out of character. Often, the other players' reactions are something like "Sorry, that sucks, Barb" or "Well, you should have been more careful, Joe." The player of that character is still there at the table, so it's natural to talk to that player out of character.


Just had Dawn Wintersmorn the cute NPC Wizard die IMC (had 8 hp, stabbed by an imp's poison stinger for 18). She'd made the choice to use her last Sleep spell to take out the goblin horde and save the party, rather than flee the imp. I think I'm more cut up about it than any PC deaths, even my own.  :-
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Slipshot762 on September 18, 2020, 12:49:57 AM
back when we still played d&d, if someone dies their new character would start out at whatever the lowest level of existing party members was, so if you had one 5th level guy and two 4th level guys the new character would be 4th level. under D6 system, with hardmode engaged, death is super easy especially to traps or poison; but in D6 you can make a character in literally one minute if you are familiar with the system and setting, scatter 6 ability dice atop racial minimums/maximums and a number of skill dice, a few one line details, bam ready to go.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: LiferGamer on September 18, 2020, 09:57:29 AM
If they have resurrection spells, sure they do.


I have never been in any fantasy campaign where resurrection spells were commonplace. Not with D&D, Rolemaster, or any of the other major fantasy systems I have played over the years. if a resurrection was ever sought after, it was the end point of a huge epic quest. With no guarantee it would actually work in the end.
Most games I ran, I didn't allow them - because it would change society on so many levels - you'd end up with damn immortal kings and popes, and nearly everyplace a theocracy.
This campaign I'm running 5E RAW, and with the ease of the Raise Dead spell?  The prince's fiance was assassinated... but got better since the assassins were unable to nab the body.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Ghostmaker on September 18, 2020, 11:19:59 AM

Sorry, Lifer, I'm not seeing it.


Not even true resurrection can restore a target that died of old age. The soul also has to be willing to return from whatever afterlife it's gone onto (and there certainly should be the question of deific involvement if the soul was notable to a god; what if the god doesn't want them to leave?). An adventurer who's in his prime and wanting to get even with the bad guys, sure. An old king or high priest, though, may be looking forward to the Final Retirement.


However, raising the dead may lead to some terrible acts indeed. In The Cleric Quintet, several priests are assassinated and their hearts ritually removed; this prevented them from being raised normally. Certain necromancy spells also prevent easy raises, requiring resurrection or wish spells.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: LiferGamer on September 18, 2020, 11:43:46 AM
Great points!  As mentioned above, in my own campaign, assassins were thwarted by not letting them abuse the body. 

I freely acknowledge that I'm stretching the definition of 'taking it to its logical conclusion'.

Like most points in the discussion, it's not every campaign - these are outliers, that's for sure - but look at it this way:
LG Warrior gawd genuinely wants his people to triumph on the mortal plane - why let his best asset 'retire' to the afterlife?  He'll send him back in like an over leveled pokemon again and again.
Old age?  Potion of Longevity.  Main ingredient is Elf Blood.  With modern D&D being a Flinstones setting* more often than not, how hard is it to have a blood drive?
Raise Dead is cheap, big-picture wise.  A kingdom would scrape the resources together and have a suitable cleric nearby like a defibrillator. 

All of these things are like the Transporter in TOS - its in there to shortcut a problem with the style of stories they wanted to tell, but creates lots of strange ripples down the line.


Edit:  The above is why Demon and Devil worshipers in my campaign are at Warlocks (no clerics) the false gawd fire cult are sorcerers showing off, and the atheistic/agnostic/antideist High Elves have spawned the Warforged, Clone Spell, and Lichdom in my campaign (mind you, they were Melnibonean-lite back in the day)



*Flinstones setting - It's exactly like modern day but with alternate tech.


Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Steven Mitchell on September 18, 2020, 01:43:08 PM
Never got around to trying it, but I've considered doing a campaign where Raise Dead works like Princess Bride and the distinction between mostly dead and all dead (complete with looking through pockets for loose change).  There's even an element of that in Raise Dead as written, with needing to have the body.  Maybe take it a little further, where Raise Dead only works if it is fantastical but plausible that the character is still there in a modern sense, but fantasy world medicine treats it as dead.  (In reality, the character is in a coma or has other problems that makes him look dead at first.)  You'd have to do a little toe-tapping around things like body decomposition, breathing, and the like.  So wouldn't work in just any campaign.  Something like your spirit hangs around if the death wasn't too traumatic, waiting for your body to give up.  Fall into lava or get decapitated, the spirit takes one look and decides it is out of there.  Some characters might even have a "Detect Life" spell that determines if the spirit is available.


Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: BedrockBrendan on September 18, 2020, 02:19:19 PM
Death free has been a thing, maybe a bit off and on, for a while. I remember in that by the early 90s (maybe the mid-90s) there emerged this assumption that the GM should never kill PCs unless they do something genuinely stupid. I have seen various forms of that come in and out of fashion over the years. For me personally, I just realized that this kind of advice produced a game I didn't enjoy playing that much (there are some exceptions of course depending on the core concept of the RPG or setting). But I think for your typical rpg, nothing is more exciting than death being on the table.


Lately I have seen an uptick in this assumption that you shouldn't kill PCs. At the same time, I have not had a problem in my own campaigns with characters dying. Once in a while you meet a player who reacts more strongly than others, but I think as long as you are a fair and impartial GM, most of the time, it won't create issues. Usually if I get a player who comes from a different style campaign, where maybe death isn't on the table, I just explain to them that my campaign may be different from what they are used to.


There is also a line of thought, where dying is LESS interesting than surviving with some sort of failure or setback.


I guess for me it depends on what this means exactly. I have no problem with this being  a person's preference. I just don't see why having character death would be less exciting, fun or interesting (or why having set backs precludes also having character death). I do get that in some games, death isn't going to make as much sense. For example if I were playing something inspired by Seinfeld, I probably would want something like set backs rather than death. But in most games I play, I do want death to be a possible outcome of combat. I want other equally interesting things to be a possible too: maiming, internal damage, etc. I also think there is plenty of value of there being consequences for losing a fight that don't result in death (but that should emerge organically in play, like the villain gets away and is able to kill your family or something): little wary of having the latter type of set backs keyed to the mechanics themselves.
Title: Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
Post by: Ghostmaker on September 21, 2020, 08:29:12 AM
Never got around to trying it, but I've considered doing a campaign where Raise Dead works like Princess Bride and the distinction between mostly dead and all dead (complete with looking through pockets for loose change).  There's even an element of that in Raise Dead as written, with needing to have the body.  Maybe take it a little further, where Raise Dead only works if it is fantastical but plausible that the character is still there in a modern sense, but fantasy world medicine treats it as dead.  (In reality, the character is in a coma or has other problems that makes him look dead at first.)  You'd have to do a little toe-tapping around things like body decomposition, breathing, and the like.  So wouldn't work in just any campaign.  Something like your spirit hangs around if the death wasn't too traumatic, waiting for your body to give up.  Fall into lava or get decapitated, the spirit takes one look and decides it is out of there.  Some characters might even have a "Detect Life" spell that determines if the spirit is available.
So Westley's problem was that he had a ton of negative levels and was trying to roll saves to shake them off? :D