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Author Topic: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?  (Read 1961 times)

Stephen Tannhauser

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #60 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.
Better to keep silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt. -- Mark Twain

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LiferGamer

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #61 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.
Your Forgotten Realms was my first The Last Jedi.

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

Stephen Tannhauser

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #62 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.
Better to keep silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt. -- Mark Twain

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Steven Mitchell

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #63 on: September 16, 2020, 01:37:01 PM »
There is a huge difference in deaths in these two extremes:

  • Sandbox where the players pick the thing they are going to do, with some real choice as to how difficult the thing is that they pick, and with matching rewards.
  • A prepared, mostly linear, adventure that the entire group is expected to engage with (if only because that's how the group rolls), where even if not exactly a railroad, it's not gonna happen unless the players stick with it.
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.

Omega

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #64 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.


Simlasa

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #65 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.

mAcular Chaotic

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #66 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.
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LiferGamer

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #67 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.
Your Forgotten Realms was my first The Last Jedi.

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

Shasarak

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #68 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]
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LiferGamer

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #69 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.
Your Forgotten Realms was my first The Last Jedi.

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

Darrin Kelley

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #70 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.
« Last Edit: September 16, 2020, 08:36:55 PM by Darrin Kelley »
 

LiferGamer

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #71 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.
Your Forgotten Realms was my first The Last Jedi.

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

Chris24601

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #72 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.

Darrin Kelley

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #73 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.
 

LiferGamer

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Re: Have 'death free' PCs become the norm?
« Reply #74 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.
« Last Edit: September 16, 2020, 11:28:32 PM by LiferGamer »
Your Forgotten Realms was my first The Last Jedi.

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