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Patrick Zoch
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How much risk of character death do you prefer when you play?

Do you have a question you want asked as QOTD? Post here!

And if you want to find an old QOTD: The big QOTD Summary and Subscription Thread Volume 3
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Gordy Crozier
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I think its important that its there but I like it to be rare rather than then norm. I play Call of Cthulhu and we've only had 4 character deaths in about 20 sessions. My One Ring campaign in work had 5 in the 30 sessions of the Darkening of Mirkwood. Current DnD 5e campaign has had 1 character death in 14 sessions, number of close calls though especially recently.
For my games it should mean something...

Except for Paranoia, then it's just funny!
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Dave Bernazzani
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I came from the old-school D&D style of play where death lurked around every corner and behind every closed door and the dice ran fickle sometimes. So I do like having the real possibility of character death - but I prefer it only happens when a combination of bad decisions (player input) meets bad luck (dice input). That is, if we think of a decision and result as happening in four quadrants:


Decision-Result
=========================
| |
| Good-Good | Good-Bad |
| |
=========================
| |
| Bad-Good | Bad-Bad |
| |
=========================


I'd prefer character death fall into the lower right quadrant... though with an exceptionally bad decision or exceptionally bad luck it might happen on the margins of two other quadrants.

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Alexandre Santos
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This is very dependent on setting, context.

For most of games (specially involving long campaigns), death is an unlikely outcome, as there are plenty of other negative outcomes that are more interesting. Still, it can happen if the player makes successive risky decisions.

Usually death is a possibility that players can chose to take. For instance I had a character in a zombie setting who took a risky chance, failed and was given the choice of death or permanent impairment. I considered that the PC narrative arc was complete, and chose death, as I thought it was fitting.

In games like Call of Cthulhu death is frequent and actually the most likely outcome, and I always warn of this before we embark on a scenario.

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Paranoia? Yep.
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pdzoch wrote:
How much risk of character death do you prefer when you play?

I put a lot into my characters, so preferably not too much.
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Mark Wilson
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I put a lot into my characters. So preferably lots of risk.



But actually, that's pretty true. My comfort with potential death as a character is higher than it is when I GM. The Good/Bad chart higher up is a good way to think about it as well, and I'd agree that Bad/Bad should include risk of death. I don't mind it leaking into the adjacent squares either, tbh, but I also GM narrative, plot-driven games, not necessarily grindhouse dungeons, so I can't flirt with TPKs and such too often.
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Chris L
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I'm generally aiming for something along the lines of 'action movie', so, not much.

And when it does happen, it's not impersonal. The villain deliberately finishes someone off, not someone falls into a spiked pit.
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Roger
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I been told having the outhouse eat the thief was funny but over the line and down right sh beep.
As long as a reset (raise dead or new pc teleporting in) is available, then it is ok.
I do Adventurer League. 43 Kills in around 142 sessions. So call it 1 pc death per 10 hours of play.
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There's death and then there's death. Characters can die like flies if the system has ways to keep players playing. Naruto games were a blast because there's a million ways to die and not die woven within the setting. Illusions , clones, replacement techniques, regeneration, resurrection...

Controlling multiple characters mitigates much of death issues too.

Lately, I want it to be something the player gambles... you can go right and risk loosing your friends or left and risk being shot dead. I mean in a brawl, most people risk being injured fine, but after that first punch lands, they don't escalate into risking death.

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Harry Lee
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It depends on the game! When I'm playing D&D, I think of risk of death as an important part of the experience. In other cases, it might feel out of sync with the tone of the game, or I might want it to be a negotiable part of the stakes, but not necessarily always on the table.
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Roger Hobden
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Back to playing RPGs last autumn 2017 after an absence of about 30 years.

Most games played so far (maybe 15-20) have been on Play by Forum, either here or elsewhere.

And the Number One cause of character disappearance, by far, in these past 12 months has been players removing themselves from the game, for one reason or another.

And, when one of these well-liked characters vanishes suddenly, you go through this short phase of mini-mourning ("Oh no, it's really too bad we are losing so-and-so, who contributed so much and so well to the physical action and emotional content of the story).

Given these circumstances, I would rather have, in average, low risk character death in the RPGs that I participate in, either as GM or Player.
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shiva666 wrote:
There's death and then there's death. Characters can die like flies if the system has ways to keep players playing. Naruto games were a blast because there's a million ways to die and not die woven within the setting. Illusions , clones, replacement techniques, regeneration, resurrection...

AlexFS wrote:
This is very dependent on setting, context.
Put Mario and Alex's points together and you have my perspective. I want to play in games that:

* have an appropriate risk of character death for the type of story being told
* "generate" (for lack of a better word) the circumstances of character death in a way that is appropriate to the story being told
* mitigate the practical un-fun consequences of character death (e.g. the loss of the labor invested, the loss of play time while making up a new character/getting that character into the action, disruption of GM plans)

I can think of games that do that well, and some that do it badly, in all kinds of ways. There is no one solution to address those bullet points, because as Alex says it is dependent on context. A game like Night Witches about Soviet woman night-bomber pilots in WW2 should have a VERY different solution for those bullet points than a game like Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game about gonzo sword & sorcery stories, and both should be different from a game like Spirit of the Century about pulp-style heroes in the 1920s.
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Bring it!
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Eric Clason
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Context: Most of my RPGing has been some flavor of D&D and I am answering in terms of character death in a campaign.

Short generalized answer: In a D&D campaign, there should be enough death that players believe the possibility of death is real, but not so much death that it disrupts the progression of the campaign.

More detailed example: In the last long campaign I DMed (AD&D) I found that frequent death at low levels, particularly 1st, with increasing less frequent (but still occasional) death as levels increased, worked well. Players believed the possibility of death was really and acted accordingly. To use wavemotion's good/bad matrix, at 1st level, a bad in either decision or luck, had the possibility of death. As levels increase, the possibility of death retreated to the bad/bad quadrant only.
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Geoffrey Burrell
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Games like Shadowrun (5th Edition) say that the game is lethal so that is what I am used to. There is always risk of character death but maybe more so in Shadowrun than other games.
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Great question! Misunderstandings, misconceptions and miscommunications about character death are some of the biggest barriers to fun in this hobby.

I'm fine with any amount of death so long as:
The GM is honest and upfront about it. I don't mean saying "Well, I won't pull any punches, but what happens to your characters is up to you," or "We'll deal with it if it comes up." No, thank you. What the GM thinks will happen or wants to happen has a lot to do with what does happen, so they could give us some idea of what to expect. And if they honestly don't know how lethal the game might be, then they can prepare for it to be maximally lethal and tell us to do the same.

The players get to keep playing in a way they expect and enjoy. If my character dies and I'm sidelined for a few minutes until a roughly equivalent character can come in under my control, then I don't have an issue with pretty much any level or kind of character death, though at some point the game becomes entirely about dealing with these repeated deaths, which might be rather boring. If death might mean that I'm sidelined for most of the session, or that I can take in-game actions but they don't really affect anything (e.g. I'm a ghost, or I'm imprisoned), or that I can play but only with some total scrub former NPC (unless I had agreed to that possibility upfront) then I'd rather not bother.

What it amounts to is that I don't want the game to bog down when death looms. When someone's participation or emotional investment is at stake, then that's when rules start being picked over and rulings start being argued about.

I also don't want death (or, more often, the vague threat of death) to be used as a leash to keep the characters and players in line. If I say my character is going to try to do something and the GM says "Are you sure you want to do that?" I start to seriously consider walking away from that game. Why wouldn't I want to do it? Any outcome of any action I take should be equally entertaining, whether I succeed or fail, and whether my character lives or dies, but it seems like you, GM, have decided that it would be appropriate for me to regret one of those outcomes. Why?

When I GM, death is basically off the table for the PCs. Instead, the stakes become success and failure at some goal, often a goal the players have helped me come up, down to the consequences of succeeding or failing at that goal. The opposition wants to achieve something that doesn't require the PCs to die. If the PCs never showed up, the opposition would just keep working on their goal. The PCs showing up might make achieving the goal harder, but killing them is still not the goal. The goal is the goal. If the PCs stop being able to fight, any opponents who were fighting the PCs go back to trying to achieve the goal. Yes, killing the PCs is a way to make them stop being able to fight, but so is putting up a force-field, or pulling up the drawbridge, or escaping through a portal, or lowering beloved NPCs into a pit of acid. In other words, the opposition should be able to win without killing the PCs.

Once the goal of the monsters is to kill the PCs, everyone at the table has to be okay with the outcome being death of a character or characters. If not everyone honestly is, then a misunderstanding has occurred somewhere.

If a player tells me that they are okay with their character dying, or think their character should die in a situation (I've never had the latter happen, but I could see a really poignant moment arriving) then death is back on the table, for that character only.

Please spare me the comments about how you or your players would never want to play in such a game, particularly if that's because there "no challenge." I've heard that response before to this, and generally it means that the respondent has misunderstood what I'm saying, perhaps willfully. But I'm open to questions about what I'm saying.

wavemotion wrote:
I came from the old-school D&D style of play where death lurked around every corner and behind every closed door and the dice ran fickle sometimes.

I started playing about 40 years ago, but I don't think I ever had a chance to play in that kind of game, until very recently. To my recollection, ever GM I ever had lacked any real interest in seeing any character die. Sometimes they were interested in seeing a story play out, sometimes they didn't want to damage trust or enjoyment of the players.

So, I don't actually know how much I'd enjoy such play, even with caveats.

wavemotion wrote:
So I do like having the real possibility of character death - but I prefer it only happens when a combination of bad decisions (player input) meets bad luck (dice input).

Yes, pretty much everyone prefers that, it seems. The trouble is, I'm not convinced anyone knows what it means, and or is even able to recognize their stated preference when it occurs.

One part of the problem is that the focus on whether an idea is "good" or "bad" can result in excessive amounts of discussion and blocking.

Player A: "Let's do A."
Player B: "No, A would be a bad idea, because of X."
Player C: "Okay, how about B."
Player D: "No, B would be a bad idea, because of Y."
Player E: "Well, maybe we could do C. I mean if you want. If anyone sees a way that it's a bad idea, then I withdraw it."
All other players: "Nahhh."

Here's the thing: ALL ideas are bad in some way, to some degree. Any reasonably intelligent group of players has the brain power to consider how any given idea could be bad, and therefore worthy of outright dismissal. Because of social stigma, players quickly become conditioned (if they haven't already) to not wanting to suggest anything, lest the others think that they're dumb or trying to get the party killed, or (perhaps even worse) that they others will uncritically accept their idea and go along with it and get killed, making it that player's fault.

But something has to happen or the game never goes anywhere. Sometimes enough people resign themselves to failure from the "bad plan" that things can proceed, albeit with one or more people who are just chucking dice because they're sure they're doomed. Sometimes the group finally comes up with something they all consider "good" which turns out to be incredibly massive overkill against a situation that the original, simple, plan A could have resolved. Sometimes the group comes up with a plan only to have the GM say "Are you sure?", sending them all back to the drawing board. I've seen it all so often that I've come to dread any kind of planning, and I just always agree with (and try to make work) whatever the latest suggestion was. If my character dies, well, at least I got to spend my afternoon actually playing the game instead of talking.

Another big part of the problem is that no game operates purely on player decisions and dice outcomes. There's at least one other factor involved and that's the GM. The GM decides things beforehand (often) and during play that don't necessarily relate to player decisions or dice rolls.

One key decisions is whom to target with attacks. Some GMs try to get out of this responsibility by rolling attacks randomly, but that involves decisions too, like what odds to use, and even whether the monster should attack or not. I often see GMs state that the creature's "intelligence" or "alignment" decides the matter, but that almost always appears to be an afterthought excuse for something the GM had already decided to do. There's rarely only one plausible way for a creature to react.

The GM also decides, often, what failure means. If the PCs fail to be stealthy, does that mean the enemy attacks immediately, or runs off and reports, or pretends not to notice and lure the characters in. Unless a combat situation is perfectly bog-standard and by-the-book, the GM is probably also going to have to make a ruling about something, so further decisions are involved: err on the side of the enemies/obstacles, or the PCs? Which PC?

Maybe full trust in the GM's impartiality is implicit in the "bad decisions or bad dice" preference, but in my experience that trust breaks down very easily when character lives are on the line, or any other unpleasant stake comes due.

I recommend finding a way in every game to be okay with a GM simply deciding that something is going to happen a certain way, regardless of dice or decisions.
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I not a big fan of PC death, but there has to be some risk. I think it should be limited to the following categories:

* Noble self-sacrifice
* Going against the advice of every single party member and doing something stupid
* Um, I had a third category an hour ago but have forgotten it now ... I may edit this.
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I'd prefer little character death unless someone does something stupid (heroically so, sometimes, but still unwise).

I always tell players in old school games that I'm not going try to kill them but it is up to them to know when to cut losses and run (just like in the old days).
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I have only experienced one death by dice. It was a near TPK during the fight with Klarg in LMoP (5e).

All but one player was in death saves. The novice rogue didn't understand medicine checks, but was also trying to to die with his actions. Our healer was down. The character crit-failed one roll. Even after doing an extra roll, it was a fail too. It was a little messy to introduce the player's new character for the next part of the campaign.

It wasn't anyone's fault. It was fairly realistic. I think we all understood our decisions and their consequences better afterward. I think that risk needs to exist.

I'd like to play something like DCC where I'm told you expect mass deaths. Something more rooted in old school dice-and-die. The closest I've gotten was Four Against Darkness in a solo game. The death didn't have the gravity of a group game. I attribute that to the focus not being on character/RP.

Flippant avoidance of death in a serious game doesn't seem right. I think I'd prefer being able to die in almost any setting/scenario.
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lawingm wrote:
Flippant avoidance of death in a serious game doesn't seem right.

What do you consider "flippant"?

lawingm wrote:
I think I'd prefer being able to die in almost any setting/scenario.

Does that mean that there are things actively trying to kill your character in any setting/scenario or just that things that could kill your character exist in the setting/scenario? Is it enough for the thugs to have guns, or do they have to want to engage in a gunfight (as opposed to making a clean getaway)?
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wavemotion wrote:
I came from the old-school D&D style of play where death lurked around every corner and behind every closed door and the dice ran fickle sometimes. So I do like having the real possibility of character death - but I prefer it only happens when a combination of bad decisions (player input) meets bad luck (dice input). That is, if we think of a decision and result as happening in four quadrants:


Decision-Result
=========================
| |
| Good-Good | Good-Bad |
| |
=========================
| |
| Bad-Good | Bad-Bad |
| |
=========================


I'd prefer character death fall into the lower right quadrant... though with an exceptionally bad decision or exceptionally bad luck it might happen on the margins of two other quadrants.


That’s some deep sh*t right there. ....I like it. ...Being from that AD&D1st generation myself, I can agree with it. thumbsup
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It certainly depends on the system, the levels, and the crowd

1st edition D&D - should be more deadly than 2-5th. It just should be. Why? Half the characters are useless at 1st and 2nd level. You want to churn them up until the players have characters that connect with them. Later levels should feature more survival.

As for modern D&D style, I want about a 1/3 chance of death for one character per session. This means that at least one character is at risk but rarely the death occurs. The exception is for where a PC refuses to learn from their mistakes.

e.g. a PC tries to do the exact same method of escape 3 times and fails badly each time. That character is dead unless the rest of the party feels it is worth rescuing them.

Dread...well duh.

If I am running Apocalypse World, someone should "die" in the campaign...you can "barely survive" and come back even weirder the first couple times. The game rules also tell you to regularly kill notable NPCs.

I want to run a game of The Fellowship with a noble sacrifice. That would be awesome!

Superhero games - the supers should very rarely die. Instead, the emphasis should be put on whether they kill the baddie or not.


The problem with too much risk and too little reward is always the same though. The PCs don't take risks. Example: I have witnessed a D&D 2nd edition Ravenloft game where none of the PCs will leave the inn to see what that scream was. Ugh.

On the other hand, if character death is rare, players usually run straight at the dragon/ cthulu / demon / impossible baddie for their experience in the first couple scenes. Then, the complaining ensues. "How could you bring a red dragon on our 6th level characters?", "What the hell? We could never have won that fight..."




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Roger Hobden
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Triad1 wrote:
wavemotion wrote:
I came from the old-school D&D style of play where death lurked around every corner and behind every closed door and the dice ran fickle sometimes. So I do like having the real possibility of character death - but I prefer it only happens when a combination of bad decisions (player input) meets bad luck (dice input). That is, if we think of a decision and result as happening in four quadrants:


Decision-Result
=========================
| |
| Good-Good | Good-Bad |
| |
=========================
| |
| Bad-Good | Bad-Bad |
| |
=========================


I'd prefer character death fall into the lower right quadrant... though with an exceptionally bad decision or exceptionally bad luck it might happen on the margins of two other quadrants.


That’s some deep sh*t right there. ....I like it. ...Being from that AD&D1st generation myself, I can agree with it. thumbsup


In Call of Cthulhu, I believe the Decision Matrix should be something like this:

Bad-Bad ........Bad-Death

Insanity-Bad ..Insanity-Death

devil

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There's always a risk where there is adventure so character death is fine as long as the event adds something memorable to the overall story.

Meaningless and/or random deaths discourage players from returning to the table.
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