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Michael Ink
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Oh, I also have an example of a terrible near PC death....last year I was in a 5th edition campaign where a PC was nearly suffocated by a magic rug two fights before the end of the campaign. I mean, this badass monk had to survive a saving throw or die versus a carpet 12 sessions in!? That is not good DM'ing.
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Inkwan wrote:
Oh, I also have an example of a terrible near PC death....last year I was in a 5th edition campaign where a PC was nearly suffocated by a magic rug two fights before the end of the campaign. I mean, this badass monk had to survive a saving throw or die versus a carpet 12 sessions in!? That is not good DM'ing.


Sheesh, talk about a carpet bomb.
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Paul Unwin
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bobcatt wrote:
There's always a risk where there is adventure

Risk doesn't have to mean the same thing as death, though. Or does it?

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

How is a death prevented from being meaningless or random? Can rules prevent it, or is it the responsibility of the player or GM to prevent them? Should the GM fudge dice to prevent them?

Inkwan wrote:
I mean, this badass monk had to survive a saving throw or die versus a carpet 12 sessions in!? That is not good DM'ing.

What would have been good DM'ing? Should the party not have been faced with a magic suffocating carpet? Are there only specific enemies you're willing to die against? If the DM asked you to tell them what you were willing to face so they could avoid things you didn't want to face, would you oblige them?
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Eric Clason
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endure wrote:
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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.

I would say it is not just bad decisions, but decisions to take on risk. In my experience, most death at higher levels happened when the party had been weekend by previous encounters. The party knows that as they are weekend, the chance of death increases and they usually have the ability to retreat to a safe location (back to town) to recuperate. Seldom were in game time pressures present, other than the possibility that conditions in the dungeon could change between sorties. So why do the players take on this risk? Because they are eager to explore further and not have to wait for later. Also risk is not a black or white thing. There isn't a line you cross where suddenly the risk of death gets large. Instead it is shades of grey. So part of the tension (and fun) of the game is deciding how much risk to take on.
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Stephen Pennisi
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I go a step further and endorse the possibility of death in character creation. devil
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DadsAngry wrote:
I go a step further and endorse the possibility of death in character creation. devil


I'm sure they will incorporate that into an RPG in the future. whistle
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ejclason wrote:
I would say it is not just bad decisions, but decisions to take on risk.

Okay, that's a clearer definition. I'd say every decision involves risk, or some kind of trade-off, and "bad" decisions tend to be one that either one that involve known excessive risk or either an unknown amount of risk or an unknown outcome for either success or failure or both.

Having an unknown outcome for failure seems to me to be the biggest sticking point for decisionmaking, especially in D&D. It's practically impossible to know what magic might come into play, which makes it impossible to truly judge risk. Add to that the fact that DM often delight in subverting attempts to gauge risk through metagaming, and it becomes even harder.

ejclason wrote:
Seldom were in game time pressures present, other than the possibility that conditions in the dungeon could change between sorties.

That's a pity. Time pressure is an easy way to introduce failure that doesn't require character death. Stories use them all the time, particularly when the story is meant to be part of a large character arc and the author really can't kill the characters or even plausibly threaten them. Instead some problem with a time pressure is introduced, or better yet several.

ejclason wrote:
So why do the players take on this risk? Because they are eager to explore further and not have to wait for later.

That wait potentially takes no time at all for the players, which is why the "five-minute workday" comes about. The PCs are no longer at peak ability and there's no downside to resting (yes, I know there's supposed to be, but not all GMs handle that well) so doing anything further is sheer folly.

ejclason wrote:
Also risk is not a black or white thing. There isn't a line you cross where suddenly the risk of death gets large. Instead it is shades of grey. So part of the tension (and fun) of the game is deciding how much risk to take on.

Perhaps. I question whether or not that tension is necessary, at least as usually handled. It's possible to have games and situations in which almost nothing is unknown except the opponent's plan, and there's still fun and tension. Yet it's common for GMs to hide vast swaths of the information the players might need to take even minor risks.
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Evil Doppelgänger
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The following with all the caveats of "it depends on the game" and "different groups do it differently", etc. Obviously, Paranoia is a special case, etc. And if a character died in most "social" type LARPS, it would be... really pretty freaky. The following, then, is meant to apply to fantasy tabletop RPG with session-on-session campaign style play.

I think what we want is the actual risk to be very, very low. But we want the "feeling" of risk to be high.

Lots of work goes into making characters, and having them die is just... not much fun. We play games to have fun.

If we have a table of four players in a campaign, and we play weekly for a year, that's about 200-ish game sessions. Let's say we have one death in that time, which would give a nominal risk of character death at something like 0.5% per session, or lower. That may sound "about right" to you (or may sound low or high). But that means that the actual risk is very, very low.

However, if you know right up front that "in the next year of play, only one of your characters is going to die", then... for sure the game won't be that much fun because there is no real tension in the adventure. What we want to "feel" is that every single session - at several critical points throughout the session - the characters have a real chance of death. This makes the game seem urgent and the play seem significant. But if this actually was the case, then the risk would be something like 10% per session - or more than x20 as likely as probably it is.

What a great GM is able to do is to make the players feel like their decisions are critical - "life or death" - and make them feel that really often. But in reality... their decisions are pretty safe no matter how dumb they act.
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enduran wrote:
Please spare me the comments about how you or your players would never want to play in such a game

Request denied. I'd never want to play in such a game. But I'm glad it works for you. To each, their own. As a plus, you wouldn't have to walk away from my table when I GM since I make it clear how I run the game. Communication is key - life is too short to play games with people whose style you don't enjoy.
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Mallet wrote:
DadsAngry wrote:
I go a step further and endorse the possibility of death in character creation. devil


I'm sure they will incorporate that into an RPG in the future. whistle

Long since been done! You can die in character generation in Classic Traveller.
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ctimmins wrote:
Lots of work goes into making characters, and having them die is just... not much fun. We play games to have fun.


... not much fun - for you.

Don't forget the for you part!

Fortunately, we're all different. There are lots of people I enjoy playing games with. And far more than I don't. We play games to have fun... but what's fun for one person might not resonate with another.
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wavemotion wrote:
enduran wrote:
Please spare me the comments about how you or your players would never want to play in such a game

Request denied.

To what end? Were you under the impression that I didn't know this opinion exists?

wavemotion wrote:
Communication is key - life is too short to play games with people whose style you don't enjoy.

Agreed.
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endure wrote:
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ejclason wrote:
Seldom were in game time pressures present, other than the possibility that conditions in the dungeon could change between sorties.

That's a pity. Time pressure is an easy way to introduce failure that doesn't require character death. Stories use them all the time, particularly when the story is meant to be part of a large character arc and the author really can't kill the characters or even plausibly threaten them. Instead some problem with a time pressure is introduced, or better yet several.

I have played several 'RPG boardgames' that are totally dependent on time pressure and I find this a negative. An occasional scenario with time pressure can be great, but I don't want the majority of my scenarios to be time pressure driven.

endure wrote:
ejclason wrote:
So why do the players take on this risk? Because they are eager to explore further and not have to wait for later.

That wait potentially takes no time at all for the players, which is why the "five-minute workday" comes about. The PCs are no longer at peak ability and there's no downside to resting (yes, I know there's supposed to be, but not all GMs handle that well) so doing anything further is sheer folly.

I'm just saying that it has been my experience that PCs don't always retreat and recuperate, even when there is little downside. It may be sheer folly, but it is what I have observed (and done myself as a player).

endure wrote:
ejclason wrote:
Also risk is not a black or white thing. There isn't a line you cross where suddenly the risk of death gets large. Instead it is shades of grey. So part of the tension (and fun) of the game is deciding how much risk to take on.

Perhaps. I question whether or not that tension is necessary, at least as usually handled. It's possible to have games and situations in which almost nothing is unknown except the opponent's plan, and there's still fun and tension. Yet it's common for GMs to hide vast swaths of the information the players might need to take even minor risks.
I'm not saying that there aren't other ways to have fun tension, or that risk of death is necessary for tension. Only that having risk of death can lead to tension that can be fun.
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I prefer games where there is a strong element of risk. The risk, however, needs to be relevant to the type of game being played. For most RPGs, one major aspect will be PC death.

So, in most cases, this means character death is often on the table in many situations.

The probability of PC death, while often present, does not mean that every encounter is likely to lead to death. Taken as an aggregate, then overall chance of death may or may not be high depending on how the odds are calculated.

As was previously stated, death should result from bad decisions and bad luck. At first, I was in agreement until I thought out it. This means, that there could be multiple bad decisions and provided that there is no bad luck, the PCs get to live. That is not enough death for me. While we all make mistakes, stupidity, in game, and in life, should hurt. If I had PC constantly make bad decisions, the fact that there was not bad luck should not spare them.

Here is how I would think of it:

Good decision with normal to good rolls - probably no chance of death
Good decisions with bad rolls - a low chance of death, but it still might occur.
Bad decisions - death is much more likely and should be proportionate to the level of the level of the bad decision. Failing to barricade a door while resting in a dungeon would be pretty minor, but could result in a random encounter that might lead to a PC death if they are out of spells, very low on hit points, etc. Charging into a dragon's den at low level - well you should expect some death to a TPK.

Good or bad dice rolls may mitigate bad decisions or make them worse. In general, good dice rolls with a minor bad decision should not result in a PC death. Good dice rolls during a very bad decision would often still lead to death.

While I am discussing death, the same holds for any type of risk in the game. Death, is just usually the most common type of risk.

I do not like games where the GM takes away or avoids negative consequences. I find this most often in games where the GM/players push the collaborative storytelling model. So if the choice is between knowing that the GM won't let us fail and a constant worry of random TPK, I will take the possibility of TPK every time.
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Roger Hobden
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wavemotion wrote:
Mallet wrote:
DadsAngry wrote:
I go a step further and endorse the possibility of death in character creation. devil


I'm sure they will incorporate that into an RPG in the future. whistle

Long since been done! You can die in character generation in Classic Traveller.


I knew that, hence the " whistle ". Maybe I should have chosen " ninja " instead.

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ejclason wrote:
I have played several 'RPG boardgames' that are totally dependent on time pressure and I find this a negative. An occasional scenario with time pressure can be great, but I don't want the majority of my scenarios to be time pressure driven.

Interesting. I have trouble thinking of interesting stories that involve risk and don't have some kind of time pressure. Most games have some kind of time pressure, even if it's just an opponent racing you for the goal. Yet your perspective here is not uncommon. I guess some people simply want to explore.

Come to think of it, one key genre of game that tends to lack overall time pressures is the CRPG. For the most part one can wander around endlessly and the main quest will always be there when one finally decides to get back to it. For me this robs the main quest of any kind of importance; if only I can do it, and nothing happens if I don't, why does it matter at all? But I guess that's what some people prefer: no external change and all the time they want just to explore the world. But I wouldn't imagine such players want any death at all, since what would be the point of it?

endure wrote:
I'm just saying that it has been my experience that PCs don't always retreat and recuperate, even when there is little downside. It may be sheer folly, but it is what I have observed (and done myself as a player).

I understand. Many people see the five-minute workday as inherently ridiculous, just as they draw a hard line at certain kinds of character optimization. I'm just saying that time pressure has a way of making pressing on more worthwhile in its own right.

endure wrote:
I'm not saying that there aren't other ways to have fun tension, or that risk of death is necessary for tension. Only that having risk of death can lead to tension that can be fun.

Agreed. It just seems as though death is seen as the only way to really fail, be challenged, or feel tension.
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Bruce McGeorge
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Our group has a saying... "Death has to be on the table." (Depending on the RPG, of course.)

If there's a fight with a bunch of goblins, something could go wrong. If it can't, why is the fight there?
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enduran wrote:
bobcatt wrote:
There's always a risk where there is adventure

Risk doesn't have to mean the same thing as death, though. Or does it?


You are always risking 'something', on a sliding scale from a lira to a life. The topic at hand is character death therefore this is the ante.

BTW, Groucho Marx should've been sued for false advertising.

enduran wrote:
bobcatt wrote:
Meaningless and/or random deaths discourage players from returning to the table.

How is a death prevented from being meaningless or random? Can rules prevent it, or is it the responsibility of the player or GM to prevent them? Should the GM fudge dice to prevent them?


Avoid undertaking meaningless or random acts. No, yes. No.

Gaming is a cooperative effort. All present at the table contribute to the end result, whether in a positive or negative manner. A reasonable amount of situational awareness on the part of the GM and players will reveal the 'bad bets' as they arise during play. At these points all parties (with due consideration of the stakes and probabilities) will call, raise, or fold. Should someone throw good money after bad and persist with a poor wager against high odds, they will likely lose the bet.

Meaning will be derived from the intent and actions of the participants.
It has never been about the rules or dice.

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brumcg wrote:
If there's a fight with a bunch of goblins, something could go wrong. If it can't, why is the fight there?

Assuming you phrased that as a question because you are really open to an answer:

A) The "fight" isn't necessarily "there." The GM might have just put in a situation of goblins trying to achieve some goal, and gave them weapons. How the PCs approach them determines whether or not there's a fight.

Along those lines, because as you say "something could go wrong," plenty of groups won't enter into a fight that was put there. They'll plan and talk and mitigate risk until there's no chance of something going wrong, and then they'll act. Almost as if they're not interested in experiencing any real tension.

B) There might be a fight there, but not necessarily a realistic possibility of death. If the goblins have a goal other than killing the PCs, then it might be that all they have to do is keep the PCs at bay for a few moments. If the PCs assume (rightly or wrongly) that they can't die in that particular game, they can still be blocked or knocked out, allowing the goblins to finish their goal. Maybe it's just as easy for a monster to kill a knocked out character, but the GM can probably impose a plausible reason why it makes just as much sense for the monster to fall back once the party has been neutralized.
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Mallet wrote:
DadsAngry wrote:
I go a step further and endorse the possibility of death in character creation. devil


I'm sure they will incorporate that into an RPG in the future. whistle

And I will travel a long way to play that game.
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jasperrdm wrote:
Mallet wrote:
DadsAngry wrote:
I go a step further and endorse the possibility of death in character creation. devil


I'm sure they will incorporate that into an RPG in the future. whistle

And I will travel a long way to play that game.


BTW, I did mention that it would be an RPG in the future.
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enduran wrote:
bobcatt wrote:
There's always a risk where there is adventure

Risk doesn't have to mean the same thing as death, though. Or does it?

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

How is a death prevented from being meaningless or random? Can rules prevent it, or is it the responsibility of the player or GM to prevent them? Should the GM fudge dice to prevent them?

Inkwan wrote:
I mean, this badass monk had to survive a saving throw or die versus a carpet 12 sessions in!? That is not good DM'ing.

What would have been good DM'ing? Should the party not have been faced with a magic suffocating carpet? Are there only specific enemies you're willing to die against? If the DM asked you to tell them what you were willing to face so they could avoid things you didn't want to face, would you oblige them?


In the case of the monk and the rug, if that were a movie or story, would it have been worth telling? Um..No, except as a training example. Why was every creature or animated object trying to kill us? Why was killing us the only move? Should a long standing character die because they failed 2 grappling rolls with a rug? By the way, it would have probably resulted in a TPK in the last scene...which most of would have been fine with but not because of an unexplixably homicidal carpet!

Personnaly. I would have had the carpet hold him down while another character abused him...thus leaving one of us potentially open to help him. OR, have the carpet fly him through the fortress to the boss causing more drama as we chased it down to prevent and early showdown...OR,..get the rug to drag him to another PC and perhaps hold us both down OR fly him to the edge of the fortress and fling him over but close enough to the wall that he could have dramatically saved himself. There are so many options and motivations baddies (even poessed rugs) could have besides being homicidal.

Bottomline, a moment like this pulls players out of the and that is never wanted in an actual rpg. In a dungeon death trap, sure but not anything with a story.
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SteamCraft wrote:
I prefer games where there is a strong element of risk. The risk, however, needs to be relevant to the type of game being played. For most RPGs, one major aspect will be PC death.

Well put.

SteamCraft wrote:
While we all make mistakes, stupidity, in game, and in life, should hurt. If I had PC constantly make bad decisions, the fact that there was not bad luck should not spare them.

Interesting. Stupidity in life very often doesn't hurt all that much, despite the constant effort to write laws that will impose the hurt the universe doesn't seem consistent at dealing out. Is your intent to teach the players about how you want the (game) universe to be?

SteamCraft wrote:
Charging into a dragon's den at low level - well you should expect some death to a TPK.

Yes, that should probably be expected, but doesn't necessarily need to be the case. The PCs should expect not to win certainly, but losing could mean a lot of different things.

SteamCraft wrote:
While I am discussing death, the same holds for any type of risk in the game. Death, is just usually the most common type of risk.

I am willing to impose much higher chances of random failure (even on "good" ideas) when a risk does not involve death. That's because I generally find it easier to keep the game interesting the for players in the face of non-death failure, even if the failure is irreparable. Maybe Luke failes to destroy the Death Star before it destroys the Rebel Alliance, but he and Han and Chewie are still alive (and R2 can be repaired). I'd watch that movie in a heartbeat, so I'd definitely play out those consequences.

SteamCraft wrote:
I do not like games where the GM takes away or avoids negative consequences. I find this most often in games where the GM/players push the collaborative storytelling model.

Interesting. While I don't doubt your experience, I advise caution in any conclusions drawn from what you've seen. It's apparent from this thread that many players think as you do: they don't like games where the GM takes away or avoids negative consequences. So, if involved in collaboration with their GM and the other players, they would not remove those consequences. In my experience, when given the option, players impose much worse consquences on themselves than most GMs would be comfortable imposing unilaterally. They not only don't not want consequences, they want awsome consequences.

SteamCraft wrote:
So if the choice is between knowing that the GM won't let us fail and a constant worry of random TPK, I will take the possibility of TPK every time.

I agree. Thank goodness that's not the choice!
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ctimmins wrote:
I think what we want is the actual risk to be very, very low. But we want the "feeling" of risk to be high.
I think this is a very true thing for piles of RPG play. Not every single RPG, obviously, but lots of them. I think some people might not actually recognize this is what they want.

I would equate this to the best cooperative board games. The best of them feel as if you could definitely lose, like you have to really work to win them. But your actual loss rate is going to be relatively low. They are games cleverly designed to create the "we almost lost that!" feeling.

I think this is related to something else I have noticed now that I have a fair amount of old-school-ish D&D play under my belt. Some people get such a hit of enjoyment from the near death experience (just making a saving throw, just barely surviving a fight with 1 hit point, etc.) that they are willing to accept a fair amount of random and honestly meaningless death of characters to get it. The high they get from those near misses more than compensates for the tedium of rolling up new characters, waiting around to play during a session, etc.

I'm not quite this person, I'm comically, possibly annoyingly cautious when playing in the old-school vein. But I play with people who are definitely like that.

ejclason wrote:
I would say it is not just bad decisions, but decisions to take on risk. In my experience, most death at higher levels happened when the party had been weekend by previous encounters. The party knows that as they are weekend, the chance of death increases and they usually have the ability to retreat to a safe location (back to town) to recuperate. Seldom were in game time pressures present, other than the possibility that conditions in the dungeon could change between sorties. So why do the players take on this risk? Because they are eager to explore further and not have to wait for later. Also risk is not a black or white thing. There isn't a line you cross where suddenly the risk of death gets large. Instead it is shades of grey. So part of the tension (and fun) of the game is deciding how much risk to take on.
"I think we can afford to open just one more door..." is a literal quote from a session of D&D 5E I played in a few months ago, 30 minutes before that person's character died.

Obviously this applies most acutely with D&D-ish, particularly dungeon-crawlish play, but it is DEFINITELY a thing. I am always the one voting against pushing ahead, as mentioned above, comically cautious. But I do relish being able to say "I told you so" when the others out vote me, and if things work out fine...I"m still happy!

An additional risk, though, to retreat is that the GM may have the situation change on you in unexpected ways before you return. This is a big plus in my own experience, it makes the situation (e.g. dungeon) seem vital and responsive. But it is a factor in decision-making.
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Depends upon the setting.
Traveller? TNE wasn't deadly enough. CT Bk1/Snapshot wasn't deadly enough. Striker and MT are just about right. T20 is less deadly, but easier to KO most low-levels than to kill them... provided they are armored. Unarmored, a crit with a pistol is going to kill.

In Twilight 2000... death is around every corner.

In L5R - do something stupid, you're going to die. Unless you're very lucky. But Giri demands stupid... often. So... it's a case of manage the stupid.

D&D - If you try to go above your weight class... prepare to be making death saves.

WFRP - you'll usually wish I would kill your character... More than one PC retired missing multiple limbs and totally mentally broken. Then, there was the dwarf PC who lit himself on fire and charged the goblins...

Star Wars: I won't hesitate to kill PC's, but I like that it's freaking hard to do in FFG SW. In WEG, it's almost too easy.

Star Trek: I avoid killing PC's. It's just not a major part of the genre. Favorite NPCs, tho'... Bzzzt! <glow> <fading cloud>
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