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Doctor Tough
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Yeah it really depends on the system. D&D or Song of Ice and Fire should have a real threat of character death. Other stuff like World of Darkness or L5R (at least how my group runs it and how we like it) it should be more reserved. Player stupidity and major antagonists like the story's villain should should be able to kill PCs. That doesn't mean that bad things can't happen to your character if you fail though. In both WOD and L5R, for example, failure and the consequences of it in society can lead to great roleplay opportunities. That is the point after all?
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I think the threat of death should be there for tension, but more so the threat of harm such as injuries.
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I work in avionics. When a plane crashes, there is almost never a single cause. Instead there are multiple failures and if any one of them had not occurred, the crash would not have happened. The death of a high level character can be viewed the same way. Below is a death that occurred in a long running AD&D (both editions) that I DMed.

Stubby Crud was a halfling thief. He was not the party's first thief, that was Frito the Big Grab, who had died on the party's first adventure, making way for Stubby. This was not Stubby's first death, that had happened several levels ago and Stubby had been returned to life by a Raise the Dead spell. Stubby was now around 10th level.

What went wrong:
1) The party had had several previous encounter, Stubby only had about 1/2 his max HP. Party choose to continue the adventure.

2) The party was in a fight. Stubby was trying to back stab. It would have been safer if he had hung back and let the fighters and spell casters deal with the fight.

3) Marvin, an Elf MU, decided to cast a Fireball. We use miniatures on a grid, so Marvin pointed to the spot to center the Fireball. When we measured, Stubby was well within the area effect. Marvin could have been more conservative in centering the Fireball, even though it would have gotten fewer enemies.

4) Marvin rolled well on his damage dice. Stubby had more HP than the average damage would have been.

5) Stubby failed his saving throw. If he had passed the saving throw, Stubby would have only taken 1/2 damage and lived.

6) The party had a high enough level cleric to cast Raise the Dead, so it was cast on Stubby the next day. Stubby had a high constitution, so the chance of success was above 90%. Stubby rolled 00.

Postscript: The party looked for a way to bring Stubby back to life. They heard of a pharaoh, from before the Great Migration, on whom a Raise the Dead had failed, but had later been brought back to life. The party journeyed to the Ghost Kingdom (so called because no one had lived there since the Great Migration) to explore the pharaoh's pyramid. They found a scroll describing the ritual to bring back the dead. The ritual was performed, Stubby was brought back to life, but there were signs that something was wrong. Stubby started gaining the ability to cast spells (good) but would occasionally black out and not remember what he had done (bad). Unfortunately, while the party was looking for more info on what had happened to Stubby, the campaign ended when I moved from California to Iowa.

Post-postscript: The ritual had grafted the soul of a Magic User to Stubby's soul in order to bring Stubby back from the dead. My plan as DM was to increase Stubby's spell casting ability until they were quite strong. Then present Stubby with the choice going through a process of removing the MU's soul and losing his spell casting ability, or keeping the extra soul and spell casting ability but slowly going mad (the pharaoh had gone mad.)
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Jamie Hardy
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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?


While I agree, I think there are two possibilities I have seen from groups where death is not on the table.

1. They like to roll dice
2. "Story"
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I tend to go with a pulpy type of game, so not too much. I have killed PCs, but never because "the dice told me so." Dice are objects. They tell nothing.
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Enough to either make my players sweat or to make me sweat as a player. High stakes can make for great roleplaying and hilarious and memorable moments. I'm not needlessly cruel, though. I don't want to drive away my players.
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Roger Hobden
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Something like this:




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Jamie Hardy
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Benevolentgamemaster wrote:
I tend to go with a pulpy type of game, so not too much. I have killed PCs, but never because "the dice told me so." Dice are objects. They tell nothing.


Then why bother rolling the dice?
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Benevolentgamemaster wrote:
I tend to go with a pulpy type of game, so not too much. I have killed PCs, but never because "the dice told me so." Dice are objects. They tell nothing.


I'd agree with the general sentiment with a slight modification: dice by themselves tell nothing. Sometimes, you just don't know. Or are biased to a certain decision. Dice, in those cases, provide context. And that context can be the death of a character. It doesn't have to be, but having that pointer towards that outcome can make for a great story.
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Caroline Berg
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"Today is a good day to die!"

I'm always willing to have my character's die. It's a rare enough occasion that I can count on one hand the number of characters I've played who have died in RPGs. And I don't regret a single one of their deaths!

Granted, yes, it all depends on the game. In Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple it would be exceedingly odd to have a character die - it would be entirely out of the feeling of the game! While in Swords & Wizardry I'm expecting some sweet character deaths.

I tend to run games where death is determined by dice more than story (though I love storytelling) and usually player rolls rather than DM rolls. If their characters die, it is because nothing they could do could stop it after they tried all creative avenues.
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With some variance by game, the amount of character death I generally prefer is...none, zero, zilch, nada.

Among other reasons:

1) Hard enough to get campaigns going. Hate to have to ditch them or restart them.

2) Hate making characters.

3) RPGs are a chance to NOT be frustrated and helpless all the time.
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StormKnight wrote:
With some variance by game, the amount of character death I generally prefer is...none, zero, zilch, nada.

Is death then replaced by some other stakes?

StormKnight wrote:
3) RPGs are a chance to NOT be frustrated and helpless all the time.

This implies that it is not, but I wanted to ask.

To those who like death in their games, do you feel as though it can lead to feelings of frustration and helplessness? If not, why not? If so, do you enjoy those feelings, perhaps as "part of the experience" or do you dislike them?
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Patrick Zoch
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My group always says that a good session is one where they ALMOST die, but don't. So, that much risk.
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I know it can be exciting for some, but it can be very discouraging for others to have their character permanently killed. For this reason, I typically prefer to play to the pain, instead of death.


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pdzoch wrote:
My group always says that a good session is one where they ALMOST die, but don't. So, that much risk.

Does that essentially amount to a 0% chance of them actually dying? Does it require GM intervention to bring about?
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enduran wrote:
pdzoch wrote:
My group always says that a good session is one where they ALMOST die, but don't. So, that much risk.

Does that essentially amount to a 0% chance of them actually dying? Does it require GM intervention to bring about?

Nope. Death happens. It is always on the agenda. But it does require a special blend of events to cause a death: bad decisions (usually several), bad luck (the fate of the die roll), and a bad consequence (known lethality of the adventure).
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Paul Unwin
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pdzoch wrote:
enduran wrote:
pdzoch wrote:
My group always says that a good session is one where they ALMOST die, but don't. So, that much risk.

Does that essentially amount to a 0% chance of them actually dying? Does it require GM intervention to bring about?

Nope. Death happens. It is always on the agenda. But it does require a special blend of events to cause a death: bad decisions (usually several), bad luck (the fate of the die roll), and a bad consequence (known lethality of the adventure).

But their preferred amount of death is zero?

Does the GM of your game play any role in whether or not death comes about?
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Hans Messersmith
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enduran wrote:
To those who like death in their games, do you feel as though it can lead to feelings of frustration and helplessness? If not, why not? If so, do you enjoy those feelings, perhaps as "part of the experience" or do you dislike them?
So, I will use two specific examples, because this so context dependent.

1) I am currently playing in an old-school-ish mega-dungeon crawl using Dungeons & Dragons (5th Edition) rules and the Rappan Athuk mega-dungeon, run by my friend Justin. In this game, the potential for a character to die is absolutely critical to the experience, and we have had a number of character deaths so far in the two years we have been playing. It is a point of pride for me, personally, that I am the only person who has been a) playing in the campaign since the start and b) still playing with my first character. I consider this "winning" D&D. I think that frustration is an element to character death in this game, in that if/when it happens to someone, they can usually point to exactly the decisions that were made that led to it happening. For example: opening one more door than we should have when we were out of fireballs and home invading an outpost full of goblins. For example: monkeying around with a gem that was OBVIOUSLY trapped. In other words, every character death, so far at least, has been preceded by either a tense moment of "wait, maybe we should think about this..." and/or the phrase "wait, DON'T TOUCH THAT!" But that frustration is a necessary competent of the other feeling, which is so precious in the game; the feeling of just getting out by the skin of your teeth. Patrick summarized this well with the phrase "a good session is one where you ALMOST die, but don't." The very best sessions of the game so far have been those where you know, because of decisions made last session, you are going to have a really hard time of it, where potential death is so close you can taste it. You can feel it around the table; all the laid back banter stops, and all the players FOCUS, lock in on the situation and really start paying close and careful attention. This is excitement! I can truthfully say as a player this game has been one of the most exciting games I have ever been a part of.

2) I am currently running a game of Masks: A New Generation in an alternate Marvel future universe, I call it Marvel 2033, you can see a wiki about it here: http://gaming.memethief.com/Marvel_2033. In this game of teenage super-heroes, unplanned/unexpected death of a player character has zero chance of happening. It is unthinkable. The only time a character will die is when the player of that character believes it is a necessary/exciting outcome of the situation and decisions that character has made. This does NOT reduce the tension of the game, or make it less exciting. Far from it! In fact, the tension that does happen in the game is only possible because death really isn't on the table. It allows the players to throw their characters into situations to deal with situations they truly care about: protecting family members from harm, dealing with villains whom they hate, finding love and happiness, etc.

I believe these two examples make the point that there is no universal answer to the OP question. I disagree as strongly with the sentiment "death has to be on the table" with respect to my Masks game as I disagree with the sentiment "death should never be on the table" with respect to my D&D mega-dungeon crawl. Like so many QotD, this question can only be answered clearly with respect to a particular type of game.

I think Jamie summarized this well on the last page here: https://www.rpggeek.com/article/30624558#30624558 where he started with this comment:

Quote:
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.


On a related matter:
enduran wrote:
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.

Paul, I find your conclusion here unrelated to my own experience. In the mega-dungeon crawl I am an incredibly cautious player, as mentioned previously. But this caution is a CONSEQUENCE of the real tension, not avoidance of it. The situation IS tense, that's what leads to the careful planning.

For example: we know there are a bunch of ogres just below us at the bottom of some stairs. We know we have to get through to get to our goal. One wrong move and they will pulp us and have us for dinner. So we plan a whole scheme, involving dead fall traps in the ceiling and fighting positions and paths of retreat to other fighting positions and ambushes and etc. We take at least two HOURS planning this. And then we execute it, and some things go right, some go wrong, the tension and excitement is incredible! But in the end we have defeated six ogres and an ogre boss far in excess of what would be considered a "level appropriate" encounter and are rolling in the XP. And we are high fiving and feeling glorious!

In some counterfactual world, we lost the encounter. One or more of our characters died due to a bad roll or a miscalculation. The survivors fought a running retreat to get away from the ogres. Likely, my character, the main fighter, fought some kind of doomed and fatal delaying action. You know what? That was glorious too. That was exciting as all get out! That was crazy fun, something we talk about for years afterwards.
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enduran wrote:
StormKnight wrote:
With some variance by game, the amount of character death I generally prefer is...none, zero, zilch, nada.

Is death then replaced by some other stakes?


I have played games where death, while a possibility, was far and away the least of stakes. Usually, those are more political games, full of intrigue or trading games, where loss of power, stake, and standing are the risks involved.

enduran wrote:

StormKnight wrote:
3) RPGs are a chance to NOT be frustrated and helpless all the time.

This implies that it is not, but I wanted to ask.

To those who like death in their games, do you feel as though it can lead to feelings of frustration and helplessness? If not, why not? If so, do you enjoy those feelings, perhaps as "part of the experience" or do you dislike them?


There is a certain adrenaline in situations where the character is on the line. I don't enjoy it in all cases, but in many cases, that risk when avoided, makes the reward sweeter. Playing systems like RoleMaster mean that even in minor combats, death is a possibility. It made us less likely to instigate combat without massive advantage knowing that an errant roll could mean the end. And it led to some of the most memorable sessions- both for good and bad.
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Patrick Zoch
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enduran wrote:
pdzoch wrote:
enduran wrote:
pdzoch wrote:
My group always says that a good session is one where they ALMOST die, but don't. So, that much risk.

Does that essentially amount to a 0% chance of them actually dying? Does it require GM intervention to bring about?

Nope. Death happens. It is always on the agenda. But it does require a special blend of events to cause a death: bad decisions (usually several), bad luck (the fate of the die roll), and a bad consequence (known lethality of the adventure).

But their preferred amount of death is zero?

Does the GM of your game play any role in whether or not death comes about?


I do not think anyone likes to lose a character, but my players understand there there are risks and death is a possibility. My group has suffered PC death in the past several times -- including a couple of unfortunately TPKs. As the GM, I run the world and it is a dangerous place. I ensure that the rewards are worth the risks. But I also ensure that the risks are appropriate. I do not tempt (or trick) the group into going into places where there is no chance of survival.

I have not run Tomb of Annihilation (or any similar high mortality dungeon) yet. Death is common and seemingly arbitrary -- characteristics that do not appeal to my players. However, I would make very clear that the mortality rate of a dungeon is very high before allowing my players to go into it.

I think that is mostly because the group has shaped what it is comfortable with and I have provided the dungeons that meet their expectations. If I were to suddenly change that without informing them, I would expect them to view that as a mean spirited DM act and a betrayal to the group.

I think the acceptable risk may be linked to player character investment. Nothing worse than spending hours building a character to have it die within mere minutes of an adventure. High death games should have quick generation characters (IMO).
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Michael Ink
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pdzoch wrote:
My group always says that a good session is one where they ALMOST die, but don't. So, that much risk.


100% agree!
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bobcatt wrote:
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.

Interesting that "life" is at the far end of that scale. There's more one could lose, it seems to me.

As for it being the topic at hand, yes, but "death" and "risk" are being conflated throughout this thread. There's a strong indication that more than a few people believe that without a risk of death there's no risk at all, and because they want risk in their game (as we all do) they assume that there has to be death in their game.

What I'm getting at is, if there were other forms of risk in their game, how much death would people prefer?

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

Why is that?


bobcatt wrote:
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?

Avoid undertaking meaningless or random acts.

Okay. The way you phrased it made it sound like others were imposing the meaningless and/or random deaths on the players.

bobcatt wrote:
enduran wrote:
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?

No, yes. No.

What should the GM's responsibility be?

bobcatt wrote:
Gaming is a cooperative effort. All present at the table contribute to the end result, whether in a positive or negative manner.

Ideally, yes. It's not hard to find GMs who leave it (or claim to leave it) entirely up to their players to find enjoyment in whatever scenario or mode of play the GM chooses to offer.

bobcatt wrote:
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.

Agreed, and the key to all of that is the wager, the stakes. If the stakes are something someone is willing to lose, or not to win, then they can simply enjoy the game, win or lose. It seems that many here feel that if they never lose then they won't have fun, from which it follows that the losing itself is (or should be viewed as) part of the fun. I don't seriously believe that most people who feel that way are really okay with losing their character, of course.

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

I think I see what you mean, though I think it's noteworthy that some people deliberately choose rules that preclude any opportunity to bring back dead characters, or modify rule systems to remove any such opportunities built into that system. More than a few DMs (often with the agreement of their players) remove the Raise Dead spell to give death more "meaning."
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enduran wrote:
StormKnight wrote:
With some variance by game, the amount of character death I generally prefer is...none, zero, zilch, nada.

Is death then replaced by some other stakes?

Death usually only involves stakes in Vampire games.



I'm not entirely sure what you mean by "stakes" in this context; perhaps you could clarify. Bad things happen. Characters lose fights. But generally we want the story part to be "heroes win in the end".
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As a player I want to know that if I make a potentially dangerous choice for my character then the risks associated with that choice are plausible and commensurate.

As GM the answer depends on the personalities and preferences of the players involved in the game. Generally though I want the players to feel that the risk of death is high, a feeling that I think is best engendered by randomness.
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enduran wrote:
Agreed, and the key to all of that is the wager, the stakes. If the stakes are something someone is willing to lose, or not to win, then they can simply enjoy the game, win or lose. It seems that many here feel that if they never lose then they won't have fun, from which it follows that the losing itself is (or should be viewed as) part of the fun. I don't seriously believe that most people who feel that way are really okay with losing their character, of course.
I think this is a misstatement of what at least some people are saying. There are some games, definitely where losing characters IS part of the fun, for example Paranoia or Dungeon Crawl Classics.

But in most of the games I believe people are referring to it is not the actual losing of characters that is fun, per se, it is the feeling that I might potentially lose my character that is part of the fun, and that is only possible if there is an actual chance of losing my character. Its a cost/benefit trade-off; the cost of the un-fun of losing my character is worth the benefit of all the fun I have of NEARLY losing my character but triumphing until that happens.

In a level-based D&D-ish game (which, lets face it, is what a lot of people are talking about here, that is the closest thing to a universal game experience there is in role-playing), I think this goes through transitions as characters level (with levels presented in terms of D&D5E)...

- Very early levels (lvls 1-4) - Characters will tend to die more frequently because they are fragile, sometimes just due to bad luck. This means lower investment in character.
- Early to mid levels (lvls 5-10?) - characters are much more resilient, in this segment characters will usually only die due to their own bad decisions making, but are still fragile enough to get killed. This is the period of maximum tension, because the character has now leveled high enough and has been played enough for the player to be truly invested, but there is still a substantial probability of death.
- Mid to high levels (lvls 10-15) - at this point, death will only happen in the case of truly colossal blunders on the part of the players, and even then may be little more than an inconvenience. The ability of the characters to use magic to gather intelligence on potential foes and manage the risks they present is tremendous.

As you mention, though, some players/GMs find the thrill of potential death enhanced by making sure it is truly permanent, and obviously it will be so in some games by design (e.g. many old-school modern games like Twilight 2000).
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