Die for Life

Technical Question: Do you think your GMs kill PCs when the dice tell them to do so?

In some systems or genres, this issue comes up far more often than others, but it is not uncommon in RPGs for action or other forms of peril to place the players’ characters in the way of bodily harm, and for one reason or another, when the dice stop clattering across the table behind the screen, the result clearly states that one or more characters have reached the end of the line. What does your GM do?

More importantly, and more topically, what would you have your GM do? While situations and specifics will change from game to game and session to session, what do you feel is a good overall approach to this touchy subject?

  • Survival should be the reward of good playing within the established parameters of chance espoused by the rules of the system.
  • Survival should be the result of the GM ignoring the established parameters of chance espoused by the rules system when they produce fatal results for the characters.
  • All random outcomes should be interpreted by the GM with the general benefit of the characters as a rubric.
  • All random outcomes should be filtered from the start by the system to produce predictable results, with mechanics provided for players to modify negative outcomes back toward ones in the characters’ favor.
  • All random outcomes should be removed in favor of an alternate mechanic such as trait bidding.
  • Other (please be so kind as to explain~)

In my experience as  a player, if I even have the shadow of a suspicion that my character has been granted a new lease on life via GM fiat, rather than hard-won random chance plus a smattering of possible ingenuity on my part, then the magic of playing that character is gone.  In the end, I prefer the first option on my list above:  survival should be the reward of good playing within the established parameters of chance espoused by the rules of the system.

How about you?

4 Responses to “Die for Life”
  1. Kyrei says:

    I’m going with option 1 on this as well, with the caveat that a responsible GM should not simply allow the dice to decide the fate of a *worthy* character, or at least one that was played in a worthy manner. Some characters and players get themselves in situations where they have no business being and if the dice are against them that day then that is the way it goes. However, a well-played character in a properly set up scene should not necessarily, IMnsHO, be killed off by a (single) bad roll of the dice. That being said, character death is part of the nature of the game and should be role-played properly when imminent.

    Lessons learned: when the GM hints that a very old vampiress is asleep in this lair, and she is known to be an enemy to your level 1 ass, DO NOT open her coffin with stake in hand…

  2. BF Wolfe says:

    Its nice to see I’m not the only one who gets disillusioned with a character after a fudge or miraculous save. I’ll agree with all of the above, except that its the GM’s role to set scenarios with an appropriate level of risk for that game. Realism in all of these games means that even if you do everything right you will occasionally die (bog standard fantasy) or most certainly die eventually (Cthulu). The GM should also let the players know which likelyhood applies for any given game. Within that set scope of realism, the player can only increase, or decrease those odds with good or bad gameplay. Never eliminate. Some of my favourite characters are ones met a fitting end within the scope of a game. On the blade of one Orc too many and wandering limbo after giving someone a piece of my mind are two that come to mind. 🙂

  3. Years late comment, but still: I’d go for others, though another option might come close.
    As a GM and as a player, I like the constistency of campaigns. It may be something different with short campaigns, one-shots and especially with games in which characters don’t have the usual significance, i.e. if we’d played an ant hill as a group, so single ants dying for the hive would up to expectations.

    But in most cases, I love the continuency, development and change in character, and I am not speaking about power and stats here. Mostly it’s about played out shared experiences and memories, which are stickier than made up, told flash backs and backgrounds. I like NPCs to reoccur in frequency. The magic of a reoccuring joke, insider. Just recently I had my three players, one of them quite new while the other players had their two years with me and these same characters they had now. They were visited by around a dozen NPCs, individual characters, and they knew them all. Every one of them had their specific story with them, some even a couple. And the two players remembered piece by piece. It was a mixture of sharing some stories with their new fellow while going on to talk, start new and continue old business with the characters. It was great.

    The my biggest contra for the most extreme side of easy, random character death (I know you didn’t even nearly argue for this extreme) is, that you sabotage these continuency. Besides, it might also disturb the link between character and player if the player characters die often and out of control. You might feel not to hang on to your character and care for it’s future if all your effort can be destroyed so easily and meaningless. Another issue for me is: role-play. I love players setting character knowledge and player knowledge apart, acting their character especially if it reduces their chances to succeed, do stupid things for the right reason like character, story, fun for the whole group, forgetting their stats as numbers and therefor their chances in the rolls. The characters don’t know their stats and chances, and that’s part of the great feeling of risk. Is that gap to jump over 5 meters or 6 meters, and how far will you jump? Do you risk failing for the weight of your sword and shield or do you risk to succeed without them but miss them against foes on the other side?
    I want to use the stats and mechanics to support feelings, simulation and story. So I want my players to trust me not to punish them for doing so, but being rewarded by a kind of safety net. Worry for your characters feelings and ingame logic, including death threats, but do it ingame because of ingame feedback. Don’t worry about it as only a player from the players perspective because you as a player or I as a GM make a roll.

    And another issue: if you want to make your players care and fear (death), enabling death is only one single possibility to achieve that. There are thousands more, i.e. signs of danger like blood and bones, dead bodies, fallen comrads and NPCs, kill them beside the player characters, the right background music, stories about others who entered exactly that dungeon, injuries to the players …
    Plus, death is easy. Once you accept it, there’s the chance to easily lose the fear of it. Especially once it happened. There are so many worse possibilities like pain, mutilation or … the LOSS OF A LOVED ONE, and again, he or she doesn’t have to die, but could turn away and hate.

    So, if I want my players to fear something, even if it’s death, I don’t like to put their characters lives onto the random scale of the game mechanics, and if I want them to risk something important, I trie to find something more meaningful and consistent than death.
    And I don’t need to fudge dice for that. Once I call for a dice roll, I have to accept any possible outcome in advance, success, failure and even botch. Also, a failure doesn’t have to mean the character just fails like falling down on a climb roll, but I try to complicate the situation like it hangs on the brink, maybe not able to safe himself, but that hated elf in the group saves his life (and I don’t let him roll exept I am ready for the further consequences). Tada, much more interesting. A party has been on it’s way to gloriously slay the dragon, but they all died because three people failed their climb rolls in a row, or because their wizard botched it and the party returned because they didn’t stand a chance without.

    On the other hand I bring in mechanics if players tend to ignore significant statuses. You are hungry for days but you don’t care for the issue? Go ahead and add hunger 1 to your status, and substract according dice from all your rolls. Same with injuries, exhaustion and whatever else is currently meaningful. Mechanics can encourage and reward players to act, to care for certain issues and look out for skills, items and sometimes just most simple actions.
    I give my players consequences, I warn their characters, I warn the player, and at least finally I ask the players why they are acting towards their possible, likely or certain death before actually risking their characters life with one or more dice rolls without consent.

    As a player I kind of expect that kind of cooperation. Social contract: we want to have fun together, entertain each other and tell stories. So if my character dies due to a mixture of bad luck, good role-play and a lack in my personal abilities as a player, why did you as a GM do that? Why didn’t you ask me? Why didn’t you help me? All if I didn’t want my character to die. Why didn’t you bother? If I endanger an NPC or one of your GM plots, you can talk to me as a player. You can make me choose differently or find a way not to kill your characters or plots. Because we cooperate, because I bother for your fun.

    So killing my player character without consent, if you are not sure it’s fun for me (I had players who told me I could do that and once a player who explicitly wanted his character to die), why would you do that?

  4. Carol Dunster says:

    Although, this too is a late comment, I am new to the blogs, so here it is!

    I am not a fan of “plot armor” in a game. If our characters die according to the dice, so be it. I’ll hate it and throw a fit and maybe cry, I don’t know! But – if I feel my character can’t die in a game, I lose a lot of the intense drive of the game. I want to look at every encounter and think… this could be it! When it turns out to be easy, there is a nice relief. When at least one character is down and we squeak through it, whew!! And if one of our characters die, we are sad, hold a funeral or memorial, mourn, etc. (and that player makes a new one).

    I tend towards the thought that there is no good without evil. Life without the risk of death (n a game) is dull.

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