Suspense in RPGs - Page 10
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  1. #91
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    Quote Originally Posted by Umbran View Post
    Again, consider the difference between, "I like haggis. Haggis should exit,
    Best spelling mistake I have seen today! Haggis will exit whether you like it or not!

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    Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
    (Maybe some people think that D&D can't involve escalating stakes without fudging? But even were that so, this thread is in General RPGs, not a D&D sub-forum.)
    There is no RPG but D&D and Gygax is it's prophet!
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  3. #93
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    Quote Originally Posted by Umbran View Post
    Interestingly, in 5e, we find the following text:

    "Sometimes an attacker wants to incapacitate a foe, rather than deal a killing blow. When an attacker reduces a creature to 0 hit points with a melee attack, the attacker can knock the creature out. The attacker can make this choice the instant the damage is dealt. The creature falls unconscious and is stable."

    So, I'd correct you to say that a massive proportion of the rules are dedicated to reducing the enemy to zero hit points, to "taking them down" so to speak. Whether that means death is a separate question.
    That last line is I assume tongue in cheek? I suggest you do a death count in the next game you join - one where the rules use '0 HP = taking them down' for NPCs. Then, after a big combat, ask the GM how many of the party's opponents are dead, and compare it to the number he/she has decided are merely incapacitated instead.

    I don't think I need to further predict the results of such an exercise, or indeed that you would doubt it yourself.

    The vast majority of them would be dead.

    Let me ask you two things;

    1. When was the last time you were in, or ran a campaign in any rpg system whatsoever where death was not generally the main point of combat?
    2. If you can think of one - how many such campaigns out of all those you have been involved in does this represent?

    I didn't construct a strawman. Death is extremely common in rpgs, and the amount of rules covering combat is ample testament to that.

    Campaigns without lethal combat are corner cases. Campaigns without the risk of character death are corner cases.

    Are they invalid ways to play? No of course not. But they are very uncommon.

    In a game where challenge is valued, risks are overcome (with all the catharsis that comes with that) and lethal combat rules take up a large part of the rulebook, it is entirely obvious that there should be a risk of death for PCs or an element of risk is taken from the game and it loses the capacity to keep players on the edge of their seats during the vast majority of physical combats (i.e. those in which death is a part of the scene).

    That there is a risk of death for the PCs is a baseline assumption of the vast majority of rpgs. A game can run without this happening, but the moment is becomes clear to the players that they cannot die because the GM won't let it happen, it will lose the excitement of that part of the game...

    and it is nearly always a significant part of the game.

    If you disagree - I challenge you to run a campaign where you make the combat challenges consistently easy and so imply with your rulings that PCs have 'script immunity' - do it with any randomly selected players and see what the feedback is.

    If that seems like too much work, a straw poll of randomly selected rpgs to see how many of them have large combat chapters and equipment lists with large numbers of weapons and armour should make what I am stating more evident. Of those, count how many weapons etc. cannot kill - merely 'take out'?

    I have run 12 hour marathon games without a whiff of combat - I am not always interested in combat in a game, and it isn't necessary in every game for everyone to enjoy it. But to make it so insignificant as to be no threat to the PCs is a very, very rare thing.

    In fact I have never encountered it in 40 years of personal play, only once experienced it at a convention (kind of - it was the star trek rpg and we were Federation officers - so lethal force was the last resort, so we worked hard to avoid it...), and never heard or anyone running an ongoing campaign without lethal combat in it. There may be an element of unconscious selection bias evident in that observation, but I have played a lot of different rpgs.

    That's not to say it doesn't exist - but it makes it highly likely it is not statistically relevant.
    Last edited by Caliburn101; Sunday, 1st July, 2018 at 03:17 PM.
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    I think the threat of death and it being possible to happen is in keeping with my predilection for character viewpoint. I believe threat of death is a builder of suspense.

    But...

    I agree with you that there are other ways to add to the suspense beyond just threat of death.

    1. Finding evidence of the enemies plans is one way.
    2. Finding evidence of the enemies handiwork/power. e.g. evidence of a fireball explosion.
    3. Atmosphere and mood in describing things.
    4. A ticking clock. Meaning that time is running out and will the group make it.
    5. Basically almost anything that increases suspense in fiction could be used to amp fiction in a game with a little modification.

  5. #95
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    Quote Originally Posted by Caliburn101 View Post
    Let me ask you two things;

    1. When was the last time you were in, or ran a campaign in any rpg system whatsoever where death was not generally the main point of combat?
    2. If you can think of one - how many such campaigns out of all those you have been involved in does this represent?
    I'd point out however that there are a lot (a LOT) of systems out there now where the chance of character death is entirely in the hands of the players. Historically it might be a relatively newish exercise, and might be relegated to the realm of corner cases, but I'd say that overall, the number of combatey RPGs with a death flag mechanic, or RPGs where combat isn't the main source of conflict are getting a much stronger foot hold.

    In D&D (or D&D system inspired) games? Sure it's uncommon. But in RPGs in general, I think it's getting more common every day.
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    An rpg needs stakes and no one is doubting that. And I'll even concede that most of those stakes lead to death for the enemy. It is not mandatory though. Look at fiction. The amount of killing definitely depends upon the genre. If your games "genre" is massive killing all the time then fine but every game does not necessarily have to be that way.

    My games tend to be games where death is a definite threat. PC's at low levels can outright die. And they don't come back at the same level. At higher levels they are resurrected but in most of my games that at minimum costs a level.

    If I were doing PF2e, I might permanently reduce their resonance by one with each death. Death should not be something ignored or uncared about. Another option would be to reduce a random ability score. My characters fear death even if it is not eternal.
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  7. #97
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    Quote Originally Posted by Caliburn101 View Post
    That last line is I assume tongue in cheek?
    No. Aside from the rule I already mentioned (which was used by my players in the last session they played - they didn't fully know the moral position of their antagonists, so they refused to outright kill them), other games have mechanisms in which you decidedly beat your opponents, but don't kill them. I the end, the point is to overcome a challenge, and death of the opponent is only one way to achieve that.

    I will note that, looking at something like D&D - the number of rules around actual death itself is pretty small. Most of the combat rules are about removing hit points, which is necessary for death, but not equivalent to death.

    Outside D&D, some FATE variants, for example, have physical, mental, and social health tracks. The exact same mechanics is used for conflict resolution for each track (using different skills), but only one of them can result in physical death of the PC. You can take an opponent out of the story with mental stress, or social pressures, without so much as scratching their skin.
    Last edited by Umbran; Monday, 2nd July, 2018 at 06:01 AM.
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  8. #98
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    Quote Originally Posted by Caliburn101 View Post
    Let me ask you two things;

    1. When was the last time you were in, or ran a campaign in any rpg system whatsoever where death was not generally the main point of combat?
    2. If you can think of one - how many such campaigns out of all those you have been involved in does this represent?
    You are presenting death as the ends of combat, but I find that death, even in combat, is not an end but a means.

    Hypothesis: The main point of most combat in RPGs is not the risk of death.

    Most RPGs, including many D&D, frame combat as an obstacle to the goals of the PC for them to overcome (e.g., proceeding to the next room, retrieving the item/person, the countdown clock, etc.). Combat can serve as a means to buy/achieve victory: i.e., "kill all the monsters, and we can take their stuff without fear of reprisal." In fact, often risk of death is entirely absent in combat because the characters are at such high level or advantage over their foes that combat exists primarily as a means to dwindle character resources rather than any risk of death on the part of the players. "Risk of death" may not even be feasibly considered by the GM or players until the Big Bad Evil of the dungeon or campaign. Sometimes combat is tangential to why combat is even transpiring in the first place: e.g., the mooks are there to introduce a plot hook, provide exposition, etc. Sure "risk of death" may transpire, but I don't think that it's even remotely the most prevalent way to create suspense. (I also personally find "threat of death" kinda boring.)

    Again, often when watching television or reading comics, the "risk of death" may be a given of the genre so there is not really any genuine suspense generated there unless you possess ignorance or naivety of the genre. Superman puts himself repeatedly in harms way, but how often exactly does Superman risk death? Not often. Superman will win, but we are curious about how that will transpire. How will the antagonist push Superman? At what cost will he earn his victory? We are curious about whether he will bend on his virtues. Will he manage to save others? Or SG-1 put themselves in the line of danger, and they repeatedly find themselves "defeated." They are "taken out" by some stunning blast or are captured. Will they die? Probably not. The antagonists often find themselves in a position to kill the protagonists. But there is no real suspense there when it comes to "risk of death," because we are more interested as viewers or participants in the costs or process of victory.

    Sure, "risk of death" is still a prevalent part of tabletop games and stories, but I do think that we are increasingly moving away from that as a focal point for creating any real sense of tension. As evidence, you are even having to broaden the scope of your purview to "campaigns" rather than sessions. Within the nebulous scope of a "campaign," then yeah it is likely that "risk of death" will come up at least once, but it's not going to be the primary psychological mechanism that drives suspense in most campaigns.
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    I ran a session with a big battle not so long ago, where death certainly wasn't the main focus of the combat.

    -The players had to stop an enemy invasion
    -The players had to keep two large gates closed, to prevent reinforcements
    -The players had to stop the enemies from opening the previously mentioned gates.

    The threat of death was minor, in comparison to the threat of losing an important location/war-asset to the enemy. If the place became overrun, the players would need to abandon it.
    Last edited by Imaculata; Monday, 2nd July, 2018 at 02:22 PM.
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  10. #100
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    Quote Originally Posted by Caliburn101 View Post
    1. When was the last time you were in, or ran a campaign in any rpg system whatsoever where death was not generally the main point of combat? 2. If you can think of one - how many such campaigns out of all those you have been involved in does this represent?
    2008, I think was when my last Champions campaign wrapped, it had gone six years, and had been concurrent with two 3.x campaigns. I'd also run a campaign in the 90s, from '93 through about 2000 I think, concurrent with a shared Storyteller campaign that also wasn't too into killing as the whole point of every combat (nor, indeed, combat as something that happened in every session), and, before that from '84-'89 (that was a crazy time, we had 5 campaigns going at once, 2 or three Champions, a D&D and a Traveler), those two overlapped by AD&D campaign, which spanned 1e/2e going from '85-'95. If we want to go with 'not exclusively' instead of 'not generally,' the 4e campaign I've run since 2012 and the one I've been in since 2010 would also both count, since there have been quite a few scenarios where killing at least some enemies was undesirable for whatever reason (two quite challenging battles in the last few months have been issued as non-lethal challenges, one was an 'all comers' arena battle, one was a contest of champions). And in 4e that's very easy to do, lethal or not was decided when you drop the target. 5e kept that, mechanically, though the 5e games I've run have been very AD&D inspired, so quite killy.

    Campaigns without lethal combat are corner cases. Campaigns without the risk of character death are corner cases.

    Are they invalid ways to play? No of course not. But they are very uncommon.
    Anything that's not the way D&D does it comparatively uncommon in the hobby, of course, just like people are a tiny minority of earthlings (be it by individuals or biomass) compared to insects (nevermind fungi). But in terms of games out there, there's quite a lot that de-emphasize random/arbitrary character death and the murder-hobo lifestyle.

    Probably in reaction to D&D, but also in accord with some genres, especially superheroes, obviously.

    In a game where challenge is valued, risks are overcome (with all the catharsis that comes with that) and lethal combat rules take up a large part of the rulebook, it is entirely obvious that there should be a risk of death for PCs or an element of risk is taken from the game and it loses the capacity to keep players on the edge of their seats during the vast majority of physical combats (i.e. those in which death is a part of the scene).
    Yet a lot of folks do tweak D&D to make PC death less common, the game's always included copious magical healing, and Raise Dead when that wasn't enough - and PC durability (or at least, death-avoidance) has been trending upwards for practically the whole run of D&D.
    Last edited by Tony Vargas; Monday, 2nd July, 2018 at 10:25 PM.
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