Suspense in RPGs - Page 11
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  1. #101
    I disagree with the basic premise, that we know Babe is going to wow the sheep/audience. Sure he probably will, but we dont know for sure.

    I think in a dnd-like game, removing the genuine threat of death is a big mistake, and takes a big chunk of tension out of the game. As I get older however I seem to be getting increasingly enamoured with old school genuine danger in games, and increasingly jaded with "easymode" games such as - ime - 5e, where it is almost impossible for a PC to die.

    There can always be other stakes of course. And there should be. But there is no good reason, as far as I'm concerned, to remove death as the grand daddy of stakes. I dont believe in heavily pre-plotted adventures, or 1-20 campaign paths, or anything similar. No plot protection. No tyranny of story. Gameplay > Story. #PrepToImprov, #HooksNotPlots.

  2. #102
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    Quote Originally Posted by Psikerlord# View Post
    I disagree with the basic premise, that we know Babe is going to wow the sheep/audience. Sure he probably will, but we dont know for sure.
    Counterpoint: The theatrical trailer for Babe reveals that he will succeed as a sheepherding pig and that some grand audience will cheer for him. So yeah, we know but are presumably watching anyway.

    I think in a dnd-like game, removing the genuine threat of death is a big mistake, and takes a big chunk of tension out of the game. As I get older however I seem to be getting increasingly enamoured with old school genuine danger in games, and increasingly jaded with "easymode" games such as - ime - 5e, where it is almost impossible for a PC to die.

    There can always be other stakes of course. And there should be. But there is no good reason, as far as I'm concerned, to remove death as the grand daddy of stakes. I dont believe in heavily pre-plotted adventures, or 1-20 campaign paths, or anything similar. No plot protection. No tyranny of story. Gameplay > Story. #PrepToImprov, #HooksNotPlots.
    I don't think anyone is necessarily advocating the complete removal of death for the PCs. The issue raised by Vincent Baker is having uncertain outcomes serve as the primary method of creating suspense and tension.

    Here is really the core nugget of the essay that pemerton quotes:
    Yes, it can be suspenseful to not know whether your character will succeed or fail. I'm not going to dispute that. But what I absolutely do dispute is that that's the only or best way to get suspense in your gaming.
    None of this, mind you, says anything about player death or removing it. The issue is about player success, and here I think we should avoid equating success with player survival. Will King Theoden succeed in leading the Rohirrim at the Battle of Pelennor Fields to ensure victory? Yes. Does he survive? No, because that victory costs his life. And I find this an interesting question. If my GM told me, "You will succeed, but what cost will you pay to achieve it?" I would be intrigued.
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  3. #103
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tony Vargas View Post
    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.

    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.

    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.
    To answer the bolded parts in turn;

    The superhero genre of yesteryear avoided death like the plague because of the child-audience assumed. Not so much more recently, or with more noir iterations (proper Batman, Watchmen etc.) and Champions was the poster child for 4-colour child-friendly goodness. So not typical.

    "If we want to go with..." - no, I didn't, and don't, as it changes the point of the discussion beyond what I focussed on.

    D&D isn't implied as the benchmark in my argument. Actually the skills based systems are far more lethal in general - d100 (RuneQuest, Cthulhu, Pendragon) and let's not forget GURPS as just a few examples. here are plenty of levelling system as or more lethal than D&D. Traveller can kill you in character generation! lol

    They have to tweak the rules as the mainstream RAW assumption is that there is a chance of PC death. That serves my point very well - games have kept or enhanced this aspect of play through various iterations of edition based on feedback from players and what sells. Hence the drama of the risk is again shown to be important. Again - Game of Thrones!

    PC death is the predominant primary source of suspense for the vast majority of games because combat-challenges are a primary source of conflict and death in conflict resolution. Not the only source, not the only valid or entertaining source - but most certainly predominant.

  4. #104
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aldarc View Post
    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.
    You miss the point.

    Death may not be the end point for the PCs most of the time, but it is nearly always the end for the enemy, and if the game is being run with an eye on suspense, the enemies will be trying to kill the PCs in some credible way.

    It IS the point of the combat, it may not be the point of the adventure.

  5. #105
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    Quote Originally Posted by Caliburn101 View Post
    "If we want to go with..." - no, I didn't, and don't, as it changes the point of the discussion beyond what I focussed on.
    OK then...
    The superhero genre of yesteryear avoided death like the plague ..So not typical.
    .
    Any franchise built around the serial exploits of a character tends to avoid killing off that character, sure, but you didn't specify genre and you asked about experience, not popularity. So, yeah, roughly half the campaigns I've run or played in have not generally included combats about killing.

    And even those, like D&D, that casually default to 'life is cheap' murder-hoboism don't /need/ to go there all the time, and even be more meaningful if something is on the line beyond just grinding down the next block of hps...

    D&D isn't implied as the benchmark in my argument.
    When you started appealing to common practice, it became about D&D.

    They have to tweak the rules as the mainstream RAW assumption is that there is a chance of PC death. That serves my point very well - games have kept or enhanced this aspect of play through various iterations of edition based on feedback from players and what sells.
    In the past, we did often tweak D&D, especially, to make it less randomly/pointlessly lethal. The other super-randomly-lethal games you mention were from the 70s, as well. But, D&D has become less lethal with each iteration. 5e death saves are the most forgiving yet, and you can choose to knock out rather than kill at 0 hps. The same is broadly true of RPGs in general. Killing off protagonists for no reason is just not how storytelling is generally done...

    Hence the drama of the risk is again shown to be important. Again - Game of Thrones!
    GoT is virtually unique in it's killing off of seeming protagonists without rhyme or reason. It's a novelty.
    Last edited by Tony Vargas; Tuesday, 3rd July, 2018 at 05:43 PM.

  6. #106
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    Quote Originally Posted by Caliburn101 View Post
    You miss the point.
    It IS the point of the combat, it may not be the point of the adventure.
    Death may not even be the point of the battle, depending on what the reason for the battle is. Not all battles have death as their only goal. Some battles are about repelling an invasion, conquering something of value, or protecting something of value.
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  7. #107
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    Quote Originally Posted by Umbran View Post
    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.
    Do you have legal training, because you are dancing on the head of a pin with some skill.

    There only needs be one ruleset for dying, but there will be many for taking away 'hit points' which you deliberately neglect to mention are generally used to kill the opponents.

    Modiphius Conan has Resolve attacks and only one rule for dying (a Wound Track) - that does not mean S&S fantasy isn't intended to be lethal, and frequently so.

    Putting the cart before the horse in such a way may score you points on the forums but fails any logical scrutiny. The number or rules for x or y is secondary to how often they are used, and as I have made clear - the number of times in any game (beyond corner cases) where death isn't the point of combat are a very small proportion. Those games where risk of death for PCs is not present or not credible is also very rare as rpg have combat and death front and centre as the predominant challenge scene, and there being no risk of failure in a scene robs it of gravity and catharsis upon achieving victory.

    That was the point of the thread, and stating the entirely obvious point that sometimes resolution of a challenge isn't lethal does nothing to undermine my point. Combat, which is very, very usually lethal for someone involved it (NPCs mainly of course unless you are playing Paranoia) is dull if the players understand that their PCs cannot die. Just like a social challenge where they players know the King will fold and give them the support they need regardless of how inept they are, or a Cthulhu game where the investigators know they cannot go mad no matter how many things man was not meant to know, that they know...

    It isn't my fault that most conflict resolutions are in the form of combat with lethal endings in rpgs.

    That's down to the dark little corners of human nature - as reflected in rpgs the world over, which are written by the same species.

  8. #108
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    Quote Originally Posted by Caliburn101 View Post
    Combat, which is very, very usually lethal for someone involved it (NPCs mainly of course unless you are playing Paranoia) is dull if the players understand that their PCs cannot die.
    That depends entirely on what's at stake.

    If the lives of the PC's are on the line, then not being able to die indeed undermines those stakes. But if something else entirely is at stake (which the players are fighting for), it is a whole different matter.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Imaculata View Post
    Death may not even be the point of the battle, depending on what the reason for the battle is. Not all battles have death as their only goal. Some battles are about repelling an invasion, conquering something of value, or protecting something of value.
    Not all battles - just the vast majority of them.

    Your examples can have life-saving goals, but you have to admit that in your first one (to use a D&D example), invaders will die unless the defenders have a LOT of sleep spells and rapid roping squads deployed. In your second, how many examples can you think of conquerors who didn't kill anyone with their armies? In your third example - what do the defenders do if the people who want that thing of value get lethal in their attempt?

    Death is fast and easy. Tazers, force cages, sleep mist, sonic stun crowd control weapons - these are deployed much more rarely in rpgs compared to old knife in the gut, axe in the head, bullet in the brain or poison in the cup.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Imaculata View Post
    That depends entirely on what's at stake.

    If the lives of the PC's are on the line, then not being able to die indeed undermines those stakes. But if something else entirely is at stake (which the players are fighting for), it is a whole different matter.
    To b clear, I meant dull when lethal combat is happening, not when it isn't. If lethality is the way to win, and you need to win to save the child-like-empress, then knowing you cannot die is a pretty good way to make your chances of saving her much more certain, and much less dramatic.
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