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D&D General Do players even like the risk of death?


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DEFCON 1

Legend
I think players want consequences. They want their actions to result in something. Some consequences will be positive, some consequences will be negative, but that's all fine... it doesn't matter what the consequence is, so long as one occurs. It gives their actions meaning.

Death is one of those potential consequences, and thus it can be included.
 

I’m not sure players can be said to universally “like” the risk of death in the game of D&D - but it is a baseline assumption of the game that PCs are adventuring in a dangerous world. So whether or not all or most or some or none “like” it, millions still meet around tables (virtual or otherwise) to play and have fun.

also, what @DEFCON 1 said
 

Asisreo

Hero
Allow me to go a step further, then.

What type of player death risk is tolerable?

Is it just the ones where no agency is had between how their character dies? If so, does that include the swing of dice?

What about deaths that occur because of a mechanic that players simply forgot?

What about deaths that were preventable but only through some obtuse method, like having counterspell to avoid the cleric getting PWK'd?
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Allow me to go a step further, then.

What type of player death risk is tolerable?

Is it just the ones where no agency is had between how their character dies? If so, does that include the swing of dice?

What about deaths that occur because of a mechanic that players simply forgot?

What about deaths that were preventable but only through some obtuse method, like having counterspell to avoid the cleric getting PWK'd?
Check and see what edition the player is playing or really likes. That'll tell you a good amount about what types of death they find acceptable.
 
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payn

Hero
Depends on the type of player. Some folks consider adventuring dangerous business and want the game to reflect that. Others, assume a much more narrative approach where death is something negotiated as part of the story if it happens. Im among the former.

I like 3E/PF1, which is admittedly swingy. Certain situations can take a character out without them being able to act at all, which can be unsatisfying. I like to temper this with a hero point system resource the players can manage. If they save their points they can stave off a random death, but if they dont, the dice fall where they may.

If a death occurs because a player forgot a mechanic, I'm willing to retcon to a certain point. Really depends on the context of the situation.

Part of the game is about preparing and facing danger. If something comes up the players didn't think of, they will remember it next time.
 


Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Ask the players. Death will never be completely off the table in my games, but I always try to get a sense of how lethal people want the game to be. Personally I've never liked the "oops you did something you had no idea could be dangerous and now your PC is dead" style of play as a DM or player. But beyond that? It can be more difficult to provide a challenge while not killing off PCs left and right if that's the preference than to have multiple deaths every few levels for me.

As far as 5E, you can make it as deadly as you want. Focus fire, double tap, limit long rest opportunities, target the cleric once the enemy knows who they are, drag unconscious PCs off to be killed and eaten out of sight.
 
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Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Yes, even if they are not aware of it. If the game is too easy there is no risk then I believe boredom will set in.
All permanent death does is end a particular PC's story. I find that boring at times. I've been in "killer" games where everybody quit because there was no point, death was random and meaningless. Eventually the characters became meaningless and just a set of numbers on a page because there was no point in developing history, personality or story.

Death being off the table may make it boring for you, for a lot of people knowing that their PC could die at any time takes away a lot of their fun. To put it another way, I've run campaigns where no one died and no one was bored. There are many, many ways to fail. Death is one of the most boring failure options IMHO.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I think the focus on death as a needed consequence is very limiting. It puts undue focus on death as the sole motivating consequence, which means that it becomes a large focus of play. Play is not balanced unless death is often threatened, and threatened seriously. This is the issue behind most of the hp recovery rate/daily encounter balance/CR/encounter balance threads -- how to seriously threaten death as consequence and do so often enough.

And, this is a logical outcome of how the rules are presented. Death really is the only thing the rules codify as a consequence, spending a lot of pages on how it happens, how to prevent it, and how to reverse it. This puts death front and center in the rules. Any other meaningful consequence is left to the GM to invent and insert themselves. This takes a lot more work on the GM's part because there is no support in the ruleset on how to do this, what this could be, or how to employ it fairly. Because of this lack of support, deployment of other consequences can run afoul of excessive GM Force, which can leave a bad taste -- just think to how many players have bkand PC backstories or are orphans just to protect from having GM's screw with family. This is an attempt at other consequences in a failed play state.

Other consequences than death can absolutely drive an exciting 5e game, but you're on your own for how to implement them. This is where experience with how other games operarionalize consequences can be helpful in running 5e (or other D&D) as being less centered on death. It still must have some centering on death, because the rulest effectively demands it, but you can minimize it with work.
 

FreeTheSlaves

Adventurer
We had a PC death and a beat-down last session, it certainly got people's attention.

There had been some rash play leading up to it, so it was very educational for the newer players.

The experienced players noticed I had held back, but had maneuvered their PCs to escape regardless. I have gone for the throat in times past, so there's that uncertainty.

Having an afterlife scene and players declaring a quest to raise the dead took the sting out of it for the PC-less player concerned. It's also a good time to make any big changes to the PC that the player had been thinking. I'll be revealing a secret flaw I had been mulling over too.

Overall, I think character death can bring gravity and depth to the game. However, I don't remove a dead PC from the game, not unless it's player requested. Being attached to a character is a very good thing imo.

For us story teller players, there's nothing quite like a memorable death to highlight what a PC is all about. I let the player narrate that, or if they're shy, I make it dramatic for them.
 

Dragonsbane777

Explorer
All permanent death does is end a particular PC's story. I find that boring at times. I've been in "killer" games where everybody quit because there was no point, death was random and meaningless. Eventually the characters became meaningless and just a set of numbers on a page because there was no point in developing history, personality or story.

Death being off the table may make it boring for you, for a lot of people knowing that their PC could die at any time takes away a lot of their fun. To put it another way, I've run campaigns where no one died and no one was bored. There are many, many ways to fail. Death is one of the most boring failure options IMHO.
Veteran player here who thinks things should be more deadly. 5E is exceedingly generous with death. For your table, perhaps death is "too much" or "boring", but many find it essential. For one, death being hard reduces verisimilitude greatly. At this kind of table, the 100hp barbarian can fall 100 feet, not die, and people think it's ok. It's kind of silly!

Tons of stories have people die. It gives the other players something to RP about. Perhaps the death saved someone. Perhaps the PC acted rashly or in a reckless manner, and other PCs need to see there is -some- semblance of realism.

Does it need to be a "killer" game? Of course not. But if campaign after campaign goes by without any death, there are no hard consequences. If my players want glory, gold, land, followers, powerful magic, and songs written about them, then they need to be ready for the loss of items, friends, backstory NPCs, homes, reputation, or even their lives. There is a middle ground between Game of Thrones killer games and rainbow giggles fantasy where everyone survives and gets an award no matter what they do.
 

Doc_Klueless

Doors and Corners
Alot of the time, D&D veterans may have criticisms that the game is a bit too easy. Its certainly easier than the older editions and player death isn't nearly as frequent, but the risk is there.

The question is: Do players actually want this risk?
I'm a D&D Veteran having played since 1981 or so.

As I can only speak for myself: not so much, no.

I much, much, MUCH prefer other forms of failure: captured, loss of treasure, loss of loved one, loss of reputation, to death. When/if my character dies, I just generate another one and the game goes on. If I have to generate one of much lower level than the rest of the group, I lose interest in the game and will probably just quit going.

However, when other things happen, I have to play through those and I find that more satisfying.
 

Iry

Hero
And, this is a logical outcome of how the rules are presented. Death really is the only thing the rules codify as a consequence, spending a lot of pages on how it happens, how to prevent it, and how to reverse it. This puts death front and center in the rules. Any other meaningful consequence is left to the GM to invent and insert themselves. This takes a lot more work on the GM's part because there is no support in the ruleset on how to do this, what this could be, or how to employ it fairly. Because of this lack of support, deployment of other consequences can run afoul of excessive GM Force, which can leave a bad taste -- just think to how many players have bkand PC backstories or are orphans just to protect from having GM's screw with family. This is an attempt at other consequences in a failed play state.
This is 100% true, but even despite the potential difficulty, I advocate strongly for non-death consequences. Not because I fear the players having to deal with death, but because there are so many other rich, exciting, and plot-hook filled options besides death. Everything from a setback to your story arc goals, giving an advantage to a political opponent, suffering a curse with pros and cons, having body parts amputated, suffering chronic pain or having dramatic scars, a change in reputation, etc.

Some players would even prefer death to losing an arm, but death severs almost all plot hooks related to that character. I would rather save as many plot hooks, and keep as much sentimental story as possible. Obviously, these kinds of things have to suit the group and the player. Many groups are absolutely happy with the death system, and that's totally fine. But I definitely encourage groups who are on the fence to give it a try, come to these forums (or others) for options/plot-hooks, and ask your doctor if non-death consequences are right for you. Side effects may include: fun, anxiety, drama, scenery chewing, groans, laughter, spotlights, hogging of spotlights, cringe, theatre-kid infestation, and more fun.
Speak to a health-care professional if you begin to experience death consequences IRL.
 

jgsugden

Legend
As PCs go higher and higher in level, there are less and less deadly fights in my games. This assists with the feeling that the heroes are more powerful. If they face deadly challenges as often at 17th level as they do at 3rd, it doesn't really feel like the PCs have grown. It feels like they're still overpowered and weak.

However, every fight needs to have a purpose and a risk. Outside of risk of death, there are other risks that you put out there for the PCs to have to handle. The enemy might be doing something you need to stop (such as hurting an ally, or completing a ritual, or escaping). There might be a time pressure (the PCs need to escape before the door closes, etc...) There might be Information the PCs need to gather while enduring the pressure of the combat ("Hold them off while I....") The PCs may be trying to STOP the fighting ("This is MADNESS... Put down your weapons! The dragon will be here in a minute. If we wear each other down fighting now, it will slaughter us!") You may need to recover something an enemy has ("Give us the Shield, John.") Think about video games and all the different types of missions that you do where the failures don't involve your character dying. The beauty of all of these is that the risk of failure can be much greater without ending the game. if the PCs are fighting to recover the MacGuffin before it is used, and you set the difficult to make it 50-50 odds or so... you can have subsequent games that deal with the consequences of whether the PCs managed to win ... or lose ... that key challenge. They can have real stakes in the future of your setting and game.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
There's a sweet spot, but it runs a wide range from player to player. Ideally, everyone at the table will be on the same page, as either too little or too much risk can result in boredom. It really comes down to individual preferences. Some people enjoy meat grinders. Others prefer death flag systems where death is only on the line if the player decides it is. Many fall in between those extremes.

Regardless, as others have said, death should only be one of many potential consequences. Losing a cherished magical item can certainly be a fate worse than death, particularly if that death is easily mitigated by resurrection magic.
 

Asisreo

Hero
Interesting thoughts all around. I've definitely had non-PC death consequences for failure. Things like the BBEG escaping, Capturing PC's, Important Objects being stolen, Rituals being completed, etc.

This leads into a further question: Does a loss-spiral have negative impacts on the campaign?

Loss-spirals are a made-up name meant to represent a situation where a previous loss compounds on to a future loss. For example, a ritual being completed might make a certain powerful devil appear or the capturing of PC's land them in the center of the dungeon of the enemy with no resources recovered.

How do you feel about these loss-spirals?
 

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