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

Oofta

Legend
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.
I've always made D&D as deadly as I wanted in all editions and 5E is no exception. I have infinite dragons who know how magic works after all. I mean, I'm sorry, but I really don't get the "5E is easy". Is it less "oops you're dead" than previous editions? Sure. I see that as a benefit not a flaw. But if you want to kill off PCs, all you have to do is double tap. Hitting someone that's unconscious has advantage and causes 2 death saves. Many creatures can take out a PC on the same turn they knocked them to zero. Running at higher difficulty is a different thread though.

I think DMs are limiting their options if the only bad outcome they can think of is for death of a PC. Death of a PC in D&D just means that PC's story ended and you have to (get to?) write up a new PC. If people want to play happy kittens and loving puppies, I'm not going to tell them they're wrong any more than if you play D&D as a version of the Saw movies. Different strokes for different folks.
 

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tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
Epic
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?
the level of death risk that is acceptable will depend heavily on the style of game. Generally a lot of certain death is only appreciated in games where the focus is largely on avoiding risk.. things like dcc and in pc terms roguelike fames.

Video games make a good array of examples though. In a lot of older games death was easy to find if you didn't spend a lot of time "grinding levels", many old crpgs fit here because the grinding was the game with the story just a fun distraction. Games like galaga and various beat em ups were easy to die and return. The NES battletoads and ghouls n hots roke that easy return chain making the lethality such a focus that it detracted from the simple game. Games like sonic megaman &the early Mario brothers could also have very high difficulties but there was almost always a lot of ways you could tackle it or the difficulty was the game focusing on precision platforming that sometimes reached very high levels of precision that made the player feel like they almost had it even when failing.

Dcc and some of the osram type games are in the highly lethal with a focus on avoiding the risk as the fun part and often make the death fun by making it an excuse to do s shot eat a candy or just pull out your neclxt pregen. 5e is k in no of like ghouls n ghosts and battletiads in the simplistic gameplay (stripped tactical elements & such) but with the easy recovery of galaga and such and near "ame genie" powered levels of semi-immortal characters.


"More lethal" doesn't mean that the next step is deep into meatgrinder territory, but 5e takes d&d's historically bar to recovery from attrition/death and drops it to a triviality in addition to making the risk to an extreme degree where players regularly fail at deliberately making an effort to die on purpose (ie to bring in a new character). Its hard to argue that "people fail at trying to die on purpose and can still trivially return from it" is anything but the opposite of a meatgrinder. With the system fighting gm attempts at changing that without offering the gm sh options beyond save or die and effectively saying "do you feel lucky punk" dirty harry style while attacking downed pcs things get worse
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
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.
Whatdayamean? If Death was the only consequence of meaning in the game, then why does D&D include such Cleric spells as 'Escape Capture'? Or 'Power of Attorney'? Or 'Regain Fortune' Or 'Apologize To The Loved One'?

Oh, wait...
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
The question is: Do players actually want this risk?
Some players do, some players don’t. Anecdotally, I’ve observed that people who started playing with 3e or later tend to be more averse to character death than players who started with 2e or earlier, though of course there are many exceptions.

I think as the game has gradually shifted focus from loosely structured campaign fronts towards semi-linear adventure paths, and as character creation has gotten more involved, the appeal of character death has waned. When the game is about the story of a group of adventurers on an epic quest, the death of a character is far more disruptive than when the game is about exploring an unknown environment and looting it of valuables.

A very common sentiment I’ve seen expressed by players who started with WotC-run D&D is that they don’t want character death to be off the table completely, but they don’t want character death to feel meaningless. They want it to be appropriately dramatic, and to mean something in the story. They don’t want to just open a chest that turned out to have completely untelegraphed animated laundry and die from being strangled by socks in the third session (this actually happened to me once. It was pretty funny.)

Of course, there are plenty of players out there who are fine with the possibility of character death at any time. The key is really just to discuss with your players what you and they want out of the game.
 
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iserith

Magic Wordsmith
My experience with death in D&D is that players are fine with it if it's on theme, they had a hand in arriving at that point, and there's a plan already in place to keep the player participating in the game. If Eberron pulp action heroes are dying like flies to traps in an old-school dungeon, something's gone wrong with theme in my view. If the players are being gotcha'ed and losing characters as a result, that leads to discontent. If a player has to sit there and make a new character while the rest of the group plays the game, that's boring to a lot of people.

By making sure death is appropriate to the theme of the game and telegraphed so it is avoidable through good decision-making, plus everyone has backup characters or the like, then in my experience there's never an issue.
 

aco175

Legend
I think that players want the risk of death, but not every fight needs to be deadly. Things can go bad with the dice and foolishness, but setting up the fight, the goal may not always be deadly. Boss fights should have a higher danger of death and most players should clue in when there is one of these.

I also tend to have a means of getting the PC back if the players wants. There may be a time where the player sacrifices the PC and allow the others to escape. There may be a means of getting the PCs back with a quest or he was taken prisoner or such, but the player may decide that he was cool with the PC dying to save the rest and that would be it.
 

Oofta

Legend
Some players do, some players don’t. Anecdotally, I’ve observed that people who started playing with 3e or later tend to be more averse to character death than players who started with 2e or earlier, though of course there are many exceptions.

I think as the game has gradually shifted focus from loosely structured campaign fronts towards semi-linear adventure paths, and as character creation has gotten more involved, the appeal of character death has waned. When the game is about the story of a group of adventurers on an epic quest, the death of a character is far more disruptive than when the game is about exploring an unknown environment and looting it of valuables.

A very common sentiment I’ve seen expressed by players who started with WotC-run D&D is that they don’t want character death to be off the table completely, but they don’t want character death to feel meaningless. They want it to be appropriately dramatic, and to mean something in the story. They don’t want to just open a chest that turned out to have completely untelegraphed animated laundry and die from being strangled by socks in the third session (this actually happened to me once. It was pretty funny.)

Of course, there are plenty of players out there who are fine with the possibility of character death at any time. The key is really just to discuss with your players what you and they want out of the game.
Even for some of us old timers, death is more of an annoyance than anything. Even back in the dark ages (the late 20th century), very few PCs died in most of our games because we found it more fun that way. If a PC did die, it was off to town to find a cleric most of the time.

Obviously different groups played very different style of game. However, one of my worst D&D sessions was a DM that thought it was fun to have everybody write up 2 PCs and then killed them all off in "inventive" ways. We never let them DM again.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
Epic
How do you feel about these loss-spirals?
Again it depends. You can look at fate as a great example. Combat in fate largely falls into categories of near competence porn cinematic fun where the outcome is all but certain, an almost immediate "let's work out a concession "(a mutually agreed upon loss basically), and a death spiral so deep that it's difficult to Express without getting pretty deep into system kechsnics.

In fate you can lose some stress no big deal and maybe risk a m ok not consequence, but "I'm taken out" even knowing that the the other side could just say how you die can be preferable to taking more serious consequences.

That style is a terrible fit for d&d but it works great for fate because the system & gameplay is so incredibly different. Death spirals in meatgrinders like dcc can be a lot of fun. In d&d though death spirals need to split into two use cases.

The first is the boring crutch tables and such that just keep making you worse arbitrarily, those tend to just feel like the annoying bolt ons ether are. Tge second are things like 3.x wraith attribute damage & trog stench debuff or even the old ghoul paralysis where the point was to make nonthreatening opponents feel scary or become difficult by bringing those things into the field. Without technically needing to actually begin a death spiral.
 

Mind of tempest

(he/him)advocate for 5e psionics
Some players do, some players don’t. Anecdotally, I’ve observed that people who started playing with 3e or later tend to be more averse to character death than players who started with 2e or earlier, though of course there are many exceptions.

I think as the game has gradually shifted focus from loosely structured campaign fronts towards semi-linear adventure paths, and as character creation has gotten more involved, the appeal of character death has waned. When the game is about the story of a group of adventurers on an epic quest, the death of a character is far more disruptive than when the game is about exploring an unknown environment and looting it of valuables.

A very common sentiment I’ve seen expressed by players who started with WotC-run D&D is that they don’t want character death to be off the table completely, but they don’t want character death to feel meaningless. They want it to be appropriately dramatic, and to mean something in the story. They don’t want to just open a chest that turned out to have completely untelegraphed animated laundry and die from being strangled by socks in the third session (this actually happened to me once. It was pretty funny.)

Of course, there are plenty of players out there who are fine with the possibility of character death at any time. The key is really just to discuss with your players what you and they want out of the game.
I would like to add make the death interesting no one wants to die in a way that their redshirt number 8 dying.
also want about non-death risks as those can help without having to start from scratch?
 

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