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

Steampunkette

A5e 3rd Party Publisher!
Supporter
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?
The answer is: No.

We've been trained by decades of "How it's been" to believe that character death is a needed and important risk in the game. We're locked into a form of Stockholm Syndrome with the idea of death... in the same way that we think that we're okay with Death in life. Or pain. Or having to go to work, each day. Or any other dreary, sad, or painful aspect of our lives. We lie to ourselves, and others, about how important it is to deal with these things. How it's a matter of growth or closure or how bad things somehow give good things meaning.

But if we could actually live in a world where our loved ones -didn't- die? Where our first dogs were still with us, bouncy and young and healthy 50 years later? Where automation was strong enough that practically no one had to work and everyone spent most of their time playing and enjoying their lives? We'd sign up in a heartbeat. People write whole religions about a place where this kind of thing is the baseline for their afterlife.

It's largely platitudes because we feel like we have no choice and so romanticize our interactions with the bad things.

I've run games for those "Death must be a risk" kind of players before in which I flatly made sure no encounter would end in their deaths. Capture, humiliation, etc. I didn't -tell- them Death wasn't a risk, but it never was.

They still had a blast. Especially when they had to escape a prison cell or rescue a friend who was captured or something else. The fact that death wasn't a real risk was never mentioned. No one complained that nothing was trying to rip them apart. They just enjoyed the game.

Consequences, both good and bad, are important for the story. But death?

Save it for specific moments. Make -choosing- death into something a player actively does as the only way to die... and don't tell your players that.

They'll love the game just as much, if not more, than ones where some random goblin can get a lucky crit and end the prophesied one before their quest really starts.
 

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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
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.

More tellingly, check how often death has actually happened in the campaigns they've really liked. You can like an edition for things other than the rate it produces death. When in doubt, ask about what you are really interested in, rather than try to divine it indirectly.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
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.
Yeah, it seems to me to be a very general trend, and there are plenty of exceptions in both directions.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
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.

Well, if you predefine, "hard consequence" to only be PC death, yeah. But that is circular.

So, what do you mean by "hard consequence" in terms other than "PCs die"?

In my last campaign (not D&D, but that's not central to the point), the PC had several times in which their actions determined whether interstellar war broke out. Even if they, themselves survived, they might bring about the deaths of billions, and reshape the power structure of an entire sector of the galaxy.

But sure, no "hard" consequences there.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
I would like to add make the death interesting no one wants to die in a way that their redshirt number 8 dying.
Well, not no one. There are definitely players who want that to be a possibility, even if it’s one they want to try to avoid. But yes, generally players are less satisfied when a death feels random and pointless. I think most players would rather go down like Boromir than like Ned Stark.
also want about non-death risks as those can help without having to start from scratch?
Yeah, I’m definitely a fan of non-death consequences. I think every adventure should be written with a fail state in mind. The DM should ask themselves “how will the players know if they’ve lost?” Obviously “they get TPK’d” is one answer, but I don’t think it should be the only one.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Yeah, I’m definitely a fan of non-death consequences. I think every adventure should be written with a fail state in mind. The DM should ask themselves “how will the players know if they’ve lost?” Obviously “they get TPK’d” is one answer, but I don’t think it should be the only one.
I agree. There should be all sorts of consequences for things the party attempts. I just don't want to play in a game where PC death isn't a possible consequence.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Since I keep records. . .

My "The Sign of Four" campaign (2e) that ran for just under 3 years had seven PC deaths (though two of those were resurrected)

My "The Oath" 2E campaign that ran for 3.5 years had 13 PC deaths (one person dying twice) and then ended in a TPK (so add five more to that 13 for 18 total). This was actually one of the most fun games that we still talk about today.

My 3.xE game "Out of the Frying Pan" had five deaths (one person dying twice)

My current 5E games have not had any death yet (over a year playing) but a few close calls.
 

Graybeard

Explorer
I have played in games where the GM/DM would not allow a character to die. It didn't matter what the character did, the GM would fudge it so the character didn't die. It made the game less interesting because the players knew there were no consequences for their actions. I prefer playing in a game where your character could die. Hopefully they die in battle or doing something heroic and not by falling into a river and drowning.
 

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