Do players want challenging games, with a real chance of death?


My game (InterStellar Mercenary) is difficult. Trying to complete a mission while being hunted down by bounty hunters, deadly creatures, the enemy empire, and your fellow mercenary means there is a high chance of death. In a campaign (10 missions) I probably average about 50% die. Whilst my players hate when they die, even get emotional, when they survive it feels like a real accomplishment. I find combat is also more meaningful when life hangs in the balance. To counter this I provide big rewards and pay offs, characters level fast - but one hit kills are always possible, mainly through a poor strategic decision.

So the question is: do other players want to be challenged? Or do they just want to go through motions and level up? What do other GMs and players think?


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Depends on the players.

But it also depends on the cost of a replacing a character. If you can be back in the game in 15 minutes, it's very different from if you'll resume play only in a week or two. And it will depend on how much more the old character could do compared to a new character.

And it of course depends on the campaign, and how much any character's individual personality and identity is relevant to the game.


Fortunately we have an online character generator which makes characters is a few minutes but back when it took us an hour to make one it was even more devastating when a character dies. These days most of my regular players have a few characters pre-made so they can jump back in at the next intersection. But in general do you find players want to be challenged?


A suffusion of yellow
The important thing is story, I want my character to be part of an interesting story where they achieve goals, overcome challenges and learn from their experiences. You can also make things dynastic by having the story extending beyond death into successors and descendents, a whole slew of NPC relationships in the world. If death doesnt have story its as meaningless as no-dying.


Difficulty isn't strictly correlated with risk of death. If it were, you'd actually expect risk of death to go down in proportion to your player's skill levels, and that 50% number would need to be measured across a population of players to be meaningful, saying something about how hard the general set of players finds the game to be.

I think risk of death is usually less about difficulty, and more often about aesthetics. It feels disingenuous to present life or death situations that don't actually resolve that way, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you actually want that many deaths to occur.


He / Him
I usually have my players vote on how difficult / unforgiving they want the campaign to be. A 1 would be that no matter how bad things get, characters will never die (without a player choosing). 2 is that there are deadly situations but I give strong clues on how to get out of them. 3 is a dangerous world that can definitely result in death if they are not prepared.

In my last big campaign they voted for 2. We had two character deaths, one mid-way through and one in the penultimate session.


Patron Badass
Personally, I believe difficulty isn't just a risk of death. Death is the consequence for not adjusting to the difficulty, but the threat itself doesn't make it difficult. Like if a GM made an instant-death trap activated by stepping on the wrong map tile. There's a high chance of death, but there wasn't difficulty.

Difficulty in an Turn-based RPG is usually the result of mis-managing resources or status conditions. Most players know that health going down is bad. But if the players resources to prevent that aren't properly managed, it will be easy for them to be overwhelmed.

If you want to increase difficulty, you can give them more resources to keep track of. That will give them more opportunities to mis-manage them.

Or, you could obscure the time and situation in which a resource is necessary.


Victoria Rules
As a player, I want there to be challenges of the type where failing means the (temporary or permanent) end of my charzcter, or of my playing that character. Why? Because defeating/surviving those challenges brings a sense of accomplishment.

While death is the most obvious of these fail states, other equivalents can include: capture or imprisonment or enslavement, loss of mind, petrification, and so forth.

And most game systems provide at least some means of recovery from all of these states provided the requisite resources and-or people are available in the fiction and that such recovery is a desired outcome (it isn't always).

When asked, most players do say they want the Safe, Easy, Protected with no hardships, real challanges or anything negative like character death.

Basically most players would say they want a Happy Comedy Slapstick Action Adventure: Generally what you see in most TV shows and movies. Much like the D&D Honor among Thieves movie or Disney and most Marvel movies.

And at least half of the players that say they want the above, really only want the above fully and truly.

But then there is the other half. They will say along with the crowd' that they want the above.....but it's not exactly all that they want. And sometimes non of what they want.

These players will find they live the difficult, hard ("impossible") game with harsh negative things in it like character death. I lot of players get bored of "amazingly" and "easily" completing yet another adventure while their character only took a couple of points of damage.

The play style of "well, your characters have already completed this adventure we have not run through yet and won the day....but lets run through it to see how your characters complete the adventure" works for a lot of gamers. But not all.

Hard Fun Failure is a big draw to some game styles.

Though it's rare to find players that just "like" Hard Fun. Unless they have played such games before.

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