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

payn

He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
I am of the opinion that death is the worst mechanic except for all the other options that you have.

I hate killing PC's. You spend a hundred hours or more building up that character's story and relationship with the world and then suddenly they die some silly meaningless death and no one enjoys it and all these story threads suddenly come to a dead end. You could argue that's realistic but realism alone is in my experience never enough to justify a mechanic. And players of course hate PC death for all those reasons and then some. It's like playing MtG and ripping up one of your cards when you lose. When you really lose a playing piece, it is a lost investment.

I do a lot to try to make it hard to die in my games because it does indeed suck. I almost always use some meta currency that amounts to a "get out of death" card, justified by some aspect of the universe being with the PCs and wanting them to succeed - the Force, the gods, or whatever. Nonetheless, PC's still die and sometimes with frightening regularity.

The trouble is the players don't want their characters to die but they also want to be in heroic action filled stories. This means that inevitably they want to put themselves into situations where death is a highly plausible and perhaps even expected result. In the stories, the heroes always make the choices that put them in situations to survive and succeed and live, and with the metacurrency and other advantages the PC's are given if the players make the right choices chances are they will succeed and live. But the trouble is that players aren't literary heroes and they make the wrong choices either because of failures of judgment or because of a lack of information.

And as collective and joint story tellers of this story, this raises a serious problem. If the players put themselves into situations where death is the plausible, logical, and expected result, how can we maintain the integrity of the story if death never occurs? If the heroes save themselves by their wits and resources then fine, but what if they don't? The first time the universe gives them a way out that's fine, but at some point being saved by something other than their wits or resources having the universe rescue them from their position means that even if they win or succeed they've really ceased to be the protagonists anyway. If the universe won't let the PC's fail, well then the meaning of the story is that the PCs are only tools in the hands of greater powers, continually failing only to be saved by the god in the machine. If the players don't want that to be what their story is about, if they don't want plot protection, if they don't want me the GM being the actual protagonist of the story, then they have to accept that death is a reasonable consequence in some situations because the alternative is ruining the story.
Not all stories are heroes journeys. I guess its a matter of perspective. I do agree that players (myself included) put a lot of thought and time into their characters. Its a shame for them to be wiped out so unceremoniously. However, there is a game part to RPGs as well. You have to rectify your desire for a single character story, with perhaps a grander scope of story. That element of danger, that potential finality, also gives a gripping feeling to play at large. Its a trade off for every group, and perhaps game designers have to decide on.

I like to use metacurrency as well. I view it as another resource the players have to manage. This allows players a little caution to the wind, also lets the dice fall where they may without being the final arbiter alone. Though, if you run out of metacurrency, then death's door is final. Adds an edge to play that plot armor just doesn't fulfill. There are, of course, other methods of failure than death, and how you make them impact the play, story, and feel of the players will lie in their execution.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Kannik

Hero
I like to use metacurrency as well. I view it as another resource the players have to manage. This allows players a little caution to the wind, also lets the dice fall where they may without being the final arbiter alone. Though, if you run out of metacurrency, then death's door is final. Adds an edge to play that plot armor just doesn't fulfill. There are, of course, other methods of failure than death, and how you make them impact the play, story, and feel of the players will lie in their execution.
One of the neat features of Top Secret (one if not the first RPGs to include this kind of metacurrency, and my first RPG) was "Fame and Fortune Points." Both allowed you to negate a fatal attack. The difference was that your agent accrued 1 Fame point for every successful mission; so you (the player) knew how many Fame points you had. Fortune was rolled, in secret, by the Administrator (GM) when you created the character, and you may never know when your fortune might run out...
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I am of the opinion that death is the worst mechanic except for all the other options that you have.

I hate killing PC's. You spend a hundred hours or more building up that character's story and relationship with the world and then suddenly they die some silly meaningless death and no one enjoys it and all these story threads suddenly come to a dead end. You could argue that's realistic but realism alone is in my experience never enough to justify a mechanic.
IMO realism is enough to justify any mechanic that can be practically introduced.
And players of course hate PC death for all those reasons and then some. It's like playing MtG and ripping up one of your cards when you lose.
Maybe it says something, then, that I preferred Magic in the early days when it was played for ante (each player put up a random non-land card from their play deck at the start of each game; winner got both cards).
 

wizard71

Explorer
I think people want a challenge. I do not think they want a real chance of death. If you look at how the game has changed, much more has been done to minimize character death. Higher hit point averages for all classes, Death Saves vs death at zero or negative hit points, poison doing hit point damage instead of being an instant kill, no save or die spells,multiple changes to save against disintegration & petrification, point buys, ability score bumps and overpowered feats (looking at you Alertness, Great Weapon Master & Sharp Shooter) all argue that more is being done to minimize character death.
 

I was thinking more along the lines of saving your friends, family, your clan, the world, anything you believe in given a threat that can be averted through your act of heroism. It's giving meaning to that death. Random nihilistic death is indeed uninteresting and depressing.
It only gives meaning to a death in stories and movies, because the stories and movies end. In RL, said friends, family, and clan move on, forge new bonds. Spouses remarry, children are raised, or neglected, or abused, by strangers.
 

I think people want a challenge. I do not think they want a real chance of death. If you look at how the game has changed, much more has been done to minimize character death. Higher hit point averages for all classes, Death Saves vs death at zero or negative hit points, poison doing hit point damage instead of being an instant kill, no save or die spells,multiple changes to save against disintegration & petrification, point buys, ability score bumps and overpowered feats (looking at you Alertness, Great Weapon Master & Sharp Shooter) all argue that more is being done to minimize character death.
That's true of D&D and its clones, but not the hobby as a whole.

There are still games where permadeath is a very real, even likely, outcome. My group won't play anything else.
 

aramis erak

Legend
You mean like a suicide bomber? :geek:

One you see a few violent deaths in RL, you come to realize that there's no meaning in the act of dying.
That's very much an individual thing, not a universal; it does tend to be very much tied to religiosity and/or Jingoism.

Not understanding that has been the bane of many governments over many centuries. Going all the way back at least 25 centuries, in fact.
 

DarkCrisis

Reeks of Jedi
Skill level:

I’m too young to die
Hurt me plenty
Ultra-violence

doom pc GIF
 

Remove ads

AD6_gamerati_skyscraper

Remove ads

Upcoming Releases

Top