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D&D 5E How often do characters die in your campaigns?

How often do you Characters usually die in your campaigns?

  • Campaigns have no deaths.

    Votes: 11 14.9%
  • Campaigns have a few individual deaths (1-3) but no TPKs.

    Votes: 40 54.1%
  • Campaigns have a lot of individual deaths (4+) but no TPKs.

    Votes: 9 12.2%
  • Campaigns have a few individual deaths (1-3) and TPK about half the time.

    Votes: 6 8.1%
  • Campaigns have a lot of individual deaths (4+) and TPK about half the time.

    Votes: 3 4.1%
  • Campaigns have a few individual deaths (1-3) and almost always TPK

    Votes: 2 2.7%
  • Campaigns have a lot of individual deaths (4+) and almost always TPK

    Votes: 3 4.1%

  • Total voters
    74

pogre

Legend
Players frequently die in my campaigns. We also TPK a fair amount. When a character dies, but at least one party member lives, a new character is rolled and we figure out a way to introduce them. If we have a TPK, we do an auto-reset before the battle that killed us.
I run a ton of combat, but my PCs are adept at running away. As a result, I have never had a TPK in 5e. My group takes perverse joy when an encounter is way over their head and stretches them to the limit and beyond. They also realize sometimes they better have an escape route.

I always apologize when a PC dies, but my players always dismiss my concerns - they say, "I was out of position" or "I should have waited to gauge the danger level of the monster", etc. It makes them a great group to run for.

Frankly, deaths typically come from encounters where I did not predict it being a problem for the PCs. If my group has time to plan and knows something about the opponent, those epic, climactic encounters are usually dispatched with relative ease.
 

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pogre

Legend
I haven't had any PC death in 5e, although they got close to it a few times, including a couple of times getting just 1 point of damage less than needed for instant death.

That said, my policy has been for years to always ask the player in case of PC death if they are OK with it, or would rather suffer a different penalty but keep playing the PC.
That's a good conversation to have with a group for sure. The possibility of death is a norm for my table, but I have a new group of players that would be a good question for session zero.
 

In ad&d(2e) & 3.5 it would happen occasionally and generally launched into an immediate start of someone casting bvb g or getting hired to cast raise dead or something. In 5e it's nearly impossible for a pc to die of mu h other than save or die effects do I've literally only d one pc who died without trying to be killed (which is quite the difficult feat even if GM &pc are coordinating). That pc was....
A: dropped by an inevitable.
B: failed a death save from a warlock casting fireball.
C: had a second warlock agonizing repelling blast the inevitable to put it so the pc was between it and its target.
D: Having downed the pc more than once only to have it healing word'ed to immunity from risk from the two attacks at the inevitable's disposal it did not hesitate to attack for failed saves three and four as the pc was warned it would do given a chance on a few of the precious "I feel ok with healing word"replies to being warned about putting himself between the inevitable and the target.

Getting killed
 

Esbee

Dungeon Master at large.
Death is a very real threat in my games (1st ed), but it's not exactly a meatgrinder. My current 1st ed game is more than 7 years old now, and has seen many deaths and two near TPKs - first one had a single survivor, and second one had two survivors but they weren't present when the rest of the group was killed.

That said, one player recently had a string of characters and was almost making a new character each session because he kept doing boneheaded things and kept dying.

Bottom line is that I let the dice fall where they will. I don't hold to the philosophy that death shouldn't be a thing, but I also don't seek to kill players deliberately. I abhor the DM vs. Player mentality.
 

p_johnston

Explorer
So this thread is really interesting to me. Thank you all for your replies.

To address one thing I saw brought up I didn't really take resurrection magic into account when I made this thread because I have never had a PC resurrected in any game I've ever run. I don't ban the spells but it just rarely comes up. I think this is for two reasons.

One: As I stated individual deaths are rare in my campaigns and most often happen when a PC decides to do something stupid while alone (like going into the city alone after being warned a deadly assassin had been hired to kill the party. Twice. Different campaigns same player.) which makes revivify useless. I rarely go high enough level to start getting most other resurrection spells.

Two: If the party is together it tends to be all or nothing. My players are always really on top of insuring that no one bleeds out and I don't usually attack downed players so if just one or two people go down they are unlikely to die. In addition my players are like bulldogs in their inability to let things go (at one point I will tell the story of my level 2 party attacking a group of 20+ bandits over 50 gp. Twice). They don't like to run, they won't leave people behind if they do run, and if they do run they usually end up coming back at it a few minutes later. Plus If the party has one or two people down and do decide to run I tend to be lenient about letting them drag their unconscious companions along.

So I guess my tendency to towards TPK's over single deaths is a natural result of the combination of my leniency, my deadly encounters, and my players stubbornness.
 

cbwjm

Hero
I keep trying to get them but they just keep on surviving.

I did adjust down a legendary wyvern I made because I thought it might annihilate the PC. Kind of wish I didn't, made it too easy and it ended up not being as interesting a fight because of it.
 

p_johnston

Explorer
Hiya!

So much to unpack here! So much so I'm not going to even try. Suffice it to say...you sound like a more "narrative story oriented" type of DM. That's cool, to each their own and all that. :)

But...this is the "problem" with what I call a "pre-designed story". An RPG is, imnsho, not a "story to be told". It's more like "a series of improve sessions that form a story". I am all for giving little 'strands of webbing' for the Players to have their PC's grasp onto...or not. It's THEIR story and THEIR call...I'm just the DM. It's NOT my job to "tell a story" so much as it is my job to "facilitate the telling of THEIR story"...in a manner of speaking.

I DO have "things going on" in the world... "plots", for lack of a better word. But, these plots are initially almost always completely independent of the PC's. If the PC's get involved with them, well, then we do the whole roleplaying thing (re: the "improve" part of the storytelling). I have NPC's and the world react to the Players choices they have their PC's make...the Players then react to those NPC/world reactions and act on those...rinse and repeat. This continues on forever, effectively, with some 'plots' coming to a close (often unexpectedly), some kinda piddling out into non-issues, and some being epic quests resulting in the PC's besting the dungeon, saving the princess, recovering the Ancient Foozle of Power, and wresting Glory from the edge of despair!

And TPK's? Yeah, they happen. All that is is one of those stories that the NEXT adventurers get told by that old enchanter in the dark corner of the bar (some call him.. Tim?...). "There lies the Cave of Caebannog! Where the entrance to this cave is guarded by a beast so foul, so cruel, that no man yet that has fought with it...and lived!". Yeah, well...all those "men that have fought with it" and gotten killed by the beast were PC's who were in a TPK.

But...I'm what is now considered a "Killer DM"; I don't build or run my games around "the PC's are heroes, destined for greatness". I run my games MUCH more akin to the old origins of the game; the PC's are adventurers...sell-swords...treasure seekers...less-than-honourable men and woman who seek fame, power and glory over the adoration of the populace. That's not to say that I haven't run games in which all my Players choose to play "really good guys...heroes doing the right thing out of the goodness of their good hearts". I have, and some of them even ended up really epic and with an adoring populace.

So, how do I "handle" deaths and TPK's? Easily...I guess? It never "wrecks the story"...it only changes it. :)

^_^

Paul L. Ming
Hello thanks for the reply.

So the funny thing is I used to be a much bigger meatgrinder DM. My first campaign averaged one death a session for the first 8ish sessions until my party got higher level and I learned to build more fair encounters.

I think your description of me as a "narrative DM" is fair nowadays. I do want to clarify that I see it as a more collaborative process then me telling a story. In my eyes it's me and my players making the story together. They give me a backstory with lots of hooks and I use that to build a world and story full of things that they as players are interested in (I of course assume they are interested in the things they put into their backstory). It helps that over the years I've noticed that my players always seem the happiest with campaigns and moments that tie into either their characters backstories or previous campaigns.
 

So this thread is really interesting to me. Thank you all for your replies.

To address one thing I saw brought up I didn't really take resurrection magic into account when I made this thread because I have never had a PC resurrected in any game I've ever run. I don't ban the spells but it just rarely comes up. I think this is for two reasons.

One: As I stated individual deaths are rare in my campaigns and most often happen when a PC decides to do something stupid while alone (like going into the city alone after being warned a deadly assassin had been hired to kill the party. Twice. Different campaigns same player.) which makes revivify useless. I rarely go high enough level to start getting most other resurrection spells.

Two: If the party is together it tends to be all or nothing. My players are always really on top of insuring that no one bleeds out and I don't usually attack downed players so if just one or two people go down they are unlikely to die. In addition my players are like bulldogs in their inability to let things go (at one point I will tell the story of my level 2 party attacking a group of 20+ bandits over 50 gp. Twice). They don't like to run, they won't leave people behind if they do run, and if they do run they usually end up coming back at it a few minutes later. Plus If the party has one or two people down and do decide to run I tend to be lenient about letting them drag their unconscious companions along.

So I guess my tendency to towards TPK's over single deaths is a natural result of the combination of my leniency, my deadly encounters, and my players stubbornness.

The biggest difference is that it was dangerous enough to be lethal fast if you tried to face roll through everything in old editions while in 5e the bar is either death & tpks are on the razor's edge or virtually impossible for anything but gross blatant stupidity of epic proportions with nearly nothing in between.

In most versions it wasn't too big of a deal to revive someone making 5e's feeling of professional football players vrs kindergartners playing full contact flag football feeling all the more bizarre of a design choice
 
Last edited:

pming

Hero
Hiya!

Hello thanks for the reply.

So the funny thing is I used to be a much bigger meatgrinder DM. My first campaign averaged one death a session for the first 8ish sessions until my party got higher level and I learned to build more fair encounters.

I think your description of me as a "narrative DM" is fair nowadays. I do want to clarify that I see it as a more collaborative process then me telling a story. In my eyes it's me and my players making the story together. They give me a backstory with lots of hooks and I use that to build a world and story full of things that they as players are interested in (I of course assume they are interested in the things they put into their backstory). It helps that over the years I've noticed that my players always seem the happiest with campaigns and moments that tie into either their characters backstories or previous campaigns.
Narrative play is a ton of fun, for sure! But, for me at least, there are much better games for it than D&D. Don't get me wrong...D&D can be an almost purely narrative, heroic story of epic proportions, etc. But it's not built...er...let me rephrase that. It wasn't built for that style of play. With 5th edition, as @tetrasodium said, the life/death of PC's is MUCH more geared towards life...at least for Players who take advantage of all the goodies to keep their PC's alive and use said goodies without regard for story or "campaign logic" (re: a DM who lets Potions of Healing be purchased at just about any inn, tavern, ale-house, general store, apothecary, etc...for example).

The biggest problem I have with "building more fair encounters" is the very premise of what that naturally entails: The DM deliberately tailoring the Campaign World in order to not hurt the PC's too much. It's like setting up other football teams to play your team...but you always make sure to choose only teams that are less good at playing than your team, except for the big end tournament game...where you put a team that is about on-par...because otherwise your team might loose (or get their...well... you know the saying... ;) ).

What this does, IME, is teach the Players how to "read the DM" and how to "get better at playing-the-DM's-game". It doesn't let the Players 'get better', or have any REAL sense of accomplishment that they know was all due to their own choices and skill/ability/luck/play. Because they know that the DM is "building encounters for them to overcome in order to push a story idea/goal/plot". Oh, sure, there may be exceptions every now and then...but when the Players know that the only real reason why they have managed to get to the hidden village, venture into the Deadly Valley of Death, discover the Ruined Tower of Mogg, descend into the 4 levels of the Dungeon of Mogg, and finally defeat the Steam-Magicka-Machine-Monster of Mogg and recover the Medallion of Mogg.... is because the DM "built the encounters to be fair" in order for two of the PC's to fulfill some Background Story idea that they had written down, or that the DM had previously planned to reveal once the PC's obtained the Medallion.

In short..."building encounters for the PC's capabilities" (for whatever reason), to me, and IMNSHO, robs the Players of the greatest draw to RPG's: That the Players are the ones making the choices, suffering the consequences, or reaping the rewards. If the game is "built to be fair to the PC's so they don't likely die", well, not my thing I guess. Not for D&D.

BUT... sit me down at a game of Dungeon World, or even something like Powers & Perils or Marvel Super Heroes? I'm ALL for "encounters built for the PC's to have a fair shot" in. Because those games are not D&D. To me, D&D is about going into the dungeon, kicking in the door, killing the monsters and taking their treasure. Everything past that is garnishing. :)

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

Hiya!


Narrative play is a ton of fun, for sure! But, for me at least, there are much better games for it than D&D. Don't get me wrong...D&D can be an almost purely narrative, heroic story of epic proportions, etc. But it's not built...er...let me rephrase that. It wasn't built for that style of play. With 5th edition, as @tetrasodium said, the life/death of PC's is MUCH more geared towards life...at least for Players who take advantage of all the goodies to keep their PC's alive and use said goodies without regard for story or "campaign logic" (re: a DM who lets Potions of Healing be purchased at just about any inn, tavern, ale-house, general store, apothecary, etc...for example).

The biggest problem I have with "building more fair encounters" is the very premise of what that naturally entails: The DM deliberately tailoring the Campaign World in order to not hurt the PC's too much. It's like setting up other football teams to play your team...but you always make sure to choose only teams that are less good at playing than your team, except for the big end tournament game...where you put a team that is about on-par...because otherwise your team might loose (or get their...well... you know the saying... ;) ).

What this does, IME, is teach the Players how to "read the DM" and how to "get better at playing-the-DM's-game". It doesn't let the Players 'get better', or have any REAL sense of accomplishment that they know was all due to their own choices and skill/ability/luck/play. Because they know that the DM is "building encounters for them to overcome in order to push a story idea/goal/plot". Oh, sure, there may be exceptions every now and then...but when the Players know that the only real reason why they have managed to get to the hidden village, venture into the Deadly Valley of Death, discover the Ruined Tower of Mogg, descend into the 4 levels of the Dungeon of Mogg, and finally defeat the Steam-Magicka-Machine-Monster of Mogg and recover the Medallion of Mogg.... is because the DM "built the encounters to be fair" in order for two of the PC's to fulfill some Background Story idea that they had written down, or that the DM had previously planned to reveal once the PC's obtained the Medallion.

In short..."building encounters for the PC's capabilities" (for whatever reason), to me, and IMNSHO, robs the Players of the greatest draw to RPG's: That the Players are the ones making the choices, suffering the consequences, or reaping the rewards. If the game is "built to be fair to the PC's so they don't likely die", well, not my thing I guess. Not for D&D.

BUT... sit me down at a game of Dungeon World, or even something like Powers & Perils or Marvel Super Heroes? I'm ALL for "encounters built for the PC's to have a fair shot" in. Because those games are not D&D. To me, D&D is about going into the dungeon, kicking in the door, killing the monsters and taking their treasure. Everything past that is garnishing. :)

^_^

Paul L. Ming
It also robs anything that might be considered a "support class build" of meaning. I've seen more than one character hoping to be a support type character spend multiple sessions desperately trying to get a party who doesn't give a fig to work with them & shrug off "why didn't you work with me" type comments with a shrug & "didn't need to bother"
 

I don't go out of my way to kill characters. I want you to feel challenged and threatened by the obstacles put forth but, I won't place you in a scenario where "Well, you should have known to run" is my answer.

However, I cannot save you from yourself. If you decide to run off down the dungeon hallway with only 5 HP left and find a monster ... well, nature takes its course.
 

6ENow!

The Game Is Over
Today's session had two PC deaths (out of a party of 4) but they were level 2, split up (1 and 3) and encountered a CR 7 foe they were never meant to fight now. They came close to pulling it off, but in the end one died from massive damage (he was already at 0, about to make his first death save, when he go caught in a fireball for more than his maximum HP--insta-death) and the other from failed death saves. The other two were defeated and made their death saves, so eventually regained consciousness--in captivity.

I gave the players two choices:
  1. You are prisoners and can try to escape.
  2. You can call it quits and make up a new party-it will be a TPK.

They choose option 1. We spend the rest of the session with the last two PCs managing their escape with the other captives, freeing the castle lord, and overthrowing the invading force (so to say). One new PC will be taking over an NPC that helped them, and the other player will be making a new PC for the next session.

This was a perfect example of players doing something stupid--they were warned away, but didn't listen, pushed too far, and paid for it. 🤷‍♂️
 

Radaceus

Explorer
about half of our campaigns end in TPK, the other half retired due to partial TPKs.
along the way are the many silly decisions, like a paladin staying behind with Nanny Pu'pu because she was worried about being robbed, the rest of the party in a hurry to solve the curse told him was a fool and left him...
And then the critical fails...nothing like the multiclass rogue not finding that delayed blast fireball trap!
 

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