How to deal with death in RPG?

Imaculata

Adventurer
I tend to prepare a lot of environment and a lot of plot. But the plot is designed in such a way that the players are able to alter it.

So if the players ignore what I planned for them, and negate a situation by being clever (or blunt), that's fantastic. I've never been in a situation where the players did something I didn't expect, and I didn't like it. The trick is to not 'intend' for the players to do anything. They can do whatever they want. If they say "screw the riddle, lets kill that thing", then more power to them.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I'm not sure exactly what "screw this!" from the players is in this context. But I'm only playing games that my players want to play.
Yeah, you don't get what we are talking about, it has nothing to do with choice of game.

There are times when players are trying an approach, and are frustrated, or it rubs them the wrong way. They say "screw this," and do something else.

Imagine the party is in a long, boring negotiation with a bad guy, and the barbarian finally gets fed up and says, "Screw this!*" draws his axe, screams and leaps....

That's the kind of thing we are talking about. Radical alteration in party direction, typically due to dissatisfaction on either the player's or the charcter's part.






*No, the barbarian doesn't come from a culture that has screws. He picked the word up from the party gnome, along with use of napkins and an understanding that in most of the world you don't throw your flagon at someone's head when it is empty**.

**Whether it was the flagon or the head that was empty was never made clear.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Players do all kinds of amazing and wonderful stuff!
I agree.

There's a well known trick - prepare situation/environment not plot...
Oh, good grief. Really?

How about we dispense with the myth that GMs are typically preparing pre-written plot in the sense of a predetermined novel? Could we, just *once* recognize that for RPGs there's a meaning of "plot" that doesn't restrict player choice like they were on rails? Because having to re-litigate this EVERY. DARN. TIME. against this patronizing rhetorical bait-and-switch gets really old. REALLY. OLD.
 

pemerton

Legend
There are times when players are trying an approach, and are frustrated, or it rubs them the wrong way. They say "screw this," and do something else.

Imagine the party is in a long, boring negotiation with a bad guy, and the barbarian finally gets fed up and says, "Screw this!*" draws his axe, screams and leaps....

That's the kind of thing we are talking about. Radical alteration in party direction, typically due to dissatisfaction on either the player's or the charcter's part.
I don't think this makes me depart from my earlier post, where I said my experiences are like what [MENTION=463]S'mon[/MENTION] described.

The "long, boring negotiation" that you describe, resulting in player frustration/dissatisfaction, isn't a part of my play experience.
 

DMZ2112

Chaotic Looseleaf
But I'm only playing games that my players want to play.

It's probably trite to say it, but I will anyway: I think that pretty key to running a RPG system is to know what you want to get out of it, and to play to that, relying on the system to deliver.
Gee, thanks, Pemerton, Immortal Sun and I have been over here all this time forcing our players to play games we have barely a minimum understanding of, and now we know better. I'm desperately grateful to you for pointing out our error. /s

I don't know -- maybe I run for complete strangers more often than you and S'mon do, or maybe I have more players in my long-time regular crew who enjoy tossing a monkey wrench into things just for the sake of introducing a little chaos.

Either way, the phenomenon I'm observing is a known quantity -- Etsy and Imgur, let alone the existence of this thread, more than confirm it -- so while I'm sorry you don't have anything constructive to add to this conversation, I guess I'm happy for you that your personal experiences are such positive outliers?
 

Flexor the Mighty!

18/100 Strength!
Players do all kinds of amazing and wonderful stuff!

There's a well known trick - prepare situation/environment not plot, and however the pcs react is cool.
Exactly. As a referee I’m just reacting to what the players are doing based on the environment I’ve presented to them. Stab the guy with the riddle instead of parlay? Either way is fine with me.
 

DMZ2112

Chaotic Looseleaf
Imagine the party is in a long, boring negotiation with a bad guy, and the barbarian finally gets fed up and says, "Screw this!*" draws his axe, screams and leaps....

That's the kind of thing we are talking about. Radical alteration in party direction, typically due to dissatisfaction on either the player's or the charcter's part.
Having been in more or less exactly this situation, I'd like to add that what is really disappointing about it has less to do with, "Boo hoo, the players won't get to solve my clever riddle now," and more to do with, "Who does this douchebag think he is, making unilateral decisions for the party like this?"

It's not about plot vs. environment, it's about trying to construct a play experience that's fun for everyone and having that negated. Emergent engagement and fun are one thing; emergent boredom or frustration is another, and unfortunately is no less possible an outcome from the soup of uncertainty that a good gamemaster keeps simmering (Pemerton's and S'mon's perfect tables notwithstanding, of course).

My point, he says, in a bold attempt to steer this subthread back toward the topic, is that if you have a group where character death results in emergent engagement and fun, then that is great, and you should embrace it. But I don't think that's the OP's situation, and clinging to encounter lethality out of a belief that natural consequences are more valuable than player intention is foolish in the extreme.
 

S'mon

Legend
Exactly. As a referee I’m just reacting to what the players are doing based on the environment I’ve presented to them. Stab the guy with the riddle instead of parlay? Either way is fine with me.
Exactly. I always enjoy unexpected outcomes - though some other players may not enjoy it if their riddle-solving or negotiation is derailed by violence.
 

S'mon

Legend
It's not about plot vs. environment, it's about trying to construct a play experience that's fun for everyone and having that negated. Emergent engagement and fun are one thing; emergent boredom or frustration is another, and unfortunately is no less possible an outcome from the soup of uncertainty that a good gamemaster keeps simmering (Pemerton's and S'mon's perfect tables notwithstanding, of course).
Maybe the disconnect here is that I take what Noisms calls a "You are responsible for your own orgasm" approach to player fun. I'm there to provide the opportunity for fun - not to guarantee it. If one player gets annoyed at another player 'derailing' the session then that is between them. I'm happy to adjudicate either way, I just ask them to keep it In Character.

It's certainly not the case that every player I GM'd for always enjoys every session. That wasn't what I said at all.
 

S'mon

Legend
clinging to encounter lethality out of a belief that natural consequences are more valuable than player intention is foolish in the extreme.
Fear of natural consequences is more valuable than player intention, in D&D-type adventure games. IMO an important question is how to combine that fear with the desired level of actual risk of death. IME it works to have the risk be very low, but it has to be non-zero.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
The "long, boring negotiation" that you describe, resulting in player frustration/dissatisfaction, isn't a part of my play experience.
Okay, so, if you never experience this, you probably want to listen more, and try to advise less.

I mean, really - how mansplainy is it to suggest solutions when you have never actually knowingly dealt with the problem?
 

DMZ2112

Chaotic Looseleaf
Maybe the disconnect here is that I take what Noisms calls a "You are responsible for your own orgasm" approach to player fun. I'm there to provide the opportunity for fun - not to guarantee it. If one player gets annoyed at another player 'derailing' the session then that is between them. I'm happy to adjudicate either way, I just ask them to keep it In Character.
::whistles:: That is definitely a disconnect.

It's certainly not the case that every player I GM'd for always enjoys every session. That wasn't what I said at all.
That, in my opinion, is a failure state. I don't mean to imply that I always avoid it, just that I always try.

Fear of natural consequences is more valuable than player intention, in D&D-type adventure games. IMO an important question is how to combine that fear with the desired level of actual risk of death. IME it works to have the risk be very low, but it has to be non-zero.
That is a perfectly valid opinion, but if your players disagree and you cling to your principles over their desires you are shooting yourself in the foot.

...Why do I feel like we have swapped chairs?
 

S'mon

Legend
That is a perfectly valid opinion, but if your players disagree and you cling to your principles over their desires you are shooting yourself in the foot.
I disagree - IME 99%+ of players want a risk of death. The other >1% should go play somewhere else. I'm not shooting myself in the foot by not running something I don't enjoy.
 

S'mon

Legend
That, in my opinion, is a failure state. I don't mean to imply that I always avoid it, just that I always try.
Well, I want my players to have fun, that adds to my fun, but all I can do is provide the opportunity. I can't guarantee fun. Maybe they just weren't in the mood that night. Maybe their idea of fun is incompatible with that of the other players.

It's not happened in many years, but back when I started running 3e in public in 2008 I did have a couple players complain when their PCs died. One guy (who turned up one session with his 4 hp wizard-1 & got chopped up by a bone golem in 'Rahasia') was so traumatised I saw him talking about it on a message board 5-6 years later as a paradigm example of bad DMing! But set against that are many hundreds of very happy players and many campaigns often lasting many years. Anyway I'm a better GM now and I run a better ruleset, so not much of that kind of thing.
 

pemerton

Legend
[MENTION=78752]DMZ2112[/MENTION]

I'm posting that I don't have disappointing sessions. You either seem to not believe me, or . . . be angry about it? (I'm not sure.)

I'm sure my players have some sessions that they enjoy more than others. I have sessions that I enjoy more than others. For instance, I enjoyed my second-to-last Classic Traveller session more than my last one. But neither was disappointing.

I play with my friends - depending exactly how you measure same group it's been the same group for either ten or twenty years. Most of us in the group started playing with Moldvay Basic in the early 80s. One started playing with Rolemaster, in our group, in the late 90s.

There are some things you have posted about GMing that don't describe my approach to RPGing. Whether or not they have any bearing on my failure to have disappointing sessions I don't know:

I've never for a moment bought the line that the gamemaster is ever not a storyteller. We wear a lot of hats, and some are more ostentatious than others, but the skullcap of the storyteller is always under there, even if all we're doing is narrating the results of raw die results following completely unsolicited player action.
sometimes the players deal the gamemaster an unwelcome surprise. That we understand what that feels like. That we can relate to the feeling of having effort rendered meaningless, even if it is only in the short term. That it's not fun.

Maybe we deserve it, maybe we don't; maybe we're good at coping with it, maybe we're not -- that's irrelevant. No one comes to a game session expecting to be negated, and when it happens, we get disgruntled.
Having been in more or less exactly this situation, I'd like to add that what is really disappointing about it has less to do with, "Boo hoo, the players won't get to solve my clever riddle now," and more to do with, "Who does this douchebag think he is, making unilateral decisions for the party like this?"

It's not about plot vs. environment, it's about trying to construct a play experience that's fun for everyone and having that negated.
maybe I have more players in my long-time regular crew who enjoy tossing a monkey wrench into things just for the sake of introducing a little chaos.

I don't see my job as GM as storyteller. That's a term I assocate with the White Wolf/2nd ed AD&D style of RPGing, which is my least favourite approach. The biggest textual influence on my GMing approach is Luke Crane's stuff written for Burning Wheel.

I don't construct a play experience. I participate with my players in playing the game - I frame scenes that I believe will be interesting, relying on player cues and genre presuppositions to help with that. When the players succeed on checks, events go the way they intended. When they fail, I try and establish interesting consequences. If a particular scene or situation seems not to be engaging (I'm lucky that that's not too common, but sometimes it happens) then I adjust or move on.

It's not uncommon in my game for PCs to oppose one another. Sometimes it comes to blows, but more often it plays out through other forms of conflict. My players are consscius of the need to manage group tensions, and are sensitive also to whether or not the game depends on "party" play (see eg 4e D&D, which is, vs Burning Wheel or Cortex+ Heroic Fantasy, which is not). The most recent conflict was in our last session, a Dying Earth game, in which one PC was recruited by an NPC to help humiliate the other PC, who had one-uppped that NPC in the opening sequence of the session. The most recent before that that I recall was the same two players playing PCs in Prince Valiant who were rivals for the hand of a noble lady.

Since 1990 I've GMed a session weekly for about 10 years, then fortnightly or so since then, and I've never had a player come to the session with the intention of negating the play of the game, or wrecking it. I put that in the same category as someone who goes to a chess club and then knocks over the board if s/he is losing. I'm aware that such players exist, from my times playing in a club, but I regard them as toxic.

I have played with GMs who may have regarded me (and fellow players) as "disruptive" or "negaters" because the GM had a preconception of the events that would unfold in the session, and we wanted to declare and play out actions for our PCs that involved different things from what the GM had in mind. I've walked away from two such GMs (once in the early and once in the late 90s). Those GMs were using an approach that I didn't use then, don't use now, and personally don't think gets the best out of the RPG medium.
 

pemerton

Legend
Okay, so, if you never experience this, you probably want to listen more, and try to advise less.

I mean, really - how mansplainy is it to suggest solutions when you have never actually knowingly dealt with the problem?
Look, two things:
[MENTION=463]S'mon[/MENTION] posted that he doesn't have disappointing sessions, a couple of other posters expressed surprise/incredulity, and I posted that my experience is like S'mon's. And I posted a couple of reasons that I think explain why I and my players enjoy our sessions.

Lots of other people post accounts of how they run games and how they think that's good/bad (eg I see dozens of posts thse days about "session zero" - is that now "mansplaining"?). For my part, when I have things I want to improve in my game I read stuff by other people who have achieved in their play what I'm looking for.

The other thing: I've seen tables, back in my club days, which have players who do some of what has been described upthread. And I think that the stuff that [MENTION=463]S'mon[/MENTION] and I have posted is relevant to what I've seen ar those tables. In particular, I think framing the GM's role as storyteller in any literal sense puts the burden for a "fun" session on the weakest rather than the strongest part of RPGing as an activity.
 

pemerton

Legend
There's plenty of good advice out there in Blogland on how to run a good game - I recommend
Monsters & Manuals, The Alexandrian, and DMDavid.
Matt Colville's Youtube also good.
The main things I recognise there is The Alexandr4ian, which I personally would not recommend!

Of online stuff on RPGing, I've learned the most from stuff at The Forge (some Paul Czege and Ron Edwards posts in particular have really honed in on some key things for me) and from Vincent Baker's blog.

I'm a better GM now and I run a better ruleset, so not much of that kind of thing.
My GMing has certainly improved over the years/decades.

And ruleset is also crucial, which is one thing I posted upthread. I remember one post on these boards where a poster had run a 5e/D&D next (I think?) scenario involving a food critic as a quest-giver, and the players hadn't engaged, and s/he was puzzled as to why? Whereas the question basciallly answers itself.

Whereas run a version of that scenario in The Dying Earth, and your game would be on fire!
 

S'mon

Legend
The main things I recognise there is The Alexandr4ian, which I personally would not recommend!
He did some stuff I really liked, eg on anti-railroading - but I remember he has a big hate on for 4e D&D so not really your cup of tea Mr P. :D Of those I recommended, DMDavid is consistently great.
 

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