D&D General If not death, then what?

Larnievc

Hero
This started as a reply to the "question for zero character death players and DM's", but it wasn't what the OP was asking for. I deleted it, but it kept rattling around in my skull.

In my time as a DM, I've come to see death as a sort of fail-state. Nothing can derail a session faster than a character dying in the second encounter of a multi-encounter dungeon in the middle of nowhere. It's for this reason I don't run time-sensitive adventures, because saying "you must press on, without rest, through five encounters to save the princess/kingdom/world/multiverse" inevitably leads to "well great, we're at the final battle, we have no resources, and the Cleric is dead."

I've tried NPC's that can be played. Lackluster response- people want to play their character, not an NPC. I've tried pausing the game for them to make new characters. "I just don't have any inspiration."

I once even had a guy just walk out of my house in the middle of an encounter where his character dropped, because, in his mind "I wasn't going to be able to play my character for the rest of the night, so I have better things to do than sit around and watch you guys have fun".

I always said I was OK with death if it was obviously the player's fault. But too often, it's not.

Look at the classic "front-line Fighter". He believes it's his job to run into the fray, and hold the line, taking a beating so his allies don't have to. If anyone is going to be laying on the ground, taking death saves, it's him. For...doing what he's supposed to do?

Few people have any real way to mitigate hit point loss. Monsters can do tons of damage, and a lucky crit can turn you from "fine" to "bleeding out" without any real warning. You hide behind a number (your AC) and pray it doesn't get hit, but it can be, at any time. Even having a Cleric constantly throwing out their best healing spell won't stem the tide (even assuming that they don't somehow get targeted instead), and even if it did, well, now the Cleric is out of spells.

I had a friend who decided to replace death with "consequences". But after seeing these consequences in play, like losing an eye for having the nerve to get taken down by a monster when heroically holding it off for one's allies, it just reinforced something in my mind.

Death has always been punitive in D&D. You die, and being brought back is expensive. You might suffer a loss of level. "Resurrection sickness". Maybe lose a point of Constitution.

My very first 3e game, I played a Human Fighter with the worst Feats ever (what did I know back in 2000?). I ended up facing off a vampire, trying to keep it away from an NPC we were protecting. I died, but not to worry, my friends scraped together some money (we were, of course, perpetually poor, because the DM didn't know what "wealth by level" meant, lol) and found a Druid to reincarnate me.

Huzzah, I'm back! And my reward? A loss of a level and 2 Strength (actually 3, because I went from level 8 back to 7), because now I'm a Gnome. My armor doesn't fit, and I can't even use my two-handed weapon that I'm specialized in! The only reason I didn't choose to stay dead was that my allies went to so much effort, but it was a real downer, let me tell you.

Some reward! Meanwhile, the other melee character, an annoyingly neutral jackass who cut and ran from the vampire like a coward, claimed a cool magic item and is halfway to level 9 (you don't earn xp if you die, the DM sadly told me).

So being a hero is a sucker's game? I refuse to believe it.

But despite that, I've never taken death off the table. I try to avoid it, as a DM, because it sucks for everyone. But I'm not sure what to replace it with. And if there is to be a penalty to a close brush with death...what the heck can it be, that doesn't seem grossly unfair at times?

Like, you want to jump off a building to try and body slam a guy three stories down, or you blindly jump into a green devil's mouth, hey, you earned that death. But dying because you were doing the thing you're supposed to do?

It's no wonder most people who lose characters are perfectly fine bringing in a brand new one.
I dunno. Surely everyone knows that playing D&D means you might die and have to sit out the game? Why’s that such a ball ache?
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
Maybe this guy is missing the ‘enjoy time with you mates’ part of D&D?

So, there's a couple of things there.

It can be hard to enjoy time with your friends when you are locked out of the core activity your friends are engaged in. They are distracted from any contribution to the time together you might make.

In addition, in the first while after a character death, the player is likely enduring some of the psychological impacts of loss - and I mean that not in "I didn't win at Monopoly way" but in the, "my beloved pet just died," way. That ,"I don't have inspiration to make a new character" in the OP is very likely because the player's' mind is busy processing the loss of something the player cared about. Watching the rest of the group continue without them is likely going to make that processing more difficult, because it is a constant reminder of the loss.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
I dunno. Surely everyone knows that playing D&D means you might die and have to sit out the game? Why’s that such a ball ache?

Let me ask you - we all know that every living thing dies eventually, right? So, why do people care when other people, or beloved pets, die? Heck, we all have favorite items - be it a coffee mug, a collected comic book, or comfortable t-shirt that we get attached to, and we get seriously bummed out when the mug breaks, the comic book gets water damaged and torn, and the t-shirt finally disintegrates into rags after too many washings.

Humans get attached to things. Breaking that attachment suddenly, even if you know it might happen, has emotional impact. It is perfectly natural and normal.

Indeed, if there was no psychological impact to loss, then there'd be no thrill to the threat of character death either. If loss doesn't matter, then neither does success.
 

Scribe

Legend
Death has always been punitive in D&D. You die, and being brought back is expensive. You might suffer a loss of level. "Resurrection sickness". Maybe lose a point of Constitution.
I mean...yes?

Indeed, if there was no psychological impact to loss, then there'd be no thrill to the threat of character death either. If loss doesn't matter, then neither does success.
Yes, it shouldn't be fun to die, this captures it perfectly.
 

Jer

Legend
Supporter
Failure.

If it's a fight that matters, then there was a reason they were fighting.
The first RPG I really ran as a GM after D&D was Marvel Super Heroes. In a super hero game, random PC death isn't really an option unless you're going to really diverge your game from the source material. Wolverine doesn't die because a random ninja shivved him the back with a lucky roll - Wolverine dies because his death is going to have some kind of plot related impact and even then he'll be back.

Which meant that failure in that game had to mean something other than "well I guess Wolverine is dead now - make up a new character". It had to mean that the villain advanced their plot and the PCs now had another setback to deal with. It might mean that the PCs were trapped and needed to escape. It might mean that the PCs were temporarily KO'ed and the players needed to now take up the "B team" to go in to stop the bad guy - when the Avengers are down the West Coast Avengers have to step things up a notch. It might just mean that the villain succeeded and now we need to do another adventure with the repercussions from that.

Those thoughts have basically fed back into my GMing for other games ever since. If the kind of game I'm running has an action movie style narrative to it - which most of the games I run do - then random character death is going to be off the table and some other consequence has to be the result.
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
So, there's a couple of things there.

It can be hard to enjoy time with your friends when you are locked out of the core activity your friends are engaged in. They are distracted from any contribution to the time together you might make.

In addition, in the first while after a character death, the player is likely enduring some of the psychological impacts of loss - and I mean that not in "I didn't win at Monopoly way" but in the, "my beloved pet just died," way. That ,"I don't have inspiration to make a new character" in the OP is very likely because the player's' mind is busy processing the loss of something the player cared about. Watching the rest of the group continue without them is likely going to make that processing more difficult, because it is a constant reminder of the loss.
As you said in the other thread, I am very much a "characters die, but the player goes on" type of gamer, both as a player and a DM. I also don't care that sometimes "the narrative" doesn't go the way you might want. I have a very hard time playing any version of D&D where players get to decide if death is a thing. It absolutely breaks immersion for me. If the world doesn't at least appear to exist independent of the PCs, I don't really want to play in it.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
Yes, it shouldn't be fun to die, this captures it perfectly.

There is a follow-on to this, however, which is important. That follow on is... roller coasters.

In 2019, there were a reported 449 injuries on roller coasters - about 1.3 injuries per million rides. Only 82 of the 449 injuries were reported to be serious. Which means you have something like a one in six million chance of getting seriously hurt on a roller coaster. Pretty darned low. And everyone knows it - if they weren't largely safe, they'd not be allowed to operate.

However, the ride is still thrilling, even if the risk is so low as to be effectively non-existent.

Which goes to show that the mind can be brought to think about a situation as risky, made to have the thrill, even when we intellectually know there is no real risk!
 

Stormonu

Legend
It is annoying the default rule is dying, instead of just unconscious.

Prior to 3E, getting a replacement up and running wasn’t difficult for low level characters (the generation process was relatively faster with fewer decision/customization points) - or there was the expectation you had a pool of characters, and high level characters had magic to fall back on to get the original back into the game. Attachments to characters have also changed from those days of yore.

Unfortunately, short of pulling shenanigans like “save points”, unconsciousness at 0, having secondary characters on the ready or flat being unkillable (just out until end of the encounter), D&D will always have the issue that death is death, and you’re just going to have to live with that being a consequence of a dangerous profession.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
As you said in the other thread, I am very much a "characters die, but the player goes on" type of gamer, both as a player and a DM.

And that's fine. Have fun in your games. I say that honestly - there's nearly nothing to discuss about this - your preference, your time, your amusement. Do with it as you wish.

If the world doesn't at least appear to exist independent of the PCs, I don't really want to play in it.

The connection from "the world appears to exist independent of the PCs" to "character death" seems... exceedingly tenuous to me. People, even those who live physically risky lives, fail to die every day. In droves. The world operates independent from them, but they still don't die.
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
There is a follow-on to this, however, which is important. That follow on is... roller coasters.

In 2019, there were a reported 449 injuries on roller coasters - about 1.3 injuries per million rides. Only 82 of the 449 injuries were reported to be serious. Which means you have something like a one in six million chance of getting seriously hurt on a roller coaster. Pretty darned low. And everyone knows it - if they weren't largely safe, they'd not be allowed to operate.

However, the ride is still thrilling, even if the risk is so low as to be effectively non-existent.

Which goes to show that the mind can be brought to think about a situation as risky, made to have the thrill, even when we intellectually know there is no real risk!
That's always bugged the heck out of me in gaming. I saw it all the time when I used to watch Critical Role. They would act convincingly threatened whenever combat ensued, even though in a lot of cases there was just no real chance of failure, and the players had to know it. It felt disingenuous to me.
 

Remove ads

AD6_gamerati_skyscraper

Remove ads

Upcoming Releases

Top