D&D 5E It's so hard to die!

Bunker

Hero
My gaming group and I decided to try a little experiment. We did this in both 5E and Pathfinder 2E.

The experiment was as follows: we would play through three medium/hard encounters or two normally (with a break for rest and healing in between each), except that my role was to try to die. I played a level 10 rogue in both scenarios. The other players were to play as normal. There were some stipulations: I couldn't do anything immediately obviously lethal in one shot, and I couldn't refuse healing. So basically I was to play very, very badly on purpose. Don't worry, everybody was on board with the experiment.

The results: I couldn't die in either system. It's really, really hard to die even when you're trying to if you have other characters around to heal you. I got close to zero hit points a few times but bounced right back up, and even unconscious three times, but still got right back up again.

To be fair, I think I probably got the bulk of the party's healing efforts, as they were enjoying foiling my attempts to die.

So both games are designed to keep you alive, it appears. That's not a crticism of any kind. It is what it is, and we like both systems just fine (and we're not looking for a more lethal system, we were just curious).

Anybody else had any observations like that? Or the opposite?
 

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MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
It is a common observation. It is a different philosophy than the OD&D and 1e era. Players are more invested in their characters and the story. If death happens, it should be meaningful.

Death is much more likely in the first three levels. But this is why it is also common to see many campaigns start at level 5, because many players today don't want squishy characters and don't want to play for many hours before they get to the cool abilities.

There is nothing wrong with that.

For my current campaign, I used a funnel system with each player having four level 0 characters. Of those that survived, the players created two characters, one main, and one backup that would stay back in a safe area and would level up at 2 levels below the main character.

I'm running a mega dungeon known to be deadly. You can quickly get over your heads. But my players are experienced and have been risk adverse so none of their main characters have died yet. But at least the knowledge that, unlike most official 5e adventures, they could easily run in something that can readily kill them has lead to a style of play that involves conducting intelligence, faction diplomacy, prepping and planning means of escape, etc.

If I wanted a deadlier game that still felt like D&D, but a bit smoothed out and with a bit of modernization, I would run Swords and Wizardry.

If I want to kill my players' characters regularly and have them like it, I would run Paranoia. I thought it would be fun to run a Paranoia game where the troubleshooters are stuck in a deadly fantasy simulation. Paranoia rules but D&D like setting.
 

In 5E, especially by 10th level, you should be comparing against 6-8 medium/hard encounters instead. As you said, you soaked up a lot of healing resources without dying. 5E was designed assuming resource depletion, so after less than half of that you'd probably soaked up 2/3 to 3/4 the assumed daily resources for healing. If you'd continued, I'd suspect you might actually die (not necessarily though, as base 5E is considered "easy mode").
 

A long time DM made some adjustments for determining CR in 5e:
  • add one level per attuned item in the group (averaged)

The mechanics were sound. When we were 20th level with several boons and a legendary item each our average CR was calculated as four level 23 characters. The Encounter CR was usually boosted by adding more lower tier robust monsters like Devils and Giants rather than allow a high level monster to get overwhelmed by Action Economy. I used it in my campaign and it allowed me to keep things interesting, especially bosses. Over the years we both had a PCs die in our boss higher level boss fights with the adjusted CR, and not because we were looking to kill PCs. It reintroduced the deadliness to Deadly Encounters.

I'd also add that even with this adjustment Medium Encounters can still be fairly soft. I found myself using Lair Effects more and more even when there were no Legendary Creatures to keep the combat dynamic and allow the "bad guys" to get an extra turn. For example in my last campaign arc the PCs infiltrated Dorakaa, the City of Skulls. I turned the entire city into a Lair, emulating the effects of various BBEG undead like Death Tyrants, and using Skill Challenges to determine progress.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
I'd be curious how it would go if you tried it at the game's assumed default, which is 4 PCs, only one of which has healing (the assumed default would be your warrior, expert, blaster caster, and healer).

I've said for a while now all the DCs in the game seem to be based around using just the Core Four from the Basic Rules. Any additional PCs (and by extension characters with healing spells) beyond that will require upscaling of CRs and monster numbers to provide the same sort of result.
 

Oofta

Legend
This is closely related to the other thread, but a DM can always kill off PCs if they want. Yes, 5E is less "oops your dead".

I had an encounter a little bit back with a 10th level party. Due to some not-so-spectacular tactics and bad rolls the rogue (my wife's PC) got surrounded by bad guys, the cleric couldn't keep up with the damage and she dropped to zero a couple of times. The dice turned and the rogue survived after 2 failed death saves. The cleric was out of 3rd level spells at that point so if she had been attacked 1 more time she would have been dead. In other 5E campaigns, I've killed off PCs that were around 15th level.

I don't run a particularly deadly campaign because that's what my players prefer. But if I wanted to kill off PCs left and right it's not hard. Focus fire, block access, negate the healer if you can (or target them first), double tap when PCs drop to zero. You get advantage to hit someone unconscious, every hit against an unconscious individual is a critical, crits cause 2 death saves.

The standard encounter guidelines seem to be targeted at a group of 4 novice players with no feats or magic, so I always adjust difficulty based on the group. If you want to kill off PCs, turn it up to 11. If that doesn't work, turn it up to 12 and so on. Even if you have to throw a swarm of flying tarrasques, you can always kill off PCs if you want.
 



DEFCON 1

Legend
I've often thought the easiest and most simple way to make D&D combat deadlier is to just change the cast time on all healing spells to 1 minute. As soon as you can't heal anyone in combat, the risk of death rises exponentially.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
How 5E is played by most tables is why the "gritty" rest variant needs to be standard. No one is doing 6-8 encounters between long rests - they simply don't have enough combat in their game. So the design should recognise that, and make resource recovery slower.
I will say though that to do this the game would have to decouple health recovery time from class feature recovery time. You really can't put spell slot recovery on a 7-day Long Rest time table, the game breaks down. I've tried it, and spellcasters just end up not casting anything because they know they're going to have to wait 7 days to get their slots back and they feel like they have to save their slots for something really important that might happen down the line.

Now if you want to add in a third rest type... so that you have a Short Rest be an hour, a Long Rest be 8 hours, and a "Recovery Rest" (or whatever you want to call it) be 7 days, and then move spending hit dice up to a Long Rest and a full recovery of hit points and hit dice to a Recovery Rest (while leaving all class features on their standard Short and Long Rest timetables)... you might be able to work it out okay.
 

dave2008

Legend
I've often thought the easiest and most simple way to make D&D combat deadlier is to just change the cast time on all healing spells to 1 minute. As soon as you can't heal anyone in combat, the risk of death rises exponentially.
Or increase the damage of monsters. Add the monsters CR in damage to its attacks and it gets nice and deadly.
 

Oofta

Legend
Or increase the damage of monsters. Add the monsters CR in damage to its attacks and it gets nice and deadly.
I like to change things up now and then so sometimes I'll give monsters max or double damage and either a +2 to hit or pack tactics so they always get advantage. Throw in a monster or two that grants extra attacks on their turn. Makes for glass cannon hard hitting enemies
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
Now if you want to add in a third rest type... so that you have a Short Rest be an hour, a Long Rest be 8 hours, and a "Recovery Rest" (or whatever you want to call it) be 7 days, and then move spending hit dice up to a Long Rest and a full recovery of hit points and hit dice to a Recovery Rest (while leaving all class features on their standard Short and Long Rest timetables)... you might be able to work it out okay.
That doesn't work as well as one would hope, as it's pretty easy to restore everyone to full hit points with only a moderate investment of spell slots. What really drives a feeling of attrition is the actual lack of spell slots, which means that characters with spells do tend to hoard them, which I'm totally OK with!

What I did differently to help mitigate the feeling of lack of options, but still retain the attrition feel, is give out a fair amount of special abilities that recharge at in game time periods (dawn, dusk, noon or midnight, depending on the type of ability), as well as a number of minor consumables that can be crafted during the "long rest". (A long rest is 72 hours and requires civilization.) Hit Dice can be sent in combat, one Hit Die can be spent whenever the character takes the Dodge action.

Granted, this is in a heavily houseruled 5e hack, so it isn't apples-to-apples with normal 5e, but I don't think it's impossible to do so. I do agree that "just make the long rest 7 days" is too simplistic, there's a battery of changes needed to really support the desired goal of not requiring 6-8 encounters per 24 hours to achieve rough balance.
 

Delazar

Adventurer
Maybe it's hard to die, but how hard is it to kill you? Especially at high-level, there's several monsters with attacks that go "if you reach 0 hit points you're dead" or something similar.

The real issue is "it's impossible to STAY dead!"
 

Oofta

Legend
Maybe it's hard to die, but how hard is it to kill you? Especially at high-level, there's several monsters with attacks that go "if you reach 0 hit points you're dead" or something similar.

The real issue is "it's impossible to STAY dead!"
Hasn't that always been a problem? Raise Dead and Resurrection have always been options.
 

Delazar

Adventurer
Hasn't that always been a problem? Raise Dead and Resurrection have always been options.
Yes, absolutely! I don't mean to derail the topic, I was just mentioning that even if we do manage to die/kill, its meaning is still moot. So we might as well have a system where dying is hard. Which we do.
 


Retreater

Legend
Here's the thing. It's impossible to permanently kill a single character in PF2 if you're playing by the rules. It's very difficult to kill a single character in 5e as well. What's not hard is a TPK. In fact, that's the only way I have ever had character deaths in these systems. They are all up (or will be in a round), or they're all down.

The Hero Point meta currency in PF2 ensures that a character cannot die. Spending your Hero Points means your character is stabilized and no longer dying. As long as there are other party members there to recover your body and to keep you from taking additional damage, you're going to be fine.

Healing is so easy to come by in 5e that dropping to 0 hp is at worst a temporary speed bump to winning.

This facilitates the story-based campaign playstyle of modern gaming. A lot of modern boardgames are the same way - no one has to sit out. The game ends when one character dies/loses or the character can't die.
 

Mistwell

Crusty Old Meatwad (he/him)
Our deaths have always come not just from going to zero and failing death saves, but from going to zero and foes continuing to hit your prone body repeatedly after that. Each hit causes one negative death save result. Do that enough before other players with healing can respond, and you die.
 

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