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Moral Dilemma: Killing and Deaths in RPGs

Victor Spieles

Explorer
This rings true for me, too. As a middle-school teacher who sponsors the school RPG club and runs an RPG summer camp, I introduce a lot of young people to the joys of this hobby. But, I was weaned on D&D and have absorbed many of its tropes, so my default style of play includes a fair amount of combat. I've often been surprised by the young folks who start playing for the first time. Some of them, having played tons of CRPGs, enter the game world expecting to battle their way to glory. Others are bemused or even put off by this approach. They're much more interested in finding clever solutions, creative compromises, and non-violent options. They often want to learn about the monsters' cultures and find out what they want out of the world. They expect the game to support and encourage that sort of fiction.

As I've evolved with running the club and summer camp, I've de-centered violence as much as possible. It's there for those who want it, but we don't present it as a necessary component of an RPG. This has gone over pretty well, though plenty of groups retain a murder-hobo aesthetic.

The game I am most familiar with these days is GURPS. Although it includes a potentially intricate combat system, the default system is deadly, so there is a disincentive to be casual about it. It is also a skill-based system that covers a wide array of genres, so it's easy to focus on social conflict and other subsystems. I've played in games with little or no violence. I, myself, have been most comfortable running the dungeon fantasy flavor of GURPS, which tunes things to encourage more battle (and makes it relatively difficult for PCs to die). I'd like to move my own campaigns away from this, but I often fall back on familiar tropes.

Based on @Grendel_Khan's suggestion above, I picked up a copy of Scum and Villainy and started reading it last night. It reads well and I look forward to trying it out for a change of pace.
Uzirath great post and approach to introducing young students to RPGs. I'm also excited about @Grendel_Khan suggestion of Scum and Villainy. I went ahead and ordered that to read and play as well.
 

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Victor Spieles

Explorer
Maybe too many Millennials grew up with Saving Private Ryan, where the released German soldier comes back and kills tons of Americans.

I've done that once, with a particularly nasty ogre; but normally IMCs enemies who flee aren't keen on a rematch, and surrendered enemies are often recruitable - my son is particularly keen on doing this, and it's extremely Gygax/Arneson Old School, much moreso than always killing everything IMO. There are various ways to make enemies worth more alive than dead, eg ransom, which is standard in Runequest and should be standard in medievalesque settings with feuding nobles. The more you get away from 'hostile races locked in a war of extermination', the more not-killing can be normalised.

Edit: Killing is ubiquitous in computer games because it's a lot easier to code than enemies who surrender. This is definitely an advantage of TTRPGs.
S'mon I'm in the same mode of thinking as your son and Gygax/Arneson of recruiting or aligning NPC villains to assist your parties goal or quest. The last D&D game I played in as a player, Tyranny of Dragons, I tried to persuade all the main NPC adversaries to switch sides and aid the party to stop the summoning and arrival of Tiamat. It drove the other 3 players crazy because they didn't get to murder-hobo about half the villains in the campaign and take their magic items and treasure. But all my diplomacy and talking ended up helping the party succeed in a much less violent ending to the campaign. When we went to the temple to stop the summoning of Tiamat all the allies I had accumulated over the course of the campaign showed up with their respective factions, soldiers and followers. The DM loved that the ending came down to only having to run the final combat because the number of allies I had accumulated now sorely outnumbered Tiamat's followers and army so they parlayed and surrendered. The other three players were not happy though that they didn't get to showboat their min/maxed characters super combat powers in multiple bloody encounters to finish up the campaign. That really was the big tipping point for me on combat, slaying monsters and villains in D&D and RPGs.
 
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Bro, anyone who throws a hissy fit over a dead character needs to grow up, even if just a little.

"... and that's how an Old Yeller matinee got me banned from the movie theater. If you think that's good, let me tell you about things Disneyland guests really don't appreciate hearing about Bambi's mom. Kids these days... "
 

"... and that's how an Old Yeller matinee got me banned from the movie theater. If you think that's good, let me tell you about things Disneyland guests really don't appreciate hearing about Bambi's mom. Kids these days... "
PCs die. Getting upset over that is akin to mourning the loss of a rook in chess.

There are gamers who take the 'escapism' aspect of the hobby far, far too seriously.
 

"... and that's how an Old Yeller matinee got me banned from the movie theater. If you think that's good, let me tell you about things Disneyland guests really don't appreciate hearing about Bambi's mom. Kids these days... "
Yawn. Outsized reactions to trivial things (yes, your D&D PC is a trivial thing) is a hallmark of immaturity.
 

IDK if I agree completely. If that character died because of DM shenanigans, or stupid bloody DM decision making, then there's some room for legitimate upsetness. YMMV I guess.
Sure, if it seems Like the DM is cheating it sucks. I still can't imagine coming to actual tears over a d&d character. It something i have never seen, either...And i started playing this game when i was nine.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
Bro, anyone who throws a hissy fit over a dead character needs to grow up, even if just a little.

Yawn. Outsized reactions to trivial things (yes, your D&D PC is a trivial thing) is a hallmark of immaturity.
It's much more mature to judge others online, right? To me, this looks like a outsized reaction (multiple posts) to a trivial thing (an anecdote about a young player).
 

Sure, if it seems Like the DM is cheating it sucks. I still can't imagine coming to actual tears over a d&d character. It something i have never seen, either...And i started playing this game when i was nine.
Sadly, I have. As absurd as it might seem, earlier this year I saw a 40-year-old (who still lives with his parents) reduced to tears over his PC's fate.

It wasn't D&D, but that is a moot point.
 



It's much more mature to judge others online, right? To me, this looks like a outsized reaction (multiple posts) to a trivial thing (an anecdote about a young player).
it's more than an anecdote; it speaks to the general culture surrounding rpgs these days.

sorry if you feel I'm being immature by conversating at you with a different viewpoint. I kn ow some people these days consider words to be, shudder, violence...
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
it's more than an anecdote; it speaks to the general culture surrounding rpgs these days.

sorry if you feel I'm being immature by conversating at you with a different viewpoint. I kn ow some people these days consider words to be, shudder, violence...
You don't know the person in the anecdote. You don't know what was happening in their lives. You don't know if they had a crummy day, or if they just have really strong emotions.

What I see here is that you are judging someone for feeling sad. Furthermore, you are judging a young player for feeling sad. From my perspective, that's just not a kind thing to do.
 

I hope it was Paranoia.
Nah, it was the Degenesis setting, using a very modified 5e system.

The PC didn't even die, although he had taken a pretty sizeable setback. Possibly unrunnable.

Thing is, that player had lost PCs killed before. I don't know why this incident caused such an emotional outbreak.
 

Darth Solo

Explorer
Wow.

D&D PCs CAN DIE. Maybe you didn't emphasize that early on. I tell players this at the start so it isn't surprising. Roll a new PC if you like. But abandon the game or hobby because of that? LoL! You just need to find a group that understands how the game works and it won't be such a ridiculous issue.

You can run D&D as a non-lethal game if you want as long as you note this before play starts: you can as GM just say 0 HP = incapacitated rather than dead. Are there "safer" games? FATE works. Look it over.
 

Wow.

D&D PCs CAN DIE. Maybe you didn't emphasize that early on. I tell players this at the start so it isn't surprising. Roll a new PC if you like. But abandon the game or hobby because of that? LoL! You just need to find a group that understands how the game works and it won't be such a ridiculous issue.

You can run D&D as a non-lethal game if you want as long as you note this before play starts: you can as GM just say 0 HP = incapacitated rather than dead. Are there "safer" games? FATE works. Look it over.
He had had PCs die before. I've never made any secret that PCs can, and will, die over the course of the game. Regardless of the system, death is always permanent at my table. And again, it wasn't D&D.

And no, I cannot consider FATE. That is not the path of a righteous gamer. :cool: ;)
 

Thunderfoot

Adventurer
This where I feel very fortunate. I was trained to kill by my country. There are rules of engagement and when you squeeze the trigger, there is no taking back the bullet.

Killing others may be necessary, when you ate in that situation it is 99% kill or be killed and death of you or your enemy is the only real outcome if one party does not surrender (wounds just mean a delay in the process).

It's very hard to convey that sense to a bunch od table-bound gamers who have never faced the consequences of their actions or the actions of others upon them.

Traveller is a good game to use, Star Trek the RPG has a good mix of life and death situations without constant killing.

As for the youngling, I took a pragmatic approach to RPG intro to young players. I would explain the game and then if they seemed interested would give them a stock character, play a short solo and kill them immediately. Yep 1E DM fiat killed. D E D, dead...

And then explain that this is a possibilty that could happen to their character if they choose to play. If they didn't handle that, they didn't play.
It's a brutal way, but it's the warrior way and in a combat game, it's a true test.
 

Maletherin

Villager
Yes.

Do you know why most players choose to fight and kill the enemies? Because they know they are going to win. The game is rigged in favour of the PC, particularly in battle. It's not so much a matter of rules (even though the newer the edition, the more generous the death/dying rules) but a matter of assuming that the PCs MUST encounter killable monsters, and most of them should be EASY to kill so that you can have lots of encounters.

It's an extreme idea, but what if you start by default having the majority of the enemies be BETTER than the PCs in combat? If the players start learning that picking a fight is a real risk, they are going to change their strategy for the whole game. They are going to use other ways than violence first, to reach their ends. Like normal people do in real life...
This is one reason I mostly play Runequest or Harnmaster. Death can come at any time.

Alas, my games are heavy role-play without much combat, which came as a relief after years of D&D and players always looking for a fight.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
As for the youngling, I took a pragmatic approach to RPG intro to young players. I would explain the game and then if they seemed interested would give them a stock character, play a short solo and kill them immediately. Yep 1E DM fiat killed. D E D, dead...
I cried just reading this.

When your RPG says something to the effect of, "when X happens, just throw away your character sheet," that's a good point to ask if you really want to play the game.
 

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