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Moral Dilemma: Killing and Deaths in RPGs


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Thunderfoot

Adventurer
The point I was making was psychological readiness of the player. It wasn't a character they made and it wasn't anything they were invested in. The exercise is to see if they handle the grown-up reality of character death. If not, they were not ready to sit at my grown-up table. And there were plenty of other games to run until they were. Come on folks... it's just a game.
 


S'mon

Legend
The point I was making was psychological readiness of the player. It wasn't a character they made and it wasn't anything they were invested in. The exercise is to see if they handle the grown-up reality of character death. If not, they were not ready to sit at my grown-up table. And there were plenty of other games to run until they were. Come on folks... it's just a game.

It felt like the lesson was "the GM will arbitrarily kill your character" rather than "your fate is in your own hands". I wouldn't want players to have that kind of fatalism, except maybe in PARANOIA.
 


Many Traveller players were hooked despite death in Character Gen...
But what you were reacting to makes me cringe... DBAD voided.
Back when CharGen was a manly endeavor. Especially if you were using the merc supplement (I think) and you wanted medals. I used to roll of PCs as a sort of solo game.
 


GMMichael

Guide of Modos
So PCs never die in your campaigns?
That's a bit of a logical leap, but I do leave it up to the player. When a PC runs out of health or when something lethal happens to the character, I let the player know two things:
  • your character is done with this scene
  • you can suggest a consequence of the event, and death is one option
 


TheSword

Legend
I would say a single player dying 5 times is quite a lot in my experience.

In our main group of 4 players I would say we have had 5 player deaths between everybody in about 10 years. Most characters reach the end because the campaign ends, either with success or a new campaign.

Have you considered that maybe you just made things too difficult or stuck to the rules a bit too much. That’s not a criticism, just a question. Relaxing a strict stance on game balance and risk of death might be a much simpler solution that stopping gaming, or having to learn a different system.

  • Allow PCs a Con score to bonus hp instead of con modifier at first level.
  • Signpost dangerous monsters more clearly.
  • Give monsters reasons to capture PCs and PCs opportunities to rescue their friends.
  • Make sure you provide scrolls and items that allow casting of spells like breath of life, raise dead, resurrection etc.

You don’t have to make every encounter combat based to be a challenge. My party in the last session played for 7 hours. They had 5 combat encounters that took up about 2 hours of play time. The rest was spent on roleplaying and exploration. In one of those fights one of the players died, but they had access to resurrection Magic so it was fine. It consumed a precious resource though.

That way combat is a part of the game and the PCs do get to enjoy kicking ass. Just in moderation.
 
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Jmarso

Adventurer
I would say a single player dying 5 times is quite a lot in my experience.
It does seem a lot, but if it is the same player dying over and over, it begs the question: what is this particular player doing that is resulting in his/her high mortality rate? Play style? Squishy build? Inexperience?
 

TheSword

Legend
It does seem a lot, but if it is the same player dying over and over, it begs the question: what is this particular player doing that is resulting in his/her high mortality rate? Play style? Squishy build? Inexperience?
Exactly. It could be that it’s a group of 3 players and the other 2 characters run away or keep going invisible/flying/stealthing. Or it might be that the dying character charges into combat without any thought.

However all things being equal excessive player death is usually difficulty fine tuning. I used to think as a GM I had to bring characters as close to zero hp as I could every fight. Now I’ve chilled out, and realize how frustrating it can be when every fight feels lethal. It doesn’t encourage heroism.
 

It does seem a lot, but if it is the same player dying over and over, it begs the question: what is this particular player doing that is resulting in his/her high mortality rate? Play style? Squishy build? Inexperience?
Are you referring to my post?

If you are, his PCs deaths were spread over 19 years at my table. IIRC, that was only 2-4 deaths.
 

Jmarso

Adventurer
Are you referring to my post?

If you are, his PCs deaths were spread over 19 years at my table. IIRC, that was only 2-4 deaths.
I was replying to the Sword, but it looks like maybe he was replying to someone else, although I can't tell who without scrolling back farther than I already did.

Hell, I'm a 'forever DM' mostly but I've lost more than half a dozen characters or more as a player in the past 20 years. (Playing 1E / 2E games). Character deaths never bother me too much when I'm playing- I always have the next one in the back of my head.
 

I was replying to the Sword, but it looks like maybe he was replying to someone else, although I can't tell who without scrolling back farther than I already did.

Hell, I'm a 'forever DM' mostly but I've lost more than half a dozen characters or more as a player in the past 20 years. (Playing 1E / 2E games). Character deaths never bother me too much when I'm playing- I always have the next one in the back of my head.
Ok, my bad.

But you're completely right: there's always another story in the wings, waiting to be told. Some are novels, some are a novellas, and some are short stories.
 

cowpie

Adventurer
As others have already replied, there are lot of RPGs out there, and if your players are willing to try out new systems, not all games need to center on the use of violence as the primary mode of play.

Most RPGs include violence because it's a quick way to raise the dramatic stakes in the story. Risking life and limb is exciting. Indiana Jones violently battling Nazi's for control of the Lost Ark is a lot more dramatic than deciding who gets the Ark over a game of gin rummy.

RPGs can be like roller coasters, in that they offer us the thrill of danger, without putting us in actual peril, since it's just a game, and the actions are only played in our imagination. Violence is an easy way to provide that thrill.

The employment of violence for dramatic effect can become rote and cliche if overused. For example, most TV action shows of the 50s, 60s and 70s would include a ubiquitous fight scene, thrown in as padding to "spice up the action", even if it didn't really add anything to the story. On the 60s Star Trek, this usually resulted in yet another torn shirt for Captain Kirk.

With D&D, maybe you could propose changing the application of violent scenes in favor of more roleplaying. This would allow you to set this expectation with your players.

D&D is at it's heart, and action-adventure genre game, so it's got a lot of mechanics that are action-oriented over RPing. You can set story awards for resolving problems in non-violent ways. You can also make encounters that can involve combat as just one of many options. For example, you can cross the Troll Bridge by fighting the Troll, outwitting the troll, bribing the troll, solving the troll's special problem (maybe he wants to marry another troll, and the PCs arrange this), etc. Maybe the non-violent solutions are better than the combat option. As long as it's a challenge to solve, it's worth the same XP.

Some examples of RPGs with mechanics supporting non-combat solutions include: Apocalypse World, Robin Laws' "Hillfolk", Fate, and Burning Wheel/Mouseguard (these actually have a social combat system, with social maneuvers, and rounds of verbal "combat").

You can also include action scenes that don't involve combat. If the players are traveling on a boat, they could encounter a storm, and depending on how they work together to weather it, they could suffer escalating setbacks (including having the boat sunk). Maybe they have to pass through an obstacle like the Scylla and Charybdis -- an action scene that combat won't solve. You could have a chase sequence where they don't want to injure the person, but encounter dangerous obstacles during the chase.

As far as the younger player having a meltdown, for session zero, I'd set the expectation that PC death is a thing, it's part of "winning" and "losing" a D&D game, and that the group's social contract includes the expectation that players handle "losing" a PC with the same maturity and good sportsmanship as they would losing a game of monopoly or checkers. You can't win em' all, but you can always try again. Flipping the board when you lose too many times will not get you invited back to play, and the same standard of behavior applies to RPGs.
 

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