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D&D 5E [+] Questions for zero character death players and DMs…


Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Would LotR have been a better story if Pippin was killed by the barrow wight, Merry on Weathertop, Sam to the cave troll, and the Frodo dies to Shelob? Was it a better story that they were saved by interesting interactions with other people or items?

No or mostly no death probably doesn't work for a game where it's a contest of "See how much loot and power you can grab before you die" , naturally. But random death equally has no place in a campaign that is built as a story about the main characters of the PCs.
Exactly. Some campaigns are more Dark Souls, some more Elder Scrolls, others more Final Fantasy, still others even lean more toward something approaching an Animal Crossing. They’re all fun.
Torg literally has a "Martyr" card that lets you kill off your character to achieve almost anything in return. The Jedi in your story was channeling that beautifully.
Yes! In my own game Quest for Chevar, when you are taken out by trauma, it is the player who decides what that means, and you can gain greater narrative power in a scene when your character is lost.

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James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Since it wasn't an answer to the OP's question, I made a new thread, if anyone is interested:



Mod Squad
Staff member
This is a [+] thread.
So I’m curious if hit points and death saves are also ignored for similar reasons. Since nothing happens if you fail three death saves, do they stay in the game? Are they tracked? Do you make the roll? If your character can’t die, why bother rolling?

What about hit points? If the end result of hitting zero hit points is ultimately nothing, why track them?

I'm guessing your basic issue with understanding lies here - you are saying "nothing happens", which is incorrect.

In all the games I've played or run that limit PC death, when you run out of hit points, fail your death saves, or otherwise hit the mechanical limit, you fail, for lack of a better term. Your character is removed from the action. You don't get what you want. Your antagonist does get what they want. You track hit points and death saves because that's how you track that failure mode.

You ask "Why bother rolling?" Well, let me answer with a question - have the only way YOU have ever failed been by dying? Is death (or specific avoidance of death) the only way you've felt anything? Have the only ways your life ever changed been through death?

No? Well, then there's your answer - there's a lot of drama to be found without death, but we still need to work through life - thus the rolls.

If you do track hit points, what happens at zero? Are characters unconscious until someone revives them at zero hit points? Are they out of the combat until it’s over? How does it work?

It varies from table to table. When I've seen or used it in 5e, when a character runs out of hit points, you do the normal death save thing. If they self-stabilize, they'll wake up with 1 hit point after everything is over, and have to deal with the situation as best they can. If they fail the death saves, they are going to remain unconscious until someone helps them, or we are off combat timescale and what happens to them can be narrated.

At that point, if there's nobody to help them, as GM, I make up something interesting. There's going to be difficulty - maybe they suffer some lasting mechanical consequences of an injury. Maybe they are in the hands of an antagonist, or whatever - it really depends on the character, and the situation in which this happened.

Are monsters also immune to death or are their hit points still tracked and they’re as gleefully slaughtered as in every other style of play?

Again, it varies. Where I've seen it, most of the time, nobody cares much what happens to the monsters, so we don't establish whether they were dead or unconscious. They are usually down, out of the fight and the scenario, and that's sufficient.

Finally, what benefit is gained by having no character death?

Generally? Increased investment in character personality development, reduced anxiety of loss, and reduced risk of having a really unpleasant play experience for the player, and reduced risk of having to go through the rigmarole of making up a new character and work them into the narrative.
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I have no problems when people getting whacked in troupe games but when people get invested and really develop someone, i am very reluctant to kill them- I don't think it helps the game much.

That being said, i play the rules as they are for the most part. The goal is not to rub the fact that i'm unlikely to kill them in the face. As long as it's not pressed too hard, I think people still have a healthy respect for the situations and good players will reflect that.


I wonder if a lot of it also comes down to just whose "story" the participants want to experience?

To condense it down to two individual parts, I think we could look at it in this way-- the "story" of the individual character, and the "story" of the player in the campaign.

In the origins of RPGs, the latter I think was the primary protagonist. The game was about the players solving problems, earning loot, beating dungeons and the like via a character they had in front of them. But who that character was, was not necessarily that important-- because the expectation was many of these characters were going to die. But since the player kept playing in the game... playing new PC after new PC each time one got killed... all the stories and awesome events and such were attributed to the player and what they as a player accomplished with whatever character was in front of them. It wasn't "Aeroche Windsprinter the high elf nobleman" that survived the Tomb of Horrors... it was "I survived the Tomb of Horrors. Here's what I did..."

The player was who was important, and to whom all the action, drama, and clever thinking was attributed to.

But that was then, and this is now. And nowadays, it is the specific character who is involved in the action, the drama, the highs, the lows, the victories and the losses. These games are the stories of these characters, from everything that has happened to them prior to the game beginning, through the game itself, and the epilogue of the character after the campaign is finished. And thus... any sort of death that doesn't give closure to the life and experience and story of this individual character is seen as a waste. The player has put everything into their character's story in this campaign... not their own. And thus... death does not and should not necessarily be the end. It can be... especially if the death had meaning to both the character and the friends of the character who have to go on living without them... but otherwise, there's no reason why the story has to end. As has been said, there are many ways for a character to suffer setbacks in their story than just dying-- especially when those other ways allow the character to build themselves, the party, and the story on the whole back up from that crushing defeat.

Figure out which one of these two types of people you tend to be... and that'll be a good indicator of just how important death is when you play.
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Mod Squad
Staff member
The loss of all the potential stories that could have been told had the character survived is part of what makes character death impactful in campaigns built as stories about the PCs. But, I can certainly see why it can also be unappealing in that context as well.

To build this out a bit - yes, the loss of all the potential stories that could have been told is impactful. Moreover, the loss of all the investment put into the character and their psychological and emotional lives can be impactful.

But "impactful" does not communicate the value of the impact.

Consider, if you will, your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe (or confection of your choice). Adding a quarter cup of garlic powder to it would certainly be impactful to the resulting flavor. Does that mean you should do it? Is that an impact that you want, or would enjoy?

Impact should be chosen, not assumed to be positive to the experience.

With resurrection magic (especially as cheap as it is by default in 5e, given the 5e tag), I'm not sure why a group would opt for no character death (at least, once those those options are affordable). I mean, the game itself is designed to make death a temporary inconvenience--no house rules required.

It just seems weird to me that I seem to see (in online discussions) such a false dichotomy of either no death or permadeath, when either one of those requires house rules.

So I would add my question to the OP's from that perspective. What is the value of declaring no death instead of just using the resurrection options already included in the game?

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
When the resurrection options aren't available? Like, take a well known adventure, The Sunless Citadel. The Citadel itself is miles away from the nearest settlement, a small town which doesn't have anyone who can raise the dead to begin with.

If a character dies, even if you have the money to raise them, how will you do it?


Resurrection options, in-fiction are kinda weird, and I think that's a bit of a different discussion than, as a DM or as a meta-game, deciding that killing PCs isn't something on the table most of the time. I don't think it's a weird position to be trying to avoid killing PCs while also not wanting to have resurrections happen left and right.

Hmm. Wouldn’t removal of the character as a PC be functionally killing them? Isn’t the point if no death in a game to prevent the loss of the player’s character?
No more than characters dying a lot means removing them from the game.
Generally a lot of threads specify character death, not loss.
Personally I've seen more characters die in Cyclopedia games than 5e games, but actually losing a character in those games is very rare due to many more resurrections being performed than in 5e as well.

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