log in or register to remove this ad

 

Why Do You Hate An RPG System?

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I disagree: the players set the stakes. Otherwise, its a railroad at best.

The core of a TTRPG is the survival of the PC. Sure, there are secondary goals (clouds of them in most of my campaigns), but all are contingent upon the PC remaining alive, physically viable and sane. Remove the core, and we're back to imaginary friends.
This is trivially shown to be false. Many types of RPGs do not feature character death as a prominent possibility. Think superheroes.

I am for character death being on the table in games like D&D where lethal combat is a common method of challenge resolution. I enjoy that risk. But saying that no stakes have meaning outside the core "did you survive" is shown false by the number of games with real stakes where your character dying isn't on the table the majority of the time, if at all.

In other words, that's one set of stakes for the assumptions of one type of game. I want those stakes in that type of game, but we can't pretend that other games must feature the same stakes to be interesting.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
That is curating the encounter, though from the player side as well, I know my 1st level character can't beat a dragon, and forced into a fight, to "learn me a lesson about GM power" or something. That's it, I die, game over.
Replace Red Dragon with King's Retinue. Can they beat you as bad as the Red Dragon at 1st level? Sure. Does it best serve their goals to do so when they come across you randomly in all cases? No.

Same for the dragon. You are assuming it's goals are always best served to kill the PCs. That's a two dimensional caraciture of a dragon, treating it no better than a mindless beast.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
The players decide what their characters do. So the player decides what their characters care about. Even if the player writes a War and Peace length backstory about their deep connection to their family, the player is rightfully free to decide at any moment they don’t want to be inconvenienced by that strong family connection. So despite making a character for whom “family is everything” if that family ever becomes an inconvenience, the player can (and almost certainly will) decide the character simply doesn’t care enough to bother.

Wow, not a single player I game with, in multiple groups, matches the RP style that you are projecting with "and almost certainly will". Back in the 80s I knew a player like that. Didn't continue to game with him.

That isn't nearly as universal as you are making it out to be.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
Replace Red Dragon with King's Retinue. Can they beat you as bad as the Red Dragon at 1st level? Sure. Does it best serve their goals to do so when they come across you randomly in all cases? No.

Same for the dragon. You are assuming it's goals are always best served to kill the PCs. That's a two dimensional caraciture of a dragon, treating it no better than a mindless beast.
You are right in that ultimately it isn't how my PC dies (the dragon thing is not mine) it's about if my PC dies out of the gate for some random, or bizarre purpose, I am unlikely to continue, not roll up another character.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
You are right in that ultimately it isn't how my PC dies (the dragon thing is not mine) it's about if my PC dies out of the gate for some random, or bizarre purpose, I am unlikely to continue, not roll up another character.
You do realize that many on-level threats in D&D can drop any 1st level character with a crit, and that's the first step towards death. For multiple editions, 1st level is one where random death can come with just a little bit of bad luck.

Do you still play D&D?
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
In a lot of the games my main group plays we aren't wandering vagabonds or just getting started on our journeys. In Infinity the character I created through the lifepath system was a 36 year old Mercenary who had 2 career phases in special forces and 2 more as a bounty hunter. There was all sorts of life events involved that we then provided additional detail to. By the time we started play we had an experienced person who had already lived a whole life, had all sorts of complicated relationships, and had a real sense of history. We then spent some real time building layered connections between the characters who were equally as complex.

Going through that sort of process is deeply rewarding, but involves a lot of effort we don't want to necessarily repeat if we do not have to. That's why we negotiate what happens when characters are defeated. It's also an active negotiation that must make sense in the fiction. If the only reasonable thing is they die then they die, but if there's some other interesting narrative loss that makes sense we usually go with that. It's an actual conversation and negotiation. Not player just decides.

We have just gone through a similar process for Exalted over the course of two sessions. We're dealing with characters who are deeply connected to the setting, represent the height of human achievement, and have complex personal lives from the word jump. They have history with the world and with each other.

It works for us because we are good at negotiating those moments in fair ways. I feel we're pretty fair brokers of what seems reasonable or at least genre appropriate. I know some people are suspicious about negotiation as a feature of play, but we find for character death in particular it works better than hard and fast rules.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I think the number of cases in the history of RPGing where the players understood themselves to be playing a B/X or AD&D-type hexcrawl, and were playing low-level PCs, and had any familiarity with the game system, and deliberately decided that they would climb the mountain to try and defeat the red dragon, is so close to zero that for practical purposes we can treat it as zero.

So if I hear reports of a game that resembles what you've described, I would be curious: Where did that information about the dragon in the mountains come from - at the table, I mean, not in the fiction - and how was it made salient? Why did the players act on it in the way you describe? I would be pretty confident that at least one of the four variables I mentioned didn't obtain in that game - most likely the first.
Nah, I have and will again run non-level specific worlds in D&D. Hexcrawls are not the only type of game where players have multiple hooks and decide which they deem are important. Even when running more traditional level-focused D&D, foreshadowing "there's a dragon sleeping in the volcano, don't go there yet" is perfectly fine. Sets up future badness, as well as removes the "huh, if there was a dragon in the area why did we never hear of it" immersion break when it does show up.

When running a non-level specific world I've had options where they encounter things that are likely beyond them - but have reasons not to pursue (protect nest, etc.) and/or reasonable ways to escape (something D&D does poorly out of the box) in order that if some/all of the players need a reminder that it really is non-level specific, I can bring home in a visceral lesson that it is, but also do so in such a way that as long as give up the "it's here to fight, we can obviously beat it" and are willing to retreat that they can.

It's one of the reasons that I like 13th Age as a D&D-like game. A successful retreat - with everyone including the unconcious and the dead - is always on the table in exchange for a campaign loss.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
You do realize that many on-level threats in D&D can drop any 1st level character with a crit, and that's the first step towards death. For multiple editions, 1st level is one where random death can come with just a little bit of bad luck.

Do you still play D&D?
Sure, and a lot of systems the effect doesn't go away because there are not levels. Still not going to just kill a character out of hand.
 

pemerton

Legend
Nah, I have and will again run non-level specific worlds in D&D. Hexcrawls are not the only type of game where players have multiple hooks and decide which they deem are important. Even when running more traditional level-focused D&D, foreshadowing "there's a dragon sleeping in the volcano, don't go there yet" is perfectly fine. Sets up future badness, as well as removes the "huh, if there was a dragon in the area why did we never hear of it" immersion break when it does show up.

When running a non-level specific world I've had options where they encounter things that are likely beyond them - but have reasons not to pursue (protect nest, etc.) and/or reasonable ways to escape (something D&D does poorly out of the box) in order that if some/all of the players need a reminder that it really is non-level specific, I can bring home in a visceral lesson that it is, but also do so in such a way that as long as give up the "it's here to fight, we can obviously beat it" and are willing to retreat that they can.
You don't seem to be describing a case where the players were playing low-level PCs, and had any familiarity with the game system, and deliberately decided that they would climb the mountain to try and defeat the red dragon. (And your "non-level specific world" is in the neighbourhood of a B/X or AD&D hexcrawl.)

I still assert that the number of cases where the players do the things I've flagged is so close to zero that for practical purposes we can treat it as zero, unless there is a very different approach to determining where the PCs go on the map and what they confront (ie something GM led).
 



pemerton

Legend
But the threat of character death can be a very interesting, recurring point in games like D&D that feature lethal combat as a common challenge resolution.

Both in and of itself, in the tension that risk creates is a spice for combat - which is a length mechanical aspect of the game when it occurs. Add in the simple fact that many/most combats, especially in the published modules, aren't about anything except overcoming in order to move forward in the plot. Leaving either it's foreordained you'll win, or having a DM willing and experienced enough to think of suitable alternatives every time.
One way of reading this is D&D is often played essentially as a railroad through a plot, with the action in play consisting in combats where the stakes are 'do we beat it or do we suffer some sort of loss in the form of PC death?'

I think that's probably true, but maybe a bit candid for the taste of some!

Many games, with D&D being a big example, tend to not have mechanical consequences other than loss of HP, which can lead to PC death. There are some minor exceptions to this across editions that allow for some kind of consequence that lingers, but they’re pretty few and far between. I think this is a big part of why many GMs lean so heavily on PC death.

Of course there can always be narrative consequences…failing to clear the Caves of Chaos or failing to learn what happened to the Carlyle Expedition or what have you. But every game can have those.

So with PC death, what’s the consequence for the player? They lose that PC, yes….but they just replace it with another. Perhaps the lost PC was particularly enjoyable to them or what have you, but the game goes on, and the player continues to play.

This is why I said that death isn’t always the most meaningful consequence. There could be (and in many games are) ways forward from that point that allow the player to continue with that PC but which result in a more meaningful change in the game than simply swapping out a PC.
I think that mechanical consequences does not contrast with narrative consequences very strongly in the context of PC death, at least without adding more: after all, that the PC died is an event in the fiction just as much as it is a (potential) mechanical change to the player's game position.

An example of "adding more" is Epic Tier 4e, where often the dead PC comes back to life via a special ability, and so the PC death is primarily a mechanical event that drains a resource, much like spending a healing surge, with its contribution to narrative being tension and pacing and that's it, unless the table does the work of feeding the death into the narrative in some fashion. (At my table, sometimes we did and sometimes we didn't.)

If the consequence of PC death, for the player, is that they have to play a new PC, is that a mechanical hit or a narrative hit? That will depend on the details of the game and (often) table practices. To be perfectly honest, I don't think D&D really has a coherent conception of what the game effect of a PC dying is supposed to be. It leaves it entirely up to the players at a given table to decide. Different approaches here will have different effects on the mechanic-narrative correlation: if the player gets to bring in a new PC who joins the current party on "the quest" but they are down a level or an item or something, then that is no narrative consequence but the player's position takes an immediate mechanical hit.

On the other hand, in a Classic Traveller game it might be possible to bring in a new PC who is better than the dead one (due to random rolls) and who is just as narratively integrated (depending on how the game is being approached at the table). This is less likely in D&D but not impossible if PCs are low level and being generated via random stat and starting money rolls.

The whole thing is weird and badly underexplained in mainstream PCs.
 


Argyle King

Legend
D&D is about the only game we can assume the majority of people have played so it's the easiest and closest to a universal example to use for discussion.


Fair points.

Though, I think it's also fair to say that a lot of highlighted issues and "problems" only exist because of rules-structures which are unique to D&D. So, while it may be a "universal" example in the context that many people play D&D; I do not believe that it serves as a good universal example in the context of rules-structure, narrative-structure, or how roleplaying games function in general.

Don't get me wrong. Despite the fact that I admittedly make (and have made) posts which are negative toward D&D, I enjoy playing it.

However, I often find it strange that so many complaints about how the game works also coincide with refusals to try different games.

To clarify, I'm not suggesting that behavior fits you as an individual. It's more of anecdotal observation of subsections within the D&D community.

•"I hate the d20, levels, and class-based systems."
-"Have you tried playing [different game] instead of D&D?"
•"How dare you imply that I'm playing the game wrong!?"
 

I haven't read the whole of HPL's corpus, but have read multiple hundreds of pages. Is there a story where the protagonist dies? Not in Call of Cthulhu itself, not in The Shadow out of Time, not in At the Mountains of Madness, I think not in The Dunwich Horror. Maybe in Shadow Over Innsmouth, depending how you look at it.

So why would I expect character death to be a serious prospect in a CoC game?
Because pop-Cthulhu owes more to CoC than it does to Lovecraft himself. In the writings of HPL Cthulhu was defeated by ramming him with a fishing boat. In pop-Cthulhu Cthulhu is on an unimaginable power scale and the fishing boat would just bounce.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
One way of reading this is D&D is often played essentially as a railroad through a plot, with the action in play consisting in combats where the stakes are 'do we beat it or do we suffer some sort of loss in the form of PC death?'
Drop the "railroad through a plot" and I'm with you. Combat-unto-death-as-challenge-resolution is a common theme in D&D regardless if it's a railroad, a sandbox, a hexcrawl, or something else.

I say if you take any random group of D&D DMs of reasonable size, 80%+ have expectations that defeat-in-combat to advance is on the table with some regularly. It's not the only goal for combat, as a matter of fact combats are usually more interesting when there are different goals. And it's not the only resolution - a side could retreat, be captured, surrender, etc. But "kill the undead to get the macguffin" or something similar can show up even in the portfolios of DMs who try those, and much more often for DMs who don't. With the notable exception of Witchlight, all of the official adventures expect this a good chunk of the time. And that Witchlight can be run without combat is rare enough to be notable.

On the other hand I'm running the teen superhero game Masks: A New Generation and there isn't any mechanical support for character death, with the exception of The Doomed playbook, which is around a character like Raven from Teen Titans who has a lingering doom coming for them in the future. Even the conditions which one could think of as "HP" if you squint hard enough are things like "Angry" and "Insecure" and are RP guides as well as adjusting down the chance of success of some Moves in order to make the mechanical choices that are in line with the character more appealing without dictating anything.

Each game has real stakes for the characters. For ones like D&D where lethal combat is common, I like those stakes preserved as opposed to the DM taking them away by protecting the characters with plot armor, so that I can have a sense of accomplishment for succeeding as opposed to being handed it. As a player in D&D games I have asked multiple DMs to increase the challenge of combat because it wasn't challenging and that made it boring, while still taking up a good chunk of session time. As a DM of D&D games I've had plenty of characters go unconcious and death was close. But in my current campaign (1.5 years) and my last completed campaign (4.5 years), there were no deaths in combat. Not that there couldn't be, if the players were foolish or if luck was particularly against them, but because they were successful in preventing them. Which makes me cheer - that's the line I enjoy DMing D&D at: fear of death, but because of how played no actual death.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Because pop-Cthulhu owes more to CoC than it does to Lovecraft himself. In the writings of HPL Cthulhu was defeated by ramming him with a fishing boat. In pop-Cthulhu Cthulhu is on an unimaginable power scale and the fishing boat would just bounce.
In the H. P. Lovecraft story the Call of Cthulhu, Cthulhu was rammed in the head by a steam-ship...and he instantly started regenerating. Like hitting a troll with a rock. So temporarily “defeated” by taking a steam-ship to the face. We should note that at the time the story was written, the steam-ship was the most powerful bit of water-borne technology invented by humans. The effect is different on modern readers from the original intent. Then it was meant to convey the horror that even our most powerful water-borne invention was only a split second reprieve, now it reads like “LOL, Cthulhu was taken out by a boat.” The ignored context matters.
 

Fair points.

Though, I think it's also fair to say that a lot of highlighted issues and "problems" only exist because of rules-structures which are unique to D&D. So, while it may be a "universal" example in the context that many people play D&D; I do not believe that it serves as a good universal example in the context of rules-structure, narrative-structure, or how roleplaying games function in general.

Eh. There are few problems I've seen in D&D and adjacent system campaigns I haven't seen in others. I'm willing to accept that you're going to have different problems in trad games and some non-trad, but I don't think the random body of players is not going to have some of the same sociodynamic issues that I've seen time and again over the years in different group.

Don't get me wrong. Despite the fact that I admittedly make (and have made) posts which are negative toward D&D, I enjoy playing it.

However, I often find it strange that so many complaints about how the game works also coincide with refusals to try different games.

To clarify, I'm not suggesting that behavior fits you as an individual. It's more of anecdotal observation of subsections within the D&D community.

•"I hate the d20, levels, and class-based systems."
-"Have you tried playing [different game] instead of D&D?"
•"How dare you imply that I'm playing the game wrong!?"

Well, there's always the issue of hating on only one or two of those sorts of things (say, big linear die rolls of the D20/D100 stripe) while liking the rest of the feel. You can probably find games out there that avoid the one while still having the others, but there's always the "finding players/GMs" problem then. That sort of D&D heartbreaker can sometimes be harder to find others to play with than systems radically different like the Hero System or Runequest.
 

I think that mechanical consequences does not contrast with narrative consequences very strongly in the context of PC death, at least without adding more: after all, that the PC died is an event in the fiction just as much as it is a (potential) mechanical change to the player's game position.

Sure, I mention the two as types of consequences, but didn’t really mean to set them in opposition. My point was more that consequences of a narrative sort can be present in just about any RPG. So D&D can indeed have these.

But once you move beyond that, there’s very little other than PC death. Some editions have incorporated alignment change, and that could certainly be meaningful for certain classes. Level drain or loss, but that’s temporary, akin to HP loss but more severe. A sword of sharpness might result in a lost PC limb or two is used by an enemy NPC. Then certainly there were the kind of arbitrary consequences of things like the Deck of Many Things and similar items. “You’re now a dwarf” and all that.

D&D relies almost entirely on HP loss for any/all danger, and no matter how many HP you may lose, there’s nothing that happens as a result. As long as you have 1 HP you’ll function the same as if you had 100, and the missing 99 will always come back given a bit of time and or healing magic.

I think this is largely why you see folks claim that of you remove this consequence from the game then you’re taking away all of the challenge. It’s because in D&D and similar games, that’s largely true….you’d be taking away the consequence of losing your HP, and almost everything revolves around that.

But that’s simply not the case for games that don't rely on HP/character death as the sole (or even primary) consequence for PCs.
 

Beleriphon

Totally Awesome Pirate Brain
In the H. P. Lovecraft story the Call of Cthulhu, Cthulhu was rammed in the head by a steam-ship...and he instantly started regenerating. Like hitting a troll with a rock. So temporarily “defeated” by taking a steam-ship to the face. We should note that at the time the story was written, the steam-ship was the most powerful bit of water-borne technology invented by humans. The effect is different on modern readers from the original intent. Then it was meant to convey the horror that even our most powerful water-borne invention was only a split second reprieve, now it reads like “LOL, Cthulhu was taken out by a boat.” The ignored context matters.

Context now would be ramming Cthulu with the USS Nimitz and then having all of its reactors go super critical and explode on impact.
 

Level Up!

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top