Print Story Killing Characters
Wizards and Hobbits
By Gedvondur (Wed Dec 12, 2012 at 12:21:12 PM EST) rpg, death, Traveller (all tags)
I wrote a response on Reddit a few weeks ago about how people handle character death in their RPG games.  This is an expansion of that, wondering how fellow HuSi GMs handle it.

When I run a game (Traveller on T20 system), my PCs die when it's appropriate. Let me explain.

To me, we are trying to tell a story. For the GM, it's the overall story of the group. For the players, it's the story of the character.

I have fudged dice to keep characters alive, but only when it seems like their luck is running really badly and their death would serve no purpose. I don't do this often, honestly I don't really need to. Messed up and hurt really bad isn't dead and I won't save them from that.

Now when they are fighting a big bad, or having a story-important moment (overall or character) I generally let the dice fall where they may. I have killed PCs this way.

The other time I show no mercy is when they are being fools or are taking huge risks and they know it. When they are being fools I take an extra step to make sure that they KNOW what they are getting into. I have to do that, when they are about to do something incredibly foolish it might be because my description of the situation was lacking. That warrants going over the facts. I make sure they understand that actions, or lack thereof has consequences and that just like the real world sometimes it isn't fair.

To me, it's essential that players understand that NO character, no matter how beloved, is sacrosanct. There's no fun, no thrill of victory if there isn't the possibility of defeat. Sometimes bad things happen to good characters. I just try and make sure it isn't ridiculously pointless, but only because pointless deaths in what amounts to random encounters are no fun.

For instance when I hear of other DMs having trouble with characters killing NPCs at random and pulling outrageous shit in a law-abiding town to me the answer is easy. Actions have consequences. Arrest, trial, execution can all easily happen. Or even incarceration, taking that character out of the game. What's that you say, the party is going to break him out? Sure, no problem, provided they all want to walk around with prices on their heads. Actions have consequences.

On average, I kill one character every 12-16 sessions. For me sessions are once a week, about six hours of gaming each. But honestly that number doesn't matter. I've come very close to TPK, only to have the party get clever and salvage the situation.

My one piece of advice on this: Tell them you are ready, willing, and able to kill characters, but it isn't your goal. Make them understand that as GM, you represent the uncaring universe while secretly fudging the occasional roll to ensure that everybody has fun.

I think keeping the fact that there is the occasional GM fudge on a dice roll secret is important to maintaining the fun for everyone. I've had GMs who were so reluctant to kill characters that the players would start doing more and more outrageous things to push the GM into actually killing them.  The game is no fun if there is no possibility of defeat/death. 

How do you handle it in your games?
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Killing Characters | 19 comments (19 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
Huh. by Driusan (4.00 / 3) #1 Wed Dec 12, 2012 at 01:26:18 PM EST
I never knew there were GMs who didn't actively try to kill the PCs at all times.

Vive le Montréal libre.
Heh by Gedvondur (2.00 / 0) #2 Wed Dec 12, 2012 at 01:52:05 PM EST
Well killing them is easy. You have all the power in the world.  Keeping them taking risks without killing themselves....that's hard.


"So I will be hitting the snatch hard, I think, tonight." - gzt
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Old school AD&D by wumpus (4.00 / 1) #12 Wed Dec 12, 2012 at 10:43:53 PM EST
The last group I played with changed adventures (and DM) every quest. This lead to players bringing 2 characters to:
A: Balance out the quest
B: Have a reason to show up due to the 50% mortality rate.
I'm not sure how we would handle a long-term campaign. I still think following up on the Bushido game would have been good (my samurai had to declare a blood feud on a high power merchant. My guess is he wouldn't last much after that).


[ Parent ]
i was pretty annoyed by aphrael (4.00 / 1) #3 Wed Dec 12, 2012 at 03:04:47 PM EST
in a recent newly-started game when the DM fucked up the difficulty and killed my character in the first session.
If television is a babysitter, the internet is a drunk librarian who won't shut up.
maybe it wasn't the case there by prestidigitizer (4.00 / 1) #7 Wed Dec 12, 2012 at 05:09:13 PM EST
but some encounters are meant to be run away from. "A man's got to know his limitations" and all that. Depends on the scenario, of course.

[ Parent ]
oh, it was quite clear by aphrael (4.00 / 1) #8 Wed Dec 12, 2012 at 05:46:14 PM EST
both that the DM intended it to be a combat and that he thought we would all survive, but he'd fucked up the difficulty given the characters.
If television is a babysitter, the internet is a drunk librarian who won't shut up.
[ Parent ]
Eeesh by Gedvondur (2.00 / 0) #19 Thu Dec 13, 2012 at 09:39:17 AM EST
That blows goats.  I've fucked up like that, but usually I end up pulling punches to prevent a lot of death when I seriously mis-judge a party's strength.  Sometimes, if I've really fucked it up I'll even resort to deus ex machina with outside help.

"So I will be hitting the snatch hard, I think, tonight." - gzt
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I think you have it right by MartiniPhilosopher (4.00 / 1) #4 Wed Dec 12, 2012 at 04:21:38 PM EST
but I tend to err on the side of caution. Especially when running for the L5R guys. I don't like killing someone's character that's been through half the campaign. Unless they're going out in a huge blaze of glory and know it. That makes me feel better about doing so.

Whenever I hear one of those aforementioned douche bags pontificate about how dangerous [...] videogames are I get a little stabby. --Wil Wheaton.

Heh, yes by Gedvondur (2.00 / 0) #18 Thu Dec 13, 2012 at 09:36:43 AM EST
I tend to be cautious too, more so if the character has been around for a long time.  I think you've hit on it, that I want to provide that meaningful death/exit from the game for the player, so that they know all the character went through wasn't just bunk.

"So I will be hitting the snatch hard, I think, tonight." - gzt
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Old D&D Rules... by belldandi (4.00 / 2) #5 Wed Dec 12, 2012 at 04:48:29 PM EST
I rolled and 18/00 pally natural strength. That was the funnest character evar to wreck a bit of havoc with. Stupid party member was stupid in game so I threw him in a lake hoping he'd drown. Damn GM saved him though....

Did "you" fall? by wumpus (4.00 / 1) #11 Wed Dec 12, 2012 at 10:37:24 PM EST
I suppose that a wizard could get out of the lake. Any armor wearing critter would drown. An old school GM would have a wandering monster mosey on over while the entire party was fussing around trying to get all the gear a party member was carrying (you can't swim with it) out of 8' deep of water.


[ Parent ]
Sounds about right to me by prestidigitizer (4.00 / 1) #6 Wed Dec 12, 2012 at 05:01:53 PM EST
You've pretty much summed up how my friends and I approach DMing. Willful stupidity kills and actions have consequences. High risk and/or bad luck can and will result in death, however GM's providence can be applied judiciously to sustain the fun. I've heard of me vs. them, antagonistic GMs, but I've never played with one - sounds like a drag.

I agree that you need to brief the players at the start. They may have encountered different styles of play before and need to know how it works in your game so as not to get blindsided.

As far as keeping the occasional fudged rolls secret, it also helps to have players that don't look a gift horse in the mouth if you are insufficiently subtle. :)

Heh by Gedvondur (2.00 / 0) #17 Thu Dec 13, 2012 at 09:34:00 AM EST
True, sometimes players can be a bit pedantic about pointing things out, even when its to their disadvantage.

I've only played with me vs them DMs a few times.  I can tell you, the experience wasn't great and I have to say for a long term campaign its a complete non-starter for me.

"So I will be hitting the snatch hard, I think, tonight." - gzt
[ Parent ]
I never hesitated to kill off a character by wiredog (4.00 / 1) #9 Wed Dec 12, 2012 at 06:58:33 PM EST
Even my own, if I was running it as an NPC. Lost a 20/22 magic user/ fighter to an orc after a set of bad saving throws once.

Earth First!
(We can strip mine the rest later.)

Hard Mode by Gedvondur (2.00 / 0) #16 Thu Dec 13, 2012 at 09:30:53 AM EST
Lots of folk run hard-core like that. I don't mind it, as a matter of fact I prefer it to being wishy-washy about the whole issue.

"So I will be hitting the snatch hard, I think, tonight." - gzt
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Haven't GMed in a long time by jimgon (4.00 / 1) #10 Wed Dec 12, 2012 at 08:24:35 PM EST
but I mostly let characters die when it was appropriate.  If I did something that made the encounter inappropriate then I would fudge rolls, but If it was just bad rolling or player stupidity then stuff happens.  I have traditionally had a one-save mercy rule where I would allow a character to survive a death encounter once.

Technician - "We can't even get decent physical health care. Mental health is like witchcraft here."
Sure by Gedvondur (2.00 / 0) #15 Thu Dec 13, 2012 at 09:29:37 AM EST
I cut some slack on bad rolling....if the deaths are going to be really pointless.

"So I will be hitting the snatch hard, I think, tonight." - gzt
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I haven't played by yicky yacky (4.00 / 1) #13 Thu Dec 13, 2012 at 05:24:43 AM EST

RPGs in any semi-serious context since I was a teen, but I used to lose respect for GMs/DMs who didn't enforce the probabilities as they were supposed to be.

If I'm going to do something dumb, the game has every right to remind me of my stupidity and, in fact, becomes more realistic and respectable for it.

It's like shoving on a flush draw when you know you're behind. Sure, the fold equity and pot odds might justify it, but every time you get called you're usually at least 3/2 against (probably worse) and, if you can't accept that degree of risk, then don't do it -- and definitely don't bitch about it when it doesn't work.

Vacuity abhors a vacuum.
That's a great point by Gedvondur (2.00 / 0) #14 Thu Dec 13, 2012 at 09:28:40 AM EST
Respect for the game and GM is certainly a factor that doesn't always get mentioned.  I have and will kill characters who simply can't do odds. :-)

"So I will be hitting the snatch hard, I think, tonight." - gzt
[ Parent ]
Killing Characters | 19 comments (19 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback