Thursday, October 7, 2010
Christian at Destination Unknown wrote recently about PC death.
I don't struggle with this topic (anymore) so I thought I'd share.
In D&D, there must be the fear of death to give the game its sense of risk. How do you develop that sense of risk? Make sure the players understand the tenuous nature of their adventuring existence and carry through with PC death when it arises.
This means that some PCs are going to live and some are going to die.
The primary question though relates to how.
Players need to understand that DMs don't kill PCs, players kill PCs - and PCs die by two means: 1) stupid or reckless play, 2) Fate (dice).
The bottom line is that if you fail to scout ahead, fail to prepare your ground, engage in a full frontal assault, attack an entrenched enemy, or take on an obviously superior foe, you deserve to die. There's no need to over-complicate. That's it. Period.
If you players are dumbasses, then a few deaths will address the issue of stupid tactics. Either that or have them read-up on basic war tactics or take a military history course.
Now if my group were slow learners or new to old school play, I'd probably sit them down and go over tactics, style of play, and approach to the game. There's nothing wrong with that. Also, encourage them to read game reports. You can use other approaches too. I've played in games where, when a PC dies, the DM required the player to recite the glorious nature of his/her accomplishments, "Here lay Jones, defeater of the goblins of Kertle, ransacker of Merle's tavern, wielder of the Blue Star, Digger of the local ditch," or whatever lol. This actually became a lot of fun and people got really good at eulogizing their fallen PC. Death is part of the wry humour and fun of D&D.
In terms of my personal preference, I let PCs do what they want but after a situation, encounter, combat, or whatever, I will normally take a moment to suggest alternative courses of action that may have resulted in fewer deaths or given them a better chance of success. I did this very recently (in my last game report), when the party was attacked from behind.
In terms of a concluding thought, I think death is crucial to the suspension of disbelief in D&D. From that standpoint, I don't think I could enjoy the game without it.