Dealing with Dangerous Encounters & PC Death in Your Campaign



  • kenurion
    Posts: 80
    Duskreign, interesting table. There are lots of roleplaying opportunities embedded in it, but I think it's a little sick to make players choose which limb they think their character can live without the least badly. I made a table just for laughs 2 years ago. It was supposed to apply anytime a character takes 25% of max hitpoints in damage in a single hit (yes, that would mean basically every hit at first level, like I said, it was a joke). I think I will pursue this with the lofty goal of increasing character idiosyncracies for collective enjoyment.

    1: Facial scarring, -2 CHA (10% chance +1 CHA b/c scar makes PC look tough in a sexy way).
    2: Damaged voicebox, NPC's have trouble understanding the PC. Player must repeat everything twice to be understood.
    3: Permanent limp, movement -1.
    4: Blow to liver. PC loses all tolerance to alcohol.
    5: Blow to head. 50/50 -1 INT/-1 WIS.
    6: Lose kidney. No problem if PC still has the other kidney. Otherwise, must see priest to cast 3rd level spell "Dialysis" once per week or else suffer cumulative -1 CON per day until CON=0 (PC is dead).
    7: Blow to head, PC becomes hard of hearing. Other players must repeat everything twice to be understood (DM privilege: it is implied that NPC's repeat everything twice).
    8: Broken fingers. -1 DEX, -5% to all thief skills requiring manual dexterity.
    9: Bad back. -1 movement, -1 STR.
    10: Broken bones. PC can predict weather once per day depending on where the aches are.
    11: Eye damage. PC loses depth perception. -4 on all ranged attacks.
    12: PC is sterilized.
    13: Scalp damage. Hair does not grow back on part of the head. PC must shave head, wear hat, or else -1 CHA.
    14: Punctured lung. -1 CON.
    15: Bad shoulder. When using melee weapons or defending with a shield, 5% chance shoulder pops out of socket per strike.
    16: Blow to head: amnesia, player loses 100xlevel in XP.
    17: Deformed arm. -2 on all ranged attacks, but +1 damage and +5% range b/c of increased leverage. Purchasing a custom designed ranged weapon can remove the to-hit penalty.
    18: Lose 2d4 teeth. Location of teeth at DM discretion.
    19: Lose ear. No hearing penalties, but -2 CHA. If PC has no ears left, then reduce damage taken by 10%.
    20: Phew! That was close. PC is happy and grateful there's no permanent damage.
  • Duskreign
    Posts: 1,085
    I may need to make an admission. In my world, prosthetic limbs are not uncommon. They are like golems, magically animated and following the mental commands of the bearer. A person may choose to lose their sword-arm, hoping to get a golem replacement that would enable his or her character to wield a larger, heavier weapon than before, or one that has a built-in weapon. If that was something they wanted, I would try to work it into the story somehow. I'm not all about hurting my pcs. I am about rewarding them for overcoming realistic obstacles. If it is the middle of an adventure, with no way to reasonably give the person a prosthetic replacement limb or viable alternative, I would always recommend the off-hand limb so that the impact would be minimal. A player once chose to replace their off-hand with a retractable tower-shield arm.

    The point is, it might seem sick, but you're not seeing it in-context. These aren't punishments. They are challenges.
  • kenurion
    Posts: 80
    I thought I was making a joke, and you gave me a serious answer. I appreciate the context. Prosthetic replacements sound fun. I like your golem adaptation.
  • Ydeon
    Posts: 17 edited July 2010
    I've never had a PC die at my table...or even one of my own (although tomorrow's Black Flag game might end that), but here are my thoughts...I'm repeating some stuff already said, but yeah...

    In the end it is a matter of understanding between the GM and the players, and their collective choice of system/setting. If you don't want your cherished characters to die...don't play in a game where it might actually happen.

    My personal preference is for some risks, as some have said, whatever serves the story best. I will avoid fudging dice unless it is something really silly (unless the silliness is the players fault *evil smile*), and I will always go at the characters with full intensity (unless I realize that I miscalculated the encounter and notice half way through), because I learned early on that if I wasn't and I was fudging rolls I thought were too harsh or whatever, the players will zone out and not care too much, because they feel safe, and that's just no fun.

    Another important aspect is out of combat. Now if you're running D&D or similar games, heavy on combat, the RP side is usually pretty bland, limited to "Ah yes! We will safe the much do you say you pay?" After some of my last games I have come to appreciate the danger of non-combat encounters.

    I had a player in a D&D playing a barbarian, and he thought that gave him free reign to do every stupid thing that he could think of (including eating an unknown magic substance), so when he badmouthed the captain of a chapter of the royal guard and proceeded to make a rude gesture he got an arrow through it.

    This applies to much calmer settings as a game of L5R a while ago I almost messed up my characters chances of long-term survival and honor by a misplaced comment - over a simple tea-ceremony. The ST allowed me to roll to cover up, but there was real danger in the situation, even if the response wasn't going to be direct assault.

    Basically, don't pull too many punches.

    And I'll shut up now, hope I made some sense, heh.
    Post edited by Ydeon on
  • FemmeLegion
    Posts: 521
    Dusk, I love that idea of people rolling up alts and weaving them into the story background, and I may well steal that for my In Vitro campaign.
  • Duskreign
    Posts: 1,085
    On more than one occasion, one of these alt-characters have made the transition to full-bore NPC, and has grown so popular with the players that it was hard to believe the character started out as a possible replacement for someone's PC. The most potent example I can think of in this regard was the character Darien Vale. Darien was created by Andy Kilduff (Duffpool) to be a replacement for his still-active character, Boris. He and I hammered out a terrific backstory that tied in to another PC's past, a sordid affair with a beautiful raven-haired damsel that happened to be a Black Dragon in human guise. Darien was the product of that illicit one-night-stand. That gave the character weight and depth to three players: Darien's eventual player, Darien's father's player, and the team leader, who had a deep affinity for Dragons, but a long-standing trust issue with people named Vale.

    Realizing that Andy wasn't going to necessarily get the chance to use Darien, I went ahead and introduced him as a semi-auto NPC. That meant that I controlled Darien in combat and made all major plot decisions regarding the character, but I allowed Andy to handle his dialogue. Darien went over extremely well, his mere existence a total surprise to Matt, Darien's father's player. Eventually, Andy had to leave the campaign for a while, and Matt wound up adopting Darien as his own alt-pc. The campaign took place globally, with several parties of characters globetrotting around and facing deadly challenges. When Darien's father was in one part of the world, and the story we were telling on a particular week took place elsewhere, Matt would play as Darien, his own PC's illegitimate son.

    Ah, but I am way off-topic for this thread, now. I just get excited when people I respect say they like my ideas.
  • FemmeLegion
    Posts: 521
    I wouldn't call it off-topic - it's a great example of how this idea might help soften the blow of the initial PC's death, and we were initially talking about how to deal with that possibility.

    The idea also fits in pretty well with other advice I've read about getting your players involved in the creation of your world. What's funny, though, is I usually hear that advice in the context of "you need to be able to jerk the PCs around when things get stagnant, so make sure there are things in the world they love so you can threaten those things". This almost does the opposite. Giving them creative license over some of the other people in the world might make it more bearable if their PC gets benched.

    Though I started thinking about how it's usually nice when the new character is mostly in par with the rest of the party, and it made me think of this:
  • BrokenClock
    Posts: 51
    I hold nothing back as a DM. I feel, as long as I'm using encounters that are within their XP range, than I am playing by the rules. I will use the tools available to do the most damage to my party. They enjoy the challenge and I enjoy the use of strategy. If there is no risk of death, than there is no adventure.
  • gnunn
    Posts: 423
    I'll admit that I have pulled punches in my current campaign, though I did it more often early on because most of my players were new to the game. Now that they have some experience under their belts, I have started trying to incorporate tougher and more tactically savvy opponents and have stopped pulling punches... still no deaths yet.

    One potential advantage to character death is that it can potentially reduce character fatigue. I just had one of my players email me indicating that she and several other players were growing bored with the characters they have been playing for the past year and a half (I will say I have been making every effort to give them ways to spice things up... invitations to join guilds, nifty new tools, prophetic dreams etc). I'm totally open to having them retire their current characters, but occasional natural cullings could potentially alleviate future occurances of this kind of fatigue.
  • Duskreign
    Posts: 1,085
    BrokenClock, I feel the same way.

    Only very rarely will a player accuse me of going too hard on them, or having the monsters in the room act too aggressive or unfair toward them. I always explain it with the same ten words:

    They want you dead, and I want what they want.

    It's sometimes hard for players to understand that the DM is role-playing too, but instead of just having to worry about getting one character's personality right, the DM has to manage to create an entire world full of believable, consistent, and interesting beings for their singular characters to interact with. Sometimes, these interactions are civil. The PC enters a cheese shop, pleasant little town, two locals playing culturally significant melodies in the corner, and the shopkeep eager to please the new customer.

    Do you have cheddar?

    We don't get much call for it around these parts, sir.

    Civil, if aggravating.

    Some of these interactions are murderous. Like that room full of angry goblin cultists preparing the toddlers to feed Gruunthak, the Kid-Eater. Those sick bastards! Are they slathering that kid in mustard? AT THEM!

    Wait, some of them are hitting me. Why can't the game just let me win?

    Because if it did, the game isn't doing its job.
  • RaseCidraen
    Posts: 890
    I normally let the dice lie where they may, but sometimes the PCs act in ways that are, frankly, suicidal. They tend to make assumptions, but fortunately, they don't balk when they find out they assumed wrong - I've never had them claim that I withheld information that they asked for. Depending on how they roll, the information may not be -entirely- correct, which makes for some entertaining story elements, to say the least.

    The biggest problem that I have had to face when running a campaign with regards to PC death, is the fact that there are only so many punches you can pull. I recently had a Wizard trying to bargain with a Lich who had taken up residence in an abandoned temple - The Lich wasn't hostile, and just wanted to live in peace, and was perfectly open to negotiation, but he was on the same power level as the party. The issue was, true to form, the wizard with very little common sense, began to belittle a being with much more power than the Lich had - and rather than react violently, the Lich merely started to toy with the mere mortal. The encounter ended with the Lich teleporting off, but the wizard assaulted a few of it's minions, and died in the process. This left me in a bit of a quandry - the dice said the player was dead, and the player/PC knowingly bit off more than he could chew. The PC is dead now, and a new one has been woven into the story (The original party - one other player [We have a ludicrously small group with just 3 of us - but it's been hard finding new blood since I started working] has been sidelined and another PC brought in, that had been woven into the story a long time before) with a new party, but the PC's death brought the campaign to a screeching halt, almost killing it.

    When the campaign lost the wizard, along with losing one of the single-most annoying Primes I've ever had the pleasure of DMing, it also lost a lot of it's forward momentum. Much of what was going on in the plot was tied to him, and I'm not one for railroading. It meant that while the overarching plot still existed, I had to find a new way of intertwining the new party with the world as a whole - a tall order, especially because of the lost momentum/my sudden unavailability. The forums have helped, to a large extent - getting me motivated to work on the wiki and make it the best that I can - I'm actually working on developing a map for Sigil, and greatly improving the feel of the site. (The biggest problem is that I'm developing it for two people - myself and one of my players - the other doesn't seem to use it much.) Has anyone come up with a good way to get motivated again after a PC Death?
  • GM_Theo
    Posts: 1
    Personally, I make it the responsibility of the players to decide *together* how the characters in the original party (and any new party members) fit together. I let them weave together their back stories however they like, and plan based around that. Of course, I also let them know up front that while I usually won't be out to kill any characters (and I'll never be out to kill any particular character without the player's blessing), it can and probably will happen over the course of a campaign.

    It's how I play my characters, too. I've had to essentially write a character out of a game simply because the GM lost his back story, and forgot a crucial part of it. Faced with the situation in question, the character only had one viable course of action, so he took it.
  • GamingMegaverse
    Posts: 2,994
    Just wanted to say thanks to Kenurion and Duskreign for their tables- I have made one that used both of your tables, with my own twists.
    Resurrection is easy in Palladium Fantasy, so I have made some modifications. If someone dies they must roll on the Survived Death table. Also, each death adds a - 10% to the next resurrection. My longest running player is now at - 40% resurrection, and he plays like he could die at the next blow. It has truly added to the sense of danger!
    Check out my "Death Page": if you want to read more!
    "A God...Rebuilt":
    "OP's COTM April 2012":
    "Duskreign's First Ever COTM":

    Just trying to help out.

  • Leonidas300
    Posts: 273
    Characters die... and how they usually end up going down for the dirt nap is almost always on them. (poor planning, arrogance, a dumb decision). I run a hard and cruel world without character death or the possibility of character death their accomplishments mean little.

    "A Manifestation of Chaos":
    COTM - Sept. 2012

    We even have a "Graveyard": that celebrates the good and bad ways characters have bought it in our campaign.

    It's been awhile since one of em got croaked. They must be learning...
  • GamingMegaverse
    Posts: 2,994
    Leonidas, that is awesome!!! Well done with the graveyard! Been 16 sessions since your last death.....

    Just trying to help out.

  • Keryth987
    Posts: 1,039
    Well, my opinion on this varies, alot.

    The 3 yr long AD&D campaign that began my gaming group, and that I ran, had so many character deaths that the group was actually tallying up their deaths and resurrections (one ended the campaign with 22 deaths). It got so bad they had an artifact for raising dead (The Ankh of Ra) and coined the phrase, 'bonk em with the Ankh'. Don;t get me worng. The game was a blast, and some of the deaths were quite memorable (My favorite being the group climbing up a 100' high shaft on a ladder when a medusa looks down from above, turning the first guy to stone, his statue falling, and smashing at the bottom, taking 2 others with him).

    However, as my GMing has grown (that game was the first where I had REAL Role Players. Players more interested in their characters and the story than in their stats and loot), the story has become the focus for me. And it is really a PITA to weave a great story involving the group, only to have a PC die to a bad die roll. It's one of the reasons I've fallen in love with DFRPG so much. Once someone is Taken Out in a combat, the victor decides the conditions, meaning, death is not always the condition of losing a battle. Also, with the ability to concede up to the time the dice are rolled, and the players being warned that certain enemies are out to kill, accidental deaths are tough to come by.

    Don't get me wrong, my current game is dangerous - look at the writeups if you don;t believe me. Consequences in DFRPG, I think, are worse than death sometimes. Not that my group and I don't reminisce about events and character deaths over the years. We still fondly tease one of members about "The Night of Three Klingons", where in a 2nd Ed AD&D Game, he went through three separate Klingon Beserkers (2nd Ed Barbarian Kit) in one night, 2 of them in the same combat.

    Keelah Se'lai,
    "Shadows Over New York":
    "Campaign of the Month - July 2013":

  • twiggyleaf
    Posts: 1,990
    I have always like Leonidas300's Graveyard.

    A few characters died off in my Shimring campaign but in most cases, the players wanted to play new characters as well.
    While I am not averse to death, there are rules for Raise Dead, Resurrection and Reincarnation and I like to be able to let players utilize these rules as much as is reasonably possible. It's difficult at low levels, but I would always make an effort if someone REALLY didn't want to draw up a new character.

    "Shimring - The Faces of Divinity":
    "Campaign of the Month - August 2012":
    Campaign in Planning: "Mysteria": - set in Wolfgang Baur’s MIDGARD.

    "I met a traveller from an antique land....."

    CotM May 2016: Mysteria: set in Wolfgang Baur’s MIDGARD.

    Previous CotM Aug 2012: Shimring: High Level Multiplanar Campaign

    Inner Council Member

  • Adenides
    Posts: 416

    IMHO only, I feel that (as a GM) if I am killing off the players, I am NOT doing my job properly.
    Most encounters I design are LETHAL. Players can be killed off VERY easily for ANY number of reasons but I am also a firm believer in cinematic gaming.
    (Meaning over-the-top adventures and encounters that resolve favorably more often by "good roleplaying" than they do "the luck of the draw" even when the odds prove to be insurmountable)
    True that every now and then, I present players with challenges that can ONLY be resolved in ONE very specific fashion or course of action, I try not to do this as much as I used to but if a player (or group of) seems determined on killing themselves off despite all hints and clues left to suggest the best course of action...then I let 'em have it with both barrels. That said, the only time players die in my games is when they literally bring it upon may not happen often, but it DOES happen and when it does I don't lose sleep over it.
    I am positive that was of no help what so ever but that's my two cents worth.

  • PhoenixMark
    Posts: 90
    Hi all. Thought I would chime in.

    I am a huge wussy when it comes to my players griping. And they gripe. I hit one of them with a disarm maneuver, and I am taking away the character's identity (albeit it is a legendary family heirloom weapon, but still...). They gripe when they are fighting foes that are way easier than they are. I love them, and we have fun, but I get really tired of the griping. From the start, I had incorporated rules that gave them essentially "free resurrections":, because the flavor of this cosmos appealed to me. In the 2 years (11 levels) I have a total kill rate of around 7 PC deaths, none of which were permanent. The party rarely scouts, and often charges into the fray not knowing what awaits them. They don't do homework ahead of time, even though I give them plenty of clues to follow.

    I send them a hint, ask what they may wish to do while in town, and instead of following the clue, they march up to the tower to take on the baddie. On the few occasions where they did some planning (usually after the baddie handed them their asses and they finally thought about researching the enemy's weaknesses), things went well and they were successful. Yet they still gripe.

    I have implemented "Hero Tokens":, "Action Dice":, "Wounds and Vigor":, and given them other means to level the playing field (for not having the Christmas Tree of magic items) and to avoid permanent death, such as options to "Lose Limbs": and "Cheat Death": Very few of my players even know that I have created these rules, because they never read the wiki, despite my reminders. And yes, I have way too many house rules… who would want to spend time reading them?

    I have lost more characters to "I am not happy with my character, I want to change," than death. It is easy not to die, and yet they complain that the combats are too tough (and for the most part, IMO, it is because they make them harder than they need to be, through inattention and lack of planning).

    A while back, I implemented "The First Rule": This was in response to the griping. I opened a forum to discuss it. Please visit the forum "here": You can see the involvement for yourselves.

    I have to say that I do have a couple of players that work really hard to compensate, to come up with useful ideas, but sometimes they overdo it and we waste time and energy on minuscule minutia, rather than doing anything productive. When we have a session of role playing only (no combat), they are happiest. I try to mix that in as often as possible, but sometimes there is an artifact that needs retrieval and it is in a dungeon guarded by creatures that don't want them to have it.
    I have been adapting Pathfinder Society adventures (you know, the ones that are geared to be completed in 4 to 6 hours of gaming), and whose threat levels are equal to or below the party's APL. On the average, it takes 3 to 5 (6+ hour sessions) to complete.

    I know, I know… way off topic. I am myself just griping now. Sorry.

    Needless to say, I feel that I am the failure. I work super hard every week, and have done so for over 2 years. My players all have great characters with motivations and personalities, but I feel the players are not invested, and there is nothing I can do to change that.

    Getting back to topic, I don't advise making house rules to change the problem of character death being either too frequent or too rare. I have bent backwards and sideways to please my group, and nothing has helped. They die. They don't die. And we all meet the next Friday because on some level, we all are having fun.

    My next campaign will be a lot different, and I am already working on it, fool that I am.

    Please don't respond to my off topic comments here in the forum, feel free to PM me. And thanks for reading through it. If nothing else, it let me get a few things off my chest. :)


    "COTM June 2012":

    Also "Sactown Blues": and "Shimmering Kingdoms":
  • Etarnon
    Posts: 3 edited October 2013
    Two ways, well generally two ways to go here.

    This is covered in the 3.5 manuals.

    This is not just from that, but from memory and having done this stuff as a GM for a while.

    "Role Players" feel like they're in a continuing series of novels where the character will live throughout the series; they should come close to death,but scrape through. Games that cater to this have luck points, force points or high hit points. Weapons do not do critical hits, there is no ongoing scarring or damage. all players generally expect to survive.

    "Gritty Realistic" Players want to know that the risk of death is real. If the game is fluffy bunny hop, they don't want to play, because there is no challenge. There is no risk, when everyone will make it through, when healing is easy, damage is light. The most Antithetical game to this would be a Soap Opera type game where it is all talking no action, and no one really gets hurt. The most extreme for of this is military gaming, like a very harsh BattleTech/Mechwarror game, one shot can kill a pilot. Or Delta Force RPG, where it is a straight up more or less hard core simulation.

    Neither approach is wrong, but a GM of one style will frustrate players of another, and many players have only learned one way, and enjoy one way so the clash comes when it is not discussed. Players come at it like "this is how these games are PLAYED."

    Thus your argument.

    I always set up, up front in my recruiting ads for games like Traveller, BattleTech, Twilight:2000, Recon, Top Secret:Commando that this is a gritty, realistic game. many characters will likely die, I am not pushing for it, but if the dice so dictate, I'm letting it stand, be advised, and generate a character and play accordingly. Thus during my games, players are cautious, do not wade in to battle and know an enemy anti-ship missile strike or artillery or whatever will blow PCs to bits. They often talk about it in character, about making it home, ending the tour, etc. That''s my Preferred style. But I also run fluffier, softer games like Star Wars D6, where most if not all players will survive, the thing is here, many will be lost to dark side and corruption, but may then be redeemed.

    OP. You are not wrong, neither are they. Just two different ways and styles of preferred gaming.

    If I were you, and I've been there, have a frank discussion. You expect a game with no edge or chance of loss to have no teeth. They want a game where all players survive, and any risk is more or less that was fun and risky, but yeah we did it, and next adventure.

    Ask them if there is a way this can mesh, since in your mind, If I am guessing, you prefer more of the former than latter.

    Players who like the first way go into all sorts of WORK on their characters, back story etc, and tend to feel cheated when all that work is "destroyed, by the Killer DM."

    Players who prefer the latter tend to take it like their PC is an acting job, KIA, dead PC, gen up a new one, here we go that was fun, next adventure.

    Cannot really have both styles, I personally think. Pick a style recruit for that, tell players not your style, That isn't my flavor.

    In future define up front your style for that game. you might run a game for them their style, to keep the peace, and your style for your fun.

    I've done it both ways. All depends on the group, the game, the players, etc.

    But when i am gonna make it hard core, I let people know. Up front, well ahead.
    Post edited by Etarnon on
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