PDA

View Full Version : The Story Calls for it?



Thrawn183
2009-03-02, 03:03 PM
Alright, so character death comes up for discussion pretty frequently on these boards. I have repeatedly heard people, presumably speaking as DM or GM, say that they will only kill a PC "if the story calls for it."

Can someone please tell me what that's supposed to mean? I understand and endorse characters dying because they get unlucky on a save or a monster gets a critical at just the wrong time. I think that if a level 2 character decides to challenge the most powerful creature they can find in one-on-one combat there is a good chance they'll end up a little smear on the wall.

But what is "if the story calls for it" supposed to mean? Do DM's out there really go to their players and say, "hey, I think it would add dramatic tension if the paladin sacrificed his/her life to save the party in two weeks while fighting the insane elder fire elemental" (or something else along those lines)?

I've been on the receiving end of something somewhat similar once and it was terrible. What am I missing?

Ire
2009-03-02, 03:06 PM
I take it to mean its party of the Quest. Like...Mephistopheles Gates in, kills your character, leaves a cryptic message, your party tries to solve the mystery. Death can be used as an adventuring hook or a plot element. If you played Baldur's Gate, you die and have to fight Irenicus in hell, its part of the story.

And when the DM pulls you to the side and tells you he wants you die, or be mind controlled/possessed, you're a roleplayer...DEAL WITH IT.

Zaq
2009-03-02, 03:15 PM
I think it's a matter of how important to The Plot the actual battle is. Fighting the BBEG's lieutenant? Acceptable. Ganked by a wandering monster? Lame. You see the difference? The story doesn't call for the death specifically, it calls for the battles, and if those battles RESULT in death, that's acceptable. Minor battles, however, while fun, don't really add anything to the plot, and no one wants to be "Sir Hero, who valiantly risked and ultimately lost his life fighting an owlbear that showed up out of nowhere on the way to the cultists' temple."

The point is that it's not the death that matters, it's the battle that caused the death.

Winterwind
2009-03-02, 03:31 PM
But what is "if the story calls for it" supposed to mean? Do DM's out there really go to their players and say, "hey, I think it would add dramatic tension if the paladin sacrificed his/her life to save the party in two weeks while fighting the insane elder fire elemental" (or something else along those lines)?Not DMs, but I have seen players do exactly that. Deciding that the best, most dramatic thing to happen in the story at that particular moment would include the sacrifice (or differently caused death, anyhow) of their character, and following through with that.

And another thing would be games like Call of Cthulhu, where it is part of the premise that a good part of the characters will not make it out alive (and those who do probably not while retaining their sanity), as the players and keeper (CoC DM) are trying to construct a horror story in the vein of Lovecraft's stories and enjoy the scary, paranoid atmosphere, where you know that something is likely to get you sooner or later.

Woodsman
2009-03-02, 03:47 PM
The DM in a campaign I'm running has killed twice now, and he doesn't seem to think it's part of the story.

Granted, once someone was going to die no matter what, but that was early on, to show he's not the kind of DM who only gives us what we can beat.

Then he killed another character, but that character (and another) brought it upon himself, honestly. Seriously, what good reason is there for keeping a medusa prisoner?

Sstoopidtallkid
2009-03-02, 03:54 PM
I take it to mean its party of the Quest. Like...Mephistopheles Gates in, kills your character, leaves a cryptic message, your party tries to solve the mystery. Death can be used as an adventuring hook or a plot element. If you played Baldur's Gate, you die and have to fight Irenicus in hell, its part of the story.

And when the DM pulls you to the side and tells you he wants you die, or be mind controlled/possessed, you're a roleplayer...DEAL WITH IT. I don't like that much. Yes, th DM is writing the story, but the players write the characters. They shouldn't lose something they put a lot of effort into because the DM can't find a better way to add drama.

Blackfang108
2009-03-02, 04:11 PM
Then he killed another character, but that character (and another) brought it upon himself, honestly. Seriously, what good reason is there for keeping a medusa prisoner?

Snake Fetish?

Petrification fetish?

Rule 34, dood.

bosssmiley
2009-03-02, 04:33 PM
I don't like that much. Yes, the DM is writing the story, but the players write the characters. They shouldn't lose something they put a lot of effort into because the DM can't find a better way to add drama.

I'd go even further than STK in purism.

The players - not the DM - are the prime movers of D&D: they are the ones playing out the roles of people in a fictional world. The PCs should ideally have total freedom of choice in their interaction with the D&D gameworld. This includes the freedom to take the consequences of their chosen actions, be that for good or bad. It is the role of the DM to tell his players what happens to their characters as a result of their choices; not to ram his pet plotlines down the players collective throat.

To reiterate: the players are the pro-active element in D&D; a good DM reacts to their choices.

A DM should only ever announce character death as the result of player choice or inaction. Of course, letting a player take the consequences of a bad choice is part-and-parcel of this, that's why one of the classic DM catch-phrases is "Are you sure?" But dictating what happens to a PC in place of fairly refereeing a situation is nothing short of god-moding. :smallannoyed:

D&D requires give-and-take and mutual trust among everyone at the table. If the players discover they have no control over the direction of their characters' narrative then they're perfectly justified in going and playing a JRPG instead. It's the same thing, but with better VFX.

That said, some players do come to the table with a desired narrative arc for their character. They decide, either from the outset or during play, that they want their character to fall in love, die heroically, find redemption, succumb to temptation, or whatever. A good DM will listen to these hopes and try to make them an element of the game, just like good jazz musicians make improvised riffs into part of a greater whole. By contrast, a bad DM will come to the table with his preconceived plot, and - like some neckbearded Procrustes - will try to force the PCs willynilly into set roles.

Satyr
2009-03-02, 05:08 PM
Like most playstyling questions, this is mostly a matter of taste. There are, more or less two extremes of campaigns - one extreme is a completely character-driven, "sandbox" game where all elements of the plot derives from the character's choices and actions and the potential demise are therefore completely dependant on the character's options - or some unfortunate die rolls. This includes all games were at least some character decisions are dependant on dice rolls or mechanical character traits, like Pendragon.
Often, players in such a campaign strongly identify with their characters and are therefore easily frustrated or personally offended when something seemingly arbitrarily bad happens to the character, which often includes a stronger plot armor.

The other extreme are completely plot-driven games, were the player characters are like fate's personal chew toys and have little to no influence on the development of the plot's events. In a campaign like this, the characters aren't as important as the story and have not nearly as much influence. In such a campaign, characters have less personal significance and are not regarded as alter egos and more like pawns in the game; in this case their survival is not as important and there is little to no problem to sacrifice them for a good story, and have little to no plot armor.

Naturally, most campaigns do not take place in these extremes, but somewhere inbetween and combine certain elements of both playing styles, and like always, there is no "right" or "wrong" way to play it, as long as the group consents on the playing style.

I have rarely seen that characters are killed for plot reasons, but are spared for it. I have seen it quite often that characters have a certain amount of plot protection in insignificant confrontations, but can die in major conflicts, boss fights, etc.

I think it may be useful to actually kill a character for plot reasons if the player of that character is okay with that. Especially when the rest of the group is totally taken by surprise by this sudden death. The shocked look on their faces is priceless.
Besides, I normally take as little consideration and mercy in the very first adventure, especially with games where the characters start on a certain competence level, while the first adventure is meant to be tough and mean. Living through hell together is a great of bonding characters, especially when they have mutual friends to mourn. But just kill characters through Gamemaster fiat is a bit too simple and unimaginative for my taste.

Colmarr
2009-03-02, 09:33 PM
I think it's a matter of how important to The Plot the actual battle is. Fighting the BBEG's lieutenant? Acceptable. Ganked by a wandering monster? Lame. You see the difference? The story doesn't call for the death specifically, it calls for the battles, and if those battles RESULT in death, that's acceptable. Minor battles, however, while fun, don't really add anything to the plot, and no one wants to be "Sir Hero, who valiantly risked and ultimately lost his life fighting an owlbear that showed up out of nowhere on the way to the cultists' temple."

The point is that it's not the death that matters, it's the battle that caused the death.

I 100% agree with this, but I think I'd clarify it more.

When most DM's say that they'll kill a PC if the story calls for it, what they are actually saying is that the gloves don't come off unless the real bad guys are involved. Random orc mook #13 isn't going to go around coup-de-gracing PCs unless the party is REALLY dumb. Conversely, when the big bads appear, "all's fair in love and war".

Raum
2009-03-02, 10:34 PM
Alright, so character death comes up for discussion pretty frequently on these boards. I have repeatedly heard people, presumably speaking as DM or GM, say that they will only kill a PC "if the story calls for it."

<snip>

I've been on the receiving end of something somewhat similar once and it was terrible. What am I missing?I doubt you're missing anything. To me, there's a big difference between consequences for actions and death by plot. The second is only a good thing if the player agreed to it ahead of time. Otherwise it's GM fiat at best and GM animosity at worst. The first (consequences for player action) is simple immersion and verisimilitude. When a player sticks his character in a meatgrinder, he should expect ground meat. But the choice of whether or not to go there should be the player's.

Moofaa
2009-03-02, 10:41 PM
In the cthulu game I play in I have become attached to my character (nicknamed 'The Punisher') even though I know there is a good chance he is going to die.

There have been multiple hints/threats thrown at him that 'The Others' want him dead.

As long as my character goes down in a blaze of glory, hail of bullets, and matrix-time fireball effects I am cool with it. I pretty much play him as a doomed man anyways with the chain smoking/drinking and always being the first character to enter every doorway.

When one of the other players first met my character he was being chased by a werewolf. Everyones plan was to get to the boat (I was already on it) and cast off for safety.

As he is running up the dock the GM describes "Suddenly a large man leaps from the shadowed confines of the boat. His black trencoat billows behind him as he lands on the dock in front of you, simulatneously drawing two handguns, wordlessly he passes you running full-tilt back towards the howls of the werewolf, a wisp of smoke from a lit-cigarette trailing behind him."

Thats when I got the nickname 'The Punisher'.

Mordar
2009-03-02, 10:47 PM
Alright, so character death comes up for discussion pretty frequently on these boards. I have repeatedly heard people, presumably speaking as DM or GM, say that they will only kill a PC "if the story calls for it."

Can someone please tell me what that's supposed to mean? I understand and endorse characters dying because they get unlucky on a save or a monster gets a critical at just the wrong time. I think that if a level 2 character decides to challenge the most powerful creature they can find in one-on-one combat there is a good chance they'll end up a little smear on the wall.

But what is "if the story calls for it" supposed to mean? Do DM's out there really go to their players and say, "hey, I think it would add dramatic tension if the paladin sacrificed his/her life to save the party in two weeks while fighting the insane elder fire elemental" (or something else along those lines)?

I've been on the receiving end of something somewhat similar once and it was terrible. What am I missing?

I say a very similar line...the PCs/Heroes are the protaganists of *our* story, so I will go out of my way to make sure they do not die unless they go out of their way to make sure they do. Random dice rolls (particularly in say, D&D at midlevel and beyond) that cause death should not, IMO, lead to death, unless the player wants to change characters.


I 100% agree with this, but I think I'd clarify it more.

When most DM's say that they'll kill a PC if the story calls for it, what they are actually saying is that the gloves don't come off unless the real bad guys are involved. Random orc mook #13 isn't going to go around coup-de-gracing PCs unless the party is REALLY dumb. Conversely, when the big bads appear, "all's fair in love and war".

QFT - exactly this.

- M

Thrawn183
2009-03-03, 12:12 AM
The idea of encounters where PC's should never die has never made sense to me. Why roll it out? The outcome is already decided, isn't it just a waste of time? And frankly, if a PC does die against an encounter that they were supposed to steamroll, doesn't that mean that the encounter.... was actually a challenge?

On the complete flipside, sure some situations are way to difficult for the PC's, but if I was say.... a rogue with a scroll of teleport as a last ditch escape plan you can bet I'd want to see if I made a natural 20 on my save and then teleport away.

I'll give an example of what I'm talking about.
Every member in my party had a macguffin type item. We walk into a room to fulfill an ancient prophecy when a bunch of demons and devils appear. The walls instantly are covered with walls of force and a dimensional lock effect covers the entire room. The demons and devils pop antimagic fields and slaughter us. Our macguffins become these ancient beings of increadible power (ie. a high CR giant with 20 levels of swordsage or something along those lines) and we then kill the demons and devils as easily as they killed us. They res us and then disappear without saying a word. We continue on our merry way. We rolled the whole thing out and it took hours.

Turns out that the DM was using it as a backup in case we all got TPK'd. The problem? She wanted it to happen before the next part of the plot. I'm 100% certain that if we'd been TPK'd prior to that, the demons and devils wouldn't have been in that room. Considering this was the second time the DM decided that my character needed to die via AMF I was a little irritated.

I can understand a player wanting their character to go out in a blaze of glory. Then again, that's the player wanting it for their character, not the DM.

Colmarr
2009-03-03, 12:29 AM
The idea of encounters where PC's should never die has never made sense to me.

I don't think anyone has really proposed that there should be encounters where "PCs should never die". There will always be risk in any D&D combat, but there's a big difference between the DM playing to challenge the PCs and actively trying to kill them. Except in rare groups (I've never personally been in one but they must exist), that's the difference between the DM playing the game with the players and playing the game against them.

Coup de Gracing in general combat has always struck me as crossing that line.

I'll give an example. In the climactic encounter in our 4e KotS campaign, we successfully managed to push the BBEG into his own portal, killing him and spoiling his plans. 3 mooks were left behind, and we were having trouble finishing them off.

My PC went down and dying in round 6, and the fight didn't actually end until round 8. In each of those subsequent rounds, my PC was adjacent to a mook who could have chosen to CdG him, even though they were engaged in melee combat with allies of mine.

The DM chose not to. Why? Because the purpose of the encounter (confront the BBEG and foil his plans) had already have been achieved, and Coup de Gracing my PC would simply have been an act of bastardry by him.

At the end of the day, we all play D&D to have fun. Losing a character (particularly in anti-climactic circumstances) is rarely fun for either the DM or the player. So why do it?

Sure, there needs to be a risk to make encounters exciting, but the loss of enjoyment for the player needs to be carefully weighed against the benefits.

Archpaladin Zousha
2009-03-03, 12:53 AM
Our DM for an online RP has a DMPC due to the limited number of players, but has plans for her to be killed and possessed by the Big Bad, while the rest of us meet his new character, the child of a powerful vistani witch and a god of dreams, who'll be instrumental to the plot, taking her mother's place as the spiritual leader of the vistani and wife to her divine father, following the end of the campaign.

Now before you get all bent out of shape, there's no power trip there, or if there is, the rest of us are gonna be power tripping. My character's Pelor-given destiny is to locate Moil, The City That Waits, break Orcus's hold over it, restore it to the world and reconsecrate it in Pelor's name, ruling it as a god-king before being gathered up to Hestavar to serve as an exarch of Pelor.

Our warforged fighter plans on leading his people out of the undead-infested underground to establish a new home on the surface.

Callos_DeTerran
2009-03-03, 12:55 AM
The players - not the DM - are the prime movers of D&D: they are the ones playing out the roles of people in a fictional world. The PCs should ideally have total freedom of choice in their interaction with the D&D gameworld.

I'd have to disagree with this. The players are a mover in a fictional world. More often then not, especially from what I've seen, they are actually the reactionary force as opposed to the DM. Something happens, they respond. Once the problem is handled, they wait until the next crisis/plothook to come along and respond again.

And sometimes there just isn't choice involved with the interaction. What, do you ask your PC's if the villian can kidnap the loved ones of one of their characters? Do you seek permission to activate the doomsday device of the BBEG? :smallwink: Neigh say I! You do it because it IS part of the story and accept the fact the PCs can choose not to react to those things in favor of rooting out a kobold den. You say the players should have total freedom, but then that would invalidate putting timers on quests or plots that might end badly if not pursued because the players didn't choose to have a time limit.


On a more serious note, I don't think players should have total choice but that's because I have some stupid players (not being mean, some of them honestly don't think before acting) or would try somethign completely broken simply because it was funny and where heedless that it'd ruin the game for the other players. The DM has the right, no the duty, to prevent choices like that from coming up to preserve the 'fun' of all the players. A good DM shouldn't give total choice, but shouldn't have total control either. A nice middle ground needs to be established to provide the most freedom without choice (if that idea doesn't make sense, don't worry about it) to the players within the story the DM wants to tell and still let the players have the impact they want to make.

Deepblue706
2009-03-03, 03:15 AM
I don't like to plan deaths. Death is something that happens in the game. With rolling, and chance, and whatnot. I find it gets too contrived if people die too conveniently.

To prevent death from ruining "the story", I just make sure that individual PCs are absolutely meaningless, as far as the plot goes. :smallbiggrin:

Alternatively, I'll sometimes just make every friggin encounter absurdly epic, so that nobody cares about the outcome, because they're too distracted by how cool it played out anyway. But, that takes work. :smallannoyed:

I will admit that I do give the PCs plenty of chances to avoid death when it'd be lame. The only time they're really screwed is when dealing with criticals, or fighting mindless enemies who can't understand the words: "I surrender."

Tsotha-lanti
2009-03-03, 03:41 AM
Can someone please tell me what that's supposed to mean?

"I'm going to charge the huge fire-breathing dragon!"
"You're incinerated."

"I'm going to charge the mob of hitmen with my monofilament-blade katana!"
"You're shot dead."

"I'm going to charge the quivering mound of flesh and lashing tentacles with my flashlight and Luger!"
"You're lashed to death by tentacles. Oh, but first you go mad."

That's basically what it means to me. I dislike seeing PCs die by random chance, but I'm quite happy to kill them with no dice rolls if they choose death. Heck, I'm even happy with something more active - like in a realistic game, killing a PC with poison without any rolls because they accepted and imbided a drink from someone they knew had it out for them.

Winterwind
2009-03-03, 09:34 AM
I'd go even further than STK in purism.

The players - not the DM - are the prime movers of D&D: they are the ones playing out the roles of people in a fictional world. The PCs should ideally have total freedom of choice in their interaction with the D&D gameworld. This includes the freedom to take the consequences of their chosen actions, be that for good or bad. It is the role of the DM to tell his players what happens to their characters as a result of their choices; not to ram his pet plotlines down the players collective throat.

To reiterate: the players are the pro-active element in D&D; a good DM reacts to their choices.

A DM should only ever announce character death as the result of player choice or inaction. Of course, letting a player take the consequences of a bad choice is part-and-parcel of this, that's why one of the classic DM catch-phrases is "Are you sure?" But dictating what happens to a PC in place of fairly refereeing a situation is nothing short of god-moding. :smallannoyed:

D&D requires give-and-take and mutual trust among everyone at the table. If the players discover they have no control over the direction of their characters' narrative then they're perfectly justified in going and playing a JRPG instead. It's the same thing, but with better VFX.

That said, some players do come to the table with a desired narrative arc for their character. They decide, either from the outset or during play, that they want their character to fall in love, die heroically, find redemption, succumb to temptation, or whatever. A good DM will listen to these hopes and try to make them an element of the game, just like good jazz musicians make improvised riffs into part of a greater whole. By contrast, a bad DM will come to the table with his preconceived plot, and - like some neckbearded Procrustes - will try to force the PCs willynilly into set roles.A most excellent post. Kudos to you, good sir.

JerryMcJerrison
2009-03-03, 10:33 AM
I hope I never try to kill off any of my players for the sake of the story. They mostly just want to kill stuff, despite my best efforts. Heck, they got annoyed when the main villain made an appearance during the second session and got away. They expected him to stay and fight to the death, fighting 4 people with macguffins (the players) and 2 inhuman magic lizard people (mentors) alone.:smallannoyed:

Xenogears
2009-03-03, 12:38 PM
Coup de Gracing in general combat has always struck me as crossing that line.
I'll give an example. In the climactic encounter in our 4e KotS campaign, we successfully managed to push the BBEG into his own portal, killing him and spoiling his plans. 3 mooks were left behind, and we were having trouble finishing them off.
My PC went down and dying in round 6, and the fight didn't actually end until round 8. In each of those subsequent rounds, my PC was adjacent to a mook who could have chosen to CdG him, even though they were engaged in melee combat with allies of mine.
The DM chose not to. Why? Because the purpose of the encounter (confront the BBEG and foil his plans) had already have been achieved, and Coup de Gracing my PC would simply have been an act of bastardry by him.


Although In the example you gave Coup de Gracing would be just being a jerk it doesn't mean it always is even if only a random enemy kills does it. The reason it would be being a jerk is because in your example the enemy would be stupid to do so as it would not give him immediate benefit and is risky. On the other hand if the players have defeated all of the enemies except one and he happens to be next to a fallen but still alive PC then it would make sense for him to do it. To metaphorically spit in the faces of his opponents before he dies or escapes.

I think that characters should be able to be killed by any and all enemies if they are unlucky or stupid enough. I also disagree with the person who said that he would kill PC's instantly without Dice Rolls if they did something sufficiently stupid enough. Some examples were drinking an obvious poison or charging a clearly stronger opponent. The game likely already will make sure that the character will die from being dumb, but if they manage to get incredibly lucky and pull a win out of nowhere then it should be hailed as an awesome thing. Give the character the chance to get lucky and single handedly take down a Dragon at level 4. more than 99% of the time he IS going to die horribly but you should still give them the chance.

Mordar
2009-03-03, 01:02 PM
The idea of encounters where PC's should never die has never made sense to me. Why roll it out? The outcome is already decided, isn't it just a waste of time? And frankly, if a PC does die against an encounter that they were supposed to steamroll, doesn't that mean that the encounter.... was actually a challenge?

I can understand a player wanting their character to go out in a blaze of glory. Then again, that's the player wanting it for their character, not the DM.

What I'd like you to consider is this - death is not the only penalty for losing a battle. In some games, resurrection is rare and costly if it is available at all, so death can actually be a final penalty. I think perhaps this is the key difference in our opinions.

I completely understand and agree with your point if your statement was changed from "...where PCs should never die..." to "...where PCs should never lose...". Challenge, risk and reward are all important elements of encounters. Regardless of the game purpose (level racing, pure story, mixed) if the encounter doesn't pose a challenge or advance the story (provide clues, lead to bigger encounters, serve to reduce/risk fighting capacity) it shouldn't be "rolled through", IMO.

As far as the PCs dying in an encounter that should have been a cakewalk (based on, say, CRs)...if they died because the kobolds made clever use of terrain, combat tactics and exploited weakness and arrogance on the PCs part, then yes...they died because it was a challenge. If on the other hand one of them died because of three max-damage critical hits from the orc guards in the surprise round of combat just as the story begins, then no, it wasn't a challenge based on the story, it was a challenge based on the dice rolls. There are plenty of games out there that are just dice-roll based (Yatzhee...Buttonmen...Risk), so reducing D&D to this level can be frustrating for some players.

I always want the gaming experience to be *ours*, not the DMs or PCs exclusively. The DM is not there to serve the players' whims, so there will be some 'conflict' in the story, but I never ever want the game to be DM vs. PCs with the conflict spilling out onto the table.

Thus, losing the chance to gain loot, information opportunities, expending supplies/time to heal and recover, failing in the primary mission of the adventure, even the possibility of having a PC/NPC captured - these are all penalties to losing a fight. It doesn't have to be "Win-or-Die, All-or-Nothing" every encounter in every campaign.

All of that being said, if it was made clear in the beginning or evolved over time that the game would be high-death, high-reroll/rez, then the perspective totally changes. Even some of us low-frequency-death types can find that fun if we go into it knowing that's the style.

In the end, expectations and group enjoyment (DM and PCs!) are the primary factors on this decision, and the only negative tension arises when the expectations of play style aren't known in advance.

- M

Fixer
2009-03-03, 02:17 PM
In my present campaign, death is a revolving door by intention. I fashioned the part of the game world the PCs are in to have the True Resurrection effect similar to that of Valhalla (complete with minor Positive planar trait) for PCs and NPCs alike. The game is more political than combat-oriented so I don't expect a character to die unless their player makes a spectacularly bad decision, or has incredibly bad luck. I will not go out of my way to kill them unless they actually upset someone in-game enough to make their demise worth spending the resources.

So, it is all a matter of setup. I expect characters to die and plan for them to be returned from the dead with minimum inconvenience. As they level up, their jobs are more likely to take them outside the deathless region and into an area they CAN die, where I expect they will be a bit more anxious. Even then, I would allow a 'random encounter' to kill them if they were unlucky. Given they are members of larger houses I expect someone would search for their body and (maybe) have them returned from the dead if they were important enough.

The REAL loss that can occur in my present campaign is loss of face/influence. Dying will certainly put a damper on one's ability to demonstrate they are a capable and powerful individual. Thus, dying still has a consequence, just not a final one.

Swordguy
2009-03-03, 04:47 PM
Okay, here's the default manner in which I handle character deaths in my games, because I'm a big believer in "...unless the story calls for it" theory.

Nobody...nobody...likes dying like a biatch. And there's SO MANY ways it can happen. Whether the orc with the greataxe gets 5 critical hits in a row, or the wizard pulls off a Celerity/Time Stop/you die combo, or some gutter punk with a gun stages up his damage code 18 times, or your die rolls are so horrendous tonight you haven't succeeded on anything, or what have you...nobody has fun dying in circumstances in which they can't really do anything about*.

And, since I'm the GM, my VERY FIRST DUTY, above everything else a GM has to do, is make sure that I do my best to ensure that EVERYBODY has fun. Since I'm the GM, I can do a lot to ensure that happens. One of those things is modifying, or even outright cheating, in such a way that makes sure nobody goes out like a biatch.

Now, there's times when they SHOULD go out like that. The 1st level fighter who charges the Great Wyrm, the guy who sticks his head inside the stone demon's mouth (heh...Sphere of Annihilation in the statues mouth. That never gets old.), the guy who just does something terminally dumb via his own free will...these are situation in which I as the GM need to know to step back and let play out. You can only protect players so much, and they need to know their choices have consequences.

But that doesn't mean I have to play only by the dice all the time. I don't have to coup-de-grace the player who's down during a swirling melee, even if it's the tactically optimal thing to do. People make mistakes - and so should NPCs. I don't have to have the wizard lead off with Celerity/Time Stop. I don't have to present a no-win situation in which the paladin either dies or falls. I don't have to read the dice perfectly every time. I'm a GM. I have that freedom, and that power, and I should use it responsibly and for the greater enjoyment of the group.

When I start games, I pass out a sheet I cribbed from AEG's 7th Sea - it's an Errol Flynn-style swashbuckling game. On it, I ask the players to tell me how they want their PCs to die. "Assuming ressurrection was impossible, what manner of death (what circumstances) would make you the player "satisfied" with the death of your PC?" Now, in the actual 7th Sea game, you're actually guaranteed, by the RAW, NEVER TO DIE except in these circumstances (which has the effect of taking the burden of death off the players and allowing them to try cooler stuff than "I hit it with a stick"). In my games that aren't 7th Sea, I tell them that the players have limited protection from death in that they won't die except in "major lot-centric encounters, under the circumstances given here, or by, in my opinion, your own stupidity". It has a similar effect - players loosen up during random encounters and try stuff that's "non-optimal" but visually cooler (disarms, stunts, etc), and they buckle down when the plot-centric encounters start up.

It also was a wonderful way of focusing the specific player to the task when you start outline a scene very similar to the one they described in their response - they get VERY nervous.

I've gone a bit afield, I think, but I hope it's clear. Players play a game to have fun. Nobody has fun by dying randomly and without purpose. Saying "you won't die unless the story calls for it" is simply a method of limited protection of beloved characters from that ignomious fate. Characters CAN still die, and most importantly still fail (don't get "can't die" mixed up with "can't fail"!), but I've found that this method of play maximizes enjoyment for everyone involved. If if we aren't having fun, then what's the point?


*Some games DO call for a different playstyle, notably Call of Cthulhu, various cyberpunk games, and Paranoia. This describes my "default" - please don't think I don't modify this policy based on the spirit of the game being played.

Tengu_temp
2009-03-03, 05:02 PM
Alright, so character death comes up for discussion pretty frequently on these boards. I have repeatedly heard people, presumably speaking as DM or GM, say that they will only kill a PC "if the story calls for it."

Can someone please tell me what that's supposed to mean?

I could write a lengthy post here, but it all simply boils down to "if the player's reaction to his PC's death was not 'poop, my favorite guy is dead' but 'woah, that was awesome!', then it was okay to kill it".

Mark Hall
2009-03-03, 05:09 PM
The DM chose not to. Why? Because the purpose of the encounter (confront the BBEG and foil his plans) had already have been achieved, and Coup de Gracing my PC would simply have been an act of bastardry by him.

It depends, in my opinion.

If they were in a general melee, CdG wouldn't have been bastardry, it would've been poor tactical sense, since it would give his opponent a chance to stab him (even if 4e doesn't give OAs on CdG, you're still not acting against the guy in front of you).

However, if you'd been drawn off to the side by the Grima Wormtongue, who no one was paying attention to... yeah, getting stabbed should happen, because your party isn't watching your back, and is counting on "PC Shield" to protect you.

In a recent game, I had been knocked unconscious; our party cleric is part wizard; our party wizard knocked me down with an ice-sheet spell whose name escapes me, and then the cleric hit me with a thunderwave that shot me 5 squares... 2 back, I hit the pit (to be fair to Friar Hubert, I was in a sphere of darkness). So, I'm subzero, at the bottom of a pit. There's an undead hand down there. It's not bastardry that the DM had it try to strangle me... it's a reasonable action, given our situation.

Fortinbras
2009-03-04, 11:15 PM
I killed off a PC because the story called for it. They were supposed to erect a fort in this small town. The guy who was playing a scout walked up the "guards" who were really some eleven year olds playing soldier. He tells them that he is stageing a military takeover and that if they don't do what he says they will be brutally murdered. Being kids and all they run away screaming. The scout then shoots one of them. When an angry mob attacks him he tries to stand and fight. The rest of the party stay out of way of the fight and hold back the npc soldiers that they are in comand of. After they beat him down I ruled that the remaining commoners cdg him because mobs tend to comit overkill (pun inteneded.) The player then whined that the mob didn't attack the entire party instead of just focusing on him.

On the other hand my DM keeps talking about things he wants to do to my character...

Colmarr
2009-03-05, 01:31 AM
Stuff by Xenogears and Mark Hall

I think the "distinctions" you're both drawing aren't really distinctions. We are all effectively saying "A DM shouldn't pick on a character that is down and out unless there are no other reasonable options available to them".

In my example, it was reasonable for the monk to try to defend himself against active attackers - hence he shouldn't have (and didn't) CdG my PC.

In the undead hand example, there was no reasonable alternative for the hand other so it had to attempt to strangle the unconscious PC.

Having said that, I'm not sure I agree with Xenogears' opinion of what consitutes a reasonable decision by an outnumbered opponent - but that an issue for another thread (which I won't be starting).