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  1. - Top - End - #1
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    OldWizardGuy

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    Default Player Character death and how to handle it

    A common criticism I get as a GM is that I am too nice with my players. Generally speaking, I do not work against my players I want them to succeed and thus I don't tend to put their characters in so much danger that they're constantly at risk of dying.

    With that said, I do not shy away from dangerous battles, and I usually have a disclaimer with my players that "Stupidity will not be met with sympathy". To that end, I usually only kill off player characters at the player's request (for re-rolling) or if they do something genuinely dumb (such as challenge a Death Knight to a duel at lvl. 5) I'm also varied with my specific players. There are several players who are veterans of DnD, for them I'm less merciful as they know what's up and want to have a sense of danger. Meanwhile, I have three players who have never played before, and I want them to feel like this is accessible and fun so I tend to go easy on them. I have allowed their characters to get away with some lunacy.

    The other reason why I tend be a bit kinder is because, for some odd reason, the newer players seem to think Death=Game Over, you can't play anymore. I make a point of reminding my players that should one of them die, they can reroll a character, and they won't have to start all the way back at lvl. 1.

    How do you guys handle PC death? have you guys had players get angry or upset at you for killing a character? Do you judge with an even-hand, or do you stand rigidly by what the dice roll?

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    DrowGuy

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    Default Re: Player Character death and how to handle it

    Here's how I see it. I have a friend who got angry the first time one of his characters died, but he got over character deaths after that point. If players' characters never die, they'll never get used to character deaths, and you'll be stuck in a vicious cycle. Just let them die. They might get mad the first gime, but they need that initial exposure or you'll be stuck not killing their characters forever.
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    Default Re: Player Character death and how to handle it

    I tend to play games where PC death is out of my hands. For example, Torchbearer.

    If the party tries to kill the Hellhound instead of running away or driving it off then everyone knows they're going to die if they lose. And the combat mechanics are transparent so everyone knows why they lost if they lose.

    If the cleric tries to swim through an underwater passage when they're already sick then they know they're probably going to die if they fail. Technically I could give some other consequence instead, but death is the natural one there and everyone knows it.

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    Default Re: Player Character death and how to handle it

    The online group I played with were (mostly) incredibly precious about their characters and could not handle the thought of dying. The IRL group I currently play with are totally cool with dying, accept it as part of the game and are generally very chill as long as they feel like they weren't put in some situation unfairly or railroaded to their demise.

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    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: Player Character death and how to handle it

    I play systems where player characters won't die unless the players really are asking for it. I can mean it figuratively (the player can either fold or keep going but if it's the latter the character can die - and that's what they pick), or literally (character death arranged beforehand).

    Either way it works out great. It's very good GMing exercise too - coming up with ways to threaten the characters and making the stakes important without just trying to kill someone. I sincerely recommend it.

    As a side effect, players tend to be more attached to their characters and as a result get more into the game if they know losing that character isn't just a series of unlucky rolls (or a single unlucky roll, or a particularly mean-spirited GM...) away. The more deadly your campaign, the more likely your players are to consider their characters as 100% disposable, just a personality-less collection of numbers on a sheet of paper.

    EDIT:
    Oh yeah, for purposes of the thread I suggest we define player character death as anything that causes the player the permanent loss of their character and forces them to either make a new one or stop playing. In systems with easy resurrection like DnD, normal death is rarely final unless a TPK happens. I find that cheapening the experience quite a bit.
    Last edited by tensai_oni; 2017-05-06 at 04:07 PM.

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    Default Re: Player Character death and how to handle it

    Quote Originally Posted by Hagashager View Post

    How do you guys handle PC death? have you guys had players get angry or upset at you for killing a character? Do you judge with an even-hand, or do you stand rigidly by what the dice roll?
    I slaughter PC's mercilessly all the time and you can count on at least two deaths per game.

    Though most deaths are the players fault (they had a character leap into a room, alone and with only a wooden dagger for a weapon, and attack 20 kobolds), a bad dice roll, or the player being a jerk and not paying attention(the third time I have to say ''get off your phone it is your turn in the game'' and your like ''duurr, what is going on?'' then rocks will fall on your character and you can go home and text away all night). The vast majority of deaths are new or bad or casual players.

    I like to run a very fast paced, action filled game, so I try to only game with players that understand that and want to game like that too. The good players don't get angry, they accept the game. The bad players do whine and cry and throw a fit...but then they are bad players after all.

    Though, all that being said I do give players lots of chances...they just never take them.
    Like in a recent game where the PC's were fighting a black dragon on it's acid lake. J'zon had his acid proof boat and was blasting at the dragon when the dragon tossed a bolder that started to sink his boat. The player was told, ''you get an action before the boat sinks''. So what does the player do: ''With my last action I cast magic missile at the dragon! ..Then sink into the acid and my character dies''. A great heroic ending. Though I wonder why J'zon's last action was not ''I drink one of the potions of flying in my potion belt''.

    I do like the Cinematic Game too, so most of the time players will get second or third chances....but after that their luck will run out. Like when the first level characters attack Lord High Over All D'eath, he will just telekineticly toss them over into the nearby swamp and not just Murder Death Kill them.

    Also I am a big huge fan of curses and other things that harm, but don't kill characters. But note in my game it is much harder to undo such things then the boring normal game where the characters are at 100% all the time.

    That is how I do it...

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    Halfling in the Playground
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    Default Re: Player Character death and how to handle it

    Different people have different tolerance levels. To put it in video game terms some people like getting destroyed in darks souls love beating the system. While some people just like breezing through kirbys epic yarn and kicking back. Some people love the feeling of beating the system/dm and fighting tooth and nail to survive a fight. Some people just want to kick it and play a game with friends and make up a story like the ones they see in movies tv and books. All that matters is getting on the same page as your players from the get go and asking what they want. Contrary to what most hardcore gamers say online, some people don't like to be challenged all the time when playing a game.

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    RedWizardGuy

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    Default Re: Player Character death and how to handle it

    Quote Originally Posted by GPS View Post

    EDIT:
    Oh yeah, for purposes of the thread I suggest we define player character death as anything that causes the player the permanent loss of their character and forces them to either make a new one or stop playing. In systems with easy resurrection like DnD, normal death is rarely final unless a TPK happens. I find that cheapening the experience quite a bit.
    So you normally don't allow rezzes or...?

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    Default Re: Player Character death and how to handle it

    Character death can and does happen, if that's how the dice fall. I will, however, stop it at a KO if I've made an error as a DM, or may even outright retcon if something happens where, like, a player has fundamentally misunderstood a description and I'm pretty sure they'd have behaved differently if they'd had an accurate mental picture of the circumstances. Sometimes I omit details inadvertently, or I explain something in a way that the player just doesn't quite get, through no fault on their part. I don't really see it as fair to the player if it's due to something like a poor scene description on my part, and I'd rather err on the side of caution if I'm unclear on a rule than kill the character and end up deciding later that the rule actually favored them.

    But if it's just a case of poor player decisions or bad luck with the dice (or good luck with the dice for me), then, to paraphrase Ivan Drago, "If they die, they die."
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    Flumph

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    Default Re: Player Character death and how to handle it

    One option I've been mulling over the past few years is simply rewinding the clock and letting the players try the scenario again. That way you can have the game keep going the way you want without pulling punches.

    PC death doesn't need to be permanent, and you certainly don't need to scrap your campaign just because the players reached a failure state.
    Last edited by Slipperychicken; 2017-05-06 at 07:48 PM.

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    ClericGuy

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    Default Re: Player Character death and how to handle it

    Quote Originally Posted by Hagashager View Post

    How do you guys handle PC death? have you guys had players get angry or upset at you for killing a character? Do you judge with an even-hand, or do you stand rigidly by what the dice roll?
    I handle it fine. It seems that to the players though, it makes them feel like they shouldn't be as invested in the characters they make if there's a constant threat of them dying. This was supposed to be a highly dangerous, lethal game, so they took it as it lay and were up to the challenge, which I applaud. Next one will be a bit less murderous.

    None of them have gotten directly angry, but a few have done some things to imply they were a bit miffed (making a new character nearly the same as the old one when the old one didn't even die (just fairly maimed)). The rest were less invested than usual, but as such weren't actually upset when they had issues/death happen. I go with the dice, but I let them try out different ideas.

    I don't see the difference between judging with an even hand and standing by the dice. The dice are the main reason why the game is fair, and ignoring them is usually considered cheating. Some people have bad days (usually always me as a player) but on average for the party, it is a normal distribution and we end up fine. The GM's in my groups stay with the dice, but usually balance the encounters well enough that we/they pull through.

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    Default Re: Player Character death and how to handle it

    It's a simple matter of emotional expenditure, really. The more invested you want players to be, in general, the fewer deaths they should be expecting. If you're getting emotionally invested and pumping out your best work with each character, and they're dying every couple of sessions, you'll quickly burn out, it's just inevitable. So usually, high-lethality games are also taken a great deal LESS seriously than low-lethality ones, despite how counterintuitive that may sound - death happens more and the player can afford less emotional attachment to the character, so each death matters less. When you take a player who's gotten used to thinking they'll survive each time, albeit perhaps without anything left in them for it, and put them in a legitimately deadly situation at a climactic time, you can get a real emotional reaction for that. When you take a player whose characters you've been churning through and put them in even higher pressure than normal for a climactic moment, you're going to get the exact same chuckling, unworried response you've probably been getting for a while.

    The best way to make it work is to make the games not lethal directly, but be willing to take away things the player/character cares about as punishment for failure. I've run Dark Souls-esque games where the players just came back to life a day later if they died (minus their treasure and some XP), but that didn't mean they ran in willy-nilly when the result of their getting ganked would be the town with all their favorite NPCs being razed to the ground. It's not for every game, but it worked wonders for me.

    Outside of that setting, though, yeah, I base lethality level as much as possible on how invested I want the players getting. My ideal goal is usually that they feel like they've got a decent chance of dying every fight so they're always desperate, but rarely actually do. Death save rules help a lot with that.
    Last edited by Vrock_Summoner; 2017-05-06 at 08:23 PM.

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    Default Re: Player Character death and how to handle it

    Quote Originally Posted by Vrock_Summoner View Post
    It's a simple matter of emotional expenditure, really. The more invested you want players to be, in general, the fewer deaths they should be expecting. If you're getting emotionally invested and pumping out your best work with each character, and they're dying every couple of sessions, you'll quickly burn out, it's just inevitable. So usually, high-lethality games are also taken a great deal LESS seriously than low-lethality ones, .
    Now, I find this the exact opposite. High-lethality games make a player care more about their character and they play smart and try to keep the character alive.

    The idea that a player can only be emotionally invested in an immortal character is just silly. That is like saying the DM should just make the game a cakewalk for the players, and then your not even playing a game...it's just a ego boost for the players.

    If a player is ''playing their best'', then on average they should not have a character dying all the time. But if it does ''keep happening'' the player might want to ask why. Is the game run by a crazy DM that is just like ''a tree falls on your character for no reason and does 300 damage! Woo-hoo!'' Does your 1st level character run into powerful monsters, again in a game with a crazy, jerk DM (''ok, in the 10x10 room you see a chest and 15 great wyrm red dragons!'')

    Or is it your play style as a player that is not meshing with the DM's play style or common sense? Did your last character die after you ran into a group of 25 goblins with no armor and just a dagger and attacked them and you were all shocked as a couple of the goblins fought back, hit your character and did enough damage to kill the character? Did your last character walk up to The Door of Death, with a huge pile of bones of others in front of it, and were you like ''my character touches the door, what happens?" And so on...

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    Default Re: Player Character death and how to handle it

    Quote Originally Posted by Darth Ultron View Post
    Now, I find this the exact opposite. High-lethality games make a player care more about their character and they play smart and try to keep the character alive.

    The idea that a player can only be emotionally invested in an immortal character is just silly. That is like saying the DM should just make the game a cakewalk for the players, and then your not even playing a game...it's just a ego boost for the players.

    If a player is ''playing their best'', then on average they should not have a character dying all the time. But if it does ''keep happening'' the player might want to ask why. Is the game run by a crazy DM that is just like ''a tree falls on your character for no reason and does 300 damage! Woo-hoo!'' Does your 1st level character run into powerful monsters, again in a game with a crazy, jerk DM (''ok, in the 10x10 room you see a chest and 15 great wyrm red dragons!'')

    Or is it your play style as a player that is not meshing with the DM's play style or common sense? Did your last character die after you ran into a group of 25 goblins with no armor and just a dagger and attacked them and you were all shocked as a couple of the goblins fought back, hit your character and did enough damage to kill the character? Did your last character walk up to The Door of Death, with a huge pile of bones of others in front of it, and were you like ''my character touches the door, what happens?" And so on...
    There's a difference between playing to survive and playing your character. It's hard to get invested in characters that last five minutes-characters take time. And sometimes, characters do not play wholly to survive. For instance, a noble paladin might stay behind to fend off a horde of demons in order to save a village, or at least give them time. That is, by your definition, playing dumb, because it's near-certain to result in death. But it's good playing, by my definition, since they're playing their character in an interesting, fun, and consistent way.

    And you forgot an example-a Summon Monster II spell summoning a Glabrezu by accident.
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    Default Re: Player Character death and how to handle it

    Again, the point is overall lethality. If they run through a few characters getting used to the challenge, but then they can settle in and make death rare with intelligent play, then the game isn't really high-lethality - it's the exact kind of game I aim for where the players always feel at risk of death but rarely actually die. (Though I usually find ways to do this without killing a bunch of their characters to begin with - there are other ways to scare your players.) A high-lethality game is one where the players as a whole can reasonably expect their characters to die regularly, and for that trend to continue past the first couple of sessions for a longer game.
    Last edited by Vrock_Summoner; 2017-05-07 at 12:35 PM.

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    OldWizardGuy

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    Default Re: Player Character death and how to handle it

    I agree that it is a good workout for GMs to think of different ways to punish their players without character death. I am also a big fan of curses, persistent penalties for failure and/or losing gear or powers.

    The only time I actually manipulate the dice is when there's a possibility of TPK. to me, TPK is the ultimate failure of a GM. If your entire party dies, that's on you as a GM not balancing properly, not the players. I mean this within reason though, obviously a dragon or an Elder Beholder should have the power to TPK, and my players understand that.

    My mercy is also subject to what game we're actually playing. Depending on the game we're playing I may be more lenient or less so. DnD I'm pretty neutral on how dice fall. Dark Heresy I'm much less kind, that game is built on careful planning and intelligence on the player, even small mistakes I will punish severely. World of Darkness I barely consider actual PnP. That comes off more as narrative make-believe, and so I almost never outright kill characters in WoD, though I may put them in a permanently failed positions like getting arrested.

    in DnD, I actually don't allow random rezzes, I hate resurrections. If a player really wants to res. their character I make a full-blown quest that the party collectively has to be willing to embark on for the sake of a player. As a narrative device I find resurrections really cheap, and as a mechanic even more so. I liked how OotS actually handled resurrection with the order having to go to a lot of trouble to bring Roy back to life.

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    SamuraiGuy

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    Default Re: Player Character death and how to handle it

    Quote Originally Posted by Darth Ultron View Post
    Now, I find this the exact opposite. High-lethality games make a player care more about their character and they play smart and try to keep the character alive.

    The idea that a player can only be emotionally invested in an immortal character is just silly. That is like saying the DM should just make the game a cakewalk for the players, and then your not even playing a game...it's just a ego boost for the players.

    If a player is ''playing their best'', then on average they should not have a character dying all the time. But if it does ''keep happening'' the player might want to ask why. Is the game run by a crazy DM that is just like ''a tree falls on your character for no reason and does 300 damage! Woo-hoo!'' Does your 1st level character run into powerful monsters, again in a game with a crazy, jerk DM (''ok, in the 10x10 room you see a chest and 15 great wyrm red dragons!'')

    Or is it your play style as a player that is not meshing with the DM's play style or common sense? Did your last character die after you ran into a group of 25 goblins with no armor and just a dagger and attacked them and you were all shocked as a couple of the goblins fought back, hit your character and did enough damage to kill the character? Did your last character walk up to The Door of Death, with a huge pile of bones of others in front of it, and were you like ''my character touches the door, what happens?" And so on...

    Like Vrock_Summoner I find the opposite true. I've run campaigns that had high lethality...sometimes one or two character per session. Can't say the Players put much thought in personality, background or got attached to their characters.

    Then I've run campaigns where we had maybe 1 or 2 character deaths where people were much more invested in their characters, this was with a veteran group where we have been gaming toghether for 20 years. This meant "I'm a stupid player and my character died" incidents were at all time low.

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    BarbarianGuy

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    Default Re: Player Character death and how to handle it

    In D&D, my goal is impartiality. I have no preference regarding whether a character lives or dies, nor any judgment regarding how intelligent or "in-character" or not a player's actions were leading up to the potential death. I am a referee, describing the results of actions based on the dice and my knowledge of the setting. I'm not ruthless or trying to kill characters, I role play the world in a way that I think is fair and accurate to verisimilitude. How a player wants to role play their character is completely up to them, whether that be unswervingly consistent from start to finish or whether it changes over time or with circumstances, whether careful or reckless. Obviously, in a game that rewards survival of dangerous challenges, the careful characters will likely be more successful than reckless ones, over time. But that's the player's choice, sometimes taking big risks has big rewards, if you're lucky.
    Last edited by Thrudd; 2017-05-07 at 03:37 PM.

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    Default Re: Player Character death and how to handle it

    In the TV show Gunsmoke, Marshall Matt Dillon said, "I don't hang anybody. The law does."

    Similarly, I don't kill anybody. The game does.

    If I let the players get credit for keeping their PCs alive, and completing the quest, and don't claim all the credit myself, then I likewise don't claim the blame for character deaths.

    Having said that, In the three games I've run this century, nobody has died. Two characters came close, and one of them would have if he hadn't been carrying a sentient sword with wishes.

    Ideally, the PCs should feel the danger of death in every, or nearly every, adventure, but it should actually materialize very, very rarely.

    What they want in the middle of today's adventure is an easy, safe way to beat the encounter. But what they will want tomorrow is to have faced insurmountable odds, finally defeating an enemy who they thought was about to kill them.

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    Default Re: Player Character death and how to handle it

    As a DM, I hate it when player characters die. I like there to be a certain narrative consistency to the game, and I do my best to actually use the character backgrounds that my players come up with. So if the party is helping the wizard search for his missing friend and then he suddenly dies, all of a sudden the rest of the party is questing to find someone they have little reason to care about.

    However, my players are very much of the "let the dice fall where they may" mindset, and feel that if the DM fudges things to keep them alive, it cheapens the victory to the point of making it meaningless. So what I do is try to walk a delicate balancing act where encounters are mostly challenging but survivable, and character deaths are rare. Have I fudged numbers? Yeah, a few times, but I keep it rare and I do my best to make sure the players don't know when it happens. And sometimes those character deaths do happen. Now that they're high enough level that resurrection is available, I'm a bit less worried about it (they've all died at least once now). In non-D&D systems where bringing someone back from the dead isn't possible, I try a little harder not to kill them, but if it happens it happens.

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    Default Re: Player Character death and how to handle it

    In the campaign I'm running now, there is a prophecy about the characters defeating the villain. With that, it's pretty hard to explain killing them, although with resurrection and them getting close to a high enough level to begin bringing people back, it's probably not a permanent problem, even though the cleric is pretty green and doesn't even understand channel divinity. However, I have taken them back to square one a lot. They got thrown out in the middle of a desert, all their equipment taken and burned (magical items disposed of somehow), and only had cotton pants. They survived but it was an ordeal. (They even were infected with a black fungus growing in their lungs the whole time)

    I have people put a lot of work into their characters because the storytelling and acting is the best part of d&d to me. I know others don't feel that way so if you don't take my advice. That said, and like many people have mentioned upthread, that means I don't want to kill of my player's characters because I like them too. But every single one of my players know that doing something stupid will result in something bad.
    My personal motto in d&d: Smart things keep you alive, dumb things get you killed, crazy things solve the problem.

    Another idea for the new players who think dying is game over, bring in examples of NPCs they know that get brought back to life, or an old villain who is brought back for revenge. Make them understand that death is far from the end in a game like d&d. Also, make it clear that sometimes running away is the best plan of action, not smacking it with a sword until someone dies.

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    Default Re: Player Character death and how to handle it

    Quote Originally Posted by Vrock_Summoner View Post
    It's a simple matter of emotional expenditure, really. The more invested you want players to be, in general, the fewer deaths they should be expecting. If you're getting emotionally invested and pumping out your best work with each character, and they're dying every couple of sessions, you'll quickly burn out, it's just inevitable.
    In addition to emotional expenditure, there's also the physical expenditure of time necessary to create a new character when the old one dies. While that's not a huge deal with highly invested players or in certain systems that allow for rapid character generation, it can be truly cumbersome in other systems. Regularly recreating 3.X D&D characters for levels 3-10 (before raising becomes a regular feature) or characters for GURPS at any point, can be extremely time consuming, and time spent making new characters is time not spent playing the game. So moderating lethality is viable simply as a method to allow you to spend more time playing the game.

    New characters can also throw a wrench into established encounter balance forcing the GM to significantly adjust combat and social encounters away from whatever had worked before towards some new method. Replacing a blaster wizard with a minionomancer for example, is totally going to change the gameplay for the party as a whole. However, forcing players to make characters who were just like the one who died is ridiculous and bad storytelling so that's another trade off to be weighed.

    Obvious character death needs to remain a risk, but in terms of functional gameplay it is often better to punish characters short of killing them rather than to force a new character sheet into the game.
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    Default Re: Player Character death and how to handle it

    Replacing characters? That's the part of PBP I see the most. I've given up on introductions, and generally just say "Pretend you were with the party, and that the person who dropped was never there."

    I have killed 1 PC, and almost killed one earlier this week. My rolls knocked him to -11, and I posted to ask if anyone had an immediate action or other way to keep him alive. It turns out that he (FvS) had a Close Wounds, and, this being PBP, we said he used it in the middle of the series of hits (he took 44 damage in 1 round at level 5 from about 7 hits), leaving him at -7, bleeding, and surrounded by velociraptors. He made it out.

    Characters who almost die but heroically soldier through to victory seem to be ones that players get more attached to.

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