Monday, December 8, 2008

On lethality, poisons, and character death.

One of the reasons I don't think I make a very good "old-school" DM is that I'm not terribly keen on PC deaths.

I've had some spectacularly amazing and stupid PC antics that led to death, deaths that I still recount years later; these are just fine, bring 'em! But I've never been much keen on save-or-die poisons, lethal traps (that didn't have one way out if the PCs just paid enough attention), and utterly no-win situations. It's never been a great draw for me or for my players.

Without a doubt, this particular leaning has only been fed in recent years by the lion's share of my DM duties being one-player games. You don't really want instant-death scenarios in a one-player game in my opinion -- your player doesn't even have a buddy they can confer with before they trip that trap or poke that (undead) corpse in the shiny robes. There are more entertaining ways to cause a lone PC grief than just killing them.

Now, I'm also quite certain that the hardcore old-schoolers will gladly argue that point. Hey, if it works for you, right on! But I don't see it working for me and my players, which is also right on. And by disliking lethality I don't mean that I fudge the dice constantly or avoid challenging (and/or potentially lethal) encounters, either; I've dealt with gamers like that and it gets annoying. It's the instant kills that I prefer to not use.

Extreme PC stupidity, on the other hand, surely deserves pain and angst and yes death, if it comes to that. Without a doubt.

... I should write up a few poisons and post them here sometime.

4 comments:

sirlarkins said...

Yup, right there with you. When I'm not running single player games, my groups still tend to be very small--two to three players, generally. At that size, a single death can really throw things off.

I just had a situation this weekend, in fact, in which I was running a consciously old school D&D game yet I offered the sole PC a chance to get off the hook even though he should've died automatically--simply because he found himself in the lethal situation due to a series of bad dice rolls and through no fault of his own.

taichara said...

Yup, right there with you. When I'm not running single player games, my groups still tend to be very small--two to three players, generally. At that size, a single death can really throw things off.

Indeed! And while one can always drop a horde of retainers onto the party, said party doesn't always want to deal with said retainers.

(Not to mention that retainers don't help much if your lone PC shuffles off this mortal coil ... ;) )


I just had a situation this weekend, in fact, in which I was running a consciously old school D&D game yet I offered the sole PC a chance to get off the hook even though he should've died automatically--simply because he found himself in the lethal situation due to a series of bad dice rolls and through no fault of his own.

Sometimes the dice are truly the avatar of the Fickle Hand of Fate, I swear. I'd say you made a good call there, myself. Did the PC succeed in his/her chance?

sirlarkins said...

I'd say you made a good call there, myself.

Thanks! I really had no choice, as I saw it--the dice rolls on both sides of the screen were just this unbelievable comedy of errors. We were both laughing, it was so bad!

Did the PC succeed in his/her chance?

Oh, I'm a big fan of cliffhanger endings, so we left things off with our intrepid little gnome being marched to his gruesome death.

Hopefully that'll give the player a chance to come up with a clever plan. And if all else fails, we should be having another PC join us next session, so a little outside help might be in order...

taichara said...

Thanks! I really had no choice, as I saw it--the dice rolls on both sides of the screen were just this unbelievable comedy of errors. We were both laughing, it was so bad!

But laughter is a good thing! It means that despite crazily bad rolls, you were both being highly entertained. (Even if it was comedy of errors and not simply the adventure ;) )


Oh, I'm a big fan of cliffhanger endings, so we left things off with our intrepid little gnome being marched to his gruesome death.

Even better *evil tittering*


Hopefully that'll give the player a chance to come up with a clever plan. And if all else fails, we should be having another PC join us next session, so a little outside help might be in order...

Potential planning in the works and a ready-made means to bring in a second PC. Maybe Fate wasn't so fickle after all --