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Dead Player: How Does It Work?
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Thread: Dead Player: How Does It Work?

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    Dead Player: How Does It Work?

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    Alright I've got a question for you DM's who like to run long term campaigns. How do you handle player deaths? I've often toyed with the idea of making player death impossible. Instead I would penalize them horribly XP, financially, or something else that would make them think twice before making another careless decision that could cost them their life. Do you also make death impossible or do you somehow provide an adventure for a party composed of characters ranging from levels 3 to 20?

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    If you're dead, you're dead. What challenge is it if you know you can't die? I try not to kill characters, but if it happens, it happens. Depending on the game and campaign setting, the others players may have the ability or chance to bring the dead back to life; but I don't toss that powerful magic out like candy either.

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    How do I handle player death? I limit myself to two a session, three if I'm bored; new players are hard to find, and it's really tough getting rid of the bodies.

    Oh, you meant character death? Oh... Of course... Um, what ever happened to Raise Dead? With spells like Raise Dead in the game adding a second safety layer, I'd have to agree with a hard stance on death (keeps the game more exciting). For minor deaths (only a few beyond -9), my DM allowed players to burn action points (one per HP beyond -9 I believe) to stabilize at -9 rather than dying. Like an evil version of SAGA's "no, your character will never die" version, but then SAGA lacks Raise Dead.

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    Character death can be tricky. Character death at a non-dramatic point of the campaign is something I tend to fudge out of existence. I just don't kill characters who happen to have a bad day with dice. Some find this controversial, I know.

    However, character death at climatic points is something I tend to encourage. It makes the climaxes more memorable. If I have a villian that the players have really taken to hating, then I love for him to kill a PC. That really gets the blood up.

    I've had this pre-game conversation with more than one player: "So, your character is pretty much built around revenge and in the next session or two we are facing the object of your revenge. One way or another, we are ending your main reason for being. You've got a choice here: find another reason for your character to go on OR die dramatically in the battle and build another character with a bonus goody for being a good sport. What do you say?"

    Usually they take the cookie and really get into the spirit of a valiant death.

    It doesn't have to be the end of the campaign or the death of a major villian. Think about how Boromir died (in the movie). That's a great PC death. He even got a final soliloquy surrounded by fallen foes and a minor villian. What more could a PC hope for?

    Oh, by the way, I think horrible XP penalties instead of death are also a bad idea. I had rather be dead than useless as a player. Nothing sucks worse than being permanently crippled compared to the rest of your companions. Being in a party with Superman, Batman, Green Latern and Wonder Woman where you get to play Aqualad ... well, it sucks.

    Gary

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    I guess that depends on how you view your player characters. If your characters are heroic, then of course you'll be more inclined to protecting them. If your players are expected to have their characters do heroic deeds, then the GM might need to be the hero for the players and save them from themselves every now and again.

    If your story is gritty then "Death to the PC!" at every opportunity. Some games systems make gritty settings difficult to hold on to players. Many players would rather not have to build a new character every session.

    If how you view your characters happens to be somewhere in between heroic and realistic then you have to strike a balance. Your target gaming experience should let you know what kind of deaths you'll allow. Also, your players expectations might influence your approach.

    Personally, I like the heroic adventures. They're fun and exciting, and the PC's do things that normal people wouldn't dream of. They do heroic things because the players know they're playing heroes.

    Deaths are dramatic events that are right at the sharp edge of danger, but it doesn't have to be the motivator for keeping your players under control for fear of having to build a new character. That just seems like too much meta-gaming and not enough fun.
    Last edited by ronpyatt; 12-30-2007 at 12:00 AM.

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    I suppose I should add the addenda that I am mostly talking about Heroic, D&D-esque games. In college, I ran a Call of Cthulhu campaign where a PC died on average every week. It started as an accident and soon became a fact the players were down right proud of.

    The game ran for about fifty sessions, if I recall. One a week. Two in a few sessions. Five in one climactic one. There was one PC who made it through the entire campaign, a psychologist who had lost more friends than he could count -- a man who had seen the best men and women of his generation sacrificed to keep back the darkness that threatened at every turn to overwhelm us.

    He didn't smile much anymore.

    Gary

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    The last time a player died, the group all chipped in for flowers. We went to his funeral to offer our condolences. Immediately following the funeral, we played a game in his honor. We didn't get much gaming done, especially after one of the guys read a players prayer (I think he found at Kenzer&company). We did talk a lot and bond over his memory. Shaun is still missed...
    Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.


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    Quote Originally Posted by gdmcbride View Post
    I suppose I should add the addenda that I am mostly talking about Heroic, D&D-esque games. In college, I ran a Call of Cthulhu campaign where a PC died on average every week. It started as an accident and soon became a fact the players were down right proud of.

    The game ran for about fifty sessions, if I recall. One a week. Two in a few sessions. Five in one climactic one. There was one PC who made it through the entire campaign, a psychologist who had lost more friends than he could count -- a man who had seen the best men and women of his generation sacrificed to keep back the darkness that threatened at every turn to overwhelm us.

    He didn't smile much anymore.

    Gary
    My online name (Drohem) is in honor of my favorite characters of all time. His name was Drohem Calhorn, and he was a dwarf created using the RuneQuest 3rd edition rules. However, we didn't play in the Glorantha world. We created our own world in which dwarves, elves, halflings, etc. were closer to AD&D races.

    RQ3 is a grim and deadly game system as written. My dwarf was a civilized soldier turned mercenary. Throughout the campaign, the characters were hounded and hunted by minions of a powerful demon; not to mention normal adventures.

    Back in those days, we had huge groups (8-12 people). Drohem was the only survivor of three TPKs. He also survived many narrows encounters. He was the longest lived RQ3 character I ever had, and he survived to face down the demon in a final and epic battle. At the start of that battle, Drohem was controlled by the demon and killed two friends and seriously downed another one before the party could wrestle him down and end the control. The group went on to defeat the demon, with Drohem landing the final blow.

    He was a stone-cold killer, and grim SOB by the end of the campaign. He was responsible for several PvP kills during his career. He never smiled as well.

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    To clarify I meant PC not the actual players controlling the PC's. One thing nobody has addressed so far though is how you design adventures for a group of very varied PC levels? If you have four players and the levels are 2, 7, 13, and 17, how can you possibly create any encounter that the level 17 PC won't dominate?

    I was really looking forward to running one to two year campaigns. I've read, although never directly asked, that it can take a full year (one four hour session a week) for a PC to level from levels 1 to 20. Is this true? Who would want to spend 34 sessions playing one character only to lose everything they worked so hard on. They couldn't possibly be of any use to the rest of the party that are still in their teen levels. Or are one to two year campaigns just not all that common?

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    It depends on the game system and GM. If you're talking about D&D, then such a level disparity in a party is hard to design around. Anything you throw at the party that will challenge the high level characters will snuff out the low level characters.

    Although, it's possible if the campaign is more role playing orientated, and serious combat is avoided at every turn. Also, if the players are seriously tactically inclined. However, any real challenge to a party composed of such level disparity is going to generate the real possiblity of the lower level characters dying.

    As far as leveling goes, one of my friends and GMs give out a level from 1-3, and then a level every 2-3 adventures for levels 4+. This really moves the campaign along, and allows the characters to become real movers and shakers in his game world before they retire or perish.

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    Okay, PC death. When my personal computer dies, I call gateway and order a new model without Vista operating system.


    I let my players know that I don't pull my punches often. The game can and does get deadly.

    Keep things like Raise Dead and Resurrection attainable even if difficult. You don't want it to be a cake walk, but don't dash their dreams if they have really grown attached o a character. I also have a special DM table of monster races with a level adjustment. Sometimes when a player character dies by no fault of his own, reincarnation is available surprisingly easily and I happen to roll 100% for DM choice . That can also make the loss less of a blow.

    I have used a house rule for many years, when a character dies the player can start a new character 2 levels below the party average. I have also used character trees so that the players slowly become attached to the replacement characters. If they want to take a character out of the tree prematurely, the current character that will be going back into the tree doesn't level until the replacement passes him in accumulated levels. (Sometimes they decide they like the ones in the tree better than the ones they are playing)

    I also often use an additional experience award of 10% per level of disparity so those that are lagging behind can become productive faster. Sometimes this is needed when a large difference is slowing my plot down because the players don't want to jeopardize themselves with an underpowered party backing them.
    Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.


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    Well, if a PC dies then the party has the opportunity to either resurrect the character themselves or find a temple that can for them and the character suffers the effects of the spell as illustrated in the PHB. If the party chooses not to help out their friend then I let them scavenge the body, if accessible, and we then begin the process of creating a new character.

    New characters come in one or two levels before the average character level of the party. I try to keep everyone at the same level to make it easier on me. If the character died doing something stupid then its two levels and something heroic or followed logic to a tragic end then one level. There has been an instance where the character defended his party valiantly and stayed behind to allow them to escape and died; the new character came in at the party's level.

    I have a rule of no pre-existing knowledge of the old character so that I don't have to run a revenge scenario or fight over where possessions are and such. If a player decides his character had a family and a member of that family comes to take his/her father's place then I usually gently suggest to the party to pass down any scavenged gear.

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    I like the approach of all three of you (Drohem, rabkala, Digital Arcanist) and could easily see myself using any of the methods mentioned above. In general, from those of you who have played with many different DM's and/or DM yourself, are items that can resurrect the dead uncommon or extremely difficult to obtain? How about items that can restore massive quantities of health in a very short period of time? Just wondering how hard most people make it to avoid death all together.

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    I equip myself with healing torcs and and other magical gear to stave off death as early as possible. Some DM's have a policy of supply/demand and others make you quest for such an item. Its about 50/50 in my experience.

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    I'm coming in late, but here goes. I like to make really challenging but attainable adventures. When its regarding a major part of the story, or facing a major villian, my measuring stick is whether in the final conflict most of the players went down but not out.

    It makes an interesting choice for the remaining players to aid their teammate and lose a round and possibly take a hit, or let a hero die. In a perfectly balanced session, a couple characters would see the villian finished and be able to nurse the rest back to health.

    This allows a sense of danger where players don't feel invincible, but also allows them attempt heroic actions and feel fully challenged.

    This balance is a lot easier in the early levels however. When you start facing dragons and beholders, player death is almost inevitable, but then in those cases you have access to Raise dead spells and such.

    To answer the second question:
    I couldn't imagine trying to build adventures for players of all levels. The players with lower levels may survive with enough help from the others, but they certainly won't have as much fun. I agree with the others that if there is a player death, they create another that is close to the rest of the players in power. I don't know about penalizing them... A heroic death of a PC is something to remember and adds to the drama of a campaign, so a player shouldn't be penalized by coming in at a lower level, they should be consoled. I like the idea of letting them create their new character with usually unavailable choices, such as the option of using a race from the monster manual.
    Last edited by Maelstrom; 12-30-2007 at 02:38 PM.

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