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Death and Dying
March 18, 2014, 11:18 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I’m beginning to see a profound disconnect between the way I play D&D and the way most if not all of my players desire to play D&D. In the past it irked me, but now I’m seeing past my own biases to look for where we have common ground. This post is an effort to begin to resolve that disconnect.

When I play, as a player mind you, I make a character and then explore the world. The character  itself is created almost (sometimes completely) at random. I don’t do “backstory” and I don’t plan out what the character will become. To me, that’s the fun of the game. He gets the title “dragonslayer” when he slays a dragon, not for some imaginary dragon he slayed previous to the campaign.

My players seem to be more interested in exploring their characters. The challenges and battles and NPC’s are just a backdrop upon which they paint the epic story of their avatar. They come into my game as fully formed heroes in their own right, with tales and stories and abilities. That’s awesome, I just don’t always understand or remember it.

Thus a character dying is the ultimate disappointment. A disappointment because it means they aren’t as awesome as we’d imagined, but also because it ruins those well made plans. This view was brought into sharp focus when I listened to the most recent Nearly Enough Dice podcast and they spent quite a long time talking about how upsetting the unplanned death of a character was. That they had plans to develop the story of the character and that losing those plans actually robbed them of the desire to play!

It is my firmly held belief that good narrative comes from the intersection of difficult circumstances (and the catharsis of overcoming them) and the set up of random elements paired with the ingenuity of the DM and players. My personal favorite part of our current campaign was when the party was ambushed by goblins and one of their NPC’s was captured. The party rushed to his aid, and with the help of a druid, saved him from almost certain death. None of that was planned, it was a random encounter coupled with the decisions of the players and it was one of the most exciting combats I can recall. One player said he cheered out loud when they won.

So, I want to find a way to couple a campaign where the fear of death is real with a campaign where players can make long-term goals for their characters. I think the place to start is with the rules for dying. In my campaign, if you go to -10, you’re dead. When you’re below 0, you are bleeding out and can make a save each round to stabilize. When you’re at 0 you’re merely unconscious. I want to add an additional layer of “padding” to this scheme but it will also make things interesting.

Instead of immediate death occurring at -10, roll a d20 and if it’s under your Con, instead of dying roll on this chart:

  1. You take an arrow to the knee, speed reduced by half.
  2. Lose use of one body part 1d4 left arm, left leg, right arm, right leg.
  3. Lose use of one sense 1d6 hearing, sight, taste, touch, smell, speech (I know it’s not a sense, shut up)
  4. Bonked on the head, lose 1+1d4 int
  5. Wicked deforming scar, lose 1+1d4 cha
  6. Blown joint, lose 1+1d4 dex
  7. Deathwish, lose 1+1d4 wis
  8. Weakened, lose 1+1d4 Con
  9. Sudden onset rickets, lose 1+1d4 Str
  10. Lose a finger, you’ll never draw a bow again and -1 to hit with one handed weapons
  11. Your soul leaves your body for a moment and you see your deity who offers to return you to life, but you have to promise to be a cleric from now on.
  12. Your soul leaves your body for a moment but then you are brought back, but for a purpose (GEAS) by 1d4 a demon, a deity, an Outsider, an alien life-form.
  13. Your soul leaves your body for a moment but then you are brought back but now there’s an evil clone of you about, causing mischief and ruining your good (?) name
  14. You miraculously survive, but now you have a major grudge against whatever killed you. You must seek out any others and attack them on sight.
  15. You wake up in a vat in a wizard’s tower, naked and with strange memories of your old companions and your own death.
  16. After saying one last word of wisdom, you disappear like Yoda. You’re dead, but it was an awesome death.
  17. You totally die, but with your last breath you release your death curse on whomever killed you and they’ll die in 1d6 days in a very gruesome manner.
  18. You die, but your consciousness takes over the nearest NPC. Keep your mental stats and class, gain the hirelings physical stats.
  19. You awaken 1d6 days later but with permanent memory loss, lose one level. If you’re at 1st level, lose your class. You are a commoner until you gain 1000 xp and then you can choose a class and start again as level 1.
  20. You go towards the light and see a vision of how you will eventually die and then awaken. Dungeon master’s choice.

I think this is a cool solution. There’s still a big potential for death but if you roll well, you might have a chance to live on. I tried to make each of these interesting while still allowing players to maintain control of their characters core “person.”



I Know What I Know
March 11, 2014, 10:33 am
Filed under: Uncategorized
A player recently asked if his character could know that an encroaching enemy was a swarm. I said that if he, as a player, thought it was a swarm, then his character thought it was a swarm. I said let’s make a deal: “If I’m ok with you using meta game knowledge then you have to be ok with me making up my own monsters and traps and classes and spells and applying different abilities and challenge ratings and xp totals to them.”
The player responded with:
I am OK with knowledge checks if you’d prefer that. But I am also OK with you adjusting monsters, as long as they don’t violate the spirit of the base model. For example a swarm immune to aoe. I see both sides…but I think our charcters (sic) should have some knowledge. If you feel out characters wouldn’t know anything about something tell the players. Some of the fun is finding out stuff.
The spirit of the model in every case is creating a unique challenge for the players, no?
In this instance I see myself with two options:
1. Insist that you, as players, forget everything you’ve ever seen, read or heard about role-playing games, literature and science and pretend that your characters are as ignorant as they were on day they were born.
2. Allow you to make assumptions and draw inferences that, although they may be wrong, are based upon experience and tradition and the themes upon which the game we’re playing are built.
I would suggest the first option is distasteful and antithetical to the game we’re playing. Therefore I’m left with option two.
The weakness, as you have at least alluded to, is that players must trust that the DM won’t create a challenge that circumvents the “fairness” or “balance” of the game. I might point to such esoteric monsters as the ear-seeker, the lurker above (or below), the rust monster or the mimic as creatures designed explicitly to mess with the party. (I’ll leave looking those up as an exercise for the reader since you probably won’t encounter them in my game.)
Now, I must stress again that I don’t actually care much for “fairness” or “balance” in my games. I do design the world in a way that makes sense to me for a party starting out. That is to say, you start in a village surrounded by level 1 monsters. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t things out there, lurking on my random encounter tables, that will kill you quite unfairly.
I agree that your characters should have some knowledge, I just prefer to settle that based on my description and your problem solving abilities rather than with a roll. I can’t describe how much issue I have with using a roll for this stuff. It’s boring for the player, it undermines the dungeon master and it takes all the drama out of encounters.
I think that the uneven distribution of knowledge in these situations creates good drama. There are times when you go into a situation knowing pretty much exactly what you’re facing. An example is the last big battle where you knew you were fighting bandits on horses led by a fiery battle maiden. That can be fun. And the challenge there is “how do we prepare for this situation.” Another challenge might be “how do we react in an unfamiliar situation.” I understand the impulse to want to quantify every mechanical aspect of every situation in a game. It probably stems from having bad dungeon masters in the past who lord their knowledge over the players as well as the natural urge that many of us have to be in control. That’s not my game. What I don’t tell you in any instance is what I believe will make for the best game. I don’t think it has to be said that if I wanted your characters to die, they’d be dead. Then the game would be dead.
I think I’ve proven that I’m here for the long haul and I’m here to make your gaming experience just as good as I can. Not always instantly satisfying. Not always without some tense moments. But always compelling, always interesting, always unique.