On Character Death


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Just watched a video over at the SpoonyExperiment (Link is here if you want to see it). To summarize it, it's basically a story that goes like this:

Spoony joins the RPGa and DMs a D&D game for them with a pre-set module approved by the RPGa.

Spoony manages to attract 5 newcomers and gets his brother Miles to sit in as well.

3 of the 6 run broken-as-shit specialty clerics (from what Spoony says in the video, they all just happened to find the specialty clerics interesting and happened to pick the same goddess), the other 3 run a mage, a thief and a fighter respectively.

One encounter during an "escort a prisoner" section has the party making camp so that three first level wizards can jump out of the bushes, call out a challenge and charge the party.

Notes for those who don't know: In "Ye Olde Schoole" D&D, 1st level mages have 1-4 health and all were supposed to have Magic Missile (which does 1d4+1 damage) as their one and only spell. Even at level 1, most clerics, fighters and thieves tend to have enough health that even if the mages focused all on one, they MIGHT bring one of them down. The only one who was truly at risk was the PC mage.

So, Spoony changes the spell loadout. He gives one Sleep (which is an AoE), one Charm Person (one target and the target gets an extra saving throw if they're asked to do something they don't want to), and one Ray of Enfeeblement (saps 1d6 or 1d4 strength, which can even the odds against melee opponents).

IMO, Spoony gave them a much smarter loadout than 3 fucking Magic Missiles and each spell has far better utility considering first level mages blow their one spell and are pretty much useless afterwards. All in all, the mages are far more competent with this loadout as opposed to their original spell selection.

The result?

Four of the PCs end up slumbering (two die due to one of the wizards beating the shit out of them), one ends up charmed (and subsequently knocked out); and the last one, the fighter, ended up enfeebled and struggling, but managing, to kill all three wizards.

Afterward the game wraps up, the RPGa sponsor takes Spoony aside and basically tells him that he can't DM for RPGa anymore because "player characters aren't supposed to die". Mind you, he only tells Spoony this "no death" rule AFTER the fact. This ended up getting Spoony booted from the RPGa.

The reasoning behind the rule? Most of the players don't get to game much, and some get really attached to their characters, so you shouldn't kill their characters.

Let that sink in.

SOME get attached to their characters. So you shouldn't kill ANY player characters.

Now, I could see having the "no death" thing as a rule for first-timers or for really low-level campaigns. Levels 1 to 3, most characters in D&D are pretty fucking squishy, rarely have anything even remotely special and it's so easy for a few bad rolls to end an entire campaign before the first day is through.

First time players are there to get a feel for the game, so having some kid-gloves might be beneficial.

And some of the commenters say that the "No Death" thing isn't important in high level campaigns.

But bottom line, Spoony wanted to give the players a challenge, and the RPGA guy wanted all the players to live through the campaign, but didn't explain himself beforehand or well enough afterwards.

Thus my questions:
Do you think it's right to bar death from an RPG simply to make sure no one who's especially attached to their character feels bad?

Should the DM always fudge it so that the players never die?

Or was/is the RPGa wrong for barring death from a game that has death as one of many things a player has to risk?

And, would you play a game if death was or wasn't a risk?

Lord Raine

Well-Known Member
If character death is such a huge fucking concern, then you shouldn't play a TRPG that involves dice, i.e. an inherently random mechanic that has random death out of nowhere built right into it.

I'm a fan of the public three strikes rule. That's where you state before the game that each character has three 'strikes.' If they roll poorly or get hit by something that would otherwise kill them, we acknowledge the 'kill' as a 'strike,' and the Game Master mitigates the result to make it survivable. Once all three 'strikes' are used up, if they die again, it's dead for real.

The Game Master constantly fudging results just takes away from the fun of the game. A large part of the enjoyment of it is the knowledge that this isn't a video game or a set plot, and that, at any moment, you could fail catastrophically and kill yourself and those around you. The fact that failure is a very real option is what makes the victories so much sweeter.

Besides, death is never final anyway. Not unless you want it to be. If bad luck or a miscalculation kills half the party, then it's well within the Game Master's power to ensure a TPK and then inform the players that the show must go on, and they must now struggle to return from the afterlife and reclaim their stolen destinies. Or have a bunch of divine servants show up and resurrect everyone because they're The Good Guys. Or have a neutral necromancer return them to life in exchange for studying the effects the power has on their bodies. Or any number of things, really. Your options are limited only by your imagination.

Hell, it might even be that the Epic Level cap is a hard cap that no mortal can overcome, thereby necessitating a TPK so that the PC's immortal spirits might continue to grow in strength and power by roaming the planes, no longer restrained or held back by their frail mortal flesh.


Well-Known Member
Spoony is entirely in the right, here.

I don't try to be a hard-ass about character death, but at the same time I don't shy away from it either. Now yes, I've sometimes fudged when it turns out the encounter that I put together was deadlier than I thought it would be - I think most GMs have done that. But when it's just a case of phenomenal bad luck, or poor decision making? Then, as they say, I "let the dice fall where they may."

It sounds to me like that's what happened at Spoony's table, and as he says, it's part and parcel of the game.

In my last campaign, we had three character deaths over about nine levels. Two happened in the same battle. One was where the inquisitor was dropped, and then managed to fail every single stabilization check, and bled to death. The other was where an enemy fighter absolutely fileted the summoner (which was that character's debut adventure). The third death happened a few sessions later, when the thief got coup-de-grace'd by a <a href='http://paizo.com/pathfinderRPG/prd/monsters/mite.html#_mite' target='_blank' rel='nofollow'>mite</a>.

In those cases, two of the players grumbled about it, but they made new characters and brought them in next session. They knew that character death happens. I've had characters die, and no it's never fun, but it's part of the game.

Yes, character death can be an uncomfortable thing - not for any particular in-game reason, but because you (the GM) are worried that you've ruined the fun for one of your players. You don't want them to be upset with you, and you don't want to feel like a heel. But Spoony is right in saying that without the threat of failure, there is no real sense of accomplishment, and the entire thing loses meaning. You just have to be mature about it, and have players who are mature about it, and deal with it as it comes up.

Having said that, I don't quite agree with everything Spoony said (re: clerics are uber-characters, wizards become godlike as they hit the higher levels), and I wonder if his memory is playing tricks with him in a few spots.

For example, I double-checked the specialty priest class for Selune (which, by the way, is pronounced, "Seh-LOON-eh") in Faiths & Avatars. As it turns out, there are two: the silverstars, and the guides. Now, at 1st level, silverstars (which are, I presume, the ones Spoony was talking about) don't have that much. I don't see anything about them getting bonuses/penalties under any sort of moonlight, and the moon blade spell is a 3rd-level spell, and so shouldn't be available to 1st-level characters (silverstars can use it once per day...at 5th level, so that's no help there either).

Having said all of that though, I don't think that what Spoony did was a <a href='http://alzrius.wordpress.com/2011/09/18/when-playing-by-the-rules-is-a-dick-move/' target='_blank' rel='nofollow'>dick move</a>.

Lord Raine

Well-Known Member
Seeing how Spoony deliberately modified the attacking wizard's loadout into something it should not have been just for shits and giggles, it most definitely is on him. He changed the encounter from something a bunch of new kids could handle (wizards who have one acceptably decent 1st level attack spell and presumably a dagger once that gets used up) to something that was tactically superior to what they were capable of dealing with (combining sleep, charm, and enfeeble is a high-level tactic to be used against experienced players using moderately strong PCs that know what the hell they're doing and have decent saves).

Spoony trolled the kids right out of the gate. Now, if that was the whole point, i.e. "in this story, I need them all to TPK to progress the plot, and we pick up in the afterlife/during their supernatural trial where angels and demons bid on their immortal souls/ect," then that's just fine. But that's not what he did.

Is that wrong? Kinda. But it's not wrong enough to get him kicked. Wrong enough for a stern finger-wagging and a do-over. Possibly a lecture on how experimenting with spell loadouts in a public panel game full of new kids isn't exactly appropriate. But kicking him out was kind of a dick move.


Well-Known Member
*Sighs* I hate raptors so much right now.

1. Character death happens, get over it. If you work with your GM, you could lower your chances. But it will happen. Nothing survives a point blank aimed cannon crewed by Gunslingers with Improved Critical.

2. Spoony was right in changing spell load outs. But not in using Sleep. Maybe a second Charm Person or Grease. With Sleep, he made sure the Wizards really could take on the party on even footing. Three crappy Wizards against six PCs (four of them experienced players if I remember the story right). But given that it a trio of Leaping Wizards... the humiliation alone would have forced the use of Sleep.

Lord Raine

Well-Known Member
locke69 said:
Nothing survives a point blank aimed cannon crewed by Gunslingers with Improved Critical.
It amuses me that you say that, as though the DM doesn't control what the players go up against. As though it's totally out of his hands that something massive fucking overkill got in their way.

If the DM can't be fair and reasonable about the challenges they set, then that's on them, not the players. A point blank canon crewed by Gunslingers with Improved Critical shouldn't even fucking happen.


Well-Known Member
It's not like Spoony changed things into some sort of clusterfuck for the PCs. He made the three mages have spells that would give them a reasonable chance for success against superior numbers with superior combat ability, which is a reasonable change.

From there, by his own admission, the dice just fell in his favor. The saves against the spells were simply awful, and the players suffered from bad luck, that's all. Sometimes the dice fall against you, and when you're 1st-level that can sometimes mean death.

It most certainly wasn't the GM's fault for not sugar-coating things. As Spoony said, it's old-school to be harsh but fair when PCs die.


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Also, for what it's worth, it shouldn't matter who mans a series of cannons - gunslinger or no, cannons aren't firearms under the Pathfinder game rules; they're <a href='http://paizo.com/pathfinderRPG/prd/ultimateCombat/combat/siegeEngines.html' target='_blank' rel='nofollow'>siege engines</a>.


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Heh, one day I'm going to run a campaign in a 'Girl Genius' setting with a touch of Dresden-verse magic. If a TPK happens, the entire party will wake up six months later, naked, and gearless to find a grinning spark saying "Now you bitches work for me!" Not those exact words of course.


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I personally don't like character deaths because I tend to look at a tabletops as more about character interactions than about rolling to not die. That's why when I DM I pretty much DM games like it's Angel Beats. You can die but it'll just knock you out for the rest of the session and you won't get any loot or exp from it.


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What's the general opinion of characters that try to MacGyver their way out of a rightful death? For example, I currently have a Pathfinder group I'm co-GMing. We are currently in the Five Kings Mountains, in a mine that has one entry/exit caved in by a goblin holding a powder keg. The other co-GM is playing a wizard of the Thelossian school of Envy, which means he is outright banned from using Evocation or Necromancy spells. He has surmised that if his 3rd level character was trapped in a cave-in -as he is right now in game- that he'd be able to escape within a day and a half. This would involve him having plenty of rations for 2 weeks, a scroll of Tenser's Floating Disk, Disguise Self, and an Unseen Servant. I'm more likely to impose a 75% chance of the scroll failing due to it being an Evocation spell.

Now, the question isn't if it's fair that I challenge him like that. No, the question is if he should do it to begin with. There are reasons we have to co-GM this game. I'm the better storyteller of the group, while he's technically better at encounter building.


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I guess my question would be why is he outright banned from those two schools instead of just requiring an extra spellslot for a banned school as per the normal rules? Alternatively, he could use the "Use magic device" skill to use the scrolls. I'm not familiar with "Thelossian school of Envy" though and google got me nothing.

As for your actual question, I would have to reply with, "why not?". Unless there are story driven reasons why his wizard has to die to move the plot, if he has a workable plan then all the power to him. Barring gross stupidity, the DM should give the players a shot to succeed. There's a reason why in most published adventures the DM is given tips to allow the party to survive in the case of bad luck in lower levels.


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In Pathfinder, one of the books described a variant specialty school for wizards. The Thelossian schools are all based around the seven deadly sins. They gain two additional spellslots that must hold the same spell in exchange for banning two schools. The Envy school is abjuration, and thus bans both evocation and necromancy. And this isn't the normal banned schools where you take penalties for preparing spells of the banned school. No, Thelossian magic outright removes the ability to cast spells of the banned schools. Even though he could use the "Use Magic Device" skill for the scrolls, he'd still be casting a spell outside of what he can cast. The rules normally make it so he'd have to make additional Spellcraft checks to help, but I'd have to argue that he'd have a fundamental lack of understanding of how to make it work.