Friday, July 13, 2012

Discussion: How Do You Feel About Cheap Deaths?

One of the more popular RPG bloggers I follow on twitter is NewbieDM. He often has interesting things to say about his games, and while I've never particularly be interested in D&D since he's switched his group to DragonAge I've been a lot more attentive. Lately though he's been working on a side project: a total conversion for the Dragon Age system to make it work for Star Wars. Yeah, I'm all ears on that one.

Anyhow, the prompt for today's discussion comes from some tweets that Newbie had up last night. See, he's trying to balance force powers and in one of the play test sessions 3 players died when they were Force Thrown over a chasm where they fell to their death. Now, the players had defense rolls - which they failed - so it wasn't totally unfair, but that kind of quick - and to use Newbie's own word: cheap - death is kind of counter to the whole feel of Star Wars so he is notably concerned.

My question to you today is this: How do you feel about these cheap deaths? Do you take measures to try and prevent them? Do you embrace them wholesale?

In a situation like what Newbie has, it is to be expected that players will take the path of least resistance in fights which could lead to all combat with Jedi/Force Sensitives just turning into a "who can throw what over a cliff the fastest" race. In other games the same 'cheap' death could come from who can get someone to spring a deadly trap fastest. Who will step on the rot grub filled planks first? You get the idea.

So, how do you feel about them? Sound off in the comments.


  1. I look at games like Feng Shui when ever cheap death comes up. A mook that can be killed by hitting them with 5 levels of success, regardless of what you're using to attack them with, is a cheap death. Being force thrown of a cliff, not so much. If everyone was on an even footing, then yes, there would be just as much chance as the players/NPCs going over the edge, so why would the NPCs try that if it was just as likely to kill them too?

    Think cold war mentality, just because you can kill them that way doesn't mean you want to open the door to be killed that way. If the NPC/character level wasn't balanced, that's either something the GM needs to work on if he feels the need, or the players need to work a way around.

    I have the most fun in games where there are no special traits that separate heroes from NPCs, except maybe some experience points. Everyone in the game world should be just as hard to kill, and that way cheap deaths should be very rare indeed.

  2. In a very real way I like your answer shorty. It sounds almost like a social contract "you don't cheap kill the NPCs, and they won't cheap kill you" at which point everyone is playing fair and gets to have a bit more of a fun time.

    As far as most fun, I'm a bit different from you. I like their being mooks or weaker people that aren't "special" like the PCs are. At the same time though, there are NPCs that are also of the PCs calibre and that follow the same rules. By mixing and matching I can give a good sense of strength to the PCs while retaining the ability to challenge and do all the things they can do. Though, that could easily fall into your "different levels of XP" caveat.

    1. I agree that PCs are supposed to be special, and if a cheap death happened in my game, I'd probably feel just as cheated as the players. Sometimes the dice fall poorly, though.

      Also, I'm not sure getting thrown into a chasm is a cheap death. It's pretty awesome, speaking from a cinematic perspective, and fairly common in the movies, games, comics, etc. It's not necessarily a death sentence, either; I think some creative Force usage could save them. (See: Luke at Bespin.)