In an interesting turn about I've walked into the last several sessions for games I'm a player in expecting to die, and come out the other side almost completely unscathed. That's not because the sessions weren't deadly mind you. Other characters were laid low, and in the D&D game we would've lost the Ranger except the GM allowed the character who acted on the same initiative as the monsters to stabilize the dying ranger as he was being attacked to negate Death Saves. No, what was strange, and what I really liked about all the near death fights in all these recent sessions is the atmosphere around the table.
Let me explain. I've been playing RPGs for over 20 years. Heck, I've been running for 20 years at this point - and yes, I know that gives an idea of how old I am. In that time I've run games in stores, I've run games for friends, I've run games online, and I've even been both a Rank and File and Head GM for an online game of 200+ players. I can safely say I've come across every way a character can die (not specific methodology, but the broad strokes that can happen in a RPG) that is out there. And normally? Normally when someone dies there is a strange atmosphere at the table.
I say strange, but what I mean is that usually someone is sad or angered by the pending death to the point you can get into fights. I've had players in tears to the point of sobbing because a fight they started was turning bad and it looked like they were going to die. I've had players beg for a shift in the rules to have a character spared. My favorite was the player who, seeing the distress another person was in, asked if their character could do a heroic sacrifice and take the attack - dying in the other PCs stead. I was prone to allow it (because drama) but it just set the upset player off even mo. If re.
Now, these extreme reactions don't happen all the time. those are a few cherry picked moments over 20 years of running games, but there is usually some form of negative reaction. It's part of why so many GMs feel off about pulling the trigger on PCs. However, with the sessions I've been in lately, none of that was around. If anything, the GMs were super nervous and the players were all big grins with dice in hand saying "bring it!"
It made an interesting atmosphere in all the various games, and I can't be sure if it was the players themselves, the groups, the characters, or just a combination of all three with the added variable of "that particular day" but it was awesome. It also seemed to take a load off the GM who could just run the combat with players for whom the worst case scenario is they got to bring another character into a game that was going well and plenty of fun.
I'm not even sure what I can take from this as a lesson aside from it was an awesome experience to see, and have reinforced so hard in such a short period of time. Death is a part of RPGs. Going into a fight there is always the chance of things going bad. Not getting hung up on it can really let you just embrace the drama. If nothing else, it's something to aspire to.
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