Friday, August 26, 2016

Discussion: Lethal Intent

The voice in my head keeps joking that tonight's session is rated 'L' for 'Lethal.' Which means that there is a large fight planned for tonight's session where, if the dice go poorly, it could end up with a PC down and dead. It's not something I generally like to start a series of adventures off with, but with the story around what is going on - something I would be remiss if I gave the players no warning about until later on - it's just going to happen.

Maybe it won't. The players could always choose to just ignore the hook and continue on their merry way. I just don't think they will.

With all that said, how do you handle situations in which you feel the chance of a PC death is high? Do you forewarn your players (I do, if you didn't catch on.) Do you expect them to figure it out? Do you just treat it like a normal session until things start to go pear shaped?


  1. It depends on the context of the game. In Shadows of Esteren I don't give that warning unless the situation is over the top bad. In L5R when going up against a situation where death is more present than just being 3 feet away I absolutely make it clear.

  2. I'm not a killer-DM. That said, I have killed PC's (not players: too messy, and a mistake I see quite frequently in discussions).

    A few years ago one of my players had a really bad evening with dicerolls, which resulted in her PC (this was 3.5 still) ending up with -4 or -5 hitpoints or so. What happened next surprised even me, because the player completely PANICKED. This was usually one of my more level-headed players so I was completely unprepared for it. So I did what I always do: drop everything and rescue the PC (in videogames, I usually play a healer). There were several NPC's present beside the PC's and I had one do just that, resulting in the NPC losing his life instead of the PC. It ended up still being a really emotional game for all players, not in the least because they were attached to the NPC too, but I managed to avert an actual crisis.

    It made me think quite differently about PC-deaths, and after some discussions with my players I decided to approach it in another way. Now, if PC-death is an option in-game I warn the player(s) in question. Then there will be three ways it can go: 1) the player is unwilling to let the PC die and I'll allow the PC to gain a second chance if something goes bad, which can be earned by good roleplaying, which is basically the above example; 2) the player lets the dice fall and goes with that result whether it's life or death; 3) the player agrees to let the PC die and we both work to make it an epic event. So far, I've had all three happen, and I have to say... working together with the player to give his/her PC a 'proper death' makes it a very memorable event.

    1. Also not a killer GM, and I make the mistake of player vs. PC all the time. :)

      I do discuss things with my players, usually at the beginning of the game. For the first few generations of this game I allowed people to barter their way out of death. Effectively, if the loss they traded was good enough, and made for a good enough story, things could be changed. With this generation that was dropped as I was/am specifically going for a different feel for the generation.

      Even then, I don't put things in front of my PCs to kill them, and my players do know what they're doing, but sometimes you get into a fight and things go poorly.

      I'm not saying all this because I think you're accusing me of doing that by the way, just sharing what is going on with this game. I, personally, am a big fan of your #2 and #3. Sometimes the dice means you die. Sometimes you choose when it happens. Either way, a PC's death should be memorable in some way, whenever that is possible to have happen.

    2. Eh, from reading your blog I know you're not a killer-GM. :p A killer GM usually doesn't think of making a PC's death meaningful. And then it would be the norm during the game, not exceptional enough to be a worth a post of itself. Although now I'm wondering what makes someone a killer GM, and why.

  3. I've been in the situation a couple of times that PCs were close to death, but in those situations it was already abundantly clear. If I do think they may not be aware of the danger, I absolutely warn them - for Shadowrun, we've had a couple of metaquests where things looked harmless, but were potentially lethal.

  4. I try to signpost danger in game and only occasionally step out of game and say, "You may wish to reconsider." Most of my campaigns are not high lethality but the threat of death (or maiming) does exist.

    As an example: In a battle with bandits in my L5R SRIU campaign, hardly a pivotal moment, the Lioness went down, dead. I offered maiming and survival, as we all like the characters, so now she is one-eyed and even more annoyed at the world.

    Like Pixiedragon, I want player to have the opportunity to make their characters' deaths awesome so I try to keep them around until such can be arranged.