Friday, November 9, 2018

Discussion: Preferred Lethality Level?

When it comes to RPGs what are your preferred lethality levels? Do you want your character to be safe from random death so you can tell their story and explore who they are? Do you want a high level of lethality where combat encounters have to be approached carefully, or you risk ending the whole campaign in any given session? Or do you prefer something in between?

This is one of the few areas where I find my preferences lie on the borders as opposed to the middle. While I don't want my character kept safe from any harm, if we're doing a story game I do enjoy being able to explore who the character is and tell their story. On the other hand, I also enjoy having combat be a complex draw where - by modern parlance - the game is almost 'Dark Souls Esque' where you need to plan and execute on that plan or bad things can happen - in Shadow Run terms, full Black Trenchcoat can be fun, if you know that is what you're going into.

I find games that try to straddle the middle - having highly lethal encounters, but also wanting to tell the story and explore characters - can have problems. Not because of something in how the game is run, but because once characters start to drop dead players stop being as eager to invest in their new characters as much. Yes, some people will - and that's great - but if someone is on Character #3 you are probably getting a much simpler and straightforward PC out of them.

What about you? Where do you like your difficulty/lethality curve set at?


  1. It really depends on the game type for me.
    I always want enough lethality for players to take threats seriously, because I find investment in the game drops if there is no feeling of consequences. In combat, dying, or being crippled is the normal consequence. Capture being another option.

  2. Great topic and very contentious.

    I want death to be rather rare, because it's mostly very boring. The lead up tends to involve argument and rule checking, general displeasure, and the chore of making a new character and bringing it into the game. It doesn't have to be that way, but it often it.

    But, I still want challenge for myself and my players. So I focus on ways to lose other than death. Monsters have goals and they can achieve them without laying a finger on the PCs (though sometimes it's easier to at least knock the PCs down first). I find that results in the same tactical and roleplaying challenges, but fewer arguments and less incentive for the GM to pull punches or the players to metagame.

    1. I used to be better at the "monsters have goals" thing and I need to get back to it. Fights to the death, all the time, are boring. But having objectives is interesting because there is more going on and more at stake. It also gives different consequences for failure that isn't just "you lose your character."

    2. Right, and there's not necessarily a spell that can correct a given failure whereas many games can correct death easily.

      I tend to turn to TV shows and movies (and my players) for ways to have a combat situation that isn't solved simply by killing, capturing or routing everyone on the other side.