Character Death & TPK: friend or foe?

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Character Death & TPK: friend or foe?

Postby Telaril » 06 Apr 2009, 03:47

As an occasional DM/GM, I don't kill characters very often. I do have a history of coming up with "traps" where the best chance for survival is to run away, hide, or negotiate rather than to roll for initiative, and people failing to take advantage of these obvious alternatives is the number one cause of player death in my campaigns. Still, I'd say I kill fewer than one in ten characters under my charge. I don't know if I've ever had a Total Party Kill in a non-C'thulu session I've run.

That said, I have sometimes designed encounters that are too difficult for my current players, and I realize midway through that they are probably going to die. Or I design an encounter that is entirely do-able, but they make some really stupid mistake several times early on, and are suddenly screwed. Letting one or two of them die to teach them a lesson is fine in this case, but a total party kill or wipe would entirely ruin the campaign. If the encounter design is my mistake, I usually "cheat down" for the players, reducing the maximum hit points for some of the mobs, for example. In other cases, I'll have some plot point come up and save the day, or some NPC join the fray (It's SPLUG!).

I find that in some settings TPKs or massive player deaths are appropriate, especially Call of C'thulu one-shots or mini-campaigns. Since most people are playing stock or generic pre-rolls in these mini runs, there's less angst and disappointment when everyone dies a bloody and awful death, and a high body count adds to the settings' horror factor.

A few weeks ago I showed my roleplaying group the D&D episode of Hustle, and they thought it was funny, yes... but also they kept commenting on what an awful DM Jer's character was. One of the problems was that they have a similar DM in the game they play with another DM that I don't play in. Now I know from the podcast that he's not really like that, but it was interesting to see how long-term, hardcore D&Ders reacted to his portrayal of a DM.

I'd be interested to hear what everyone's views are on TPKs and player death in tabletop RPGs.
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Postby Cake » 06 Apr 2009, 04:08

If in the normal course of battle a player dies, then they are dead. I don't make any special concessions for players that drop below -10 hp. It's something I really hated as a player. I had a DM who would never let us die, and as a result we started not caring about the encounter, because we knew we weren't going to die.
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Postby gryffinp » 06 Apr 2009, 08:03

I, for one, play Paranoia. For those who are unaware, Paranoia is a game with some strong opinions on this subject. In Paranoia, each player has five backup clones in the event that one of them dies. In Paranoia, the GM is always right. If the die rolls a 17 and the GM says it's a 3, the die is WRONG. On the flip side, the GM is also told "Remember, the players aren't your enemies. They're your entertainment."

I plan on GMing my first game of Paranoia later today. Should be fun.

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