Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Rules About Dying

This video has been up like three minutes and already there's stuff about how I'm "killing" the players. Seriously? There was an ambush, they saw it, they decided to go ahead and run into it. The dice made all the decisions from there. In D&D, death comes to those who don't make a concerted effort to avoid it. This does not have to be explained to anybody who reads this blog.

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Death rules recap:

-If you take more hit points than you have, you're considered to be at 0 h.p. and are unconscious unless you were hurt by something that would obviously kill you instantly (falling boulder, death spell, etc.).

-At 0 h.p. you're unconscious but will pop right back up if healed. However, if you go unhealed for an hour, you must roll under your constitution or lose d6 more hit points. At negative your constitution, you're dead.

-Unconscious characters can usually be killed at will by any old schmuck who has a free round on his hands and has no interest in ransoming, interrogating, prisoner-trading, or eating the PCs fresh.

Nobody's quite dead by the end of the video, but half the party's unconscious. And they are surrounded.


Mike Moran said...

Wow. They kinda walked right into that. Sometimes you gotta run!!!

They did put up a good fight though.

mordicai said...

I gave a PC cancer last night; I still worry I'm a soft touch! I will do a lot not to kill a PC-- it takes willful action on their behalf, as a rule. Like say, oh-- trying to fight an army.

The editing at the front end of this episode-- the foreshadowing-- is really great. I got that "feel," you know? That vibe you get when you go "oh crap, this just switched from a 'fight' to an 'escape' didn't it?"

AGCIAS said...

On the plus side, doing this once teaches later characters to run. And they did walk into it with eyes wide shut, as it were. Still, the dice had (from what we were shown) a lot to do with it and when the dice kill the party, you should consider cutting them some slack. If I did that to my players, I'd seriously consider that the local duke, seeing hordes of goblins assembling, might have thought "Oh, what a nice day to BBQ goblins." and the cavalry might ride to the rescue. Or ... oh, wait, wait ... they wake up in a cage waiting until the stars are aligned just right for the Horrendous Goblin Torture and Square-dance, and have to organize an escape or slave revolt. Or sold to a slaver going across the Desert of T'sort, to be sold as galley slaves to the Overlord of Cheese.

So, what did YOU do to them?

Adam Dickstein said...

"In D&D, death comes to those who don't make a concerted effort to avoid it. This does not have to be explained to anybody who reads this blog."

Yes...but it does have to be explained to those you've never played D&D or those who play 4E where you rarely get hurt and everything is handed to you on a silver platter. Wait...was that my outside voice? Heh...

I'm really not one to talk. Since I don't play D&D very much I haven't seen more than one PC death in the last 5 years. Star Trek and Superheroes do not have permanent death as a common occurance.

Our most recent PC death was in a Star Wars game a couple months ago. While infiltrating an enemy battleship, a Jedi Padawan discovered the reactor room of the vessel's main energy weapon. Another player, not realizing this and going with his original instructions from the Republic High Command, fired his Y-Wing's torpedos at said main weapon.

Big boom. Padawan go bye-bye.

Unknown said...

"At 0 h.p. you're unconscious but will pop right back up if healed. However, if you go unhealed for an hour, you must roll under your constitution or lose d6 more hit points. At negative your constitution, you're dead."

We just always said "at -10hp you're dead, but your rule that at -[constitution score] actually makes more sense. I mean, a hearty warrior with a 17 constitution probably would be able to survive more readily than say, a wizard with only an 8.

Anonymous said...

heh, this is what happens when the voice of reason says "fuck it, lets go!". :)

but how come nobody is "quite dead yet" when a neck has been slashed and a heart has been tasted? i am confused...

A GM said...

I'm usually okay with not killing characters without a reasonable chance of redemption (provided they don't bleed out first), because BRP is fairly nasty itself in curbing characters and CoC tops that with neigh-unkillable adversaries.
But walk eyes-wide-open into an ambush, and you may be using your alotted good luck up before the end of the encounter...
And there has to be that element of possible fatal consequence...otherwise some important tension and motivation is lost.
Hope they get out of this.

Joethelawyer said...

@agcias If the party dies or gets in deep shit because of bad dice rolls you ought to save the party as DM?

So what the hell do you bother with dice rolls then? Why not just have the dm decide what happens based on the stated decisions of the players?

Joethelawyer said...

Totally dig the Tribble, btw

Chris Lowrance said...

Yeah, I want a Tribble.

The possibility of death has gotta be there. My take on it is this: Dying can be just as much fun as surviving an encounter, if you die right.

Restitutor Orbis said...

Great episode!

Daniel said...

Shit happens when you get too brave. One of the last games I played (generally a weekly session, over the course of about 6 months), I think I had to reroll a character three or four times, and only one of our five players was still on his original character when we moved on to the next game.

KHamm said...

Good times! Nice to see a lengthy episode again and cliffhangers are always fun.
I agree that death is the fault of the player in many cases. Poke the sleeping dragon? You die. Dont coddle them or theres no tension.

Noumenon said...

Who was responsible for the editing decision to start with the trailer-like "In this episode, somebody DIES"? I think it was a great idea, makes the whole ep feel like a narrative instead of a train wreck, but it seems like something that took a) some serious thought and b) some good editing instincts. So I was wondering who thought it up, you or the Escapist.

Zak Sabbath said...



Jason Langlois said...

One of the reasons I enjoy D&D (and rpgs, in general) is because the players will do crazy stuff like attack a goblin ambush ... and occasionally pull it off. In other fantasy entertainments, you know the heroes will survive, but with D&D, the outcome always in doubt.

Law Kaaw! said...

@barking alien

I make scenarios like this in my 4e games, and when the players decide to press their luck, they sometimes die, just like other editions. Nothing is handed on a silver platter. You just have to be a bit more creative than the encounter formulae they give you in the 4e DM guide.

AGCIAS said...

@joethelawyer I didn't say that, "if the party dies or gets in deep shit because of bad dice rolls you ought to save the party as DM." Nor did I say that you shouldn't bother with dice rolls -- although I have run countless diceless D&D and other RPG games when dice were not available or convenient. They went just fine.

When the party does something incredibly stupid and pulls it off, it is fun for everyone. When the entire party gets wiped out, it generally isn't. I said that, if the party gets into dire straights because of pure bad luck, or even if their stupidity or bull-headedness contributed, the DM should seriously consider ameliorating the effects. There are different ways of punishing players that are more interesting than "well, roll up some more fodder." At least that's my view.

AGCIAS said...

So, Zak, since you can't (I guess) tell us what happened, can you give examples of how you deal with bad dice killing the party.

Mandy said...


I for one would rather not be coddled. The situation we're in on the show wasn't just bad luck it's because we made some very unwise choices. Fear of death is fun and if we do something dumb and fail perhaps we'll learn to not try something that dumb again. And learning is a lot of fun too.

Anonymous said...

There are different ways of punishing players that are more interesting than "well, roll up some more fodder." At least that's my view.

yup, that's how i see it as well.

Fear of death is fun and if we do something dumb and fail perhaps we'll learn to not try something that dumb again.

true, (most) rpgs would be quite boring without the fear of dying.

but what about dying when you did nothing wrong at all? also fun? and isn't attempting to do daring stuff fun too? always being cautious doesn't sound that entertaining to me.

@zak: be honest! have you really never "coddled" anyone when dm'ing? not targeted the weakened members of a party or not using the npcs to their full potential? capture instead of death? i can hardly imagine a dm that never does that.

Zak Sabbath said...


You'll see what happened next week, and the week after that. This here in "Axe" is definitely a situation where they walked right into it.

But, to answer your question, if bad dice kill the party, they're dead.

Calculating the odds is part of the game. Every foe might kill you, that's why they're foes. If you try to pimp-slap the innkeeper's daughter and she criticals you with a broken bottle, well, that's funny.

HOWEVER, I think, as a DM, you're usually not just gonna stumble into death: in most cases (at least when playing with 6 people, one of whom's a cleric 2-3 levels above everyone else) someone will get healed or dragged off to safety.

And, often, the enemy has no reason to immediately kill an unconscious foe. Intelligent foes usually want information or ransom money, and even the Wampa dragged Luke back to his cave because he'd rather eat him fresh.

If you have a situation--like a grinding trap or save-or-die monster, where instant death is a proposition, then, as a DM, you knew that already, so you can't blame the dice.

AGCIAS said...

I agree with you completely. I am not talking about "I make the jump and have to roll 15 or better not to fall" but situations where people plan and play well but roll, again and again, so poorly that they end up near death. I've seen this and been there and appreciate it when the DM cuts me some slack (somethings without my knowledge) and think my players appreciate it. I'm not saying automatically do this but I prefer to at least consider it.

Joethelawyer said...

I'd rather not have the coddling. Its more realistic to have save or die stuff anyhow. Sometimes, its just not your lucky day.

Case in point: Today a monster storm ripped through the city I work in. They think some small tornadoes touched down, which for Connecticut is really rare. I was next to the window watching the storm build, and next thing you know the rain is sideways, then total whiteout, massive crashing sounds outside, and windows shattering all over the place. In 30 seconds it went from windy rainstorm to complete destruction. Buildings collapsed and 75% of all the trees in the area were smashed, uprooted, and/or thrown down the street or through building windows.

Just before the shit hit the fan, I saw the lady who works the hot dog cart outside run into the courthouse. 30 seconds later her cart was smashed by a steel dumpster which was blown down the street, which afterwards smashed a few parked cars.

If she was in the cart she may have died. If she ran 10 seconds later a stop sign I saw laying on the ground may have decapitated her.

This was no fault of hers. She was just trying to sell fuckin' hot dogs. And she came close to dying.

In DnD we are dealing with people who place themselves in danger voluntarily. Imagine how the odds of death increase?

I expect to die every time I play, and the game becomes a battle for life first and foremost, and treasure and magic secondarily. I am always a bit surprised when I walk away from a session with my PC alive.

Adamantyr said...

Hi Zak, love the show! You'll know you've reached true fame when you garner a mention in Knights of the Dinner Table. May that day come soon!

Definitely a nasty situation the girls are in. You gave them all the necessary warnings, though, so we'll see if they can get out of it with a minimum of casualties. Mind you, your dice are on fire...

TPK's are always painful, though. My brother has TPK'ed more than a few parties, and with minor encounters, just through unfortunate die rolls. It's worst when you have more experienced/jaded players who decide that you made the encounter too difficult and so their deaths are YOUR fault.

I just ran a single-session 1st Edition game myself a week ago, for a bit of nostalgia. I've owned the books for years, but never actually tried them out. (2nd Edition was where I really got started.) My players actually had a lot of fun, more than we've had in 4th edition lately, where we spend most of the time arguing about power descriptions.

The only thing I've seen so far of 1st Edition in your gameplay is that you're rolling initiative on a d6. I presume you're keeping it as group initiative? A good idea; I can tell the girls get really excited and want to react right away when they get hit. It's easier if they all go at the same time rather than in an initiative order every combat that changes.

Anonymous said...


don't you feel the fear of death is greatly reduced by dying a lot? death should be a threat, but it should also be rare. if it is not, you just stop caring...

"ok, so we all died again. so? anyone for mariocart?"

when a character dies that should be a special moment. dying from "2d6 wild dogs" cause you rolled shitty isn't exiting or has any great meaning. it can happen, but it should happen only very, very rarely.

fear of death is good. expecting to die (a lot)... isn't. at least it's not my cup of tea.

the story about the hotdog-woman is great, but we are talking about playing a game, not about reality. most fantasy-stories would be impossible with the "death is good"-mindset, cause the heroes would all be dead (where leaving them alive might lead to a much better story, therefore being more fun for everyone, especially the player that didn't die.).

sorry, han solo, you failed your system shock roll, the carbonite killed you. hurray, along comes hon salla, his replacement! off to the pit of carkoon, noone cared about han solo anyway!

and what about you, luke? yup, you failed that reflex save and crashed your speeder into a tree. hah, you'll learn not to drive a speeder ever again (or something)!

Daniel said...


In the game we're running (not actually D&D, it's a system our DM built), our characters get a set amount of "lucky points" they can use per session. Unless you had an epic luck roll during character creation, you'll end up with either 2 or 3; they can be used to redo any roll, whether for a save, or to hit, or even if you just think you should have done more damage or found more gold on a monster's corpse. I realize there's no actual "luck" stat in D&D, but I'm sure a DM could figure out some sort of workaround.

Anonymous said...

(Sorry in advance, Justine)

But, I kind of want Justine to die, so that one of the other players (probably Mandy, or maybe Satine) will come up with the brilliant and absolutely METAL idea of cutting her head off and wielding her stone gaze as a weapon

Nagora said...


"when a character dies that should be a special moment. dying from "2d6 wild dogs" cause you rolled shitty isn't exiting or has any great meaning. it can happen, but it should happen only very, very rarely."

Well, that's the plyers' business, not the DM's. Assuming that the DM at least has some idea of where 2d6 wild dogs might reasonably be encountered, and that the players had made some informed decision about where they were going then it's up to them to make PC death special by making it rare. Maybe you should have asked the old woman in session #6 why the place was called the "Isle of Dogs" when you had the chance.

Rick Marshall said...

Some people want a gaming environment in which they personally are safe so they can try things and take risks, because their characters will pay the consequences if things don't pan out, not them personally.

Others want a gaming environment in which their characters are also safe.

These are very different kinds of gaming, both legitimate, and both can be fun. Whether or not having your characters torn apart by a random encounter with wild dogs is fun depends on why you're playing - to escape for a while from dealing with pain and the risk of death, or to be able to experience those things safely.

It's pretty clear where Zak and his players come down on this split.

Personally, I've been on the avoidance side of the fence for the last two decades, Shlominus, so I sympathize with your position, but long ago I used to be more hardcore and thanks to the example set by Mandy and the gang I'm starting to return to my roots.

As James Maliszewski writes over on Grognardia, trusting to the oracular power of dice not only increases the danger to the characters, it can also increase the fun for a DM who has been-there done-that for a few too many decades. Not knowing how things will turn out refreshes and recharges the game for some of us.

Rob M said...

To validate your DMing Zak, I think it was definitely a good set up and good calls on your part in this episode. All you did was keep to the (goblin's) plan and carry it out fairly. As the video clearly showed, the situation telegraphed itself but they chose to just rush in. I'm sure there were plenty of options for the party to play it smart and have another exciting encounter, but it turned into that inevitable lesson in humility.

Having watched the rest of the series, this strikes me as totally fair and normal occurrence in gaming. I wouldn't say they've had it easy, but a party that's been successful over long odds (through creativity and wits) can succumb to that feeling of invincibility. I've seen (and been guilty of) it before -- they get out of a dungeon with everyone alive and sacks full of loot, and somehow forget the rest of the world is dangerous.

Sucks all around, since no DM *wants* to wipe out a party, since it means a total rewrite. And while a capture/escape scenario is preferable to everyone, I've found those hard to pull off convincingly since the players understandably don't want to lose all their gear and will often risk everything to get it back. Which runs an even higher risk of everyone ending up back at square dead.

Zak Sabbath said...


Sucks all around? Oh hell no, it was good fun. Stay tuned.