How to handle a character being killed

Dr Zaius

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The discussions in one of the other threads prompted me to think about how GMs and DMs handle one of the group's main characters being killed.

In your gameworld what typically happens when a player's character is killed? Do you allow them some chance to bring the character back with science or magic, or is dead really dead? I know some DMs that use a homegrown system of "critical hits" instead of actually killing off the character. For instance, if the character has 10 hit points left and takes a blow that does 20 points of damage, the DM might say something terrible happened to the character. Instead of telling the player his character's skull has been smashed, the DM might elect to put the character in a coma, or perhaps the character lost an eye, etc.

Characters tend to live in very dangerous game worlds, and by their very nature they seek out even more danger. But the game can't be very fun if the player's main characters keep dying like flies.
 

Aries

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Well first off it took me a while, but in time, and after playing basically all the major systems, I realised, whether you are playing a plain jane D&D game with a level 1 player character and an unexciting 8 or so hit points, or a Rolemaster player character, that covers 4 pages of minute details and considerable effort, they can all be killed by the opponent getting a good dice roll.
It generally takes a lot less effort to find out the orc killed your PC with his hit in D&D though. Roll to hit, roll damage, done. Rolemaster has a great deal more effort and drama involved.

But, if your player CAN'T take the threat seriously, then you've killed the thrill of NOT dying in a close run battle.

Not long back, in the game I am playing in as a player, my PC was the only one to survive the night's session. I barrel rolled OUT of a room when the door closed suddenly. I was rear guard, I was near the door. The room had a vampire opponent. The Vampire possessed one PC, used that on another, left the tank hopelessly outclassed with one remaining PC that was unable to contribute.
I miraculously reopened the secret door (it was a long shot after after all). The tank immediately yelled "throw the sword" (I had this uber undead killing sword). I was basically a super archer ranger, and the player said, I'd rather fight with your sword, than risk your machine gun like archer coming in and getting possessed (he figured if I turned on him he was toast, I could hit damn near anything with an arrow).

Well it turns out he didn't make it. So I told the DM I was behind hard cover around a corner eyeing the door. If anyone came out looking "weird" I shot and ran. Well I had damn near no chance of making the "sense motive" roll, but hey, sometimes you are lucky. I made my roll. The dwarf tank was "weird" looking, I shot and then ran.

So you're in a bar, and you see this really smelly grubby looking elf ranger, who seems to be trolling for some individuals who want some adventure ...... :)

Hey it happens eh. The group are all dead but me. Well sort of, some will be undead adversaries the next time I meet them I suppose. If they have not met up with an adventuring party first.

No one in the group resented that I ran, no one resented they all needed new characters. All my friends are mature adults just getting together to play some rolegaming. Player Characters occasionally die.

Now, if you have a PC, and he dies, and he's a valued member to the "story" what do you do. I once played in a game, where we dragged around a dwarf that had been turned to stone. Of course we did, you can reverse that spell.
I have also had people die in a game, then you bring them back, and the bad news, is they "legally died". That means your family has all your stuff, or a business associate, because they went to the funeral, you had died, and they inherited your things.
Contracts are now cancelled. Your wife has moved on etc etc etc, you get the picture.

I thankfully don't have to worry about petty issues based on "well I don't like that guy, because he isn't a team player" sort of tricky decisions. I haven't had to deal with "oh he's only level 1, he's not worth as much as Frank our 10 level druid".
Generally in the games I have played in, resurrection is not something that routinely happens. It's the sort of mega powerful power that only the gods are likely to offer. It's not something you just buy if you have a shitload of gold.

I've had PCs hover at death's door before, but, when a PC is genuinely dead, it has been my experience "anyone got a fresh PC record sheet?"

One other issue that often get's over looked where death is concerned.
If you are routinely responsible for people joining with you, and THEY end up dead, but miraculously nothing ever happens to the core group, in time, you find it is nearly impossible to hire ANYone to work with you. Nothing like being given a reputation of being a jinxed group eh.
 

Whizbang1963

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Don Maddox said:
The discussions in one of the other threads prompted me to think about how GMs and DMs handle one of the group's main characters being killed.

In your gameworld what typically happens when a player's character is killed? Do you allow them some chance to bring the character back with science or magic, or is dead really dead? I know some DMs that use a homegrown system of "critical hits" instead of actually killing off the character. For instance, if the character has 10 hit points left and takes a blow that does 20 points of damage, the DM might say something terrible happened to the character. Instead of telling the player his character's skull has been smashed, the DM might elect to put the character in a coma, or perhaps the character lost an eye, etc.

Characters tend to live in very dangerous game worlds, and by their very nature they seek out even more danger. But the game can't be very fun if the player's main characters keep dying like flies.

I guess it depends on the circumstances that led to them being dead. I don't know about the rest of you, but sometimes as DM or GM (choose term you prefer) I tend to get a little aggressive in my role play..so if the PC's death is because I was a little overzelous, well I tend to give them some kind of an out. Solve a riddle issued by your diety and you are resurrected or something like that. It also give the other PC's a chance to use some of their acquired skill and knowledge to aid the sorely injured PC...

Had one GM we played with that did not consider you dead dead until your hit points were negative to the same number as when you were perfectly healthy. You'd be in a coma during which your party members could bind your wounds for 1d4 healing, concoct herbal cures or use spells to bring you back to zero or 1 HP where you'd be alive, but in need of additional serious rest and repairs. Was a lot of fun to play that way at lower levels. At higher levels, well if we died it was usually because we were trying to kill something a whole lot bigger'n badder'n us...
 

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**** happens Whizbang, even to DMs :)

I was running a game of Warhammer, and sadly I was not totally great with "improvised weapon" as a choice.

So the usual grope event in an atypical bar scene occurs, and I figure ok the bar maid didn't appreciate the player's hand being up her dress that far, and she slugs him with a beer mug.

Roll attack, roll damage, sheeeeit, he's dead?

Killed him with a beer mug.

I thought about it for a few moments, then I decided as DM, "No, I'm running this damn game not some frickin dice", and I told him, "it never happened, move on".

That's the logical course of action for a responsible game runner to take. You don't just trash a guy's PC "just cause".

Now, I've played in games, where the DM had a planned encounter written up for say 10 levels away in time. Monster was in location X, it was assumed the group would zig not zag. Group Zags, encounters a monster that is waaaaay too powerful and kills half the group off.
That's just clumsy DMing, and generally if the DM absolutely refuses to alter the conditions covertly, then chances are, "I'm not available next game night", and the next and the next and the next.
The proper choice, would have been to "conveniently alter the conditions, so that the party was supposed to zag, not zig. That's just being responsible.

It takes skill to be a fun DM, you can't just be one "because you want to" if you suck. No one will want to play, the game will suck blah blah blah.
I've known guys that were great players, just didn't have the penache to run a game.
 

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If they are careless or fighting between themselves, kill'em off! If it is a freak thing like a beer mug let them live. And never ever let the player see the dice. :devious:
 

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Aries said:
**** happens Whizbang, even to DMs :)

I was running a game of Warhammer, and sadly I was not totally great with "improvised weapon" as a choice.

So the usual grope event in an atypical bar scene occurs, and I figure ok the bar maid didn't appreciate the player's hand being up her dress that far, and she slugs him with a beer mug.

Roll attack, roll damage, sheeeeit, he's dead?

Killed him with a beer mug.

I thought about it for a few moments, then I decided as DM, "No, I'm running this damn game not some frickin dice", and I told him, "it never happened, move on".

That's the logical course of action for a responsible game runner to take. You don't just trash a guy's PC "just cause".

Now, I've played in games, where the DM had a planned encounter written up for say 10 levels away in time. Monster was in location X, it was assumed the group would zig not zag. Group Zags, encounters a monster that is waaaaay too powerful and kills half the group off.
That's just clumsy DMing, and generally if the DM absolutely refuses to alter the conditions covertly, then chances are, "I'm not available next game night", and the next and the next and the next.
The proper choice, would have been to "conveniently alter the conditions, so that the party was supposed to zag, not zig. That's just being responsible.

It takes skill to be a fun DM, you can't just be one "because you want to" if you suck. No one will want to play, the game will suck blah blah blah.
I've known guys that were great players, just didn't have the penache to run a game.
In one of my old Dragon mags they had made up a monster classification for the "Killer DM". I'll see if I can dig it up, it's quite good. IIRC the "Sleep Inducing DM" is also included.
 

Dr Zaius

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Aries said:
That's the logical course of action for a responsible game runner to take. You don't just trash a guy's PC "just cause".
Hear, hear. I'm a big believer in the idea that the DM doesn't need to be bound by any roll of the dice or crazy rule. Of course this does put additional responsibility on the DM to run an interesting and fun campaign.
 

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In one of my worlds where I played the GM had what he would call 'Karma'. If your character died you lost 1/2 your experience points and could use the new experience toward a new character.

I thought it was brilliant and have used it in my games ever since. Sure you don't get the same effect as dying outright, but when you lose a character it doesn't hurt as much.
 

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A popular policy in the local gaming scene is dead PCs return as 1 level behind the lowest level member of the current group.

This means getting killed DOES suck, but it doesn't mean you end up with a level 1 deadweight that the group has to treat as if you were a 16 year old suddenly told by mom "you have to look after your brother (all of 5 years old) while I am out tonight".

And that's about how thrilling a level 1 PC will be to say a bunch of level 8 PCs.
Groan that means 2 months of gaming shot because we have to play sessions that won't have the level 1 dude accidentally killed by something we wouldn't even notice.

The downside, is you don't get to see your PC evolve. Life sucks, pick your poison hehe.
 

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True, that was the advantage of the Karma approach as well, you lost 1/2 your xp, but in most games that means you lost less than 1/2 your levels since lower levels are gained faster for less xp than higher ones.

Of course in that game whenever my character did anything risky I started prepping a Karma Character, Just in Case. I never needed it, but the chance of dying was a big fear, not that it stopped me from doing dumb and dangerous things. LOL
 

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My only "bad" experience was with Rolemaster.

Fricking 6 page character designs. But a Rolemaster PC can be killed just as fast and as easily as a level 1 D&D PC.

Thing is, a D&D PC doesn't take many hours to write up.

Then you combine our DM for that stuff, and he was constantly "messing up" a game, and deciding he needed to invent a new game setting, and we needed new PCs.

Yeah I know, why did we humour him. We were in our teens and stupid I think is the right answer :)

But eventually I get fed up. So I designed the templated fighter.

Because all games have a bestest possible uber killing machine aka hack n slash keep yer "role"gaming 2 dimensional fighter.
That's what I went with.
I focused on EXACTLY what made a great yet simple fighter with no other point other than kill anything in sight.
I faked all the rest of the "role" gaming, and at that age, none of the rest of the gang had much clue how to roleplay anyways.

In time I think my friend got wise, not sure though.

We all know some, they reeeeeeally never actually totally "grew out" of hack n slash.
 

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I am really sorry to hear that. you see, I love the rolemaster system, all of the best campaigns I have run, and the very best of the games I have played in have been rolemaster.

My big complaint with the D&D system is that a 15th level Ranger can walk into an Orc stronghold and slaughter the entire holding of 200 orcs without getting a scratch.

With Rolemaster that same Ranger has the possibility of dying before he even clears the guardroom at the entrance. With a good GM the rolemaster game is well worth the investment for the players, the GM needs to move things along though. Don't perform endless rolls, make the rolle you really need to. The rules even suggest allowing a character to automatically do anything that a person could reasonably be expected to do and limit the skill / stat checks to truly outrageous situations.

Mordrig is a rolemaster character, Nevron is run using rolemaster as a guideline, but the GM basically writes out our turns as a story. Rolls are there for combat and when skill checks must be made but they are rarely noticed in the flow of the turns.

OTT games do run long in rolemaster and as a GM for them I try to reduce the rolls. If the characters are slaughtering the enemy in a fight I will either speed up the combat by simply declaring the enemies dead and extrapolating the wounds to the characters (sure they may have died but I doubt it), or make a roll to see if the enemy runs away (broken squad from Squad Leader). The GM should also try to keep the same campaign setting / characters. I know people get bored sometimes and want a change. That is easy, run a campaign, when people are bored or want something different simply do not run the game for a bit, then bring it back out later and start from where they were before. My current campaign is set in Middle Earth (I own almost everything about ME from ICE), The game went on pause for 8 months in the middle of a fight, now we are resuming.
 

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That reminds me of one of the players in my campaign.

He wanted a sorceror, potentially an Uber Spell Caster. He spent hours creating this character, so long in fact that the rest were getting bored so I told him, finish your skill development and buy your supplies, then give it to me when done. He tagged along with the group while they went adventuring. He put in his 2 cents when they had problems, but stayed out of anything that would require a skill roll. Finally the group tracked down a band of orcs and started long range missile fire on them.

The first character got a very lucky roll and hit the leader orc between the eyes with an arrow at maximum range. I couldn't believe the roll. The orcs went into a panic and started to run. A second shot hit another orc in the leg and he was forced to slow down. This guy finally announced his character was done and that he would ride the orc down. This guy is a sorceror wielding a mace. I say "OK, roll for the charge." He makes his roll and charges the wounded orc. I make a few rolls and the orc has a short bow, he knows he is dead but he is not going down without a fight so he fires at the charging horseman. WHACK! a minor hit on the rider, but enough to knock him from his galloping horse. I roll again, minor damage from the fall, he should survive, but there is a minor (A level) impact critical from the fall. Another roll, this time a 100. The fall breaks the characters nose and drives the bone into his brain, instant death!:surprise: I took mercy on the guy though, Yes I killed his character, he was dumb to charge an armed orc with a sorceror, he is not a fighter, he is a spell caster, but I let him announce that his characters twin brother rode out to be with the party and arrived at camp that night.
 

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I concur, that the D&D game can occasionally lead to some "dumbness".

I never liked the idea, "Oh I will just jump off the cliff, it's only Xd6 damage, and I know I can survive that".

Really gets my goat that one aspect.

In my game, you jump off a 3 story cliff, I'm rolling a percentile. Maybe 5 and under, you are merely massively injured, otherwise your dead, and no, I'm not rolling a handful of d6 for you to see if you made it.

As for epic drops of hundreds of feet, nope, you're dead.

I found Rolemaster great for ROLEplay, providing the DM actually loves ROLEplay. It's the wrong game for hack n slash.
I once made a Leader class PC. What a stupid waste. No one wanted to benefit from having a leader present, and the DM made it plain he wasn't interested in letting me raise an army.
All he wanted was the cliche "army of 6 PCs yet again save the world".

That crap works in a book because the author is the only one actually making decisions.
 
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Mordrig

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I run a campaign via e-mail. One of the characters chose a Leader Class Character. The guy followed the newsletter that I send out occasionally and his character is now leading a small force of about 300 "Scouts" which is really an elite guerrilla unit making hit and run raids on the invading enemy army. He is the most capable commander the country has, but because he is not from there still needs to prove himself to the locals to actually gain command of more of the army. Then again I also use War Law and not just Arms Law. Again, sorry, but that is a failing of your GM.

Some of the RM classes are hard to game with, the Dream Master class, his greatest powers are useful when asleep, that is not much use in gaming OTT, but has potential in other formats. Perhaps suggest to the GM that he allow characters to play via e-mail with the occasional game played as a group for a specific purpose or quest?
 

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Rolemaster has the most ultra cool spell ever given to rolegaming as well.

I think it is called "improbability". Never got the chance to abuse the DM with it unfortunately.

You use the spell like this, "what's the chance of that board he's standing on breaking?" the spells makes it happen :)

Has no effect on anything of actual quality, and certainly no effect on the magical.

But say the evil villain is standing over a dangerous drop. Oops sorry he feel to his death, pity that.

Or, "what's the chance the strap holding on his belt that holds up his uber sword breaks?" Oops you go to speed draw your sword, but a second before that neat fast draw skill he had is usable, his strap snaps, the sword falls and he finds he has no sword to fast draw :)

As you can see, a player that enjoys being a prick can be devestating with this spell. And, I think it's a measly level 1 spell, he could likely cast it all damn day hehe.
 

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The spells and possibilities they have is one of the great things about that system. The Nevron GM will let you do wonderful things with the spells, as long as you can think of a new and wonderful thing he will let you try it. Very good GM that way.
 

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Is it a good sign in modern horror game, that GM has stampled an additional page to character sheets... The page is Autopsy form...
 

Dr Zaius

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I concur, that the D&D game can occasionally lead to some "dumbness".

I never liked the idea, "Oh I will just jump off the cliff, it's only Xd6 damage, and I know I can survive that".
Then the DM isn't doing his job properly. The DM always has the final say and common sense should prevail over stupid tricks.
 

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I agree Don,
But then you get the rule lawyers who insist that the rules state d6 damage per 10'. This is my problem with D&D, rolemaster can kill a character from a 6' fall, sorry buddy you just landed wrong.

D&D is not a bad system, don't get me wrong, I just prefer Rolemaster.
 
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