Death & Traps

As a Dungeon Master (DM) I have a confession to make. I want to kill a player character at my table. Just one. Not the whole party. Just one, or maybe two and I don’t care which one. I just want to kill one. I have wanted to kill one since I started this 4th edition D&D game two years ago.

My D&D game has been my first real experience with any kind of role-playing game. Before I bought my first 4th Edition book I did a lot of reading about Dungeons & Dragons. Older versions of D&D and on the current version. One thing that did not become apparent to me until my party and I sat down and started playing D&D was how hard it is to threaten a player character with death. With all the healing surges and death saving throws a player has available to them the odds are in the favor of the player that he or she will not die. This fact has been the hardest for me to learn it seem.

I have been reading a lot lately about how other DMs handle this issue and there seems to be a wide array of acceptable answers out their.

(I owe a big thanks to Save VS. Death and the DM hot-line for my recent epiphany about the how to implement and handle death in an RPG game.)

Today however, I had an epiphany about this whole subject of death and I want to share it with all of you. Those of us who run RPG games, the DMs, the Game Masters (GM) out their, first and foremost we are ENTERTAINERS! That is our job. We are entertainers. We need to make sure that the quietest person at our table is having as much fun as the most outlandish and out spoken person at the table. If this is not happening then you’re doing it wrong!

I have realized that if I plan my next game to kill a player character, no one at the table is going to have a good time. It has to happen organically. Players have to make mistakes and you as a DM or GM have to be at the ready to take advantage of their mistakes.

So go about planning your next game like you normally would. Focus on making a great adventure and a great story. One that involves every player at your table. Personally, I have started added way more traps to my adventures. Deadly, painful, scary traps that take away lots of hit points. Lots of times my player characters avoid these traps. Other times they hit a trap head on and proceed the rest of the game with extreme caution. This is all ok. That is what your players are supposed to do. If your players by pass or avoid or just plan miss traps you have hidden, this is all a positive thing. That’s less planning for traps you have to do for your next game. Just take the unused traps and apply them to your next game.

Having learned how to make a deadlier game by using traps, my need to kill a player at my table has subsided quite a bit. This is because I know I am eventually going to kill one. I know it’s only one mistake away. Perhaps a trap is going to take away so many HP for a player to recover from. Perhaps the monster they battle next will be just a little to strong for one of them. However it happens, it will happen organically and it wont feel forced.

16 thoughts on “Death & Traps”

  1. That is a great way to think it over.

    I usually don't plan that, as I'm perfectly fine telling the story and caring about all the players. However, i usually comment that as freeform my games are, should they make stupid mistakes/decisions, all the world logic will fall over them…deadly in most cases. You know, simply don't poke the nose of the slept dragon, or jump out a 747 in mid-flight… ^^

    Apart from that, as the campaign progresses, i just make it a little more difficult. Shame is I have never run a game so long as to see a player die of pure difficulty. but I have been close… :)

  2. Why is it so important for you to kill someone? Why this yearning for character death? I never understood that mentality. Let the dice fall where they may, man! Don't become a stereotype, the "killer GM." What do you seek to "teach" the players through death, or what do you seek to accomplish? You run the risk of making your players see you as competing against them in a bad way. My opinion: there is nothing profound about character death in a game, unless it is truly "earned" by a player through their actions. Random death in a game (and this is a game, where we try to escape the toils of real life for a time in order to have fun) more often than not doesn't bring about any great result. If you don't make a habit of it, that's fine. But a dedication to regularly slaying PCs is a recipe for disaster. I'm glad to read that your obsession is abating a bit, but I suggest you really explore the reasons behind your desire for PC death. You might find that it's not the best of reasons. Maybe it's a negative side effect of 4th edition, which I am not a big fan of, I have to admit. If you want more "fragile" PCs, play OD&D for a while. In the older editions of the game, the players had to rely more on their wits rather than healing surges (utter stupidity) in order to stay alive. But ah, enough talk! Play on, good luck, and as always…happy gaming!

  3. @Drance: I disagree. I believe that all styles of gaming are valid, including an adversarial GM style where death is expected.

    check out Save versus Death. Sersa V, thbe author of that blog, is my GM. the level of lethality present isn't just for the blog, it gets thrown at us players every week. and I couldn't be having more fun.

    tldr: there is no "doing it wrong"

  4. Well, look, if the DM and the players all knowingly go into a game with the knowledge/agreement that the game will be very deadly and such, I have absolutely no problem with that at all. But the key is that one and all agree to the deadliness of a campaign. If that's what you all want, then more power to you, have fun! I never meant to imply that any particular style of gaming wasn't valid. Not at all. You are correct, there is no "doing it wrong." But my point was, don't become fixated on any aspect of gaming, or you run the risk of blowing that aspect of your game out of proportion. To become obsessed with killing PCs could potentially cause the DM to loose focus on other aspects of the game, such as developing well-fleshed-out NPCs, side quests, etc. Heck, a DM that becomes obsessed with all the minute details of his NPCs runs a similar risk, you see what I am getting at here? I suppose my ultimate point was that becoming so engrossed in one aspect of the DM's difficult job can often lead to problems in a game. And I'm not just talking about character death.

  5. Ahem, well, that was quite the stinging reposte, my friend! Touche! Viva la difference! Happy gaming, no matter what or how you play!

  6. It is a smart business plan. WotC is a corporation who's bottom line goal is to make money. Gamers are usually really smart people but I think near the whole lot never took an economics class at the college level. I believe the general feeling is that people love DDI because it allows them to keep current on the spirt of the rules without having to buy a new book after new book to keep up-to-date. I for one hate buying a book just for some small bit of crunch I need for a character. DDI is perfect. What does that mean for WotC far less print books are sold. But DDI will make up for that. Only if people pay for it every month. We all know people that pay for a month download the updates wait several months and download all the monthly missed updates. Rinse and repeat. A decent way to save money.

    Bottom line is WotC is attempting to seamlessly close that gap. We keep talking that they haven't put this or that out but wouldn't you rather it be right before it goes out. we have cruxcified WotC for crappy products.

  7. Ooo, I was laughing maniacally to encourage Youseph. He participates at my blog a lot, and I was happy to see this post and pleased that he's taken a turn for the sinister. :)

  8. @Sersa V – I thank you. I believe that you have made me a better DM as a result. I learned a lot about how to play the game thanks to you recently.

  9. OK, glad we got that cleared up. Bottom line, if you're having fun, it doesn't really matter how you're playing the game.

  10. In my time playing RPGs almost all of my most memorable moments have been those games in which my character has either died or almost died. I find that risk gets my heart pumping and puts me into the game like nothing else. Nothing risked, nothing gained.

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