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Helping The PCs Prosper

When it comes to being a DM, I find that my attitude changes completely as opposed to when I'm a player. When I'm a DM, I'm not opposed to having baddies make a bad decision. I actually have a "Dice Pool" That I use for when I feel the characters are being overwhelmed, or not challenged enough (Only at low levels, <5). Let's put it this way. Baddie A Hits PC B with a Greatsword. It's a critical Hit. Unfortunately, the amount of damage that the Baddie does is more than enough to finish off the PC and reduce him to -10.

But the player has a Great Character, he adds to the story, and helps me by placing plot hooks in his character background. Do I have the Baddie kill him outright due to one bad die roll? No. However, the character pays for it later. You know those skill checks that the DM rolls for the players? Yeah, they fail one. Like, Roll a 1 fail. Sometimes, this can be just as deadly as a critical hit in combat. Such as using your "Use Rope" skill to tie a rope connecting yourself to the party Wizard so you can both climb the mountain. And the rope comes undone. Uh oh. After the characters hit level 5, though, I expect them to be able to handle shit on their own.

As a player, I'm the opposite. I don't want any help. If my character gets eaten, He gets eaten. I still have a great time developing the character.

Originally Posted by Darakonis View Post
If the player is "at fault" -- doing something stupid, fighting to the death instead of accepting to surrender, fighting the ancient dragon despite the warnings they received that it would be suicidal -- then I don't believe leniency is in order.
If the player does something stupid (but awesome) as some of my players are prone to do, and you like their character, it sometimes doesn't feel right to kill them. In cases where a player just charged the Big Bad, attempting to stuff a grenade down their throat, death might not be the only 'punishment.' It can add a lot to the story if instead you cause a character to lose a hand, permanently cripple a leg, or receive horrible scarring. It lets the player know that their activities were perhaps overboard, and gives them a lasting reminder that causes everyone to feel more involved with the world you have weaved.

On the flip side, sometimes you might want to kill a character once they've developed beyond a certain level. For example, the guy in the war movie that takes out his family photo and says something like, 'I'm going home tomorrow!' and then gets killed. You start with a generic character, build him up so that others can empathize with him, and then rip him off the stage for dramatic effect. If all of your players have just sat around talking about why they do the things they do, and a big fight is coming up, you might consider planning a death. Of course, if they perform better than you had thought they would, you should spare them.

For me, it depends on the situation. If the situation is dramatic and interesting, the utter failure of the PCs is a possibility. If not, utter failure is not a possibility. Basically, I just don't let the PCs die during random encounters and mook fights. But when it comes to big boss battles, or other such important planned events, I play it fair, and anything is possible.

Doing this will gain you the players' respect. We play games of high adventure and drama. Nobody wants to lose their character in a non-dramatic moment. It's just boring and anti-climactic. But losing a character in a dramatic moment is exciting, interesting, and climactic. The player of that character gets a certain sense of fulfillment, a feeling of a story well-ended.

The players should always feel the sense of danger, or there's no point in playing. The key is when to make the danger real, and when to use a false danger purely as a plot device to move the PCs closer towards the real danger. Done correctly, even the false dangers still feel real, and the players will never know when the GM is fudging things.

Interesting posts, good discussion going on here.

Octavian_5: You've piqued my interest; I don't suppose you have a transcript of "The Man I Killed Thrice"? ^^

docmartin: That's a fascinating point you brought up -- as DM, you do believe in "fudging," but as a player, you don't. 99% of the time, I've been a DM, so maybe that's why I don't feel so opposed to "fudging" the way some people are.

Notion: Ah, the Rule of Cool. I do agree with you there -- there definitely is a difference between "stupidly" charging the BBEG with a grenade, and "stupidly" jumping off a cliff because you think you can tank the fall damage.

Dean: That's a good rule to live by. Thinking back, I believe I, too, have followed that line of thought, albeit unconsciously.

I think there should be repercussions for player actions, good or bad. I think players should have to consider what actions their characters will take, and the outcome and not just blindly and fearlessly charge after anything with a lazy eye because it must be villainous and therefore slaughtered. I don't go for the "but they're heroes!" argument to describe when characters attack a clearly infinitely more powerful aggressor. When I DM there may be occasions when characters will be faced with something well beyond their power to defeat with physical force; I do not scale every encounter.

Unless the DM advertises as an Action-based/H&S campaign or the players characters are made of barbarians and fighters and not a double digit INT or WIS in the bunch, there should be alternatives to fighting through every encounter. I play that way and I DM that way.

As far as fudging goes, I like to live by what the dice turn up, though I also don't generally publicly post DM rolls; maybe I should but I generally post my rolls in private tags to myself so that if anyone were to call me for fudging of or I needed to refer back to a roll I made and see if I applied the correct mods, etc. I could. Likewise, I could add someones name to the privacy tags and let them see that I didnt fudge.

I recently DM'd a game where a character was killed off by wolves. As characters moved about to flee the creatures or get a better position, I applied die rolls to determine who the wolves would attack each round and even though the odds were in her favor, the dice kept coming up against the same character even when she moved away from them. Other characters tried to intervene but the wolves dived on her and she was finished. It wasn't a glorious death, nor was it intended to happen but for better or worse, it did happen and I think it added a real sense of danger to the game.

When I DM, I make *all* rolls out in the open. Yeah, the characters can figure out the enemies stats, but after enough rounds of combat they begin to do that anyway. I do this because I wan't the players to know that I do not fudge rolls and I do not pull punches.. I want the fear of death to be real to them. I want them to know that they can die just as easily as the opponents they face. On the flip side, when they pull off that miracle comeback, I wan't them to know that they actually did it, not that it was because I felt sorry for them. In short, I never want any in game incident - good or bad - to ever be questioned as legitimate.

I know its unorthodox, but I prefer to play it that way.

Originally Posted by Darakonis View Post
Octavian_5: You've piqued my interest; I don't suppose you have a transcript of "The Man I Killed Thrice"? ^^
Unfortunately not. I'll contact the guy, though, see if he still has it.

I fudge results only occasionally, as almost every scene I come up with has an alternate route through it. The Golem has an off command and the PC's have heard it before, realizing it and remember it is the tricky part. Less perceptive players may rush the golem and I won't pull any punches on the golems part. If someone dies I come up with a story to reviving the character, often bringing the character back "flawed". Or they can reroll and make a new character

Getting beat in some minor battle then becomes a whole new adventure.

Offering more than one way through the adventure is part of what makes RP-ing great! Instead of just hack-and-slash, using your noodle is more rewarding for players, I think. Especially if they're a rogue rather than a fighter, say. Sure, you could sneak up and stab the evil-doer in the back, but what if you could turn a golem against him and have an ally in the fight?

As a player, having a character die due to a die roll - after spending a week or so developing them, being excited about their potential, and immersing myself into this character's life, skills, and relationships - I would be pissed. And I know it's a game, and that death is sometimes the way it goes, but i myself absolutely Do Not believe dice should dictate life. You don't need death hanging over a PC's head to instigate chance or fear. Players should not be thinking 'if I don't succeed, I am going to die'. They should be thinking, 'If I don't succeed, the bad guys will win'. Death itself should be a non factor.

I'm not saying I believe you should never kill characters. What I believe is that death itself should be in the player's hands. They are the ones invested into the character, they dreamed up its creation and have planned or imagined its future. They should be the ones to decide whether to terminate the investment and start over, not anyone else. Player stupidity should definitely not be awarded - if they ignore warning signs, or grossly overestimate their own abilities, etc they should definitely pay the price. As a GM, there is usually something else you can choose other than death. In the deer example above, my choice would have been to make the PC unconscious and give the player the chance at an outcome roll. Assign the roll a few possibilities - loss of use of limb, infection/rabies, loss of ability, death - allow the player to remove the death option if they want, and then roll. The character's fate is still up to chance, but the player has had the opportunity to remove death from the equation.

If you have a character that falls into death situations on a regular basis, then you have a problem, but that is a deeper problem than death via die roll, and is another discussion entirely.

Of course, this is the point of view of a person who has played tabletop maybe 4 times in her life, and joins game to participate in the story rather than try out the new ninja rules. If i join a game, I expect to be immersed, for my character to establish relationships, fears and desires, and experience danger. I expect my GM to engage me and communicate and not pull a cheap shot, like rendering my character dead instead of crippling them because they fumbled a climb or jump roll.

Also, I try not to play games where I know the GM practices death via dice. I played one once, and I didn't like it at all. I found myself always taking the safe route, never reaching for chance or RPing my character to his full capacity. If there was a way to do something without I dice roll, I opted for it. The character itself was a thief, with high acrobatic skills for scaling buildings. Ask me how often I stole, or climbed through a window, walked across a rooftop - zilch. I was that paranoid to roll. And I'm sure the GM was as disappointed in me as I was, and it won't be an experience I enter into again. No matter that the GM is stellar, that I admire them, and am inspired by their writing. I know that there is a chance my PC can die in a routine battle, and I know how pissed I will be if that happens, and how I would be mad at the GM even though it really wouldn't be their fault cause it was my choice to enter the game in the first place.

In my current 4e game, which is more a GM experiment because people keep trying to convince me I will like 4e, I am GMing seasoned players that are accustomed, and actually prefer, to have death as a dice option. It's a foreign situation for me, and I still can't bring myself to allow it, so I have come up with this solution: If a character or NPC rolls a death card, they will get two outcomes (posts) from me. One will be their death, one will be the other, and they will have the option of choosing between them or rolling a decision die. I think it's a fair compromise.


On the fudging rolls or manipulating battles, I've done it a few times. The first time was a tourney style fight whre the opposition was supposed to be cheat. While the player and combatant battles, a pair of overhead archers was overhead to strike at them with arrows, blunted with sacks of colored powder, as a distraction and to inflict some minimal damage. In the event the fight wa a close one (we went rounds, not until hp reached [x]), the winner of the contest would be the one wearing less powder. Since the opponent was cheating, my archers were only going to aim for the player, so I wanted them to only be able to hit on a natural 17+. Trouble was, I'd forgotten one of the character's buffs so my archers couldn't even hit with a natural 20. So after the first round, i upped their BAB. i did inform the player, and he laughed at me.

The second time was a chamber with a pit, the pit being magically dark so the PC couldn't determine its depth, and the chamber entered and exited via doors locked by puzzle. A bridge ran over the pit, connecting both doors, and elements to finish the 'exit' puzzle were needed from the 'enter' puzzle, so the PC had to go across the bridge at least once in figuring it out. Two shadow panthers jumped out of the pit to oppose him. He dispatched of these easily, without hardly losing any hp, so I decided that the shadow panthers were regenerating guards and hopped them out again. In the end, I had to allow the PC to figure out the puzzle with one less puzzle piece in order to let him get away from my panthers, but it was a highly enjoyable confrontation, both for myself and my player.

The third time was simple 4e newbness. I am used to leveling up monsters in relation to PC BAB/talents/etc. I discovered that when you do that with 4e monsters, it is not such a good thing. It was my first 4e battle, one PC vs 4 thugs, 3 on the cobbles, one on the roof. The rooftop archer kept hitting and rolling max damage. The leader hit him with a crit, and in one round, the PC was depleted of 54 hp. I completely abandoned the foes hp altogether and had the lead thug die in the next round, the two on foot run off, but kept the archer - who continued to roll max damage - until the pc got up there, and then i had the archer beg for his life and when it was spared, made him a valuable NPC as a whim.


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