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Helping The PCs Prosper

I've been mulling a response on this thread for a bit, but Cleokatrah has pretty much summed up most of my feelings on the matter, so +1 to that

Well I normally don't allow death to be permanent, allowing characters to resurrected with a new type of flaw, say vampiric, maybe a rotting smell or once I made a character into a zombie, able to think and act but still a zombie. There was a conclusion that could be reached by finding a cure, or more powerful mage, but only if the party decided to look for it. I looked at it as a way to show no magic is perfect and you aren't invincible. Often I also allowed for the character to take a level loss instead of imperfect resurrection.

Fair enough Cleo, but we all know that in standard D&D, death is merely an inconvenience - especially at high levels which is where I tend to do my most playing / DM'ing (incurable power gamer... no chance of recovery). This may not be the case in other game systems where magic is not so readily available.

It is extremely rare that a PC will die simply because of a single die roll, unless of course it is vs a
Yes, I do use them against the PCs, just not all the time. Pretty much only the BBEG or his/her high level henchies will be throwing around the Fingers of Death.
save-or-die spell, in which case that is pretty much the point. Most often, a PC death is due to the factors you called out in your post: simple stupidity or gross over estimation of their abilities as compared to the opponent's. And that's the way it should be: you get into a sword fight with someone, and any mistake you make is likely to be your last.

If you are playing your character intelligently, and the DM is providing appropriate challenges for a character of your level, then there is no reason to be "afraid to roll the dice". In the case of your acrobat, I am certain that you, as an excellent and intelligent player, would have put an appropriate percentage of your skill ranks into Climb, Balance, Tumble etc... At high enough levels, there is no chance whatsoever you are going to fall under routine conditions. (Remember a nat 1 is not automatic failure with skills) Under extreme conditions: icy surface, extremely steep roof etc... then there certainly should be a chance for you to fall. And falls can certainly be fatal. The job of the DM is to adequately convey the level of difficulty of the task ahead of the player, the job of the player is to accurately assess whether or not their character is up to the challenge.

Tell me, as devoted to the story as I know you are, if you were playing your acrobat, and you fell off the top of a 100 foot tower, how would you feel if the DM pulled some lame deus ex machina out of his butt and your character miraculously avoided becoming a red smear on the cobblestones below? That, to me, would be much more of a let down than having the character die when she should have.

The thief acrobat I mentioned earlier was level one. Death by dice failure was an absolute possibility. And you would be right to question my character creation in the first place, or why I even entered the game, but it was for a GM that's been on my long standing 'want to write with' list, and that seemed to be my chance. The game ended up fizzing out after our first adventure, but I still wasn't at all happy about my roleplay. I wrote my character instead of letting the character write himself, and that's not like me.

As for your hypothetical situation, you would have to give me more info for a straight answer. What am I doing at the top of a 100 foot tower that I have put myself in a situation where I can fall? In all the situations I can think of, a GM has guided me there. Cause no way, no how are half intelligent creatures going to think that going 100 feet up in the air, without having a fail safe, is their best option. Falling 100 feet is certain death, I'll give you that, but if I'm falling because, say, my party followed a lead up to a tower top and entered a battle there, then that's your bad. Or if I'm in trouble and the only method of escape is crawling out a 100 story window, and I fall because of it, that's your bad too.

For most of us, the ultimate play-by-post game is an engaging and long lasting story where we can see our characters grow and develop. Most pbp games live less than a year, and even those that go on for a year or more move slowly, so you get much less out of a pbp game than you do out of a tabletop game. And if the point is enjoyable longevity, and the stats are already against us, why are we killing off players and making them worse? If my character dies, say 6 months into a game, then I probably haven't even had the opportunity to level him yet, nor accomplish any of his goals, and I've basically just wasted half a year. Whether it was enjoyable or not is irrelevant. What's relevant is that I have to start all over again and that everything I had built is now crumbled - and without my say. And you can argue until your blue about how my decision led me up to the 100 foot tower in the first place, but I'll just argue that it's fantasy, that anything goes

Okay, so my character fell. I think it would be reasonable to grope for handhold on the way down, not that I would expect it to help really, so let's just say I fall dead. Cobblestone spaghetti. Sure. This fantasy realm has a realm of the dead, right? What's it like? Can i fight my way back? Can I reincarnate? Don't BBEGS do it all the time? Aren't I the hero? Does this situation not open up an ocean of RP possibilities? Why am I not getting the choice if you, as the GM, chose me to be part of this in the first place?

But in direct answer to your questio nas stated, Dastir my dear, the only way I would feel jipped is if the GM deus exed me and landed me safely with no repercussions. I expect my GM to be more imaginative than that. But if I'm suddenly rescued by a sweeping by airbound animal that turns out to be an ally - or the eyes of one, or an explosion happens below that counteracts the falling to the degree that I can gain a handhold somewhere, then no. That's not jipped at all. That's epic fantasy.

By the way, Dastir: <3 <3 <3

Lets not forget that the door can swing both ways with extraordinary rolls. Once I had a level one character kill a demigod while my DM tried out a critical hit variant. I rolled a natural 20 three times and ended his campaign.

Another time my level 3 character with no ranks in any social skills talked his way out of a camp of orcs.

Originally Posted by Darakonis View Post

Work with your players -- your goal should be to be able to respond positively to these questions. Try to tie their characters into the gameworld and the plot, and for those players that go the extra mile, subtly reward them by not leaving their character's ultimate fate to bad luck.

Do I speak heresy? Discuss.
Not heresy at all. Rather, it's the key to DM'ing, in my view.

I'm starting a campaign. I've worked quite a bit on the setting for a while and have developed a number of ideas and elements. I've handed those elements to my players, or at least shared portions of elements in cases where that's more appropriate, and then said, "It's your turn. Go!" A key part of this setting is that there is an encroaching imperial presence, and a system of slavery tied to this presence. Three of my seven players grabbed that slavery element and have created characters that are connected to it. Although I intended this particular element to be important to the political structure of the world, I hadn't planned on it being a driving force immediately as the campaign opens. I have a story arc planned, but now am having to do some modifications and tweaking in order to bring all of the ex-slaves and anti-slavery vigilantes into the very first adventure! My players have excellent ideas for their characters. There is certainly going to be an anti-slavery arc to this game. My job as DM, and my joy as DM, is to provide the setting for player character stories. I may have a vision for what the game is going to be like, but the moment I invite players into the game setting, it becomes a shared world and I am no longer working alone. I now have seven other people with creative minds molding the sand in the sand box with me. Luckily, those people have smaller shovels than I do. Plus, they've got one first level character each. I've got an empire, a tangle of bureaucracies, criminals, gods, and hordes of monsters with which to manipulate their environment. I've got a power tool set, they've got little spades. But we're working together to create an enjoyable playing experience.

Wow, I love the recent developments in this thread.

Atewi: I like the concept of making death meaningful, and bringing back a character "flawed" does add meaning -- provided that flaw doesn't gimp the character, otherwise the player may be tempted to just roll up a new one. I once had a party go on a side-quest to resurrect a fallen party member that resulted in that party member coming back to like with the semblance of a zombie -- but it was purely aesthetic, and the player found it rather cool, despite the social ramifications.

Cleokatrah: You sound like the type of person I'd like to game with. I gave you xp on that... other... site, since apparently this one doesn't have that feature...

Dastir: I think you (inadvertently) nailed the issue... Powergamers vs Roleplayers. More on that later...

Hiraevun: It's great to see more support coming out for the flipside of the argument -- it seemed everyone was going for "no fudging" for a while. I, too, weave the backstories of my characters into the ongoing plot, pulling up villains from their past, creating entire character-specific story arcs... If a character were suddenly "written off," it would deal a tremendous blow to the campaign as a whole, and from the sound of it, the same would happen with your campaign.

Anyhow, onto the revelation sparked by Dastir's comment... For purposes of this discussion, we can classify players into two broad categories: Powergamers and Roleplayers.

The Powergamer archetype is playing the game to "win." He wants to optimize his character to perfection, make the perfect build. He lives and dies by the sword -- he revels in combat. He most often plays in high-level campaigns which allow him to use his knowledge of feats, magical gear, spells, buffs, etc. to come up with powerful character builds and masterful combat tactics. He tries to get a hold of every supplement book he can to find new and exciting builds to test. If a DM fudges dice rolls, the Powergamer feels robbed of his achievements -- his character is not surviving because of the effort, planning, and cunning placed in creating the character, but because of DM fiat.

The Roleplayer archetype is playing the game to be part of a cooperative storytelling experience. He wants to make a compelling character that plays an integral part in the ongoing narrative. He avoids dice-rolling as best he can, preferring to define his character with roleplaying rather than game mechanics. He tends to avoid high-level campaigns, because picking all those feats and abilities can be a chore, and takes time away from writing an intriguing character background. His character concepts don't start with feat trees and spell lists, but with personalities and vivid imagery. If a DM fudges dice rolls, the Roleplayer is appreciative at not having all his roleplaying effort end prematurely.

In short: Powergamers play for the destination (victory or death); Roleplayers play for the journey (the experiences along the way).

These are the archetypes -- most people lie somewhere in the middle of these extremes. But I think it's nevertheless important for a DM to determine who his players are, and what their views on "fudging" are.

I'll have to update the article on my website with what we've been learning in this thread...

Re: Powergamers and Roleplayers. I think you are grossly mistaken here. I do not see the two as mutually exclusive whatsoever. You can be someone who enjoys high-powered games and totally tweaked out characters and still get into the roleplaying. I know, because that's me. There have been *many* times that I have optimized a character for non-combat situations - the uber thief, sneaking in and stealing the crown jewels, the uber-diplomat, convincing the king that he must not go to war with his neighbor. In combat these character were either right at or even below par for their level, but out of combat they were well ahead of the curve. Powergaming is not about playing the game to "win", it is about playing the game, and your character, as best as you can, and that simply *has* to include roleplaying.

What you described above is the classic "roll-player" versus "role-player" debate... a powergamer can fit easily into either of those classifications.

The term "powergamer" has some pejorative connotations that you probably don't want to include in this discussion. I'm not sure what a better term is, since most of the ones that refer to the type of person you're trying to describe have been tagged as negative (generally by "roleplayers"). You might want to actually replace "roleplayers", also. Possibly something along the lines of "mechanics-driven" and "story-driven". Or something.

As it stands, I run games on both sides of this equation. The ones that are on the 'no fudging' side are all declared as such, having been described as 'dungeon crawl', or something similar. The others are fuzzy on the matter. I try not to fudge much, just when it seems horribly unfair. I don't like to kill my main characters. If I'm going to kill someone, it's going to be because my story demands it, not because dice tell me to. Generally speaking. I, like others, have had very interesting things happen when I kill people because of the dice telling me to. It's just not my preferred way to go.

On another note, whether death is easy or hard to deal with, it puts the player out of the game until it is actually dealt with. Unless you are prepared to keep that person engaged until the time that they re-enter, you could be looking at the inadvertent loss of a player, just due to boredom.

Edit: Dastir ninja'ed me. I agree with that, too. I powergame and roleplay, myself. I enjoy building characters that do what they do well. I also am a total drama queen RPer.

+1 on the 'power-gamers' / 'role-players' not being mutually exclusive. You can be one, both, or none. Neither describes the idea that people might actually like losing a character due to a few bad choices / unlucky rolls.

I think this difference could be better described with an analogy; someone mentioned Diablo earlier - I think what we have is a group of players who enjoy the so-called "hard-core" mode, and another group of those that prefer to play on a more "normal" difficulty. If you've never played, the former is where you die once and it's game over, and the later is where you can respawn as often, or as little, as you like (the point being you can choose to continue despite that bad roll).

I think it's also worth noting that just because you're DMing 'hard-core' mode, it doesn't mean you're out there trying to kill the players or putting them into hopeless situations where they have no other option but to try something stupid/risky. If anything, knowing you might kill a PC for good makes you more cautious about what you're actually throwing at them.


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