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 Another Approach to PC Death

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CHIA
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PostSubject: Another Approach to PC Death    Thu May 16, 2013 2:22 pm

(Repost)

Optional PC death.

Hear me out.


I know you are probably wondering what I'm smoking, but optional PC death is actually something that can greatly enhance a game. Simply allow the players to decide whether or not their characters are dead when the characters reach negative whatever, and you're there. Plus, as DM you get to think up some crazily evil predicament for the PC to be in instead of dying. For one, players tend to get very attached to their characters. Mike's not going to be happy when Agran Tormblood, Vengeful Wind of the Harinas, Bloodae of War dies suddenly after 20 levels of an emotional bond to the character. Some of you might be screaming "We can't coddle the players!". Besides my strong feeling that this type of attitude dosen't belong in a cooperative game, one imporatnt thing to note is that taking away mandatory death does not take away the risk of failure. See Kerapalli's thread on Interesting failures. Failure at a goal is far better than death for story and gameplay purposes. If a player likes the risk of always being forced to die, they can simply decide that they will always die.

An idea from Kerapalli;

Rather than dying, they can RP some scar, injury, psychosis or grudge. Something that reminds the character of their defeat but doesn't necessarily toss them in the waste bucket. Since this is a fairly permanent ruling I wouldn't force it on any player, but I would offer and suggest it as a way to rationalize and narrate the abstraction of "negative hp + three failed death saves".


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PostSubject: Re: Another Approach to PC Death    Fri May 17, 2013 1:07 am

Such an opportune moment for this topic, I TPKed a level 1 party the other day. Smile We agreed afterwards to a "you're not dead" scenario (actually technically no character had outright died, they were all below 0 hit points). They were investigating some undead problems in Fallcrest and ran into giant spiders in the catacombs (note to self 3 spider swarms and 2 deathjump spiders will kill a level 1 party good!). So, we're now onto the "hanging from the ceiling, and oh gosh golly the necromancer that was making all those pesky undead just showed up, and he thinks it is quite fortunate that he's got some new material to work with!" lol. Yeah, this is going to get FAR more amusing than making the players do up new PCs would ever do. I was thinking of digging into the boon rules and the necromantic grafts thing from Open Grave. No 'good' can come of this! Ah, the joys of being an evil DM Smile
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PostSubject: Re: Another Approach to PC Death    Fri May 17, 2013 10:29 am

Yes. PC "death" can be quite the hook for adventures. In fact you could run entire campaigns centered around the PCs dying.

I too almost TPKed a level 1 party too Surprised

And it was a fairly easy encounter: A lvl 2 Drake, a few lvl 1 goblin minions, and a lvl 1 goblin witch. I had the cleric dead, the fighter at about 1/4 HP and the Assassin at 1 hp blinded and dazed in a corner wandering around. It was funny for me... But the players did come up with a fairly creative way to get the cleric back up and running, they actually made a small improvised ritual and pleaded a god for their friend back, in return the god asked for a favor which hasn't yet been done.
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PostSubject: Re: Another Approach to PC Death    Fri May 17, 2013 11:38 am

Heh, that sounds rich with potential Felorn. I think I'm going to have the PCs witness the zombification of their parties henchman and then they can have a choice, work for Nimozaran the Black, or work for Nimozaran the Black in the capacity of undead... lol. Though maybe he won't kill them, maybe he'll just graft some sort of weird thing to them to control them. That would be interesting. Make it so they have to rely on his magic to stay alive or something. hmmmmm.
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PostSubject: Re: Another Approach to PC Death    Fri May 17, 2013 2:59 pm

I'd shy away from always controlling them, that probably wouldn't stay fun for long. Instead I'd try to tempt them, with him offering gold or power in exchange for letting him control them for a short time. 'Course, they have no idea what he's going to do... Twisted Evil
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PostSubject: Re: Another Approach to PC Death    Fri May 17, 2013 3:20 pm

CHIA wrote:
I'd shy away from always controlling them, that probably wouldn't stay fun for long. Instead I'd try to tempt them, with him offering gold or power in exchange for letting him control them for a short time. 'Course, they have no idea what he's going to do... Twisted Evil

Oh, yeah, I wouldn't literally control them, I'd make it a sort of slavery at first, but the PCs would be able to change their conditions pretty quickly, probably as part of the first adventure. So they could end up more free-willed but maybe with Nimozaran still holding some form of 'stick' (IE he can disable a PC, so you can't fight him directly, but he can't make you do anything) perhaps. Or it could be that the PCs can sneak around and undermine their "master" on the sly, but need him for go juice or something (at least for a while). Or it could just be that Nimozaran can threaten their town/family/whatever and get them to do things for him (which I predict would break down real fast, players are remarkably unwilling to be pushed around in most games).

Of course the gold would be if the party ends up doing morally questionable things for some reason through all this. Are they now tainted souls, forever stained by their brush with undeath? Perhaps some of them will acquire some nasty traits, we'll see. My players are good, they'll run with it. Half the time they come up with the most fun possible options.
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PostSubject: Re: Another Approach to PC Death    Fri May 17, 2013 9:52 pm

I'd definitely agree with the sentiment that events outside of death can create some very memorable moments.

We've had that essential moment where the whole party eats the dirt and is thrown into the dungeon's cells to await their fate (read: break and fight their way out). In that, one player did decide his character would die, so we had an awful, but defining, moment where their captors killed the character as the rest of the party watched on helpless. We've had a lone character chase after the BBEG, by running down the side of a mountain no less, only to end up being cut nearly in twain by a single blow. The character now sports a gaping maw, where the wound once was, which whispers to him as he sleeps. Most recently, the party wizard decided to wander off on his own in the manor of a powerful necromancer, only to be attacked by the cute, stone cherubs that decorate the place. The wizard is now floating about in the body of one of these cherubs (the necromancer likes to gather souls) and is challenged to think of a way to get back into his body or spend the rest of his life cast in stone with a tiny pair of wings and a little, round belly.

If we had just chosen to accept death as the consequence of failure, none of these fantastically entertaining moments would have occurred.
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PostSubject: Re: Another Approach to PC Death    Sun May 19, 2013 9:10 am

Mezlo wrote:


If we had just chosen to accept death as the consequence of failure, none of these fantastically entertaining moments would have occurred.

This sums up many of my experiences as well. As was said recently on, I think, the 5e boards on WoC's site, look at ESB. That's considered to have one of the worst endings for the main characters onf any movie-Han in carbonite, Luke missing a hand, the Rebellion on the run, etc. However, in that movie, non of the main characters die. (It's also considered the best of the Star Wars movies, hint hint! Very Happy ).
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PostSubject: Re: Another Approach to PC Death    Sat May 25, 2013 5:12 am

I remember a poster who said he was a professional DM (sounds like an awesome job), he was looking for guidelines/ideas that would well undermine the specter of death and keep the player playing, not just their character not dying.

One of the ideas I had was ways to minimize the odds of the entire party being downed, by keeping a downed character from being a drag on party performance, once a character goes down you have phenomena not unlike the classic death spiral. Basically in movies when one character goes down it tends to inspire there allies the camera serially spring from one to another as they realize and respond some will race across the field many will get flash backs of there relationships with the fallen hero and so on.

The idea is to provide abilities like *princess build warlords, ones that the player can use with there downed characters to impact allies maybe kick one in to a frenzy granting them an extra attack, maybe allowing another to charge across the field and administer a healing without triggering opportunity attacks and similar things.. maybe granting another hit points themselves as they realize they must persevere for your "death" to have meaning!!! Perhaps the party member will remember how you used to do a move and be inspired to do it themselves with s uprising results.

One feature is to preserve the action economy and the other key element of this is to make the benefits still things the player chooses not passive buffs so much but keeping the player actively involved in the action, even if the character isn't actively involved. I can see how that might not be totally immersive for some but the cinematic awesome could be more than a little great.

*aka lazylords


Last edited by Garthanos on Sat May 25, 2013 10:29 am; edited 2 times in total (Reason for editing : a few final words)
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PostSubject: Re: Another Approach to PC Death    Sat May 25, 2013 10:04 am

^ That does sound really cool. Have you tried it out yet? ^
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PostSubject: Re: Another Approach to PC Death    Sat May 25, 2013 10:28 am

The idea is in spark form rather than finished... and would require development and more elaboration I think bring it home (so no I haven't made active use of it).

It might be also be cool if you could get a special extra action for the party member who was a pre-designated best friend of the fallen.
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PostSubject: Re: Another Approach to PC Death    Sat May 25, 2013 10:35 am

Garthanos wrote:
I remember a poster who said he was a professional DM (sounds like an awesome job), he was looking for guidelines/ideas that would well undermine the specter of death and keep the player playing, not just their character not dying.

One of the ideas I had was ways to minimize the odds of the entire party being downed, by keeping a downed character from being a drag on on party performance, once a character goes down you have phenomena not unlike the classic death spiral. Basically in movies when one character goes down it tends to inspire there allies the camera serially spring from one to another as they realize and respond some will race across the field many will get flash backs of there relationships with the fallen hero and so on.

The idea is to provide abilities like *princess build warlords, ones that the player can use with there downed characters to impact allies maybe kick one in to a frenzy granting them an extra attack, maybe allowing another to charge across the field and administer a healing without triggering opportunity attacks and similar things.. maybe granting another hit points themselves as they realize they must persevere for your "death" to have meaning!!! Perhaps the party member will remember how you used to do a move and be inspired to do it themselves with s uprising results.

One feature is to preserve the action economy and the other key element of this is to make the benefits still things the player chooses not passive buffs so much but keeping the player actively involved in the action, even if the character isn't actively involved. I can see how that might not be totally immersive for some but the cinematic awesome could be more than a little great.

*aka lazylords

It sounds like a useful tool to have in the repertoire. OTOH often the 'party death spiral' isn't a bad feature. It ratchets up the actual tension a good bit. As I said earlier I had a 'TPK' (the first one that I've delivered in 4e actually) and it was quite fun. The players pulled out every stop and blew every resource in their repertoires, both sides dwindled as the characters one by one went down (and some got up again a couple times, one guy rolled a 20 on a death save even), but finally fate, the hunter caught his prey. It would have been cool enough with a death's door save mechanic, but defeat was equally cool. If I was having a problem with a lot of these TPKs I'd definitely tweak things. As it is I think "Oh, no! Burn your AP's and fire off the dailies!" is usually good enough.

However, I think some powers that worked the way Garthanos is outlining would be great.
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