Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A (Character) Fate Worse Than Death?

This post is a loooong time coming for me. It's a testament to how behind I am with things I want to blog about. Anyway, Tim at Gothridge Manor wrote a post about character creation a while back. In particular, the following struck a cord with me:
"Unlike the current trend of character funneling in DCC [RPG], we put a lot of planning into the creation of characters. It's fun and makes you really invest a bit more. Nothing wrong with funneling and it can be a ton of fun, but so is sculpting a character you want to play for a while."

So, of course, this being the OSR blogosphere, the above statement begs the question: does this investment of time in "sculpting a character" mean there's an associated lessening in character mortality? I'm not asking to be a d-bag, I'm just asking in order to preempt the more hardcore OSR types from getting their grognard comments in ;-)

Seriously, I'm all about style of play, but campaigns that encourage character building/design/ whatever-you-want-to-call-it often get the stink-eye from hardline OSR folks. I'm not one of those folks.
I am asking because I'm just curious. As for me, I enjoy letting characters be a little more hardy if the campaign is one of those types that might be called "character" or "story-driven." However, in those types of games, the characters CAN STILL DIE, but it usually means they did something really rash.
However, I'm getting more and more interested these days in a "traditional" old school D&D game, with the assumption that it is deadlier due to lower hit points, lack of balance concerns, the "letting the dice fall where they may/no dice fudging" attitude/expectation, etc.

ALSO however, I think the OSR worships character death way too much. Come on, folks. There are other fates in the game that can be worse than death: level drain, maiming, imprisonment, becoming outlaws, making powerful enemies, etc. What makes these worse than death? Players characters need to LIVE with these results of their actions. The onus is on the DM to impose these consequences on PCs in order to give characters hazards other than death. I think having threats other than death makes a campaign more of a living, breathing place, not to mention a more fulfilling experience.

Indeed, I would go so far as to say that a DM who focuses heavily on character death as a consequence is an unimaginative DM. A character living with consequences seems, to me, much more interesting.
Please let me know your thoughts on the matter of fates worse than death in RPGs, especially with regard to D&D (of course).


  1. Hey Drance its funny you wrote about this because I was thinking of it just this morning. I'm not a huge fan of having multiple characters. I get the funneling aspect of DCC and eventually one of your guys comes out in the lead. But it seems to focus on killing as many as possible. I've played it and its fun. But the current campaign we are in is a GURPS campaign. It takes more time to make a character. By sculpting I mean selecting the skills and coming up with a basic background that would justify why my guy would have the skills. It's not needed it's something I like to do. But just because we put more time into our characters we still get our butts handed to us and buried in the ground. I'm sure some OSR dudes (even non OSR dudes) won't agree with this style of play, but I'm not concerned with what they think is right or wrong. I enjoy all types of styles of play and sometimes I like grinding 20 0-level guys into pulp and sometimes I like playing a guy who is competent and can handle himself in a fight. Cool thing about gaming is we don't have to choose. There is enough variety for everyone.

    I've written about this in the past, but the best example I can think of for fate worse than death was one of my characters tried to assassinate this noble, but I was unaware of his spiritual guardians. What ended up happening was I did not get killed, but the guardians ripped my magery from me leaving me a normal man. And with the stats I had not much of a torch bearer either. But I still played him and had a blast.

  2. I've played what's now called a funnel with GURPS. We did multiple PCs per player, and the survivors kept on going. It fit the game - a pirate game, not a fantasy game - and it was a lot of fun for my players. They enjoyed getting to whip up a bunch of PCs and seeing what happened to them.

    Those same players are the core of my current group, and they have made extremely survivable PCs for my current fantasy game. In face of a cheerfully lethal game, they have largely survived. They can die, but they've made it unlikely barring bad tactical choices and multiple bad die rolls - and if that's how they want to play, I'm fine with it. There is still real risk of your playing piece for your imaginary rewards.

    I do think you're right about character death worship, though. And I think it's probably a somewhat skewed look at the Good Old Days. I remember Mike Mornard posting somewhere that he never lost a single PC permanently, and you hear a lot less about TPKs and more about do-overs after a botched surprise roll that made the game end suddenly than you do about character funnels and winnowing out the weak.