Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Death in the Underbelly

The room was small, too small for Step-up, and the dozen angry orcs throwing their bodies against the door really weren't helping his mood. Step-up ran his fingers across his thumb and bit down on his lower lip as he looked about the table and I could see the wheels spinning. Kid Icarus was on his last legs; the Mighty She was down to five arrows; Biggboy was clearly contemplating his last words; and the Glorious L was warming up her final fireball.

The door was breaking as the orcs continued to hurl their bodies forward.

Step-up stopped rubbing his fingers and cocked his head to the side, "Biggboy, give me your shield. I've got a plan."


Over the course of the last ten years I've ruled on the deaths of nearly a hundred player characters and refereed two total party kills (TPKs).

There are two groups of thought when it comes to that last statement and both would hold that I am a terrible Dungeon Master, though for completely different reasons. To one group, we'll call them Dissenters, I am a terrible Dungeon Master because of how many player deaths I've refereed. To the other group, we'll call them Agitators, I am a terrible Dungeon Master because of how few deaths have occurred in my games.
I am supposed to be the enemy of my players. Every trap, every situation is to be manipulated by me in such a way as to where my players can not win.
Over the years I have encountered representatives of each group and I have always walked away confused with their rationale.  To the Dissenters my role as referee is that of a player advocate. I'm supposed to give them wonderfully powered items and fantastic rewards with minimal risk to their characters. Situations that should, logically, work against the players should always work out in their favor and they should be action heroes who always get the girl and never have to face a repercussion for their actions. By contrast, to Agitators, I am supposed to be the enemy of my players. Every trap, every situation is to be manipulated by me in such a way as to where my players can not win. There are never supposed to be magical items and what rewards they do gain are to be paid for in Pyrrhic battles.

Both groups are wrong. 

Death has to be something that matters

If I give my players everything in the world and there is no risk than there are no memorable moments in the game. Death has to be something that matters to my players or else they're just going to become bored and I'm going to become frustrated with my inability to provide an entertaining game. At the same time if I push things so far into the other direction then my players become timid and refuse to go out into the world - and why would you if every rabbit, toad, and fly carries your death?


Step-up was ripping pages out of his spell-book and attaching them to the shield with a paste he had made from some rather sticky refuse. Just as he was instructing the others to construct a barricade from fallen masonry the door gave way. He turned the shield, now covered in explosive runes, toward the orcs.

"These guys ain't shit."

1 comment:

  1. Well put. Players should be challenged, not cuddled, not slaughtered. And trust in the DM is crucial to achieve this, I think. But it is difficult to get that across sometimes and one of the reasons why 3E didn't work for me.


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