Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Lessons from LARPing: Delaying Death

Every so often, LARPing teaches me a little something that I can bring right to the table (if you don't know what LARPing is, read this post!). This little lesson deals with killing off characters - a topic I discussed not too long ago.

So, a character dies. Always an icky business. You're looking down behind your DM screen and see the natural 20. You glance at your notes - they have twenty hit points left. You look at the stat block of the goblin - x4 multiplier. You roll again... another 20. The time has come (the walrus said) to make a decision.

Do you fudge the roll?

Do you go ahead and kill off a character?

But, this is a GOBLIN! A random encounter gone horribly wrong!

What if you just gave this critical... a raincheck?

Sometimes, the random encounters can get out of hand. Even the planned ones can! PC's can die at the worst possible moments, when it would completely disrupt the flow of the game, at the hands of a minor and nameless foe, or in any one of another one hundred inconvenient ways.

Fudging the dice to make your PCs invincible can be lame, and can remove the fear of death from your campaign which can make things hard on all fronts.

So, fudge the dice for now, but that PC has died, and sooner rather then later (Final Destination style) that character's going to die - though in a much more epic way. Add in extra damage when the PC faces the next boss, or add a deadly trap to an important plot hook around the next corner.

You can postpone death to a point when the other players (and you) will be able to give the death the attention it deserves, and feel like the PC didn't die for no reason. If you're playing a game where there's no coming back from death, this could be especially effective.

Delaying a death hinges on one big thing though - not telling your players. It can cheapen the initial battle, and make them angry about the second death, even if you were doing it for them.

Keep it to yourself, and don't forget about it! Writing yourself a little "I.O.U. One Death" post-it to remind you later doesn't hurt!


Flashman85 said...

What an excellent idea! I may just steal it. [Rolls a Sleight of Hand check...]

Falyne said...

I remember my first character "death" from Flashman. If this were a more 'serious' campaign (it was largely for newbs, and started at low-level), and my death weren't ENTIRELY self-inflicted, the complete and total handwave might not have been so appropriate.

But as it stood, the chain of events in which the greataxe-wielding barbarian's critical-on-a-critical-fumble, after slicing HER in half, also broke the bottles of alcohol she stole from the last tavern, including the bottle of, uh, Druid Fluid... well, I thought it was rather clever. And funny. So yay Flashman!

Falyne said...

But, yes, this is an interesting way of handling the accidental death. And I can see how just having a character you're OK with killing off for plot purposes is useful for storytellers, heh. :-)

Storyteller said...

Hey guys, thanks for the comments!

@Flashman85 - Go ahead and use! You don't need to even ask for anything you find on here (though pointing your players towards my blog at the end of a session will make me happy!)

@Falyne - Ah, I remember that story well. Killing players for plot is always useful =)

DemonIllusionist said...

I almost think it would be better to tell the player. They know that death is hanging over them, and can choose their way to go out.

I know I would enjoy that as a player - my berserker gets to charge into a horde of enemies, heedless of the outcome, because I know it's already been decided and I can just keep swinging until I'm gone.

On an unrelated note, have you considered enabling name/url commenting? OpenID is a severe hassle for those of us without blogs or LJs.

Storyteller said...

@DemonIllusionist - It's really up to a DM to decide what's best for their group. I like the idea of putting death more in the hands of the DM for a couple reasons - one being that the DM knows best when it would suit the plot for a character to die sometimes (since they can see what's coming) and the second being I know players who would think My DM isn't going to kill me until this upcoming boss battle? Sweet I can't die, let's do crazy stuff! Every DM and group is different though, and of course this isn't the ONLY way to incorporate the delaying death option. I encourage DMs and groups to alter it in whatever way works best for them.

As for the comments, in order to not allow Anonymous comments, the most "open" blogger allows is to restrict commenting to people with google accounts or open ID. I figure most people have google accounts so I didn't think it would be too big of an issue. I'll consider changing it though. Thanks for bringing to my attention that Open ID is a pain, I was not aware!