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As a GM, I don’t particularly like killing players. As a player, I don’t like the idea that my PC could die in a random or meaningless way. When news about 4e was coming out, I found the rumored removal of save or die effects to be heartening. I know this upset many people, but I didn’t really understand why – part of me chalked it up to sadistic DMs who were losing a favorite toy and whining about it. Jeff (who I know as a generally non-sadistic DM) tried to explain it to me, but I didn’t really get his argument (particularly since he tends not to use a lot of save-or-die things in the games he’s run that I’ve played in…).

Last night, Angela and I were talking about consequences for PC stupidity in her D&D game. She doesn’t want to kill PCs outright – she’d rather teach them a lesson… but she feels like there aren’t any system-supported consequences other than death.

Sure, there are roleplaying consequences. Neither of us mean to discount those. Part of the issue is that Angela’s primary GMing background is in Wraith – a central conceit of which is that there are game-mechanical supports for roleplaying consequences. If you act on certain character flaws, you strengthen your Shadow and begin the descent to specterhood. In D&D, though, there aren’t really game mechanics (at least not clear-cut ones) to support consequences other than injury, death, and theft.

I suppose that removing ‘save or die’ effects get rid of a major method of, ummm, imparting cosequences in D&D.

The thing is, I think that’s a flimsy excuse that is used to cover deficiencies. There should be plenty of other consequences than death. If you’re running a roleplaying-heavy game, PCs care about things and have beliefs. It is easy enough to violate them. Case in point: in Angela’s game, there’s a PC (a shaman of a death god who hates undead) who has been very careless. What if his carelessness resulted in the creation of some undead monstrosities. For roleplaying-light games, such things are trickier. Its there that I think some sort of game-mechanical support for consequences other than death is really needed (not that it isn’t welcome in a roleplaying-heavy game). I think that this is one of the things that I really like about Spirit of the Century/FATE – you can stick negative aspects on PCs that follow naturally from their actions.



6 Responses

  1. Deprive PCs of their loot. That's a good "penalty."

    Various diseases and afflictions are always fun. A fighter that has to change his armor because he "made a mess" can be socially embarrassing! Lycanthropy can be particularly inconvenient.

    Curses can certainly be an impediment for PCs. Negative bonuses to attack rolls, reduction of attribute scores, or skill affecting memory loss can be vexing to power gamers.

    The wrath of the gods is an oldie but goodie. If the PCs have pissed off a god, it could constantly come back to haunt them.

    Think outside of the box! The 4e rules are merely a starting point. It's always been that way since OD&D.

  2. Not bad ideas. I think the issue is that they are all very situational.

    Loot deprivation is tricky since (1) expectations of treasure typically vary by campaign, (2) there is usually a player expectation that PCs split loot equally – reducing treasure because of the actions of one PC might result in simply reducing it for all of them, and – most importantly – (3) this is a metagame penalty for in-game decisions… which is problematic.

  3. It is true, that if we look at the game mechanics there ain’t much consequences in 4e.

    However it is not difficult to create i.e rituals which binds the soul to certain objects thus making resurrection more difficult. Or how about severing a limb from a player. Yes he is dead, yes he is raised from death, but the arm that was severed just did not come back. There are even artifacts like the “Eye of Vecna” which give these kind of penalties.

    Just like m.gunnerquist said. Think outside of the box. The only limit here is imagination.

  4. I'm not thinking in terms of 4e specifically. I think this is an issue across all versions of D&D (the game referenced as an example is being run in 3.5).

    I think the issue is that I'm looking for consequences that are:

    General: Yes. I can always whip something up that would have an effect on a PC. A lot of those things (such as all the suggestions mentioned about) are very situation-specific. I like the idea of a general 'consequence' mechanic. Is such a thing necessary? Of course not (people successfully play without it all the time). Would it be a useful tool for some people? Yeah, I think so.

    Fun for the player: PC death is rarely fun for the player. Being rendered unable to act effectively due to disease or various conditions is rarely fun.

    Natural punishment: Curses and gods' wrath are all fine when appropriate, but they are really very rarely appropriate. What do you do when a PC is simply being careless? You show that PC the natural results of that carelessness.

    Punishment for the PC, but not the player: This is sort of a combination of the last two points, but it is central enough that it needs to be stated explicitly. If someone is playing an irresponsible PC, that's fine. The player shouldn't be punished for that (and should, in fact, be rewarded for playing it well, if appropriate). On the other hand, I do think that an irresponsible PC should be 'appropriately rewarded' – and not via GM fiat, either.

  5. I see…

    In this case there might be solution if you just want to make a houserule which makes dying a bit more “shocking” effect than with the current rules.

    Instead switch the -1 (if I remember correctly) to -5 for a certain duration. It takes time to “recover” from death. I.e. week or such. Character is so sick because of the experience so it takes time to recover. This can be described even as psychological experience rather than physical.

    Or if the situation were dramatic in some cases, make an attack against the characters will defence and if succesful the character might freeze etc. if somewhat similar situation arises. Then you can give the character a possibilty to “get over it” trough roleplaying

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