Friday, August 15, 2014

Character Death

Ok, I've never reacted like this, but I do get irritated.

When I game, I detest character death. As a GM I will help players find ways to avoid it if at all possible. And as a player, I will fight tooth and nail against it. That being said, it has happened. Although the last time was when someone else was running my character in my absence. But, that’s a whole different story.

Anyways, I see a lot of people in the OSR community talking about how character death was the norm “back in the day.” They use it as a way of nitpicking more recent editions of D&D and the options for players to stave off the death of a character. Especially in 5e, with the hit dice as healing, the death saves, and what have you.

When I see these arguments, I just roll my eyes. But, on a deeper level, it bothers me, and irritates me a lot. Because this attitude is indicative of another attitude: the Adversarial DM. These are DM’s who relish character death, and will construct adventures based solely on the idea of killing as many PC’s as possible without breaking or circumventing the rules. These are the jackholes who will lament “I only killed half the party last week. I need to try twice as hard this week.”

Back to the OSR guys bashing 5e, if I had a dollar for every time one of them stated something along the lines of “Kids these days got it easy” in regards to how “deadly” a particularly edition of D&D was…well, I’d probably be able to pay cash out-of-pocket for the 5e Monster Manual next week.


  1. Keep in mind us old timers, refer to death not just of PCs but of hirelings, henchmen and followers. In a party of 4-10 pcs there might be 15-30 hangers on. For a half-dozen of them to croak was not unheard of. Really depended on the campaign and the dungeon. It's hard to have risk vs. reward choices without there actually being Risk to the PCs or a hard earned henchmen. Death isn't only symptomatic of adversarial DMs. A true neutral DM will let the dice fall as they may and let fate determine the outcome. This is why so many dungeons had random trap, monster and treasure placement. It's not a matter of hostility it just is what it is.

    1. Oh, I completely understand the risk/reward factor. I just don't think it needs to be as heavy-handed as it sometimes seems to be, based on how it's described. I'm also not talking about NPC death. Just PC's. It may be that the adversarial ones are the outliers. But it's still something that bugs me. In my opinion, the game is meant to be about heroic characters doing heroic things. Dying because you failed to disarm a poison trap seems so...unheroic to me.

      Of course, I could just be talking out my ass again. :)

    2. Who put the trap that has a 50% chance for life or death into the dungeon in the first place? Sure a DM might "let the dice fall where they may" but the dice actually fall after the DM has written the adventure.

  2. I played back in those days and here's my analysis...

    People who pull out the "back in the old days everything was harder and we lost characters all the time" them I say..."Maybe if you were a better player you wouldn't have lost so many characters."

    All too often they bring up character death as some sort of badge of honor when in fact all it does is showcase their failures.