Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Worse Than Death

In my last post I mentioned death and how there's a whole lot of it in RPGs (at least in the ones I like to play).

There are fates for PCS that are worse than death for their players.

Permanent Disability and Varying Degrees of Defeat
Players hate permanent disability, at least most of the ones I know and have ever gamed with.

I've been using various death and maiming tables in games on and off the past couple of years. I really like them as it adds more options of loss but many players don't seem to like them much.

Here's an example of such a table (rolled when hp are 0 or less)
1.... Dead for real.
2.... Maimed, permanently lose 2 points from a randomly selected ability score.
3.....Traumatized, -1 to hit and save vs attacks from type of foe in the future
4.....Mauled, incapacitated by wounds no other special effects, heal normally
5.....Clobbered, recover in 2d6 turns with 2 hp/level (max)
6.... Second Wind, in 1d3 rounds bounce back into action with 1/2 normal HP

Dead for real doesn't bother the players much.

Maimed...some folks really cant deal with that, losing ability points.

traumatized, some folks feels this robs their character of their heroic mojo

mauled...not such a big deal

clobbered- players like it but he munchkins chafe they can't apply their bazillion bonuses to the 2hp a level.

second wind- players love it, who wouldn't?....until they discover foes can have a similar fate when vanquished, some players really get their knickers in a twist when monster they defeat don't stay down. Many players really don't want to play fair.

I'll take defeat that isn't death any day of the week but many a player can't really deal with it. HP going up and down doesn't bother them and death really doesn't but if you screw with numbers other than the HP on their character sheets it's an unspeakable horror.


Getting turned into harmless animal or a lump of stone is a fate worse than death. There's an embarrassing token of ones defeat left laying about and is it proper form to roll a new character when the old one is still technically there?


Having their stuff stolen is a horrible fate for the average PC. I think this again is because it screw with something the player wrote on their sheet. I've seen folks moan and groan to no end over losing a mundane item to a thief when they are carrying enough coin to replace it 10 times over. Perhaps it's because many a campaign and game has theft rules that are a one way street and doesn't give the victim many options so it feel like an arbitrary edit of one's character sheet.
Players also have a feeling that if something isn't in their immediate sights or on their character sheet it's gone forever.
I say find the thief and get revenge or just get over it and replace the loss.


Having one's PC captures is one of the most horrible fates that can befall a player of an RPG game. I've seen player that will happily re-roll another character after the PC they've been playing for 6 months is roasted by a dragon but if they have a character captured they flip out, scrunch the character sheet into a ball and toss it across the room with much wailing and teeth gnashing.

Losing a character's freedom is to lose control of the only piece a player gets to move in the game. Die and you get a new piece. Get captured and you lose your stuff (really screwing with the character sheet here) and lose freedom of action.

To me capture is fun. It's one of the heroic action bits in fiction that let's the bad guy have a meaningful dialog with the heroes and handily position the heroes in a position where they can regain their freedom or get closer to the villain to finish him off without having to fight through 1001 mooks. But to most players it's a fate worse than death.


  1. In my experience more players deal better with starting a session pre-captured than with being captured in play. Some still react strongly, but most go along with the premise.

  2. Lol. Crazy players. The transmogrification one ended up happening a lot in High School for some reason. The players were angry they couldn't use their magic items in cockroach form, but they just changed tactics and became the deadliest little vermin on the planet. As for the enemies returning from the grave, this is why smart players severe heads and burn corpses. Even if you're NOT afraid of people still being alive, you don't want them animated by some random necromancer!

  3. Good observations. Especially the one about capture. I've had some experience with that, mostly as a player, and I can attest to the fact that it sucks. In my case, it simply felt like heavy-handed and lazy DMing.

    Its fun to read about capture and escape in novels, but I didn't find it to translate into fun play.

  4. If you want some fates worse than death, check out these gross-out diseases:

    If I pulled anything that gross on my players, they would walk out of the game and never game on the tabletop again.

    Some people might be able to get away with giving their players fates worse than death, but in my experience, it tends to kill enthusiasm, and games often break up because of it.