I’ve blogged before about our obsession with balance in today’s games and how I’m beginning to distrust the CR system. Rather marvellously, this week I came upon an intriguing section in the 1st Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide about saving characters.
But first, I must confess, I often let dice fall where they may—sometimes fate is against the PCs (witness the two TPKs in the same room that heralded the sudden, catastrophic end of my Kingmaker campaign) and sometimes it’s on the PCs’ side. After all, without the possibly of death and defeat, victory becomes somewhat less of an achievement (and certainly way less exciting).
So what did Gary say?
“Now and then a player will die through no fault of his own. He or she will have done everything correctly, taken every reasonable precaution, but still the freakish roll of the dice will kill the character. In the long run you should let such things pass as the players will kill more than one opponent with their own freakish rolls at some later time. Yet you do have the right to arbitrate the situation. You can rule that the player, instead of dying, is knocked unconscious, loses a limb, is blinded in one eye or invoke any reasonable severe penalty that still takes into account what the monster has done. It is very demoralizing to the players to lose a cared-for-player character when they have played well. When they have done something stupid or have not taken precautions, then let the dice fall where they may…There MUST be some final death or immortality will take over and again the game will become boring because the player characters will have 9+ lives each!”
—Dungeon Master’s Guide, Gary Gygax (page 110)
This week, I’ve not got a lot to add to Gary’s wisdom. I think he’s pretty much spot on.
I have no qualms about killing PC, but I don’t go out of my way to slaughter them. (And I don’t play with GMs any more who try to win the game by proving their tactical dominance of the table or who clearly fudge their rolls to help the PCs).
Similarly, I don’t go out of my way to save the PCs. I much prefer for them to dig themselves into a hole so that they can come up with a plan for success! When the bloodied survivors climb out of that hole, they have earned their victory—and such achievements are long-remembered after we’ve packed up our books and gone home.
What Do You Think?
Do you save PCs from horrible deaths or do the dice fall where they may at your table? Let me know, in the comments below.