Man, My DM is a Dick – On Death and Dying

Deep within the woods, far from civilization a small group of friends hunkers by a campfire. One sits strumming a lute, humming a tune, others sharpen blades, while another sits to the side meditating. One keen observer perks at a noise in the distance, his alertness startles another next to him and he shares his discovery. The group decides to investigate the disturbance and the creep slowly east of the camp. To their surprise there is a group of three trolls setting up their own camp. The group hunkers down to decide the next plan of events. They decide that the thief will go in to find more information. The thief takes off. A few moments later the group hears a commotion, they look up to see their thief friend running as fast as his Halfling body will take him. Behind the Halfling three trolls are barreling in their direction. The group readies their weapons and prepares for an exciting fight. The trolls reach the group and chaos erupts, the group attacking the trolls. One of the party members, a strong fighter lunges at a troll, hitting its leg, the troll cries out in pain and swings his arm at the fighter, hitting its target and sending him flying through the air. The fighter lands on a tough branch piercing him through the chest, draining the life from his body…

Fighter: Hey, wait! I have full HP!

DM: Well, unfortunately I rolled a natural 20.

Cleric: I’ve got my healing spells left, I can…

DM: It was an instant kill, you don’t know how to resurrect.

Many of us have experienced a point in our gaming lives a DM that wasn’t quite worthy of the title. There are many reasons why a DM might not be up to snuff and a common enough one is having a DM that is a dick.

I’ll be writing some DM-centric articles and in this particular one I focus on not being a dick, to be more specific how to not kill your players. I’ve been role playing for close to fifteen years and I’ve seen my fair share of things around the table. I’ve also known many gamers and have heard countless stories and the ones that seem to stick out to a lot of people I’ve met are the horror stories.

As a DM I have a responsibility to make sure the story flows, everything fits, and most importantly everyone has fun. I started playing because it was fun; it’s about fun to me. When my DM acts more like a malevolent dictator rather than a good storyteller I begin to question whether or not I wish to continue playing.

The biggest bad move a DM like that can make is to kill a character. I don’t know about everyone but I grow attached to the character I create. I’ve met others who feel the same. I understand that dying is possible in an RPG, but as long as I’m not foolish and the party works together, being killed isn’t an easy thing. It isn’t just an attachment to the character that makes death hard, but the fact that it takes time to come up with a new character and for a while, if not the rest of the session one has to wait around and watch while everyone else plays.

When it comes to a battle DMs have to watch what is happening, balance the fight so that it can be won, unless of course the battle is meant to be lost for the story, etc. The key is making the fight fall between the levels of too hard and too easy. And this isn’t a straight path, it all depends of the character levels, classes, races, weapons, fighting styles and the list goes on. A group of players experienced with each other will be far easier to create encounters for than a group that has little to no experience.

If, as a DM, one is unsure throw some easy encounters and watch what happens and progressively make them more difficult until you know what is too hard.

The key is players want their characters to live. They want to have fun and as a responsible DM you should want the same thing. Granted you can do all the right things to help prevent a death and all of a sudden you roll a devastating blow that would kill the target. The thing is DM screens exist for a reason, the players don’t know what you rolled, if it isn’t a roll you want or would damage the game, fudge it.

Not all deaths can be avoided, sometimes a player will do something incredibly stupid, but not out of character for his or her character, that inevitably leads to death. I’ll let it happen, but I will never prevent the ability for a character to be resurrected, hey it adds a new quest and a new tone to a game.

For me the key to preventing unnecessary deaths are:

  1. Creating winnable encounters
  2. Not being afraid to fudge a roll
  3. Don’t be a dick
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