Do the dice fall where they may, or it’s time to Insta-kill

There are different way people run their games. Some see themselves as impartial umpires. The dice are the will of Fate, and the dice fall where the dice fall.

Some are interventionist to a great degree, although not always to a fair degree, favouring some players over others, or making things either too tough or too easy for players.

I try to be a wee bit of an interventionist. Generally I let the dice do their job, but if there is a run of bad luck or something particularly undeserved occurs, I might allow a chance to escape, or perhaps the
situation, while dire, can be escaped, if the people involved think on their feet fast enough.

E.g. the group are crossing an ice bridge high in the mountains, they are taking precautions, tying themselves together, using poles with pikes to try and increase grip, but still there is a roll to see if the slippery bridge is crossed.

Martin rolls a 20, a fail, and a dangerous fail, he has to roll again to avoid a critical failure, but he rolls a 20 again, he slips and falls. The next two in the line must roll to avoid being pulled in as well, but
they fail also.

A Umpire style GM would follow that line, the characters are in danger of plunging to their deaths, soon to be forgotten.

An kindly interventionist GM might create a Deus ex Machina that resolves the situation, or even just allow the dice to be re-rolled. A slightly less kind interventionist GM (Me for example) might put another partial ice bridge under the first Martin falls onto. Martin is injured, the others have slipped and the partial bridge is cracking. What will the players do. I might even say “You have a count of 20 to try something”

It depends on the situation.

I don’t try and kill player characters or have them suffer meaningless deaths, but somethimes these things happen, but I try and let REAL bad luck or wilful stupidity be the driving force behind that. Let me repeat
that, it has to be WILFUL, stupidity.

An example.
I had adapted the old TSR “Tomb of Horrors” to my GURPS “Archworld Campaign”. Archworld is a setting for an old FGU Wargame where there are a number of cultures in Central and South America ranging from 17th Century Musket users to nomadic tribesmen. The iconography has a Meso-American feel and to the far north, in the Ice-lands are evil hordes ruled by seven wizards.

So I placed the Tomb as a Labyrinth to get into the base of a forgotten Aztec style pyramid in an overgrown city where the ghosts of the dead, not knowing they are no longer alive, keep reliving the assault that killed them ages in the past. Finally the group get to the centre. Placed in the centre of the chamber, under where a hole happened to be at the top platform where sacrifices were made, is a glowing gem on a pillar, an opalescent sphere, covered in age old dried blood, radiating an almost tangible aura of evil.

This was the God of these forgotten people, the driving force behind the dangers that the group had already fought through. It was Ancient, intelligent and thoroughly unpleasant. So one of the group decides he is going to seize it with both hands and wrench it off the pedestal.

So what does kindly old interventionist me do then? I raised my eyebrows and said “Really?”. When he confirmed the other players said “We’ll stop him.” The chap was unconcerned “I’ll resist. I’m doing this”

I have to assume that he thought nice old me would prevent anything truly nasty being a consequence of this. I let the group roll to try and prevent this, but they failed. The character seized this blood soaked artifact and raised it high.

“Even if you wanted to you could not now put down the sphere. You feel your flesh sublimating away to leave only your skeleton left behind, that dissolves until only your ghost remains, you have just enough substance left to place the sphere back, and you are left, a ghost that does not truly believe it is dead”

In that instance the move to stop was the saving throw, but the stupidity was wilful, the act deliberate so the consequences, I felt and still feel, had to be taken.

I have said elsewhere that I regard GMing as an art. Not in some high-minded “I am a story-teller” sense, if for no other reason that it is the job of all the players, GM included to create the story, but just in the prosaic sense that hard and fast rules don’t work, because people are incredibly imaginative. If you think you have anticipated every possible response to a situation, you are probably wrong, so GMing is not a straightforward job of umpiring. Not that I hold with the GM as enemy theory either.

Given that, if you intervene sometimes to help the characters, you have to be prepared to do the other thing, to let the characters suffer the consequences of the player’s hubris. There are no save-points, even resurrections have their price and you are not there to be taken for granted.

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2 Responses to Do the dice fall where they may, or it’s time to Insta-kill

  1. Geoffrey Brent (@GeoffreyBrent) says:

    My philosophy is fairly similar to yours: character death should only happen through extreme bad luck, player stupidity, or some combination of those two things. But it has to be a possibility – success doesn’t mean much if you know it’s impossible to fail.

    In one episode of my D&D game, the PCs found themselves trapped in the bodies of toys – a jack-in-the-box, a glass unicorn, an understuffed teddy, a paper doll that could refold itself. While folded into frog shape, the paper doll decided to distract enemies by *jumping into a fire* and I had to say “right, you’re dead then”. I’m not sure whether he was testing me or just got bored and wanted to kill off the character, but either way, consequences.

    I won’t fudge dice rolls, but I try to avoid putting players in situations where bad luck alone could easily kill a character. In D&D, that means being careful about encounter planning – e.g. watching out for creatures with ‘spiky’ damage that could one-shot a character.

    Depends on the situation, of course. I did run a one-shot where the characters stopped in a ruined guard tower for the night and got transported via dream sequence to the battle where the tower was destroyed – I handed them each a character sheet for one of the ogres guarding the tower, told them their motivation, and then threw wave after wave at them until the last guard blew the place up just before he was overrun. They were quite relieved to wake up, back in their own bodies.

  2. hurcheon says:

    Hi Geoff

    Gosh, only my second comment by a real person!

    I don’t like fudging dice rolls. I prefer to make the failed roll be the cause of something happening, a badly failed lock picking attempt may cause the picks to break in the lock, so that it my alert someone, that kind of thing.

    Your adventures sound interesting. My favourite one I ran had the players being part of the (original) Scooby Doo gang with the adventure being ripped off from a JMS “Real Ghostbusters” script.

    The bloke playing Daphne was plain disturbing

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