Have you ever not killed your party because you were only half way through your campaign and they hadn't even met the Big Bad yet? Maybe you fudged a couple of DC rolls just to make sure that a player got the information he needed? Or how about when you didn't use that special ability that hampers movement for everyone with 20 feet just because you don't think the players wouldn't know how to avoid it? Of course you have. We all have. As a GM, our goal is not to just tell a story, but to make sure that the players are having a fun time while they're playing. And dead characters don't make for very good interaction (Well, maybe undead ones do, but even then they just shamble and moan, and that's not very fun to roll play).
How many times is too
many, though? Sure, I've pulled a punch or ten here and there just to make sure that I only knocked the bard unconscious instead of killing him, but sometimes I'm afraid of the gaming environment that I've created in doing so. My players are no longer afraid of dying
. After several campaigns of only killing them off at the very end of when they're going up against the evil villain, I have the feeling that this is where my players believe will be the only place in the campaign they will die - that I will let them help me tell the story to the end.
All of this changed in the last campaign I ran, and I was afraid that I was going to lose at least a couple of them when the perverbial shit hit the fan. Luckily that wasn't the case, but none-the-less this scenario should not have worried me as much as it did.
The times have changed quite a bit in 30 years. I've heard stories of players in AD&D being killed by a single spider bite, or by one touch of poison, or by a leaf that they brushed up against in the woods outside of their house. The turnover on characters was so great you always kept at least a couple of extra ones in the chamber, because you knew at some point you were going to die a quick and inglorious death. But now there are so many more ways to not
have a character die that it makes me wonder if the game has helped us become big snuggly-soft plush bears, cuddling our players with warmth and cookies.
While RPGs have been an escape from our normal blase lives, I see society creeping into our gaming experience rule by rule. In the days of politically correct behavior where everyone is a winner and nobody does a bad job and we all get gold stars and an "A" for effort, it's become that we can't even kill off a character without the player feeling betrayed for some innane reason. When was it our job to make sure that the characters succeeded in their endeavors? Isn't it up to them to make sure that they run away from battle when the going gets just a little too tough?
And don't get me wrong – I blame the GM just as much as the player. All too often do we get caught up in the story we are telling, rather than the adventure that we as a group are partaking in. They become characters in our story and they are only there to do what we want to happen. If they aren't supposed to die during this encounter then it simply won't happen. Yes, our job is as a narrator of a story, but we are also there to uphold the guidelines and heart of the game and cheating the system (because yes, lying is cheating and saying you rolled an 18 instead of a 20 is lying) does not fulfill this end of our bargain.
In the end, tell your story and create an environment that is fun for the group. However, what the characters are partaking in is dangerous and possibly deadly and they should be aware of this every time they enter a dark forest or an abandoned tower or a dank dungeon. How sweet can the reward really be when it is simply handed to you? Where is the treat without the trick? Parents – Stop giving us soft players. And Game Masters – Stop perpetuating soft characters. We'll all have a much better time in the end.