I do like to help my players get better, I encourage them to
take their time, use their minds before attacking, stick together, and use
teamwork. Once they get the fundamentals of the game down, then you can really
start throwing stuff at them. Sometimes, however, people fail. Whenever we take
risks, failure is always a possibility.
I know as a player, I have lost countless characters. The
only times that I ever got angry about it was when I felt that it had nothing
to do with what I did personally. I have vowed to never do this, but this does
not say that PCs don’t die (again, this goes with risks and that is part of
failure), I am just saying that their deaths are either because of bad choices
that they made, or because we rolled the dice and they lost.
I have found that when played well, the player characters
are very resilient; I know that I can be extremely tough on them, and they will
bounce back, but sometimes things just happen, and the DM really needs to just
let them happen.
Lets look at a case were we have a party in a 9’ long hall;
they see a goblin at the end of the hall fumbling with a crossbow. The fighter
tells everybody that he’s got this, and declares that he is charging the
monster. He doesn’t know that this is a trick, I tell him to roll initiative,
he rolls a 4, and I roll a 3, but tell him that he won and he gets to charge.
Halfway down the hall, the goblin sets off the trap and the fighter has to make
a save vs. breath weapon, which he fails. A pit has opened and he falls into
it, falling 10’ and I roll up 6 damage. He is lying prone at the bottom of a
pit, which grants me another attack on him. The goblin runs over to the edge of
the pit and fires his crossbow, hitting him for max damage and the character
Who killed that character? He could had let somebody else
with a ranged weapon have an attack on the goblin, so it was his choice to
charge. He was granted a saving throw to avoid the trap and jump to safety, and
the goblin shot him fair and square. This death isn’t on the DMs hands, yes the
DM wrote the trap and executed it, but we owe it to the players to keep the
danger real, else there really isn’t any sense in playing the game.
Losing one character in a party during the game tells us
that our challenge level is good, losing two tells us that our challenge is
difficult but still possible, but if we kill more than that, then we have to
evaluate what we did. Is the challenge level too high? Did you give the players
a chance, or are they just playing badly? Were they too bold and unprepared to
deal with this threat because of something that you did, or something that they
did? Now, granted: If you told the players clearly that they are looking down a
valley upon hundreds of campfires, with orcs as far as the eye can see and they
attack it . . . well that is not your fault. If you put them in the same room
with a monster that everybody knows can kill them in one round, and they attack
it . . . again, not your fault. But, if they are in a dungeon, and although
they have used sound judgment, they have the magic, and the resources to
survive but they are still dropping off like flies, then chances are that you
accidently set the level too high for them, which happens. Honestly, there is
no real guide on how much you can throw at your PCs. Like a good chef, we are
just measuring by eye. Once we realize that this is going on, it is time to
Unlike in videogames, there is no reset button. It is too
late to correct the damage that you’ve already done; well, you could but that
might mess with the integrity of the game. No, it is best to just roll with it.
This will go back to creature motivations. They won’t see the players as a
threat, and they may want to keep the PCs alive, if they do, then change your
tactics to capture instead of kill. Don’t make surrender easy. Who knows; maybe
one of the adventurers can make it out alive! Wouldn’t THAT be something? But
don’t keep running an impossible scenario unless it is very very rare, and all
of the players know that they probably won’t be coming back out alive so that
they can pick their characters more carefully.
PC death happens, and it should happen! But as long as we
are doing it fairly, the players can’t call us Killer DMs, nobody wants to be
that. There is nothing worse then getting stuck at a table with one in charge,
I think that any experienced player can tell you that; but the term “killer DM”,
gets thrown around a lot; what exactly is a killer DM?
The Killer DM is a cheater, plain and simple. He is lazy,
and he likes to have the game be all about him. He won’t use the monsters in
the MM, instead he will create his own and they won’t be balanced with the
system that you are playing. He may even trick you by letting you play a
character that is also unbalanced, but it is just that, a trick. There is just
one strategy with the Killer DM, you are expected to attack everything, and the
second that you try to role-play or do something different, he just attacks you
and laughs because you don’t know how to play the game; and, if you are able to
beat his stupid, over-powered monsters, you still don’t win anything because
his campaign is also a Monty haul. If anybody gets any glory, then it will be
his DM Character. The killer DM thinks that he is a difficult Dungeon Master,
when he really isn’t. He’s boring. Allowing the dice to do their job, and
allowing the players to fail has nothing to do with being a Killer DM, and if
your DM is playing a fair game, then it is a huge insult to suggest otherwise.
The moral of the story is, don’t be afraid to play at your
best. Play your monsters up to their strengths and minimize their weaknesses.
If you play hard and play for keeps, your players should still be able to win,
but they won’t be handed the win, they’ve got to earn it, which will keep your
players coming back!