Death Becomes Them

Death Becomes Them

Resferlin was murdered in his sleep
Julian ran into vampires and he got beat
Trek fought a red dragon and was burnt by its flame.
Saldin was paralyzed by ghouls and they ripped out his juggler vein
Saldin was the one I really missed, he had two eighteens, man was I pissed.
These are PC’s who have died, died.
They where all my characters, and they died.

Player: “Anar opens the chest”
DM: “The lid to the chest swings open easily, it is followed by a spray of noxious green gas that envelopes your character, make a saving throw versus poison.”
Player: “I rolled a 2, I failed”
DM: “Anar falls to the ground choking and writhing, with one last gasp his body goes limp, your character is dead.”
Player: “That’s BS!”

 One thing you will quickly notice about 1st Edition AD&D is that characters are sometimes not long for the campaign world, unlike other editions that shall not be mentioned here.  Characters tend to live in a dirty, gritty, and dangerous setting.  They are not relegated any special feats or powers above and beyond what is standard for their class and the balancing restrictions implemented for each class make adventuring a risk no matter what you choose to be.

 But isn’t that what adventuring should be?  Shouldn’t it be a great personal risk to characters?  If it wasn’t that great of a risk wouldn’t a heck of a lot more people do it?  Why toil on a farm for a few copper, or live on the streets when you can just go grab a sword and slaughter lots of creepy nasty’s and take their stuff.  The truth is most characters starting out shouldn’t have much more than a 50/50 chance of survival anytime they venture into the unknown.  After all you are leaving the safety of a well populated area to enter into the lair of whatever bad thing you are trying to kill, rob, or trick.  As soon as you step into its home you are at the disadvantage, we are adding that on top of the fact you are now away from easy replenishment of resources and manpower.

This is particularly true at 1st – 3rd level.  At low levels your characters are young, inexperienced, and not very well equipped (often not even knowing what kind of equipment to take).  Those who survive will increase their chance for future survivability, this represents the characters advancing in experience, levels, and hit points.  At 1st level in particular you are susceptible to death from pretty much every direction.  A couple of solid hits from a giant rat, a single blow from a heavy weapon, any of these can do you in.

 However, regardless of level there are some things that will always be a danger such as poison and certain creatures that may kill without having to chip away through all of a characters hit points (such as a to hit roll of 20 by a remorhaz).

 It’s the latter that seems to grind some players. They don’t see any fairness in a single blow killing their character.  I however must disagree, if there was no risk where is the tension and suspense?  If you know by the time you reach higher levels there are very few creatures that can fight their way through your hit points then where is the challenge?  The fact that a giant spider can kill you dead with a single bite regardless of your level makes it a fearful proposition to enter that web filled cave even if you are 4th or 5th level.  Now at higher levels there are spells and magic items to protect you from such things and this is appropriate, but it can still be a fearful encounter.  What if your cleric with neutralize poison is the one who fails his poison save?

 As a player I appreciate these challenges, I know at higher levels it is difficult for characters to have a true permanent death with the raise dead spell (except for stinking elves), but those add up and eventually you will fail that system shock roll so any death can bring some apprehension.  I want a challenge and I want to feel some tension when playing, if the table top game begins to feel like a video game I will lose interest.  As a DM I feel the same way, I don’t want to run the equivalent of a video game at the table, I expect players to take care and think about their actions.  After all you can’t solve every problem by charging it head on.  Now as a DM it is important to not make too frequent a use of creatures that can quickly kill a party.  If your level 1-4 party has to fight save versus poison or die creatures, or your higher level party fighting remorhaz and behir around every corner then you are headed to a TPK (total party kill).  It is incumbent upon you to spread such creatures out and not over use them, because killing off characters every encounter is just as bad as them never having a chance to die.  You, as DM, must strike a fine balance.

 The Looking Glass

 This week rather than review a item in any of my modules I decided to post one that will be making an appearance in my own campaign.

Stone of Ghoul Creation (c)      XP: 900            GP Value: 5,000

This smooth gray stone radiates strong necromancy magic.  The stone can only be used by a cleric, and only reveal its true power when used by a cleric of evil alignment.  Once per week the stone can be used to raise dead on a human, humanoid, or demi-human (except elves) that has been dead for at least 24 hours but no more than 72 hours.  Over the first two days the victim will remain weak and bed ridden and on the third day will be over come by a ravenous hunger and transform into a ghoul. 

 If the cleric who raised the victim is a cleric of good or neutral alignment the newly formed ghoul will be compelled to track down and kill the cleric for cursing it into its new state of unlife.   If the cleric who raised the victim is of an evil alignment however, it will be compelled into that cleric’s service for as long as it remains alive.  In addition any new ghouls it creates will also be compelled into the cleric’s service for as long as the originally created ghoul remains alive.  If the originally created ghoul dies however then the subsequent ghouls it created will be freed from the cleric’s control.

Once a victim has been raised using the stone the transformation to a ghoul cannot be stopped in anyway short of a wish.  The use of a wish will return the victim back to their normal state of death.

One thought on “Death Becomes Them

  1. Interesting point of view. I have been playing D&D since the Larry Elmore cover basic set in the early 80’s, followed by AD&D 1st & 2nd, 3.0, 3.5 & pathfinder. (I won’t touch 4th). Out of my currant group, I am the only one that still enjoys the earlier editions. The play style I have always been part of is radical different.

    I am NOT saying you are wrong for playing the way you do. If you enjoy it, GREAT, no one can or should tell you how you play the game is wrong.

    The first question one must ask is “are you playing the heroes of the fantasy world?”.

    In the games I have played, as player characters we are a cut above the rest. I suppose like the heroes of greek myth. To use a WWII analogy, I played Sgt. Rock & the Howling Commandos instead of a background character from Band of Brothers.

    I am not saying that the DMs went out of their way to make sure we never died. They just didn’t run the game as one continuous Tomb of Horrors dungeon crawl. Characters did die & the threat was there.

    I knew guys who played the way you described & one thing I noticed was that they cared about their characters about the same way a grizzled WWII squad did about the new guy. In fact I heard some didn’t even name their characters until 3rd or 4th level.

    I will likely be flamed for being a coddled cry baby, but real life kicks me between the legs enough times, I don’t need my escapist fantasy past time to be filled with it also.

    Oh and a 50% death rate does sound like a video game. First person shooters with no character depth. You continue playing until some one kills you & then you make a new character & so on & so on until the game(module) is finished.

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