One thought on “It’s really hard for me to kill characters, was this difficult for you?

  1. D. Walker says:

    Only kill a character when it feels -right- to do so.

    Typically, you want a certain combination of circumstances to be present.

    1) It Makes Logical Sense

    Enemies don’t exist purely to hurt the player characters. They have needs, wants, desires, and motivations that can and should dictate their actions. For example, even dim-witted enemies shouldn’t fight until death, but should start to flee or surrender when the odds clearly turn against them

    In the same vein, even purely malicious and evil characters won’t always try to kill the players outright. Ask yourself what benefit an NPC can get out of killing the PCs, and then compare it to the benefits they can get from keeping them alive instead. There’s almost always a better use for a living captive than for a bloody corpse – at least for a little while.

    If a bunch of nosy adventurers bust into the private sanctum of an ancient Lich, she’s probably got a few questions he’ll want to ask them before she actually disposes of them. She’ll have her minions haul the defeated heroes away to be locked up, and then will interrogate them at her leisure. Why are they there? Who sent them? How did they even know about her lair? Who might come looking for them? Are they willing to purchase their lives by choosing to serve the lich? Even if they aren’t, can they still be used against their will somehow?

    Or if a band of brigands and thieves successfully ambush and defeat the heroes on some lonesome road, they’re going to realize that these adventurers aren’t just common peasants, and figure there might be an opportunity for profit in the situation. Who do these adventurer’s work for, and will they pay a ransom to get them back? Can one of the heroes be blackmailed into doing dirty work for the thieves while their friends and held captive? Do the bandits pay tribute to someone nastier and more powerful than themselves, and could handing over the heroes as a gift earn them increased favor or reputation?

    If you can’t think of a good reason for the NPCs to spare the character, or if they have flatly -better- reasons to kill them, THEN you can think about a player death.

    2) It Felt Fair, and The Players Were Warned

    Players absolutely hate feeling like bad things are happening to their characters, but there’s nothing they can do to stop it. Even when there actually -are- options available to them, if they ever -feel- like they’re uttery powerless or even simply don’t realize they have those options, their fun is going to be ruined.

    Let the players experience unfamiliar dangers in ways that allow them to prepare agains them if they’re paying attention and thinking.

    For example, don’t just have an unsuspecting party walk into a room of Rust Monsters and lose their valuable armor or weapons out of simple ignorance. Give some clues as to what’s going on. Maybe along the way, they find a wooden crate with only a handful of wooden sword handles in it, and a wooden barrel that is missing the iron hoops that hold it together, and a wooden door lying in a doorframe missing the iron handle, lock, and hinges.

    If they still can’t figure out something weird is happening to all the metal in the area with all those hints, then it becomes their own fault – and they won’t feel cheated if they do end up getting their gear destroyed.

    Always try to give the characters the information they need to make good decisions, even if you have to just outright hand it to them. If they want to jump across a chasp that you know they have a very poor chance of crossing and that will kill them if they fall, feel free to tell them “It looks like a very difficult jump, and you’re pretty sure if you don’t make it, you’ll almost certainly die.”

    Give them the chance to consider their options fairly, and if they still take the risk, they at least knew the likely consequences – and they won’t feel cheated if they do end up splattering on the bottom of a thousand foot canyon.

    3) It Makes For A Great Story

    Even when everything else suggests a player should die in a given situation, always stop and ask “If they die here, will it be something they think fondly about a year from now, or something they grumble about and hate?”

    If you give a player plenty of warning, and they still do something stupid, and they’re about to die, always consider giving them an unexpected lifeline – particularly if the tale of how they ALMOST died and miraculously escaped death at the last second makes for a far better story than their actual death would.

    If they screw up and throw themselves into a thousand foot canyon, think about having them roll a Dexterity saving throw (with an intentionally low DC) to see if they can miraculously grab a gnarled old tree branch growing out of a crack in the canyon wall that they failed to notice from above.

    If they flub the roll, all is not lost. Give their friends up to a single round of initiative to react to the crisis. Maybe someone can cast a spell that can help. Or maybe the rogue can make a Dexterity(Acrobatics) check to hurl a grappling hook on a rope to try to snag their friend by the leg in midair. And then when they almost get pulled off the cliff after them, the barbarian can make a Strength (Athletics) check to grab the rope and dig their feet into the ground to catch them.

    Make the heroes suffer consequences. Make them regret their mistake, and lose precious resources like hit points, spell slots, consumable items, or even just time and effort. But try very, very hard not to make them pay for their mistakes with their lives – unless it makes for a better story that way.

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