Thursday, June 18, 2009

World of Cinder, session 9

So last night all the PCs died. While on a mission to bring back the head of a rogue wizard they decided to mess with a sleeping dragon. It woke up and breathed on the entire party. Johann the Gnome, Carl's henchman, was the only one in the gang with enough hit points to survive if he saved. And he didn't. I feel bad for Dane. It was his first session of the campaign and less than an hour into it he and everybody else was dead. But that's just the way it goes sometimes in the kind of game I run.

I passed out some new character sheets and the players started clacking the 3d6s but total party kill by dragon breath had sucked the fun out of the room. So we got to talking and Carl indicated that he was ready to play something else for a while. Before the session had started Wheelz and I had been discussing our mutual interest in Labyrinth Lord's gamma ray powered sister system, Mutant Future. Carl was onboard with that and Dane seemed willing to play along. So I have two weeks to develop something resembling a Mutant Future campaign, or at least an initial scenario. Good thing I was already working on a MF wilderness map!


  1. Anonymous8:28 AM

    Am I the only one who gets fired up when my PC is part of a total party kill? I love it when a DM impartially administers a D&D environment. That way everything depends on just me and the dice.

    What sucks the fun out of playing D&D for me is when the DM is not impartial (i. e., either hand-holds the PCs or is out to get them).

  2. Yeah, I personally feel that if I poke a dragon and get killed for it everything's probably working alright. But not everyone feels the same way about these things.

  3. Poor, poor, Johan. His mother always told him that hanging around adventurers would be the death of him. First, the orc, now this...

  4. I think it's one of those things where you need to really emphasize to the players that there's no safety net for their characters. In our Classic D&D game the players would have run from a dragon on site - there's no way they would have stuck around to mess with it (I know this because they ran from much less dangerous situations).

    At the same time, character death and especially a TPK can be a bit anti-climactic. Still thinking about what to do about that without taking the element of danger/risk out of the game. At the moment I think Luck Points / Karma might be the answer.

  5. I find it hilarious that this happened in the World Of Cinder.

  6. Does this mean the end of Cinder for good or just a hiatus while you switch to some mutated future fun for a bit?

  7. I think you could call World of Cinder campaign #1 over, but I have no plans to drop the setting.

  8. I just had a PC die in my game, the first time that has *ever* happened. My group and I started playing in highschool, and although I'm not sure where this came from, the idea that character death was a no-no was deeply rooted from the beginning. We routinely fudged die rolls to keep that from happening, and, generally speaking, everyone was okay with that.

    After a hiatus for a number of years, and a decade long one for any form of d&d, we've recently started gaming Swords and Wizardry over Skype. Now, I pitched the game to them as a "return" to the classic D&D that we never played in the first place, and implicit in that was the promise that death could, and undoubtedly would, occur due to foolhardiness, bad luck and the simple act of taking a wrong turn. To soften the blow, we instated "karma points", that could be used to force a re-roll of any one die or to be exchanged for experience points when rolling up a new character, and we used a version of Robert Fisher's death-and-dismemberment table to add some dramatic "near misses"into the mix.

    Maybe the karma points and the dismemberment table were too forgiving, maybe a kindly old Cleric was too willing to heal them gratis too many times, and maybe old habits are simply too difficult to break. My players did not readily adapt to the cautious play style that OD&D demands, continuing, instead, to take dangerous risks, to leap into battles where the odds were against them, to throw discretion to the winds. For three sessions they got away with it, too, somehow managing to survive in situations that probably should have killed them, were it not for some unusually high rolls and some lucky breaks on the dismemberment table. Although every character had reached 0 hp at some point, nobody had died, and the ever-present sense of danger that I wished to instill in my dungeon was unquestionably much diminished.

    Then, last Sunday, Lee the Fighter leaped into a room despite every hint of an ambush (a still smoking brazier, obviously hastily extinguished, several chairs knocked over). He was incapacitated within a round, caught in a net by a crafty Ratman. Seeing the speed with which their best warrior was dispatched, did the rest of the party do the sensible thing and turn tail and run, living to fight another day? No, they did not. They instead elected to rush, one at a time through the narrow doorway, into the same room. The Ratmen swarmed them, they had the advantage and knew it. Within two rounds, the Cleric had been knocked unconscious, and the Fighter, who had begun to wrestle with his captor,had his throat bitten clean through and fell to the ground, dead. The last standing character, the Magic User, managed to cast Sleep (chastising herself for not having thought of it sooner) and put the rest of the Ratmen down at the last possible second. She woke up the unconscious cleric, then turned her attention to the Fighter, ready to administer a healing potion.

    "It's too late," I said.

    "What?" They asked.

    "He's dead. I'm really sorry."

    Silence. Their shock was palpable.

    The session ended soon after. No question that it was something of a downer for them, and, like you say, the air went out of the room (or whatever the Skype equivalent is). The rest of the PCs managed to escape the dungeon that day, but things were different this time; they left one of their own down there. The game has changed. The danger has become real.

    Sorry for the long-winded comment. It's just that I'm starting to see death as an important part of mood-setting for this style of game. Players need to know that poking a dragon could very easily get them *all* killed.

  9. Some players just don't handle character death well. More's the shame, especially in a game where it takes all of ten minutes (if not less) to create a new character.

    And, I may be off my rocker here, but messing with a sleeping dragon? What were they expecting? This makes me think of Amityville Mike's post this morning, wherein he felt bad for TPKing a party that stole a lich's spell book. Do any of these people think before they act? Yikes.

  10. Players are such funny critters.


  11. My jealousy of anyone who plays in your Mutant Future campaign is palpable.

  12. For the record, it wasn't the killing of the entire party that I regret. It was that I could have killed them in less arbitrary manner than I did.

  13. This kind of thing is why in T&T each player was expected to roll up 3-4 characters at a time. That way when they went splat! one by one you'd just slap down your next index card sized character "sheet" and get on with the mayhem. I'm getting wistful...

    If I grow a tentacle can I play in your Mutant Future game?

  14. Let sleeping dragons lie.

    If I were even remotely in the area, I'd be clamoring from Mutant Future. I don't think I can get much of a following for it 'round these parts.

  15. Based in part on this post and my own recent experiences, here are my thoughts on luck and Luck Points

  16. I've had no deaths in my Call of Cthulhu game so far, and we're about five or six scenarios in. It's such an unlikely overturning of what the game is (in)famous for that I think I've got the players a little creeped out. They know the axe is going to fall sometime, but when?

  17. I'm afraid I have to agree with BooBerry and say that I wish I could play a tentacled humanoid under your GM'ing hand...

    I am often afraid I am repeating the coolness and referring you to something you have already seen, but I hope this isn't redundant to you. I like to call them WHY OLD SCHOOL D&D IS AWESOME - The Videos

    Vid the first:

    Vid the second:

    Love the blog - great stuff here.

  18. I’m playing a B/X game at right now, where one player (Dorsai) has already had his character killed, not once but twice, and we haven’t even gotten to town yet. So did my Elricy Elf. Just part of the game.

    But actually, that’s a point that needs analyzing. To me, classic D&D is about being scared. The party in that game has run from almost everything they meet and we still have huge kill-off. And that’s the way it goes.

    But that doesn’t have to be the game. I just think a level-based game implies that you start out as fragile normals.

    [Verification Word: "buthool". Try scanning that too quickly.]

  19. A lot of people claim that they like PC death in their games, but the times I can remember actually seeing unplanned PC death work out well (in terms of fun) I can count on one hand... and I've been gaming for over 25 years.

  20. For me, it's all about honesty, about everything being above board. I've loved campaigns where PC death was not a possibliity, and I've loved campaigns run fair-and-square. The thing they had in common is that the GM was upfront about what kind of campaign it is.

    Communication is key. I'm currently running fantasy campaigns of both types, myself ... in one, there's flat-out no way the PCs are going to die; it just doesn't fit the vibe of the game or the vibe of the group. To compensate, there are other, magnified risks; the game's risks simply hing on losses other than death, and that works fine.

    In the other, the risks are traditional, rooted entirely in mortality and solvency (there are other things at stake because the characters are fleshed out so it's inevitable, but those are sideline details).

    In both campaigns, the players know the breaks, and the chips (whatever the chips represent that day) fall where they may.

    I like drama/karma/brownie/luck/hero point thingies only to the extent that they reduce _pointless and arbitrary_ loss. If the brownie points are made so powerful that they can prevent a loss that probably really should have happened, I scale those suckers back.

    Anyway, character death has been a part of many of the greatest sessions and campaigns I've played in, and many of the greatest sessions and campaigns I've GM'ed. There are other forms of loss a campaign can focus on instead, but you gotta have something: if there are no stakes, you're not playing a game, and if there are no stakes, there is no drama, so whether you're a grognard or a narrative-pinky-extended-lah-de-dah type, there's just no excuse to de-fang a campaign's threat of loss.

  21. Jeff, I'd point you to your totally supportive comment when I was struggling with my "near" TPK a few months ago. It was hard, but it was honest, the players goofed and they died. I'm really sure you had that knot in the stomach I had - and I hope you bounce back.

    I have to be really honest, I've only faced a dragon ONCE and that is such a funny story because we damn near had a TPK. The wish ring we found in his hoard was the coolest damn thing in the world, because it spoke to us when we touched it.

  22. @Joe Kilmartin:

    The World of Adventure video was edited by Riley Swift (the Dungeon Master from 'Dungeon Majesty') and the music is by the band CROM.

    I know this because I did an interview with JJ from Dungeon Majesty and asked about that video. I like it THAT MUCH. :D

  23. Dumb players deserve to die - horribly! The tougher situation is a TPK caused simply by a long series of bad rolls (by players or DM or both). That can really frustrate a group, even in a high casualty campaign, when they did nothing wrong and they get wiped out. I'm not saying it should not happen, of course...

  24. Whenever I think of party deaths, I think back to the Mob Wars campaign.

    At the campaign's end, we all narrated what happened to us, and Loren and I chose grisly deaths, because it just sounded right.

    I've always considered character death inevitable, and the challenge is putting it off long enough to make your death meaningful, or at least cool.

  25. Just goes to show the truth of the old adage; "Let sleeping dragons lie!" Funny how party death by fiery breath tends to suck the oxygen out of a room...

  26. It's funny how campaigns differ from a convention game in the way Players "invest" in or care about their Characters. I'm guilty of the fudge a dice roll here or there to prevent a character death and have never had a complete TPK (although I've come close.) I wonder too if the game we all know and love wasn't designed to avoid the uncomfortable situation for the DM, at least at higher levels, due the inclusion of spells like Raid Dead and others.

  27. Sounds like they got what they deserved to me. They will certainly have a greater respect for dragons next time they play. :)

  28. Sorry to cross geek genres, but I have to quote William Shatner in Star Trek 6 referring to the Klingons: "Let them die!"

  29. Anonymous8:23 AM

    Dalek Inasion of Earth + Terminator Salvation + Mutant Future = hours of gaming fun, or at least that's what I'd be running now if my best friend from high school was interested.