Hmm...four sessions at the Baranof...plus a "pseudo-session" at my house. Three players. Seven characters. Seven character deaths.
De-briefing (decompressing, I like to call it) after Thursday night's session, I once again found it a bit odd that everyone had a good time and intended to come back for more, besides getting killed off. I mean, it's not like I'm running S1:Tomb of Horrors, right? Just B2...you know, an introductory adventure for characters level 1-3? The guys haven't even fought an owl bear or anything.
Life as an adventurer is hard...pure and simple. Sure it beats working on the farm, and pays better than apprenticing to the local candlestick maker, but it's damn dangerous. "Feast or famine," as they say...except the famine part is actually "grim and painful death." So far, everyone that's died in B2 has been put down by cannibalistic monsters, so you KNOW most of their bodies ended up in the stew-pot (the heroic man-at-arms, Mac, is the only one who managed to get a decent burial...you think Bud worried about hauling six bodies out of the Caves after the ogre fiasco? No way, Jose!).
Here's the thing, the players talked about it and KNEW they could have done better than they did. They could have run. They could have tried to bribe the ogre with food or treasure (that's what the goblins did after all). The elf could have cast charm person at the giant humanoid. Hell, I don't know...maybe it was afraid of fire (like the Frankenstein monster)...would some flaming oil or a torch waved under its nose caused it to panic?
Could running have been an option after the first character died? How about the second? Or the third?
I know Steve-O kept waiting for his gnoll buddy to come back, but the gnoll was chasing goblins deep into their warren...for all I know he was killed by the chief and his bodyguards (who the escaping guards had went to warn)...regardless, the "fight" (more like "the slaughter") was over in a handful of rounds, and it would have taken the gnoll more than a turn to come back. And seeing his "master" slain, he probably would have killed and eaten the last, lone man-at-arms anyway.
All that XP and treasure being left on the table...what a waste.
Luke actually suggested that I could have "fudged" the rolls with the ogre. Wha-wha-what?! Fudged?
You're kidding right?
Actually, I bit my tongue and didn't say anything of the sort. After all, here's a guy who's been acting as a dungeon master for the last several years, generally with the latest editions of D&D...games that scream to keep players alive if only so you don't have to go through the several hour process of creating a new character.
And besides that, I HAVE fudged dice rolls before...as a Dungeon Master. Even in the old days, when playing Old School D&D...you know, 1st edition AD&D? While I can't remember any specific instances I'm sure...like 99.9% sure...that I fudged dice rolls to allow players to survive...both encounters and traps.
But I don't want to do that anymore. There are a couple reasons why.
For one thing, fudging rolls is a bit of a slippery slope: where does it stop? I mean, you want character death to be "on the table" (at least, I do), after all...it makes the risk/reward dynamic more poignant. But who gets saved and who doesn't? And how many times before someone's number is finally up?
For the DM to make that decision means the grossest exercise of DM fiat. And, yes, one could do random tables to act as "get out of jail free" cards...like one of the various Death & Dismemberment tables put forward by various blogs. But I don't really want an additional table...especially one involving extra math determined by the extent of that final blow. Hit points are reduced to 0, character dies. It's tough, I know it's tough, but it's the way the game is written, right? I can think of a couple ways off the top of my head to soften it, but let's get to my second reason why I'm against fudging.
I don't think it's necessary.
Really...I don't think it's needed in order to ensure characters survive. I think that adventuring parties, appropriately equipped and on-their-toes sharp CAN survive...and thrive...even at 1st level.
Really, truly. The game is hard. And maybe Gygax was a psycho-bitch of a Dungeon Master to craft adventures where, "oh here are our 1st level characters fighting goblins and oh wait a huge ass ogre wades in and beats the living snot out of all of us."
Sure...if there had been a magic-user with the wonderful sleep spell, the ogre would have gone down like a sack of bricks...but who's to say the party wouldn't have used sleep to knock-out the half-dozen goblins? Who's to say a goblin spear (D6 damage) wouldn't have killed the 1st level mage (D4 hit points)?
Sometimes, the game IS a bit of a crapshoot...but one has got to do everything in his or her power to maximize the odds and take advantage of the situation.
I just keep thinking back to the on-line game hosted by DM Pat Armstrong in which I played a low-level cleric. We took out a damn cockatrice...and insta-kill monster and a 4 or 5 hit dice monster...with zero casualties. But half-a-dozen 2 hit dice troglodytes wiped out most of our (full strength) adventuring party, including my cleric...and I KNEW that was going to happen. I knew it was a bad idea to engage those scaly f***ers and I could have beat feet out of there if I wasn't inclined to be some sort of damn hero/"team player" at the time.
Up till that point, my character PERSONALLY was doing quite well...it was either our 2nd or 3rd session and I'd already acquired quite a stash of treasure and a magical artifact. I didn't have to die then and there! But I screwed up, and took a very un-wise risk and I paid the price.
And, no, I don't think it's necessary to play the game cowardly nor particularly mercenary in order to survive...you just need to be SMART. If Joachim had not charmed the gnoll first, do I think Hensvik would have allowed the elf to un-chain it? Hell, no! He wouldn't even free an orc, despite the fact the PCs could probably have easily handled a single orc that decided to turn on them. Would Thundarr and Cain have died if the two hadn't been divided and conquered? Maybe...but it would have been a lot LESS likely.
My players' characters have perished through mis-adventure...that doesn't mean they're not learning to be more cagey and inventive. It doesn't mean "trust no one;" how many blogs have I read where people talk about B2 and how, "boy, my players would NEVER team up with the evil cleric...they kill anyone that tries to be friendly, they're so paranoid!" Those players would probably have put the crazed gnoll to the sword rather than attempt to turn him into a useful tool/weapon...and the latter tactic was a pretty darn good one if you ask me. It was only other missteps that prevented the players from capitalizing on it.
Anyway, my point is: I don't think I need to fudge jack-shit. I know dice rolls are random, and sometimes those random results suck (and random results that "don't make sense" should of course be discarded...like when the elf rolled that he was the cousin of the dwarf on my Random Relationship table). Chargen is NOT so hard or tedious that it's a burden to make up new characters when necessary...and low-level players CAN survive with a little care and ingenuity...as well as the occasional ballsy or brazen maneuver.
By the way, while Luke had to go home to his family after Thursday's game, AB and Steve did insist on rolling up new characters then and there for the next session. Steve (who does not read my blog at all) created a Halfling, and was pretty excited by the prospect. Finally someone who's truly excellent at the whole knife-throwing shtick. His name is Roderick, he has a short, attachable hood, and pretty darn good ability scores (including a Strength of 16 and a Dexterity of 14), as well as plenty of gold to spend, unlike his last two characters.
My brother rolled up a thief with less than optimal ability scores, but a Dexterity of 16. He's bare-headed but has an (amazing) curly mane of hair, and the required thief mustache and stubble. His name is Blarth.
Unfortunately, EVERYONE is going to have to wait to try out their new characters. My wife and I are leaving for Spain in the next two days, and we won't be back for a couple weeks. Yep, the ol' B/X Blackrazor Blog will be going down 'round about Tuesday folks. Though I might toss up a couple posts while I'm in Europe.