Friday, April 15, 2011

M is for Mortality

[over the course of the month of April, I shall be posting a topic for each letter of the alphabet, sequentially, for every day of the week except Sunday. Our topic this month? Things necessary to take your D&D campaign from “eh, fantasy” to “kick ass.” And who doesn’t want that?]

M is for Mortality (of course).

I have long been an advocate for a high mortality rate in Dungeons & Dragons. Yes, yes…I realize I’ve gotten a lot softer as I’ve advanced in years, but my players will be the first to tell you I cackle like mad every time I’m able to kill one of their players…especially if I can do so in an amusing fashion.

Look, it’s all in good fun, ok? Personally, I would prefer players to level up so that we can play in higher level games…and the high mortality rate isn’t all that conducive to fast leveling. In the old days, characters leveled a LOT faster…but then, that was playing 1st edition AD&D where characters received oodles of XP…including for each hit point of a monster, as well as for any magical items acquired (and even more XP should they sell “worthless” magic items for gold).

B/X is just as deadly as AD&D, but the rewards are a lot harder to come by (maybe not as tough as Hardcore Holmes edition, but pretty hard). Still, the idea of taking the mortality factor out of the game is…well, it’s pretty much antithesis to the whole spirit of the game. Hell, the game needs a third “D” for “Death” or “Dying.” Yeah.

Dungeons & Dragons & Death.

Perhaps you think I’m as nutty as one of those HackMaster writers over at Kenzer. So be it…I don’t mind being considered eccentric. The fact of the matter is, there are very few ways to “permanently” die in a D&D game. Death is almost as minor a set-back as having a few hit points shaved off. It’s a LOT easier to recover from than “level drain,” that’s for sure.

I mean, MY best character back in the “good old days” of my youth died a TON…probably six or seven times at least…and was still among the living and breathing when we finally folded the campaign. Heck, he never even lost any points of Constitution (the typical penalty for being “raised” or “resurrected”) due to the ubiquitous “wishing” items found throughout old school adventures. Rings of wishes, swords of wishes, wishes granted as rewards by grateful wizards and deities, wishes found in decks of many things; there was never a dearth of wishes for bringing folks back from the dead.

So for me, character mortality really holds no fear. And I don’t have much fear for my players either. The main consideration is the amount of time necessary to spend “rolling up” a new character. However, in B/X play this is sooo fast and easy as to be almost a non-factor.

But you know what? I’ve blogged on this topic often enough. I think I’ll keep it short today…for further reading on my thoughts check out this post, presenting 50 Ways to Die.

: )


  1. Interesting!

    My current game, there is no access to any raise or resurrection methods. Just don't exist in the world. (I suppose a wish might do it, but given that my PCs are 3rd level, it might take a while to get there...

    If you were running a setting with no resurrection mechanisms, how would this affect your attitude towards PC mortality, if at all?

  2. @ Allandaros: Well, it would probably look a lot like my current games. After all, while "raise dead" exists (as a spell) in my B/X campaign setting, none of my players have accessed it yet.

    Raising spells exist at mid-high levels...just about the time that characters get "cool enough" players WANT to bring 'em back. Right now, characters are getting killed right and left, and the most expedient remedy is to roll up a new character.

    In a high level game where raising wasn't possible, would I tone down the mortality rate? Um...I don't know. Characters that go after big treasure face big risks for that pay-day. I suppose they could "play it safe" and just keep "farming the little guys." But that's hardly what I call "heroic adventure."
    ; )