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DaverWattra

Death-defying leaps and other "instant death" checks

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Everyone loves that scene in the movie where a character leaps across a giant chasm, or swings with the princess from one end of the bridge to another.  Scenes where the character risks all and narrowly averts instant death.

The problem is, how to have a scene like that in a roleplaying game that puts the player on the edge of their seat, but doesn't run an uncomfortably high risk of killing a PC in a disappointing and dramatically unsatisfying way?

Your thoughts?

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In most cases... the same way they do it in movies. There's always an out. You just game the system to minimize probability and develop alternative solutions to "failure."

Swinging across the chasm with the princess:

Failure: You swing out over the chasm, but misjudge the distance, and end up swinging back to the starting platform. 

Threat: The princess also comes loose and you have to kinda drag her back onto the platform, take strain or something...

Despair: The princess comes loose and starts to fall, you catch her with your free hand at the last second and she grabs you with both hands. You see the blaster rifle she was holding fall into the bottomless abyss.

 

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Exactly as Ghostofman suggests: the Threats, Despairs, Advantages, and Triumphs tell the story.

If you want your player to be on edge about the "death defying" action he's about to take, tell him some of the possible results of Threats and Despairs before he rolls. Also, don't be afraid to upgrade the difficulty once or twice simply based on the action being so risky or dangerous.

"Okay, the difficulty is upgraded twice because, man, that's a long way down... Also, if you roll too many Threats or Despairs, the princess might drop that blaster, or you could drop the princess, or both of you, even. Let me find the falling rules real quick."

"Umm... Maybe there's another way around..."

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Seriously though... death should very rarely be on the table. Like, ever...

Failure (and its ramifications) is so much more interesting, and leads to more story telling. And let's be real - that's why everyone is at the table.

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42 minutes ago, Bishop69 said:

Seriously though... death should very rarely be on the table. Like, ever...

Failure (and its ramifications) is so much more interesting, and leads to more story telling. And let's be real - that's why everyone is at the table.

I completely and unequivocally disagree with this. If death isn't on the table than legitimate challenge isn't on the table which means actual 'triumph' and true heroism aren't on the table, the entire endeavor is phony.  I have never disagreed at a core level anymore with this GM perspective.

Why would I ever bother to advance Athletics at your table? If I fail my climbing roll on the 500 story tower I'm not gonna die.  Who cares if I'm a good pilot? I can fly backwards with my eyes closed into an asteroid field and not die.  For that matter why even be good at combat, the bad guys won't kill us.  We don't need a doctor, we can't die. 

There is precisely zero interesting about any story where there is no challenge and no risk.

Edited by 2P51

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3 hours ago, 2P51 said:

I completely and unequivocally disagree with this. If death isn't on the table than legitimate challenge isn't on the table which means actual 'triumph' and true heroism aren't on the table, the entire endeavor is phony.  I have never disagreed at a core level anymore with this GM perspective.

Why would I ever bother to advance Athletics at your table? If I fail my climbing roll on the 500 story tower I'm not gonna die.  Who cares if I'm a good pilot? I can fly backwards with my eyes closed into an asteroid field and not die.  For that matter why even be good at combat, the bad guys won't kill us.  We don't need a doctor, we can't die. 

There is precisely zero interesting about any story where there is no challenge and no risk.

I think you're overstating it.  If death is the only challenge and risk, that sounds pretty boring, but I'm pretty sure you don't mean that.  There are plenty of challenges and risk in the story itself:  did you get the money; can you save the love interest; can you turn your father back to the light...  Sure, the potential for death might be present depending on the severity of the situation, or how far along in the story you are, but if you make it available all the time your story risks becoming a slapstick mockery.  "I died slipping on a banana peel, who knew farmer's markets were so dangerous?"

In my games, while I expect the PCs to "win", I also expect it to come at a cost.  Ultimately I what I'm going for is "satisfying", whether they succeeded with aplomb because of all that hard-earned investment in skill; or finally got that BFG10000 working and aimed true; or ended up like a Bruce Willis in a Die Hard movie, battered but triumphant; or gave their life to save others...

Death is certainly possible at all times, but "satisfying" becomes beyond reach if the PCs keep dying.  The success of any particular PC becomes more about lucky rolls (or avoiding bad rolls) than narrative investment.

Plus I don't get to play enough to burn through PCs like paper, so that informs my gaming style.

On 2/7/2019 at 3:55 PM, DaverWattra said:

The problem is, how to have a scene like that in a roleplaying game that puts the player on the edge of their seat, but doesn't run an uncomfortably high risk of killing a PC in a disappointing and dramatically unsatisfying way?

You still have to make the consequences meaningful.  Good examples above.  Loss of things the PC cares about (including their own limbs) is a great trope.  Maybe the PC saves the princess, but got too close to the steam vent, and now he looks like Deadpool...  If in doubt, pick a critical from the chart and make it "permanent".

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I'm not overstating anything.  Saying that death should nearly never happen is overstating.  If it's nearly impossible for death happen then there's nothing remotely interesting going on. 

We are talking about an adventure set in the backdrop of a galactic civil war and battle between mystical forces of good and evil.  If death is only an option "very rarely", that's boring.

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Use an adaptation of the one-roll resolution (optional rule only found in EotE) with Athletics as the skill and a high difficulty (possibly upgraded). Failure won't necessarily kill a character (unless already badly injured), so the PCs are most likely to make the crossing but get worn down doing so. But that one PC that's already badly hurt and sporting several critical injuries...he might not make it.

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2 hours ago, 2P51 said:

We are talking about an adventure set in the backdrop of a galactic civil war and battle between mystical forces of good and evil.  If death is only an option "very rarely", that's boring.

So, in E4:  Leia dies immediately because the stormtrooper forgot to set to stun.  The droids are vaporized because the gunner shot before his commander said "hold your fire, there are no life forms".  Luke dies in the bar because Obi-wan was too slow or he missed, and the ugly dude meant it when he said "you'll be dead!"  Or Greedo shot first.  Or they *were* the droids they were looking for...

Any of these points could have meant death for the PCs, and pretty much an end to the story.  So the player makes a new PC, but who gives a dang, they probably won't live until their next meal...not exactly what I'd can an "adventure", more like a random series of events.

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8 minutes ago, whafrog said:

So, in E4:  Leia dies immediately because the stormtrooper forgot to set to stun.  The droids are vaporized because the gunner shot before his commander said "hold your fire, there are no life forms".  Luke dies in the bar because Obi-wan was too slow or he missed, and the ugly dude meant it when he said "you'll be dead!"  Or Greedo shot first.  Or they *were* the droids they were looking for...

Any of these points could have meant death for the PCs, and pretty much an end to the story.  So the player makes a new PC, but who gives a dang, they probably won't live until their next meal...not exactly what I'd can an "adventure", more like a random series of events.

Where did I say all the time?  I said it's needs to be on the table. I'm not sure why you're being so ignorant you're generally not so obtuse. 

Oh, and your Star Wars lore sucks, Vader said before all those scenes on the ship he wanted the passengers alive.

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21 minutes ago, 2P51 said:

Where did I say all the time?

First post:  "There isn't one, if death isn't an option there is no real risk, no real risk equals no real reward."

I don't know why death is the only option for "real risk", that's really the sole point of contention.  I think there are many more options than death for "real risk".

23 minutes ago, 2P51 said:

I'm not sure why you're being so ignorant you're generally not so obtuse.

I reacted to the above (that death is the only option for real risk) as an overstatement, and you insisted it wasn't.  Okay, we disagree then.

I do agree death should be "on the table", I just don't bother entertaining it unless it's for dramatic effect, or unless the PCs are doing something really stupid.  There's a lot more drama to work with in the character's arc than a binary dead/not dead choice.

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Maybe you should review the thread title, my responses are related to that.  If death isn't an option in Death-defying leaps and other "instant death" checks then what the f is the point of the story, and why the f roll the dice? And most importantly what would be an appropriate consequence/risk? It seems to me to be somewhat stupid to refer to something as "death defying" if death isn't a potential outcome. 

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I'm not surprised this topic has become so divisive. My wife and I actually debate this particular topic often. She is in the camp that a PC death should serve the story and in her games, is actually a choice. For her games, if a PC were to die, she would take them aside and ask them if the player wishes to keep playing that character. If so, she will work the PC's survival in to the story.

I am in 2P51's camp. I think the fear of death creates a fun level of drama and tension. I've been listening to a lot of critical role, and the most memorable events for me from that podcast/stream is when the PCs are facing a particularly tough challenge and barely make it through, or worse yet, only some of them back it through. The roleplay and drama is simply incredible. (But they are paid actors so I don't expect that level of immersion from my players).

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10 hours ago, 2P51 said:

Maybe you should review the thread title, my responses are related to that.  If death isn't an option in Death-defying leaps and other "instant death" checks then what the f is the point of the story, and why the f roll the dice? And most importantly what would be an appropriate consequence/risk? It seems to me to be somewhat stupid to refer to something as "death defying" if death isn't a potential outcome. 

Calm down bro...  No need to throw F's around so willy nilly

Edited by Jawa4thewin

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"Bro's" and "f's" aside, I agree that death needs a seat at the table, even if it's a very small seat.

Make the chance of death small like in this system? Sure. Eliminating ANY chance of death. No. Your players should never think there is no chance of failure on a mission or no chance of death when doing something dangerous, especially "death-defying leaps". If your players ever figure out failures and specifically death are completely off the table, then the proverbial horde of goblins or dragons charging their way will never cause fear. Without fear of at least a small chance of failure and/or death, there is no excitement. No excitement leads to boredom leads to "can we try a new campaign or system?"

Any veteran players or GM's ever see a response from players where they shrugged and charged when faced with extreme odds? That's a clue.

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13 hours ago, Sturn said:

Any veteran players or GM's ever see a response from players where they shrugged and charged when faced with extreme odds? That's a clue.

Nope 🤣

I only have to suggest a mission & at least one of my players will state that it’s suicide!

They’re  not even low XP either, we’ve been playing for 2 & a half years with the same characters & they’re knocking on the door of 1000xp! Also, I’m really not out to kill any of them either, their characters work well together & I love em as much as their respective players do!

But... I do so love to see em panic 🤣

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I won't say death shouldn't be on the table, but I will say it shouldn't be on the table without some notice from the GM before the luck aspect of things kick in.

 

Characters that die part of the way through the story generally aren't main characters in the story. And when they do it's almost always some noble sacrifice, not 'he needed to jump over that chasm to escape the stormtroopers and just failed'. There's exceptions to that, of course, but this isn't Game of Thrones RPG. 

 

I mean, sure, Luke and Leia could have surrendered instead and been broken out by Obi-Wan or a deep cover rebel operative or something ... but that story is a lot less compelling than their attempting the jump. Save that stuff for the failure results, in my opinion. 

 

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18 hours ago, sarg01 said:

I won't say death shouldn't be on the table, but I will say it shouldn't be on the table without some notice from the GM before the luck aspect of things kick in.

No, see I disagree with this here. I think I'm more in 2P51's camp as well. Especially if it's a situation where the PCs do something blatantly stupid, like charge solo into a squad of storm troopers, or assault an Imp stronghold without any prep work ahead of time. There are some situations where if the PCs are dumb enough to do the suicidal path, you have to let them accept the consequences.

Especially if it's a situation where you already laid out the challenges:

GM: "You guys have to get into this strongly fortified Imp base and recover data from the main server. How do you proceed?"
Players: "We grab our weapons and charge the gate."

 

That's the players asking to die, imo. They knew the odds going into it and if they didn't respect the chance of death, that's on their heads.

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In session zero I do point out I won't be throwing marshmallows at them and giggling. It's accepted that death can happen and making a new character happens occasionally in our campaigns.

It isn't like every failed skill check equals death at my table and I never said that. Skipping the hyperbole and derailment, the thread is about extreme situations and the consequences of a failed roll. The dice are narrative and open to interpretation,  but if you've got a PC jumping across a canyon, they fail, there's a Despair showing, and the rest of the group doesn't have a grapple gun to spear them or Move handy, you have a re-roll at my table. 

 

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If I may, I think a lot of this comes down to player style combined with GM style. I've gamed at tables with both mentalities and found that the death lurks at every corner style to be more suited to a group that as quoted earlier charges at storm troopers. I know in those groups, I've made a choice to engage in a situation that I full on knew could cause my PC's death, as unusual as it may have seemed, and actually found myself on death's door and with a good GM that turned the moment into a story opportunity. Those moments did stick with me. However, I have also played in groups where players are terrified to do anything and literally spend minutes planning out each encounter to borderline paralysis. The GM had to stop us all and tells us he was literally not going to murder us, just choose a plan already, and those moments lead to some fun, memorable, goofy times as well. I've also had players in a shoot-out give me puppy dog eyes when they realize they messed up and are hopelessly unmatched. Note I said players not PCs. I'm not going to ruin their evening over a game.

That being said, if it is dangerous, like jumping across a chasm as mentioned earlier, it should be dangerous. If it feels weird for them to die during that moment, maybe don't have that be the consequence. 

For example, a party of three are beginning a mission to jump from a ship onto a hover train. If one were to fail first roll of the evening and fall to their doom, would it be awkward and hurt a players feelings to have spent the past hour making a character and starting play with death? I wont argue that this couldn't be salvaged but is the air of fun in the room gone? Then screw it, the failure means they dropped a key item for the mission. Now the last roll of a mission from jumping from the crashing train back onto a ship? Let 'em fall! *Evil laugh* but seriously not many checks could spell instant death. Next session could be the hunt for the missing player who fell to their doom? Or was it a noble and well worth it sacrifice?

Edited by Drig

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I'm kindhearted, and if the players want to do death-defying **** in my game I won't kill them on a failure. I will, however, be pointing out how many difficulty dice I'm upgrading to challenge dice based on the action, before I decide whether to upgrade using destiny. And they better watch out for those despairs!

It is very unlikely to be required to do such rolls to succeed in the task, and if it were, other things would go wrong than death.

I always find character death to be so much more acceptable to players when they understand that it was their decision that led to it than just random roll of a dice.

Edited by Darzil

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