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Technomancer and troubleshooter by trade. Programmer by choice. Creator of Deviant Paradigm, somewhat by accident.
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Friday, January 18, 2008
Instant Kills are Stupid
I don't generally complain a lot about the D&D game I'm in; or really any other role-playing game I play in (running one is something different, I complain about that a lot). Usually it's no more than lamenting my absolutely terrible luck (I consistently roll critical failures several times during a session). But that puts me in a unique position, and I'm going to complain bitterly this time. I've learned -- nothing makes a player feel more cheated then taking them out instantly because they botched a single roll. Insta-kills off a single roll are stupid. Overdamage is fair, you usually have to do something stupid to get yourself in a position where you die from a single attack. At least when that happens you get to go "oh, man, if I'd only taken X number of points of damage less..." Heck, now Emo's even giving us a saving throw and letting us stay on our feet when we go negative. But insta-killed by an instant poison effect because I critically failed a single block? My biggest complaint about Emo's game is that I'm a melee fighter in a game designed around magic being the best. It doesn't matter what the problem is -- you just push the magic button. But I've gotten to the point where I generally just deal with that. What I can't take (and it's now happened to me twice), is when you fail a single roll, and you're just done. It's not like I even did something foolish this time (the last time was kind of foolish, but it's hard to predict that the party's going to just abandon you). I was playing to my character's strengths, using my cloak with 90% invisibility and x3 backstab to try to get into a position to hit this evil witch. But of course, that doesn't matter -- she notices me instantly anyway (see why I complain about magic just being a "win" button?). But that's okay, I still get my attacks, all of which are incredibly lackluster. She catches me with a couple counterattacks (the back-and-forth of the combat system is one of its greatest strengths). And I drop a twenty and a one on my defense, a critical success (counterattacking back) and a critical failure. I do thirty-six points of damage to her; and then die instantly when she touches me with a poisoned staff. WHAT? It's not equivalent, it's not even close. Okay, in fairness, she was able to defend herself. But you know what? My maximum damage is only 44 (and that's assuming I can do "evil" damage to someone, which probably isn't true here). There's no possible way for me to instantly kill any enemy of a hit dice number even remotely similar to mine. Okay, in fairness, with backstab, I probably could do it. Not that I ever get to really use backstab, and not that we fight people with hit dice counts remotely close to ours (the witch could have taken me doing a full damage backstab, I'm pretty darn sure). I'm used to suffering sixty or so points of damage because I roll poorly, but you what, that's okay. I have to pull out and heal; it's a problem and an irritation, but it's something I've gotten used to, because I'm incredibly unlucky. But instantaneous death, not because I did something dumb, not because I was already badly wounded, just because I rolled one bad roll. I'd not be so pissed off if I'd gotten to make a save against it -- fail badly twice in a row, and the dice are rolling against you; sometimes that happens. But instant death on what might as well be a fluke roll? It's hard to come away from that with anything but "the GM just wanted to kill you." And "oh, it's not like the party can't just raise you from the dead," doesn't cut it. It's not so much that my character died, it's that they died from something really stupid and random (no glory, nothing redeeming) and now I'm stuck, sitting here, for over an hour, listening to everybody else fight the battle. My evening is now wasted. One bad die roll cost me all the fun in the situation. I do what I can to stay interested, but hell, I thought Emo learned that these sorts of things are stupid the last time it happened to me. I'm sick of that sort of garbage. It's not very hard for me to come up with things I'd rather do than sit there for almost two hours listening to other people have fun.
Yes, I'm bitter. Yes, I'm pissed off. I expect to get a saving throw against instant death effects; it's written on my freaking character sheet. If you're going to try running the game without saving throws, tell your players that. Don't just say, "The thorny staff brushes you and you fall to the ground," and expect them to put together that you just killed them because they failed a single roll. I wasn't eager to play D&D again in the first place, and I'm starting to feel crowded by the number of players that have started playing (we've got a party of nine now, I think). I'll leave. I can come up with better things to do.
When you're GM, and you're playing the antagonists, you get used to the players occasionally getting lucky and one-shotting an NPC. But that's GM'ing. It's distinctly different from playing. All of your fun isn't bound to that one NPC (and if it is, you're GM'ing wrong). A GM can deal with having that one NPC die instantly, often by bringing in guards or something like that, or just letting the players get away with it. They really get a boost from doing something ridiculous like that (mooks don't count; this is only valid for real NPC threats). But when it happens to a player, they feel cheated; and in a lot of ways they are.
I swear, now, in front of all of you, I swear that I will never, never kill any of my player characters instantly because of one unlucky roll, unless it's by sheer overdamage (sometimes the EOD crew cuts the wrong wire; you might live through the explosion...) or they absolutely brought it on themselves (if you're dumb enough to attack a tank with a folding chair, you deserve to take it from the .50 cal coaxial). That is my promise. You'll always get at least one chance to save.