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Thursday, 7 January 2016

10th Anniversary Classic Rant: Lethality: Or, a Get Off My Lawn Moment

It's time for me to talk about the good old days. Kids playing RPGs these days are a bunch of fucking wimps.

In the olden days, it was perfectly understood that your characters WOULD die; it was the rare and wonderful PC who managed to survive all the difficulties of lower-ranked play and emerge into an unstoppable unkillable uberman.

Character creation was not a chore, it was usually a kind of pleasure, the opportunity to start again, the promise of something new and different, maybe unexpected. It was part of the fun, not a hurdle to get over into the fun.

And the fact that it was relatively easy for characters to die was not a signal that "this game is not for combat"; it was, on the contrary, a sign that combat in "this game" rocked. There was risk, and there was great reward; and the understanding that without that risk the reward was pretty fucking pointless.

So what the fuck happened? Why are current gamers a bunch of wusses who can't stand to see their character die, and think that danger is something not only to avoid in a game but all too often to be systemed-away creating no-risk rules and adventures.

Part of what changed is that perception on character creation. Too often, people don't find it part of the fun anymore, and all too often, that's because it isn't fun anymore. Most systems take out any element of surprise from character creation, and tack on a ton of form-filling drudgery, assuring that character creation is seen as a chore before the game can really begin, and that its an experience best repeated as little as possible. So systems are set up to discourage the possibility of PC-mortality, and even penalizing frequent lethality.

And the idea, beyond any specific system and into a wrong-headed general mentality among gamers (embraced wholeheartedly by the Swine, of course) that those few games that do still have high mortality rates should "not be about combat" as a way to avoid and mitigate that lethality, has become increasingly and annoyingly universal.

What will fix this? Making character creation quick and fun again; and encouraging players not to be little pussies about their characters' lives.

That, and getting the fuck off my lawn.


Currently Smoking: Ashton Old Church Rhodesian + C&D's Crowley's Best

(Originally Posted March 5th, 2009)


  1. I personally hate having to go through a long process of character creation. I prefer to give life to the char by myself, and not by some predetermined tables that tell me exactly to the most small detail who and what they are.

    PC die, specially because they are adventuring, adventuring is dangerous even in real life.

  2. It depends on an "adventure". What separates real life, or Mundane and Murderous, as I call it, from a game, is that a lot of people get no chance, but to die. No choice, no saving throw, but doom and death. The outcome depends entirely on situation. We are talking worse chances, than WWI trenches in the West. Hundreds and thousands of men on the frontlines that got breeched during major offensives in wars up to WW2. Gauls in Paris, besieged by the Romans and taken by Julius Caesar. Air crews of the Allied flying fortresses that flew unescorted over Germany in WW2, those over France had SOME chance, if they landed alive and the friendly resistance found them. By the end of WW2, 78% of the total population of the German U-boat men were dead. The Anglo-American commandoes and saboteurs caught by the Nazis were subject of the "Nacht und Nebel" program, under which none of them were to survive the war. out of a relatively small population of 390-400 people, only 1 or 2 survived. There were underground resistance organizations successfully rounded up by Gestapo that ended up being executed in their entirety, usually active members and inactive supporters caught in the dragnet. This is common in the underworld, the original 30 renegade Mexican soldiers who formed the Los Zetas gang are all either dead or in prison. The entire population of young street thugs who came to rule Moscow in 1992 in the wake of the Soviet collapse, NONE survived by 2003. On the other hand, today's U.S. soldier has only a 10% mortality rate, if they get alive to the first medical station for evacuation. Self same B-17 pilots starting to fly late in 1943 would have to be lucky to see a German fighter aircraft in the air.

    Which brings us to complexity. In real life people aren't aware that they are in a situation, unless they deal with someone, who has seen the same situation many times, such as a priest, a social worker, a cop, or a recruiter. If you don't have the wisdom and experience of personal involvement, you can still make an adequate analysis and a good decision, if you frame the situation adequately with enough factors, variables in Mathematical terms, and to be able to solve it, you will need an equation to describe each variable. We do well to describe the trajectories of physical objects in space, often launched from submarines, but we lack the computational power when it comes to social trajectories of human actors navigating interpersonal space in social environment.

    Rules, and character generation for a PC too, will get more complex (longer, more involved) if you try to realistically model anything more complex than war or hack and slash in your game, or if you want to integrate the PC's into your setting.

  3. Tnx for your input Bear

    I agree that some scenarios might be meant to kill everyone in them, but PCs should be able to make the decision to go in and maybe die, or go somewhere else, level up, then return if they wish, or do something completely different from what the DM had in mind.

    In my short experience, if the DM is good enough, PCs should be able to roam around in a vast world, without some single option of where to go or what to do in an open world experience.

  4. I am in no way suggesting to turn real world disasters into no option, but to die scenarios for fantasy gaming. Three weeks that Erich Maria Remarque spent in the trenches may have served as an adequate inspiration for his "All Quiet on the Western Front" novel, but it would not have made for a good role-playing game, nor would he have wanted to turn it into a game.

    The reverse seemed to have been true, however. Long before Tolkien wrote the Hobbit and introduced us to Adventuring, the concept and practice was alive in the British trenches. Groups of volunteer British and Canadian soldiers would try to cross the no man's land in the middle of the night to wreak havoc and kill as many enemy in the German trenches. Participants called it Adventuring, and themselves - Adventuring Parties. Herbert Mc Bride was an Indiana National Guard Captain, who joined up in Canada as a private to fight in WWI. He described this practice in his obscure memoir around 1925, using terms that would be familiar to the D&D players of today. He was an accomplished alcoholic and was dead before Tolkien published The Hobbit. His writings (A Rifleman went to War & Emma Gees) were published after his death and reached a small number of readers.

    I am all for sandboxes, and I am all for players going off in any direction that they choose, including in-game non-adventuring.

  5. I remember the days where you didn't even bother filling out an actual character sheet until around 5th level; we just used scrap paper unless we had one somehow make it. Character Sheets were reserved only for your BEST characters as they were expensive or time consuming because we typically made them ourselves.

    1. We used to just use index cards. Remember that?

    2. I get the idea. I think that this style of character generation defines the OD&D White Box play style. Now consider running a "Guns of the Navarone" type of an adventure without a skill system.

      I always designed and used my own character sheets. Started with a notepad and a copier, now am using MS InfoPath and let the computer calculate all of the stats. Now aiming to make it really integrated and interactive by using MS Access.

    3. The issue isn't the presence or lack of a skill system, it is how you represent it and when. A character can be fleshed out during play and in short to the point terms.

      Lets take a moment to think what Linkedin would look like if we filled it out like we fill a character sheet in some games. If people who don't know me can get an idea of what I do from that, what's the point of the extra hyper detailed stuff? More important a question yet is the following. Does what I'll be doing in the next six months to a year depend on my Linkedin profile or does my Linkedin profile depend on what I'll be doing in the next six months to a year?

    4. Agreed. Skills describe the PC's in much the same way that Traits describe persons in psychology. Most skill based RPG's including the new D&D and it's ubiquitous Difficulty Checks use skills Nomothetically (Cattell) When Gygax first introduced his Non-Weapon proficiencies, he intended his NWP's to be used isiosyncratically (Allport). Nomothetic use is to do a Riding skill check every time you mount your horse to make sure that you don't fall. Idiosyncratic use is to make a Riding skill check only when s horse tries to throw you off or something unusual happens, when an average rider will be knocked out of the saddle, make a skill check to see if you will stay on the horse.

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    1. Dude, you really should have your magic user check your magic items before using them, specially those Ageless Alpha potions. Don't go sipping stuff like that without knowing! Looks like that alpha shit really improved your strength, but it seems like it wrecked your INT and WIS, not to mention your CHA which wasn't very high to begin with by the looks of it.

  7. "encouraging players not to be little pussies about their characters' lives"
    I have a player who does not even accept to a simple change in his character like been possessed by a "ghost" ... once he mourned in his chair for 3 hours ... until I freed him of this terrible state ... role playing as strange situation, not for him. it is not always easy for Masters. Now I provide this funny game opportunity to others who are more "open minded".