Friday, April 6, 2012

Save or DIE!!!!!!

There were some murmurlings a while ago on save or die mechanics, and whether it should be included in 5e. 

Personally, I love SoD.  A couple weeks ago in the game I DM, a Specialist (LOTFP Rules) decided he was going to open a chest.  It was trapped.  The player, who normally is very conscious of these things, forgot to say he was searching for traps first. 

BWAHAHAHA!!  says me the evil DM.

Of course, it was trapped.  I had him make a save v. poison, and told him in advance it was death if he failed.  True to LOTFP rules, there is no resurrection, short of artifact level shit.  He's been playing that character for like 20 sessions and had a lot invested in him.

The look on his face, and on the whole rest of the group's faces, was priceless. I swear he nearly shit his pants as he shook the dice for the roll.

All eyes were on the die roll.

Faces were eager with anticipation.

The die was tossed across the table.

As it came to rest the whole group, players and DM were looking at it in eager anticipation!

I won't tell you if he made it or not.  Why not?  Why do you want to know?  That "why" is the reason why we need save or die!  Because it's the thrill of not knowing if you'll live or die that makes the game worth playing! 

That's why save or die should be in the game.  No other mechanic reminds you of the sheer randomness of life and death.  No other mechanic comes closer to replicating the "shit happens" aspect of our lives. 


  1. I notice you talk about how exciting it is to be the DM watching the player's reactions. It's also much better to be the kid holding the magnifying glass than the and at the focal point.

    Save or Die works for the kinds of games that have a lot of character death, where you go through six characters before you get to second level. These games hearken back to the game's wargaming roots, because I don't see a lot of roleplaying when you can easily lose your character for forgetting to say you check for traps one day.

    I prefer "Die or save" effects. This is where something similar happens - poison needle, medusa gaze, death spell. But if the other charcters act quickly they can reduce or counter the effects. i.e. sucking out the poison, giving the person herbs, accepting some of the necromantic magic into themselves.

    This is as dramatic to me and it reinforces that the characters are all in this together.

  2. You insult the man & follow up with baseless generalisations about the roleplaying of complete strangers, insulting what is likely a large number of his readers?

    That's great.

  3. @Philo: I wouldn't want to play in a D&D-style game where my character's life wasn't in danger. I would find that quite boring. Many people feel the same way. I don't see a lot of roleplaying if the risks your character takes aren't meaningful, but I know we have different perspectives.

  4. Sadly, there is no sarcasm mark. I was exaggerating and didn't mean an insult. I saw it as being the same level as the glee he was taking in the death of a character.

    While I like there to be the chance of death, too frequent death impedes roleplaying. When you know that through a single bad choice you have a significant chance of dying, then there's not much incentive to put a personality on your character. In those types of games, I've seen that most people play them more like wargames. People need to focus on the execution of actions and less of the people.

    I see risk as a continuum. If there's too little, it's not meaningful. If there's too much it's not meaningful.

    I like my games to be like the books and movies that inspired them. You don't see a major character die from opening a chest in other stories.

  5. Maybe it wasnt clear then...everyone was into the die roll. And not in the sticking pins in worms kinds way. It was exciting for all. And they do take the time to play out a character's personality, in spite of the fact that they may die at any moment. If anything it makes the personality more real and important to them, since they know their lives can be over any moment, they play it interesting characters who live large. Sort of like the swords and sorcery literature. The only reason you don't see the Grey Mouser die from opening a chest is because it makes for lousy future book sales if the main character died in chapter one. The players signed onto this campaign and playstyle knowing full well in advance how it was going to be, I made it perfectly clear to them. I've lost players because of it. But the ones I have now like it, roll play their characters, and have a good time. Is it for everyone? nope. But for those who appreciate it, its a good time.

  6. I get th thrill, but on the other hand, it's easy to forget to say something, especially something that's done often enough that it could almost be considered assumed behaviour--and this goes double where it's an activity that's difficult to conceive a PC forgetting, whose life is on the line.

  7. You do, however, see main characters risk dying from opening a chest. Books are told in retrospect, but RPGs don't work that way. You can have a more dangerous or less dangerous game without changing its basic nature, but if you remove the chance of unexpected death altogether, i.e. by having players always able to save themselves after the fact, you no longer have the credible sense of risk that's an important part of both the game and the literature you're drawing on. If you as a player know that you don't have any significant chance of dying from a wrong choice, there's no sense of tension, and you're that much further removed from the character you're playing.

  8. But there's many ways to risk dying that don't rely on save or die. A poison that will have effects over time if nor countered. Or my suggestion for "die or save". Personally I think these are more dramatic as they extend the uncertainty over more than the three seconds it takes to roll.

    I'm also willing to have less risk of dying from a random chest in order to save the peril for the more significant encounters and keep a better storyline. I have stories about dying while fighting the demon Sterachni. I could regale you about deciding to leap on the green dragon's back and try to strangle it to death with my chain. I don't remember the deaths from floor trap #27b.

  9. The uncertainty takes place before the actual event. When there's the possibility of sudden death, every dungeon delve or equivalent is an exercise in tension. With the die or save method, most of the uncertainty takes place between when the player screws up the first time and when they either save themselves or screw up a second time. The tension beforehand is mostly lost since the player has that safety net. The saving throw, by contrast, gives the player only once chance before it's out of their hands and down to cruel hard fate, so that tension is preserved. The high-stakes die roll is a bonus.

    The phrase "keep a better storyline" doesn't make much sense to me. If a situation is made meaningful by its danger, and you take that danger away - what's the point? Why have the traps and giant spiders in the game at all if nobody is actually going to be threatened by them? And given that the storyline is what you end up with once it's over, what value to the storyline is a supposedly dangerous situation in which there is no real danger?


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