View Full Version : Killing or threatening the lives of PCs?

22 May 2002, 04:41 AM
I'm relatively new to the world of GMing Star Wars. I've always been afraid to put in characters or elements that could potentially kill or come close to killing PCs.

What do the rest of you do? Are you ruthless? Do you throw in something that can always be altered or reversed if things go wrong?

What if a PC dies? The last thing you want to do is "take it back" and let him live for some stupid reason (ie. "nah, you shouldn't die, just ignore that").

Thoughts..? Its something I'm interested to hear opinions on.



22 May 2002, 05:23 AM
I think I have the same problem you do... I always think I am too hard on my PC's. But since none of them have died (one close call) I think I'm doing okay. My thought is that if a PC puts himself (or herself) in a situation where they could get killed, they have to accept the consequences of that. I don't want to kill any of them yet though, so I sometimes fudge damage rolls to keep them alive.

If they die though, that's too bad, I wouldn't "take it back".

Wade Trenor
22 May 2002, 06:57 AM
I haven't Gm'd that much, but whenever a character came close to death, I'd say "This looks like it's getting serious. Ever considered using those FP now?"

My group also uses the Games Master screen, so that the die rolls aren't visible to the players. In this way, you can roll the die and if it will do too much damage to the player, or spoil the story, just say "It just missed.", or reduce the damage inflicted when you roll the dice for damage.

You should also remind your players that they are a team, and should act like one, watching out for each other. If they can do that, they'll most likely survive all encounters.

One of the GM's I play with sometimes gives us 'outs'. For instance, I recently played a game where I had no melee weapon, and had lost my gun, and I had to face a droid with shielding. The GM allowed me to surrender, and when I did, the droid operator came out of hiding, and through a series of events, I disarmed him and got away.

Finally, games have to sometimes reflect real life, and the struggles that truly happen during batle. People do die. If a character dies though, it's always best allowing them to go out with a bang.

22 May 2002, 07:12 AM
It depends on what kind of campaign I'm running. Some campaigns I tend to play freeform, with little to no planning. These usually are made up of only somewhat integrated adventures. I set up some interesting event, and then let things develop from there. I'm such a huge Star Wars fan (read fanatical maniac) that I can generally get the atmosphere right and throw in realistic challenges off the top of my head (not always, but that's why I use a GM screen). In these campaigns, I usually let things fall by the dice, but the challenges are easier.

My other campaigns are focused, planned, and researched. The characters are usually fighting against overwhelming odds adventure in and adventure out. I fudge dice rolls extensively in these campaigns. If a PC dies, I can't usually find a good way to add a replacement character for the group. That's not to say that doing something stupid won't get a PC killed. In my latest campaign, I had a character willingly walk into deadly danger with little chance of gain. He died.

As the campaign goes on, I become more and more willing to let PCs die. My players know this too. By the end of a big campaign, things become very tense. The players have grown attached to the characters, both their characters and the other party members, including NPCs.

22 May 2002, 08:01 AM
I usually gm it, where the combat will be Challenging, to all concerned. IF the party get's out of it with less than 20% damage, they have done good. Cause of this i have had several deaths during the course of games. I do not quib over this, and only once have i had a player moan....

evan hansen
22 May 2002, 11:09 AM
Wow. Those are all exceptional suggestions. Top shelf.

May I also offer some thoughts. The most important of which is that you'll learn, as you play, what types of enemies will work best and what will work terribly. Experience truly is the key.

Above all else -- be confident and don't reverse yourself. Even if you feel that you've made a mistake and caused too much damage or killed a PC, just brush it off. While the player may temporarily be upset that he or she has to make a new character, the continuity of the game and the trust that your players have in your abilities is absolutely irreplacable. Always make that your focus. "Pick your battles" might be an appropriate related saying.

Someone already offered the idea that you can GM behind a GM screen so that no one can see the dice roles. That's another good way of doing things, especially in that initial phase where you're just not sure what NPCs are going to do what damage to what PCs, etc...

And finally, pick a style. Some GMs are very tough. Others are pretty lax. As long as most of the adventure is solidly done, it shouldn't matter one way or the other, even if players start to notice your style. If you're gonna be killing PCs off left and right, just let your players know that you're not pulling any punches. If you're going to be lax, make up for the "easy" battles by making an exceptional storyline to rival the best they've ever played.

One of the reasons I've always loved GMing are the subtle challenges that present themselves as you're trying to run The Perfect Game (tm). I'm sure there are others out there that know what I mean. Learn to love those challenges and you won't be afraid of anything -- you'll just have fun! :-)

Rigil Kent
22 May 2002, 07:02 PM
I have to agree with the points about experience; there is nothing better than getting some beneath your belt. If you screw up the first time out, don't worry too much about it; learn from the error, then move on.

In my general experience when it comes to running Star Wars, I've always tended to be very lenient. I've killed two PCs (one of which turned out to be alive after all) in two campaigns and am actually guilty of not being as lethal as I could be.

Something I've noticed in my recent campaign (following the surprise death of a PC in a mostly filler episode) is that the threat of mortality is always good for character growth. If your gaming style is relaxed and loose like mine is, it is always fun to watch the players react is shock and surprise when their heavy weapons guy goes down with a smoking chest. :D

I would strongly recommend against retracting a death for a PC for the simple reason that it will alienate some players. In a D&D game I ran (many, many years ago - most of you were in diapers I bet), I did this very thing with a Paladin PC who had become the central focus of the campaign. The character in question had a very poor dice night and ended up room temperature but I was able to invoke Divine Intervention to bring him back. When another player (who was very attached to his character) lost his butt-kicking mage in battle, he was angry that I didn't do the same for him. It took some fancy footwork but we managed to get the campaign back on track...

Which brings me to my final point. Don't be afraid of change. Nothing will shake up a stale game better than death. Referring to my above D&D game as an example, the Paladin player was the person who informed me just how upset the other player was about my actions. To make a long story short, the two of us talked about it and the Paladin died (permanently) in the next game. It was a total shock to the other players and really changed the focus of the game. If you start to reach a point where the players are feeling too cocky or invulnerable, talk to one of them (the most adult or the most important PC, if possible) and have that PC die in a sudden and surprising manner.

Hope I didn't ramble on too much. Now I have to go back to working on my adventure Drop Ship Down. :D Won't the PCs be annoyed at this!

22 May 2002, 08:53 PM
I've Gmed SW for a while and what I do is protect the players until the last adventure, then turning off the 'script immunity.' The players still face death, but I will fudge rolls that would kill them until the end. That way every death, if it does happen, is in the last game and is very heroic.

23 May 2002, 12:38 AM
Just to clear things up, I DON'T go hard on my players, which is what I was asking about :) Should I, and if so, when is and is not appropriate.

Also, I would NEVER retract a death from a PC. Just to clear that up ;)

Thanks for the comments, sounds like I need to run a campaign for six months and learn by doing a fair bit. I think I might just do that :)


23 May 2002, 03:08 AM
To dirk...

SOme words. I have played under GM's before, that did the 'script immunity, until you reach the final episode thing, and it never had the same feel (from a player's perspective) as those who let die lye where they roll.... COmbat became a humdum thing, as we all got to realise we were not at any serious risk.

NOT to nock your stule or anything like that, just a point of view from a player who has been there..

As to when it is <<hard on my players, which is what I was asking about Should I, and if so, when is and is not appropriate. >>
Anytime you feel it will enhance the game story. If you see a trend in your characters doing braver and stupider stuff, becuase they know they won't die, then maybe a death will change their mind.

Lord Diggori
23 May 2002, 06:54 AM
Personally, I let the die fall where it lay. I havent gotten any moaning from PC's even when I had to kill the whole party once (two starships is allows better than one :D ).

I see it a necessay for a rpg because the players are supposed to be heroes and what makes a hero is the acceptance of great risk sometimes to help others. They may enjoy their accolades after the obstacle is overcome or be remembered by those they fought beside and helped with honor. Both are poignant.

31 May 2002, 04:14 PM
well, im not after to kill the characters, but i say: if they die they die (in most cases its actually their own fault, as a result of their actions .. )

1 June 2002, 01:45 AM
I have had campaigns last for close to a year, and ran several at a time. I had only two player deaths though. Strangely enough, they were deaths that I tried to stop by being a player character's common sense. Saying things like "Are you sure about that?" and even "You may wish to think that over before you commit", I would think to be a good idea. Some players may not understand fully the dangers that they are dealing with, and I try to bring them up to date without telling them blatantly that their characters are not that stupid to try to do what they (player characters) want them to do. In both instances, my warnings were ignored. :rolleyes:

Scenario 1 involved a player thinking that he could simultaneously fight off more than five stormtroopers with his Gand Martial Arts. He could not block blaster bolts and found out the hard way.....after I told him to go for help, and then with the other PCs set up an ambush....but he didn't want to do that. He deserved it.

Scenario 2 involved a player thinking that lightsabers were not very dangerous weapons to use. He tried to activate Lightsaber Combat and failed. I advised him to set for charge and be prepared to duck away from any incoming blaster shots. He ignored me. An incoming shot came near him. His dodge dice were higher than his lightsaber, and still he had to attempt the near impossible. He attempted to deflect the bolt, and when he swung, the rolled his four dice and got a 3, 2,1, and a 1. The last one was a wild dice, so he critically failed his deflection. He also screwed up with a lightsaber, which has a difficulty of Difficult. When I told him that he hit himself, he got angry. I told him that it may not have been that bad (maybe a bad burn or something that cybernetics could patch up), and to roll the hit location chart. He rolled another 1, which equals a head shot. He had whacked himself in the face with his lightsaber, rolled two 6's on the wild dice for damage, and basically cleaved himself from the forehead to the pelvis, then got shot on top of that (not that it mattered). The force was not strong with him that day. He deserved it.

Like I said earlier and fortunately, I only had two cases of "Dumb and Dumber". My players have had their share of close calls with poisons, booby traps, lightsabers, fully automatic slugthrowers and micro missiles, but overall, it seems as if they think fast, and don't attempt incredibly stupid feats, they will live throughout the campaign (they do get banged up). It is kind of funny. The danger and threats are all there, but whether they die is up to them. There should be danger and threats and always the possibility of getting killed, but players play to have fun. There is no real point in going after players as the GM. The players should have fun, until they defy wisdom and common sense. I can't honestly think of the act of charging five professional soldiers (wearing armor) armed with blasters with the intent of doing brawling damage, along with using a lightsaber without the force guiding defensive actions against blaster bolts as sane actions. They got what they deserved. :D

1 June 2002, 08:20 AM
I actually try to avoid character-death. It is *far* more satisfying to mess with their heads, IMO... :D The only times I would kill a PC is if A: they did something incredibly stupid or B: it was at a dramitically-appropriate moment. Having a PC cut down by a lucky shot from a low-level mook is not dramatically appropriate - wound them, take them out of the picture for a while, but don't kill them unless the story calls for it.

Of course, I don't tell my *players* any of this...

1 June 2002, 11:50 AM
You don't need to. Depending on your players, they may already know, or will eventually figure out your too squeemish to kill one of them.

I used to be like that, but, many of those who played under me, managed to figure that out, and basically i got ran rough shodd over, because i was squeemish. These days, i am not. And sometimes, a player death is needed, not for story purposes, but to remind the party that things are real.

1 June 2002, 12:13 PM
Wolverine is 100% right about being squeamish and being taken advantage of. The funny thing is that the guy who said "Jeff won't kill us", was the guy who killed himself with the lightsaber." I didn't have to kill him :D. If they do stupid stuff, they pretty much die by default.

As far as messing with players and presenting real danger, there is nothing like presenting an NPC who is really powerful, or appears to be really powerful to the new or young NPCs. Have the NPC with them for a session or several missions. Then have your main villain kill him or her in front of the PCs. Luke, Obi-wan and Vader come to mind here. Psychologically, it works great, and the players run like there is no tomorrow when the main villain appears (or even at the thought of the villain showing up will make them want to plan a contingency).

3 June 2002, 11:07 AM
This issue can really be avoided by one thing.
Let your players know how hard you're going to be on them.
The best DM (D&D) I ever had the priviledge of playing with pulled NO punches. Every combat was an extremely tense situation, and usually, somebody at least fell unconcious.
It was the best campaign I've ever been in for one reason. We knew what to expect. We knew that if we didn't work together, maximize our firepower and defense for EVERY battle and EVERY possible situation, we were toast.
It's almost hard to believe, but even though we would be facing age catagory 8-9 red dragons on a regular basis (and winning 95% of the time, btw), the DM followed the whole step it up at the end of the campaign year philosophy.
For the last 3 months of every year, there was no such thing as Resurrection or Raise Dead, the enemies came in spades, and you were running scared.
Every year, at least 3 characters of around level 13-16 died permanently. Characters that had been played for more than 3 years. Sure, it was sad, but everybody knew the risks and rewards.

The whole point of this rant is this: be as easy or as hard as you want on your players, just let them know the ground rules from the start. It will make for a much more friendly tone around the table.

Talonne Hauk
3 June 2002, 01:39 PM
I play d20. For the first few levels of a character's life, I'm easy on them. After I feel a player has gotten his dumb instincts out of the way, I make things tougher. Now my players are facing creatures that are much heartier, more organized villains, and situations where they actually need to coordinate their actions and think strategically, or they will die. And my players know this. In fact, one of my players (Fallon) said that the last adventure we had was the best one yet. So it's encouraging to play bare-knuckled, as opposed to handling the players with gloves.

3 June 2002, 10:09 PM
Well, I never go exceptionally hard on my players (except in epic fight situations where it all comes down to that moment, those can be tough on them) I dont let them off the hook though, if a player does something stupid and puts himself in a position where death is likely I wont pull any punches. I have a sort of philosophy that is keep it as real and tense as possible. Now granted this of course isnt intended to be a full on reality type game, I mean after all the force and all that other stuff is obviously fantastical.

What I mean by real is, real consequences for real actions, murdering someone in cold blood in my game means there will be consequences down the line, unless you cover it up exceptionally well..just like in real life..things like that are the kind of approach I take to player death..I dont favor either way (easy on the players or hard on the players) I tend to never bring a dead player back unless there is a damn good reason, or the players come up with something exceptionally clever. I mean..people dont just rise from the dead in star wars..which tends to carry through to my players (most of which are D&D players) they know that if they screw around and cause trouble and get themselves killed that there is pretty much no way they can come back. At first it was rough though because like I said many were D&D players..so they still had that instinct that if they got themselves killed that they could just get ressuerected or something similar. All in all thats my approach..some may think its alittle harsh..but I try not to take the harsh or light side to any situation in RPGs.

Talonne Hauk
4 June 2002, 12:29 AM
I find it interesting that you brought up the resurrection aspect of D&D, because I've felt that it's much harder to kill PC's in Star Wars than in D&D, and I overlooked the glaringly obvious reason; PC death is not as permanent in D&D. I don't know why I didn't realize that before.:o

Moff Neomen
6 June 2002, 10:38 PM
Personally, I'm not sure whether I'm a hard GM or an easy one. On one hand, I hate characters dying and I'll usually make sure it doesn't happen. On the other hand, I love beating the hell out of my characters...giving the as hard of a run as I can possibly do :D. If there's ever a chance to be really cinematically dangerous, I'll go for it. My characters usually barely scraped through...but it was hella fun. And they didn't die. Unless I wanted them to...:D.

6 June 2002, 10:48 PM
This is my fourth campaign, and I have ran many one time little adventures, so I have some experience, the way I do it, is if it is the players fault and he did something stupid, then he deserves to die, btu if the player just had soem bad rolls and has been roleplaying well, then i'll let it slide(at the cost of the a FP or something), for particularly well played 'good' characters I have even allowed them to 'call upon the lightside,' I have onyl done this twice, but in my opinion it was warranted in both situations... (one was a well-played Jedi the other was a mon calamari medic/slicer)

8 June 2002, 07:40 AM
After GMing a few games I have learnt a few things and am getting better.

I am not really afraid of my PC's dying. More often than not I make the battles such that the PC's regularly get reduced to near 0 vitality. Sometimes they take wound damage too.

I did, however, accidentally kill a PC. I was planning on killing the PC at a later stage (the guy who played him had a habit of not showing up to games). However, after his death, and the resulting death of another PC (this guy didnt want to play anymore), I decided that I would pretty much play the game according to how the die fell.

Pure luck seems to saved my PC's from the final epic battle at the end of their last campaign. They only won because they managed to do a lot of wound damage. Never seen so many 20s in my life 8o . They were pretty damn close to dying themselves. :p

It is often a good idea to keep a constant tally on how many vitality and wounds each of your PCs have, as well as their current defense. This way, you know which character is close to dying, and can decided whether or not to inflict heavy blows or deliberately miss when doing attacks on him.

Mad Tech
11 June 2002, 11:45 AM
A GM shouldn't plan to kill the characters on purpose. The way I GM is that players aren't likely to die unless they are careless or stupid. If they are up against a superior opponent and simply rush in without any plan and get killed, that is their fault.
I have been running a SW game for about 7 months and so far, no one has died. Characters have OFTEN came very close by being dropped to negative WPs, but I won't kill characters just because of bad die rolls. And not every villain/opponent is itching to kill the characters. Some opponents simply won't to escape or prevent the characters from interfering and won't intintionally kill the characters without good reason.
And if characters don't have enough sense to back off from a situation that is too dangerous then they might just get themselves killed. But personally, I think it's better to let characters win than lose. If the GM kills players to often, they'll just lose interest and leave the game.

Mad Tech

14 June 2002, 01:38 AM
Weighing in with my personal thoughts on the matter...

I've GM'd a variety of games, but primarily Star Wars for something like 12 years (on and off). Over that period of time, I've come to some conclusions on this particular subject.

Basically, it's a pretty fine line to tread. On the one hand, you certainly don't want to senselessly murder PCs. Although the opponents they face may very well be out to do just that, the PCs are supposed to be heroic, larger-than-life, cinematic-type characters.

On the other hand, if the players get the idea that their characters are not in any serious danger when they get into a fight, they're liable to start getting bored.

Either way, there's danger of the players being dissatisfied (if not outright disgusted) with your game. So you have to kinda do a tightrope act.

Although I would never out-and-out admit it to my players, I usually don't have any serious intentions of a PC dying in a routine combat (in Star Wars, you don't see the main characters get wasted--or, frequently, even scratched--in a 'typical' shoot-'em-up with disposable stormtrooeprs/battledroids/what-have-you). If there's ever a serious danger of a character dying in one of my games, it's gonna be in a big, dramatic fight with major stakes on the line. I don't think I've actually had a character die in such a situation, but I figure that if it did happen they'd be a lot happier than they'd be if they died at the hands of the one stormtrooper in a billion who could hit the broad side of a barn. You don't want to have the characters (to quote Samuel L. Jackson) 'die like some punk'.

One thing that I do tend to make use of is this: the fact that there are other ways to raise the stakes for characters than to threaten their own individual lives and health. By and large, these folks are supposed to be the Good Guys... so in theory, most of 'em should probably be more concerned about the safety of others. Usually, I like to set up situations where failure means death/pain/major trouble for a lot of innocents, rather than for the PCs themselves.

Additionally, I can be a seriously evil GM at times. When I'm plotting adventures and such, I have a tendency to wring my hands and chuckle dementedly to myself. My usual stand is this: if you kill 'em, they won't learn nothin'. I figure I can (and frequently DO, in fact) come up with far more torturous things to do to my players than just slaughter 'em. :D