Thursday, July 9, 2009

Save or Die, Part III

I reading the comments to my latest post on the subject of save or die effects in D&D, I think I've finally hit upon precisely where the difference really lies between those who support such mechanics and those who reject them. But first let me quote from the introduction to the AD&D Players Handbook, because it rather nicely frames what I'm about to say:
Even death loses much of its sting, for often the character can be resurrected, or reincarnated. And should that fail there is always the option to begin anew with a new character. Thus ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS is, as are most role-playing games, open-ended. There is no "winner", no final objective, and the campaign grows and changes as it matures.
So many useful insights in so few words.

Lots of people have pointed out, rightly, that it's because old school characters are mechanically simple, it's a small matter to replace them when they die to a failed saving throw. There's no slowdown in the action, because it takes no more than five minutes to generate a new OD&D or AD&D character to replace a fallen adventurer. As the Gygax quote above points out, though, in D&D, there's often no need to replace the character at all.

I recall that some people were shocked and even appalled that, in my Dwimmermount campaign, a 2nd-level PC was returned to life by his comrades, who pooled all their resources to pay for his resurrection. This was seen as somehow a betrayal of the pulp fantasy principles I've regularly championed in this blog. The reality is that, while I do believe that modern incarnations of D&D have strayed ever farther from the literary roots of the game, I believe neither that pulp fantasy literature is the only source of OD&D nor that OD&D was ever intended to be a strict simulation of pulp fantasy -- or indeed of any of the many things that influenced its creators.

The players in my campaign chose to resurrect their fellow adventurer both because the rules gave them the tools to do so and because they felt it's the action their characters would reasonably take, given the existence of resurrection magic. I did not feel then -- and do not feel now -- that it was "wrong" to let them play the game as it was written because it would be a violation of the grim and gritty feel most people associate with pulp fantasy. The campaign is not a simulation of pulp fantasy short stories; it's Dungeons & Dragons and in D&D, as Gygax says, "even death loses much of its sting."

My point here is simply that I think most of the people who dislike save or die do so because they feel it gets in the way of "the story." To have a hero unceremoniously cut down because of a giant spider bite or a beholder eye blast ruins the grand epic they want to tell. Ironically, I think the presence of resurrection and restorative magic is a similar bugaboo for gamers at the other end of the spectrum. They're not so concerned about "story" as such, but they are keen on pulp fantasy emulation and, since Conan couldn't just go and raise Valeria from the dead, they feel that D&D characters shouldn't be allowed to do so either. For them, resurrection breaks the frame of their imagination every bit as much as save or die does for others.

Me, I just play D&D, with all its quirks, whether they be save or die or (relatively) easy resurrection. That's what the game has always been for me. Indeed, I'd consider both defining characteristics of the game: easy death and easy resurrection. Sure, save or die makes it hard to play Aragorn and resurrection makes it hard to play Conan, but then who said D&D is about playing either Aragorn or Conan?

60 comments:

  1. For me, if Raise Dead is commonly available in a world I simply don't believe it. Especially if you can just buy it. I can think of someone I'd spend my last dime to have Raised just for another hour.

    The rich would be immune to tragedy (to say nothing of kings) and the whole economy would collapse as people struggled to pool resources to get folks raised.

    That's just me... I'm not telling someone else how to play. I'm willing to include those spells in the game if I can say that they're extremely rare (rare that someone is of a level to cast them, or maybe not everyone at that level is even able to cast that spell, or maybe the spiritual penalties they might face for using the spell improperly are too great, etc.).

    James, you're right that they are part of the "game as written", for whatever that's worth. And it certainly is relevant to those claims we always hear about how backwards "save or die" effects are.

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  2. I make NPC clerics quite rare in my games, meaning there's nobody to run to in order to remove a curse or raise the dead.

    I do this because if it was generally available, even with a hefty price tag, then nobody rich and powerful would really die... and I don't want to run those kinds of settings (or follow through on the implications that a potentially deathless elite would bring).

    Then there's the "Well why can't we kidnap the priest and force him to raise dead as much as we need for free?" and...

    Nah. Dead is dead, until a PC cleric gets to a sufficient level to do it themselves, or they find a scroll (I roll randomly for spells that appear on scrolls) or get a wish or something.

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  3. I like Jim's take on this, and am thinking about doing something similar in my campaign. I consider the priests in a religion to be normal men, and clerics represent those rare and outstanding prophets or saints-in-the-making that have a special spiritual fervor. Only they have the ability to channel divine power through cleric spells. They may be entirely outside the religious hierarchy, and could even represent a threat to the established clergy.

    In any event, resurrection will be more rare, but still possible.

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  4. Nearly every aspect of D&D magic would create a world very different than the assumed quasi-medieval one we know and love. I'd wager that being able to raise the dead isn't even the biggest example of magic that'd change the nature of the world forever. Yet, somehow, I rarely hear anyone complain that disease and malnutrition could be easily eliminated through magic, meaning that even low-level spells are "believability breaking."

    I guess I just segregate the "adventuring reality" from the rest of the world somewhat. That appears to be the way things were done in Greyhawk, for example, and I suspect that's influenced my approach to a great extent.

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  5. For me, if Raise Dead is commonly available in a world I simply don't believe it. Especially if you can just buy it. I can think of someone I'd spend my last dime to have Raised just for another hour.

    Yeah, I also prefer resurrection when it's rare, but combining that with save or die or other hazards can make it a hairy experience for the PCs.

    Fast character creation is the salve for that itch in my game. Which I know makes some wonder about player buy-in for a character that may not last very long. I guess I'm blessed with players who just do it as a part of enjoying the game.

    Maybe the lesson to be learned from this is that while game rules may have a multitude of inspirations, emulating those inspirations will usually be hampered by the need to make a game out it, and a game your group wants to play most of all.

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  6. Maybe the lesson to be learned from this is that while game rules may have a multitude of inspirations, emulating those inspirations will usually be hampered by the need to make a game out it, and a game your group wants to play most of all.

    Bingo.

    And I'm perfectly fine with this. Truly, I have no beef with anyone who wants to eliminate resurrection magic from their own games, if that's what they prefer and their players prefer it as well. But I think it's a bit hypocritical to argue that eliminating save or die for the sake of "story" is somehow wrong, whereas eliminating other things for "genre" is just dandy. To me, they're both attempts to make D&D into a game slightly different than its creators intended.

    To which I say: more power to them all. That's the essence of this hobby, after all -- making the games you're own. But save or die is no more sacred than resurrection magic. In my opinion, as someone who plays D&D pretty "straight," the two go hand in hand and eliminating either one is to stray at least a little from the Gygaxo-Arnesonian vision.

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  7. Korgoth - "The rich would be immune to tragedy (to say nothing of kings) and the whole economy would collapse as people struggled to pool resources to get folks raised."

    JimLotFP - "I do this because if it was generally available, even with a hefty price tag, then nobody rich and powerful would really die... and I don't want to run those kinds of settings (or follow through on the implications that a potentially deathless elite would bring)."

    I fail to follow this logic, unless there is some age-reversing side effect of raise dead that I am unaware of. All raise dead would do is prevent someone from dying until they died of old age. As far as my "logical" understanding of raise dead goes (and inasmuch as you can apply logic to raise dead!), once you age to the point that multiple systems in your body are failing, raise dead really wouldn't help you much. Sure, you have a heart attack and you are brought back from the dead - but I never assumed that this would remove all of the attendent side effects of aging, or fully heal your weakened heart, and you would probably just die again very shortly (either from the exact same cause or another age related cause). Not to mention that raise dead does nothing for dementia and general age related senility. I guess someone could be raised multiple times only to keep dying from age related causes, over and over, but doesn't each raise come with a chance at lost constitution or something like that (I don't have any rulebooks in front of me, I am pretty sure that that was the case in AD&D at least, not sure about B/X or OD&D). I am sure that after a dozen or so times even the most die-hard, cling to life sort might just beseach their heirs to just let them die, dammit! Once you get to the point that your body is failing, just how long would you want to stick around through multiple traumatic deaths? Doesn't the modern example of terminally ill patients requesting to be allowed to die show that if the human condition because painful enough, it is (in some peoples opinion) not worth prolonging?
    In any case, the point I am trying to make is that you would not have a deathless elite unless you were talking about spells that stopped or reversed aging, which are much harder to come by than a raise dead. You might have a higher percentage of the population be elderly, but that seems to be a managable problem (and could lead to some interesting side effects as middle aged heirs start getting tired of waiting for their fathers to finally grow so decrepit that the raise dead just doesn't work any more).

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  8. Fast character creation is the salve for that itch in my game. Which I know makes some wonder about player buy-in for a character that may not last very long.

    I don't know that a newly-rolled PC *needs* a lot of "buy-in". After they've survived a couple of adventures, picked up a level or two, and begun to grow a personality and history? That's when "buy-in" begins.

    Simply passing a "save or die" can be part of a PC growing into someone worth caring about.

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  9. Well and again, I think the rules present are the way they are to balance the GAME. D&D is a game, inspired by literature and genre, but a game nonetheless.

    We equate mythic overtones to it because the nature of the game is such that players can become emotionally invested in their character. This doesn't (generally) happen in Monopoly or even Life (the board game). But it is a (perhaps unexpected) perk of the RPG.

    Instant kills and instant raising is part of the game aspect. D&D was not originally designed to help tell "stories." That it CAN be used to do so (in retrospect) is a perk; that people come at it with a creative agenda to "tell stories" is their cross to bear. There are existing games specifically designed to address premise and tell stories in a fantasy setting.

    Like you, James, I tend to use the bulk of the rules as written...I just like to iron down some of the edges (like trying to reconcile the split personality of the cleric class). I will say that in MY old campaigns, the only folks worried about getting "raised" were the ones getting killed (i.e. the PCs)...for the most part, the game world served only to facilitate the play of the players, and worries like how magic affected the ecomomy (or longevity, etc) were non-present. Some intellectual opened up a can of worms when they started thinking about "the implications;" the game was first and foremost A GAME.

    word verification: "COMMENT!"

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  10. I am of the belief that raising of the dead is a expensive, harrowing, multiday event that could only be taken upon by the high and mighty. It's not meant for the common person to just come back automagically, if so everyone would do it. I increase the price by 10 fold and then require a service from the party in question. Much fun has been had by someone dying and then an NPC says "Before I do this you must do X".

    On the flip side I make reincarnation relatively inexpensive and common. Bringing a persons spirt back in the form of another creature fits in well with both a high fantasy and low magic world. The body is already there just needs a new shape, like clay ready to be made anew in another form. My PCs argued contrary to this but once they saw that sometimes it's OK for their dwarven cleric to become a bugbear the RP value shot through the roof and they respected combat and the ability to RUN AWAY even more.

    I really dislike the thoughts of "Oh Bob's dead again? Well there goes 2k out of the party fund, lets teleport back to town AGAIN". It trivializes combat and makes the PCs feel invincible. Take that away and they begin to truly understand FEAR :D

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  11. I agree with James 100% on this. It took me a while to get there in my DMing career and at times I've been at both extremes he mentions. I know I've pulled punches to keep the "story" alive and at other times I became so caught up with being "hardcore" as to make bringing back dead PCs a real pain in the arse. It wasn't until my recent 3.5 Rappan Athuk campaign that I really embraced the game of D&D as just that, a game. I also have found that making PC resurrection/raising more available doesn't lessen the sting of PC death (I certainly don't get that impression from my players ;-) ). I even use Andy Collins' "negative level" house rule (i.e., the PCs gain a negative level when raised rather than lose Constitution) and PC still stings.

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  12. I don't know that a newly-rolled PC *needs* a lot of "buy-in".

    I agree with you, but for some groups, it's a big deal, so I wanted to be sure to mention it.

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  13. I think that, if Raise Dead was readily available, you'd have the world of the Vlad Taltos novels, where the elite regularly have each other assassinated for petty grievances and matters of honor, because you are merely inconveniencing them, annoying them, rather than committing a truly capital crime.

    On the game side, Ptolus had the same principle: nobility battling each other in arenas "to the death" as entertainment.

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  14. In my games, I just say that Raise Dead only works on those with a heroic destiny - in other words, PCs and important NPCs. A wealthy lord or even the king might not have a heroic destiny, and thus the gods have no reason to return his soul to the world. This assumes, though, that the PCs are heroes, so it probably wouldn't hold water for an old-school game.

    Unless... you put some kind of in-game requirement on raise dead. For example, if you couldn't raise someone of less than 5th level, by which point he had proven his destiny. Or, perhaps only the Chosen of Gzygz can be raised from the dead (and at some point, the party just happens to become one of the Chosen.)

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  15. In AD&D at least, there is a limit on how often one can be returned from the dead -- a character's initial Constitution score. Furthermore, each resurrection lowers CON by one point, making the likelihood of future resurrections smaller.

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  16. You know, I don't play 4th edition, but I recall hearing a way the designers resolved the whole issue of making raising spells fairly common, while preventing wealthy folks from being able to buy "raise dead" at will. (I know, *gasp*, something good from 4th edition). Basically, the rules simply state that only people of great destiny or something like are actually able to be raised. So while the wealthy merchant or lord might be able to afford such spells, it doesn't guarantee that he'll come back. Fate, the gods, etc., decide that. I thought that was a simple and tidy in-game way of resolving the whole issue.

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  17. Here is a simple, adaptable explaination for why Raise Dead does not affect worlds in the way many fear that it will (and thus justify its existence for anyone who wishes to make it available to their players):

    Adventurers have a special calling in D&D worlds, as James has pointed out before — they go and do things that no others are willing or capable to do. They crawl underground and fight Chaos where it lives. As such, they have special status in the eyes of the religions of D&D worlds. Remember, Cleric spells represent Divine Will being channeled through mortal priests. Thus, Raise Dead is possible for adventurers, because it is according to Divine Will; however, it is not readily available for kings, the rich, etc. because their calling does not require it.

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  18. My only real issue with raising the dead (by any mechanism, easy or hard), is that it shouldn't *feel* easy or inconsequential.

    Role-play the whole thing, and not in a lazy, ho hum manner.

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  19. As Michelle said, roleplaying it seems to be a good idea. Bat had an interesting idea when it comes to raising the dead. However, I think I'd probably dress it up a bit, perhaps some tender of souls that lost its way (or got bored, or greedy) and began to make deals to return souls to the living for a terrible price, or maybe even swap one soul for another when their masters weren't paying attention. It drips with the potential for roleplaying, backstabbing and anxiety-filled negotiations.

    When we were kids we had a lot of raising going on in some of our games when characters died. After a while we imposed some changes, such as coming back with strange quirks, or sometimes they brought back the wrong soul! We also played with the idea that a character couldn't advance anymore once they had died, or perhaps the raised could be turned or commanded like the undead, or those characters were much more susceptible to the powers of undead (since they had been to the other side), etc., but those changes never made it to the table.

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  20. "My only real issue with raising the dead (by any mechanism, easy or hard), is that it shouldn't *feel* easy or inconsequential.

    Role-play the whole thing, and not in a lazy, ho hum manner."

    Exactly. It's up to the DM to provide the in-game mechanism to make raising the dead more dramatic and rare.

    In my campaign, priests will only raise worshippers of their god. So you CANT just toss a few thousand gold to the generic cleric and get raised.....you have to find someone of your same religion, and sometimes that can become quite the quest in itself....

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  21. "Sure, save or die makes it hard to play Aragorn and resurrection makes it hard to play Conan, but then who said D&D is about playing either Aragorn or Conan?"

    That is really the crux of the issue there, isn't it? I mean, I totally agree with you, but I am sure that to many people that is exactly what playing D&D is about!

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  22. I'm not a fan of special PC's having a some sort pre-ordained destiny as justificaiton for being able to be raised. At least not as an explicitly written meta-game rule.

    If a character wants to believe something like this, that's fine. In fact, it's rather interesting and says a lot about the character.

    I liked how 3e handled raise dead. It had to be cast within a short number of days, the poor unfortunate soul lost a level upon return, and they had to be willing to come back to life.

    Some people might want come back, some might not. The Seven Heavens is a great place, don't you know?

    This combined with the scarcity of high level clerics who can cast raise dead would make it relatively uncommon.

    If that's still a bit too easy, throw in a couple of other constraints, like many of those mentioned above, and you're golden.

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  23. James,

    You invoked the possibility of straying from the "the Gygaxo-Arnesonian vision". I still don't know what that means.

    I thought the vision of Gygax and Arneson was that I take a bare-bones set of mechanics and make a game for myself that is tailored to my particular group / circumstances / interests. So to try to figure out exactly what Gygax did in Greyhawk and just do that would be one sure way of "straying" from that vision.

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  24. @Restless
    Those are some cool ideas toward the end there. I like the idea of stopped or retarded advancement after coming back.(Although what it would probably do would be push players to roll up a new guy.0

    I've batted around the idea of characters' souls having to fight their way back from the afterlife if resurrected, but I've never coalesced it into a full blown house rule. I guess it'd only work if there was a TPK.

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  25. So, your support of “pulp fantasy” in the game is more to counteract its absence, and “D&D is always right” can trump it. Eh?

    Now, just some thoughts that this post raised...

    (pun unintended but embraced ^_^)

    I’ve never had a PC rez’d. There was one time I was given the choice (technically it would’ve been reincarnation that time), but I turned it down. Not for any loyalty to pulp fantasy, but because I felt the character deserved the consequences of his actions. Whether it was by-the-rules or not, I’d feel like a cheat if I kept playing that character.

    And that was a 3e character. It didn’t bother me that I’d invested in the character. (Leaving aside the point that my “investment” really isn’t a function of mechanics anyway.) It didn’t bother me that it would take some time to create another.

    Likewise, I wasn’t happy when a party sacrificed a magic item to restore the lost hand of another character of mine. (1e that time.) I’d made the mistake that led to losing the hand; I felt I should suffer the consequence.

    I can’t recall a time I ever felt a character of mine died arbitrarily, but if it did, I’m certain I blamed the GM rather than “save or die” or other rules.

    Some people, though, take it to the other extreme. A PC will never be allowed to die without the player’s permission. I’m perfectly OK with that. To me it makes a lot more sense than merely singling out “save or die”. (And it still gives me the option to let my character stay dead when I feel they should.)

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  26. You invoked the possibility of straying from the "the Gygaxo-Arnesonian vision". I still don't know what that means.

    I'm still a bit confused by this, too. Didn't Gygax and Arneson contridict each other fairly often. In fact, didn't they contridict themselves fairly often? Is this vision something literally taken from a book, or a general stylistic thing?

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  27. @ restless

    I really like the concept that raised characters could be controlled/turned like undead. That would (or at least should) make most PCs think twice, lest the next evil cleric they face turn half the party against the other the other half!

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  28. It looks as if the field of comments has been edited, perhaps to half or less the former number. My own offerings, just for example, seem to have disappeared.

    That's no vote as to their value, just an observation that there apparently has been censorship.

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  29. Belay that, maybe; perhaps I'm just confused by the proliferation of similar subjects.

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  30. Reading your last paragraph:
    Easy death and easy resurrections defining characteristics of the game? "Me I just play D&D" - Other stuff not D&D?

    I think you are taking it too far, and using a "the designer hints so!" argument that has been very bad for the hobby.

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  31. I thought the vision of Gygax and Arneson was that I take a bare-bones set of mechanics and make a game for myself that is tailored to my particular group / circumstances / interests. So to try to figure out exactly what Gygax did in Greyhawk and just do that would be one sure way of "straying" from that vision.

    My point, which I thought was obvious, was that OD&D, as written, includes both save or die effects and the ability to raise the dead. Both are present from the start. These aren't things I conjured up from lacunae in the text or emanating from penumbras in the LBBs; they're there in 1974. If both those things aren't part of the vision of Gygax and Arneson for the game, then I'm not sure that I understand what "OD&D" means.

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  32. More over, if your going BTB, raise dead costs 1000 gp + 500 gp per level of the caster, and following EGG population guidelines, finding a cleric of 9th level and willing to help you does not look that easy.

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  33. More over, if your going BTB, raise dead costs 1000 gp + 500 gp per level of the caster, and following EGG population guidelines, finding a cleric of 9th level and willing to help you does not look that easy.

    In OD&D?

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  34. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  35. @James:
    Well, you were citing AD&D stuff, and what I tell you comes from the DMG, page 104.

    In the case of OD&D, note that no priest scrolls exist, magic items are very hard to make, and it's population hints don't seem to shed out lots of 7th level clerics. And their magic looks like it would be highly charged.

    Anyway, this kind of BTB discussions sicken me. This kind of "I play D&D" or "I play the way EGG intended" is just not my style.

    "Making the game your own" and "just have it your way", like in the OD&D afterward are IMHO the way to go.

    I'm surpriced that you are assuming such "by-the-book"ish positions. You didn't use to be that way.

    If you like easy death and easy resurrection, it's just fine! No need to cite the book or gygaxian quotes to justify it.

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  36. Hi James, I'm Stefano, lurking your blog so far. Just my two cents:
    The "save or die" circumvents HPs, which are the backbone for the "survival expectations" in D&D. It's enough for me to consider it one of the worst D&D "mechanic" ever (obviously IMHO). For me is not a matter of resurrection availability, character creation time or story line needs.
    And as far as I know "save or die" was one of the most "ignored" or "forgotten" rules in my 20 years D&D experience (but it's just a personal).
    In this respect there is a very interesting article (written some years ago) on the concept of HPs in Jonathan Tweet site: http://www.jonathantweet.com/jotgamehitpoints.html
    Rgds, Stefano

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  37. IMO, the backbone of "survival expectations" in D&D should be player skill.

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  38. I respect Mr. Tweet a lot, but—as I’ve said before about that article—he’s just wrong on that point.

    Well, I’ll concede he’s right for the edition he helped create. As the game was originally conceived, however, hit points were not considered something that couldn’t be circumvented.

    In fact, I’d have enjoyed AD&D a lot more when I played it if I hadn’t tended to adopt the same attitude that JoT espouses.

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  39. following the link Akkots posted above it is clear that Jonathan Tweet falls into the camp that considers D&D to be a game for those wanting to play Aragorn and Conan (or at least some comparably heroic individual). Some people have "survival expectations" as Akkots and Tweet do, while others do not. As Tweet says -
    "I like hit points because they allow players to manage the risks they're willing to take. It gives players an unrealistic level of control over their characters' fates, but that's what you want for a game that expects someone to survive dozens and dozens of hard-fought, toe-to-toe battles."

    The key there is that Tweet shifts the survival expectation from something that HE has to something that the GAME has - IMO, the game does not "expect" someone to survive dozens and dozens of hard-fought, toe-to-toe battles. Just because there are rules for advancing to high levels does not mean that the game requires every character to do so - death is and always has been a part of D&D, and people who have "survival expectations" should remember that it is a personal preference and not a feature of the game, until such a time as the rules of the game itself spell out that players cannot die. Which I hope will never happen.

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  40. Which half of "save or die" is contraversial?

    that you can die suddenly or that at the last momment you might not?

    It's rare that I see it except in instanes where, by rights, you should just die. So it's not at the other end of resurrection spells but just another version of the same thing: making life really dangerous and then giving people an out. A very hard exam with a generous curve

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  41. Side note: While not R.E Howard's Conan, the governator's Conan strongly featured rising from the dead. At Cost.

    Side Side Note: My problem with save or die is only thats it poorly used. Things that are "always deadly" are arbitrary. Being set on fire by a dragon should be save or die..as should being hit by a lightning bolt, as should being hit by an axe, as should being bitten by a spider.

    Yet only some of those are save or die and its mostly at random and unfathomable which is which until you roll. If your character went to swordfight a goblin and you were told 'save or die versus the goblins thrown dagger', it does make sense, daggers are meant to kill people..but then what are HP for?

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  42. Zzarchov, for me hit points represent combat prowess. A thrown dagger in combat goes against hp. In a dagger at your throat non-combat situation, however, I’d be more likely to call for a saving throw when the villain decided negotiations are over and it’s time to cut.

    Personally, I tend to think falling should be some sort of “save or injury”, but hp serves as a stand-in for “injury”. Still, I think there comes a point at which the DM has to say a particularly long fall for a high level character is more dangerous than the straight hp damage.

    Though there will always be gray areas. You make your best call, and if it didn’t work so well, you do it different next time.

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  43. IMHO Zzarchov hits the point. There's no reason to endure 10 ax strokes, or a meteors swarm, and then shot to death on a banshee. Why "combat prowness" is not considered when a character is faced with a beholder or a bodak? IMHO it's because weird effects were "a must" in the beginning of D&D, when we had a lot of things not very logical, but very funny (at least the first or second time they happened).
    Deadly traps, monster with strange (and deadly) powers, gave to the game a sort of uncertainty that made the game more fun and always new.

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  44. "Just because there are rules for advancing to high levels does not mean that the game requires every character to do so - death is and always has been a part of D&D, and people who have "survival expectations" should remember that it is a personal preference and not a feature of the game, until such a time as the rules of the game itself spell out that players cannot die. Which I hope will never happen."
    I hope the same, but try to put an medium or high level pc against a monster with a "save or die" effect, and then against a monster (with the same XP value) without a it. Don't you think that "survival expectations" would be very different for each case?
    Save or Die effects are great, but I think there's should be the same uncertainty with HP, otherwise they're a great thing not coherent with the system.

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  45. As far as 3e goes, I find it the least heroic version of D&D, because it stays highly lethal at all levels, and per the RAW a Raised PC loses a level, while you can bring in a new PC at party level, so there's a strong disincentive to Raise.

    My own approach to Raise in a pseudo-medieval setting is that it requires an intact body, and enemies routinely decapitate their dead foes, preventing Raising.

    BTW I find that the Judges Guild Wilderlands setting is the best for following through the implications of "Gygaxo-Arnesonian" D&D, including raise dead; when running that setting you can do it purely by RAW and it all works fine because the setting assumptions are not in conflict with the rules (unlike Greyhawk!).

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  46. "I hope the same, but try to put an medium or high level pc against a monster with a 'save or die' effect, and then against a monster (with the same XP value) without a it. Don't you think that 'survival expectations' would be very different for each case?"

    I think part of the point is that save or die effects discourage the mentality that a party of PCs should just wade into every fight because it will be balanced to their level and there is little chance of them dying. Yes, obviously the survival expectation is going to be lower when fighting a creature with save or die than a creature without it, so that gives a powerful incentive to NOT FIGHT the creature with the save or die effect! I know, kind of a novel concept if you are used to 3e or 4e, but the older and more deadly editions of the game saw an awful lot of players avoiding combat with creatures that could kill them. This is another reason why the XP for gold rule makes sense in the early editions - if the only source of XP is killing monsters, then the scenario you outline above is unbalanced as you point out. But honestly, all the way up to 2e you got such a piddly small amount of XP for killing creatures that it alleviated that imbalance and just encouraged groups to avoid the deadly monsters. As somebody mentioned above, one experience getting killed by a giant spider will have a group avoiding cobwebbed rooms or crossing them with extreme caution! In my experience, very little in 3e or 4e instills any kind of actual fear in a player, because if the DM is following the guidelines laid out in the sections of the DMG explaining how to balance encounters, the party should always come out on top with minimal player deaths. There is a thread right now at rpg.net about a guy playing 4e who actually experienced a character death! Of course, he had to roll three consecutive 1s on the skill check his DM kept making him reroll before this occurred... Everyone seems quite shocked and is congratulating him on taking it so well. - I hope this does not come across as edition bashing, because I play 3e and 4e as well as earlier editions, but I can recognize a different culture of expectation about player death in the newer editions. You get your bliss in 3e and 4e by doing stupendous amounts of damage to crazy powerful creatures with your badass party, you get your bliss in earlier editions by having to skulk around fearful for your very life and running from vermin!

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  47. Partially agree, but not clear to me:
    How can I get XP for gp if I don't kill the monsters guarding them?
    How can be so fearful fight a monster with save or die effect if is very easy to resurrect?
    Then prefer to not include specific edition consideration... in 4e, my group lost 6 characters in few months...
    Partially agree, but not clear to me:
    How can I get XP for gp if I don't kill the monsters guarding them?
    How can be so fearful fight a monster with save or die effect if is very easy to resurrect?
    Then prefer to not include specific edition consideration... in 4e, my group lost 6 characters in few months...
    PS. Was a long time ago, but when I played several adventures old school I can remember that it was not so easy anticipate a hazard. Sometimes it was a trap to occur, or simply open a door, beyond which there was a beholder or a banshee waiting for us... not a question of smartness or prudence...
    But yes, It was not logical, but pretty funny, because all was new and weird for us.

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  48. This isn’t meant to be a slam, but just an observation. 4e touts its exception-based design. Yet (in my admittedly small experience with it) those exceptions have a lot of sameness to them. In earlier editions, the exceptions—like a monster with a “save or...” effect—were more interesting.

    How can you get the treasure without killing the monsters guarding it? Well, that’s the crux of the puzzle, right? If there were a simple answer, it wouldn’t make the game more interesting.

    To give one example though: I had a group that used smoke to keep some killer bees from attacking whilst they carefully removed the stash of treasure.

    A common complaint about early editions is that combat was just stand-up fights of hp attrition. One of the many reasons this shouldn’t be the case is monsters with exceptional abilities. A stand-up fight against such monsters is foolish. You have to find a way to neutralize the monster’s ability or attack it indirectly or figure out how to avoid it.

    As for not being able to anticipate a hazard, I can only suggest that either the DM isn’t giving fair warning, the PC’s aren’t be cautious enough, or both. That doesn’t mean that a “save or die” situation should never occur without warning, but it shouldn’t be commonly occurring without warning.

    How can there be fear with easy resurrection? Well, I’ve never played in a game where resurrection was really easy, but read Gygax’s story of fighting the golem in Maure Castle. Even with scrying, teleportation, and wishes/resurrection, that wasn’t considered a cakewalk by any means. First, if it hadn’t been for good preparations, there would have been no resurrection. Secondly, while wishes/resurrections were available, they were a limited resource. Gygax’s band now had less of them to use against future dangers. Thirdly, resurrection was not a sure thing, and there was a limit to how often a single character could be resurrected. To just make three points about that story.

    (And let me say that I’m not trying to say this is “the right way to play”. TINWWTP. I’m just trying to explain why this way isn’t wrong. ^_^)

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  49. Do not agree on exceptions effect in earlier editions were more interesting. At least I think they seemed more interesting due to the novelty of the game, and there's a lot of room for "lateral thinking" also in 3e or 4e.
    But ultimately I agree with you. An inconsistent mechanic with the rest (save or die vs hp) does not mean it is wrong or not fun. Indeed, it can be (and often is), more fun.
    I much appreciated your post, thanks. (After all I enjoyed with o/a d&d for over 20 years)
    PS I also don't belive there's "a right way to play".

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  50. @akkots:

    "How can I get XP for gp if I don't kill the monsters guarding them?"
    Some methods: Stealth, trickery, negotiations. Better than almost anything else is figuring out how to render the monster harmless. A medusa with a sack tied over its head is pretty non-threatening, as is a wraith in a sunlit room, or a fire elemental when you have Protection from Fire cast. Every now and again you'll have a straight-up fight, but the trick there is learning what's worth killing and evading the rest. You don't want to fight giant centipedes, or wolves, or wandering goblin patrols, because they have barely any treasure. You DO want to fight the cheif at the goblin lair, though, because that's where he stashes the plunder he stole from all those caravans.

    "How can be so fearful fight a monster with save or die effect if is very easy to resurrect?"
    Well, losing a cherished character can get pretty visceral, even if you can bring him back. Besides, there's still a cost to dying, even if its only XP or gold, and unless the group recovers your body they may not be able to return you to life, after all...

    "PS. Was a long time ago, but when I played several adventures old school I can remember that it was not so easy anticipate a hazard. Sometimes it was a trap to occur, or simply open a door, beyond which there was a beholder or a banshee waiting for us... not a question of smartness or prudence..."

    In a well-planned old school adventure, you should be able to get that information most of the time. Even assuming you can't learn something useful from an NPC, traps can be found with ten-foot poles or summoned minions. Scrying and clairvoyance spells can be used to scout ahead. Beholders might be spotted by petrified victims, dead carcasses, and lots of vertical shafts everywhere (they fly!). The area near the lair of a banshee is sure to be littered with the corpses and skeletons of unlucky dungeon delvers and scavengers. And never underestimate the value of flat out running for your life.

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  51. Rob thanks for your suggestions, in reality I'm using those methods since a long time, in every D&D editions or other game I usually play :)
    The point was another: If finally I have to face a big monster, without "save or die" effect, too strong for me, it will affect my HP and I've still the possibility to survive (and escape, bargain, bluff or beg for life). If I have to face a mighty wizard meteor swarm, it will affect again my HP (and still possibility to survive). But if I have to face a beholder death ray, a disintegration spell, or a howling banshee, my HP will be completly useless.
    For me is still weird, but doesn't mean I cannot live with it.

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  52. "If finally I have to face a big monster, without "save or die" effect, too strong for me, it will affect my HP and I've still the possibility to survive (and escape, bargain, bluff or beg for life). [snip] But if I have to face a beholder death ray, a disintegration spell, or a howling banshee, my HP will be completly useless."

    Well that is where the savings throw comes in, isn't it? You have at least as good of a chance to survive the death ray or disintegration, etc., as you do to survive the meteor storm - you just have to make your save! The variable part is just put on the other side of the table - damage dealing effects require the DM to roll for damage, and a high roll might very well mean instant death, while save effects require the player to roll a save, and a low roll might very well mean instant death.
    You could think of HP themselves as a non-variable save against damage that increases with level. Something that does a ton of damage could still kill you just as dead as a death effect, and would be more likely to kill you at lower levels than higher levels, also just like a death effect. The only difference is that with a save vs. death you have a chance to avoid that death even at 1st level (sure, you might have to roll really high) while at 1st level you have NO chance to avoid death from that meteor swarm (or even fireball)! Yes, savings throws and HP are two different mechanics, but IMO that adds variety to the game.

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  53. just another thought - as a player, I find it much easier to deal with a characters death if it is because of MY crappy roll, not a DM's brilliant damage roll. I know it is all random dice rolling, but somehow if I roll that 1 on a savings throw it feels like I deserve it, while if the DM rolls a bunch of 6's on damage dice and I end up toasted it feels like I had no control over it. I realize that this is not logical, but there is something to be said about having control of your own destiny through your own dice rolling.

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  54. “Variety” That was exactly the word that came to my mind.

    We want a variety of character classes. We want a variety of races. We want a variety of weapons. We want a variety of spells. We want a variety of magic items.

    A variety of threats leads to a variety of strategies and tactics to be employed.

    Hmm...have I just argued myself into supporting 3e’s ability damage? ^_^

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  55. D&D has always seemed to me a "genre" or "world" unto itself, rather than a simulation of anything else in particular.

    When I want to play something else, I will pull another game from the shelf.

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  56. Thanks Carl for your insight, really I don't think "save or die" doesn't work, but imho neither is the best way to manage certain effects. At the moment I prefer other solution, but understand the game could be still enjoyable with it. I wondering on D&D without HPs, managed only by "save or...". Could be interesting.
    "When I want to play something else, I will pull another game from the shelf." Or starting to deeply houseruling D&D as a lot of people do since 1972 ;) It depends on how much would you like the game is different.
    PS Robert, definitly agree, variety is a good thing in many aspects of life!

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  57. @ akkots

    D&D without HPs could be an interesting experience (although arguably not D&D anymore, not that I want to get into THAT debate again!). You could also combine saves and HP - I am envisioning perhaps your garden variety physical attacks requiring a save vs. damage, success resulting in no damage and failure resulting in a significant loss of HP (perhaps twice as much damage as normal D&D, so a dagger could do 2d4, etc.) Particularly strong creatures/attacks and natural 20s would require a save with failure resulting in crippling, each failed save resulting in the temporary loss of a limb, eye, etc. Called shots to the head and other such attacks might require a save vs. death. This of course would be much more deadly than regular D&D but it might be fun with the right party (a bunch of sneaky guys who excel at avoiding direct conflict might do fine). It of course would also be not very old school, what with all the extra rolling and rules for what began as a very simple attack and damage mechanic! I guess I have gotten pretty far of the original topic but it has been an interesting digression (for myself at least).

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  58. I can’t locate my copy of First Fantasy Campaign at the moment, but as I recall, that was originally the case. You made a save to avoid being killed by an attack. Hit points were invented because that much “save or die” wasn’t fun.

    ...for them. For some games, I think very deadly combat like that would work. I don’t know that I’d call it D&D, though.

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  59. A dislike for the "easy death/easy resurrection" cycle certainly contributes to the Save or Die problem, but it's not the biggest problem.

    The real problem is that the mechanic bypasses the successful and effective ablative combat system at the heart of the game. The result isn't fun to suffer or to inflict and tends to break down badly at higher levels of play (particularly in later editions).

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  60. Effects that bypass the ablative combat subsystem that is just one part of the game keep that subsystem from making the game feel too odd, especially outside of combat.

    Play however you want, but realizing that the tyranny of hit points was a misinterpretation on my part is one of the things that brought me back to D&D and which make it fun for me again.

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