Should game masters threaten player characters?

It appears that I struck a real chord with Tuesday’s article on player character death.  Why did so many GMs and players respond so passionately to my post?  Because players sometimes get mad at GMs when their characters die.

Not all players and not always.  But it does happen and it creates tension at the tabletop, when players are angry over their characters’ deaths.


Another final shot of our fallen comrade. RIP Elder Cunningham.  FWIW, the beholder there is actually a giant snake.  I wouldn’t do that to Level 2 adventurers!

One particular response (from @theTinyGM on Twitter) took exception to my use of the word “threat” in relation to PC death.  Her concern was that the language of a threat might set up a confrontational relationship between GM and player.  Of course, nothing could be further from my intention.

But it raises the question: can GMs create conflict and challenges for PCs–can they “threaten” the livelihood of adventurers–without creating a confrontational atmosphere?  I’m convinced you can!  If I can pull it off, you can too!

Here are the three steps you can take to create a challenging situation that will end in nothing but fun and mutual respect at your gaming table:

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Should player character death be a possibility?

Many of you have been writing and tweeting, asking how the Chasing the Dragon project is going.  Well, we’re five sessions into The Village of Hommlet and we’ve got two player character deaths on the books.  In fact, here’s a picture from our last session:


You can see poor Elder Cunningham (our cleric) lying slain amidst his foes.  You can also see the pain on Patrick’s face (Elder’s player) on the top left, as he grieves his character’s untimely demise.

As a GM, I really feel bad when PCs die.  I want players to have a good time…and having your character ignominiously slain with one attack (RIP Elder Cunningham) just doesn’t seem like much fun.  So it leaves me with a question: should PC death be a real potentiality?  Or should GMs avoid it at as much as they can?

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I don’t always use grid maps, but when I do…

This is the fourth post in a series on responsible and affordable AD&D shopping.

This one goes out to the GMs in the crowd.

Let’s be honest.  You’ve got a tough job.  I mean, sure, you love it.  You love the adventure, the creativity, and of course the unfettered power.  Wait, did I just say that out loud?  Don’t mind that, players.

Anyway, being a GM is great.  Until it comes to prep time.  You gotta read that module or gather those stats.  You’ve got story hooks, plotlines, and story arcs to parse out.  Even if you’re one of those rare unicorn GMs who does minimal prep (not me), there’s still one piece of preparation that you probably think about a bit: maps.

Of course, this could raise a contentious debate as to whether players need a grid map at all.  Here’s my answer to the question:

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AD&D: Embrace the Imbalance

AD&D is imbalanced.  There, I said it.  The classes are imbalanced.  The races are imbalanced.  Many of the monsters feel imbalanced.  Everything about the game reeks of imbalance.

But is imbalance necessarily a bad thing?  I don’t think so.

Picture by Kevin Thai

My players are just learning the basic combat rules.  We’re only 2 full sessions in, due to crazy schedules, so we’re still working it out.  I’m still working it out.  So as we engaged our first serious combat opportunity, I thought, let’s keep the guard rails on:

4 PCs (a fighter, an assassin, an illusionist-thief, and a cleric)
1 allied PC (Elmo, if you’re familiar with The Village of Hommlet)
3 opposing NPCs (2 bandits and one fenced-in wild horse)

Everything about the encounter reeks of caution:

  • One less NPC than the PCs
  • The wild horse was fenced-in, just in case the 2 bandits were too much

But there was more than meets the eye:

  • The Monster Manual recommends bandits be in group of…wait for it…20-200!
  • Wild horses appear in packs of 5-30

So, yeah, I was pulling my punches.  But why?  I wanted to allow the players to learn the system without their characters getting slaughtered.  Is that so bad to do?  The game feels so imbalanced–weighted against low-level PCs–I don’t want them to get frustrated with the system.  In the end, this is the question I found myself facing:

Can I trust the numbers in the books—or do I need to flub them?

Well, I learned from the experience big-time.  Here’s how:

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