What I'm Backing on Kickstarter:

What I'm Backing on Kickstarter:
Codex Egyptium

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Save ... or Else!

Time and time again, the question and relevance of the idea of rolling and making a save with the consequence being death will pop up. Those who follow multiple blogs will have already noticed the topic come up elsewhere in the past day or so. There simply is no right answer and we should accept it as such. The heart of the issue is not whether a character can die so indiscriminately in a campaign based on single, it's been about the style of game being run and the motivations (or rather purpose) behind that game.

Consider this: What matter most for the campaign? The story itself or the (player) characters that make up the story?

If the goal is to tell about the varied stories of a city, dungeon, war, or whatever, and this happens to be the focal point regardless of who interacts with them, then the characters don't really matter. That doesn't mean we won't get attached to them but the focus will be just to see how 'the big picture' and the GM's vision unfolds. In this case, the GM clearly has a tale he wishes to tell but the importance on the participants are less pronounced. Players roll with the punches and learn to travel in greater numbers. More importantly, if it is an engaging campaign story, then the players will want to see how everything ultimately unfolds.

However in other campaigns, the characters are also the vehicle for the story being told. An untimely death of a key persona could grind the campaign to a halt. Sure... there is always danger and an element of chance in well run and evenly matched combat and sometimes the dice aren't doing the players any favors. But in those circumstances, does the campaign really need a death as 'random' as a save-or-die roll? This is not to say that the characters can never die in these campaigns but there is a sense that death should be more poignant and meaningful if it should visit the party.

I've had the pleasure of playing in campaigns where the story and some of the of characters were intertwined profoundly. Long term campaigns. A focal character met his death and it did come to a simple die roll in the end. While it was well done and an awesome story moment, it also affected the campaign thereafter. And you know something? An incident like this SHOULD. Unfortunately, it had the effect of completely stalling the campaign and story being told for months and pretty much killed the campaign. The problem was that the story and this particular character had become *too* intertwined but, at the same time, there was the knowledge that a single die roll was to blame.

I am certainly not against in running a campaign where this sort of save-or-die can happen but I don't allow it the luxury of being overly common nor allow it to sabotage the story or the enjoyment of group at my gaming table. Characters have died in my campaign and there ARE consequences for stupidity but being curious is not a mistake. While the Tomb of Horrors is a favorite of mine, this is not the usual thing players expect from my campaigns.

So... whether there is no right or wrong answer regarding the issue of Save or Die saving throws, I think any GM should consider the nature of the campaign being told -- is it 'story-centric' or 'character-centric'. Chances are, it will likely affect how *you* roll in your games.


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