Survivability.   Posted by Dungeon Engine.Group: 0
Dungeon Engine
 GM, 22 posts
Wed 2 May 2018
at 17:41
A lot of what goes on in RPGs revolves around either keeping characters alive or trying to kill them. The tension can be delightful, but it can also be aggravating.

I think I mentioned elsewhere that I don't feel a need to kill characters. What I need is for there to be a substantial chance that they will fail.

Failure and death are often conflated in RPGs, I think because survival is often seen as the only thing at stake. I like there to be other stakes, so that I can arrange for success to be a challenge without risking the game going down in flames as all the characters die.

I sum this up as:

It should be possible to survive and still lose, and to die but still win.

My go-to for examples is Star Wars: Darth Vader survived the destruction of the Death Star but he still lost (Tarkin lost and died, but he wasn't willing to even consider that his survival - or failure - was at stake). Obi-Wan died (more or less) in his fight against Vader, but still won, arguably more than if he had survived. Etc.

The main effect of all this is that I generally want to arrange things so that the monsters and NPCS ("the opposition") don't have to kill the PCs to achieve their goals. If they're willing to take some hurt or devote just enough effort to discourage the PCs, then they are likely to decide that it's a fair trade and just do that in order to achieve their goal. Pressing the point and taking the time and risk to ensure that the party is stomped completely flat should, I think, often not seem worth it.

Without really extenuating circumstances, it's likely going to be pretty easy in general for a dragon just to finish off a party if it has them on the ropes. What's a few minutes wait to recharge their breath and use it again? And of course we all realize that leaving PCs alive is just asking for them to level up and try again (though no amount of development is going to bring Alderaan back: some failure is irrevocable). Yet, I think there's more that can be done than just have dragons optimize their killing potential.

Anyway, the game isn't even underway yet. But I wanted you to be aware upfront that you don't necessarily need to worry about your characters surviving. If you tell me that you want your character's death to be at stake, I will aim for that until I sense or am told that you wouldn't enjoy that. Otherwise, there will be other things at stake. Part of the concept of the world is that civilization itself is at stake.