Handling Player Decisions that should Lead to Character Death


Advice


Hi everyone,

Long-time D&D DM, transitioned into Pathfinder about a year ago. I have a group that is made up of 5 players. We use only core material.

I've noticed that sometimes the players make decisions that would very likely end in their character's dying. However, they seem to think that in certain of these situations it would be unfair if their characters died. So my question is, how much do you punish the players for their decisions?

Example: 2 players strip off their armor and run full speed across open land in a very dangerous area. They then enter an even more dangerous swampy labyrinth. The players were doing so in order to un-petrify 2 of their groupmates (they had to get there quickly).

In a setup such as this, would you allow the two players to get into the area without any chance of random encounters? Or do you let the dice fall where they lie?


I'm usually against coddling players. The only situations where I held back or let them off easy are the times when I accidentally made the challenge disproportionately more difficult than it should be.

I didn't think it would be fair to cause a TPK because I made a mistake when creating the encounter, so I dialed it back and even admitted to my players that I had miscalculated that battle's difficulty.

But other than that, I let them live with the consequences of their actions.

If you're creating the encounter just for the sake of throwing a random encounter, then don't. OTOH, if you honestly think a random encounter would happen in this situation, then make it happen. Maybe give them a small reminder that such an event is a real possibility (after all, sometimes players forget stuff that their characters would be constantly aware of).


Random encounters are there to punish people that are trying camp cheese I.E. camp after every fight to get spells back. Or to add flavor to an area not to just constantly hammer the party. Your example doesn't give enough info for real comment, there's no time crunch just to unpetrify something and if you're playing with full rules (armor check penalties,encumberence, environmental hazards, etc) then your party should be down armoring, either removing entirely or shifting to lighter kit, to cross a swamp. Slamming them with random monsters is a dick move but they should still hit the environmental challenges (sink holes, acrobatics checks for slippery ground, swim checks, etc)


Let the dice fall and see what happens. They could get lucky and skate by w/o an encounter... or... they could get themselves killed. When you choose the life of an adventurer you're gambling with your life.


Players will come up with potential solutions to problems that are outside of what you had planned. This is part of the fun, tapping into others' imaginations.

That being said, Gary Gygax is famous for the line "are you sure you want to do that?".

Give them a high difficulty. Give them a series of moderate difficulty rolls. Give them hero points and let them spend them doing impossible heroic things. But give them the consequences when they fail.

(Just a reminder; there are other things that can be inflicted besides death).

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

in that example their death wouldn't have been certain... if players want/need to run through a dangerous area without their armor they need to understand and accept that they do so at their own peril. if they run into enemies they can always keep running and hope to get away or get to help before its too late, or they can fight without their armor and hope for the best. the game will get less fun (and less prone to people really getting into character/setting) when nobody has any sense of fear of dying. plus, some of the best stories/memories aren't 'that time we ran naked through that swamp that was supposed to be dangerous and never even saw an enemy' but instead are about 'that time we were fleeing those lizardmen through the swamp naked trying to save [whomever]' or even 'that time we TPKed trying run naked through that labirynth'.

if you make a mistake (or the dice rolling is so far outside of statistical norms that it rouses your pity) i think its fine to pull some punches, but if you create a game with no apparent consequences (ie no threat of death) you'll end up with a bunch of characters running around making stupid/irresponsible choices and not taking your story (or game) seriously at all.


One should never "punish" any player for any decision they make. Punishing is not the role of the Dungeon Master, the role of the Dungeon Master is arbitrating with fairness. If the players understood that Random Encounters were possible, and understood the risks associated with them, and made a decision to act in the way they felt was the best choice for them at the time in order to rescue their friends. Then this is what you do.

Remind them of the possibility for a random encounter, and that the random encounter, by its nature, will be of a CR that should not be equivalent to something like a programmed encounter or final encounter with a BBEG.

Roll the dice

Play out the scenario as it falls, fairly.


This is where, dare i say? 4E made a good call... Random encounter might be rough (tho you could go -2 or 3 cr so hard without armor, but less chance of death, and use a skill challenge instead. Instead of fighting the giant water moccassin, make an acrobatics check to leap over it. Use knowledge nature, to learn you should run around that puddle, its a peat bog. Make a climb check to scale that small cliff or waste another hour and gain the fatigued effect. ETC.


Sounds like a rule of fun situation. A great time can be had taking on a normally weaker foe unarmed and unarmored. Could even be pretty empowering for the characters to see themselves as powerful force to be reckoned with even without their armor. And on the flip side, if the random encounter is too powerful it is another fun combat were the objective is not to kill all the enemies but to survive and escape.


Rolling a random monster encounter in an area They Know is dangerous Is Not a dick move. You don't need to craft every single encounter exactly to the partys specifications, that's boring and they will always know that no matter what it's designed for them to win. Life isn't like that, if the good guys always ran into things they could overcome there wouldn't be any monsters.

It takes the danger out of being an adventurer. Sometimes it's prudent to run away and the PCs should know when it's that time.

There's been plenty of times as a player I've looked at an encounter and said "huh, we should go around... that looks hurty"; Even when I know we can win. Why? because I don't always want to spend the resources on a fight. Sometimes tactics means not going into combat. Even Navy SEALS will pull out if they have to. The Mossad lose people all the time. Don't be scared of the fact that sometimes heros and bad asses die.


Captain Wacky wrote:

Rolling a random monster encounter in an area They Know is dangerous Is Not a dick move. You don't need to craft every single encounter exactly to the partys specifications, that's boring and they will always know that no matter what it's designed for them to win. Life isn't like that, if the good guys always ran into things they could overcome there wouldn't be any monsters.

It takes the danger out of being an adventurer. Sometimes it's prudent to run away and the PCs should know when it's that time.

There's been plenty of times as a player I've looked at an encounter and said "huh, we should go around... that looks hurty"; Even when I know we can win. Why? because I don't always want to spend the resources on a fight. Sometimes tactics means not going into combat. Even Navy SEALS will pull out if they have to. The Mossad lose people all the time. Don't be scared of the fact that sometimes heros and bad asses die.

It would be pretty much the definition of a dick move. He wants to hit random encounters, that means they're not party of the story so they're not progressing that. If these were characters/players that wanted to just go guns blazing into everything this wouldn't be a topic so it's not promoting fun. The only thing it would do is punish characters/players which is not the point. There is no value added by throwing random encounters at them at the point he described and would probably in have a net negative fun impact on the game or he wouldn't have made the topic. Any time your gut reaction is "maybe I shouldn't do this" you probably shouldn't do it and nothing the OP has provided gives a reason why the encounters should occur.


tkul wrote:


It would be pretty much the definition of a dick move. He wants to hit random encounters, that means they're not party of the story so they're not progressing that.

To clarify, I assign certain areas of the world a chance for random encounters based on how dangerous the area is supposed to be. If traveling on a road through a relatively safe area, I usually forego the roll. In the swamp area, I set the likelihood of a random encounter at 1 or 2 on a d6 roll.

I have a list of swamp-related random encounters. If the d6 roll comes up as 1 or 2, then I roll on the random encounter chart.


If you don't have answer for why the encounter is happening it shouldn't happen is the bottom line and if the only answer you have is "I rolled a 1" then it isn't an answer. So far you've only mentioned dice as a reason and there's no real background other than a 33% dice roll says bad thing happen.

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

tkul wrote:
It would be pretty much the definition of a dick move. He wants to hit random encounters, that means they're not party of the story so they're not progressing that. If these were characters/players that wanted to just go guns blazing into everything this wouldn't be a topic so it's not promoting fun. The only thing it would do is punish characters/players which is not the point. There is no value added by throwing random encounters at them at the point he described and would probably in have a net negative fun impact on the game or he wouldn't have made the topic. Any time your gut reaction is "maybe I shouldn't do this" you probably shouldn't do it and nothing the OP has provided gives a reason why the encounters should occur.

i completely disagree... if your story includes a location that is a dangerous site but the only actual danger is one or two specific encounters that wait in their designated areas it totally invalidates any sense of actual danger- soon your PCs won't take any warning of a dangerous location seriously and your campaign will devolve into either a bunch of intensely arrogant (but seemingly indestructible) characters competing for the most outlandish accomplishments, or a bunch of bored players wondering why they're the only ones on the planet that can walk up to the place monsters hangout, buff, and destroy them (or they'll interact with something/someone that can really kill them effortlessly but they won't take any of your warnings seriously and then be super pissed when they TPK). for people to actually get into a gaming experience there has to be some emotional investment, that means actually feeling like the dangerous places your character goes are really dangerous; random encounters absolutely further that sense of danger and grant the story more verisimilitude.


tkul wrote:
If you don't have answer for why the encounter is happening it shouldn't happen is the bottom line and if the only answer you have is "I rolled a 1" then it isn't an answer. So far you've only mentioned dice as a reason and there's no real background other than a 33% dice roll says bad thing happen.

I suppose we'll have to chalk that up to a difference in GM styles. The random encounter has been a staple of all of my campaigns for years through out the various editions. I feel it adds a level of randomness to the game that is desirable.

Adventuring is a very dangerous profession for a reason, and I feel that random encounters based on the area helps to support that idea.


Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path Subscriber

It depends. As a player, I've had my fair share of dead PCs. I've learned one thing: deaths that result from arbitrary-couldn't've-known situations suck.

It's a completely different thing to strip your armor to speedily cross a room full of arrowslits than it is to cross a (seemingly) empty field. The first is foolish. The second is a tactical choice made to accomplish a goal.

I'm not a fan of "in order to do X, the evident thing to do is Y, only Y will get you dead."

In this particular case, you've got a random encounter table. Why? The players are already down, trying to rescue allies. So... this random encounter table, is it labeled "Yee Randome Kick-'Em When There're Down Table"? What's it's purpose? Why are you tempted to use it?


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

It sounds like there's a lot of variables in play here. Some of it might come down to differences in what's expected from the implicit social contract (a possible gm/player disagreement in expectations?)

Another thing to consider is not only the availability of other options but also the visibility of those options given the situational set-up. If time was a great factor and the lives of the other two pcs were of high importance/salience, other options may not be as visible as rushing to their aid. This is all the more so if the campaign has been set up more of as a story where the protagonists are expected to act through bold and impulsive action rather than a campaign where the protagonists are expected to act in a manner of cautious risk assessment and more deliberate strategic thinking.

As others have said, punishing and setting things up with fair and likely risks are probably two different things. An attempt at punishing comes from a desire to teach them a lesson or discourage bad or stupid behavior. Assigning risk is something a bit different- that comes not from a mentality of behavior modification but from designing a consistent world.

In this situation, if your objective is to punish the players, I would look long and hard at the circumstances of it before following through with this. In situations of great risk (the lives of other PCs) and great urgency (the time limit), often the more nuanced options that could be visible in calmer circumstances get thrown out the window. If one were to set up a no-win situation and then punish the players regardless of choice, that would seem to me to be unfair. I don't think that's necessarily the set up here, but the off-chance possibility of it is still worth looking out for.

If, on the other hand your motivation isn't so much to to punish but to just allocate a certain amount of risk that would or might objectively and visibly be there, then that risk just comes with the territory for a lot of groups. If, however, your game has established a previous environment where characters are afforded a good amount of story protection for doing things like rushing in Big-Damn-Hero-style to save the lives of their compatriots, then the situation of what is good form could very well be different.

What's good form and what's bad form here all just depends on what the set up is like and how it's perceived from the parties involved. Some discussion of differences in expectation may be warranted, if it seems to you these differences are large enough to cause a potential clash over them.


skill challenge....


I concur with those who say that the GM should not be in the business of punishing players. Every now and then I take an opportunity as the GM to provide a "lesson" to the players, but that is in an educational and growth sense, not a "you should know better" sense.

I also am not fond of random encounters. If I feel the area is one where an encounter might happen, I try to work it into the story.

In general, I would use some of these situations as story elements. I don't like the mechanics of 4e skill challenges, but I like the concept.

Bottom line is figure out how to make it fun.


Tormsskull wrote:

Example: 2 players strip off their armor and run full speed across open land in a very dangerous area. They then enter an even more dangerous swampy labyrinth. The players were doing so in order to un-petrify 2 of their groupmates (they had to get there quickly).

In a setup such as this, would you allow the two players to get into the area without any chance of random encounters? Or do you let the dice fall where they lie?

First off, I think it's awesome that they even thought to try that. As a GM your job is to a) make sure everyone at the table (including you) is having fun and b) make sure that everyone at the table is having fun. You're not running Pathfinder Society so you have carte blanche to rewrite, reorder, add/drop encounters as you see fit. Instead of random encounters that are balanced for a full group with their armor on you could have, for example, add an encounter involving Shadows tied to a specific location. Players fear ability damage and it would be thematically appropriate to the swamp. I'm imagining a crew of pirates that hid their ship in the swamp during an unusually rainy season but were overcome in the darkness by shadows from a temple to a lost cult underneath where they beached the ship. That would be fun and deepen the story (maybe when the full group gets together they'd be interested in pursuing that lead?).

As for character death, I think regardless of how it happens you need to make it memorable and epic.


If the players make bad decision there should be reasonable consequences.

I have to ask though, assuming their friends were already petrified, what exactly was the rush? Flesh to Stone functions the same after 2 days the same is does after 2 hours or 2 minutes. Unless you gave them some McGuffin that forced them have to have to reach them in a short amount of time.

So, why were they so rushed for time?


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Tormsskull wrote:
...Adventuring is a very dangerous profession for a reason, and I feel that random encounters based on the area helps to support that idea.

@Tormsskull

Randomness favors the GM, not the players. It effectively bumps up the difficulty. Why 20 mooks are sometimes better than a single elite.

That being said, if the adventure calls for random encounters what I'll do is pick the scripted ones and use them. The non-scripted ones I usually go ahead and try to write a little backstory. So it doesn't feel like...well you're walking along the open trail...and rocks fall and you die "you feel eyes watching you..." ;) But if anyone in the party thinks to make knowledge/survival checks I will usually give them the rough %chance as well as the range of typical creatures to be found in the area.

As far as risky behavior...the entire lifestyle of an adventurer is supposed to be risky. It's how risky you as the GM want the game to be. Are the PCs heroes who always win? Or are they in a never-ending losing battle against an implacable, undefeatable, incomprehensible foe from outside of time where they best the player characters can do is die with their brains oozing out their eye sockets knowing they have at least forestalled the doom of their planet for a day? Are they destined to always fail on an epic scale? Or where does it fall in between?

I tend to run high fantasy where the risk of death is low. I have had encountered many groups that claim they want to play 'hardcore' mode. Until they actually do and get embarrassed by being wiped out by goblins or kobolds that use tactics.

Your game seems to be higher risk, and if the players enjoy that style of play then you are allowed to do whatever you want. But as with any decision, be prepared for consequences. If it turns out they don't like that kind of play, being punished for trying to save their team mates may not be what they find to be "epic fun storytelling." I mean as the GM, did you give them an alternative to save their team mates? Lots of factors come into play here...I recommend a few informal chats with your players on how difficult they prefer the game to be.


Practically every encounter is "Random" to suggest otherwise is to suggest that the world is “plotting” to kill the characters.

Just because the details of an encounter are predetermined (as most are) should not be taken to mean that the encounter itself is not “Random” (are you suggesting that the goblins overturned the merchant’s cart in preparation for a battle with the player characters who they somehow knew would be coming along just at that moment?)

The difference between the randomness of a typical encounter (yes the DM planned for this encounter to happen at this time in this location, but in the “world” it is supposed to be a random occurrence, unless the adventure is a series of continued planned attacks on the PCs by a deliberately determined to destroy them opponent) and a “Random Encounter” is that some DMs like to try and create the feeling of a living breathing world where dangerous creatures come and go along hunting trails, or for other very normal reasons move about and therefore there exist the possibility of coming across a Hill Giant returning from a day of checking his pit traps (on a roll of 1) or a heard of elk (on a roll of 2-4) or a rabid giant badger (on a roll of 5) or maybe nothing interesting happens at all (on a roll of 6).


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The Gods show not mercy to the proud.
The strong feed on the weak.
The GM must punish the stupid.

Was the swamp dangerous yesterday? Then it should be dangerous today unless all the dangers take weekends off. If the group has made "reasonable" preparations to rescue their party members, cut them a break. If they run in there naked without a plan B, well, stirges, leeches and swamp barracuda...Oh My! Have one wrestle a gator while the other keeps going.

Or have them discover an intellgent swamp dweller in need of assistance. They show kindness and their new guide show them a short cut that avoids the dangers of the swamp.

You haven't coddled them, they have a reasonable chance of success.


Random encounter don't Need to be a part of the story... that's why they're Random. And not everything happens as you want it to. Ever see a movie you liked until the ending? Doesn't mean you can't enjoy the ride. I love Evangelion with the exeption of the last couple episodes.

It's not solely up to the GM to tell the story, the PC's are there to help with that... otherwise why arn't you just writing a book? It's not the adventure that's the story that's only part of it, the PCs are the story. Your job as a GM is to provide the world, it's up to the PCs to determine what the story entails based on the content. Putting the story solely and utterly into the GMs hands is just masterbation. That's why they Used to have a referee, but no one wanted to sit on the sidelines and just judiciate the rules. So they rolled it up to the GMs list of duties.

Being able to roll with the puches and think tactically in situations you may not be ready for... even if the tactic is "RUN AWAY!!" is part of the experiance. If you have to craft every single encounter and every single detail it leads to stagnation. Your players know exactly what to expect from you and everything is tailored so that they can win. There is no real challange, and if there is nothing for them to truely overcome, are they really heros? And if they can't overcome, do they deserve to be heros?


Dreaming Psion wrote:


As others have said, punishing and setting things up with fair and likely risks are probably two different things. An attempt at punishing comes from a desire to teach them a lesson or discourage bad or stupid behavior. Assigning risk is something a bit different- that comes not from a mentality of behavior modification but from designing a consistent world.

Your post is very well written & thought-provoking. It is very much appreciated.

I don't know if punish is the correct word - perhaps it was a poor choice on my part. I think that with this group there are some implicit understandings that don't make sense in the game world, but for the sake of play-ability, are used.

A good example of this is players that are not able to make one gaming session still get full exp, and still get added back to the group that next session. This is explained away with some story element, but it is clearly due to the fact that we don't want a player sitting there not able to do anything because he isn't with the party.

I think the players may view recovering their team mates in this same way. There has been some good feedback on this thread - I think the best bet would be just to have the conversation with my players and make sure we're all on the same page. Then, throw out hints as to the danger level or if they're about to make a decidedly poor choice. If they still decide to pursue that choice they can.


Claxon wrote:


So, why were they so rushed for time?

The two party members that were petrified suffered a basilisk's gaze. The players were unaware that the basilisk's blood could be used to restore those two characters (and no surviving character's had relevant knowledge skills.)

Once they left and returned to a community, they asked around if anyone knew what the basilisk was. One of the local elders told them it sounded like a basilisk, and told them the trick of using basilisk blood to restore their allies.

I know the book says "fresh" basilisk blood, so the npc provided the players with an herbal concoction that "freshened" up the blood. One of the other players also was concerned that some monster or another in the labyrinth might destroy the statues.


When did it become the case that you could use basilisk blood to restore stoned allies? THAT is coddling your players.

I'd make them go bargain for the services of a wizard to restore their friends. The wizard says, 'sure, I'll do it if you kill my rival in that tower and return the spellbook he stole. My apprentices will accompany you'. The players of the stoned PCs play the apprentices.


Tormsskull wrote:
Claxon wrote:


So, why were they so rushed for time?

The two party members that were petrified suffered a basilisk's gaze. The players were unaware that the basilisk's blood could be used to restore those two characters (and no surviving character's had relevant knowledge skills.)

Once they left and returned to a community, they asked around if anyone knew what the basilisk was. One of the local elders told them it sounded like a basilisk, and told them the trick of using basilisk blood to restore their allies.

I know the book says "fresh" basilisk blood, so the npc provided the players with an herbal concoction that "freshened" up the blood. One of the other players also was concerned that some monster or another in the labyrinth might destroy the statues.

Not invalid concerns, but not enough to justify recklessly casting off armor either.

Fresh is very relative, I would say as long as it hasn't dried it is "fresh" enough. Did the pair that survived have any sort of interdimensional storage? A portable hole could have allowed them to stow their commrades and move them back to town rather than leave them in the dungeon. I feel there are a lot of opportunities to make the situation better without being recklessly stupid.

Besides, taking off armor usually only means a speed change of 10ft per round. Depending on the distance traveled and the tables here, it might have only made a few minutes difference it how long it took to travel.


Here is my take. First, I rarely will have my players even know of an encounter that will totally destroy them, however occasionally it has happened that I've given hints as to the "campaign villain" so for example, I'll use that.

Say my whole campaign hinges around the players eventually thwarting a level 20 werewolf. Well, they are only level 1 so she sends her afflicted minions after them. As they get higher in level, she starts to send a few natural minions... etc until they are level 20 and then she comes to kill them herself.

Now, what if the players manage to figure out she's got a mansion in Ustalav and decide to GO to her mansion and fight her right away. Seriously, guys that's stupid, and so I will subtly imply that she's too much for them. If they keep heading to her mansion I get less subtle to the point of just under saying "Dude, she's a level 20 werewolf lord (old 3.5 template I converted/modified that makes a werewolf a dire wolf and other nasty stuff) inquisitor! Then if they stupidly still show up at her mansion, well players have never been so very dumb in my games before, so I'm not really sure but I think at that point I would probably TPK them just... cause really you're low level, she's VERY high level and very advanced... you knew this and you still attacked her.

Now, as to your situation, if it's established that in the area they are in they have a certian chance of random encounters, then yes go for it. This isn't GURPS with "Bulletproof Nudity" rules where a totally naked girl is damn near unkillable cause everyone is too distracted by how hot she is. The players should know without their armor... they are crunchy and taste good with ketchup.


I think it's all about establishing expectations and giving the PCs information with which to make decisions. As a GM, sometimes I forget to share as much information as I mean to, or I forget bits of information that could have changed PC decisions. If the PCs have no idea that said swampy labyrinth is really deadly then they don't have the information needed to make the smart decision here. If, on the other hand, this swamp is legendary and they've heard tales of its lethality…that's their bad. When choices don't have any consequences, the world loses some of its life, in my opinion.


It's also up to the PCs to find out if a place is dangerous or not. They need to ask around the local villages and see what the deal is. Unless the world is filled with warning signs. "Danger, Swamp of Death".
It's not the DMs responsability to say "you come across a swamp... it looks dangerous". To them it's just a swamp until they learn more about it or there's something like man eating plants guarding the outskirts.


I think the trouble here is both a perspective bias and a policy problem...

On the one hand we have a fallacy of definition of sorts... By the time you've developed an encounter map (basilisk caves and dangerous swampland) you can hardly consider it a random encounter. If the plan is for the swamp to be dangerous, then encounters within it aren't random at all at the end of the day, so the argument of if those encounters are appropriate or not, or the policy question of do you or don't you use these random/not honestly entirely random encounters or not is moot.

The question is as always, whats the intent.... whats the goal of the scenario. Challenging players to sort out a combat situation they're not equipped for can create excitement and panic and tension and thats all good stuff. On the flip side if the intent isn't just to have random stuff kill off an already weakened party, your job as gm is also to have what I'd call a 'random solution table' ready as well.

First think of as many possible responses the players will have to being attacked in the swamp. The core reponses of course are Fight or Flight. There are of course several other options in between though. It's a spectrum.

  • Fight! If we get attacked we wade headlong into battle and hope for the best
  • Blitz! Run up the middle and hope to get through safely. (sounds like this was the method the party chose)
  • Circumvent: Lets sneak past.
  • Distract: Lure them out of our path/shoot the gap
  • Hide: Wait it out
  • Negotiate! Is the ambush by intelligent creatures that can be reasoned with/bargained with?
  • Charm/recruit! My enemy is now my ally! Poor swamp creature just wanted to be loved...
  • Flight: Run awaaay and come back again better prepared. Our stone compatriots will just have to wait a bit longer to be rescued.... Get help. Get More Help....

    None of these tactics is 'the wrong way to do it'... Every way should be an option with its own problems and solutions. If the party likes blitzing or fighting and we find out they're in over their heads, perhaps another party heard the rumors of a basilisk cave in town and headed up here as well, not knowing where they're going precisely they arrived late to drive off/distract the swamp encounter and use that heroic leverage to ask for treasure for helping out or maybe they're a super good adventure party and help out because they're trying to build their own reputation as brave heroic adventurers as well... Brothers in arms!

    Deux Ex Food Chain.... Suddenly the thing thats chasing the party through the swamp is ambushed as well by the 'bigger fish'... Now the party knows it's blitz/ run time for sure.

    If the party is smart enough to set up a fast patsy to bait away any swamp encounter then here's hoping it can outrun the ambush as well... otherwise the patsy dies or we're back to rescue party/deux ex food chain to save the patsy....

    There are so many ways to parse this... Don't make it so binary. 'My policy is to save dumb pcs or not... my policy is to coddle or not...' Think of as many ways to make the encounter exciting and as survivable as you're interested in. If you're interested in killing them for being foolish.... Own it and let it ride.

    Thats the beauty of the infinite paintbrush of being a gm. You have all the tools to make a last minute save or a horrible bloodbath or a narrow excape or a dramatic cat and mouse game or a raucous chaotic chase scene... an opportunity to meet other adventuring team npcs, An opportunity to put an even MORE dangerous big fish in the swamp to really drive home how dangerous no preparation can be...

    Theres more options to choose from than 'let em live' and 'let em die'. No matter which option the players choose and no matter if you think the players should survive it or not... Let it be as awesome as possible.


  • @Vincent Takeda, very wise words. I like the response table idea.


    Yep. And it's not to say that certain tables or certain players won't like what their options are...

    You learn what your players like and don't like by doing. If they don't like it, they'll be happy to know it's a tactic you won't use again in the future and maybe they'll be more cautious next time... Nothing wrong with that.

    Some players will appreciate the leg up and the comraderie of meeting another adventuring party that solves the encounter and befriends them with a slap on the back and a hearty nod and a night around the campfire regaling each other of tales of high adventure....

    Some players appreciate a rescue party thats basically there to extort your position. they saved your butt now they want all the treasure from the basilisk cave for themselves and you should be thankful they showed up in time.

    Some players love to see whats chasing them get ran off by the bigger fish.

    Some players like the thrill of the chase and appreciate an impromptu alcove or trapdoor that gives them room to breathe/hide/wait/escape...

    Others like nothing more than to let their character be a martyr.... Not bad for that guy to be the one creating the distraction so the party members that want to live can make the run.

    Some feel cheated if the gm sends in a rescue party or a bigger fish and just want the party to wipe, though for me personally that's been a rare occurence and only happens when the players are bored of the campaign already...

    There are so many other doors than 'random encounter or no' 'kill them off or fiat thier survival'... If you want the players to TPK and they think thats lame, you know they'd prefer a little more softball. If you want them to survive and they think saving them is lame you know they want more hardball... If they're ok with being saved but think the 'method' of rescue was lame... Let them know it won't happen again.


    Vincent Takeda wrote:

    Some feel cheated if the gm sends in a rescue party or a bigger fish and just want the party to wipe, though for me personally that's been a rare occurence and only happens when the players are bored of the campaign already...

    The idea wasn't "rocks fall, you die" versus "smooth sailing". It was "roll on random chart that I've been rolling on" versus "don't roll because the encounter very likely would kill 2 unarmored PCs".

    Its possible that I could have changed the chart, or changed the odds due to the fact that there are only 2 PCs, but that is altering the game rules to compensate for a poor decision on the player's part (IMO).

    My group tends to play everything by the dice. We roll for stats, we use the critical hit deck & critical miss deck, we added an instant kill rule, all of my dice rolls are out in the open for the players to see, etc. The player's are really big into letting the dice determine things, and not having the DM hand wave things away.

    As to your above quote, I imagine that is how the players would feel. When I've pulled punches in the past due to poor player decisions, there's some eye rolling and sort of the feeling among the group that they only lived because I "cheated."

    But for whatever reason (probably because they wanted the other players back in the game ASAP), they assumed that this particular situation (trying to get the other players restored) would be treated as a "fast-forward, its done" sort of thing.

    I think I'll just go with better communication and more warnings of danger in the future.


    yep. As is always the case, whether the players live or die isn't as important as *how* they lived or how they died. As long as it was awesome players will usually be happy with the results. Played well, some of what my players would consider my best encounters ever were random encounters.

    I had a player who always liked to fly or levitate any time danger happened. He was an old grognard so in his mind he was 'playing it smart'. So we put the party in the 'long grass' and the party starts to notice the grass is moving as if something is coming towards them... Wizard predictably casts levitate and is the only one to get a nice clear view of the opponent... which is... Basilisks! Way to go superfly! Even though it was very bad for him personally, he really liked that I acknowledged his tactic and found a way to subvert it to keep him on his toes. Sometimes its the little things and the players will find them awesome even if they go badly.

    If you can make them cool and fun, the players will love them just as much as a planned encounter.

    Softball or no softball isn't as important
    Random encounter or no random encounter isn't as important.
    Last minute rescue or TPK isn't as important but one or the other is better for certain tables/players.

    Taking every opportunity to add awesome at every turn.
    Thats the way to happy players.


    kenmckinney wrote:

    When did it become the case that you could use basilisk blood to restore stoned allies? THAT is coddling your players.

    Ummm, you might want to double check the basilisk entry. Cause basilisk blood does work.


    Mr.Fishy wrote:
    kenmckinney wrote:

    When did it become the case that you could use basilisk blood to restore stoned allies? THAT is coddling your players.

    Ummm, you might want to double check the basilisk entry. Cause basilisk blood does work.

    Maybe Ken is asking at what point (meaning which edition/version of the game) that got added to the basilisk monster entry... I know I was a little surprised by it the first time I saw it after having grown used to the old-school basilisk without such properties of its blood.


    I think I can see why your players may have thought it should be a "fast forward" issue. I mean, your players of the petrified characters are just sitting, twiddling their thumbs until the characters get restored, so denying them the ability to engage, yet expecting them to come to the session (to sit it out while the others dodge through swamps)seems a bit rude.

    That being said, that's not how it needs to be played. You can hand out sheets of monsters to the petrified players and let them run monsters chasing the rest of the party.

    Again, as Vincent Takeda said, it's not so much if they die, but how they deal with the situation. That is what makes for a great game.

    Personally I think running "naked" through a swamp dodging monsters to get your friends back could lead to a great amount of after game stories, and no small amount of hilarity.


    Tormsskull wrote:

    Hi everyone,

    Long-time D&D DM, transitioned into Pathfinder about a year ago. I have a group that is made up of 5 players. We use only core material.

    I've noticed that sometimes the players make decisions that would very likely end in their character's dying. However, they seem to think that in certain of these situations it would be unfair if their characters died. So my question is, how much do you punish the players for their decisions?

    Example: 2 players strip off their armor and run full speed across open land in a very dangerous area. They then enter an even more dangerous swampy labyrinth. The players were doing so in order to un-petrify 2 of their groupmates (they had to get there quickly).

    In a setup such as this, would you allow the two players to get into the area without any chance of random encounters? Or do you let the dice fall where they lie?

    In my adventures, I usually have a general idea of where the monsters are. Running has a -20 stealth penalty. If the PCs run past a room with a semi-alert npc inside, that npc is very likely to hear the PC, so yeah. Semi-random encounters are totally acceptable. I have a side sheet with either 6, 8 or 12 encounters that are likely in a given area and roll based on the sheet I have previously created (Ususally 2-3 of the numbers have 'no monster' assigned to them).

    *edit* Had family aggro. Yes, I would suggest rolling for random encounters. Your two PCs created a lot of noise, that could very well stir a hungry monster to come looking for a snack.


    Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

    Agreed with VT...options, alternate paths and how you handle it that maintains or maximizes fun.

    That being now that I have more detail about the game settings: everything by dice, instant-kills, critical hit tables...yeah that level of increased randomness bumps up the difficulty. Of course it also encourages more out of the box thinking if direct combat is much more lethal.

    Also makes surviving feel like "whew". But if your players don't like losing others...it's going to happen unless other options are used.

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