Save or Die: Helpful or Harmful to PFS?


Pathfinder Society

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1/5

I recently heard the tale of a group of PFS players that entered a difficult high tier adventure. Within 15-20 minutes of play, one of the players had failed a save or die roll (DC 24) and was out of the game. Does that really add to the fun?

I know that if I had made time in my schedule to play, drove out to the location, bought snacks and drinks for the game, all looking forward to a good time, then was removed from the game 15 minutes in by an unlucky dice roll (or two... rerolls), I would be less than happy with the experience. I'm fine with save or dies in my home game because I don't impose a death penalty on my players. If you die, you roll up a new character at the same character level and average wealth level as everyone else. This has kept the game fun for everyone, encouraged "heroic" acts (that may result in an untimely death) and significantly reduces that stress that surrounds character deaths for some players. In PFS, dying hurts... a lot. Not only are you out for the rest of that game, there's a significant expense involved with recovering from that death. You also don't ever get to play that scenario again, barring GM star expenditure or a Core character. Personally, I think the cost is WAY too high for rolling two 1's in a row.

I'm curious what everyone else thinks. Do save or die spells add to Pathfinder Society play specifically? Do you think they have the potential to drive players away? Do you think they are fun? Do you tone them down some way in your own home games? Do you feel good about killing players with save or dies as a PFS GM? How do you feel about being killed by one as a PFS player?


Let's not forget big climatic battles that are over after one player goes.

5/5 Venture-Captain, Massachusetts—Central & West aka Harley Quinn X

I think you'll find that this is not a PFS specific issue; the whole issue of player agency is a big one in the game as a whole. Domination, Save-or-Suck/Die, GM-altered backstory, and that sort of thing are taken differently by different people.

The reaction will vary from player to player. Sure, you can roll up another character in a home game, but there's a certain amount of emotional investment that comes with creating a character that some people don't want thrown away.

With that said, I personally don't prefer to use them, but don't mind save-or-sucks in higher-level PFS play (usually 10+) as players are throwing those bombs out too. In my home game, I've learned to temper my game to how they play. They've policed themselves away from save-or-suck, so I've done the same with the NPCs. It's only fair, in my eyes. As a player, I know that such things exist and I've steeled myself for that eventuality that I will fail a save against an awful effect.

Sovereign Court 5/5

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Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

I know of high level tables that have had a character death early on, back tracked, got the person raised and continued. I also have heard of tables TPKing, spending prestige for body recoveries, getting raises, and going back in to the mission, before the session ended.

Though this won't be possible in all cases, due to the location of the scenarios or the time lines of them.


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Personally what I think is more harmful are characters that seem to be built to make the rest of the party not needed.

Grand Lodge 4/5 Venture-Lieutenant, Arizona—Phoenix aka TriOmegaZero

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Save or Die spells are a reality of the ruleset. They are open to both PCs and NPCs and can really suck the fun out of an encounter, organized play or not. Sometimes they can add drama to an otherwise dull encounter, and sometimes they just end what was a really exciting fight. I can't really give an objective, fit-for-every-occasion answer to the question, having been on both sides of the die.

Dark Archive

Rocks fall, people die.
Save or die represents this.

Grand Lodge 4/5 5/55/5 Venture-Lieutenant, Florida—Melbourne aka trollbill

I don't see a lot of Save or die in PFS, with the exception of Phantasmal Killer and that gives you two saves, throw in rerolls and I don't see very many people die from that. In higher level play, I do see a fair amount of Save or you're are out of the battle, or Save or you are out of the adventure.

I don't have a problem with the basic concept of such abilities, but their application needs to be looked at, especially from the authors. You don't throw a Medusa into the first encounter just because it fits in the XP budget unless you give the PCs some means of fixing stoned characters so that they can continue adventuring.

To answer your specific questions:

Do save or die spells add to Pathfinder Society play specifically?
Hard to say. Save or die has been around a long time in RPGs and some feel the old school challenge is a draw. Others may not like the suddenness of it and new editions have frequently added methods of lessening their effect. For example, Pathfinder added using the blood of Basilisks to counteract their effects. Something that wasn't in 3E.

Do you think they have the potential to drive players away?

Yes, especially if poorly implemented by adventure authors as stated earlier.

Do you think they are fun?

They can be. Especially if there is a solution to it that has to be scrambled for.

Do you tone them down some way in your own home games?

No, but I home games there can be a lot more solutions to the problem than offered in standard PFS and I am writing the adventure so I can anticipate potential problems caused by them.

Do you feel good about killing players with save or dies as a PFS GM?

I don't think I have ever felt good about killing PCs. Feeling neutral is the best possibility out of that. Sometimes you don't feel too bad if the death was really the PC's doing but you never feel 100% good about it. Out of the 20 or so PC deaths that have happened at my tables not a single one was caused by a Save or Die effect. The single most common cause of PC deaths at my tables has been Crits. which probably represents a quarter of them.

How do you feel about being killed by one as a PFS player?

It hasn't happened to me as a player in PFS. Again, I just don't see them that often. That doesn't mean I haven't had characters die from a single failed save. My most recent character death I can squarely point to being caused by a failed save against Confusion that eventually killed me 8 rounds later.

Grand Lodge 4/5 5/55/5 Venture-Lieutenant, Florida—Melbourne aka trollbill

Sin of Asmodeus wrote:

Rocks fall, people die.

Save or die represents this.

People get stabbed with a sword, people die. HPs don't represent this very well. It is a game. "Because it happens in real life" is not one of the best game design arguments.

Shadow Lodge 4/5

What Steven said: it's part and parcel of the game. Sometimes the dice are with you and sometimes they're not.

What if that player had been on the receiving end of a power attacked Great Axe critical?

Do critical hits add to Pathfinder Society play specifically? Do you think they have the potential to drive players away? Do you think they are fun? Do you tone them down some way in your own home games? Do you feel good about killing players with critical hits as a PFS GM? How do you feel about being killed by one as a PFS player?

5/5 5/55/55/5

Theres a vast difference between a greataxe crit and a save or die: namely the odds and positioning.

A greataxe crit needs to crit, hit, and confirm, so.. it needs to hit twice. So the odds are (at best) 1/10 for the crit, 3/4 to confirm if you've put anything into your armor class (and if you haven't, why are you next to the guy with an axe) , and THEN the damage dice have to send you strait to negative your con. That is far, far less likely than the bad guy finger of deathing you (especially since they will probably target the person with a bad save)

Grand Lodge 4/5 Venture-Lieutenant, Arizona—Phoenix aka TriOmegaZero

True, I've seen far more characters threatened by possible crits than SoD attacks. At least you get a save for most SoDs.

Dark Archive

I've seen plenty of sod in Pfs. Heck there is a monster that lays eggs inside of you if you fall a save agaisnt it's ability, and they have the ability to hatch within the module killing the character and adding more of its kind onto the battle field.
It just sort of seems like people just want to automatically win and not be challeng d and not have their character die what so ever.

Grand Lodge 5/5 Venture-Captain, Washington—Seattle aka Taenia

Its not about the SoD really, its about the fact that you can die in PFS and sometimes die early. How you die does matter much, either way its no fun. My first death in PFS is from Confirmation, someone does something and there is a Great Axe involved. Unfortunately, PC is dead after 1 encounter and done for the rest of the evening. This is unfortunate but can and does happen. Save or Dies are just like that, they can quickly take a PC from participating to done for the adventure.

As a GM, make sure that is a listed tactic and is it their early tactic. Many casters will either be casting buff spells or AoE spells before singling out targets for SoD spells so you can definitely give the players the feeling that, oh this is a high level caster, shut him down fast. You can also hope that in such situations, as long as it isn't a death effect and you have a prepared party, a Breath of Life might function, depending on how the spell works and its descriptors.

As a player I have seen save or die spells totally shorten a Scenario, sometimes its the players only tactic, others its a gamble in the dark. I sometimes have fun with Baleful Polymorph as the effects are hilarious but its much the same thing, so I try not to abuse it and instead use it only if things are going to hell.

1/5

Sin of Asmodeus wrote:


It just sort of seems like people just want to automatically win and not be challeng d and not have their character die what so ever.

Aversion to death goes up the higher the cost of recovering from death. As I mentioned, in my home game, I don't punish the players for character death (unless you consider making a new character punishment). They are willing to take chances that sometimes result in death. I don't see the same sort of chances being taken in PFS play simply because death is so costly to recover from. If death is supposed to happen, you don't punish people for it. If the punishment is high, most people don't want it to happen and it sort of seems like it's not supposed to. I'm sure there's a segment of the player base that is completely happy rolling up a new character from scratch after losing one that they have put months into, but I'm also sure that there's another segment (that's probably at least as large) that doesn't gain enjoyment from losing months worth of progress.

Also, you are supposed to be the heroes. The heroes in most stories win in the end. So, yes. I believe the players are supposed to win. The story kind of sucks if it ends with, "You die and the bad guy wins".


what

Liberty's Edge 3/5 Venture-Lieutenant, Online

The only times I've killed a PC, it was a low level PC taking a crit from a x3 weapon.

I wish authors would stick to 20/x2 weapons at tier 1-2.

My last "kill" as a GM was a level 1 PC taking 34 damage from a large warhammer crit. I almost did triple his max hp in one swing.

Shadow Lodge 4/5

Sin of Asmodeus wrote:
It just sort of seems like people just want to automatically win and not be challeng d and not have their character die what so ever.

Sure. Why not?

4/5

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What I've noticed in PFS play and reading the forums here is that a lot of players HATE losing control. Whether it's mind control or death they want to control their characters' actions and have some measure of control over their fate.

I think it's okay that there are some things that are just going to be out of your control sometimes. You're going to roll a 1. The bad guy is going to roll a 20. Even then, a lot of players try to stack the deck: misfortune, shirt rerolls, trait rerolls.

You can help yourself by sacrificing some of your flash for a little more self-preservation:

  • Put off the next +1 on your sword and pick up a pair of First Aid Gloves. Encourage party members to do the same.
  • Save some cash and PP for a rainy day. On characters I really care about (and/or especially fragile characters) I try to keep ~4k gp on hand for emergencies.
  • Forgo your own big bad SoD/full attack for a readied magic missile/shot at the enemy caster to disrupt their spell. They're probably going to open with the big guns; you can remove their nastiest option and keep your own.
  • Don't charge into combat until you've surveyed the opposition, received any buffs, and coordinated a plan of attack.
  • Embrace the random nature of the game/life and take the ups with the downs.

Grand Lodge 2/5

Save or Die absolutely detract from play. I've seen more than one person quit PFS due to it. What's worse is bad GMs that kill players without tactics that say so, focusing on hitting one player even after that player is unconscious.

Dark Archive

Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Maps Subscriber
trik wrote:

I recently heard the tale of a group of PFS players that entered a difficult high tier adventure. Within 15-20 minutes of play, one of the players had failed a save or die roll (DC 24) and was out of the game. Does that really add to the fun?

I'm curious what everyone else thinks. Do save or die spells add to Pathfinder Society play specifically? Do you think they have the potential to drive players away? Do you think they are fun? Do you tone them down some way in your own home games? Do you feel good about killing players with save or dies as a PFS GM? How do you feel about being killed by one as a PFS player?

I suspect that this is (based on the save DC)

suspicion list:

The Waking Rune, or Fabric of Reality

For one of these, the high danger, climactic nature of the scenario makes it "Yes, I expect save-or-suck-or-die, I expect death, I expect mayhem, I expect a narrow hair from cheating from the writing, because of the nature of the story."

Save or Suck can, well, suck. Have defenses, be ready to cheer on the group, but realize: It's GONNA happen, and a 1:400 chance of being a cheerleader / RP the familiar / run the revenant / something like that is in fact part of the dangers of being a field agent.

Removing SODs and SOSs from PFS requires nerfing or removing a large number of encounter building tools (including making SLAs unavailable), and makes both divine and arcane casters artificially weak for the sake of a social norm which should not be catered to.

Of course, if it was the tier 5-9 game under my spoiler, there's a huge chance the GM ran it without being aware of the incredible nerfbat that was taken to that encounter that would have made that SoD automatically fail. (Seriously. Major writing assumption thing going on there. Worth noting if you intend to run that and look under my spoiler.)

However: yes, the PCs are supposed to BE ABLE to win. Note there is a vast difference between "supposed to be able to win" and "supposed to win". Without risk of failure, 0 xp should be rewarded because there was no obstacle to overcome.

Sometimes the mechanism of failure is death, and beyond level 4 or so, the freely awarded campaign resource intended to model that, Prestige Points, becomes a sop to absorb a death as frequently as every 8-12 games, without encumbering your character's Wealth By Level progression.

TL;DR

Hitting the revolving door with your face hurts. (Death is a revolving door in PFS. Hell, this is from ONE SESSION I GM'd for my then venture captain: Butters' Gravestone.

Death is a reality of an adventurers life. SoD is one way it happens.


Attacking a player that is down is just poor form. I suppose some allowance can be made when that is what the scenario dictates.

Dark Archive

Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Maps Subscriber
Nohwear wrote:
Attacking a player that is down is just poor form. I suppose some allowance can be made when that is what the scenario dictates.

Absolute statements like that feel great to make, and aren't so useful in practice.

-- a guy who finishes full attacks in unconscious bodies when there's nobody else in reach


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Allow me to revise, attacking a player who is down is something that one should avoid when reasonably possible.

Grand Lodge

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I gotta admit, when I saw the thread title, I assumed this was going to be about kitsune sorcerer and slumber witch PCs. I have seen the fun get sucked out of a lot more encounters by a player soloing it in round 1 than I have from one-shot player death (SoD spell, x3 crit, or any other method).

As mentioned, PFS has a special mechanic with prestige points to specifically help with player death (and other effects) without affecting WBL. Besides, even if you have to use gold, that just means delay upgrading your belt to a +4 by a couple of sessions, not enough to destroy your future usefulness.

Dark Archive

So, should all save or effect spells. E removed? I've seen someone go from full to dead from a 54 point fireball, should the judge give that player less damage than everyone else because they went down?
Save or die happens with any type of spell that requires a save.
what good is a archer if they fail a blind/deaf spell and the caster picks blind?
These things happen, they are part of the game system and should be embraced.

Grand Lodge

In Pathfinder, you're in a cooperative storytelling game meant to allow you to ideally participate in any number of fantastic adventures.

In Pathfinder Society, you are limited to one story.

EDIT: Now I have an idea for a bard character in PFS, so there's that at least.

Liberty's Edge 5/5

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These things are part of the game. Removing save or suck/die events from scenarios should mean that player characters can no longer do save or suck/die either.

Fair is fair, right?


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Andrew Christian wrote:

These things are part of the game. Removing save or suck/die events from scenarios should mean that player characters can no longer do save or suck/die either.

Fair is fair, right?

That would be find by me.

5/5 5/55/55/5

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I'd very much like to see less of it in the game. Pathfinder did away and raised the levels it took to do it by making sleep a full round cast, raising the level on baleful polymorph, making disintegrate and slay living just a LOT of damage...

.. and then brought in the witch with slumber hex.


There seems a common thought is that players would want to handicap npcs by removing save or die spells. That assumption seems off base.

Crits can be managed by simply having them not confirm or doing min damage. Yes this is fudging die roles, but game needs to be challenging not one shot kills. NPCs aren't spending money on books.

The party can plan for a lot if they know what the bad guys are bringing to the table. I would suggest more reasonable DCs to gather info on the enemy than removing save or die spells. I feel same way for negative level monsters.


To answer your specific questions:

Do save or die spells add to Pathfinder Society play specifically? Compared to Pathfinder, no they do not add or subtract any.

Do you think they have the potential to drive players away? Yes, but so does anything that cuts expectations short. The one time I saw it happen early (in a retired scenario) the GM gave the player a pre-gen so they could continue playing. FWIW the chronicle reflected the character's death and subsequent raise (and because he was only the first--not the only--to die, the mission failure :).

Do you think they are fun? No. If it fails noone cares to know how close they came to the death, if it succeeds someone is out. In part it depends on the caster. PCs in a lot of my PFS games optimize to the point the dice don't play any part of the game. I have seen NPCs fall asleep with 17 on the dice. That is no fun for the rest of the table or the GM. Failing on a 3, 7 or even a 10, no problem.

Do you tone them down some way in your own home games? No casting SoS until round 3. This started out that casters had to study their target for three rounds like an assassin, but then we made study a free action so it was just simpler to say hold it back.

Do you feel good about killing players with save or dies as a PFS GM? Generally no, but the time I did enjoy it was on the optimizer that started every combat with an SoS. He preceded to take on the level 32 wizard who had up until that time been an ally :)

How do you feel about being killed by one as a PFS player? Hasn't happened yet, but death is not the tough part. It is hours of nothing to do (see the pre-gen comment above).

4/5

jtaylor73003 wrote:
Crits can be managed by simply having them not confirm or doing min damage. Yes this is fudging die roles, but game needs to be challenging not one shot kills. NPCs aren't spending money on books.

You pay to play, not to win.

5/5

BigNorseWolf wrote:

I'd very much like to see less of it in the game. Pathfinder did away and raised the levels it took to do it by making sleep a full round cast, raising the level on baleful polymorph, making disintegrate and slay living just a LOT of damage...

.. and then brought in the witch with slumber hex.

For the record, sleep was a one-round cast in 3.5.


I've seen player death in PFS only once before, when 2 newbies playing pregens got trapped by a demon at the end of the scenario. They didn't mind because they had fun throughout the game.

However, in regards to SoD, I recall a particularly annoying instance that happened to me while playing 3.5 D&D. I had just built this character and he joined the party midway through the previous session. At the beginning of this session, somebody stepped on a wail of the banshee trap and my character and his familiar were dead. If I recall correctly, I was in fact the only casualty. I'm still a bit sore about it.

Grand Lodge

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Ahh, Slumber Hex witch... one of the small number of of characters that I feel real joy from killing as a GM instead of the usual remorse I feel when a character dies.

Community Manager

Removed a couple of back-and-forth posts. Let's refrain from the personal insults, thank you!

Sovereign Court

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Michael Hallet wrote:

The only times I've killed a PC, it was a low level PC taking a crit from a x3 weapon.

I wish authors would stick to 20/x2 weapons at tier 1-2.

My last "kill" as a GM was a level 1 PC taking 34 damage from a large warhammer crit. I almost did triple his max hp in one swing.

The biggest "WHEW!" moment I've ever seen in this respect is when the GM rolled a juicy x4 crit and confirm on the cleric that will surely kill him in the final encounter. Time to gather up all those damage dice...

BUT WAIT A MINUTE!

The zen archer points out that he should have gone before the BBEG and the GM rules he gets to take his turn before the effects of the crit go off.

ARROWED!

BBEG dropped. Cleric saved from the x4 crit. We win!

Shadow Lodge 4/5

*whistles innocently*


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Save or Die... I like to call that the initiative roll.


redward wrote:
jtaylor73003 wrote:
Crits can be managed by simply having them not confirm or doing min damage. Yes this is fudging die roles, but game needs to be challenging not one shot kills. NPCs aren't spending money on books.
You pay to play, not to win.

You pay to play. You play to get the feeling of success or accomplishing something, IE winning. If I wanted to pay for something I suck at I would go pay to play kickball. I suck at kickball.

Sovereign Court

TOZ wrote:
*whistles innocently*

I've been noticing that a surprising percentage of stories I type up here are TOZ influenced in some way...

Liberty's Edge 5/5

My Grippli Ninja died to a 210 point save or die ability in a very high level encounter. Wed befriended a Demon. So he teleported with my body to Sheila's mansion, got me raised and teleported me back to finish the AP.

The point is, except for low level where save or suck is very rare, and unique circumstances, there are only a handful of scenarios where you couldn't rejoin after getting raised.

1/5

jtaylor73003 wrote:
redward wrote:
jtaylor73003 wrote:
Crits can be managed by simply having them not confirm or doing min damage. Yes this is fudging die roles, but game needs to be challenging not one shot kills. NPCs aren't spending money on books.
You pay to play, not to win.
You pay to play. You play to get the feeling of success or accomplishing something, IE winning. If I wanted to pay for something I suck at I would go pay to play kickball. I suck at kickball.

I agree with this and I would be willing to bet that the majority of people would agree with it. How can I say this? Lets take a look at video games. Over the years, death penalty has continued to be reduced. Saving and loading games was added, allowing you to continue with very little loss after a death. MMORPGs have continued to reduce death penalty because people didn't think it was fun. The continually growing video game market speaks volumes to how successful this strategy has been in capturing peoples interest. Most people generally have enough difficulties in real life and look to relax and have fun in their leisure activities.

That said, I fully acknowledge that there is a small segment of the population that enjoys punishment in their entertainment. There are extremely hard modes added to games and things like hardcore in Diablo type games that simply wipe massive amount of hours of time invested if you die. There are people that play these hard modes, but its a small minority. If PFS is designed to be a hard mode minority interest, then so be it. Save or dies would certainly add to that. However, it's growth will always be limited due to the minority appeal.

I'm not entirely sure how you could "fix" this to appeal to a broader audience. Potentially remove the death penalty. Maybe the cost is no Prestige gained if you die in a scenario, but you can pick up a pregen, continue playing the rest of the scenario and you still gain the gold and experience. I know this will sound like sacrilege to some people, but when the point of the game is for people to have fun, this *should* accomplish it for a large segment of player base. Then again, this presents the same sort of issues that splitting a Core campaign caused for organizers and tracking, as well as potentially splitting the player base.

I believe that most people do not enjoy punishing loss in their entertainment. At the end of the day, most people want to "win" in their entertainment. They want to have a good time with other people looking to have a good time. I see a "casual mode" attracting a lot more players and that IS the goal of PFS in the end, isn't it?

Grand Lodge 4/5 Venture-Lieutenant, Arizona—Phoenix aka TriOmegaZero

Quadstriker wrote:
TOZ wrote:
*whistles innocently*
I've been noticing that a surprising percentage of stories I type up here are TOZ influenced in some way...

240+ tables of GM credit does that.


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If I want to participate in a story with no consequences for failure, I'll just read a book. I prefer my skill (or lack of skill) to matter in my success level. Otherwise, I have no reason to improve. I also believe that the dice should matter. Otherwise, why roll them at all? I believe that without the ever-present fear of death, victory ceases to have the savor. There's nothing better than dropping the big bad knowing your fighter can't eat another full round, or waiting with baited breath as the die slowly stops spinning to land on that 2 for the bad guy's saving throw, and knowing that it could've gone either way. And there's nothing like GMing a table that's on the cusp of utter defeat when someone pulls out just the right scroll or has the right spell prepped, or makes the right call and jukes left when his instincts should be telling him to dodge right and pulls out a win. The players are excited, everyone's blood is pumping, and you get to share in the celebration.

And sometimes, there's nothing like a crushing defeat to remind you how far you still have to come. We had what we thought was a perfect table for Waking Rune in hard mode, and by the end, it wasn't about winning, it was how many body retrievals we were gonna have to pay for. Died like a boss when my superstitious barbarian/fighter failed 2 fort saves in a row. That's not supposed to happen. But that's why we roll dice, folks. Sometimes, the good guys lose. And it was one of the best gaming experiences I've had. We had a phenomenal GM and great players, and I wouldn't change a moment of it.

4/5

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jtaylor73003 wrote:
redward wrote:
jtaylor73003 wrote:
Crits can be managed by simply having them not confirm or doing min damage. Yes this is fudging die roles, but game needs to be challenging not one shot kills. NPCs aren't spending money on books.
You pay to play, not to win.
You pay to play. You play to get the feeling of success or accomplishing something, IE winning.

I play to earn the feeling of success or accomplishing something. If I wanted a story where my character always succeeds I would just write an uninteresting book.

I'll tell you what. If you sit at my table and tell me that you expect to win, and that you think I'd be a bad GM if I didn't fudge the dice to save your character, I would a) thank you (sincerely) for your honesty and b) hand you a completed chronicle sheet and send you on your merry way.

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