GM - How do you make your players fear death?


Advice


Hi,
I've noticed something with my players. Most of them are not scared of dying.
When a player's character dies, he makes a new one and join the party sometime after. I feel like this is part of the problem, but I'm expecting them to roleplay like they are not going to come back from death like that.

How do you make your players fear death? I feel like mine are playing too aggressive, which leads to unnecessary players death or very quick encounters clear.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

If your players don't fear death, then they're not emotionally invested enough in their characters. Personally, I like to help my players get emotionally invested in their characters by creating elaborate backstories (mysteries, motivations, goals/aspirations, obligations, etc.) and then interweaving these backstories into the campaign in a way that makes it just as important as the actual story. By doing this, the player begins to feel like their backstory is something that must be accomplished rather than something that "just shows up every once in a while".

As a GM, my personal preference is to never run AP's and always homebrew everything. As a player, I'll do AP's, but not as a GM. I find that this makes it much easier to go nuts with the players' backstories and interweaving it into the campaign as a primary goal of the story.


This may sound harsh, but restrict them to 1st level starting funds any time they roll up a new character. I've been in games where me and one other player were the only constants for the party, other four players went through 2-3 characters along the way, half because they lost interest in character and wanted something different, rest because it seemed a new character would just be more cool and powerful with the wealth by level starting funds. As it was, the campaign was low wealth, so it created a rift when the new characters joined with superior gear and then went about hogging any good drops that popped up.
So as an additional suggestion, make sure if a character dies, their gear isn't simply handed over to the next character rolled up, like it was buried in a cave in, dissolved in acid, or lost in a lake of lava. Sorry, currently running Emerald Spire which does have those elements built in LOL!


How many deaths have you had? What were the circumstances?


1 person marked this as a favorite.

First, fear is impossible if they feel death is unavoidable.
Punishing players/characters when the players feel that character survival is solely on the GMs whim will not go well.
Some players will never fear the loss of a silly piece of paper. Punishment will at best drive them away. They could stick around to make the GM and perceived favorites pay.

Getting them to buy in is a better option. If they feel they have no agency, no reasonable chance of survival/victory, then their best option is to enjoy their own carnage.


I tend to play carefully, and put a lot of care into each of my characters. Even if I have 11 of them on the backburner right now. As a result, I don't tend to die. I play my characters with common sense and self preservation instincts.

However, that all comes from the careful care I've put into them. They're like my children. It's a sad experience when they go through hardships and they die. Often it's frustrating and I wonder what I did wrong, or what I could have done better.

That said, there are members of my table who become very "eh, I'm not having fun/contributing, so my next character is going to be X." All in all, they could not be convinced otherwise. Each player views and plays the game differently, there's not much you can do to change that short of upping the stakes. Make them invest more and hope for the best, or draw the hard line that you only get the one character.

I've heard a suggestion that have dead PCs take over pre-established NPCs. Something which I've started to do as a player is to have a second character idea out the gate, and their connection to my main character. In our Starfinder game (since I am playing a build which is hard-countered by the AP in most cases), I'm playing an Icon Envoy, and decided to make her manager as a backup. The manager has be introduced and is traveling in a passive role with the party as an NPC. I did make sure thst my GM was okay with that course of action though before going through with it.

Shadow Lodge

3 people marked this as a favorite.
Quote:
GM - How do you make your players fear death?

You bloody well don't.


3 people marked this as a favorite.

You don't make your players fear death.
You make them fear lingering, protracted horrors to which death is preferable.


2 people marked this as a favorite.

There are different reasons that could lead your players not not fearing death...
Some players, no matter how invested they are in the game and their character, don't worry if their character dies because they enjoy making new ones and trying different things.
Some campaigns are hack and slash so there's no reason to be emotionally invested in the character.
Some players realize it's just a game and therefore don't get attached to the characters, especially if there's a high chance of death.
Some players don't care about the game and therefore don't care as to if their character dies or not.
Some players assume that their death will be cool so they look forward to having a cool death.
There are many others but these are some common reasons.

The way to fix this? Talk to your players and ask THEM why they don't try harder to ensure their characters live through the session. You could even ask them for suggestions to help them want to live.


2 people marked this as a favorite.

Get my players to fear death? Well, my players are weenies, so I could probably just bring a handgun to the table and wave it around like a drunk hillbilly. That would work on me too.

But more helpfully, the way the DnD gamestyle is structured, there's a point where death really is a speed bump on it's own. The best way I've found to get players to be concerned for their characters wellbeing is long term consequences. Curses are fun.


Pathfinder Maps Subscriber
Green Smashomancer wrote:
Get my players to fear death? Well, my players are weenies, so I could probably just bring a handgun to the table and wave it around like a drunk hillbilly. That would work on me too.

In my group you'd get a strong talking to about gun safety and if that didn't work, half of my group would produce their OWN handguns.


The same way you get anyone to fear death. By traumatizing them.

Explain? Ah, well. It varies from person to person but they need to experience the ramifications of death before they really understand it, and fear it. There is no way to really guarantee a player will understand until they've lost a character and the world continues to remind them of the loss of that character. NPCs going through a mourning period, having a funeral, seeing the tears of that character's orphaned children and widowed spouse, and/or family members/friends.

Really, they just need to be aware of the finality of death, at least at the lower levels and that while the character they created might not be flesh and blood to them, it was someone to the game world. That might be too heavy for the kinds of games you want to run, but it is a damn effective way to get the point across.


1 person marked this as a favorite.
SlimGauge wrote:
In my group you'd get a strong talking to about gun safety and if that didn't work, half of my group would produce their OWN handguns.

Oh beautiful for patriots’ dream that sees beyond the years/ thine alabaster cities gleam undimmed by human tears~

Might I recommend leaving the room before escalating by drawing weapons on the hillbilly?


TOZ wrote:
Quote:
GM - How do you make your players fear death?
You bloody well don't.

This.

After the first three or four of fifteen character deaths of my RPG career, PC-death stopped being something to fear, and only something to try to avoid. There's a difference.

I like my characters, and I invest in their roleplay, but the longer you adventure, the more you expose a PC to risk, and the more inevitable character death becomes. Once you reach the point where you recognize playing the game inherently risks character death, you get used to it. Everything becomes a calculated risk to get on with the game/adventure, and the days of "won't open another door if we're at less than full health because that's suicidal" are behind me.


4 people marked this as a favorite.

Agreeing with others here that say you make players fear character death by NOT killing PCs. In a game where death happens often, a healthy distance between player and character is needed to avoid getting hurt if your character should die. On the other hand, if players are pretty darn sure their character will not die, its worth investing more into the character. When threats loom, even if they chance of actual character death is almost nil, the drama of having a character you are invested in taking risks gets the players involved.


Starfox wrote:
Agreeing with others here that say you make players fear character death by NOT killing PCs. In a game where death happens often, a healthy distance between player and character is needed to avoid getting hurt if your character should die. On the other hand, if players are pretty darn sure their character will not die, its worth investing more into the character. When threats loom, even if they chance of actual character death is almost nil, the drama of having a character you are invested in taking risks gets the players involved.

Starfox is right. I could not have said it any better. I have had very few players have characters die in 34 years of gaming and each time it happened I felt bad about it. I don't pull any punches when I GM but my players have always been a combination of lucky and smart, so they persevere and conquer. Or, in the words of the absolute least likely of my friends to ever say this, they "get their freak on".


Addendum...

I'm running a Strange Aeons campaign right now and I've devilishly told my players that I will be trying not to kill their characters. But that I will gleefully maim them when bad things happen. So far, no deaths, but one character has acquired OCD, and another evangelically does not believe in colours. I have an ever-escalating plan for issues that the characters will acquire over time, as and when things go wrong. Ideally not straight mechanical impediments that would make them want to scrap the characters, but things that will make them think, as they roleplay.


Sounds like their characters suck anyway. If they don't care, then they probably never will. You can do things like let them start over at first level if that's what you want to do. Then, maybe they'll be a bit concerned the next time a PC dies. Advance that new PC on the Fast XP track to get them caught up.


Flank a lot. Use the villains ruthlessly, as in kick them when they are down unless the villains are stupid (low intelligence or has behavioral flaws like previous instructions that don't fit the situation). Your villains should be willing to kill, and willing to make bad situations worse for the players. Use terrain wisely, like chucking a Lightning Bolt down a narrow corridor. Combine area effect spells with getting away with casting at point blank range by using Combat Casting. Make that even worse by using Mage Armor and Shield to up your AC to the point where the players can't hit you (Protection from Good helps).

Don't be afraid to alter your d20 results if you have a bad streak of not hitting anyone as in your luck goes bad. Sometimes I do the same favor for players who roll really bad consistently in bursts. To this end, use a DM screen.

Me, I kill PC's several times in a given AP. Carrion Crown was particularly lethal. I think there was what, 8-9 deaths? Most of the time, they got resurrection, costing them upwards of 10k a pop.


Green Smashomancer wrote:

Get my players to fear death? Well, my players are weenies, so I could probably just bring a handgun to the table and wave it around like a drunk hillbilly. That would work on me too.

ROFL! Uhm, there's far scarier things you can do as DM.

Rust Monsters.
The Deck of Many Things given to PC's, no questions asked.
Intelligent weapons with a high Ego.
Using goblin Rogues to loot the PC parties as they sleep. Let them chase/track said goblin looters to whatever dungeon you want them to go into. Be sure to swipe the PC's beloved items, like main weapons.
Using tons of crappy little kobolds with missile weapons in the dark, combined with Stealth rolls.

This is just the kiddie stuff. You should see what I got up to during my old Chicago by Night campaign for the old Vampire game. One player said I had the personality of a devious elder Ventrue combined with the sense of humor of a Malkavian.


1 person marked this as a favorite.
Piccolo wrote:
Use terrain wisely, like chucking a Lightning Bolt down a narrow corridor.

I feel like that wasn't the intended question? The GM kills PCs frequently. The problem is that the players aren't invested in their characters' survival.

Grand Lodge

Give the group a scroll of reincarnation... at low levels.
At higher levels - why not continue as a cursed undead? Or their life essens gets absorped by that magic sword that slew them making it an intelligent item...
If the reason is low investment in their character then you need to have af talk with that player or evaluate your game. As others have mentioned - in a very lethal campaign you would need to distance your self a bit from your character and have a backup ready.
A way to make encounters a bit less lethal is to keep 1-2 enemies as backup. If the players are hard pressed - just skip them. If the players are steamrolling the encounter, then aktivate the backup where you see fit - perhaps an ambush from behind.


Piccolo wrote:
Me, I kill PC's several times in a given AP.

The original poster's question wasn't "how do I get my players accustomed to PC death so it stops having any emotional consequences?"


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Most of what I wrote was intended to SPOOK the players, not kill them outright. I didn't say you shouldn't give the enchanted weapons back, for example.

I thought that the thread was about scaring the PC's, making them scared of death or whatever. I don't like killing PC's, but I do use my villains in any given AP as ruthlessly as possible barring special instructions. And I do let the dice mostly fall as they may.

However, I also give players a vague heads up about PC weaknesses. No plot spoilers.

And if you want them invested in their characters, it helps to give them chances to interact with NPC's, to befriend them or get hosed over by them.

Community / Forums / Pathfinder / Pathfinder First Edition / Advice / GM - How do you make your players fear death? All Messageboards

Want to post a reply? Sign in.