Monday, March 5, 2012

Save or Die

Today's L&L article was about the save or die mechanic. This is something I truly miss in 4e. I hate the whole respawning, no one dies, no danger and thus no real sense of accomplishment feel to 4e.

One of the complaints I have heard is that no one wants to come to the game, play for ten minutes, then spend the rest of the night doing nothing. Please explain to me how this is any different from being prone, stunned and within threatening reach of the at-will attack that inflicts the stun, but out of melee range of the monster (unfettered kraken I'm looking at you), where I spend the next hour rolling a d20 every ten minutes. If I become unstunned I can stand, but if I move or attack, I just get stunned again. If I am dead at least I can go do something else until that encounter is over.

Save or die encourages smarter gameplay. When you know that you are going to confront the Medusa in her lair, you prep for it. You buy mirrors. You memorize or take scrolls of Stone to Flesh. When in combat you fight with your eyes closed. You have to think to survive. The strategy and planning is part of the game.

Back in AD&D my husband's character got disintegrated. He and a few others did something uber stupid in the presence of the most powerful evil wizard in the kingdom. Because he was a smart player he had things in place that allowed him to come back from this, so his momentary lapse in judgment was only a temporary setback. And it was really cool watching some of the other players try to figure out how he came back. It is a great tale, one that we wouldn't have without save or die.

It is a fantasy game. Death is almost never permanent. Along with bringing save or die back we need to also bring back raise dead and reincarnation. I remember our group having tons of fun deciding if our newly reincarnated companion was a Dwome or a Gnorf. We settled on Dwome. It added to the story, to the fun.

Now there are times when save or die is inappropriate. You should never get into that situation without warning. No random encounters with Basilisks in the woods. Having to save or die from failing a skill check to walk along a narrow ledge, especially if it takes twenty rolls to get all the way across, just makes your DM a dick. The problem here is not the mechanic, but how it is used.

As for those players too lazy or not smart enough to prepare for that encounter with the Medusa? I don't want to play with them. Whine like a two year-old if you are not winning by enough? I don't want to play with them. Think PCs should never die? I don't want to play with them. It ruins my enjoyment of the game.

If, after you Mind Blast the dragon while it is 200ft in the air and the trajectory of its unconscious body causes it it crush you, you can laugh and admit that it was a stupid thing to do...then you are welcome at my table anytime. Thank you for helping to shape a story worth sharing. One we will remember for decades to come, and pass on to our children at the game table.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


  1. Followup: On reading further, it seems you're suggesting a situation in which "save vs. die" is brought back, along with mechanics that makes death only a momentary inconvenience. That's certainly a valid approach, but I don't see how it would help with your feeling of no danger and thus no real sense of accomplishment. If even death is "a momentary lapse in judgment was only a temporary setback," how is that more dangerous? Maybe I'm just not understanding. :-)

    In any event, thanks for the post! It's really interesting to think about.

  2. I suppose it makes more sense if you have followed all the twitter posts from today. I like save or die, as a consequence of poor play. If you do something stupid. Many seem to feel that there should be no death at all in the game, no matter the reason. I was trying to point out that while you will have to sit out this encounter, and maybe one or two more if it is an OP mod, the character is not gone forever. If our friends do not choose to take your body back to town and have you raised, maybe you should stop and examine your own behavior.

  3. I agree if you kill a dragon overhead that is on your character. Literally and figuratively actually. I think save or die effects should happen a few times over a career and then only if characters are warned. If it is called the Slaying Stone and is legendary for having the ability to obliterate anything, consider yourself warned. Adventures that are covered with save vs. die effects behind every door you are opening aren't challenging to anything but the player's patience. Totally awesome take and I am happy to see somebody who believes in playing tough.

    1. The dragon thing actually happened in our AD&D game back in the 80's. It seems all our best stories come from 2e or previous. Back when getting knocked negative meant you were out of the fight for the rest of the day, even after the cleric healed you. No one cried about it then. I just don't understand the current attitude about not being able to play.