Setting Expectations in Role Playing Games

Tyler Provick

Tyler Provick is a writer and a gamer that likes to combine his two interests and share them with the community.

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5 responses

  1. Penemue says:

    I couldn’t agree more about issues of lethality. For my own part, I prefer (to play and run) games with high levels of lethality – but where players are also aware of how lethal games are. I always hated Power Word Kill insta-kill spells in D&D, because they bypassed the inherent assumption that a character’s durability is defined by his/her hit points. I could be hit 10-12 times with a Greatsword before dying, but only once by a spell before taking the equivalent amount of damage? What? (the same goes, by the way, for Ability damage/drain.)

    As I said above, I prefer highly lethal games – but players need to be aware of that expectation. I explain during character creation that yes, you have ten HP, but any firearm can do over ten in a burst. So can a machete. You need to be careful and tactical, and use real-world approaches to combat. If you run in swinging, as you would in D&D, you’ll die.

    (Tangent: I find it really hard to be intimidated by an NPC that levels a crossbow at my head when I know that crossbow can only do a fraction of my total life in one hit. Not so in games that are lethal from the start.)

    • That’s a really good point about the crossbow which I immediately recognize as something that bugged me but until now I’d never looked closer at it. Called shots frequently break disbelief if you consider that hitpoints are mechanically “plot-armour” because we’re not telling the story about the time a lucky blow killed the hero. Instead we assume that the sword stroke left a deep cut in the flesh instead of hitting a vital organ until the last blow which removes the last hitpoints becomes the killing blow.

      • Penemue says:

        For sure. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time buying into the combat of a system that -doesn’t- have called shots. I think DM of the Rings had a brilliant comic about this: the entire sequence where Legolas takes down the elephant is just the player’s daydream, because D&D demands that you just swing and do HP damage.

        • If you have called shots that do double damage has the problem where shooting an enemy in the head is the same as punching them twice.

          • Penemue says:

            It’s a problem with the HP scaling, I think. If a called shot does double damage in D&D, who cares? It still does a small-ish fraction of a character’s HP. If you have a called shot that does double damage in (say) Gurps, it can outright kill an unprotected character.

            Now that I think of it, I have a -real- problem with D&D’s HP system. 🙁

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