Roleplaying In A

Kill The Stupid People

In General on March 2, 2010 at 9:00 am

If you’re doing it right, eventually a character will either die or come very, very close to it and there is no resurrection spell in most modern games.

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Why do I use the phrase, “if you’re doing it right”? Because firearms are lethal instruments of destruction and even the best body armor is only so good, especially if someone is shot in the head. Add in high explosives, drugs and genetically tailored disease, lasers and anything else people have invented to kill their own and modern games are deadly pit traps of technology. If you’re playing Shadowrun or other “Reece’s Cup” game, and the ways to die outnumber the people in the party by orders of magnitude.

Definition “Reece’s Cup Game” – Any game that mixes disparate genres, also known as putting your chocolate in my peanut butter games.

Characters won’t die all the time. Armor in these games is good but one of the hallmarks of a good modern game design is that the armor isn’t as good as the methods of mayhem it’s designed to protect against. Tailored nanobots in the bloodstream, stimpacks, slap patches, carbon-laced bone structures – these are all going to contribute to the ability of the characters to survive random carnage. And they still won’t keep up entirely.

What do you do about it?

Well, first, decide if you care. Your campaign might be very lethal and nasty in which case, feel free to go read someone else’s ramblings because the rest of this article is pretty pointless to you.

If you do care, consider how often is it ok for characters to die? If they never die, or never can die, you’re going to lose a lot of that “on the edge” feel that makes modern games what they are.

I kill stupid characters. Always. There is no excuse for stupidity in a dark future. Stupid people are subject to the Darwin Effect and are removed from the gene pool as soon as possible.

Killing them all the time is going to introduce frustration and anger. Even dark games where players expect character death can end up feeling pretty hopeless if someone dies and has to reroll every single gaming session.

Cyberpunk 2020 has a rule that if 10 points of damage is done to a limb in one attack, the limb is lost. The best helmet is 20 armor points. A good, unmodified gun does 6d6 damage. Headshots, which are pretty easy to pull off if done right, double the damage before armor is applied. An average roll for a headshot will kill a character. Imagine armor piercing rounds now…

I find that killing off stupidity strikes a very sweet balance. The party feels the death is justified and doesn’t get frustrated with it. Players stay on their toes and play smart, knowing death is riiiiiight around that corner waiting for them.

They can feel it like an enemy who’s stalking them relentlessly……

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  1. I have run a lot of Shadowrun (and a little Cyberpunk) over the years and . . . I have not killed anyone. A lot of characters have come very close to death and (recently especially) a lot of characters have ended up in jail. I agree, stupidity should be punished, it just that death is not the only punishment.

  2. For anything except outright stupidity, I agree.

  3. […] Kill The Stupid People […]

  4. One of the things I like about modern or sci-fi games, actually, is that it’s *less* likely that the characters will die without divine (GM) intervention. For instance: Gritty historical fiction (or magic-less fantasy) game subjects Player 1’s character to brutal sword slash. Chances are, he’s dead. Even if he doesn’t die on the field, healing is slow, and infection or malpractice is common from healers of the period.

    In modern warfare, with specialized trauma units, amazing life-extending drugs, artificial organs, safe blood transfusion and more, while *wounding* on the battlefield is quite common, death is rarer and rarer. Look at the USA casualty lists from Gulf War II: Roughly 3.5k dead in combat, another 0.8k dead out of combat from sustained wounds or other reasons, and over 100k wounded/maimed but living. This gives a “modern casualty rate” of roughly 4% dead per combat wound. Go back to the 1860s, like the Deadlands game I’m running, and it’s more like 25% (without magic). That was due to some great battlefield medicine improvements from the Civil War. At the outbreak of the Civil War, the chances of eventual death from taking a musket ball wound was more like 50%, because the docs really couldn’t do anything, and if they tried what little they knew, they were as likely to kill you with an infection.

    There are no solid records, but it’s estimated that death rates among casualties during the European Dark Ages wars was near 80-90%.

    Modern exceptions abound, of course, most commonly when a defeated force is “fanatical”, and will continue to fight until all troops are dead or incapacitated. In these cases, as with some Japanese regiments during WW2, death rates among casualties was around 70% (with the rest wounded and captured).

    Note here that I’m not talking about the rate of overall casualties to troops, I’m only comparing the rate of death vs. wounded among those *already* counted as casualties in combat.

    As a GM, this resilience makes for great storytelling. You can offer substantial threats to characters, like the loss of an eye, a limb, or other injuries, without worrying too much about killing the character outright. I’ll still kill the occasional character, but this gives me a lot more latitude without breaking the world’s rules or extraordinarily fudging the dice.

  5. All so very true. However, if you need it, a sniper rifle at 300m will ruin their day. And if you’re setting that up, they’ve probably earned it!

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