There are a lot of so-called hard-liner GMs out there who wouldn’t hesitate to kill the whole party on a whim. I say “if that’s what you enjoy and your players enjoy that style”, go for it and have a good time. For me, I don’t want my character to die a needless death, and I certainly don’t want his death to mean I go play Wii for the rest of the evening while everyone else has fun around the table.
I am annoyed at the GM described in this Dungeon’s Master article. Not because he killed a character early, but because he didn’t have a backup plan and expected the player to sit out in a one-shot Convention game. GMs should have a back-up plan for the player if their character is out for awhile (including also if the party is split ). For instance in a one-shot, there could be a back-up character that can meet up with the party later, or in a regular game the player can take over an NPC or have role as the official battle-tracker.
I’m not saying that characters shouldn’t die. But they shouldn’t die needlessly. Their deaths should be poignant and preferably due to the player’s choice. Either by self-sacrifice or stupidity. I believe that we are all at the table to tell a story, and what story is there if your opponent rolls critical hits ten times in a row and the party misses each time (and you can’t run away)? Here I’m blaming the dice for the death, and the assumption was that the fight was reasonable for the party to win, the difficult is known, and there is a reasonable way to escape. Death by dice is the worst kind of death because it doesn’t contribute anything to the story, there’s not anything for the players or characters to learn from (other an unreasonable caution in the future). Worstly, it feels like loosing.
I know D&D is not a game in the traditional sense of winning and loosing, but if there’s anyway to loose it’s a meaningless death. A death where you are able to advance the story or at least save other people makes it feel like there was some value to the character’s life. Otherwise all that time spent on character creation and adventuring feels empty.
Am I a spoiled player? Maybe. I can only recall a handful of times I’ve lost a character, and all of those were in cases where I chose to continue fighting even when I knew it would suicide, either because I was gambling with the character’s life or more usually because I was tired of the character anyway.
So here’s the take-away for players: If your GM is not a sadistic bastard and you’re all on the same page toughness-wise, look out for each others’ characters. Try to understand what kind of fight you’ve gotten yourselves into and be prepared to escape if necessary. If you think it’s time to retire your character but everyone else wants to live, you’ve got a dramatic “hold the pass” moment so everyone else can escape. If it seems like another character is going suicidal, talk to the player first and make sure he understands what he’s doing (metagaming okay) and if there isn’t an out-of-game way to resolve it.