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We're running a series of one-shots with differing DMs every session, keeping the same characters and only swapping out the person who is DMing. The party is a little overpowered, and I wanted to do a little something that would remind them that death can happen (I warned everyone beforehand that death IS a possibility in my games).

I have a little mini-dungeon with a lot of puzzles and illusions, and it's relatively safe as long as they use their abilities and magical items. For the last chamber (before they fight the enemy that trapped them) I wanted to have a room with moving walls that will crush them unless someone sits on a throne that will drain their blood and kill them.

Now, I'm not entirely sure if the cleric has revivify, but next to this room they will notice a chamber where my character (who DOES have revivify) will be able to bring the other character back to life. (they're basically on a quest to find my character who disappeared after getting caught stealing some magic items from a hag).

Would this be weird? Revivify requires you to touch the character within a minute, but I figured it takes a while to bleed out and since the room is close by, it could reasonably be said that everything happened just in the nick of time.

They'll be level 7 and it's a party made up of a rogue, hexblade warlock, cleric, fighter, artificer and sorcerer (and my lore bard).

To clarify, I won't coerce them into doing anything, this is just the default solution and I'll allow any creative ways to get out of the trap.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I assume that you are worried about correctly using this narration - is that correct? \$\endgroup\$
    – Akixkisu
    Nov 4, 2021 at 12:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ Bad is way too subjective here and vastly depends on the personality of the people around the table. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Nov 4, 2021 at 12:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri I think this question works as a “what sort of problems might I encounter running this encounter in this way?” \$\endgroup\$ Nov 4, 2021 at 15:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Thomas Markov it could be, if it was edited to ask that, but it doesn't. Your answer is brilliant but seems to rely on guessing the authors intent. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Nov 4, 2021 at 18:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ Goal and means are clearly stated, so "bad" was defined enough to be something objectively answerable. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Nov 4, 2021 at 20:52

2 Answers 2

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"I warned everyone beforehand that death IS a possibility in my games"

Then you lied. Sorry, that might sound a bit harsh. What I mean is that you warned them that death is a realistic possibility, but you have planned for scenario where death is guaranteed, or at the very least, is the cost of doing business with you - one of you must die to keep the game moving forward. "You might die" and "I am going to kill at least one of your characters" set up entirely different game expectations. The former tells me to expect challenging, high stakes encounters that I can overcome with some ingenuity and luck, but "I'm going to kill one of your characters" tells me to expect you to present an insurmountable challenge. You said "you might die", but what you meant was "you are going to die".

You write:

I wanted to do a little something that would remind them that death can happen

This is just not the way to do it. For two reasons - the first outlined above. The players are expecting challenges, and you intend to present them with an impossible dilemma, which, in the moment, is likely going to be poorly received.

Your plan will probably send the opposite message.

The second reason: you say you want to do something to remind them that death can happen, but artificially forcing death upon them only to reverse it by saying "Surprise!" takes away from the stakes you are trying to present. Your plan does not say "the stakes are high, the challenge is real", it says "the stakes are low, the challenge is fake".

Keep the stakes high, and deliver on your promise.

Instead of killing a character just to Deus Ex Machina them back to life, make the puzzle solution costly. I've done something similar in a dungeon crawl, but I didn't kill them, I just increased the challenge. The party was met with a door and a riddle, with a similar solution - blood. Once they figured out the narrative solution to the puzzle, blood, I explained to them the mechanics. They had to sacrifice hit dice to unlock the door. The party of four 8th level characters had 32 hit dice between them, and the door required 16 hit dice sacrificed. The important part of this solution is that the party could strategically decide who would give more and less hit dice. There was a price to pay, but they had control over how that price was split between the party members. They opted to let the barbarian with the most valuable (d12) hit dice keep all of them, with the expectation that the barbarian would be taking the most damage as the frontline tank moving forward. The party felt like they still had control over their destiny, despite having to pay a price to advance, and the price increased the risk of death moving forward, but it did not guarantee death. In your situation, they are going to go into it feeling like they have little control: "one of you has to quit playing or we all quit playing".

I'll leave you with this guidance from the intro to the Dungeon Master's Guide:

You’re the DM, and you are in charge of the game. That said, your goal isn’t to slaughter the adventurers but to create a campaign world that revolves around their actions and decisions, and to keep your players coming back for more! If you’re lucky, the events of your campaign will echo in the memories of your players long after the final game session is concluded.

[...]

The success of a D&D game hinges on your ability to entertain the other players at the game table. Whereas their role is to create characters (the protagonists of the campaign), breathe life into them, and help steer the campaign through their characters’ actions, your role is to keep the players (and yourself) interested and immersed in the world you’ve created, and to let their characters do awesome things.

Knowing what your players enjoy most about the D&D game helps you create and run adventures that they will enjoy and remember. Once you know which of the following activities each player in your group enjoys the most, you can tailor adventures that satisfy your players’ preferences as much as possible, thus keeping them engaged.

This encounter as you describe it does not "revolve around their actions and decisions", it revolves entirely around you forcing your preplanned outcome, an outcome that at first looks exactly like slaughtering adventurers.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is what I was thinking, but phrased better. And honestly, I think a "trap" like this wildly underestimates the players' creativity and abilities. You'd have to shut down practically all magic in the "trap" room to prevent any of a dozen magical solutions, starting with dimension door, and then use your DMly powers to just deny any other solutions, all of which is going to feel unfair to the players, because it is. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 4, 2021 at 13:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ Amazing answer, but I want to clarify something - they can solve this via other means. I was just wondering about this specific case and whether it'll be a bad way to go about it. Your answer convinced me tweak the trap to just require enough blood to make up for an average human, regardless of the source. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mike
    Nov 4, 2021 at 14:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mike also make sure to communicate the challenge - be clear about what happens :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Akixkisu
    Nov 4, 2021 at 14:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mike Yeah, your players will often surprise you with creative solutions, but on the other side of that, sometimes they don't. I've gone into encounters totally expecting the party to come up with some creative solution, and then they just didn't. You have to account for the possibility that the players don't come up with something good by making the obvious or default solution still something satisfying - and guaranteed death just doesn't do that. Overall, I think it's a great idea for an encounter, you just need some tweaking. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 4, 2021 at 14:59
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This seems fine, given that you're willing to accept creative solutions

When I originally read your question, it sounded like you were planning to hand them this situation and force them to choose a character to die (by using DM power to veto any workaround they attempted). That would not have been okay.

You've clarified that you're willing to accept creative solutions if the group comes up with them. With that in mind, I think this is a fair encounter.

I recommend that before the game you decide exactly how the throne decides when it's killed someone (and be willing to communicate that to the players if they inspect it) so that you can fairly adjudicate any attempts to bypass or cheat the trap.

It's also worth thinking more about other aspects of the trap (how the door works, how the walls work, etc) in case the group tries to inspect and disable them.

Good luck with it.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This makes me realise I wasn't clear - they can do anything they want to stop the trap. I'm not ruling out anything, but they're highly likely to take this option, in which case I don't want them to lose a character. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mike
    Nov 4, 2021 at 14:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mike Are you sure you are not underestimating the ingenuity of your players? Most people I have played with would come up with all kinds of alternative solutions when confronted with a situation like that. \$\endgroup\$
    – Philipp
    Nov 4, 2021 at 15:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Philipp I've known these people for a long time and the only "ingenuity" they show is trying to steal random stuff from NPCs. I'm not completely ruling it out, just wanted to cover my bases. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mike
    Nov 4, 2021 at 16:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mike okay, fair enough -- I see your edit to your question, and I'll update my answer to say that your plan seems fine. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dan B
    Nov 4, 2021 at 17:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, some possible creative solutions include: physically punch a hole in the walls, use magic to make a hole in the walls, phase the party into another plane, phase the walls into another plane, teleport the party to the other side of the wall, synthesize some blood, use the blood of a monster, synthesize a substance that isn't blood but fools the chair's detection system (i.e. a "slug"), use Wish to change the rules of the chair, etc. You can surely think of a dozen more techniques. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 6, 2021 at 10:43

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