I have some "badass" players in my group who do not fear death, 4 out of 6 to be precise, which causes problems for the rest players as they feel they are always getting dragged into trouble, trying not to break the group in two. When I say they do not fear death, even if I brought the whole pantheon down on earth vowed to wipe the party out, these 4 would still fight to death.

I am not trying to play favorites or punish the guys, so how do I cope with this problem? Which techniques should I use to make them value their characters' lives more, making the escape route seemingly a good alternative? Apparently I can't kill them, it would cause the whole party to go bankrupt, plus I hate the idea of paying a cleric and **poof** the character auto-magically is among the living once again. Moreover, they won't think twice before slaying a NPC who tried to mug them, or blackmail them. They bring no mercy on the table for the lives of NPCs (corrupted guards, bandits, massacring a small elf village which turned to the dark side), heading towards Lawful Neutral, but acting like Chaotics.

Partially, this is caused by my personality as a player, which may affect my viewpoint as DM. I always choose the supporting roles, which most times take the blame for the death of a party member, so generally I don't like the idea of killing. Maybe they know and take advantage of that, but if it is unavoidable I hold no qualms of killing them in order to keep them in check. But none have died yet, the worst that's happened is Two characters went down, but stabilised, the third one was lucky enough to get away with 1 HP on 3 attacks, no fudging.

Any alternative solutions/suggestions/ideas?

PS. We play DnD 4e, but that is irrelevant in my opinion.

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    \$\begingroup\$ How many times have you actually killed the characters belonging to the problem players? The reason I ask is that it is not immediately clear from the question whether you've ever actually gone that far or pull back at the last minute and let them survive \$\endgroup\$
    – Wibbs
    Commented May 8, 2014 at 22:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ While not the same, this question seems similar and the answers will probably be related: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/22140/… \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 8, 2014 at 22:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ Fear exists in the real world because of punishments associated with actions or with things in the world. Kill them. Kill them all. KILLTHMEALLAJDKAJDSLASDKL \$\endgroup\$
    – asteri
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 2:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ So, legitimate question - how does killing one (or more) characters bankrupt the party? What's stopping the rest of the party from recovering the treasure on a dead character? \$\endgroup\$
    – Travis
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 13:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you find yourself looking to add an answer that is a duplicate of another answer, please don't, just vote that one up. We don't need another "kill them" answer, that's quite covered. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 16:11

17 Answers 17


Bit of an introductory story: I got a discount from my phone company for retention, by threatening to cancel. My neighbour also threatened to cancel after hearing about my discount, but didn't get an offer. Why? He wasn't serious about leaving, and they caught on. I was. If someone knows you won't pull the trigger, they do not have a reason to change what they're doing.

You're Afraid To Kill Them

You can give them options, escape routes, and hints all you want. In the end, they feel invincible. They will continue to feel invincible so long as you're afraid to pull the trigger on killing them.

Apparently I can't kill them, it would cause the whole party to go bankrupt

This, right here, is why they're right. They have no reason to change what they're doing, because there is no real threat. You're afraid to kill them. They probably know that, on some level. Players are smart and perceptive, even if they only feel things on a subconscious level sometimes.

You have to get over your fear.

Kill Them - Fairly

So, you need to be willing to kill them. But you also need to play fairly. Don't just throw a god mode death NPC at them to wipe them out. Play the game as normal, only if they do something reckless and throw themselves at a challenge they can't beat, be ruthless. If the survivors try to negotiate or retreat, let them.

You have to instill some fear without the players believing you're just punishing them for their play style. Maybe they really can break down the door and fight the next battle without having to be worried. If they're having fun and everyone is playing fairly, that's great!

It's only bad if they charge headlong into situations that should kill them, and you start changing encounters or fudging rolls to save them. Don't do that. Be ruthless, but fair. I know you haven't actually fudged anything yet, but there is a tendency to change targets when someone is knocked down. Don't. Go for that killing blow. Like I said, be ruthless.

It's also possible the difficulty of your encounters isn't high enough, if they can get through them with only the one close call you mentioned.

If you do intend to ramp up the difficulty in an effort to make combat more lethal, it would be worth talking with them before one of your sessions so they're aware of that. It can be a nasty surprise if the game has been played a certain way and suddenly you change the tone to a more lethal one without any warning.

Maybe They Like That Kind Of Game

I know someone who I don't play with anymore, who plays with this style. He absolutely doesn't do retreat, or negotiation. He charges into everything. When he rages, he tries to grab more enemies before his rage runs out. It gets himself and people in the party killed.

It's a valid play style. It's one I loathe. Neither of us are wrong in how we want to play the game, but we're not compatible. He and I simply can't play together, because we want very, very different styles of game. Outside of D&D, we get along pretty well.

The often referenced Same Page Tool can be of some use here.

If you have that situation, you will not be able to change how those four want to play, no matter what you do. The person I mentioned has died like fifteen times and gone through ten characters, while others are on their first. He doesn't care. He wants to smash things in the face, period.

If you have that, you'll have to try to mix things up to cater to everyone as you go along. Maybe there's something that can only be talked past. Maybe stealth is necessary. Maybe they really should run in and stab everything in sight. Mix it up, and try to give everyone something that they like doing.

You won't really know if this is true until you actually do kill some people, and see how they react to it. If they get more cautious, then you're fine. If they just do the exact the same thing over and over again, then you'll have to adapt because that's what they want to do.


plus I hate the idea of paying a cleric and poof the character auto-magically is among the living once again

This is another issue when it comes to killing people. If you're willing to the kill the party, there are one of two ways of dealing with the consequences:

  1. Resurrection
  2. Make New Characters

I heavily favor option #1, because my campaigns tend to involve long running storylines and those don't work when the entire party cycles through a bunch of characters. Other people heavily favor #2, because they want combat to be meaningful and death to be a big deal.

The simplest way to make resurrection hurt without getting rid of it is to raise the difficulty of getting it. In 3.5, a Raise Dead cost at least 5000g and required you to have the body intact. For new characters, that was an impossible sum. Even for mid level characters who could afford it, that's a significant amount of wealth, and players don't want to lose tons of wealth (aka: gear, aka: power) by dying constantly. (And if the body is somewhere you can't recover it, then it gets very expensive.)

I don't know what resurrection costs are in 4e, but you can make it a bigger deal to get one via house rules if you don't like how the core game handles it. Maybe it's expensive. Maybe only one person in the country can do it (and she is obviously busy). Maybe a God will demand you undertake a quest for him after he allows your spirit to return.

How hard it is to come back is something you should figure out though, as when you do start killing people you'll want to have this sorted out already. Players should also be told what the rules around it are, if you're not using the standard ones.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Maybe just add some mention of the often mention advice of "talk with them". If he just starts killing their characters, they might actually see it as unfair. If he says beforehand "hey guys, I'm going to play the opponents a bit harsher now, just now that they won't hesitate to kill you anymore", it makes it more fair \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 9, 2014 at 14:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ "When he rages, he tries to grab more enemies before his rage runs out. It gets himself and people in the party killed." Oh gods, this. I can't even stand that on strategic video games. My DDO hardcore healer has a warning right on his profile that if you pull adds, I will simply walk out of the dungeon and leave you to die. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 12, 2015 at 5:43

The short answer: Kill them. Make them understand that there are actually consequences to their actions.

The slightly longer answer: Kill them. But don't just kill them. You can't just suddenly start killing off pcs now, even if it's legitimate. They'll start whining (a lot), and rightly so, because you've already established a style of DMing and the lethality of the world. Suddenly changing that without warning is not cool.

So, you need to communicate to them that stuff is about to get real. You can do this out of game, if you wish (something like "Guys I've been really lax and I've pulled some punches, but I'm going to stop doing that"), but I would suggest doing it in-game. Maybe the next adventure involves a particularly dangerous area, where hardy adventurers are known to disappear. Maybe they finally leave the bunny hill that is the starter area. Whatever.

The point is, tell them you're going to kill them, kill them, and then make sure they know why you killed them (make it clear that their brazen disregard for consequences was the cause, and that they could have avoided it with a modicum of caution).

To address your Resurrection issue - yes, according to the book, there is a value associated with the casting of the spell. That doesn't mean that that ritual is easy to find. Perhaps only one school of reclusive mages has mastered the ability to return life to the dead. It also doesn't mean that those that have mastered it are required to sell their services. There are a ton of reasons that someone might refuse to sell their ritual casting, and if they know Resurrection, they are very capable and very likely not in need of the money. Ultimately, just because there's a price associated with it, doesn't mean it has to be present, and it doesn't mean you have to abide by it if it doesn't fit your world.

Finally, don't punish the rest of the party for the death of one character. First, the two that aren't crazy didn't do the crazy thing. Second, they're already paying, in the form of a lost party member. Allow them to recover what treasure the character carried. Give them another "in" for quest lines that hooked into the dead character.


So, as I see it, the best way to make them afraid of death is by making death a prevalent threat in your games. It can be through PC deaths or through NPC deaths, but it should be there. If death doesn't ever happen, they won't be afraid of it.

PC Death

Killing the PCs is probably the best way to instill the fear of death in one's players. After all, some of them will die. My players still remember to this day the first time their characters die, and they know because of it that I'm not afraid to kill their characters if they're doing something which is overtly stupid. They stopped charging alone on cities, stopped waking dragons from their sleep (unless they know that they can defeat them) and became a far more strategic group. Not in terms of spending more time planning, but in terms of calculating risks before doing those stupid things. All of it because they know that they can die from such actions, because they know that they're powers have their limits, that they won't always be enough to save them.

It is important to keep in mind, though, that you should make the reason for killing them quite clear. They should know why they have died, what "wrongs" have they commited. Furthermore, you should warn them ahead of time that there is no mercy for anymore for stupid actions, that if they go to a suicide mission it can well turn out into one.

But my players can spend the money to resurrect

Well, this is a problem that quite easily can solved. One way to do that is by having some huge costs for such an act. Resurrection is a very high level spell, and it requires quite a lot of money and time. This means that it comes with some extremely hard costs. Present those to the players and let them decide if it worth it, or they should just continue with that player building a new character.

Another way to solve this is through the availability of the spell. "Sure, resurrection is a known spell, but in this village there is a shortage of high level clerics to cast it, you will have to travel to the capitol, which is about a week travel from here. Wanna do it?" It is a dirty way to solve it, but it does buy you some time to make them see and understand with what they are dealing.

My third way of dealing with this problem is through the need to acquire some rare materials for the spell to work properly. "Yeah, I can cast it for you, but I will need the unicorn's hoofs in order to cast it, and the unicorns live quite far from it, and they keep their hoofs close to their hearts." Suddenly, you get a quest in order to bring a character back to life, and this character's life from now on will be far more precious, and they will fear for their characters, no one wants to have a quest like this again (not because of it being bad, but because they now will be owing debts to their fellow group members).

My favorite way to deal with it, though, is through the price. Have a vile price for such an action, "a life for a life" as the saying goes. They will need to pay a dark price to resurrect this character, like killing/sacrificing a bunch if innocent bystanders, or even children. Now they will think twice about doing things like that again.

NPC Death

But sometimes we don't want to kill the PCs, or we want to kill more than a single character or so. For that, we have the NPCs for the rescue. NPCs are your playthings, and they should serve your purposes. Have some of them killed, preferably the most "badass" of them all, and/or those who are the most connected to the PCs. Let the PCs understand that you don't let mercy rule you on your creations, so why should you have mercy on theirs?

But you need those NPCs

Even better if you need these NPCs. When the players will see how you pay the price also, how you are willing to pay this price, they will subconsciously understand that sooner or later they will pay this price also; they will too see their plans crumble to Pieces. Because after you do something like that, especially if you seem like you're full of grief about these deaths, a different feel will start to form itself, a grittier one, a far more dramatic one, a feel that is far more suited to the fear of death.

A few extra considerations

A few extra things to think about, that didn't fit anywhere else:

Roll your dice in the open. When you roll behind the GM screen, they can always think that you're fudging in their favor. Move to roll the battles in the open, and they will start to understand both what they're dealing with while also an understanding will come to their minds knocking- "if you will die now, you will really die, no fudging or mercy will be bestowed upon you."

Don't kill for nothing. They are still PCs; they are still the avatars of your friends the players. Don't kill them because of a single die roll, unless you forewarned them and it is totally their fault. On the other hand, if you warned them, feel free to let the loose free once they start to do those famous stupid actions.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, I have already created an adventure in case someone dies. The problem is the player with the dead character can not participate actively in this adventure for obvious reasons. Partially, a solution is to let him/her command the adversaries of the party (gets work off my hands too) only until his character is resurrected, but I don't know at what extent he will "troll" or not ^^ \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 11, 2014 at 18:54

The best way to handle this is to make sure that their actions have consequences. If they do something stupid, let them get hurt. (But not arbitrarily. Only when they actually f*** up.)

A common solution I've seen GMs use is to put a fear mechanic into the game rules. Don't do this. I've found that being told what your character thinks is very jarring, especially if what's actually presented to you is incongruous with that.

Personal anecdote: We were playing a game with a specialised rule set in a kind of middle-eastern desert nomad setting. At one point we met a new NPC and the GM insisted we now feared this person. There was nothing at this point to suggest that she could do anything to us that we couldn't overcome. The resulting discussion was not nice, but we eventually relented, letting him think we feared her. If it made the game continue, fine.

In the second session various things happened. I had acquired a crossbow. I arranged without telling the GM as much to be in an area where I thought she would show up, and as I expected the GM made her show up and I shot her down immediately. The resulting discussion, where he insisted I wouldn't have been able to pull the trigger because of the fear, and I insisted that because I was supposed to have this fear, pulling the trigger was the only option for my character, turned from bad to nasty to worse and in its conclusion ended the campaign.

I've had similar experiences (not quite that bad though) with other mechanics that try to instruct the player what to think or feel. I think this is related to the writer's adage ‘Show, don't tell.’ And quite apart from the fact that telling people what to think simply doesn't work, it breaks immersion and suspension of disbelief as well.

You don't have to be a sadistic GM, but consider letting your players get themselves into trouble for a change.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I second all, though I do think a "fear mechanic" makes sense in cases where it is magically inspired fear rather than just someone being subjectively scary. What your character thinks subjectively should be up to you as a player, even if you want them to be fearless to ludicrous levels. What magic does to them is a system and rules issue. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 9, 2014 at 19:56

Some methods I have found to be quite useful or helpful in this sort of situation is to implement a time-aware system and also utilize abilities, spells and encounters that will put drain on the characters. Also as a DM implement more role playing and story telling. As a player you want to feel very heroic and fearless, so instead of trying to combat that mindset, try working with it by adding in extra detail.

I had a couple of players who acted very much the same. If I put them up against a Troll or an Ogre, the encounter became a hit or miss. The combat would be over when one side dies. If they ended up dieing, they most likely complained and blame me for creating such an unfair encounter. So instead I started adding in monsters with 'fatigue' or 'drains'. Abilities that would not do direct damage to the PC's but would hinder them and continue to hinder them should they not rest.

The PC's enter a room with a dog leashed to the wall. Rather than punishing players for attacking the dog by increasing the difficulty of the dog. I instead give the dog a bite that infects a disease, the encounter is quite easy and the players still feel powerful and fearless, but it does not punish the players that did not wish to venture near the dog. The players also know and are aware of the disease or fatigue every time they attack or roll dice.

You mentioned you did not like the idea of splitting the party up, but one of the recent campaigns I got to participate in the DM started out by saying "What would YOU" like to do. He then said, 'that sounds good, does an hour or two sound reasonable for the time it would take you to complete that?' and then said 'Okay then you will join back with the party at 2pm'. This kind of created an atmosphere where we took into consideration what everyone else was doing, and planned things like 'Okay every night at 10 we are going to meet up at the abandoned prison gates to explore the dungeon'. Our dm did not prevent us from exploring sooner.

Also do not be afraid to let your PC's die, rather than charging the party to revive the player, have the player make a new character and ask him/her for a backstory as to how they would liked to be introduced back into the campaign. *"Unfortunately by the time you are able to bring PC's dead corpse back to town, he has been seperated from his body for far too long to bring back with a resurrection spell."*. Hopefully this gives you some suggestions or ideas. =)


If you have fearless characters/players, they need to learn that fear serves a valuable evolutionary purpose - to keep individuals from situations that would lead to injury or death. A valuable tactic may be to present these fearless characters with a number of obvious plot options, including some that are potentially much quicker but are likely (according to NPCs) to result in their deaths due to the presence of enemies that they aren't yet prepared to deal with successfully. If the PCs choose the quick but dangerous path and some or all die as a result, well, they were warned, and it will be a valuable learning experience if repeated often enough.

The GMs I have played with, as well as myself as a GM, have a policy to provide potential challenges that are beyond the PCs abilities, and if the PCs are stupid enough to "boldly go where angels fear to tread", it wasn't the GM who killed them, it was their own stupidity.

In the games I have played where combat is frequent, the death of a character is a fairly serious event by the simple expedient of the house rule that any new PC for the player of the dead PC is a beginning character. Since you're playing D&D, that means Level 1. No exceptions, no discussion. In a game I was playing (an Ars Magica variant), my character died due to a bad roll in a fight he should have been able to win. Unfortunate, but in combat, these things happen. His replacement was, by our house rule, a starting character. However, I compensated by buying an advantage that would accelerate his advancement, and within a couple of handfuls of sessions, he was the equal of the other PC, whom he then outstripped by a fair margin...

In a game with resurrection, this can pose something of a problem. However, in my previous D&D games, we ruled that the majority (about 50%) of inhabitants of our world were 0-level, and only a minority were level 1 or higher, becoming steadily rarer as level increases. This means that those capable of performing a resurrection were quite rare, and are probably constantly bombarded with requests from all sides, or are reclusive to avoid constant requests. While the market price of Raise Dead in 4E is stated to be 680gp, this probably assumes a relatively high level of availability.

In our version of reality, death sometimes occurred more than the stated 30 days travel time (by foot or horse) from the nearest person able to perform the necessary magic. Then if they arrived in time, the PCs would have to convince the caster that the deceased was worthy of almost an entire working day of his attention in preference to attending to the other deceased individuals who recently suffered an untimely demise and whose tearful families are also present and demanding attention. Most practitioners would rather help upstanding citizens in preference to adventurers of possibly dubious reputation, or will simply try to refuse all applicants. If the PCs can find a sufficiently mercenary caster, he probably has many requests, and as my grandfather often said to me, "Don't rush me or I'll raise the price", so expect such an individual to charge a lot more. Then finally, the deceased must want to return to life, and their afterlife may be sufficiently better than this vale of tears for them to not want to return (imagine that they may well have landed in your campaign's equivalent of Heaven, paradise or Valhalla as a reward for their heroic death), and that all of the gods (i.e. the GM) must also not object to their return (which would not be the case if they sufficiently inconvenienced the cause of evil/good etc. prior to their death), thus there's a high probability that (after paying the caster a large non-refundable fee and/or swearing to perform a long and/or difficult quest afterwards or beforehand with that 30 day time-limit), that the caster will fail after making a genuine attempt and say "Sorry, I did everything right, but it seems that it was their pre-destined time to die, there's nothing more I can do." That's not considering "raisers of the dead" who aren't necromancers or illusionists or some other variety of charlatan who won't simply try to take the PCs money without any possibility of their actually succeeding.

Even if the PCs gain the ability to raise the dead themselves, if there's a good chance that it won't work (and the wording of the D&D spell gives the GM that out), and they won't get a replacement character of equivalent experience, it keeps death as frightening as it is supposed to be.


Perhaps the problem is not the characters, it is the attitude of the players. They may want to be always heroic in the setting, and know that you as GM will not hurt or kill them. You need to change that, and the direct answers are above and already answered well. TLDR = Kill them (if you want to start slowly, take an arm off at the shoulder and see what they do).

However you may also wish to consider adding a game mechanic into the game which represents bravery or fear, so that their character has no choice except to flee. In your example of "the whole pantheon down" attacking them, add Fear/Intimidation checks and therefore their character's action is not within their control. If their character fails the willpower/fear/whatever check they cower or run.

The players need to face the reality that there are at times where even the bravest person is actually afraid.

The problem will allowing the behavior to continue is that it is reenforcing itself each time it happens, and it certainly sounds like it is not being played well in-character within the setting.

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    \$\begingroup\$ When implementing Fear checks, it is important to keep the chance of resistance within a possible range. If it boils down to "Then you all run away" your best case scenario is the players will assume you will do that when it is too dangerous and keep doing what they were doing. Another result is angering your players by taking away their agency of control of THEIR character. \$\endgroup\$
    – mingold
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 14:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ A good and valid answer, but remember that another response to "They may want to be always heroic in the setting" is to let them. I've run games like that and got good player response. Assume the players truly are something special or at least rare in that realm, they have the power to fix (or cause!) huge problems for the commoners. I didn't downplay the challenges or soft sell the enemies, but I did provide things like easy resurrection and the option to retreat so that a defeat was more of a setback than a huge loss. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 9, 2014 at 16:25

Teach them a lesson

As others have mentioned, your players have no incentive to change their actions if it has been working for them. In real life, people tend to be more fearful of death after a near-death experience. In D&D, the nearest-death experience for a PC is actually straight up dying. So I would suggest taking the plunge and killing off a PC. That isn't to say that you should abuse your DM powers to murder them with high level encounters or super deadly traps. But if you give them fair warning that senseless violence would not be the best way to solve an encounter, and they ignore it and go that route anyway, that is hardly your fault.

There's always a bigger fish

Players get so used to winning fights against opponents they are evenly matched with that it may be a good idea to remind them that they aren't all powerful. As an example, in one of my campaigns the party had to deal with a very high level wizard. Everyone they talked to mentioned how insanely powerful and deadly this wizard was. A few NPCs also told them that while he was a bit arrogant, the wizard was very reasonable as long nobody disrespected him.

I'll give you three guesses what happened once the party met the wizard, and the first two don't count. One PC immediately started mouthing off and threatening the wizard and was promptly flattened by him. Not only did the party have to pay to revive that PC, but it also made negotiating with the wizard that much harder in the long run. The player complained about how unfair the fight was but everyone else pointed out that he was the one who started it.

Time to mourn

Another important point to make is that once a character gets killed, whether or not they get revived is out of their control. The party could very well decide that it is not worth spending the money, especially if the character in question keeps diving into reckless situations.

This might cause some stress at the table, but I would take the non-reckless players aside one day and just let them know that you would back them up if they decided against paying the costs. I would also remind the other players that being revived is a privileged, not a right.


I have, on occasion, pitted my players against an adversary who has studied them and planned for the encounter. I don't do it often, because it means almost certain loss/death for the party, but there are times when it is justified by the story. These are the very hardest encounters I create, and they are made for the players to lose.

If these characters are really as merciless as you say, then they've certainly made some enemies by now. Surely there is someone who wants them dead, and has the means to learn the party's weaknesses, neutralize their strengths, and muster the resources to make it all happen. Have your adversary plan his assault on the PCs like the PCs would plan to attack an enemy force. You could even make the PCs aware that they are being watched, sabotage some of their equipment/relationships, and generally weaken them in advance. Make a story of it. I'm sure if you look back at your party's adventures, you can find an NPC with the means, motive, and opportunity.

Then be willing to kill them. Roll the dice in the open. Use ruthless tactics. Don't worry at all about how you're going to feel afterwards.

If you feel bad about it later, the vengeful NPC can resurrect the PC(s) for further torment (and therefore possible rescue).

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    \$\begingroup\$ It doesn't have to be a single NPC. Maybe the wealthy families of several people the PCs killed back in their first adventure get together to form an Adventurer-killing cabal... \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 10, 2014 at 20:08

Damage what the players actually care about - but don't make them sit out

What does a player fear when they scoff in the face of death? Regression. Wasted resources. Loss of power.

Don't kill the characters, no one enjoys sitting out for a session. Take their precious resources. I'm not talking about gold, I'm talking about taking away their power. You can easily get more gold, but you can't pick up feats, powers, stats, skills, or hit points at the village temple.

If a player puts their character in a scenario that demands a punishment, rip away something that the player really cares about, but don't keep them from playing the game!

Maybe Bob's character is pushed into a spike pit with one hp because he lost a dexterity check. Instead of the character dying, the party could retrieve his lifeless body, only to find he is miraculously still breathing. As a ramification of being pushed into the spike pit, his dexterity goes down by one, or he loses 10 ranks of balance, or he loses 5 hp, permanently.

In my experience, the key to introducing this sort of permanent penalty mechanic is to first introduce permanent bonus mechanics. Fountains of +constitution, tomes of ancient knowledge that provide feats, or blessings of hit points from deities are all great ways to make the players feel like they achieved something really special.

I theorize that damaging the player's progression in a game is far more interesting than making the player sit out or play a throwaway secondary character.

How do you handle a player that decides to make a new character instead of accepting the permanent penalties?

I think that you can avoid this scenario in a couple ways:

  • Play the sort of game where the players are attached to/invested in their characters (like in roleplay-intensive story games)
  • Demonstrate the possibility of future growth through the use of permanent bonus mechanics as listed above

If your have implemented the above techniques and a player is still interested in creating a new character, I would work with the player to create an exciting and rewarding death for the old character. If the player is willing to sacrifice their character, perhaps they are more invested in their next cool character idea, which is a win for the player because the player gets to enjoy creating a new character, and a win for the DM because the player will be more responsive to permanent penalties and bonuses.


Simple answer. Let the die if the situation warrents it. If the party goes bankrupt, it is their choice.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hi and welcome, just a heads up, generally we're looking for longer answers than this. It's good if you can tell us why the advice your giving is a good idea, how it's backed up with your own play experience, research or logic. Thanks! \$\endgroup\$
    – wax eagle
    Commented May 21, 2014 at 12:32

As a player I fear death because resurrections are a double-edged sword. In the campaigns I've played in resurrections are hard to come by. There's only one or two clerics that have the seniority to plead life from their deities, and as you can imagine they have more important things to do than heal adventurers, no matter how much they donate to the church. Finding a capable cleric has taken so long that the surviving members of the party gain 2-3 levels of experience before they can effect a resurrection.

And since the dead player has nothing to do while searching for a cleric the usually re-roll a "temporary" PC which usually has sufficient experience levels at some point they just decide to hold a memorial for the departed and divvy up his gear.

Also we play that resurrected characters aren't quite as healthy and wholesome as they were before death. Ability score decreases, level losses, ability/level caps all kick in when resurrected - so that even though you come back from death, time and time again, you still permanently lose something.

This way dying from one stupid mistake is not devastating, but being an incorrigible idiot will cost you.


Here's a simple answer: talk to them.

You ever play a videogame, and you end up at a hard fight, and you're not sure if this is one of those games where the challenges are always "fair" and you're expected to overcome them, if it's a game where you're supposed to run and come back later, or if it's a fight you're supposed to lose?

That happens a lot in tabletop roleplaying games. The players might be assuming this is a game where you are designing every encounter to be "tough, but beatable".

If that's not the game you're running, you need to talk to them. Because if you just make a "brutally lethal fight" it's not like they're going to learn "oh", they'll just feel betrayed if they were under the assumption it would always be balanced combats.

D&D 4E is specifically very much built around balancing combats, so it's not a far jump to assume they probably think any fight you present to them, should be beatable.


There's a story possibility here:

Moreover, they won't think twice before slaying a NPC who tried to mug them, or blackmail them. They bring no mercy on the table for the lives of NPCs (corrupted guards, bandits, massacring a small elf village which turned to the dark side), heading towards Lawful Neutral, but acting like Chaotics.

Killing without mercy? That's pretty bad and even Evil. Sooner or later someone -- law enforcement, the guards' corruptors, a frenemy bandit gang, a band of elvish adventurers avenging their kins' village --- should have a few "polite words" with the party.

One campaign I was in ended due to two simultaneous events. First, the GM moved away. We attempted to continue the campaign over email. But second, we were attacked in our rooms at an inn and killed the attackers -- then the city guard showed up and arrested the entire party. (It's difficult to role play a jail break on email.) So likewise, with the party killing every single mugger, blackmailer, and street thief they encounter, how is the city guard to know that the party isn't acting out the Homicidal Hero trope?

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site. While your addition is a really nice idea, I'm afraid to say that it doesn't help to answer the question as it is right now. Can you connect it more to the question of the original poster? Thanks in advance. \$\endgroup\$
    – Yosi
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 14:18

If I think my PC's are being careless I look to myself as the DM first. Maybe I didn't explain it properly? I'll give you how I've handled these situations but first let me say a few things about careless players. They can be drunk, raging at the real world, bored with simple RP, bored with their character, unaware of enemy strength or all combined. All are fine in my world but let's just assume your folks are simply careless.

Here's my escalating scale in handling the situation.

  1. Explain the scenario again: Emphasize the dangers by stating relevant stats. "You want your 4th level barbarian to charge into a camp of 20 ogres? As far as you know they haven't seen you." Players should be able to take the hint that they are simply outclassed here.

  2. Using the little voice: "As you decide to charge the ogre camp a little voice in the back of your head questions the sanity of this action. As you rise from hiding you have a moment to reconsider as you know 20 ogres could kill your entire party." Again, very clear to the player on the consequences and it shifts the burden of responsibility off the DM.

  3. Imprisonment: Describe the PC killing blows as knocking the party members unconscious. "These 20 ogres see you as a quick way to gain favor with their chief. They strip you of all your items, bind your hands and gag you as they break camp." Imprisonment scales in difficulty and punishment easily. If you notice your other players quickly turning against Mr. Reckless cut them some slack by allowing them to retrieve items they spent real hours accumulating. If it's all a big lark I suggest you have them tortured to death starting with Mr. Reckless. Maybe they were all bored with their characters. As you go down the list leave the cautious ones to plead for their lives. If they genuinely try I'd spare them as slaves to be rescued later.

  4. After the game simply tell the offending players that they don't need to die in game to get a new character. You'll happily let them substitute an equivalent character if it prevents pure recklessness.

  5. If they are just hankering for a fight suggest to them to at least be tactical in future. "Maybe waiting until the ogres fell asleep would have improved your odds. You likely could have even tracked them and picked them off one by one."

Final thing. If the majority of your party is rushing headlong into fights you should cater to these action takers. Add in more ambushes until you get a feel for the battle/RP balance. Surprise attacks are typically great at dealing some mega damage and burning heal spells but still allowing your skull busters to do their thing.

Truly final note. Create opportunities to split the party where it makes more sense for the cautions PC's to do recon or flanking while your smashers go right up the middle. The natural tendencies of players will come out here. Putting these types of scenarios near the middle of gaming sessions allows you to alternate breaks.


In the next session, make the following announcement:

If you enter this cave, one of you will die. For good.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Though I can kinda glimpse what effect you're thinking this will have, it's far preferable to not leave the substantial reasons for your answer as an exercise for the reader, and just lay it all out explicitly. :) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 6, 2015 at 16:35

Are the two odd players out just playing with an unnecessary amount of apprehension? Are they playing in character and the way the game of heroic adventure was designed to be played? If not, encourage them to join the fray.

If they're playing "well", then you may need to find a part of the game rules that rewards any good playing that the more cautious players are doing.

Maybe there could be a guild that likes the way they adventure, and they secretly approach those cautious players and ask them to join up. They could offer perks that the cautious players like, which in turn help them to be even more helpful to the party as a whole.

Or maybe in their more careful approach they are more observant and aware, and as such find secrets that the other party members are not able to notice because they are too busy to notice. Make those secret hidden things matter, make them things that allow those cautious players to be the real heroes of the party in later encounters.

Throw in opportunities for the cautious players to shine, and do it in a way that makes the "problem" players happy about it. If everyone's happy... then everyone's happy!


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