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We have been playing a game for a while now, and while the game itself is quite enjoyable, the only problem is that the DM seems to be aiming to kill us. Sort of.

For example, there have been three situations where a player has been caught in a fight that there was no way they could manage:

  1. One PC (a Rogue with incredibly low AC and HP) was targeted by an enemy forcing everyone to leave the room, and locking them out, then grappling the PC and slowly draining the life from him (dealing HP and CON damage).
  2. Another PC was forcibly injected with Bugbear blood (being an elf, started to turn)*, and the time between being infected and finding a cure effectively turned him into one. It got to the point where the player was still in control of the character, but he was attempting to kill the rest of the party. We did finally manage to restrain him and force the cure on him.
  3. A third PC, while having decided to go ahead of the party, was attacked by a mimic. This player had worse AC and HP than the Rogue, and was quickly downed. In the same situation, my character nearly fell to his death (though I believe that was due to a misunderstanding, rather than the intent of the DM himself).

We all agreed (while not directly to the DM) that the third situation was incredibly harsh. There was no way the player could deal with that situation on his own, and it would have been better if he had removed the monster completely, or moved it to a situation where more players could have been involved.

The DM is not inexperienced (he has been DMing for almost 30 years), so we believe that this is his aim. 90% of the time, even if we get good rolls, we all end up a lot more worse for wear, and the other 10%, one or more of us is incapacitated, and needs to be revived. It's starting to have an effect on the group.

How can we talk to the DM, and what might we suggest in hopes of changing his attitude toward “killing” player characters?


*Turns out this is plot device devised by our DM alone, I don't think there's anything in the rules about this.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Is it safe to assume that this is, also, not fun? (That's not sarcastic. I'm just making sure that were it not for the ever-present specter of death, the game would be okay.) \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Jun 2 '15 at 23:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan The game is; the constant dealing with death - not so much \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Jun 2 '15 at 23:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ Have any characters actually died? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jun 2 '15 at 23:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie two have come incredibly close, and it purely seems like the only reason they were saved was because the DM took pity on them, rather than actually planning on letting them live. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Jun 2 '15 at 23:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also please don't add an answer that just duplicates another answer - vote up the existing answer instead. I'm going to protect this question because I don't see what the bottom ~5 answers say that isn't said in the top ~5. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Jun 8 '15 at 13:21

10 Answers 10

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Unfortunately, all the group behaviours you've identified are either death-seeky or problematic. Use these interactions as teachable moments instead of problems which can simply be wished away. In all cases, a quiet discussion over a hot beverage of your choice After game time may allow your DM to impart his wisdom and/or to express your concerns with the chosen style and edition of game.

First: scouting ahead is dangerous. Make sure you know how to get away, make sure you're far enough away to get away, and make sure you've written a will. Not only have you split the party, but one bad roll can spell your doom. You may want to investigate systems with the "let it ride" rule that specifically address this sort of "roll many times and never fail" mechanic, or simply deemphasise stealth based scouting.

Second: Talking about your GM behind his back will simply encourage groupthink and a more toxic atmosphere as now the group is looking for confirmatory evidence that your DM is a horrible no-good person out to kill you.

Third: the level of damage you're describing is either normal or merciful for old style dungeon crawls. Dungeons are terrible, scary, places. If you evidence a lack of preparation, be prepared for death or worse.

Have no expectation of encountering "fair" fights in this campaign. Instead, anticipate your campaign as combat-as-war and be prepared. It may be worth asking the DM for lessons in how he expects parties to be prepared, but the style of game you've described has a long and time-honoured tradition that 5th ed absolutely appeals to. It may be worth chatting with your DM over coffee for a debrief on what went wrong in these situations, and potentially ask for him to be more merciful.

You may also gain some utility out of not immediately engaging in combat. Look to see if an encounter can be avoided in its entireity, if it can result in a social discussion, if it can result in some sort of transaction, and only then escalate to violence.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The DM being a 30 year veteran would indicate to me that he's probably an old school crawler and expects dungeons to be deadly, not just challenging. Props for pointing out "the old ways". \$\endgroup\$ – Squish Jun 7 '15 at 16:38
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The way to talk to the GM is that you sit down and talk with him. In a non-accusatory tone, you explain the way you've thought/felt playing in the game and ask him to explain what the expectations are. You might all even use the Same Page Tool to gather a shared understanding of the type of game you're playing.

However, speaking as another D&D DM with 30 years of experience, this is often the way the game is played. It's not "trying to kill you," it's "placing challenges in the game world for you to make your way around or through."

  1. As I understand it, you've "almost" had two people die. Uh... Many old school D&D games expect body count. Play Dungeon Crawl Classics or Lamentations of the Flame Princess (or Runequest or Warhammer Fantasy 1e-2e or Rolemaster), and you will get a rude awakening - life is brutish and short. If your characters want long lifespans they should run an inn and go to balls, but if you go into dungeons you should expect to die young. He clearly likes to run a challenging game. I am hearing "fights are hard" and "sometimes people fall down and need to get healed after." That's kinda how a lot of D&D works (or did prior to 3e/4e). A member of the Knights of the Dinner Table would respond to your complaint with "Sack up!!!" There is such a thing as a campaign being too hard all the time, but what you describe above is NOT that.

  2. In many old school games ("sandbox" is a term often used), challenges are placed without expectation that they are "level appropriate" for the PCs. If it's too tough, you innovate or run away. Whoever runs slowest - maybe eventually you have to come back for their body to get them raised. And more specifically, expecting a DM to suddenly change what's in a room because a player made a terrible tactical choice - your #3, "going ahead of the party" - would be pretty unusual. Going in alone and getting outmatched is supposed to be a learning experience for you - so that you DON'T DO THAT. Get better at tactics and maybe it won't be "so hard." See also A PC dies every session - bad tactics or the normal outcome of adventuring?

Many newer games, and some newer versions of D&D, don't work this way and so I can understand the confusion. In classic D&D,

  1. If you're dumb, you die.
  2. If you're unlucky, you die.

The fact that no one has actually died yet indicates that he has tempered that classical approach for the modern audience, but it's still "hard." So sit down with your GM and talk about expectations, but realize that "high challenge" is a time honored playstyle and it doesn't have to be all easy mode power fantasy. Negotiate where you all want the game to be (but as the GM, in the end he is setting the tone).

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    \$\begingroup\$ It may be worth noting that I've experienced the same level of lethality in the long-running 3rd and 4th ed campaigns I was in. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Jun 3 '15 at 0:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ Oh sure but that's usually from folks with expectations already set by previous eds/other games, coming into them cold often generates this expectation. "CR appropriate" and WBL and all. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Jun 3 '15 at 1:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think 90% of the questions on this site could be answered simply by linking the Same Page Tool :) \$\endgroup\$ – thanby Jun 4 '15 at 17:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ I tend to disagree, as the only part of an answer it's lazy and if you click through you realize it's not actually a magic remove-all-group-conflict tool. But it's helpful in moderation. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Jun 4 '15 at 20:10
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I will not revisit the advice presented in the other answers about talking to the DM and establishing what you think the norms of this campaign would be.

Instead, I would ask you to consider the following points:

  1. Are you suffering from confirmation bias; you describe 3 encounters where 4 PCs nearly died, how many encounters were there where no one died? How many where no one came anywhere near dying?

  2. Adventuring is a dangerous job; people die. Think about the kinds of jobs in the modern world that require body armour and lethal weapons - soldier, police officer, bomb disposal officer, firefighter; sometimes these people die too.

  3. Of course your DM is trying to kill you; he plays the monsters. Monsters are people too (sort of); with hopes and dreams and they do not want to die! Therefore they can and should do everything in their power to not die; sometimes that may mean running away or surrendering; quite often it means killing you in the most brutal, efficient and least risky way possible. See this question. I mean, fair's fair; you're planning to do it to them. Provided that the DM is acting within the rules and shared assumptions and is not acting arbitrarily this is perfectly OK.

  4. All adventurers should be Boy Scouts; they need to be prepared! You need to carry everything that you might need that you can afford.

  5. You need to work on your tactics. Scouting ahead is fine but not so far ahead that you are isolated. When the scout returns with the info, you need to plan your attack with that intelligence primary but also with the gnawing doubt that he didn't see everything. Your tactics should be as good or better than your opposition if at all possible.

Linking these to your specific cases:

  1. This is good tactics by the monster (3. above), split the party and pick them off one at a time. How did you let this happen?
  2. I have never heard of the bugbear blood thing but a) it doesn't seem to be a surprise to you and b) it sounds totally awesome! You don't tell us how this happened but I suspect 3. above may have been involved? There is definitely an element of 4.; if this is a thing in your campaign, why did you not have the cure with you/closer to you? Similarly, why did you not restrain the elf before he started to turn as you put it.
  3. See 2. and 5. above; particularly if you do stupid things.
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    \$\begingroup\$ Harsh. Yet truthful. I like it \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Jun 3 '15 at 2:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ Agreed especially with points 3 and 4. The world will kill you if you're not adequately prepared, and that goes double for adventurers. The DM's job is to roleplay the rest of the world. \$\endgroup\$ – hobbs Jun 3 '15 at 3:22
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The DM doesn't sound like he's trying to kill you. It sounds like he's demonstrating what happens when rookie players do not-so-smart things.

Why did a weak member go off ahead on their own? Why did nobody try to stop the person? That sounds like the players trying to kill themselves, not the other way around. At no point is it reasonable for a DM to remove a hazard that players have haphazardly wandered into. It's Dungeons and Dragons, not Disneyland.

The bugbear thing was a learning experience. Character building. Now everyone has a fun story, and got to experience something neat.

You should be thankful you have a DM like this, as opposed to some power-gaming, easy rewarding new guy that caters to crybabying (not saying you are crying), and basically just spoon feeds everyone things as if you're using cheat codes.

You will one day look back on these experiences with fondness. Especially if you switch groups to some DM that doesn't have much experience, and doesn't know what they are doing.

Expect to die everytime you play. Make sure you're doing your damnedest to avoid said deaths. Be on your toes. Think ahead. Be careful. If someone else seems to be doing something dopey, stop them.

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I actually don't see where the GM is trying to kill you.

In your game world the GM is basically a God. If he really wants you dead, you'd be dead by now. Killing a player as the GM is incredibly easy. Since no one died so far, I am guessing your GM doesn't want to see you dead.

I recently started two campaigns, both filled with completely new players. At the beginning they would charge into every combat they encountered without thinking or planning. They played it as if it was a round of UT or some other mindless shooter (nothing against mindless shooters).

So I showed them their limits. In the first round of one of the groups they lost out on a lot of vital information, because they didn't listen but attacked first. They found pieces of that information so far, but they still don't know what they could have come to know if they listened in the first round. They know that they missed out on that information and a big part of the campaign so far has been about them trying to piece that together.

In the first round of the other group got attacked by a giant spider in a room in a dungeon. They could easily make their way around it, but instead they kept fighting it, until I said "I don't want to kill you guys". That was enough of a clue for them to run away.

In another round they accidentally caused a tsunami that killed thousands of innocent people, because they didn't pay enough attention. This event still comes up quite often.

Stuff like that, where the game is not just easy-going and without trouble, that is where the characters grow and great stories are made. After a few rounds the players are now all quite careful. They spend more time planning and avoid unnecessary conflicts and everyone has fun playing that. A few rounds ago a group of three of them managed to take out the escort (about 15 warriors) of a wagon train and steal the wagons. They took all the supplies with them, that they found necessary (including some bottles of rum to make Molotov-cocktails). They spent about an hour planning how to ambush them. They had multiple backup plans. And in the end, they managed to take them out without anyone of the players dieing (though it was quite close for two of them).

What is quite interesting is, whenever I hear them talk about the game, they never talk about the quest rewards they got. They don't talk about the XP they have, not even about their skillings. Instead they talk about the hard times in the game and how they overcame the problems. And the parts that remained in their memories the most were the painful parts, like accidentally killing thousands of people, and how they felt when they found out, what they had done.

Hope, this gives you some perspective.

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Have a meta-conversation as a group with your DM. Trying to kill the player characters (in a limited fashion, of course) is a valid playstyle, and your DM, having as much experience as he does, probably knows what playstyles he does and doesn't like, and can and can't DM. Explain what kind of game you would like to play, and why, as well as what aspects of what other people's wants you expect to be problematic for you. Encourage everyone, including your DM to do this.

Once you have a better idea of what kind of game you all want to play together on as a group, and what each of you finds fulfilling in the RPG experience, you can then try the same game again with a slightly different style of play, or start a new game entirely— possibly even in a new system.

I recommend not continuing the current game in a new playstyle, to avoid anyone ending up feeling like their previous creative vision is being trodden upon. If you can get a set of criteria for what would be fun for your group, but don't know how to make that work in actual play, consider posting what you all want as a game-rec question here. Best of luck!

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    \$\begingroup\$ Trying to kill the characters is a valid playstyle. Trying to kill the players would be worrying... \$\endgroup\$ – Adeptus Jun 3 '15 at 2:54
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One of you should talk to him, not in a group but as a single representative of the group, and discuss what you really want out of the campaign.

This type of play style - a gritty, always-in-danger, up against high odds play style - is completely valid, and if the DM is having fun with it, and you all aren't too upset by it, there might not actually be a problem. Yes, it sounds rather dangerous, but that's the sort of thing that happens in dungeons.

It does, however, sound like you all agree that there is some type of problem - bit I don't think it's character death. None of your characters have actually died, but they have come close to it, and all in situations where they couldn't have planned ahead (mind, a rogue scouting forward COULD have planned ahead for a monster being in the next room, but did not. Being singled-out in combat forcibly and being injected with a dangerous transformation toxin - less of a thing you can prepare for).

It might be that you feel your player agency (your ability to make your own choices) is lost in those situations, or that you're a group that needs a little bit more warning when you're about to get into a dangerous situation (situational awareness isn't always easy in a game of abstract thought). Whatever it is, you need to figure out what's actually bothering you first, then talk to the DM about it. Something as simple as using less character-controlling dangers (some people just aren't comfortable with that) or giving a little more warning to the players when danger might occur because of their actions could be all that you need to improve the experience for all of you.

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Assuming the DM really is actively out to get you (I think other answers address why that's not a forgone conclusion)... maybe they've got something in mind? If they just kill the character and then, bam, they're dead, here's a new blank character sheet, get working; then ok I can understand the frustration.

But in a sense you're part way through a story; the characters have had some close calls. Do you stop reading, or keep going to find out what happens?

After all it's a fantasy world, maybe you'll be on the receiving end of some divine intervention, or the DM is trying to introduce something like Ghostwalk?

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Talk to them, point out that you're not really having fun with the game and say why. Either the GM will accommodate you by adding lighter moments into the campaign (or at least not being so heavy with the near-death struggles), or they won't.

As a GM, I've had to tone games down for some players from time to time (such as after I revealed to one player that he'd been playing a clone of his character for weeks); sometimes, I've switched campaigns and game systems to give myself and everyone else a break. And, once, I had a player walk away from the group I was running because he just didn't enjoy the sort of game I wanted to run - a decision that I respected, and which worked out well for everyone.

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The best way to teach a DM what kind of game you like is to run the kind of game you like.

Become a DM, even if only a few months for a one shot adventure.

Let the DM be a player.

This will reduce the work load on your primary DM, and give you insight into what kind of play he likes.

Also, nothing give a player a greater sense of respect for the job of DMing.

Your last resort, sadly, is to vote with your feet.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you show how this translates into the DM learning that's what you want out of their game too? It seems there are intermediate steps here missing, such as a conversation with them of some nature, unless the intention here is to just hope they get the hint. I regularly GM games that are nothing like what I expect of others to lead, and in fact my willing participation in their games is probably easy enough to take as reinforcement I'm interested in playing the way they're GMing already. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jun 8 '15 at 23:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, by demonstrating the kind of campaign that you would want to see, the DM could gain an insight. \$\endgroup\$ – ShaneMRoth Jun 9 '15 at 4:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ What I'm suggesting is that in this answer (which you should edit to include this info), you might want to be a bit more explicit in step 2. How will they understand that the game you're running from them is also a suggestion that they run their game like that? Are we just relying on them getting that hint? Does that actually work? If so, back this up with some experience of when you've done it, how you handled the situation, and what the results were. I would not expect my own GM to take that interpretation. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jun 9 '15 at 4:29

protected by mxyzplk Jun 8 '15 at 13:21

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