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Setting up my first dnd adventure as a DM for the group I usually play with. I have an idea for a magic item which is powerful, but if used incorrectly will kill the user.

The item will come with a suitable, easily readable warning on it, which I will ensure the party are aware of.

My only worry is that a couple of the party members can be a little blasé about this kind of thing.

Is it unfair to include this item, bearing in mind I do think one party member will be stupid?

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    \$\begingroup\$ When you say "first adventure" are you saying it's the first time you've DMed, or the first time you're writing an adventure of your own? \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Mar 19 '17 at 12:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ What is what you are worried about: that the players decisions have consequences (death in this case) and they might not want to accept these consequences (even if they are spelled out) or that one or more character death would affect your game/story? Because it seems that the fairness of the item is not what this is about. \$\endgroup\$
    – Chepelink
    Mar 19 '17 at 14:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ Indeed, whether it's "fair" or not is a red herring here. You're worried about whether it'll have a particular impact on your group -- for example it sounds like someone on your group might get upset if their character dies even being aware of the risk, and telling them "but it's fair" isn't likely to do much for them. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 19 '17 at 15:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ A scroll of Fireball qualifies as an item that will kill the user if used incorrectly. Honestly, if people are going to be stupid, you won't be able to stop them from killing themselves. \$\endgroup\$
    – Erik
    Mar 19 '17 at 19:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, as it stands this is just an opinion poll question, as you can see from the already large number of answers. If you can focus it on a solvable problem, we can get it reopened. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Mar 20 '17 at 2:31
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You've asked if your actions would be "fair", but being a DM isn't about being fair or unfair. It's not a game like chess, where both sides are constrained by rules, and the DM is trying to kill the players but has to do so in a "fair" manner.

The DM is not judged by whether they are "fair" or "unfair". The DM is judged by whether they are "fun" or "not fun". You should be asking: "is it fun (for the players) to potentially kill a party member...?"

It sounds like, in this case, the answer is no: your players wouldn't enjoy that.

We don't know much about your proposed magic item, but perhaps you can think of a consequence or drawback that would be more fun than simply killing the character (and leaving that player with nothing to do). Perhaps you can turn the character into a rat or a monkey or something -- that's a drawback, but it still leaves the player in the game.

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You also need to think about what will happen if they do use it correctly. What will this upset in the setting?

From having made similar mistakes myself, back in the eighties, I'd advise you to be creative about something else for a first adventure as DM, and hold this back until you have a bit of experience. The first couple of sessions teach you a lot.

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Whether it is unfair or not depends only on what the players expect the game to be like. If your players know that the world is full of lethal loaded guns in the form of volatile magical objects, it is not really unfair - they'll expect expect warnings to be taken seriously and will probably do so. This style of play places a lot of emphasis on players making good calls, as opposed to the character knowing how to avoid such dangers.

However, Dungeons and Dragons is usually not played like that, for several reasons. Creating a new character from scratch to replace the dead one can create a nasty pause in the game, scrap hours of work spent on building the last character and is usually off-putting narratively. DnD borrows heavily from works of high fantasy adventure such as The Lord of the Rings, where important good characters die only when performing heroic feats, never because they made an obviously frivolous decision with a dangerous magical object just to see whether they'd really get blasted to Atom Bombadils. Care should always be exercised when subverting the conventions of the genre you're playing.

Before introducing the object, consider all the implications of what you're doing. It's not just a single character death you could be dealing here. If your players are not used to characters dying easily, your little trap can change their perception on the game entirely - you're giving them the message that characters can die easily and at any time, as a result of a single silly move. If you don't want your game to become one where the players proceed with paranoia at all times, change the item.

You can also keep the item as-is, and when the player asks to use the item in a dangerous way, be frank: "If you do that, your character dies. Are you sure you want to do this?" This way your players will have a fully-informed decision to make, and you will avoid souring the mood just because someone made a silly decision.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "However, Dungeons and Dragons is usually not played like that" - I don't know if I agree with that... What do you base this on? \$\endgroup\$
    – Patta
    Mar 19 '17 at 13:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ As much as I love "Atom Bombadil," I'm with @Patta on this one. There are some classic adventures that are explicitly intended to challenge players, not characters. +1 anyway, because your lede has everything important: fairness is all relative to the players' expectations. \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Mar 19 '17 at 13:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ OSR play frequently allows a single bad decision to lead to player character death. I remember one new campaign wherein the number of PC deaths was equal to the number of sessions we'd had for a disturbingly long period of time... And I'd expected the death rate to be higher. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Mar 19 '17 at 21:16
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Supposing the play style in your group already includes explicit possibility of character death, or you explicitly discuss the matter before play and the group agrees, the possibility of character death does not cross any lines.

Note the explictness above.

Furthermore, you should be okay with whatever repercussions a powerful item has on the setting and balance between characters, if those concern you. (Personally, I'm fine as a referee with giving players plenty of power over setting.)


As a further warning, you should, as a referee/GM/DM/judge/etc., be very neutral when handling them item; since you introduced it into play, you must be okay with it being ignored, used successfully, or used disastrously. You must only be curious to see what the players do.


This approached has served me reasonably well when refereeing for example Doom cave of crystal-headed children and the item which kills one player character but gives the remaining accurate information about whatever they want. Someone died, but players know this was a possibility, so they were okay with it and some made more characters.

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This is fine in my opinion. If I understand correctly the item clearly states what it does, and what the risks are of trying to get the benefit. The party, or the single character if given in private, can decide if the situation requires the item and is worth its risk.

We have a barbarian in our party who wields a sword with a special action. It provides an insane burst of damage; the only problem, it has 4 options and 2 of them likely kill a party member, one makes him look like a fool and likely kills him (as he probably stands point blank for a boss). The fourth option though..the tales my bard can tell when the fourth option hits... No Inn could refuse my entry! No lady would ever give me that gaze again.. No longer would I have to seduce the fat innkeepers daughter to get a drink...

Items like these are what make my adventures fun. Going wrong or right, it will bring jokes to the table.

An idea that comes up if you still think it is unfair: Maybe have a demon sealed which gives a bargain when the user dies. Return him back to life at some severe costs.

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