Recently there's been some discussion of death, the appropriateness of it and how to avoid it.
Death is at -10, but you don't start bleeding out until -6. Max hit points at 1st level. We've had 6 deaths and some characters have made it to level 4. All character deaths were melee types. Here's a review of death in our campaign:
- Warf, a half-orc barbarian, died from a swarm of ghouls that also claimed the life of Robert, a hireling. The cleric was unconscious and a TPK was narrowly avoided by running! away!
- Shaun, a human barbarian, died from a skeleton. The party wrongly decided that we could conserve resources by taking on the skeletons at a choke point. The skeletons got lucky on initiative and hit Shaun too many times in a row. Undead 2 barbarians 0.
- Hengist, a human fighter, died from an orc's coup-de-grace. Orcs are brutal.
- Ethelred, a human ranger, also died from an orc's coup-de-grace. The orc, knowing he was outnumbered, decided to take a soul for Gruumsh on his way out. Same player as Hengist.
- Catherine, elf, was scouting ahead in a water filled cavern. While she was scouting for the party in an attempt to judiciously explore the caverns, she failed to see the numerous under water snakes.
- Thyll, another elf played by the same player, died in one round in another underwater cavern when a hydra surfaced, capsized our boat and delivered 8 bite attacks across the party. This player doesn't like underwater caverns, especially ones with serpentine creatures.
- Near death - 'saved by a 20' - cursed heart-seeking amulet.
- Hireling deaths: Ghouls: 1, Carnivorous Apes: 1 (presumed, no body discovered), Falling, burning, awakened tree: 1, Ogre's two-handed club: 1 Siren's dagger: 1
- There was also one expedition that nearly ended as a TPK but Tucker's Kobolds (aka the Old Guard) took us prisoner. Other characters rescued us.
Both the player of Ethelred/Hengist and Catherine/Thyll immediately get out 4d6 when they die. Ethelred began play in the same session as Hengist's death when the orcs were vanquished and their captives freed. Same for his newly rolled up dwarf fighter cleric. Both players get their old school merit badges.
There's been some awareness that our expeditions have been hard on our melee types. But now, after the most recent death (Ethelred), there is discussion on the email list of expanding their hirelings to include a second row of pikes.
Some players are a bit nonplussed at the notion of monsters that coup-de-grace. I think some players are attached to the notion of 'old school' play. I do think that players more accustomed to post-90 (heck, post 2000) play are disturbed. Myself, I won't be happy if my 4th level wizard dies, or my 4th level dwarven rogue/cleric. But if there is no possibility of failure then there is no real victory either.
There is a difference between merely 'dangerous' play and the viciousness of a coup-de-grace. Half of the PC deaths would not have occurred if the monsters by passed unconscious PC bodies.
As a DM, I don't always play the monsters the same. The pod creatures (from Matt Finch's Pod Caverns of the Sinister Shroom) want to capture animal life to use as growth material. When I run orcs or other intelligent enemies, they coup-de-grace circumstantially. If orcs think they can win, they'll take prisoners. If they think they will lose, they are more apt to take their enemy with them - or perhaps deter their enemy from fighting. Bandits are unlikely to coup-de-grace, because it is harder to ransom a dead body. Mindless undead almost always take life when given the opportunity.
The 'near death' from a cursed item was very nearly a death. The player failed her save, and was obviously crest fallen. Another player, her husband, asked for a chance to save her character, pulling the cursed amulet off of her heart. It's hard to say 'no' to a 20 once you've given a player the opportunity to roll (take note of that, DMs!)
In DMing this way, am I sacrificing 'fun' for my sense of internal consistency (note: not realism)? Or is feeling the risk part of the fun?