Sunday, November 6, 2011

Character Death and the Player Experience

Frank Mentzer over at Dragonsfoot has proposed a new spell for 1E that allows for the reversal of a Disintegrate spell, and put up a poll as to whether or not we feel it would be useful in our campaigns.  Currently opinion is pretty evenly split, although less than 30 votes are registered. 

I'm a "no" voter.  It seems that the tendency over the last twenty years has been to water down, or remove entirely, elements of 1E that slow down or otherwise mess with the life cycle of a PC: level draining; disunified X.P. tables, that featured slower progression through the mid and late levels; save or die; and things that prevent raising a dead character.

Each of those is probably a topic.  But I see this spell as falling into the last example.  As Frank expands in a follow-up post, "Although I'm as prone as any other old-school DM to include Save-Or-Die situations in the game, I find (on the more pragmatic side) that it's more than a little unfair against a PC who can cast L6 and/or L7 spells, i.e. when a player has invested that much time and effort." 

I've seen this time aspect elsewhere expressed in discussing undead as justifiable because (paraphrased) "we don't play as often as we used to, so losing a level takes even longer to regain". 

But why should it matter really what level we're playing at, or perhaps more acutely, whether or not progress through levels is always onward and upward?  Was 7th level more fun than 5th, or is 9th level going to be more fun that 7th?   Does having a PC disintegrated mean that there was some power on the cusp of attainment that is now denied, that as a player would have been new ground to savor in their experiencing our hobby?

Most likely we've played long enough now that there isn't much in the game structure left unused.  But, if you've never cast 8th level spells (and this is a burr in your game experience), do yourself a favor and start a campaign where everyone is 16th level from the beginning.  Don't subject yourself to the lottery effect of surviving to that point from 1st level.  While doing that in 1981 would have been a munchkin move, no extra honor is gained in 2011 by only starting at the lowest levels.  This is a better approach than modifying the warp and woof of the ruleset.

But otherwise, the game is better for players being willing to have a PC die and start over.  Proposals to gimp the game and put bumpers on it so that negative feedback for bad play (or just bad luck) are diluted, do mean that any new players who do come into it will not have the exultation you did when reaching those heights of character levels against all odds.  Because the odds have been cut.  Instead, it will just be another process of foregone conclusion. 

Would you have fell in love with the hobby if it would have been like that?  I know that I wouldn't have, but I also know that it is foolish to project my own experience as being universal.

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