Sunday, 19 November 2017

Character Death Can Be Liberating

I've been running a Wolfpacks game for a few months IRL now, and rapidly lost track of the number of character deaths we've had. Last week, we tried to count them up and got a total of at least 30, in about 1-12 sessions.
PCs frequently get magically transformed, crippled by injuries, ressurected as undead, mutated weirdly, and more. Any semblance of balance is totally out of the window, and death is sudden and unexpected. By all accounts, it's been absolute slaughter.
And yet, we've been having fun.

In a game where you put effort into building a character, and where death is rare, you get attached to PCs. Dying is something to angst over, because this artistic thing you made is gone forever. So, death is avoided, the GM pulls their blows, and the 'death is a big deal' thing gets even worse.
Here, though, death is no biggie. When it happens, it's often morbidly hilarious, but with quick character gen and quick levelling, it's no big deal to roll up a new character and get back into the fray. Knowing that life is cheap and death constant means that players loosen up, take risks, and don't sweat it when they fail horribly.
Plus, a constant meat-grinder of characters dying means that, should a PC get too powerful (to the extent that they're dominating play and making everybody else feel useless) that's only a temporary state of affairs; I can sit back and, pretty soon, hubris will get them and they'll be taken out. Problem solved.
Plus, players get to see more of how the game fits together, since high turnover means they'll try lots of different playstyles and classes and options. My players have just twigged the 'one of each spell-caster class is optimal' setup* for Wolfpacks, and I couldn't be prouder, but that wouldn't have ever happened if they hadn't had lots of deaths.
There's a tipping point when dying lots goes from disheartening to fun, and once you hit that tipping point, the game loosens up and lightens up in ways that I like. Recently, though, as the players have gotten smarter, the deaths are slowing. They're progressing, gathering followers and allies, and making plans. And, sure, the individual PCs are dying a fair amount still (two deaths last session, along with a fuck-ton of PCs going a bit crazy), but the group as a whole is getting stronger.
Which is the thing. It's not about individual PCs, it's about the group, and the world, and exploring what's out there. A given character is just a pawn to interact with the world with.

*to exploit the magic system to its fullest you need one each of a magician, morlock, mystic, neanderthal apothecary and wendigo.
The magician lets you do experiments with magic and has good flexibility, but is stuck with a sanctum they can't move. Meanwhile, the morlock can't experiment, but is a walking spellbook for the magician. You need a neanderthal, so any weird magic you encounter, the neanderthal can turn into a potion for the magician to study and turn into a spell. A wendigo gets to pick their spell when they level up, unlike everybody else, so that's how you make sure all your vital spells (cure wounds, dispel magic, etc) are covered. Lastly, the mystic spams magic better than everybody else, so they're your simple blaster in an emergency.

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