I have an issue you might be able to help me with.

I have an issue you might be able to help me with.

I have an issue you might be able to help me with.

My players are really chilly about PC death (in any RPG actually).

I explained how DW is way more dangerous than say D&D and that death isn’t just a nuisance. You drop to 0, you get one chance (actually 58% chance) to survive, otherwise, your gone…

I guess they get invested in their character (which is something I’m really happy with), but I don’t want to make danger more trivial. The life of adventure is dangerous, and death is something always around the corner.

I tried explaining how death can make for a very interesting scene (mentioning Boromir’s death as an example of a scene that would have never been famous if a PC didn’t die) but they still want make to tweak the system to make it less deadly… I feel if I do, we’ll all be missing something very important that will actually shift the feel of the game.

What would you do? Roll+…

* … +INT if you’re trying to use clever explanation

* … +CHA if you’re tapping into player’s emotive side

* …+STR if you yell at them for being wuss

46 thoughts on “I have an issue you might be able to help me with.”

  1. I occasionally gm for kids under 10

    Who loathe the idea of character death to the point of panic attacks.

    To balance that I gave each player 4 tokens. If their character would fail a last breath roll they can give me a token and it’s treated as if they rolled a 12 instead.

    This let the system be as lethal ad it can be but basically gave them lives like in a video game.

    It helped. A lot.

  2. Death can be just another way to split the party. Ask the wizard about the second fastest route to death’s gate. In the meantime, ask the deceased which faces he recognizes among the gate’s guard.

  3. Borrow the “death flag” that I read about back in some 3.5e homebrew.

    A player could decide a conflict was worth dying for, and they could “Raise the death flag” signalling as such. This gave them some bennies for rerolls, and they would have to spend a certain number of bennies to put the flag back down. When the flag was up, normal rules apply: they can die. While the flag is down, the social contract shifted and they could not be killed. If brought to 0 hit points, they would hover at 1 and death would be replaced with other tragedies.

    I say adapt this for Dungeon World with a few custom moves. Here’s some examples.

    You are a wily adventurer and you know when to put your head down and fight another day. When you’re not ready to die, you can be brought to 0 hit points but will hang onto life… instead of death, you will suffer some other calamity. (This would be a good place for a list, with terrible things to choose from)

    *When you are willing to fight and die for what you believe,* stare your challenger in the eye and swear an oath: over my dead body, not while I still draw breath, you’ll have to go through me, are all good ones. Say it like you mean it! You immediately gain HP equal to your Level, up to your maximum. If you should drop to 0HP after you have sworn your oath, you die for real. Ask your GM if you can make the Death move. (This one scales but maybe you want to pick a flat number, like 5)

    *When you have sworn an oath and the battle is done,* collapse against a wall, breathe hard, and inspect how bad your wounds are. Rescinding your oath costs HP equal to half your level, rounded up… throwing yourself into a fight you don’t plan on living through is taxing! Your time might still be up.

  4. Dungeon World is way less lethal than D&D, unless you’re talking about one of the recent reboots like 3.5 or 5e.

    Use Freebooters of the Frontier with Funnel World to give them lots of PCs at once and kill most of them in a short, thrilling, funny adventure. Then they’ll be less afraid of death.

  5. Here’s some heresy: I don’t think death is an interesting stake and I never kill players. When they hit 0, they’re out of the combat. Based on the fiction, I ask them what happened to them once the combat is over. They may choose to die, they may not, but I always make it clear – dying is up to you.

  6. A GM I have gave us a magical neclace which gave the wearer a +1 forward on last breath.

    The first character that I used it with my character got a 10+, but then it was gone. I’m playing the same setting/sort of the same adventure now, but we haven’t used it.

    26/36 chance is more than enough…

  7. Two things to do:

    When someone rolls for last breath, I let them add +con. It is easily the least used stat, so it will increase their %iles and I think it fits as it is what also sets their HP scores.

    Second when someone has to roll Last Breath, I let them roll it with no one else looking. The player can lie of they want, that’s on them, or they can tell the truth. The brunt is that it doesn’t really matter what is rolled. What does matter is that the players have an outcome that they are OK with. If death means the end of Hrothgar, in the end, its a game. Games are meant to be a fun and immersive experience, so I’m alright if players ‘lie’ to keep their PCs in game and it can just be a non issue and we move on.

  8. Thanks all, all very good comments!

    I’ll answer some of you without quoting because I can’t remember who said what lol.

    I can’t accept “resurrection” in the campaign because we’re playing through Tomb of Annihilation (well… loosely based on), so it’s part of the scenario that resurrection does’t work anymore (plus anybody who’ve seen the Black Door starts to decay).

    Since “death” is a leitmotiv in this scenario, it would be kind of silly if I let people just not die.

    I guess allowing bonus to the Last Breath or maybe giving the other PC a last chance to save their fallen comrade before he actually rolls Last Breath.

  9. Alfred Rudzki – following on this, here’s “Raising the Stakes” which is the source doc for the Death Flag, I believe. I have a long running campaign and we took death off the table using our informal acceptance of the Death Flag long ago – death is allowed when they think it’s dramatically appropriate. But, as the GM, I have tools worse than death to use…

    I have two thoughts about character death:

    * First, Character death is terrible for many reasons that people state. I think that DW provides greater hooks for players to become invested than in vanilla D&D. I see it as akin to traditional boardgames where a player may lose and be out of the game early on. If you fail your Last Breath, it won’t be much fun to watch as your buddies play the rest of the session/campaign and you’re reduced to managing snacks and playing on your phone.

    * Second, the various adjustments being suggested essentially reduce the tension of the game and encounters therein. Playing a game with near-immortals gets boring pretty quick. It’s possible to maintain the tension without easing the threat of death but I would need to make a bold statement: perhaps you need to shift player thinking away from combat as the most effective resolution for certain circumstances and also move away from fighting to the death. There are other stakes to consider in combat. Make it clear that combat is lethal and if they proceed that direction it is possible that characters will die. Use GM moves other than “Deal Damage” to make the world/combat interesting and let the PCs shine. No need to nerf combat, damage, or Last Breath; you have all the tools you need, but you may need to help adjust your Players’ approach – let them control the lethality by asking questions and making moves in response.

    esix.pbworks.com – esix.pbworks.com/f/RaisingtheStakes.pdf

  10. Three points:

    1. Hack and Slash just says that the enemy makes an attack, not that the enemy deals its damage. As such, Dungeon World can be played as less deadly without breaking or changing any rules. All you have to do is choose to make attacks that do not deal damage. Knock them down, disarm them, infect them with diseases, start dragging them back to a nest so the monster can feed live meat to its young. Do enough damage to scare them, not enough to kill them.

    2. Give really good armor as loot as a way of increasing their survivability without breaking any rules at all.

    3. If you are okay tweaking the rules, just change Last Breath somehow. Maybe instead of rolling plus nothing, you roll plus the number of sessions they’ve attended since they last rolled Last Breath (which helps more invested players relax and also encourages attendance). Or come up with a different 6- result, like sending them back with a deal and some permanent mark of their brush with death, like a putrid stink or blackened eyes that will unsettled those who look upon them. Or let them roll extra dice for Last Breath, and keep the best two, but for each extra die rolled, they lose something – a level, a stat point, a memory, a letter from their name, a color they can see, an emotion they can feel. In other words, give an option to replace the risk of death with some other risk that feels unlike anything they risk during play, so it still feels dangerous and strange.

  11. Michael Bacon James Young Yeah, I already tried this argument with them. Didn’t worked lol.

    I have to disagree though that DW isn’t a game about heroes!

    It IS (well, to me at least). But heroes DIE (sometimes).

    Boromir died. And it was epic.

  12. Just let them die then, they’ll get used to it.

    Remember in DW it’s literally always the players choosing to put themselves in a deadly situation.

    Just play to see what happens. Don’t worry about this bridge until you have to cross it.

    I really like Jason’s third idea with the bonus per session since last down though, that’s real neat.

  13. Another option: make the results on Last Breath less harsh. E.g.

    10+ You’re in a bad place, but you’re still alive.

    7-9 You’ll pull through, but you’ll be marked by the experience: scarred, haunted, maimed, etc. Work out the details with the table.

    miss: Death comes to claim you, but makes an offer. Accept Death’s terms and come back, or go through the Black Gates.

    or alternately on a miss: Death comes to claim you, but they’re in no rush. Feel free to make it an offer; if it accepts your offer, you’ll live; otherwise, you die.

    (then it becomes a scene, and they can Discern Realities and Parley with Death itself.)

  14. The last breath move also states that they don’t die right away. You can have death come for them once they accomplish something. You could than play a scene wherein they run away from death.

  15. Alfred Rudzki Woa, I REALLY like the “death flag” idea!

    Agreed with you Matthew G. on your 2 points. Death can be terrible, even anticlimactic in certain situations. And you’re 100% right that remove it would reduce the tension.

    I guess the “death flag” solution might allow to alleviate that. I’m just unsure that the players will ever want to raise it though. I would need a very good carrot and the end of the stick to consider the option.

    I guess I can always ask : “Fighter, are you willing to die for this?”.

  16. Honestly, if your players are never, ever, ever, ever going to think anything is worth dying over, and be upset anytime they’re put at risk, then there’s nothing we can do to help. You just have to talk to them, get them to understand that dramatic death can be cool and exciting. If they absolutely can’t get on board with the kind of game you want to play, you may want to not play a campaign where death is a huge theme, since they refuse to engage with it — or find other players.

    But otherwise, yeah, you would want to focus on building up an idea of what the heroes do and don’t fight for, what they do and don’t care about, build a consensus of the character’s emotions, and then threaten that. When things get serious, go ahead and ask if they’re willing to die to stop XYZ baddy.

  17. Alfred Rudzki yeah I feel I’d have to just find alternate solution to death. I just suggested the Death Flag thing and they litteraly said “well, it’s easy, we’ll never raise the flag” :S

  18. At the risk of heresy, you may want to check out Forthright RPG (http://room209gaming.com/forthright-open-roleplay/).

    It has some similarities to DW and other Apocalypse Engine games in how it handles success/boost/exchange, etc. on a bell curve.

    And one of its big things is Protagonists don’t die unless they want to. They can just keep taking Injuries (which hinder them both mechanically & fictionally) ad infinitum, and use their “level ups” to buy off the Injuries.

    room209gaming.com – Forthright Open Roleplay | Room 209 Gaming

  19. Rereading your original post, it occurs to me that you may not be asking for tips on how to make it less lethal, but for tips on how to sell your players on the idea that death should be on the table, and they are just not interested in that.

    This has been an issue for my group too, at times. I think it helped to have them play some other games on the side, where death was expected and common (like Dungeon Crawl Classics funnels). I still see them getting super anxious sometimes, though, and it’s obvious their anxiety is hurting their fun, not enhancing the drama.

    It occurs to me that maybe the risk of death is just a thing I find fun in games and they don’t. And if that’s the case, I figure I shouldn’t push it. It’d be like trying to drag them all to a movie nobody but me wants to see.

    Still, I’m hoping to explore some more games that take some of the anxiety out of death and failure, or borrow mechanics from them to see how they work elsewhere. In Phoenix: Dawn Command, for instance, you have to die and come back to advance in level, basically. It makes me wonder whether there’s some way to reward losing a character to take away the sting. Maybe offer a special playbook for the next character?

  20. Jason Tocci “It occurs to me that maybe the risk of death is just a thing I find fun in games and they don’t”

    Yeah, I think this is it.

    I’m still very interested by alternative that people suggest 🙂 I think I’ll have to suck it up and find solution to make the game less deadly… or, well, at that point I think I should probably find solution to make the game not lethal at all :'(

  21. If they just aren’t going to be happy with death being on the table, then I think Aaron Griffin has the right gist.

    Just say “0 HP = you’re out of the action” and ask them how they go down. If they decide they go down pierced through the eye with an arrow, then cool, they made the choice to die.

    Assuming they don’t choose death, though, I think you can take their answer and make whatever GM moves make sense as the follow-up. They got taken out because the bugbear’s club smashed them in the head? Well, they passed out and when they come to they’re hanging upside down over a boiling cauldron, nekked, while a bunch of goblin children riffle through their stuff in the corner. Good gods your head hurts, what do you do?

  22. In Shadow Lords (which is sword & sorcery heroics themed) the GM is required to not describe pc deaths but instead leave space for “he BARELY survived”. Then the player decides if he wants to die a glorious death or not. If he decides to die, he can describe what happens and either give a big binus to the rest of the party for the scene or even resolve it/down the enemy. That way death is always climatic.

    If he decides to not die, he gets both a long-lasting consequence that hinders him probably for the rest of the adventure and a permanent change to his pc, an extra trait describing things such as “without an hand”, “fear of darkness” etc.

    That way defeat is always bad but never anticlimatic neither punishing for players who want to keep their pc alive.

  23. Hmm, yeah I think the best as already mentioned I think by Jeremy Strandberg would be to modify the 6- result of the Last Breath move.

    I like Giorgio De Michele idea.

    Last Breath


    On a 6-, describe how it has permanently marked you.

    or something along those way.

  24. I highly recommend early episodes of Discern Realities for examples of how Jason Cordoba has handled character death.

    I say let em engage with the system as written. Last Breath offers opportunities for high drama on any result. On a 7-9 give them the choice of taking on a quest that puts them in conflict with another PC or at least another force they like in the world; or a deal that they can return for one last conflict with some special gift before they sacrifice themselve. On a miss, play up the Black Gate — ask them what the gate looks like, who they see that has died, what draws them through the gate, what regrets or satisfactions the character has — their life running before their eyes.

  25. Just had an idea. What if I tell players their character can’t die unless they want to, but at the start of a session they can raise the “death flag”, meaning if they reach 0 this session they need to roll Last Breath.

    Then I add this to the End of Session move :

    When you reach the end of a session:

    ■ If you raised the Death Flag, mark 3 xp.

    Do you think it’s too much? It’s basically half your lvl 1 progression right there.

    Basically, the message I send is : if you are willing to take the risk you can die, you’ll progress way faster.

  26. Addramyr Palinor Question about your campaign: if resurrection, and I assume raise dead period, have stopped working in your game, has that offended the deities?

    I think the way I’d handle this is that when someone would die I would pick a deity that would be interested in them achieving a certain outcome during this campaign and have them interfere. The most interesting thing here is when the second person “dies” you can have a deity with a different, possibly perpendicular agenda interfere with that character’s death. Eventually you could have several characters who owe opposing deities favors driving the fiction in ways that are each interesting in their own right.

    I plan on doing something similar to this for my fresh group starting up later this month. None of them have played DW, and only a couple have played tabletop games at all. To ease them in, instead of using Last Breath for their first time dying I’m going to tell them they’ll have a love letter about their experience next game. That will give me time to develop who would be interested in whether they live or die and what they would want in return. The move they roll at the end will probably be a variation on the Last Breath move with the miss meaning that death will be coming for them eventually.

  27. I really like the idea. I’ll probably end up modifying the Last Breath move so that a 6- is something like “say which diety comes to save your soul and what it asks you in return”

  28. Last Breath

    When you are dying, you catch a glimpse of the Black Gates and Death itself (describe it). Roll +nothing:

    On a 10+, you’ve made a deal with or cheated Death—you’re no longer dying, return to 1 HP but you’re still in a bad place.

    On a 7-9, choose 1:

    ■ Your time has come, but you can make one last move as if you rolled a 12+ (make it count)

    ■ Wrest yourself back to the realm of the living— return to 1 HP, and say how this has marked you.

    On a 6-, say what god comes to claim your soul and what it asks of you in return for your life.

    Death Flag

    At the start of a session, choose to raise the “Death Flag” on your character or not. If you do, for the whole session, when you roll the Last Breath move, no god will come save you on a 6- but you also add this option to the End of Session move:

    ■ If you raised the Death Flag, mark 3 xp.

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