I wonder if I’m starting to get a reputation as a killer DM. Tonight I ran a Living Forgotten Realms game at my friendly local game store, Enchanted Grounds, and I killed off a PC – only the fourth time I’ve done so in the approximately one year I’ve been running D&D games. Still, one PC every three months… that’s a pretty aggressive kill rate!
This time, though, I don’t really feel bad about it. I was running an adventure called AKAN 1-3 Property for Sale.
This adventure is, in a lot of ways, a pretty standard dungeon delve. The party is hired by a halfling to clear monsters out of a long-forgotten temple. They fight some drow atop a waterfall, then head down into a cave and fight some stirges and a Cavern Choker (plus one of the drow who escaped the first encounter). The adventure then has something I’ve never seen in another LFR adventure – an actual puzzle (basically a sudoku puzzle with colored gems). The puzzle ended up being a fun few minutes for the table, so I’m glad I didn’t skip it.
After the puzzle comes a trapped room – stepping on a pressure plate would cause the doors at either end to close and water to fill the chamber. The party figured out it was a trap, and when they set it off they all dashed for the far door – all but the party’s shaman, who decided to wait in the hallway they had come from. The trapped room takes 20 minutes to reset once it goes off, so the four PCs who had moved through the room decided to forge ahead and leave the shaman behind.
Given that decision, I didn’t feel bad if they blundered into a total party kill. After all, they were heading into a climactic battle designed for five PCs but with only three, none of whom could heal.
The battle itself was a nasty encounter with a drow priestess, two giant spiders… and a beholder (the first time I’ve gotten the opportunity to use one – cool!). The party focused fire on the beholder, bringing it down to the ground and dazing it right off the bat. It stayed dazed for two rounds and ended up bloodied in a hurry. The spiders started dealing serious damage, and the beholder invoked fear in both defenders, making them flee the chamber, leaving just a pair of PC archers (a ranger and a seeker) in the room with the bad guys.
Spiders attacked the ranger and seeker, bloodying both of them, and then the drow priestess unleashed her nasty surprise – she blew the beholder to smithereens, dealing a whole bunch of damage to both archers, dropping them unconscious. Healing potions started being poured by the defenders, but one of the archers was stranded on the far side of the room, out of reach of their aid.
I eventually let the shaman try to pick the lock on the trapped room door, which he did – and then held on for dear life as water came rushing out. He had some special shoes that let him surf to the far door, and spent a couple of rounds trying unsuccessfully to pick that lock.
Meanwhile, things were grim for the four PCs against the spiders and the drow. The seeker kept rolling death saves, slowly inching closer to oblivion. The others were up and down a lot, using healing potions and continuing to beat on the spiders.
At long last, the shaman burst into the room, just in time for the seeker to fail his final death save. The poor seeker was dead.
Now, it did take seven rounds of unconsciousness for death to claim him, so I don’t feel that he really caught any bad breaks. And the party did rush in to a room with one PC out of the action, so they knew what they were getting themselves into. Bringing the fresh shaman into the battle finally turned the tide, and the survivors prevailed, but it was too late for Oona the seeker – sorry, Steve.
Fortunately, LFR is pretty forgiving about death, so I didn’t feel too bad. Still, I let the dice fall where they may, and if death happens, it happens. If you’re a player in one of my games… consider yourself warned! Mwoo ha ha ha!
Don’t worry about the death rate. My games average one character dropped to death saves per session and maybe one character death every quarter; much like what you’ve described.
Far more often a role-playing situation occurs that takes a character out of action for a while (Falling through a portal to the Shadowfell, or becoming enslaved to a Drow.. etc). Either happens due to the player wanting to try something different or because they do something silly in game.
All’s fair at the table and it’s best to always have a backup character. 🙂
Thanks for the perspective! Even if my players felt that I was a killer DM (and I don’t really think they feel that way), I’d be okay with that. I’m fair.
Also, I was recently a player in a game where another PC was killed; that’s a first for me (a PC dies when I WASN’T the DM). It made me feel like less of an outlier – as did your post!