I’ve never really understood the mind set behind being a killer DM. I mean I can see the appeal to a certain degree, but when it comes down to it, as a DM it’s easy to kill characters. As a DM your word is that of God. As the clichéd saying goes with great power comes great responsibility. On some level there is this unwritten, and unspoken contract between the DM and players that the DM will not abuse his power of Godhood lest he bring down the wrath of the players. Whom, will in turn leave to worship a less blood thirsty deity.
When it comes down to it the DMs role is to be fair. He is to remain impartial, keep things entertaining and challenging for the players. It’s a fine line, and one that can be easily crossed in the heat of the moment. Maybe I’m just a pussy of a DM, because I take no satisfaction in killing PCs. I want my players to succeed, yet I defiantly don’t want it to be a cake walk. The way I see it, its my job to beat the PCs to within an inch of their fictional lives, make them beg and scrap by for every advantage, and then when they reach the victory line successful, it’s all that more meaningful to the players.
Lately I’ve been thinking about running a more gritty kind of game. This is something the older editions of D&D had, as well as games like Call of Cthulhu, or Legend of the Five Rings. One wrong move on the part of the character and he might as well kiss his ass good-bye. Yet I hesitate.
The problem I keep coming back to is that if one or two people in the party dies its OK. The story can carry on. But if it’s a TPK, then everything that has been gained over months or years of gaming comes to mean absolutely zero.
But then they were all wiped out by some invisible monsters that they had no freaking chance of defeating.
The player’s all took it well. Almost too well. In fact I feel like despite this being a game players should have a certain amount of a healthy attachment to their characters. This isn’t fucking Super Mario Brothers. There’s no up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, A, B Konami code to give you a hundred lives. It’s a ROLE-playing game. Can you really be taking your character seriously if you don’t give a shit if he dies? If your playing a goofy light hearted game that’s one thing. But if you feel the need to give your character a serious name, and a plausible background story why the fuck wouldn’t you care if your character died?
When I think about all this it makes me wonder if perhaps I take the game too seriously. But is it too much to ask for a serious game? Do I need to pack up my dice and books and call it quits? Or are there others out there who feel as I do?
Back to my story. So the players died, and so did the story. Sure they rolled up new characters, and we finished the campaign. Yet at the conclusion of it all it just felt forced and hollow. The villain in question died, yet it was an anti-climactic death with very little meaning behind it. I mean this was the culmination of one of the few campaigns I’ve ever run that saw it’s way to it’s proper end, and I felt very unsatisfied as a DM.
So my question to all you out there reading this, What’s up with the killer DM thing and how do you stop it from just becoming a player vs. DM thing? How do you keep the tension up in a gritty game without having the TPK and ruining everything thats come before?