Too much maiming?

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drkrash
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Too much maiming?

We've been playing ACKS weekly for about 9 months now and having a great time with it.

However, as GM, I have finally come to realize that characters don't die much.  I did a search on here before posting this, and instead found all these old posts about how lethal the game is instead!

The only deaths we have had have been: 1) off-screen by GM fiat (henchmen guarding horses), 2) TPK (once), and 3) a critically wounded character dying of exposure (again, GM ruling).  

Instead, we've had a lot of maiming and, as a result, some retirements of characters.  This is interesting from a story perspective in its own right, but less so when it happens over and over.

Presuming a character is only a few HP under 0, treated by a Healer or with some minor healing magic, and immediately after it happens in combat (this is a common situation for our group - in part because they have 10-12 characters delving), the d20 roll typically will result in 12 to 14, which cannot kill you.  In fact, you can't die unless the d20 roll is 5 or less.  In the circumstances I mention here, death occurs only 15% of the time, and if any healing is available, it drops to 5%, and that's only from complications later.

What am I missing? How are other people dying more often?

As GM, I don't *want* the players to die all the time, but we switched back to old-school gaming to feel the danger of imminent lethality.  I'm not really feeling it.

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Aryxymaraki
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Up to 15 includes 'die unless healed to 1 HP within X time'.

Keep in mind that HP do go negative! A character at 1 HP who is bashed by an ogre's club for 10 points is at -9, and must receive 10 points of healing, after being treated, in order to not die.

Remember also that the effect used on them as treatment (which confers a bonus on the mortal wounds table) does not actually restore HP. Its magic is subsumed in treatment.

(I do not have cites for these right now but if I forget to come back and cite them remind me.)

drkrash
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I knew about the second point; we have been playing that correctly.

I'll have to pay attention, as I'm not sure about the 1st point.  We've rarely been into negative HP beyond a few though.

Jard
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Up to 15 includes 'die unless healed to 1 HP within X time'. Keep in mind that HP do go negative! A character at 1 HP who is bashed by an ogre's club for 10 points is at -9, and must receive 10 points of healing, after being treated, in order to not die. Remember also that the effect used on them as treatment (which confers a bonus on the mortal wounds table) does not actually restore HP. Its magic is subsumed in treatment. (I do not have cites for these right now but if I forget to come back and cite them remind me.)

-Aryxymaraki

I have been "cheating" on both points because I have a playgroup raised mostly on 3.x and later sensibilities.  the crazy thing is, even with the healing spell healing hitpoints AND starting from 0, they seem to feel the game is too deadly.  I dunno, man.

Aryxymaraki
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I have been "cheating" on both points because I have a playgroup raised mostly on 3.x and later sensibilities.  the crazy thing is, even with the healing spell healing hitpoints AND starting from 0, they seem to feel the game is too deadly.  I dunno, man.


-Jard

Groups raised on 3.x and later editions tend to assume that all encounters will be level-appropriate. The idea of scouting out their enemy, figuring out their strength, deciding whether or not to fight, and so on, is not something that they're used to, because 3.x/later DMing advice and encounter design rules strongly discourage encounters that are not level-appropriate.

So anytime a group of first level characters encounters a bandit camp, they tend to assume that they'll be able to rush right in and kill them; they get TPKed and blame the system.

(This has been my experience, anyway.)

GMJoe
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I'll have to pay attention, as I'm not sure about the 1st point.  We've rarely been into negative HP beyond a few though.

-drkrash

Really? That's weird. The odds of being knocked to exactly 0 hp when rendered unconcious are only about 1 in 6, assuming most weapons do 1d6 damage. What have your players been fighting?

EDIT: I just re-read what you said and realised I'd somehow missed the "beyond a few" bit. Whoops.

Magus7a
Joined: 2017-01-20 08:13

Groups raised on 3.x and later editions tend to assume that all encounters will be level-appropriate. The idea of scouting out their enemy, figuring out their strength, deciding whether or not to fight, and so on, is not something that they're used to, because 3.x/later DMing advice and encounter design rules strongly discourage encounters that are not level-appropriate.

So anytime a group of first level characters encounters a bandit camp, they tend to assume that they'll be able to rush right in and kill them; they get TPKed and blame the system.

(This has been my experience, anyway.)

​-Aryxymaraki

​This, so very much this, as someone raised on the 3.x milieu, I know that my first few sessions in ACKS will be take on impossible odds, die, try to figure out where I went wrong.

Tywyll
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While I admit, to my shame, that in my 4 years of playing ACKS, only three main characters have died (and one retired) a lot of hirelings have died. This is usually because they get that 'must be healed to 1' result and the party is out of healing to bring them to that threshold. 

EHamilton
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Groups raised on 3.x and later editions tend to assume that all encounters will be level-appropriate. The idea of scouting out their enemy, figuring out their strength, deciding whether or not to fight, and so on, is not something that they're used to, because 3.x/later DMing advice and encounter design rules strongly discourage encounters that are not level-appropriate. So anytime a group of first level characters encounters a bandit camp, they tend to assume that they'll be able to rush right in and kill them; they get TPKed and blame the system. (This has been my experience, anyway.)

-Aryxymaraki

It's notable how many items on the ACKS spell lists -- especially divine spells -- are devoted to informational and utility talents intended to avoid hard encounters and "tilt the odds" in ways that turn balanced encounters into turkey shoots. In the first two levels, clerics have only two curative spells -- light wounds and delay poison (which doesn't really cure anything, just let someone wait to die until after the next boss fight) -- but five intelligence-gathering spells: evil, magic, augury, traps, and speak with animals. Clerics aren't doctors, they're sonar technicians!

It's the game's way of trying to tell you that that you don't really want to be in any position where you need healing in the first place. It's very much "combat as war" over "combat as sport". You want to be constantly looking for ways to break every encounter with cheaty tricks.

One side effect of this is that ACKS sessions consistently involve only about 25% of time spent in actual face-to-face battles, and the other 75% of the time arguing about whether to fight the battles at all, or in trying to persuade the referee that hell hounds are definitely stupid enough that at least three ranks of them should blunder into that magical trap before they notice they're being vaporized. In 3.x/Pathfinder, those are signs that your group is seriously dysfunctional. In an old-school game, it's evidence that you're doing everything right.

EHamilton
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I'd also add that lethality itself is very heavily dependent on target selection choices by monsters, which is left mostly to judge's discretion. In wilderness encounters, this is a huge hidden difficulty slider that can be used to make the game much harder or easier as desired, just like scaling the AI in a computer strategy game.

If all the giant carnivorous flies pile onto the guy in a magical shield and plate armor, the party will probably win without a scratch. If they are smart and rush the guys in the back with robes, it's going to require multiple mortal wounds rolls for sure. This is why, in any world with frequent wilderness encounters, the same game system can become "high lethality" or "low lethality" depending who runs your encounters.

chalicier
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I'd also add that lethality itself is very heavily dependent on target selection choices by monsters, which is left mostly to judge's discretion. In wilderness encounters, this is a huge hidden difficulty slider that can be used to make the game much harder or easier as desired, just like scaling the AI in a computer strategy game.

If all the giant carnivorous flies pile onto the guy in a magical shield and plate armor, the party will probably win without a scratch. If they are smart and rush the guys in the back with robes, it's going to require multiple mortal wounds rolls for sure. This is why, in any world with frequent wilderness encounters, the same game system can become "high lethality" or "low lethality" depending who runs your encounters.


-EHamilton

 

Agreed, with the caveat that encounter intelligence is also very often used as a means of reinforcing how dangerous parties of intelligent enemies with good leadership can be (in comparison to, say, a pack of giant carnivorous flies).

Kiero
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Joined: 2013-04-26 07:13

What didn't jibe well with my group was the sheer randomness of that table. After the first encouter with it (stabbed in the back with a poisoned blade; leads to being castrated?), I changed it so that you only roll on that table as an alternative to accepting character death.

5 Stone Games
Joined: 2017-04-06 17:08

 

Groups raised on 3.x and later editions tend to assume that all encounters will be level-appropriate. The idea of scouting out their enemy, figuring out their strength, deciding whether or not to fight, and so on, is not something that they're used to, because 3.x/later DMing advice and encounter design rules strongly discourage encounters that are not level-appropriate. So anytime a group of first level characters encounters a bandit camp, they tend to assume that they'll be able to rush right in and kill them; they get TPKed and blame the system. (This has been my experience, anyway.)


-Aryxymaraki

 

It's notable how many items on the ACKS spell lists -- especially divine spells -- are devoted to informational and utility talents intended to avoid hard encounters and "tilt the odds" in ways that turn balanced encounters into turkey shoots. In the first two levels, clerics have only two curative spells -- light wounds and delay poison (which doesn't really cure anything, just let someone wait to die until after the next boss fight) -- but five intelligence-gathering spells: evil, magic, augury, traps, and speak with animals. Clerics aren't doctors, they're sonar technicians!

It's the game's way of trying to tell you that that you don't really want to be in any position where you need healing in the first place. It's very much "combat as war" over "combat as sport". You want to be constantly looking for ways to break every encounter with cheaty tricks.

One side effect of this is that ACKS sessions consistently involve only about 25% of time spent in actual face-to-face battles, and the other 75% of the time arguing about whether to fight the battles at all, or in trying to persuade the referee that hell hounds are definitely stupid enough that at least three ranks of them should blunder into that magical trap before they notice they're being vaporized. In 3.x/Pathfinder, those are signs that your group is seriously dysfunctional. In an old-school game, it's evidence that you're doing everything right.


-EHamilton

 

That was a real gem and will help explain OSR gaming to some of my younger players quite nicely. Thanks.

Ravensworth
Joined: 2017-04-26 01:58

 

I

 

Groups raised on 3.x and later editions tend to assume that all encounters will be level-appropriate. The idea of scouting out their enemy, figuring out their strength, deciding whether or not to fight, and so on, is not something that they're used to, because 3.x/later DMing advice and encounter design rules strongly discourage encounters that are not level-appropriate. So anytime a group of first level characters encounters a bandit camp, they tend to assume that they'll be able to rush right in and kill them; they get TPKed and blame the system. (This has been my experience, anyway.)


-Aryxymaraki

 

It's notable how many items on the ACKS spell lists -- especially divine spells -- are devoted to informational and utility talents intended to avoid hard encounters and "tilt the odds" in ways that turn balanced encounters into turkey shoots. In the first two levels, clerics have only two curative spells -- light wounds and delay poison (which doesn't really cure anything, just let someone wait to die until after the next boss fight) -- but five intelligence-gathering spells: evil, magic, augury, traps, and speak with animals. Clerics aren't doctors, they're sonar technicians!

It's the game's way of trying to tell you that that you don't really want to be in any position where you need healing in the first place. It's very much "combat as war" over "combat as sport". You want to be constantly looking for ways to break every encounter with cheaty tricks.

One side effect of this is that ACKS sessions consistently involve only about 25% of time spent in actual face-to-face battles, and the other 75% of the time arguing about whether to fight the battles at all, or in trying to persuade the referee that hell hounds are definitely stupid enough that at least three ranks of them should blunder into that magical trap before they notice they're being vaporized. In 3.x/Pathfinder, those are signs that your group is seriously dysfunctional. In an old-school game, it's evidence that you're doing everything right.


-EHamilton

I cut my Teeth on the white box and grew from there. Games were oddly lethal as they were wargame rules with some Roleplaying tacked on. As the Game advanced in Versions we got less lethal wargame combat and MUCH better Roleplay RULES.  Too many Rules for some.Being a a good Judge or DM meant putting together a good world with the potential for good stories. It also meant throwing some curveball encounters at the characters. I had a character say once "that clear pool can't be acid their is too much of it", right before diving in. 10th level in those days was a big deal and when he dissolved to death his companions laughed so hard it took twenty minutes to explain that no resurrection was possible. Now had he done the normal put a stick in it test he would have known, he knew better. NEVER trust a DM. 

The part where you say combat avoidance or arguing with the GM 75% of the time sounds to me more like a GM problem than a ACKS problem. First, I don't argue rules with my players period. My table, my rules. I will discuss after the game a ruling I made but NEVER during gameplay. Second, encounters can be built so players can find clever ways to win in combat as well with ACKS as with most OSR rules. Yes encounters can be deadly and occasional PC deaths IMHO add depth and meaning to the world and adventure. Balancing these two elements is difficult but still the GM's job.

I find the most people playing OSR lose the main point. A strong GM is necessary and you are playing in your own sandbox. ACKS is the best sandbox system ever written. Comparing experiences to 3. and Pathfinder is difficult. When first introducing players, I say, this is a sand box survival RPG.

 

 

 

koewn
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I find the most people playing OSR lose the main point. A strong GM is necessary and you are playing in your own sandbox. ACKS is the best sandbox system ever written. Comparing experiences to 3. and Pathfinder is difficult. When first introducing players, I say, this is a sand box survival RPG.


-Ravensworth

That's a good thought.

There's a cohort of gamers to whom the experience could be summed up as "Like when you die in Minecraft Survival Mode." Yea, you lost that "instance" of your dude, and all his stuff and such, but you have resources stored to get back to regular operations pretty quickly. For ACKS, those resources are the rest of the party, largely, plus your own henchmen, reserve XP and assorted "built in game" resources.

Somewhat relatedly, there was an interesting premise from Arnold of Goblin Punch presenting a more ... abstract Mortal Wounds table, where the character is gaining Trauma points and must essentially save vs retirement:

http://goblinpunch.blogspot.com/2017/04/death-trauma-and-retirement-im-g...

...which I think may satisfy most of the point of the matter, and ACKS is uniquely positioned to transform retiring PCs into useful NPCs.