August 7, 2012

System Death

Should a game system kill a character or should the environment/monsters/setting/adventure kill a character?

I have seen game systems that penalize a character for doing cool stuff, for playing their character. Specifically the use of magic. If you cast a spell there is a chance the character will go insane or lose stats that eventually causes the death of the character. Every time a player rolls a specific number, such as a 1, when using a specific character skill or item they move one step closer to character death.

There is a delineation between System Death, when system mechanics lead to the death of a character, and environmental effects or monsters that kill a character. I also do not mind putting in system mechanics to limit the use of certain powers and abilities; this is often done for the sake of balance. What I do not like is System Death, especially if said power or ability is part of the core concept of the character. I prefer a character death that comes from making bad choices, from ignoring the warning signs of impending doom. I would prefer a player says "My character was killed by a Balrog" or "My character was killed by stepping into a Sphere of Annihilation" rather than "My character died because I rolled a 1 on my spell casting".

I can understand that System Death is often a mechanic to add tension, but it is not my preference. Let a character die from choices the player makes, not from some arbitrary system mechanic. How do you feel about game system mechanics that send a character into the downward spiral of character death?
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