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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Character Depletion

A couple forums have threads about character death right now (of course.) And of course there's a division between those who shrug it off and those who think it should be minimized.

But rather than discuss whether characters should be allowed to die, I'd like to talk about other character losses. I've heard some people rail against losing treasured equipment, calling rust monsters "screw jobs" and  showing anger at GMs who allow NPC thieves to rob from player characters. So, certainly, people feel strongly enough about this that we could consider it a challenge.

So, what about designing depleting adventures? A series of challenges that wear characters down, ruin equipment, use up resources, and cause other losses?

You'd still want a couple potentially deadly challenges, so that players would have a dilemma about continuing the current adventure under their current depleted state. But most of the losses would be in the form of equipment and supplies that would need to be replaced or cleaned, or annoying non-fatal injuries that would require rest (and thus expenses, potentially making an expedition not worth the trouble.)

Suppose you were going to design one or more adventures full of annoying but non-deadly challenges... say, 80% non-deadly and 20% standard deadliness. What kind of challenges would you hit the players with?


  1. Narrow spaces that force them to leave armour behind, with the intent to retrieve it later, combined with creatures who then steal it.

    A place to get truly foul, followed by a potential place to bathe. Followed by a scene similar to the one where the astronaut's clothes are stolen in the original Planet of the Apes.

    Enough of a carrot to make the players want to keep pressing on despite their losses.

    All (or most) of the truly deadly risks are to recover lost equipment, when it is even possible.

  2. I like how RCK didn't go straight to Rust Monsters and Disenchanters. His suggestions all involve player choice, and possible alternate choices (search for secret doors or explore for other ways around, players smart enough to hide their gear or guard it, etc.

  3. I think you can do this, but:

    - players resent it. Often, they see equipment as what they've been working for. It's like level drain in that same way, where it's taking something away you've made efforts to gain. A lot of players see this as a lot of no fun.

    - you need a really big carrot. Narrow places you can't enter with armor? My players would dig it out or skip it. Area that will churn through their gear and wear it down? If they see it coming (warning signs, that whole "show the trap" approach), they'd just leave their good stuff in safe keeping in town and go in with crap. Even then, they might just skip it and go home.

    I find players are willing to take gear and equipment attrition risks, or potential willful sacrifice of the same, in limited amounts. But if it's "lose a lot to gain more" they will try to game the losing part down, and if it's "lose a lot by surprise" they won't be happy. Raise Magic Sword and Restoration (Lost Gear) don't exist, so if the vorpal blade is toast you're worse off than if you died in most games.