Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Deadliest. Campaign. Ever. (At least for me)

Am I a killer DM?

Tonight I'm running the 9th session of my Expeditions in the Northlands Campaign, which I restarted back in May. So far, we've had at least 20 character deaths! That's an average of 2-3 deaths per session. I have a stack of deceased character index cards to prove it. And I'm not even counting the handful of hirelings who've met their demise along the way.

This is either a resounding success or an unmitigated disaster, depending your point of view.

Yet I sort-of expected this. I'm using the character "funneling" system from Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. Every player starts off with 2-3 0-level characters, depending on the size of the party. We're using Swords & Wizardry pretty much straight-up (roll 3d6 for each ability score). I'm also running the campaign "West Marches-style" with a pool of about a dozen players, some committed, some casual.

Overall though, the players are enjoy the campaign. And I'm enjoying running it--it's a relief from developing and running a "plot-based" campaign.

Here are my observations:

--Most character deaths occur at 0-level, which is to be expected.

--Character death doesn't bother the players as much as it would in a "plot-based" campaign or in more "rules heavy" RPGs (later editions of D&D included). Sure, it sucks when your surviving character who made it to first level dies, but you can always roll up 2-3 more 0-level chararacters in about 15 minutes.

--1st level characters have a slightly higher survival rate, because they often have better equipment than they're zero level counterparts. But they are still fragile.

--"Above average" factors into the probabilities a lot more than it does in later versions of D&D. For example: one player has a 1st level fighter with with above average strength and constitution. He rolled up maximum hit points at 0-level and 1st level for 14 hit points total. Even with a dexterity of 8 (-1 to AC), he is the "tank" of the group, especially now that he's traded in his chainmail for platemail, giving him an AC of 17 (plate +6, large shield +2, -1 dex). Most low-level monsters will have a hard time hitting him.

--Magic is "magical" again and potent. I've watched a single magic missile turn the tide of a battle. A sleep spell, cast by the party's Witch, once saved the group from complete annihilation.

--The players themselves are being more active, rather than passively sitting back and letting the story take them along. There are no stories, except for the ones they have their characters develop.

--I've been playing and running RPGs for almost 25 years, this is my deadliest campaign by far, yet so far my players are enjoying, and I am, too.

What's the most deadliest campaign you've played in?


  1. Love this. Sounds like a great game. My current campaign has had its share of deaths. Some at low level and a few at high level. Raise Dead is nearly non-existant in my game so even the high level characters tend to stay dead.

  2. The toughest campaign I ever DMed was Rappan Athuk, planted in the Forgotten Realms 3. Edition Silver Marches. Brutal dungeon and brutal wilderness encounters (there was a lot of travel to the next dwarven stronghold). With 6 or 7 players and 1 to 3 deaths per session (a session round about 6 to 8 hours). Raising Dead was available, but not always possible. Didn't take the players long to learn how to make a new character fast. One player was from a storyteller games background and refused to continue play after his Paladin found an unnecessary death in the womb of a purple worm. The rest was content with the lethality and had fun :)

    1. Rappan Athuk is brutal. I've run a couple near-TPKs there.

      You can make a campaign just with all of the wilderness encounters themselves.

      I guess the paladin didn't heed Spiegle's warning, eh? ;)

  3. The campaign I'm currently running began with a TPK and has had several sessions where only one or PCs survived. In some cases not all players were present though. Only one player still has the character he made after the first TPK. This is only the second campaign I've run but the first had a fair amount of death too. This one has been going about 2 years; the prior one was maybe 1 1/2 years (both weekly games) so that should give an anecdote of high-mortality, long-term gaming!

  4. Yeah, RA is very effective. And they never went past level 3!

    I liked the Silver Marches Supplement. It is one of the better FR 3. Edition books, as far as I remember. And the Random Encounters did enhance the flavor (and left an impression...).

    It was actually a perfect example for "lawful stupid". He wanted to stay back and fight for his swallowed friends, while the rest fled for the exit. I even remember showing them that picture of the entrance :D


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