As a DM, I have to disagree with one part of the LotFP's adventure writing guide. Particularly, this part:
As a referee, your job is to be completely impartial during game play. You have absolute power at the game table and can bequeath success or mandate failure at any time. Doing either of those things ruins the game, as both give no incentive to play well.
Do not fudge the dice. Ever. Luck is a part of the game, and the dice are there for a reason. Resist the temptation of sparing characters that fail or even die due to “bad luck” or a “stupid die roll.”
No, this is not true. As a referee; or rather, as a Dungeon Master, your job is not to be impartial. Your job is to make sure your players are having fun, and to adapt your playing style to those players.
I roll all of my dice behind a screen. Most of the time, I don't fudge it -- I let the roll stick, for better or for worse. It's not unheard of for a character to get knocked out during my watch, and a couple of characters have even died. But in truth, that character never had a chance at dying for good... if they did, the option to resurrect them was either on-hand already or nearby (a magical wellspring, etc).
This is because making a character is a huge investment. I encourage heavily-crafted backstories for my player characters, and I weave their own past lives into the narrative of the game as a whole. So when that character dies... and they die for good
... you have just wasted all of that player's work. It's all down the drain. That's not fun... and that's a surefire way to get non-hardcore players to quit your campaign, and to not join any future campaigns you may run. I don't know about the author, but I have maybe one person I can think of who is that hardcore, and the rest would not like me if I told them to create an involved biography, only to die on some boss fight before even hitting level 10.
If a player is playing well, making smart choices, trying their best with their not-stupid build, and the bad guy rolls a critical hit that would kill them... I'll tell them it's just a normal hit. Because I don't believe in punishing people who play well.
But of course, there's still the issue of the tension of challenge. That can be solved with something very simple: design sense. Instead of permanent death being the worst consequence a player can suffer, be original. No need to be a slave to the rules. When a player of mine dies but is resurrected, it might come at a cost -- they might owe the party gold for the Church of Pelor's fee. If they were revived at a magical wellspring, maybe a ghost of some sort now resides in them, and possesses them at inopportune moments. Maybe the resurrection process was imperfect, and until they can see a better cleric, they're technically considered undead (and if they're a cleric themselves... oh man, the possibilities!!).
I had a party wipe against a powerful boss in one campaign. So they were all dead forever, right? If I take the LotFP blog's advice, it's time to start a new campaign, roll up some new characters. "Tough," as they say. No, this is not how I roll, and not how that boss rolled either. All of the characters woke up in a large monastery in chains, bound to serve the army of the one they were just trying to slay. Holy crap! How do they get out of it? Well, it'll be tough. And your characters will have to be a little humble, since their weapons aren't on them, and you might have to do some things you're morally against. But that's the fun of it... they get to roleplay their characters in a dire situation. It feels tense, they know
they failed, and yet they're still able to go on enjoying themselves. "Failure" doesn't have to be "permadeath," and thinking failure only has to be such is limiting and closed-minded.
... wow, that's a lot of words. I guess I'm kind of passionate about that topic. Thanks Reynard and Nelneo; while I liked Mikko's article much more, it's good to read things you disagree with. It gives you perspective, and while it may not change your mind, knowing how other people think is never a bad thing.
EDIT: I feel like I should reiterate that the LotFP's blog post is excellent advice if that is how your players are
. If your players don't enjoy that style of DMing, then it is terrible advice. My players are the second camp.
Edited by Grem, 24 March 2012 - 01:52 PM.