Living and Dying by the Dice

When you run a game, are your dice rolls absolute?  Do your players live or die based on random
chance or worse yet the fickle whims of the Dice Gods? As a GM who’s been
running some form of a game for the better part of 20 years, I must say that
how I use the results of my dice rolls are completely dependent on the game and
the situation.
I am not a Malevolent GM. I don’t enjoy killing off
characters. Hurting them- check. Maiming them – sure. Having them lose all
their treasure just to escape – oh yeah. 
Burn a few bridges or earn the ire of the evil warlord – oh Gods yes.  Indiana Jones didn’t look so good after he
finally recovered the Ark of the Covenant. Neither do my players once they
finish a brutal session.
By the same token, I’m not a benevolent GM either. I don’t
give my players what they want – they have to earn it. Rarely do they escape
unscathed.  The treasure they earned may
be to repair their gear, get new stuff that was damaged or destroyed – or pay
for or to rebuild something they had a hand in destroying.  In my games money is easy come – easier go.
The dice help me tell my story.  They give me an idea as to what NPC’s and
villains will do.  If I roll really well
I’ll take that into account for the outcome. Maybe they break, maybe they hold.
But I have never let the dice be the arbiter of my games. I even fudge the dice
rolls or completely ignore them if it helps me further the story.
I have killed players before. For sheer stupidity.  I do put things in the game that they have no
chance of beating – but usually enough clues that it would be a bad idea to
try. Subtle clues and sometimes a flashing neon sign aren’t always enough .The ginormous
paw prints that are longer than one of their horses. The charred and molten remains
of the armor just outside of the cave. 
When they use every skill and spell they have to sneak up on their foe
only to find him waiting casually for them and then they attack him anyway. Then
comes the TPK and the complaining.
I’ve killed a character for a player’s story arc. The player
wanted to retire the character but go out with a bang. We built the tension,
entered the scene, and at the most dramatic time he went down.  It was perfect because the other players had
no idea.
For me the dice are more of a guide. I’ll often set up some options
in my head and roll off it.  I’ll make my
players roll against me – usually a single D6. If they beat me it’s usually a
good thing. They fail – well time to break out the battle mat. Sometimes it is
just to make them think something is about to happen.
Sometimes I’ll just roll dice behind my GM screen and make
little comments to myself, or write little notes just to make my players
paranoid.  Or I’ll just roll the dice to
hear them roll. One player has told me he hates that.
For me GMing is all about the story and how my players help
me tell it. I want them to have fun. The dice help add tension and maybe help
something happen that normally would not have. If it is a one shot, I’m a bit
more brutal. The characters are normally pre-generated and usually throw away.  If I’m running a Cthulhu game then all bets
are off. Sometimes the best thing that can happen is that you die. Right now I
am running a full blown campaign with a long story arc. I’ve had my players
write up backgrounds; give me details, plot hooks, goals for their
characters.  Unless they get bored with
their character they should survive – though they may be missing some body
parts.
One GM I played with briefly was the complete opposite. The
dice were absolute and he loved to throw us at things that we didn’t always
have a chance to survive. He had some program and would run simulations of the
expected combat. One that he put us in, the party survived only 1 time in about
20 simulations. And by survive one or two did not die.  Needless to say we had a TPK early on and the
time I spent writing and developing his background went out the window in about
2 sessions.  In that aspect it is good to
let your players know just how brutal your campaign is going to be. 
I’ve also had a character killed by a lucky shot and brutal
damage roll from a mook.  If you are a GM
and you have fun doing that to your players, I’ll be sure to skip your game.
The dice are but one item in your toolbox. Don’t let them
run your game, let them help you tell your story. But most of all don’t let
them destroy the fun you are supposed to be having.

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