Last week, I examined the relationship between a game’s mortality rate and its method of character creation. Let me expand my diagram to look at some ramifications of my trinity of old school gaming. This week I’d like to focus on one of the main effects of a high mortality rate among player characters: Simple, yet exciting combat.
One of the foundations of old school gaming is killing things and taking their stuff, so a satisfying combat system is of paramount importance.
A high mortality rate allows for just that. If those dice clattering onto the table just now might spell your character’s death, you’ll be fully invested in the action regardless of the complexity of the rules. When I roll monster damage in WFRP, for instance, all my players’ eyes are glued to the dice, even if they concern another player’s character.
If, on the other hand, you take away the risk of death, you will either end up with boring combat (DSA3, I’m looking at you!) or you will have to compensate for the thrill of danger by offering tactical depth (the D&D 4e approach), evocative tables (the Rolemaster approach) or whatever—at which point combat will no longer be a simple affair.
(Admittedly, things other than your character’s life might be at stake. Maybe an NPC could die, your character could be traumatized etc. I maintain that the threat of character death is the key, though. In-the-moment, the inevitably occuring deaths often suck but that’s the price you have to pay – and a topic for another day.)
I'll explain more of those arrows next week.