The Gassy Gnoll: When Did It Become Us vs. Them?

Recently I was introduced to the idea of a “DM Kill Board” where DMs or GMs could jot down the particulars surrounding the death of a PC. Level and class details are intermixed along with the circumstances of the death. And I can’t help but be a little weirded out by this trend.

Warning: Opinions AheadWhen did it become an “Us vs. Them” approach? Regardless of whether the GM kills a PC/NPC or a PC/NPC kills a favorite monster/NPC in the game, is it really something to celebrate? Sure, some deaths are a bit “Darwin Awards” at times. And I can certainly see a player lamenting the death of a favorite PC or relating the details of a particularly cool battle. But a kill list for GMs?

Am I old fashioned in my tabletop role-playing? I feel like the gaming experience is shared and that having fun and telling a good story is paramount, no matter which side of the GM screen you’re on.

Now I’m not averse to some occasional PC on PC battles, with or without the presence of a GM. Some games are built around this like good old Car Wars from Steve Jackson Games. Some of the MechWarrior/BattleTech stuff lends itself to an arena environment. And any nearly any fantasy RPG can be used in a gladiatorial battle kind of mindset. But those should be the exceptions, not the rule.

These days games like The One Ring use the concept of party harmony to enhance the experience of shared storytelling. I would hope that tabletop RPG would move towards that ideal of common goals, not away from it…

Obviously not everyone plays that way. Does the “kill board” approach apply more towards a list of cautionary tales or idea fodder for some GMs? Or does it have a different purpose?

I really am curious. It’s not a mindset I’ve ever found myself in.

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8 comments to The Gassy Gnoll: When Did It Become Us vs. Them?

  • I’ve always been under the impression, that this is actually something very Old School. Early D&D dungeons were full of things that woild instantly kill characters just by touching or even looking at them with no warning or any way to avoid it. And presumedly the GM would then laugh and taunt the players for their stupidity.
    While I love OSR gamed, I could never get into classic modules. All their entertainment value seems to be for GMs with poor personalties.
    Yora recently posted…Jump into the deep end! – Starting Sword & Sorcery adventuresMy Profile

  • Jeff

    I’ve never seen a kill board, but I do track PC deaths (and a henchman that lasts more than 10 sessions) on Obsidian Portal. I write a small epithet with “session born on”, “session died on” name, race, and class, followed by how they died and a humorous observation about them in life or their death. This is more for tracking than a “me vs. them” thing, it’s hard to remember the name of the PC wizard who survived three session nine months ago.

    My players know I will kill PC without flinching, even a long running PC is not safe, but that’s our style and probably not for everyone. I actually hate when they die, because it hurts the games narrative progress and makes my job harder as the DM to provide motivation or derails the adventure threads or hooks I seeded earlier, but when it happens it happens and it makes the long surviving PC feel important.

    • Game Knight

      Jeff, I like this idea and it’s one I’m more familiar with. Tracking a PC/NPC death for long-running characters more as an obituary I can get behind. Adventuring is a dangerous profession after all. :)

  • Bill

    Isn’t this more a resurgence of an old idea? I remember tales of characters who didn’t get a name until they survived to 5th level because the game was so deadly.

  • Marina

    I’m the GM in my game, and I do use a sort of ‘kill-board’ type system, though it’s really just a list of various npcs and stuff that died in the game. But my reasoning for is we play a sandbox WoD game, and I find it amusing to have a “butterfly effect” and a “reap what you sew” theme to the whole game, and to cause consequences for the characters who willingly kill off another npc adds to an interesting sandbox environment. For my game, the kill-board is almost required to keep an interesting, interactive environment for my players, and also so I can keep an even amount of interactable and actually interesting npcs behind my blind at all times.

    • Game Knight

      Marina – I like the thread approach… Who knows what striking one thread might do to the others. And tracking vampire family lineages and thralls in such a manner could be quite intriguing. It seems a part of the tapestry you’re weaving and less of a bunch of marks on the side of the plane denoting kills in battle…

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