Here’s a nice bit I discovered in Cheers Gary which I wanted to expound upon:
[I] have observed the coddled state of many new gamers as they died before my now beloved Old Guard Kobolds or met otherwise useless deaths because they: 1) were not thinking, and/or 2) assumed that whatever they met in an encounter they could deal with, and/or 3) they expected a special DM intervention such as a save when they totally screwed up.
I found this interesting as I was just discussing the deadliness of old school D&D with one of my players, Kyle, after our last game. Interesting things to note about Kyle: he’s a young guy, young enough that his first introduction to D&D was 3rd edition, and my game is his first encounter with the old stuff, and he works here with me at a video game company and thus has a fair exposure to what is probably the most new school type of RPG: the MMORPG.
We were discussing my tendency to roll in front of the players whenever possible, especially when it matters, the presence of save-or-die mechanics, and the difficulty in raising the dead. In my campaign cleric spells stop at level 5, making “Raise Dead” about the most powerful magic in the world. Furthermore, I made it that it actually requires the sacrifice of a 500 gp gem to the gods, which is quite a lot of money in my depressed economy, the equivalent of 5,000 gp by the book. For a group of levels 2-3, this comes pretty close to breaking the bank.
Kyle actually agreed that he found it very gratifying to play with these kind of rules in place. It adds to the tension, it makes your decisions matter, and it makes the challenges feel real. If raising your dead character costs no more than a trip to the local town and has no real repercussions, where then is the challenge, and thus the satisfaction of success? Without any risk of failure, the game is just so much dice rolling and math problems.
Last session was quite a hoot by the way. Blood Mallet, a 2nd level Fighter had died in the previous session gloriously. He was taken out by some ghouls, the party fled, rested for a day, and when they returned were horrified to find him raised as a ghoul himself. They fled again to town some 2 days ride away. Raise Dead has a time limit — it must be cast within 4 days per level above 8th, and the cleric they found to do the honors only had a window of 8 days. Thus they had 6 days left, with 4 days travel required, leaving just 2 days to get back into the dungeon, kill the ghoulish barbarian, and bring his corpse back. Even once this was complete they had to do some serious haggling to try and raise the funds required to bring the poor guy back.
So I say to you DMs out there: don’t be a coddler! Challenge your players and they will rise to the occasion. Or, they might not, and then you get wonderful emergent story like that above, which is just as good. Plus one hopes they learn their lessons and next time apply a little more cunning.