Avoiding Death (Part 1)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on February 11, 2009

I think it’s fair to say that everyone who plays D&D has experienced character death at some point. Hopefully your character has gone down swinging or sacrificed himself in such a way that people will be telling and retelling the story for years to come. But in reality I think we all know that more often than not character death is the result of someone (often the character himself) doing something stupid.

Here are five way to avoid character death.

  1. Don’t chase monsters.

  2. As your sword bites deep in the monsters flesh again and again you know that the end is near. One good, solid blow and the beast will be defeated. Or it would be if it didn’t just turn and run. No matter, I’ll follow it to the ends of hell to get this kill.

    Also know as bloodlust. How often does one monster just refuse to die? And how often does one character (usually a Fighter) feels it’s his duty to kill it before it escapes. This may be (arguably) good role playing, but from a mechanics perspective it’s just stupid. If the monster flees the battle you still get full XP for defeating it. Let it go! Otherwise you may end up fighting the monster one-on-one, without help from your party, and it may kill you.

  3. Know you character.

  4. This monster can’t have too many hit points left. I’ll bet one more hit will drop it. My attack modifier is +7 so I need to roll 13 or more to hit AC 20. Damn! I rolled a 12, missed by 1. With 1 hit point remaining, the monster attacks the party and Nenia the Wizard is killed. Oh, damn! I forgot to add that +1 feat bonus. My attack should have hit (and killed) the monster. Sorry about that Nenia.

    It’s important to know your character and understand when situational modifiers apply. Become familiar with the descriptions of your weapons, magical items, feats and powers to ensure you’re getting all the bonuses you deserve. And never underestimate the importance of checking your math – especially after you level.

  5. Check for traps every time.

  6. As the party moves deeper into the dungeon they come upon another door. Ethan the Rogue begins checking for traps. “I’m sick of all this waiting,” yells Braddoc the Fighter. “I’m going in.” Pushing Ethan aside, Braddoc opens the door. Fortunately Braddoc’s prized Battle Axe has a strong enchantment and it survives the explosion. Braddoc is not so lucky.

    This seems like a no-brainer, but many characters die needlessly this way. It can get monotonous for the Rogue to check every single door for traps before entering, but unless you have a damn good reason not to then let the Rogue do his job. The great thing about 4e is that other characters can assist with most skill checks. So just because the Rogue is making the primary check doesn’t mean the rest of the party can’t take turns assisting.

  7. Take a short break.

  8. We just defeated eight skeletons, two ghouls, and one specter. We used most of our encounter powers and everyone’s used their second wind. We’re bloodied and tired. I’m just going to open this door a crack and see what’s in the next room. Uh oh.

    Never underestimate the value of a short rest. This gives you time to use heal, replenish encounter powers and allow the use of more action points. But, if the party is forgetful (or stupid) and moves on without taking a short rest they begin the next encounter already down a peg or two. The few times I’ve seen this happen characters have died needlessly.

  9. Pay attention.

  10. DM – Your turn, Braddoc.
    Braddoc – I swing at the monster with my Great Axe. Does 15 hit?
    DM – Not quite. The monster swipes at you with its giant claws. What’s you’re AC?
    Braddoc – 17
    DM – That hits. You take 10 points of damage and suffer the ongoing affects of poison until you save.
    Braddoc – That did it. I’m below 0 hit points and fall unconscious.
    Merric – Did you remember to add +3 to the attack roll that Sterling provided from his use of Warlord’s Favor?
    Braddoc – No.
    Merric – Did you remember to add +3 to your AC from the Priest’s Shield I just used?
    Braddoc – No
    Merric – Then I’m not healing you.

    Just because it’s not your turn doesn’t mean you can tune out. Many 4e powers offer bonuses to other characters. You need to be aware of what’s happening so that you get every advantage afforded your character. Likewise be sure to inform the party of bonuses you offer them due to your race, class or feats.

If you liked these, then be sure to check out Avoiding Death (Part 2).

1 Quid February 11, 2009 at 1:45 pm

Uh, it’s been awhile, but I believe my most common cause of death was “Overuse of the Deck of Many Things.”

2 skallawag February 11, 2009 at 4:57 pm

If I recall correctly, about half of the player deaths in my group usually occur when one player gets mind controlled and proceeds to dismember everyone else in the party.

3 Ameron February 11, 2009 at 7:40 pm

Thanks for your feedback, guys. This is only the first of what will no doubt be a long running series. In fact, part 2 will be available in the next couple of weeks. You both have given me ideas for the third article in the series.

@ Quid – Ah, the Deck of Many Things. I have yet to meet a gamer who hasn’t lost a PC to that greed trap.

@ Skallawag – Hopefully you’ve been the guy delivering the blows and not the poor sap who get’s the business end of the sword. Your DM must be particularly vicious if you’ve had this happen more than once.

4 Sterling February 11, 2009 at 11:28 pm

Deck of Many Things has ended at least two campaigns I’ve played in.

5 Suddry February 12, 2009 at 5:38 pm

Hmmm… I can think of one monk that was destroyed by a charmed barbarian. Ring any bells Skallawag?

I still owe you for that. Some grudges are never really forgotten! Mwhahahah!

6 Stosis Spritforged July 25, 2012 at 10:14 pm

Both my brother and I have stayed as far away as possible from the deck of many things. Not so for my friend Sean. He’s been dismembered about 15 times. The mind control is an interesting idea, I have to remember to use that next time.

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