Greatest Hits 2009: Avoiding Death

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on December 21, 2009

While the Dungeon’s Master team enjoys some well-deserved vacation time, we’re breaking out the greatest hits and shining a spotlight on a few of our favourite articles from 2009. We’ve searched for hidden gems that our newer readers might have missed and our long-time readers will enjoy reading again. Enjoy a second look at these greatest hits from Dungeon’s Master.

This was one of the very first articles I wrote for Dungeon’s Master. All of the examples came from actual events that took place at my gaming table. And in the months since I wrote this article, I’ve seen all of these things happen over and over again whenever I play with new gamers.

My intent with this article was to highlight (in a humourous way) the dumb things we’ve all done as PCs. If you avoid making even one of these mistakes after reading this, then I’ve done my job.

A few of these tips and reminders are less pertinent today then they were when this article was first published thanks to Character Builder. Since Character Builder does all of the math for you, you’re a lot less likely to miss or forget modifiers.

If I had to add #11 to this list it would be to use your daily powers every day. But as a more general reminder, the only other piece of advice I’d offer is to just play intelligently. It’s the stupid things that get your PC into trouble.

From February 11 and 24, 2009, Dungeon’s Master once again presents: Avoiding Death (Part 1 | Part 2).

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 10 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.

  11. Be quiet.

  12. The party quietly crept through the castle hallway. They knew the king’s private bedchamber was just around the next corner. With any luck they could catch him unaware and he wouldn’t have time to prepare adequate defenses. As Ethan the Rogue is about to turn the corner he hears “Get ready, men. They’ll be here any second.” “Damn, how did they know we were coming?” Ethan thought momentarily as he eyed his companions in plate, scale, and chain armor. “Noisy clods!”

    Wearing big, bulky armor and carrying a shield gives you a great AC, but the check penalty really kills your Stealth score. Even so, Stealth should not be automatically ruled out. The Fighter, Paladin and Cleric may not be suitable for silent movement but most other classes are. Anyone with a reasonable Dexterity and no armor check penalty can be sneaky. Let them scout ahead before the guy in armor announces your presence. Knowing what lies around the next corner (before it knows you’re there) lets you devise a quick strategy before combat begins.

  13. Move strategically.

  14. Sterling the Warlord observes the battlefield and directs his companions. “Braddoc, you and I will move up together with you in the lead and fight the first monster. Ethan, try to get around them and flank with Braddoc.” Ethan sneaks behind the monster and is ready to move in for the kill. Sterling and Braddoc begin moving, but Braddoc suddenly takes a turn to the right and charges a different foe. “Braddoc, where are you going?” Sterling asks. “The big one is going down,” Braddoc says as he charges through the battlefield.

    Your movement should make sense. Do you have a power that will benefit an ally adjacent to you or adjacent to the target? Do you get any bonuses (like sneak dice) against an opponent granting combat advantage? Then move to flank. If you can move and gain combat advantage, why wouldn’t you? Take the +2 to hit! Or move so that the party striker can flank more easily. Moving into the right square can make a huge difference to you, the party and the outcome of combat. Try to anticipate where your allies are going to move or just ask them. Work together. Haphazard movement makes things more difficult for everyone, combat takes longer and characters die.

  15. Try diplomacy.

  16. As the giant flying monster lands in front of the party, claws raised and razor sharp teeth ready to bite, it speaks. “This is my forest. Why should I forgive such trespass?” “Charge!” cries Braddoc the Fighter as he runs forth. “I’ll earn lots of XP for this kill,” he thinks as he charges into combat.

    Every character has Diplomacy, Bluff and Intimidate on their character sheet. Combat is not your only option! Many monsters are highly intelligent. Try talking your way out of a problem rather than rushing headlong into combat. A successfully parley will often yield just as much XP as killing the creature.

  17. Work together.

  18. Dire wolves circle the party, outnumbering the PCs 2-to-1. Each PC moves to attack the nearest wolf. Many wolves are wounded, but none are killed. Now the wolf pack, still boasting its superior numbers moves in for a coordinated attack, killing Nenia the Wizard and Merric the Cleric.

    How often does your party split up and take on multiple threats simultaneously rather than focus all your efforts on just one target? As long as a monster has 1 hp it can still attack you, so softening up three at once isn’t as useful as working together to kill one in the first round. Talk to each other and describe what you want to do on your turn so others can go with it. Designate a combat leader and let them direct the party. One vision yields higher efficiency and saves lives.

  19. Get out of the way.

  20. The kobold horde hesitates before attacking with their superior numbers and overwhelming the PCs. That hesitation is all Braddoc needs. He charges into the mass of kobolds and starts swinging his mighty Battle Axe. “Get out of the way, Braddoc” yells Nenia. “I’m going to drop a fireball on the entire horde.” Braddoc ignores the advice of his companion and keeps swinging away as the kobolds swarm him. “Oh well, I warned him,” Nenia says as she casts Fireball engulfing 10 kobolds and Braddoc.

    If your party has ranged attacks or large area spells, then make sure you don’t hinder you party’s ability to use them. Don’t rush needlessly in between two monsters. Tell the party where you’re planning to move and if the Wizard says to wait one round then listen to him. The alternative is that you end up being subjected to the spell just like the monsters.

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1 Ray Wenderlich December 21, 2009 at 10:06 pm

Another hint: do not fire an arrow at a demon +9 levels higher than your character, while perched 80 feet high on a building.

Let’s just say take my word for it :]

2 Ameron December 23, 2009 at 6:07 pm

@Ray Wenderlich
I think that definitely falls under my general advice of “play intelligently” and “avoid doing anything stupid.” But picking a fight with a creature that is clearly more powerful than you are is not a very good way to avoid death.

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