“Obvious” is a tricky concept, because most of the time it’s not actually obvious. Some facts which are obvious to one person may only seem that way because that person is surrounded by people who take that fact for granted. And that obvious fact may not even be true! For many subjects, it’s not too difficult to find two people who hold mutually exclusive viewpoints to be obviously true. We really shouldn’t be so hasty to name something “obvious.”
Due to this, it is often helpful to state that which may seem obvious in a clear and descriptive manner. Maybe I’m wasting time, but I have a feeling that this is not as well understood as it ought to be. So here we go:
The more time a player has invested in their character, the less fun it will be if that character dies.
There are some rare exceptions to this rule, but it remains largely true for any manner of time investment. We Pathfinder GMs are at something of a disadvantage. At my best, I can help a first time player through the process of creating a level 1 character in about 40 minutes. And, generally speaking, the task is viewed by a new player as something of a chore. They may come to find it much more entertaining once they begin to understand the system better, but that comes later, if at all.
The result is that, in a game like Pathfinder, there’s no way for a GM to handle character death in the first session without significant frustration on the player’s part. After spending 40 minutes or more on a character, players are not going to want to trudge through the creation process a second time just because they failed to check for pit traps. And if you’re playing with first-timers, then they’re probably going to fail to check for pit traps more than once.
When I’m running a Pathfinder game, I handle this in two ways. First, I try never to run a game composed entirely of new people. I try to find at least one veteran of my game table to sit in and provide an example of skillful play. Second, during a new player’s first few sessions, I bend the rules, and give them advice in an attempt to show them how they can best survive. But that can’t last forever. It can’t even last very long, lest players start to think they can rely on the GM for advice. And even before I do stop giving advice, it’s important to allow the players to suffer the consequences of their mistakes.
The game is no fun if there is no danger of character death.
That’s slightly more controversial, but I hold it to be no less true than the statement above. If a player’s decisions lead to their demise, then a good GM will not protect them from their fate. The fact that a player has invested enough time in a character for that character’s death to be upsetting is not a justification for allowing PCs to cheat death. In doing so, we rob the game of its danger, and without the chance of failure, it ceases to be a game.
Games with shorter character creation methods are not immune to this problem. If it only takes 5 or 10 minutes to create a character, then players won’t be too upset if their character dies in the first session of play. They probably won’t be too upset if their character dies in the second session of play, or the third. Once they reach level 2, though, they’re going to be a little more upset if they die. And as they progress through the levels, it will become more and more disheartening to lose a character. It doesn’t matter if the GM allows them to come back into the game with a new character of equal level. Losing a character you care about is never going to be fun.
I don’t bring this up because I think it’s a problem which needs to be solved. I don’t even think it really can be solved. On the one hand you have you player’s desire for their character to survive the game, on the other hand you have the entertainment value your players get from surviving a world which is legitimately deadly. You can play with the balance all you like by making characters more resilient, increasing or decreasing the availability of resurrections, or whatever. But in my experience, players are the most interested in the game when they’re coming face to face with their character’s own mortality.
I guess I don’t really have a point to make with this post, so much as I wanted to put those thoughts down somewhere.