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I admit, whenever I see extra rules for ‘MORE WAYS TO LOP OFF THE PC’S LIMBS!’ I tend to brush over them.

As a GM, I’m fair, reasonably lenient, but at the same time, not afraid to bring down the rules-hammer or the ‘Player be Good’ hammer if something starts getting out of hand.

Now, let me first say; I’m not against death in a campaign, and players have died in games of mine. I’m not a completely soft GM. But for me, I tend to prefer games where, if death happens, it’s really due to the players messing up big time. I won’t shrink away from killing a PC who really blows it, but nor do I go out of my way to murderate the PCs.

”But don’t you have those two bouncers in Spanky’s bar who can turn the PC’s into strawberry jam?” Well, yeah, but notice how they won’t actually attack to kill unless the PCs do something immensely stupid.  Oh, I have guards who use live ammo(as well as stun, depending on the situation), and if a PC frags up and pisses off a Mafia don, yeah, they may well end up with some C-4 under their bike. I tend to leave a lot of things in the hands of the PCs.

Now, I’ve been known to fudge a die roll here and there. Other times-again, I’m a bit more strict on it, once again if the PCs dig themselves into a huge hole. It’s less ‘punishment’ and more ‘you did X, how did you not expect Y to happen.’ They’ll often have a way out, though, and sometimes those can be adventures in and of themselves.

So what is it about high Lethality games that I’m not big on? I like character and character development. Yes, I’m a numbers optimizer as well-but that doesn’t mean I don’t love character development, watching them grow and change. I do love it. I also hate to see a character with oodles of time put into them ruined with one bad die roll. Others are fine with this-and that’s cool, every table is different. But where some find the constant threat of death looming over them 24/7 while they’re gaming, I just find that not quite as fun. It makes me not want to bother doing really deep character stuff if I know they’re going to possibly buy the farm with every single roll. (When I played the Rules Cyclopedia, my characters were often stuff like ‘James the Fighter, off to find his treasure.’ If James failed his Save vs. Death roll, no biggie. Mugsy the Wizard, off to find Great Magic Power, was right around the corner. Of course they’d have SOME personality and such, but they were much more basic.)

I personally go between Low and Moderate. It’s not QUITE all the way down to Low, but it’s a *bit* more gentle in terms of PC mistreatment than ‘Moderate’. Perhaps, to get a better idea, I’ll list stuff I generally won’t do, and stuff I generally will do.

What I don’t usually do:

-Randomly kill characters due to one poor roll.

-I don’t like Glitches, as I said. I will use critical glitches, but I don’t make these fatal. Glitches, IMO, just make things annoying, and get in the way. You succeed, you don’t, or you drop your gun and it shoots of a round that makes it skitter across the floor. (Physics, I am your reckoning.)

-Rip out Magic from magic characters, or cyber from Cyber characters, unless, again, they really, really do something that simply makes me bring down the hammer.

-Make a character so useless they’ll wish they were dead anyway.

-Stuff that makes gaming Not Fun for us.

What I will do:

-Lost body parts can happen, but I give a chance, of course, to get replacements/re-attachments. There are tons of ways to do this(a debt, a loan, their own nuyen, trade a job for a new eye, etc.) They ONLY have a chance of happening on a ‘Deadly’ wound(AKA, the person is going into overflow’, or very, very, very rarely before that(and it generally needs to be pretty specific, like a critically glitched monowhip hit might take a hand off if none of the damage is resisted.) I will never purposefully leave a character crippled unless the player themselves chooses to do so(‘Bah, screw it, I wanted a cyberarm all this time anyway, now I have an excuse! I can live one-armed for a week.’)

-I will, as said, kill a character. If a character is bent on taking part in a series of unfortunate events with absolutely no back up plans or anything, making poor decisions ever single chance, despite several ‘Are you SURE?’…or perhaps they walk up and kick Herr Brackhaus in the balls or something. At that point, there’s nothing more I can do for them; they need to pay the piper. (They can, of course, burn Edge if they wish.)

-I will use things like background count and wireless intrusion, though I will not abuse those things. I’m more likely to use them to add tension. In the latter, now…if someone walks into a highly secure area, with everything on Wireless lighting up like a christmas tree in VR-land without bothering even checking for enemy deckers-welp, again, they sort of need to expect *something* bad to happen, but I’m not likely to abuse these rules.

-Do other things with poor rolls rather than death or dismemberment. Yes, I will fry a piece of gear now and then-it adds tension, but again, I won’t ‘do it just for tension.’ There will be a reason, and it WILL be preventable…and if it does happen, then I’ll make sure to set up an adventure to, for example, get the Decker a new deck or the Rigger a new Steel Lynx that just got scrapped.

-Put the PCs in some tough situations. Sure, I might put them in a ‘you’re captured and need to think your way out and get your gear’, or ‘You need to get out NOW, and you’re limited in what you can take and might need to improvise’ situation or two. Nothing wrong with having to use your brain to puzzle your way out of something or pull some McGyver heroism.

-Say, ‘Are you sure you want to do that?’ a few times. 😉

-Houserule something that I don’t think makes sense, or takes away our table’s fun.

-Work with the PCs with ideas they might have that aren’t in the rules. I am a very, very strong believer in PC-GM communication.

So as you can see, it’s not that I’m against doing harsher things, I just don’t make a habit of them-and when they do come into play, it’s usually something that the PC sort of brings on themselves. I like when things can last awhile, and I’m not against punishment; I like my games to be one part game, one part story, and one part character development and growth-and All Parts Fun for us. I’m sure our table would be too ‘wussy’ for some people, but that’s okay; I am a firm believer that every table is different and that’s cool.

I tend to run, on a scale of Pink Mohawk to Mirrorshades, a game that’s in the middle, or what I like to call ‘Mohawks and Trenchcoats.’ I have a variety of stuff-some loud jobs, some quiet jobs(or they should be), and some in between. I’m a huge fan of Second Edition’s fluff, with everyone from Matador(the posterboy for Professionalism in the shadows), and Wedge(let’s face it, he wore his mohawk loud and proud.) I liked 2e’s mix of dystopia, 1980s cyberpunk, dingy, rainy streets, noodle bars, tall imposing skyscrapers, the Universal Brotherhood-but all of this still had that glimmer of hope, pictures of brightly colored gangers riding cars, chrome cybereyes, big cyberdecks with brightly colored keys, and Spinal Tap ork toxic shaman villains. I like some down to earth stuff, I like some over the top stuff; the adventures back in the day also ran the gamut from ‘Dreamchipper’ to anything with Harlequin.

So yeah, balance is the key for me. I need a little Bladerunner, but also a little ‘over the top bang bang.’

I think there is some merit to a lower-lethality game, though I can respect that it’s not for everyone-some folks find their blood gets pumping more if they’re always afraid for their lives. I guess I’ve mellowed out somewhere. Oddly enough, we don’t use the optional ‘Low Lethality’ rules-since the preference is for something in between Low and Normal, it’s more handwaved stuff.

Generally, my house rules open up the game more. I’ve mentioned around that we never used Availability limits at Chargen. This is something that’s simply been in our games since we started, our first GM didn’t even use them(and he was the type of guy who would play gnome illusionists or chess masters; definitely not a powergamer type.) We usually run on the ‘Pick Stuff that Makes Sense For Your Character” line of thinking, and for us, it works wonderfully. It’s less to worry about, and opens up more things. Even for street level games, we simply work more on the honor system, and it’s never failed.

I also tend to go a little more ‘cinematic.’ Not necessarily ‘Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance’ level of over-the-top(okay, for a weekend-shot game, maybe), but a little more on the ‘cool maneuvers, Cool Stuff Happens’ sorta way. (You can actually be cinematic, and still run a more street level game.)

I do agree with pulling some stuff back; even before the +DV damage code for bonus Martial Arts damage was instated, I had houseruled that, and I had mentioned in my last blog that I’m okay with having pulled some of the damage back. I like the idea of teamwork, as I said, so it’s cool if one person can’t kill the tank with a punch. (Unless we’re playing the weekend Fist of the North Star game and the character’s name is Kenshiro the Second.)

There are other odds and ends as well. The newest houserule that is making it in is x3 Knowledge Skill Points, that x2 rule is the bane of my fragging existence. Also, I was turned onto the idea of giving a handful of free points to everyone(I’m thinking 6) to use strictly on ‘Interest Skills.’

In SR5 news, I’ve been tinkering with some more characters I might post up soon. Different priorities and different types. All looking and feeling fun. I look forward to hopefully trying them out soon(though it will likely have to be in a PbP type game, or a forum game.) Here’s hoping!

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One Comment

  1. Very nice words, Chummer. I can actually relate very much. I too think that every table is different and every style of Play has ist merits. I prefer a low to moderade lethality GMing style myself for very much the same reasons allthough I like to sometimes vary it from run to run. My Group had some Trouble with bounty on their heads and ran into all sorts of Trouble from a seemingly random grenade thrown to hit squads after them. In such cases I tend to have a harsher style for e feq sessions to increase the feeling of being in someones sights but never with the intend to kill characters or even provoke a total Party kill but rather to increase the characters Motivation to find a solution.

    In the end lethality in my eyes can allways be increased and a GM can allways kil a character with ease but in my eyes thats not what the threat of death is for. It should not be a punishment for the Players but rather a motivation.

    I Play with very strict healing rules so players tend to try to avoid injuries.


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