I didn’t want to spin the discussion by posting my solution to what I considered the crux of my concern over the simple rule (to which I happen to agree) and instead decided to wait until after the weekend to respond fully.
I know you’ve been waiting patiently all weekend for my response, so I won’t keep you waiting…
First, I’m intrigued by, and agree with, both responses to my post.
Let’s talk about the past:
For the record, in historical practice I’ve probably leaned toward Phil’s response of “playing it both ways” when I’ve been behind the screen. I’ve never been one to just go off and kill someone’s character when they’ve invested time in participating with the plot and story simply because that’s that and so I’m probably guilty of letting the characters perform the killing blow outright while allowing for the dice to potentially mitigate an insta-kill situation far more than I can recall.
Basically speaking, I’ve removed the input of the dice from the equation when the dice might interpose an answer that seems unrealistic, isn’t interesting, or isn’t relevant to the situation. Good examples of this would be times when stealth killing an unarmored guard makes for good play and having said guard survive doesn’t. That said, in equal fashion, I’ve let the dice hold sway to give the character an out in similar situations… e.g Even a sleeping person might roll over at the exact moment someone fires the killing blow and thereby avoid instant death,
And now, the present:
However, I can see how that might be seen as not following my own advice (specifically the part on Character Killing) on what to do with a killing situation and as a result, I also find myself nodding at the deeper wisdom of, and finding comfort being in the same camp as, Demiurgus. He’s right that rules to protect the player aren’t what I consider necessary anymore given that I’ve moved past the “GM as adversary” portion of the game.
Combining the two:
And that leads us to the real answer here:
In general, the “insta-kill, no save, no way to prevent death” type of situation should never (allow me to repeat that: Never) happen to a character. And as a GM its your job to work hard to prevent these types of impasses since they’re both not fun and presumably adversarial.
If you’re unwilling as a GM to pull the trigger, and/or your players don’t want to play in a game with instant kills in their character’s sleep, then its your job to prevent such an occurrence from occurring while still making the world realistic.
And it isn’t as hard as you might think.
- Someone might bend down to pick up a coin and the last moment and avoid the swinging sword.
- As noted earlier, someone might roll over at the last moment and avoid the gunshot.
But more importantly, and to keep realism while preventing your game from becoming too cliched, you need to prevent the “last minute save” from being your crutch. Instead, the would-be assassin is heard opening the door, or the change of wind-flow pattern ruffles the curtains, or a floorboard creeks unexpectedly and the character awakes before the attempted assassination can occur.
I’m certain at this point you’re wondering if I’m advocating that you should turn the situation into a Quantum Ogre by ignoring or fudging the stealth check for NPCs for the sake of a good game.
Yes. That’s exactly what I’m proposing here.
Because first and foremost the game should be fun. And, as a GM, its your job to foster that fun.