As you know I just finished rereading The Crystal Shard which is the fourth book in the legend of Drizzt. There are twenty eight books in the entire legend series so you can be fairly certain that if you are reading book four that the main character is not going to die despite how dire his circumstances may get. As GMs as opposed to authors though it seems that without the existential threat of player character death then there is no stick and if you only us the carrot of treasure all the time the game soon become too over powered or rich.
If you give great wealth away but then take it back by robbery, trickery or other nefarious means then the players will soon stop being motivated by money as they know they will not be able to spend it. There is also the problem of can the players even carry it all or if they have a base to operate from why bother adventuring if you are as rich as Croesus? Using items of great wealth has similar issues or even worse if you start giving away items that can be used in adventuring such as magical kit. Non adventuing kit is often not really valued by the players because it doesn’t really add to their enjoyment of the game right here and now.
So carrots on their own are not very good motivators for player characters. You need the stick some times.
If you are never going to kill the player characters then the players will start to throw their characters around knowing they are invulnerable. I saw this happening in the last game I played in. Once the players got seriously wounded the GM was obviously fudging the dice rolls to keep the players alive.
Killing player characters does seem at first glance to be a bit drastic but player character death does not have to be final and irreversable.
In my current face to face game the party is sponsored by a priest from a local church. This means that as long as the party can get a dead character back to the church then there is a chance of being raised. At least while the party remain in and around Shadowdale. Once they move away then things will get more difficult for them. The party is between first and third level so the chances of a character death is probably higher now than it will be later*. I do have the option of packing the party off with a rune of life giving if I want to make a player character death a setback not a disaster.
In the game I mentioned earlier the party had a potion of life giving which they had been carrying around for quite a while. If I was the GM I would have been very tempted to kill a player to make they aware they are mortal just because I knew the party could bring them back. As it was I think the GM forgot the party had the potion so was not inclined to kill anyone.
I don’t think players should be dying left right and centre, if they are then probably the encounters are over powered for them. I think though that knowing that the GM will not save you make the party more risk averse and consequently heroic actions more heroic. Stupid actions though will cost the party and have consequences.
There is of course the player that just deserves to be killed but that is another story…
So do you kill players or not? Do you think that the risk of death adds anything to the game or does it detract?
*At low levels the spell casters are so limited that a fight that takes down the principle fighters leaves the spell casters exposed. Higher level spell casters on the other hand can fly, go invisible or teleport to get themselves out of deadly situations making a total party wipeout less likely.