I’m infamous for being the guy that kills every single player character every time I GM Chaosium’s brilliant Call of Cthulhu role playing game. Every single time. They all die, alone and afraid, at the hands of alien, otherworldly horrors from beyond humanity’s imaginings.
And I love it. That’s the way Call of Cthulhu is supposed to be. You are all just insects, subject to the whims of the Outer Gods and their minions.
Right about now, you’re probably saying to yourself, “I bet no one will play his game anymore, either. What an A-hole.”
I’d win that bet. People still come back. You know why? Everyone loves being scared. It’s more than just the depressing realization that it doesn’t matter what you do in-game. It’s the trip, not the destination that is important, sometimes. Playing Call of Cthulhu on an overnight game, by candle-light and fireplace, can be far more exciting and visceral than watching some B-grade horror movie.
So everyone is going to die. Maybe one or two will survive, but they’ll spend the rest of their lives in an institution, dribbling down their chin and being spoon fed.
Now that that has been clarified, I want to talk about why I brought this up. I want you to understand how RPG’s that aren’t Call of Cthulhu should go in my world-view.
I do not kill player characters. Ever. They do sometimes die, but it’s due to their own mistakes, their own stupidity. I won’t hold back the explosion if the player purposefully placed the bomb and then forgot to get out of the explosion radius. I won’t hold back the Dragon’s breath if the group rushes the dragon with no hope of defeating it.
I will, however, put the party in what seems like dire circumstances. They’ll be surrounded by monsters. They’ll be faced with overwhelming odds. They’ll be chained to the floor in a room that is starting to flood. They’ll be stuck in a tesseract, with no idea how to escape. Notice I said “seems like dire circumstances.” These situations are meant to increase tension, and to put the characters in fear for their lives. Yes, these situations are deadly and yes, the possibility for a character to die is present, but that does NOT mean it’s guaranteed. Without tense, dangerous moments like these, where is the excitement of the game?
I recently GM’d a modern-ish horror game, and at one point the players had just about given up, feeling like the situation was hopeless. It wasn’t. They not only lived through it, they kicked serious mummy butt (Poof). And boy were they excited to have succeeded. Those are the moments I as a GM live for. And those are the moments, usually, that the player characters LIVE for.