Friday, April 21, 2017

Misunderstood and Improperly Played: Save or Die Mechanics.

Not too long ago I ran into episode 43,912 in the unending series of posts that can be summed up as 'Save or die is teh stoopid'.

As much as I want to reply,
 "No! You're stupid! you're stupid and you play wrong!"
I didn't.

Well, until now.


But then, I saw it. This commenter also proudly displays the fact that they use the Chunky Salsa Rule. This is a rule originally adapted from Shadowrun, that is generically
'any attack that would reduce your head/etc. to the consistency of chunky salsa is always lethal regardless of hit points or other mechanics.'
Normally, the sorts of people who hate save or die mechanics don't bother me too much. I suspect that 99% of the time they dislike the rules on emotional grounds and never examine what the rule actually means.
And I don't usually mind the chunky salsa rule. Sure, Back In The Day it usually meant the GM was a PC killer, but things change.
But put them together and you just triggered a rant.

In Real Life there are things that just - kill you. Falls from great heights; lots of electricity running through your body; large explosions; plenty more, including just waiting long enough. Stuff that, yes, no one can survive.
Fiction has plenty more - disintegrator rays; dalek death rays; planet-sized antimatter shells fired at 99.9999% C; arguing with the Computer; and so on.
So if you want to argue that the Chunky Salsa Rule reflects Real Life and Fiction, feel free.
But!

"No one could have survived that."
"It's so crazy it just might work."
"He'll never escape my death trap."

Fiction is chock-a-block full of extraordinary characters that avoid certain death... somehow. Dr. Who never quite gets murderized by the instant-kill dalek death ray; Jason doesn't really die when he's thrown into that wood chipper; John Matrix is 3 feet from an exploding grenade, is tossed through the air - and got a scratch; Buck Rogers is in the path of the disintegrator beam and somehow deflects it with a plate of inertron from his jump pack; I could go on.

See, in heroic fiction the heroes and the villains sometimes tell the Chunky Salsa Rule to buzz off.
"Wow, man, the save or die mechanic is, like, so lame. Whether your character lives or dies is a matter of a die roll and that blows."
Nope. Sorry, you aren't getting it. By all rights when that alien robot fired its disintegrator pistol at your mage and the 'to hit' roll was successful your character should have died automatically - the 'save vs. death ray' represents your mage somehow not being blasted into atoms by a beam that can punch a hole through mountains.
The save or die mechanic could just as easily be called the 'Avoid Otherwise Certain Death' rule. 
"I like realism in my games, or at least something like it, so I have the Chunky Salsa rule in effect."
Maybe its realism. Maybe it's,
'if I say the villain tossed a grenade in the room with you, you die. I don't care about your hit points, I don't care about dodge rolls, I don't care about nothin'. I say your character is dead, so he's dead.' 
 Hard to say. But in the end a character in a game with a save or die mechanic can potentially survive anything, even if it depends upon luck. A character in a chunky salsa game, however, can die with no chance to avoid it just because the GM says so.

Which one seems more arbitrary to you?

So when you look at D&D and see a spell that is sae or die, think about what this really means - the rest of the party gasping 'no one could survive that!' when it doesn't kill your character.