Here’s a topic which has been floating around for a while with 4E, that has some people split. Is 4E lethal enough? Some people think that it’s near impossible to die in 4th edition due to the fact the old school -10 rule is now Negative Bloodied value, the numerous amounts of surges each class gets, and the fact that any healing while negative starts from zero!
First, I would like to say that I killed two characters in our last session, (A Scales of War campaign I am running) and I darn near killed a third. Darn you KRAKUS!!! (He made a death save, stood up and ran like hell). So with that in mind I took a hard look this last week at the lethality of 4E compared to other editions; and here’s what I’ve come up with.
First off, I believe that 4E is just as lethal as other editions. It’s been my observation from listening to talk, playing and DM’ing, that some DM’s are just reluctant to punch a number when it comes up. Secondly, 4E incorporates party KNOCKOUTS in a big way. Basically any character who has negative HP is unconscious. What better way to run a captured and tied up scenario? After all as a DM you have more than twice the wiggle room than other editions since negative Bloodied is easily greater than -10 after just a few levels.
I’ve been running the Scales of War campaign for a party of 6, (it’s made for 5) without any adjustments. I’m also notorious for rolling mobs To Hits out in the open, as well as damage. With that in mind, the modules have been well-built, and I’ve had no problem knocking out over zealous rogues, control happy wizards, battle crazed barbarians, and even tanking fighters. Do they stay down? Rarely, they are often healed when down and rise up to rejoin the fight. But that’s just good drama. The point I’m making is that the threat to put a character down is there! The PC’s are just adept at picking themselves up. I think some DM’s are just shy to “knock em out”, as the old editions meant that they were literally on death’s door. Where as this edition a knockout means you are still just under half your HP from Dead, Dead. That’s a good chuck of HP to go. Even with a coup de grace.
This brings us to the death Save. Well there are feats, and bonuses which skew this in the players favor. There are even magic items which can turn Fails into AUTO 20’s! (Daily Power of course). So what does this tell us? Well it basically relays the idea from the designers that knocking them down is not something a DM should fear. After all they need to fail THREE death saves before they are actually dead! For reference, the two players I managed to off was not because they failed three death saves. It’s because they hit their negative bloodied value, which is what happens when you fall in front of a non-intelligent, and hungry critter. It’s doesn’t bother with chasing more live prey when it’s got tasty morsels laying in front of it. I think quite often DM’s add more sentience to creatures who shouldn’t have it. Like zombies for instance. Zombies, don’t knock down a person, then go after another. They knock one down, and FEED!!!! BRAINS!!!!! This is where lethality really lies in 4E. Believe it or not, it’s the dim wits, which seem to prove to be the ones who are scarier. Like the Dragon who grabs a target and flies away to eat it! To heck with trying to off an entire party. Too often I see mobs with flyby attacks made to land in front of a party and melee! HELLO!!! This creature has intelligence quite often and would not be some dumb as to just forego such an advantage so easily or quickly. DM’s need to be smart. Likewise players need to be smart too. Just because you are great with a sword doesn’t mean you shouldn’t carry a bow, or some javelins just for those occasions. If you don’t you are just asking to be picked apart by such a mob.
Now that we’ve covered that the last thing to cover is Raising the Dead! This fortunately is a level 8 Ritual spell; and one which is easy to perform, relatively. Keep in mind ANYONE can cast a ritual scroll, no you don’t have to be a caster to cast from a scroll. (Fun fact) However you must still pay the material costs. Raise Dead does something which is most interesting. It’s price varies dependent upon the targets Tier. (Heroic, Paragon, Epic). In each case it gets more expensive as the tier’s go up. Significantly. Stretching from 500gp to 5000gp, to 50,000gp! This is BIG! Why so? Well if you look at the basic GP output of modules in the tier ranges, you notice that it takes vastly more pooled resources to equal those GP values. Basically to make this simple, modules GP output don’t scale anywhere near the scaling of the raise dead component costs. Or magic item creation costs for that matter. Ergo, we introduce a BIG Lethality level per Tier! Meaning that once you hit level 11, you better start watching yer butt. The same goes 10 times for level 21 too! That’s a hefty chuck of change to drop to bring back someone from the dead. There is one Power called Resurrection. It’s a Utility Power available to clerics from the Heroes of the Fallen Lands. It allows once per Extended Rest, the caster to basically bring back one target who died within the last 24 hours. This is good, but it also has it’s limits. Time is a factor, and of course if more than one person dies, you’ve got a big issue on your hands.
In all, when I examine 4E, I see plenty of opportunity for Character Death. It’s also a matter of play style as well. I’ve read some suggestions for both increasing the lethality and decreasing it. One DM decided to increase the lethality by halving everything’s Hit Points. This turned out not so good. The main reason was that when you half the HP, you increase the likelihood that a lucky 2-3 rounds, could prove fatal. In his play test, a few goblins, (statistically inferior) wiped out his party due to good rolls on their part, and bad rolls on the PC’s part. The fight went so fast due to half HP, that the law of averages didn’t really get to work. That’s one thing the 4E increase of HP plays to, is the law of averages.
If you really want to increase the lethality, here are a few of my suggestions. Try going back to -10 = Death. Another idea would be instead of negative bloodied value (50%) try a lower number such as negative 25%, or negative 10%. Another suggestion would be to reduce the number of Death Saves one must fail to die. It starts at three, you could reduce it to two, or if real daring, make it just one!
If you don’t want lethality, simply remember that 4E have a built-in rule of any hit which renders a PC negative, can instead render a PC unconscious and not Dying. Ergo Knockouts all around can produce some really memorable prison scenes…. NO, not THOSE prison scenes!
All in all, I think play style has a great deal to do with gaming lethality, and how you decide to run your game is up to you and your players. Some players like a higher chance of lethality as they deem it more rewarding. Some players don’t like lethality to be a big factor relying mostly on the story arcs for their challenge, and puzzles. Either way is fine, as long as the game is fun.
Me personally, I enjoy a good dose of lethality. My motto as a DM is, “I don’t try to kill the PC’s outright, but if a PC messes up bad, death is usually the result.”