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View Full Version : DM Help Players seem to have zero concern for dying (in an arena deathmatch)



Rainman3769
2014-09-14, 07:00 AM
Hey all, I have a question for the playground about some events unfolding in my 5th edition D & D campaign.

My level 3 players have entered a city that has fighting pits/arenas for slaves or volunteer gladiators. Two of them decided they would try their luck in the pits (one because he wanted to free an elven woman from slavery, the other because he LIVES for combat and proving his worth as a warrior) They trounced their competition in their first fight, which was a fight to "first blood" (no killing) and were paid a small sum for their performance. Here's the issue I am having...

They IMMEDIATLY then wanted to switch over to death matches because their NPC fight promoter had said that death matches was where the REAL money changed hands. I was actually kind of taken aback that OOC they showed what I saw as ZERO concern about getting killed themselves. Now in my opinion, fluffwise anyone who fights in death matches is going to be at the LEAST a pretty good fighter, and I reminded one of my death match seekers that.....you know......no matter what SOMEONE wasn't going to walk away from this fight. Anyway I'm going to pit them up against NPCs who are pretty much their exact equals and just go from there. I don't WANT my players to get killed, but its a DEATHMATCH, there has to be SOME chance of not coming out alive or else whats the point? My concern is that I may have painted myself into a corner though, because now that I've talked about the potential of their PCs dying, if the dice go against them they may feel I fudged the numbers and whacked their PCs just to put the fear of the almighty DM into them, and I certainly don't want that.

What do you all think?

Bulhakov
2014-09-14, 07:41 AM
Maybe you've spoiled your players making them feel a bit too secure? I know I'm frequently guilty of this, but me and my players know each other very well, so they basically know their characters are safe from (permanent) death, unless they act really stupid or the dice fall really really badly.

Maybe have the players watch a deathmatch and realize they could be set up by the promoter to be totally outmatched in a fight? E.g. have them watch a slaughterfest match where a lvl 6 arena champion plows through several level 3s in a row.

Thrawn4
2014-09-14, 08:14 AM
Not every deathmatch fighter has to be good, it is sufficient if they are desperate or arrogant, so your players could have a nice duel to the death. Obviously you do not want your players to be invincible which is why you should establish a very strong fighter (around level 10?). Maybe show him trouncing two or three enemies at once to help your players realize that they are not strong enough to fight him. If they still want to solo-duell him, they deserve to die.

Alternatively, let plot happen. Something so urgent that there is no time for another arena run.

Red Fel
2014-09-14, 09:29 AM
What do you all think?

"So let 'em die, it's only a hobby!"

Basically, this is a case of players demanding the right to do something stupid with their characters. They have that right. You gave them that right when you (1) introduced the fighting pits, (2) mentioned that they could participate in death matches, and (3) intimated that the death matches were profitable. You set the bait. You basically told the players, "Want to make some money? Risk your PC's life." So you gave them that option.

Does that mean it's wise of them to take it? No. It's probably stupid. But this is basic DMing - never introduce a concept, object, place or person that you don't want the PCs to be able to use, control or destroy. Because no matter how stupid it would be of them to do so, they can try it. So let them try.

Adventurers have a chance of dying every time they spelunk, or face a dragon, or get out of bed in the morning. They're choosing to face it head-on in an arena. Let them. And if they die, they die.

If they live, mind you, they'd better see some of that profit they were promised. And you might have to give them an alignment penalty (do you have those in 5e?) for voluntarily murdering another person purely for the crowd's entertainment. But if they want to try, let them.

Beige
2014-09-14, 09:50 AM
honestly, you introduced both the pits and the death matches, then told them it was profitable, even had an NpC try and convince them of it. at this point, you've already set up too much to get out of it - if the layers want to try it, let them

and if they die, well, its called a deathmatch for a reason :smallwink:

though, what alagnments are these players? because don;t forget a deathmatch means willingly killing someone for profit - even if its legal, it's still morally the same as murder, so if they're good, well, slap em with an alignment penalty and reduce any rping exp they'd have got

also, since you bought it up, can you tie the arena into the plot? like the BBEG luitenant is there or something, or is recruiting gladiators etc

icefractal
2014-09-14, 01:50 PM
What?! Did 5E bring back alignment penalties? I really hope not. Descriptive (not proscriptive) alignment just makes way the hell more sense. If you do enough evil stuff, you're not good-aligned any more, that's all that's required.

The Glyphstone
2014-09-14, 01:52 PM
As for worries about fudging...just roll all 'deathmatch' dice openly, instead of behind the screen. Whether it is your practice to fudge or not normally, this removes the temptation and guarantees that the best dice win.

You have warned them. They have consented to the risk/reward parameters. The guilt of potential death is not on your shoulders. The only way you can cheat them or screw up is to not have sufficiently large payouts for the deathmatches, since that was the lure that got them interested.

Rondodu
2014-09-14, 02:15 PM
They IMMEDIATLY then wanted to switch over to death matches because their NPC fight promoter had said that death matches was where the REAL money changed hands. I was actually kind of taken aback that OOC they showed what I saw as ZERO concern about getting killed themselves. Now in my opinion, fluffwise anyone who fights in death matches is going to be at the LEAST a pretty good fighter, and I reminded one of my death match seekers that.....you know......no matter what SOMEONE wasn't going to walk away from this fight. Anyway I'm going to pit them up against NPCs who are pretty much their exact equals and just go from there. I don't WANT my players to get killed, but its a DEATHMATCH, there has to be SOME chance of not coming out alive or else whats the point? My concern is that I may have painted myself into a corner though, because now that I've talked about the potential of their PCs dying, if the dice go against them they may feel I fudged the numbers and whacked their PCs just to put the fear of the almighty DM into them, and I certainly don't want that.

What do you all think?

In your setting, people donít seem to care much for life. I find it quite logical that your PC do not either.

Daishain
2014-09-14, 02:18 PM
They chose the risk, in spite of your warning, they get to deal with the potential consequences. Generally speaking, if a DM tells you something is a bad idea, you listen to them.

Don't fudge any rolls, in fact, roll the dice out in the open. Make sure the fight is a tough, but winnable one. Aim for the player crawling out of there on his last hit point. Or better yet, ongoing damage causes unconsciousness a few seconds after victory, and a rush to stabilize the character.

If for some reason you DON'T want them winning the grand prize for death matches, and want to keep them alive as well you have two options as I see it:

-First fight is the tough one I mentioned before. Final fight is up against some mean bastard who could wipe the floor with both the first one and the player simultaneously. Make sure the player is aware of the relative difference in skill. If he chooses to go up against him anyways, that's two clear warnings he ignored, too bad. Re-rolling a character isn't that harsh under the circumstances.

-Interrupt it. Local law enforcement is cracking down on death matches (if they're illegal), the BBEG is attacking the town, much of the party's gear is stolen while they slept, a massive swarm of moon rats starts eating the populace, a party member gets accused of a crime that they may or may not be guilty of and hauled off to jail, the party comes across a feeding vampire that escapes into catacombs under the city, whatever the heck fits your story and would get the player's attention focused elsewhere.

some guy
2014-09-14, 02:23 PM
Here's what you do; make 4 or so very strong warriors for the deathmatch. Make each of them distinct in their fighting styles and tactics. Then, allow for your players to gather information about these gladiators; let them ask about, let them be able to observe a non-deathwatch battle in which you roll in the open (yeah, allow for meta-gaming here, it gives your players the ability to make informed decisions). Let them pick their own enemies and make it possible for them to sabotage the fights (weaken the enemies beforehand by subtle poisons, for example).

TLDR; very strong opponents, but make sure your players have the option to prepare themselves

Shinken
2014-09-15, 12:03 AM
Obviously, the solution is to put them against each other. :smallamused:

Beige
2014-09-15, 04:59 AM
Obviously, the solution is to put them against each other. :smallamused:

ouch. that's just mean

hilarious, but mean

then have the big bad show up in the audience XD

Slipperychicken
2014-09-15, 11:20 PM
Hey all, I have a question for the playground about some events unfolding in my 5th edition D & D campaign.

My level 3 players have entered a city that has fighting pits/arenas for slaves or volunteer gladiators. Two of them decided they would try their luck in the pits (one because he wanted to free an elven woman from slavery, the other because he LIVES for combat and proving his worth as a warrior) They trounced their competition in their first fight, which was a fight to "first blood" (no killing) and were paid a small sum for their performance. Here's the issue I am having...

They IMMEDIATLY then wanted to switch over to death matches because their NPC fight promoter had said that death matches was where the REAL money changed hands. I was actually kind of taken aback that OOC they showed what I saw as ZERO concern about getting killed themselves. Now in my opinion, fluffwise anyone who fights in death matches is going to be at the LEAST a pretty good fighter, and I reminded one of my death match seekers that.....you know......no matter what SOMEONE wasn't going to walk away from this fight. Anyway I'm going to pit them up against NPCs who are pretty much their exact equals and just go from there. I don't WANT my players to get killed, but its a DEATHMATCH, there has to be SOME chance of not coming out alive or else whats the point? My concern is that I may have painted myself into a corner though, because now that I've talked about the potential of their PCs dying, if the dice go against them they may feel I fudged the numbers and whacked their PCs just to put the fear of the almighty DM into them, and I certainly don't want that.

What do you all think?

Dude, you had their questgiver goad them into taking death-matches, right as they were coming off the euphoria of a victorious match and payment. If you don't want them to do deathmatches, don't have the questgiver lure them into it with gold. Hell, that honestly sounds like a plot-hook to me.


Here are some options off the top of my head:

Let them fight and possibly die. Don't go easy on them, and don't fudge it. Roll in the open so they know you aren't cheating. If some or all of the PCs die, that can serve as a wake-up call.
You could have some authority put a ban on deathmatches (maybe the lord's daughter lobbied him into instating a ban), at least for a time.
Some deathmatch contestants are relatively weak people who are simply trying to die in battle so they can ascend to Valhalla. This can make the fights easier.
Have someone resurrecting fallen combatants for cash. Some consider it dishonorable to revive after losing a deathmatch, but it happens anyway. The resurrection price is much, much higher than potential winnings are.

Sartharina
2014-09-15, 11:31 PM
though, what alagnments are these players? because don;t forget a deathmatch means willingly killing someone for profit - even if its legal, it's still morally the same as murder, so if they're good, well, slap em with an alignment penalty and reduce any rping exp they'd have gotA deathmatch between two willingly and informed combatants is not in any way, shape, or form morally the same as murder any more than kinky-but-consensual sex is rape. It's their lives to do with as they please, and Valhalla probably awaits the loser anyway.

Mastikator
2014-09-15, 11:53 PM
Roll openly and let them die fair and square. I honestly don't see the problem here, PCs die all the time, it's part of the game.

Vitruviansquid
2014-09-15, 11:58 PM
Make the players fight each other in the deathmatch.

Sit back and see how they get out of it or, alternately, who dies.

Fumble Jack
2014-09-16, 12:00 AM
Had they actively killed someone in the first blood match, then yes I would agree, murder. However you baited them with a plot hook and incentive, which was clearly not your intention but they bit.

Now if you want to discourage them you could do as some other posters suggested and make a powerful group or Bbeg that has a body count and holds records in the death matches. Though if your players are similar in mindset to some of mine, they may see it as a challenge they must rise to conquer. If that's so, roll openly and let the dice fall where they may.

Hubert
2014-09-16, 01:10 AM
A deathmatch between two willingly and informed combatants is not in any way, shape, or form morally the same as murder [...]

Someone saying at some point "I am willing to participate to a deathmatch" can not always be considered as truly "willing".

Example 1: someone that is not a very good fighter, just desperate for money. He does not want to kill or be killed, but has no other choices.

Example 2: a not-so-bright guy that signed up because he thought it would be fun, but once in the fighting pit is overwhelmed by fear and starts pleading you to let him go.

Would you consider it "moral" to fight one of these people to the death?

Storm_Of_Snow
2014-09-16, 03:43 AM
How about your players going for the deathmatches, but having to prove they're good enough to participate and won't get butchered in 30 seconds flat (and thus being boring for the crowd) by going through various non-deathmatch fights against increasingly tougher opponents? And then getting horrifically beaten down by their opponent in virtually no time at all 2 fights before they'd qualify, who then himself gets beaten into a pulp by someone else.

All the promoter said is that there's good money to be made, not necessarily that they'd make that money.

Other ways to limit it:
There may only be a certain number of deathmatches a year, partly because it takes a long time to build up enough people willing to fight to the death, and partly to stop the audience getting jaded and demanding ever more extreme matches. Or they're only done around certain times of the year, as part of a festival or holy day, and the next one's not for several months.

Or maybe they do get into the deathmatches, win a couple, then get put up against one of the named opponents for a shot at some prize, but a rival spikes their food/drink with something that either means they can't fight (and thus would have to restart at the bottom rung again) and he takes their place in that fight, or they get thrown out of the fights for taking performance enhancing drugs.

It might also be worth taking the two players to one side and say that you're happy to run the fights for them, but they should also consider that the rest of the group's going to be sitting around doing absolutely nothing while they enjoy themselves.

prufock
2014-09-16, 07:25 AM
A deathmatch between two willingly and informed combatants is not in any way, shape, or form morally the same as murder
No, but neither could it be considered good. The OP didn't address what their alignments were, so an alignment shift could certainly still be in the cards.


Someone saying at some point "I am willing to participate to a deathmatch" can not always be considered as truly "willing".

Example 1: someone that is not a very good fighter, just desperate for money. He does not want to kill or be killed, but has no other choices.

Example 2: a not-so-bright guy that signed up because he thought it would be fun, but once in the fighting pit is overwhelmed by fear and starts pleading you to let him go.

Would you consider it "moral" to fight one of these people to the death?
These are fabulous plot hooks that the DM should use. Moral quandries in the face of possible wealth, alignment shifts, and a cheering/booing crowd are a good way to test your PCs true colours. While they're in the wings, waiting for their fights, some NPCs are more chatty than others, sharing fight stories, asking what brought them to the arena, and they get the PCs in the conversation too. One NPC looks depressed, and if they ask (or have some NPC ask), he'll give some sob story about how his poor family owes hundreds (or thousands depending on the scale of rewards for the arena) in taxes/to some loan shark/to get money for medicine for a sick child. Maybe let him win his first match against another NPC (both of whom are equally unskilled), but have his next match against a PC. Make sure they don't know who their opponents are before the pre-fight gathering.

Example 2 is also a great one to spring on the PCs as a surprise. Crowd is booing his cowardice and your hesitation. Do you slay him?

As for the OP, honestly, you dangled the carrot, but they made the choice to put themselves in this position. Have a few nonlethal warm-up matches putting them up against opponents of varying skill (up to 2 or 3 levels below and above them) so the promoters can place them in the rankings. They want exciting matches, after all, not blow-outs. Then have their lethal fights against opponents of equal level. Play it straight and fair and let the chips fall.

Rainman3769
2014-09-16, 03:52 PM
Thanks everyone for all the responses!

For those who asked or were wondering, the fighting pits are generally "Indentured Persons" fighting because they are "asked" by their contract holders, or volunteers who want to make, in some cases, a year's pay in one or two fights. The fighting pits are also located in a "Indentured Persons' Employment Fair" *cough slave market cough* outside a major Dwarven city, so the crowd generally doesn't hold the lives of the fighters in too high a regard, and as such are quite bloodthirsty. My two PCs alignments were CE Dragonborne Barbarian, and TN Wood Elf Druid

We played the session out last Sunday, and both PCs stated IC that they were only interested in one Deathmatch. CE PC just wanted to bet on himself and make some money, TN PC wanted to earn enough to buy the contract of an Elven woman in the employ of their fight promoter. Long story short, the fight was a good one. The PCs won but it was pretty close, and they stuck to their stories and did not pursue more fights as their party wanted to move on. All in all it didn't seem to be as big a deal to them as it was to me, so maybe I was making a mountain out of a molehill.

I did take the advice to establish a hierarcy of other, deadlier fighters, which may have sent them the message that this arena was not designed to just be a money cow for them. If they come back here after some leveling, it should be very interesting to see if they want to jump back into the pit :)

Storm_Of_Snow
2014-09-17, 03:59 AM
Am I the only one thinking of plot threads to hang off that?

Maybe the rescued elven woman starts to regret how her freedom was procured, or feels she needs to go into the pits herself to repay her saviour?

Maybe the dragonborn has an obsessive fan, who thinks that they could be the greatest fighter ever, but only if the rest of the party's out of the way.

Maybe some high placed member of the local thieves guild embezzled a lot of the guild's money betting on one of the player's opponents, and she now needs to replace it before the rest of the guild find out and sell her into the pits.

Segev
2014-09-17, 11:41 AM
I'd just make sure they're aware, OOC, that they are IC agreeing both to risk death (you will not pull punches), and that they are agreeing IC to kill somebody else. If they feel justified in killing that somebody else, so be it. As long as you don't have any alignment-requiring mechanics on them, don't worry too heavily about this unless it begins a pattern of casual disregard for life.

Deaxsa
2014-09-17, 02:34 PM
As for worries about fudging...just roll all 'deathmatch' dice openly, instead of behind the screen. Whether it is your practice to fudge or not normally, this removes the temptation and guarantees that the best dice win.

You have warned them. They have consented to the risk/reward parameters. The guilt of potential death is not on your shoulders. The only way you can cheat them or screw up is to not have sufficiently large payouts for the deathmatches, since that was the lure that got them interested.

Eh, but I know i'd get the complaint that the fight was too difficult, and that it was over-CR'ed to begin with, if I took these precautions. Not saying the OP will run into this, but just saying that rolling in the open makes no difference on whether or not the players feel like their deaths were justified/fair.

Segev
2014-09-17, 03:30 PM
Eh, but I know i'd get the complaint that the fight was too difficult, and that it was over-CR'ed to begin with, if I took these precautions. Not saying the OP will run into this, but just saying that rolling in the open makes no difference on whether or not the players feel like their deaths were justified/fair.

You combat that by designing the encounters at the appropriate CR, and letting them see it after the fact if they insist. Heck, offer them the NPC to replace their PC if they think it's overpowered but you know it's the right level.

Gracht Grabmaw
2014-09-17, 03:57 PM
You don't need to escalate things all the way to killing them right away. Give them a tough but doable fight, let them win but one of them is seriously injured and has to sit out for a while. And no, magic can't fix it instantly, they're lucky if that characters isn't permanently crippled. Threaten them a bit, play up the injury, make them they should be glad they even made it out alive.