Is it okay if player characters never die?

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I realize you are making a joke, but that's a great example of encounter that happened for a reason. The orcs were after them because of the ring. And the reason they were in disarray when the orcs attacked was because Boromir chased off Frodo.

Quite true. Most of the characters that have died in our games were in at least meaningful encounters. By meaningful, they were at least dire circumstances but not necessarily a significant enemy. I will have random encounters, but I will connect them to a (or make up) secondary or tertiary plot at the very least so characters don't die because an ogre was just walking by and not actually a minion of the local witch who does not want trespassers uncovering her plans. I try to give the players some story in exchange for dying at the very least.

This assumes the players aren't being dumb because I will let them die for stupidity. Luckily I haven't had that happen much.
 
I'm not a hardliner on this. Have run and played plenty of narrative rpgs, there death is not a thing or up to the player. In some of them there's no combat at all.
It's just in traditional games like D&D and Savage Worlds, I prefer death to be a thing that can happen. I've long ago stopped rolling damage behind the GM screen, because of this. Of course, as a GM I also try to make combats matter. It does suck if a character dies to a random encounter, but that just means that random encounters should have meaning and not just be filler.
Except that in Pulp stories, which Savage World's tries to emulate, the Heroes don't really die. The Bad Guys do, yes, but not the heroes outside of major arcs, that either end the book or are part of the hero team, so it's used for pathos and drama.
 
Sure, but by the same token you can make more of Bob The Thief is KO. He is not dead but he needs a doctor but you can't go to a hospital because it's not safe. Or may be he doesn't need a doctor but temporarily lost his memory.

Basically you can make death or simple defeat as painless or dramatic as you want it to be.
Only if the players buy it. If they figure out you're plot-armoring the PCs, then sooner or later the whole game may not have much weight for them, and/or they may start testing the significance of any and all game situations. Does he really need a doctor? Is it really not safe to go to the hospital? They may start selecting choice to try to manage in-character concerns, but just to see what zany things the GM will make happen if they make whatever choices they feel like.
 
Well, unless you're killing players, or at least evicting them from the game when their PC dies, the danger is fake...
I'm really confused by this. Is this just a joke, or do you have a point, or do you not understand what I was saying?

The question each person has to ask is what do they want from the game and what makes the game fun? Is it fun to sit out the rest of a session? Is it fun to miss sessions because it isn't logical for your replacement PC to be brought in? If so, how many sessions? Are there NPCs you can play in the meantime?
Well that's A set of questions. The answers have been pretty clear to me and most of the people I've enjoyed playing with:

* Lots of things make a game fun, but one of the main things is getting to play in an imaginary situation that behaves like a self-consistent real place with serious logical risks and consequences of choices, and having to try to survive and prevail in uncertain risky situations.

* While it might not be particularly fun to have to sit out or miss sessions where you don't have a character, it IS VERY fun to have a game taken seriously to the point where players who don't have a character in the current action, aren't always part of all sessions. It's fun for limited information roleplaying/immersion reasons. It's fun because it's taking the situations seriously. It's fun because there are experiential benefits for doing dangerous things, and because there are risks and consequences if/when you have bad outcomes.

* The number of sessions someone would miss, would be dictated by situation logic, and what works best as determined by the GM. Also by what the player wants.

* There are many possible alternatives to sending a player away when their PC dies/recuperates/retires/vacations/leaves/whatever. A good one is playing one of the NPCs who are present nearby. That could be an NPC already in the party, or an NPC the party hasn't met yet, but that is already established to be in the area. I could be a party adversary, or 3rd party with their own interests/goals. It can also be a new character, even in a different location from the party, that you start low-intensity roleplaying what they're up to somewhere else, with the possibility they may eventually be introduced to the party as a possible new member . . . or enemy . . . or not.


My own position is death is real, but I'm going to rely on the thinnest logic to get a replacement PC back in the mix, but it probably will be next session, but my sessions are only two hours. But if you have a replacement PC already, or are able to cook one up in the background in 20-30 minutes, we'll talk if I can vet the new PC in just a few minutes.
That can be fine if the game situation warrants it. But game situations exist at a level above the individual player, and those can be just as interesting and critical to take seriously as the possibility of life/death of a PC.

That is, if it makes sense the party would find and add a replacement, then there's no issue. But if they're in a situation that's supposed to be a serious element of play that makes it NOT make sense that a replacement PC would be available, then you've got a choice to make. Having replacement PCs teleport in whenever one dies, even when the group is supposedly not in a place where that makes sense, is more or less as surreal and stakes-removing (just in a different flavor) as not letting a PC die in the first place.
 
I'm really confused by this. Is this just a joke, or do you have a point, or do you not understand what I was saying?
Clearly #1 and #2, surely. The "stakes" for the player never remotely resemble those for the PC, and really it's not normally intended that the player be (further) "punished" at all for losing a character. "Go sit in the corner for the rest of the session and think about what you've done!!"
That is, if it makes sense the party would find and add a replacement, then there's no issue. But if they're in a situation that's supposed to be a serious element of play that makes it NOT make sense that a replacement PC would be available, then you've got a choice to make. Having replacement PCs teleport in whenever one dies, even when the group is supposedly not in a place where that makes sense, is more or less as surreal and stakes-removing (just in a different flavor) as not letting a PC die in the first place.
But there's a whole raft of hypotheticals and assumptions in there, too. Is anyone suggesting that a player's entitlement to have a live character sheet in front of them trumps all story logic? I don't believe so.
 
It would depend on the game and more importantly, the genre conventions involved. I don't think anybody would be expecting their character to even have a chance to die in a game of Good Society - A Jane Austen Roleplaying Game.

In some superheroes campaigns, it would also be unexpected if a PC died since it seems to be a genre convention of "Animated Series" style games that there is no killing (not that you couldn't run a gritty iron-age game with killing-galore as a superheroes campaign, too). So it depends. I've played in both styles of superhero campaigns and really enjoyed myself in both, so I wouldn't say that it completely breaks the game either way; it is a question of buy-in from the player; so the player ought to know what they are getting into genre-wise.

If you are playing in a 0th-Level funnel for DCC or a game of Paranoia... you should make peace with the the fact that your character is going to die... probably more than once.
 
It would depend on the game and more importantly, the genre conventions involved. I don't think anybody would be expecting their character to even have a chance to die in a game of Good Society - A Jane Austen Roleplaying Game.
#WhatAboutPoisoning?!?

If you are playing in a 0th-Level funnel for DCC or a game of Paranoia... you should make peace with the the fact that your character is going to die... probably more than once.
I keep hearing that for both DCC and CoC, and other systems, and yet my experience with all of them is quite the opposite:shade:.
 
It would depend on the game and more importantly, the genre conventions involved. I don't think anybody would be expecting their character to even have a chance to die in a game of Good Society - A Jane Austen Roleplaying Game.
Fashionably, of consumption? Plus of course there's "social death": some other disaster so large your character is "out of the story" (to steal from KAP, though here possibly permanently), even though still possessed of a pulse.

But absolutely, even a 'simulationist' game should be 'simulating' the genre concerned and the desired tone. It doesn't need to be a physics engine to create a degree of immersion, if played in the right spirit. And immersion per se, without wanting to go picking buttercups in the GNS minefield, isn't the only thing players necessarily want, or the only way they ever want to play.
 
It would depend on the game and more importantly, the genre conventions involved. I don't think anybody would be expecting their character to even have a chance to die in a game of Good Society - A Jane Austen Roleplaying Game.
Well, there goes my planned adventure where Mr Darcy opens up on the ball with an uzi.
 
My feeling on this overall is death should be able to come from anywhere in a game. I tend to run pretty open sandbox style or monster of the week scenarios, but there is usually a sense of the dramatic in them. Still even with that, I am fine with a sudden slip up or random nobody killing PCs (that may in fact be how the nobody becomes somebody, or they may have just been a unimportant henchmen who got lucky). The reason why is I think the game really loses excitement when 1) death isn't on the table and 2) when the GM shifts the dice, the odds, etc to preserve players when death seems like it isn't sufficiently dramatic or it would thwart the adventure. That said I get some styles of play revolve around the characters and for the campaign to function, there may need to be plot protection. That is fine, but I really hate doing that. I let the dice fall where they may, I don't balance encounters. I am reasonable in terms of giving the players a chance to understand the threat most of the time and act how they think that warrants, but even then a random trap can sometimes take out a PC with no warning.

My sandbox system is actually more forgiving in terms of death than my monster of the week system (simply because in the setting every opponent is not trying to kill you, so a defeat may often just result in loss of face or capture).

One reason I really lean into character death, even random death, is for me personally, where gaming starts to frustrate me is when people are married to outcomes (whether that be players, GMs, etc). I think I can throw a lot of the other gaming philosophy out the window and distill it down to what I want is an element of surprise, not knowing how anything will turn out. Even random encounters with nobody bandits, I don't want to know where that is going to go with certainty (I may have an idea because the party is powerful and the bandits are weak, but there is a always a 'striker's chance' of doing someone in). Also I don't think this removes drama. I can see how in some heroic campaigns it might, but to me there is something very dramatic and puzzling about a sudden, unexpected and seemingly meaningless death (in life there is almost nothing as jarring and in drama too it can have a lot of impact). It also is a matter of framing.

Last night I had an encounter, which was not random, rather was a product of the players actions and the enemies they gained, where they almost died. This is the kind of moment where as a GM I remind myself to let the dice fall where they may (because we play online, I sometimes have my players roll for the opposition just so they know everything is out in the open and above board). Because of things the players had been doing someone wanted them dead and hired assassins. I randomly generated the assassins with our app, which can produce wildly varying results. I didn't bother to look at them before the combat sessions. The combat was a little more involved as another group was present due to a separate set of circumstances, but the bottom line is these two characters nearly killed each of the players at least once, in a couple of cases more than once, during the combat. They actually have pretty low skill levels, but their techniques happened to be well suited to the party and the party didn't have good counters (redacted information that the players don't know yet)

LAU RONG AND LAU YING (THE DOUBLE KILLING SQUALL)
Rong and Ying are Twins, born in Hu Qin to an official named LAU XE. [Redacted] paid them 8 golden taels to kill the party. [Redacted] services were procured [redacted]. [Redacted] promised them 16 more golden taels when they complete the contract. Both twins are mentally unsound and the lunacy shows in their frozen gazes: they look deranged. They have rapidly shifting moods from grave severity to manic jubilance. The twins play with and torment their prey and like to send them to death with sly remarks. Of the two, Rong is the most restrained and Ying has is given to extreme bouts of anger.

Defenses: Hardiness 4, Parry 7, Evade 6, Stealth 8, Wits 7, Resolve 8
Key Skills: Arm Strike: 1d10, Leg Strike: 2d10, Throw: 2d10, Light Melee: 1d10, Medium Melee: 1d10 or 3d10 with Jian, Small Ranged: 2d10, Muscle: 3d10, Speed: 0d10, Deception: 3d10, Detect: 0d10, Meditation: 3d10, History (Era of the Demon Emperor): 1d10, Religions/Gods (Dehua): 2d10, Classics (Book of Fortunes): 1d10, Classics (Sayings of Kong Zhi): 1d10

Qi: 5
Max Wounds: 11
Weapons: Composite Bow (3d10 damage), Jian (4d10 Damage), Iron Claw (3d10 Damage), Dagger (3d10 Damage)
Combat Technique: Light Melee-Opportunity

Kung Fu Techniques (Waijia 2, Neigong 2): Spinning Back Kick, Bow Slam, Guiding the Crashing Wave, Roundhouse Kick, Burning Palm, Ring of the Sword, Chrysanthemum Daggers, Storming Daggers, Nock of Countless Stars, Killing Claws of the Bear, Endless Arrow, Toad Stance, Iron Body, Whirling Dodge

Equipment: Weapons and 8 golden taels


In the end the players managed to kill them, but just barely. I didn't want the players to die. I didn't want the Twins to win, nor did I want them to die. My whole goal when I run stuff like this is not to want any particular outcome (which I find you have to be mindful of and keep in check). Because the beauty of a campaign to me is discovering where things go after these kinds of events (even if the outcome seems to throw a wrench in people's expectations)
 
Maybe it's just me, but I find the distinction between the convention of player characters never dying and the convention of replacing dead player characters with new characters which are conveintly available to join the party and who probably share much in common with the characters that just died pretty thin.

What I mean is that the difference between "Good news, Bob the Thief is not really dead, he's just KO. Let's carry on." and "Oh dear, Bob the Thief is dead, but fortunatley here is Bobby the Thief who wants to join the party. Let's carry on." is only where you rather place your suspension of disbelief.

One way I often connect new characters to the party in my wuxia campaigns after a death, is family. The first thing I suggest is the player might be a brother or sister of the fallen party member, or another member of the party who joins them. I think it is helpful for the new PC to have a reason for joining the party.
 
This is the kind of moment where as a GM I remind myself to let the dice fall where they may (because we play online, I sometimes have my players roll for the opposition just so they know everything is out in the open and above board).
I like the trick of having the players roll for their opposition. In person, I always like to roll dice in the open, but I've struggled with how to handle that online. We play on Discord, and when Edgewise Edgewise is running a game, he does all his roll using a dice app in chat. I've tried doing the same, but while it isn't hard, going to the chat window and typing in "/r 3d10" is just slower and clunkier than picking up the dice in front of me and rolling them. Over the course of a combat, it adds up, and I just find it breaks my flow.

As I trust my players, having them roll sometimes might be a good solution.
 
Or in fantasy games, continue to play the dead PC... :grin:

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Except that in Pulp stories, which Savage World's tries to emulate, the Heroes don't really die. The Bad Guys do, yes, but not the heroes outside of major arcs, that either end the book or are part of the hero team, so it's used for pathos and drama.

That's true. But plenty of PCs have died during my SW campaigns. Those exploding damage dice can be quite unpredictable.
 
I'm of the opinion that the actual pulp genre can be a lot darker and deadlier than the sanitized, revisionist definition a lot of gamers use. Most Pulp RPGs are to actual pulp as Disney fairy tales are to actual fairy tales.

And yes, there is plenty of pulp with true-hearted heroes who never lose, but there is lot more going on. The whole film noir genre tracks back to pulp novels.
 
I'm of the opinion that the actual pulp genre can be a lot darker and deadlier than the sanitized, revisionist definition a lot of gamers use. Most Pulp RPGs are to actual pulp as Disney fairy tales are to actual fairy tales.

And yes, there is plenty of pulp with true-hearted heroes who never lose, but there is lot more going on. The whole film noir genre tracks back to pulp novels.
Right, thing of The Spider novels!
 
Right, thing of The Spider novels!
I never got around to those, but given the convo in this thread, I gotta ask:

How often does the main character get gunned down by mooks?

(I mean, if he's a bit like The Phantom, a persona that gets passed along as the previous person gets killed, that would actually be kind a cool)
 
I never got around to those, but given the convo in this thread, I gotta ask:

How often does the main character get gunned down by mooks?

(I mean, if he's a bit like The Phantom, a persona that gets passed along as the previous person gets killed, that would actually be kind a cool)
He would get shot and have to be patched up. The books tended to end up with lots of civilian collateral damage due to the villain’s plots which might not sit well with modern readers/players
 
If you are playing in a 0th-Level funnel for DCC or a game of Paranoia... you should make peace with the the fact that your character is going to die... probably more than once.
OK, that would be a hilarious Paranoia premise, that you get promoted based on your clone iteration.

Except that, for whatever in-game reason, it's nearly impossible for the PC batch of clones to die.
 
I never got around to those, but given the convo in this thread, I gotta ask:

How often does the main character get gunned down by mooks?

(I mean, if he's a bit like The Phantom, a persona that gets passed along as the previous person gets killed, that would actually be kind a cool)
There's a whole segment of pulp about character getting involved in crime and ultimately meeting a fatal comeuppance, which can involve getting gunned down by unnamed cops.

The 1932 version of Scarface is based on a pulp novel of the same name, if you want to see a pulp main character getting gunned down by mooks.

 
He would get shot and have to be patched up. The books tended to end up with lots of civilian collateral damage due to the villain’s plots which might not sit well with modern readers/players
I guess I don't need to read them then.

That pretty much describes whatever sort of pulp-y game I tend to run anyway! :hehe:
 
Was he?

I see where you're going with that, but I'm not sure I agree.
Same. In my game he'd have been a NPC that died off screen. When the player shows up and triggers the trap, we show a rotting corpse still stuck on spikes to telegraph the stakes for Dr. Jone's player.
 
I'm of the opinion that the actual pulp genre can be a lot darker and deadlier than the sanitized, revisionist definition a lot of gamers use. Most Pulp RPGs are to actual pulp as Disney fairy tales are to actual fairy tales.

And yes, there is plenty of pulp with true-hearted heroes who never lose, but there is lot more going on. The whole film noir genre tracks back to pulp novels.

I think it's more a question of terminlogy drift away from it's original literay roots. In a roleplaying context, "pulp" is commonly taken to mean Indiana Jones, possibly with dinosaurs. But as with its sister term "cinematic", it can be a confusing label.
 
That's true. But plenty of PCs have died during my SW campaigns. Those exploding damage dice can be quite unpredictable.
That's very true. I always love to retell that story of that one time I nut-shot Godzilla in the Savage Rifts game with a single Glitter Boy round. I can't even say it went in one end and out the other. There was nothing left of his nether regions, his tail and about 50mi of forest behind him...

My only moment of glory in that game.
 
That's true. But plenty of PCs have died during my SW campaigns. Those exploding damage dice can be quite unpredictable.
Exploding dice and swingy results is part of Savage Worlds appeal. But there is the optional Wound Cap setting rule if to prevent one-shot deaths from nowhere for games in which it is appropriate or the more extreme Heroes Never Die.
 
Was he?

I see where you're going with that, but I'm not sure I agree.
Indy is clearly the new PC of the guy that played Forrestal. He even uses metagame knowledge to know the light is a trap.
I think it's more a question of terminlogy drift away from it's original literay roots. In a roleplaying context, "pulp" is commonly taken to mean Indiana Jones, possibly with dinosaurs. But as with its sister term "cinematic", it can be a confusing label.
I only got into the debate because it was being suggested Savage Worlds wasn't doing pulp right because of character death, when it works great in pulp settings like Deadlands Noir.

I guess my biggest frustration with people who want to claim the world pulp for games where heroes always never die and always win is that those people never seem to have any knowledge or interest in actual pulp fiction, a genre I love. It's like someone wanting to define the genre of fantasy without having read Dunsany, Lieber Tolkien and Vance.

If you want the authority to define a genre, you need to look into it first.
 
I'm really confused by this. Is this just a joke, or do you have a point, or do you not understand what I was saying?
It is a bit of a joke.

But there is a point, a PC dying is a "fake" death. Sure, there is a "lose" condition for the player, but unless the "lose" condition is that the player can not continue to participate in the campaign, the stakes are not the maximum.

And yes, I understand what you are saying.

But the way I see it, there's a continuum of ways to handle the risk of PC death.

At one end, PC death means player doesn't get to play anymore (essentially no one runs this - I bet at least one campaign has run this way in the history of RPGs)

At the other end, PCs have zero risk at all, they won't "lose a turn." If the game even acknowledges wounding, the player is still able to use their PC to participate.

Near the top end are games with gritty combat, limited healing, no or nearly no ability to raise the dead, etc.

Near the bottom end are various plot immunity bits.

Somewhere in the middle, maybe in another dimension, is contrived PC replacement (look, the next room has a captive - welcome to your new PC).

Well that's A set of questions. The answers have been pretty clear to me and most of the people I've enjoyed playing with:

* Lots of things make a game fun, but one of the main things is getting to play in an imaginary situation that behaves like a self-consistent real place with serious logical risks and consequences of choices, and having to try to survive and prevail in uncertain risky situations.
One of the main things for you. Not all players have the same interest. But trust me, I like that too.
* While it might not be particularly fun to have to sit out or miss sessions where you don't have a character, it IS VERY fun to have a game taken seriously to the point where players who don't have a character in the current action, aren't always part of all sessions. It's fun for limited information roleplaying/immersion reasons. It's fun because it's taking the situations seriously. It's fun because there are experiential benefits for doing dangerous things, and because there are risks and consequences if/when you have bad outcomes.
I agree that can be fun for some. But not always. I've sat out an hours long session hoping the combat would end so my PC could be healed. It was not fun. Missing a session when we play 2 hours every week might not be fun for all my players. Being interested in joining a campaign, but being told there won't be a logical place to introduce a new PC for months, meanwhile, we've lost two players, would not be fun. We almost had an extended time where one player didn't get to play his PC because it was turned to stone in Snake Pipe Hollow. I could not find any magic in RQ to reverse this. I was about to offer a hero quest, and the player was going to have the option to play a temporary character so they wouldn't be out of the campaign for months. But before they did this, the earth cultists who wanted something from Snake Pipe Hollow offered to use 1 point of Divine Intervention for a 10% chance. The player rolled an 06.

I used to be a softy, fudging, offering deus ex machina, etc. to save PCs. I don't run that way anymore. I've lost a player or two, but everyone else who is playing feels better about the campaign for the strictness.

But I'm sure as hell going to get you back in the action as soon as I can even if I have to stretch imaginations a bit. My current Cold Iron campaign had one new PC join as the party was about to enter a cave (new PC watched the PCs fight the goblins at the cave entrance and stepped forward to join forces), the next PC was the captive of a monster that entranced it's victims (that player played one of the retired PCs until he got into action - for several every other week sessions). One player sat out most of the combat because his PC got entranced. The final new PC was a prisoner of the bandits whose hideout they were raiding (the bandits already had several prisoners, it was totally logical for a PC to be one of the prisoners). So yea, some stretching, but not in comparison to what I've done before. For example in my Fantasy Hero campaign in 1985, one new PC dropped into the middle of a combat from a rift in the air. Other PCs arrived in various ways. We all joked "Damn, that wizard gets around." every time a new PC joined.

* The number of sessions someone would miss, would be dictated by situation logic, and what works best as determined by the GM. Also by what the player wants.
I've had situational logic that would have suggested months of missed sessions. That's not a good way to retain or recruit new players when they can just look for some other game at the same time slot on Roll20.

* There are many possible alternatives to sending a player away when their PC dies/recuperates/retires/vacations/leaves/whatever. A good one is playing one of the NPCs who are present nearby. That could be an NPC already in the party, or an NPC the party hasn't met yet, but that is already established to be in the area. I could be a party adversary, or 3rd party with their own interests/goals. It can also be a new character, even in a different location from the party, that you start low-intensity roleplaying what they're up to somewhere else, with the possibility they may eventually be introduced to the party as a possible new member . . . or enemy . . . or not.
Yes, there are some options there. I've never tried having players play enemies, I think you would have to have the right campaign and group of players for that to actually work.

Playing an NPC party member has worked well and maybe even once or twice the NPC has become the player's PC. I've also tried having players play the PC of a player that wasn't present, but that usually doesn't go so well. In the Cold Iron campaign, I did do that, but I was pretty sure the original player wasn't coming back and it didn't make sense to drop that PC (that player's husband's PC on the other hand was left to watch the horses).

That can be fine if the game situation warrants it. But game situations exist at a level above the individual player, and those can be just as interesting and critical to take seriously as the possibility of life/death of a PC.

That is, if it makes sense the party would find and add a replacement, then there's no issue. But if they're in a situation that's supposed to be a serious element of play that makes it NOT make sense that a replacement PC would be available, then you've got a choice to make. Having replacement PCs teleport in whenever one dies, even when the group is supposedly not in a place where that makes sense, is more or less as surreal and stakes-removing (just in a different flavor) as not letting a PC die in the first place.
I almost never have a campaign situation where it would be impossible for a new PC to join without making ridiculous logic.

BTW, I have also been the player who joined a campaign with a new PC and waited through a whole many hours session hoping things would get to a point where my PC could join. It sucked. These days maybe it wouldn't be so bad sitting there surfing on my phone (or computer if it's an online game), but it still would suck.

Sitting there watching other people play can really suck. I played a one shot Fudge scenario once where at some point, one player went off with the GM for over an hour. When they came back, the player announced she had cut a deal that completed the adventure. Oh, did I mention the player and the GM maybe were romantically involved? No matter how logical the situation might have been, all I have for those people is a big FU.
 
Clearly #1 and #2, surely. The "stakes" for the player never remotely resemble those for the PC, and really it's not normally intended that the player be (further) "punished" at all for losing a character. "Go sit in the corner for the rest of the session and think about what you've done!!"

But there's a whole raft of hypotheticals and assumptions in there, too. Is anyone suggesting that a player's entitlement to have a live character sheet in front of them trumps all story logic? I don't believe so.
Absolutely. Even in the most accommodating campaign I've run, there has been some logic that held. But thresholds are different for different people.
 
I'm of the opinion that the actual pulp genre can be a lot darker and deadlier than the sanitized, revisionist definition a lot of gamers use. Most Pulp RPGs are to actual pulp as Disney fairy tales are to actual fairy tales.

And yes, there is plenty of pulp with true-hearted heroes who never lose, but there is lot more going on. The whole film noir genre tracks back to pulp novels.
I think that's partly because pulp is a pretty broard category that gamers (and even pulp RPGs) have a tendency to reduce to a handful of subgenres. It tends to get treated as if it was just action adventure with square jawed heroes and maybe pulpy space opera. Stuff like crime and horror pulp gets ignored largely. People forget Lovecraft was a pulp writer or if they do "pulp Lovecraft" make it about shooting horrors from beyond in the face with your elephant gun and that really isn't what the originals are about.
 
That's very true. I always love to retell that story of that one time I nut-shot Godzilla in the Savage Rifts game with a single Glitter Boy round. I can't even say it went in one end and out the other. There was nothing left of his nether regions, his tail and about 50mi of forest behind him...

My only moment of glory in that game.
I had a character kill a dragon with a single arrow, Bard the Bowman style after an improbable string of exploding dice. The dragon wasn't even interested in them. It was simply flying overhead on its way back to its lair. The encounter was simply to let them know there was a massive threat around, and that they should be careful. And then it was dead.

It was completely unexpected and awesome at the same time.
 
I think that's partly because pulp is a pretty broard category that gamers (and even pulp RPGs) have a tendency to reduce to a handful of subgenres. It tends to get treated as if it was just action adventure with square jawed heroes and maybe pulpy space opera. Stuff like crime and horror pulp gets ignored largely. People forget Lovecraft was a pulp writer or if they do "pulp Lovecraft" make it about shooting horrors from beyond in the face with your elephant gun and that really isn't what the originals are about.
That's fair.

So how do we define and name that subcategory that actually gets used in gaming, rather than the entirety of pulp?

A catchy term with some boundaries might prevent this recurring conversation in a gaming context.
 
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