A lifelink curse and its effect on game play and group dynamics

I recently played Forbidden Sky, a board game in the Pandemic framework, i.e. collaborative, 4 actions per turn etc. In that game everybody loses if only one character is down to zero health.

At first, I did not like the idea. But then it turned out quite interesting and more so after I realised what effect that could have on a typical adventurer RPG, especially in OSR style.

So I imagine a setup in which an in-game inevitable reason, a curse, an artifact or similar - ensures that if anybody in the adventurer group dies, everybody will die.

I find it interesting: what will that do to group dynamics? How does it alter certain typical tensions? Will the game be more enjoyable for some players and less for others? For whom in specific?

Have you seen or played with this change in one of the core concepts before?

How would you imagine will it turn out at your table, if you haven’t seen it in action?

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Hello, this makes me think of escort missions or missions with a glass cannon. Only with lifelink, the tank and DPS are in an ambiguous position. But mostly, I’d just expect a higher failure ratio.

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It seems somewhat antithetical to some of the core elements of classic play in so far as A) The “Party” is already the narrative unit - as in the players are telling the party’s collective story far more then individual “heroes”. In a classic open table structure this is especially true with the party makeup changing each session as different Players/PCs are available or not. B) PC death is generally an expected and useful part of this campaign structure, in some sense it’s baked into the idea that the party changes over time. Honestly I think mechanics that encourage party variety – “troupe play” are far more interesting for classic play then ones that add mechanical force to the immutable party of heroes who can’t lose a member that has become such a sticking point in contemporary traditional play for both logistical (“one player stopped showing up - what do I do?”) and mechanical (“The rules say someone is out of HP and died, so here’s 40 ways to lie and cheat your way around it”) reasons.

As a complication for a specific adventure or one shot it would work and could be pretty interesting. I think it might also work far better for a different genre then classic fantasy. “Kids on Bikes” immediately comes to mind. There’s no way your plucky gang of rascals is pushing on to explore the pirate treasure cave after the robbers shoot Jimmy or Sara falls into a spiked pit. That genre also rests heavily on the kid gang helping each other out and narrow scrapes. One would likely need rules that make these sorts of lethal consequences more rare (Injury HP vs. stunned or scared HP) or manageable (An Hp pool, or pooled fate/save mechanic) however.

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Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

Indeed, it might make most sense for a dedicated amount of time, or a one-shot. Just as with most other deviations from the standard configuration - they are interesting for some time but then fall apart.

Some of my thoughts:
If the level of lethal consequences is kept up as usual and talking about a classic dungeon crawl (I hadn’t had other settings in mind so far), I would expect things happening like:

  1. “weak” or injured party members are singled out, overcome by force by the others and brought to a “safe place” in the dungeon before their inevitable death would kill everybody else. Some party members might disagree with this method, from a moral or strategical point of view.
  2. “Not dead” is all what it needs for the others. What do the individuals do, what do the others do to avoid death at all costs? Like better turning a party member permanently to stone in the very last moment?
  3. What treatment will the hotheads in the group receive? Playing the last defender against the hordes isn’t that cool anymore.
  4. What leverage can cold blooded group members get out of such a situation if they pretend they don’t care much about their life?
  5. How much time would there be left to bring somebody back from the dead? How does a collective near-death experience look and feel like?
  6. What if the life-link is not all-with-all but a cascade, i.e. I only die if somebody higher up the list dies but further below does not affect me?
  7. What if you are immune to the lifelink as long as you carry a sufficient amount of a scarce resource with you - which can be found in the dungeon but is hard to get enough for everybody and does not last long?

So, from the psychological effects as from potential additional twists, it seems quite scary and (type 2) fun to me.

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My first thoughts were definitely in the vein of number 3; no more “You go on, I’ll hold them off!” :laughing: I like number 2, though. Like you said, the idea of finding unorthodox ways to “save” near-death party members sounds pretty fun!

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Ha, yes, unorthodox ways of leaving the party to avoid the TPK is an interesting clue here.

Players need to roll new characters as well in many cases, so it is not a “death is not on the table” situation. But it is about avoiding the ordinary death at all cost, so that everybody has to roll new characters.

For what I can tell, it will make the participants care more about each other, instead of just risking their own character’s lives.

But I sort of think if a group health wouldn’t be the same thing, but easier to explain, with the possibility of having certain characters drain more “hit points” from the group health, for example making everybody gasp when the tiny fairy is attacked. The group health could be explained as fatigue, moral and tactical (dis)advantage.

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Outside of the OSR, “character death : stay with it” (Sim) and psychological rules of some sort (Narr) address the question lifelink answers. I see them more adapted to the task, but it might not be the same question exactly.

I think this is the great basis for a larp.

You are so right! As a LAOG, I can also imagine using something similar like the Outscored setup. If your tab on a character keeper becomes more grey and finally purple dark every time somebody gets closer to death.

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