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Fair or Foul: Death by Fiat

Posted By Walt Ciechanowski On June 9, 2011 @ 12:01 am In GMing Advice | 67 Comments

Have you ever killed a PC through fiat?

A while back I was running a street-level superheroes game. Realism (in as much as any game is “realistic”) was emphasized, to the point that no one wore spandex and vigilante activity would get you arrested if caught. We also started with none of the PCs knowing each other, as relationships were supposed to be forged in game.

In what was going to be our last session, sloppy play on the part of one PC, Ryder, turned him into a fugitive from justice. Sullivan, a PC connected with the FBI, arranged a meeting with Ryder in a roadside diner. Sullivan previously alerted the authorities and while he met Ryder the diner was surrounded by the police and SWAT.

Most of Ryder’s “superpowers” were invested in his motorcycle that sat out front. When Ryder noticed the cops outside, he wanted to make a break for it. I told Ryder’s player that there was simply no way that he’d survive running out the front door and getting to his bike. Ryder’s player insisted on trying.

As he opened the door, I asked Ryder’s player if he just wanted to give me the sheet or have me narrate the epic “blaze of glory” death scene. He still insisted that I make the rolls and I told him that even if I rolled for the two dozen or so cops, which included sharpshooters, he wouldn’t stand a chance anyway. Fiat simply saved session time.

This scene effectively ended the campaign, as Ryder’s player was angry at the PC “betrayal” as well as the fact that I didn’t give him a real chance of escape.

So fair or foul? Is it okay to use fiat in situations where chances of survival are nil?

About  Walt Ciechanowski

Walt’s been a game master ever since he accidentally picked up the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set in 1982. He became a freelance RPG writer in 2005 and is currently the Victoriana Line Developer for Cubicle 7. Walt lives in Springfield, PA with his wife Helena and their three children, Leianna, Stephen, and Zoe.

67 Comments (Open | Close)

67 Comments To "Fair or Foul: Death by Fiat"

#1 Comment By Rohnjoberson On June 9, 2011 @ 12:22 am

As the DM I think you definitely have the authority to dictate when there is no way someone could live through a situation. But if you know the player might make a big deal of it, it might be easier to just make the rolls and kill them that way. Then they can’t complain to you about being ‘unfair.’ So I guess I’d say it depends on the player.

#2 Comment By Icosahedrophilia On June 9, 2011 @ 1:34 am

I tend not to want to use DM fiat for life-or-death situations myself, though sometimes I wish I were more comfortable with it! Recently, two players expressed an interest in switching to new characters. There was no good reason in-game for those two PCs just to leave the party, so the players wanted them to go out in a blaze of glory. In the story, it made more sense for PC X to die first, then PC Y. So I tried to kill off PC X … but she kept on healing herself (D&D 4e warlord)! I did manage to kill PC Y in that fight, so the player is ready to introduce a new character. But why do you ask the GM to kill your character, then fight back with self-healing? That’s enough to make me want to pop an aneurism in your PC’s brain.

#3 Comment By whodo_voodoo On June 9, 2011 @ 4:18 am

As a GM I’ve personally not got an issue with just killing a character when they get in a situation like that. However I’d have given them plenty of opportunities to notice something was happening before they got to that point. From the way the scene is described here the player didn’t get a chance to realise something was up until it was too late.

Example points where Ryder could realised (through rolling) something was up:
When arriving noticing a few out of place individuals loitering in the parking lot.
Noticing the diner was unusually empty despite plenty of cars in the lot (police having removed innocents before he got there).
Spotting one of the SWAT vans not so well hidden in the distance.
Opposed rolls vs the other player to realise they were on edge / stalling for time.

All of those would have given Ryder’s player a chance to spot the trap and try to escape before it got to the point where escaping = instant death.

#4 Comment By Clawfoot On June 9, 2011 @ 5:19 am

The only reason death is on the table at all in my games (D&D 4e) is because the characters have access to the Raise Dead ritual. My players have made it clear that they do not enjoy games where their characters can permanently die without their express permission, and I respect that and give them the game they want. I’m personally okay with character death in games, either as a GM or player, but I’m also okay with it being off the table, so it’s fine with me.

That said, I have actually killed a player character out-of-hand before, with no rolls or save or anything, simply because it served the story and was highly dramatic (the character got better due to the aforementioned Raise Dead ritual). I occasionally do stuff like this: I suspend the rules in favour of high drama, and I tell my players when I’m doing it.

I usually say something like, “All right. I’m going to break from the rules right now and ask for your trust.” It seems to work well.

#5 Comment By Piikki On June 9, 2011 @ 5:55 am

You had every right and did well by narrating it instead of rolling the dice. Of course if player insists sometimes it might be better to roll the dice just to show him how it goes.
Bigger problem here is that the player didn’t understand your warning (This happen to me often too) There is some article here about communicating with players and basicly what it says that if this kind of thing happens you need to repeat your warning, look the player in the eyes and see if there is any understanding. Sometimes people understand same words diffrently.

#6 Comment By Patrick Benson On June 9, 2011 @ 6:10 am

Foul. It doesn’t matter if the odds are a million to one. Roll the dice. Sometimes that one-in-a-million event occurs. Plus the desire to save time should not negate the game itself. Take the time to roll the dice, and let those results stand. Doing so might have cost you time, but it also might have saved the campaign.

#7 Comment By jr37 On June 9, 2011 @ 6:42 am

I’d have made the dice rolls – it sounds like you did a good enough job letting him know just how likely it was that he was going to die, but to be fair, there’s always that chance that your dice would have decided that was the time to show the character some love. I’ve shortened scenes by eliminating the dice and just describing the action, but only when the players were so clearly winning that their enemies would have to be stupid to continue the fight. “Yes, the last of the orcs try to make a run for it but you slaughter them like the filthy scum they are.”

#8 Comment By mcmanlypants On June 9, 2011 @ 6:50 am

I would have absolutely made the die rolls if the player insisted. Even if it’s “obvious” that he’s going to die from a statistical standpoint, this is a game of chance. Players routinely take actions that have a possibility of failing in hopes that instead the dice will come up in their favor and they will succeed. Even though it is extremely unlikely, what if every single die roll for those snipers, etc., had come up a 1? From the player’s perspective, the difference between a roll that is almost certain to work and a roll that is almost certain to fail is, ultimately, one of degrees. They’re both a gamble and circumstances can easily lead them to feel like a lousy gamble is still their best bet. The experience formed for the player is not one of realizing the character got herself or himself into a hopeless situation and learning from that; the experience formed for the player is one of being denied the /possibility/ of success and the player is right to feel slighted.

Is the character going to die? Probably so, yes. I cannot imagine otherwise. Are they going to be ticked off? Absolutely, yes, if they are emotionally attached to the character and especially if that attachment has gotten wrapped up in a context of preexisting frustration (stemming from their own poor choices earlier in the game). Why make them be angry at you, then? Let them be angry at the dice. Let something external to your relationship as DM and player be the Big Bad. Give each of you the chance to walk away blaming the dice. It will make everyone more likely to come back to the table and have fun next week.

#9 Comment By mcmanlypants On June 9, 2011 @ 6:56 am

@Patrick BensonDoing so might have cost you time, but it also might have saved the campaign.

Wise words worth repeating!

#10 Comment By asaris On June 9, 2011 @ 7:13 am

Definitely not fair. I would hesitate to kill a PC by fiat in any circumstance; I would almost never do it without the permission of the player. Their PC is the only interaction lever they have with the game — and as the GM, you have plenty. So in general, you shouldn’t mess with their PC outside of the rules of the game without their permission.

#11 Comment By AquaFox On June 9, 2011 @ 7:15 am

I am not a fan of what you’ve done. I hate telling the player “there is no way to survive”. And essentially saying stuff like “I know the setting perfectly and this is impossible.” You can be creative. You can ask the player to be creative and ask how he thinks he could avoid death in a situation like this.

#12 Comment By secretoracle On June 9, 2011 @ 7:28 am

This is a Point-Of-View piece. It might inflame some, it might make others nod. It’s my opinion and is not meant to start a flame war.

You should have played the scene out. Roll the dice. But before we got to that point…..

“In what was going to be our last session, sloppy play on the part of one PC, Ryder, turned him into a fugitive from justice. Sullivan, a PC connected with the FBI, arranged a meeting with Ryder in a roadside diner. Sullivan previously alerted the authorities and while he met Ryder the diner was surrounded by the police and SWAT.”

The things that caught my attention here were “last session” and “sloppy play”. We have to trust that the sequence of events that unfolded from the “sloppy play” would have led to the hero becoming a fugitive from justice. But if the player knew it was the last session, he might have just been trying to move the game to a conclusion and thinking that he could let some details slide. We don’t know enough to know for sure.

And then comes the item that was previously mentioned, noticing something was wrong. I’m gathering that the fiat included the arrival and deployment of SWAT? You make no mention of it except when you say “When Ryder noticed the cops outside, he wanted to make a break for it.” So we assume he missed the numerous Notice/Perception/Whatnot rolls that led up to the moment when he finally noticed the SWAT guys. If the deployment was included in the fiat, you were absolutely wrong as a GM (remember, my opinion).

“I told Ryder’s player that there was simply no way that he’d survive running out the front door and getting to his bike. Ryder’s player insisted on trying.” You couldn’t have known this from a mechanical stand point. You could certainly have believed it, but you could have botched every single die roll. Then comes the issue of the other hero. Are the cops going to be shooting into the melee of the two heroes as the “good-guy” tries to arrest the “vigilante”? that changes the dynamic. Also, we play these sorts of games for a variety of reasons, and one of the most common is to live out those awesome scenes from action movies. So I could see my character making a break for it, thinking the odds might play out in my favor. The player insisted, it was his game too, you should have rolled the dice. It might have been one of the best fight scenes in your groups history. Amazing escapes, near misses, lucky hits. But it became (my opinion) “I said you can’t survive so you can’t survive dammit!”

Rolling back the way-back machine. “We also started with none of the PCs knowing each other, as relationships were supposed to be forged in game.” So I have to assume Ryder and Sullivan were friendlyish? Ryder agreed to meet Sullivan at a roadside diner. Did Sullivan say, “You crossed the line. You did and I have to bring you in. .” That could have been epic RP. And it might have been an epic PC on PC fight which could have been great story material. Or was it “Yeah, you want to .” You mentioned “sloppy play” Think back, was Sullivan’s player guilty of this as well?

And again, the diner scene. Ryder essentially intends to make a run for it. Sullivan has to see this. Did he say he was going to try and stop him? “If if looks like Ryder might make a run for his bike I try and tackle him.” To which your GM reply should have been (my opinion) “Roll Initiative.” Or was Sullivan doing the “You go ahead and flee justice, I’m gonna have me some pie.” thing.

Now this is the part where you’re gonna get upset. Many of you will.

“As he opened the door, I asked Ryder’s player if he just wanted to give me the sheet or have me narrate the epic “blaze of glory” death scene. He still insisted that I make the rolls and I told him that even if I rolled for the two dozen or so cops, which included sharpshooters, he wouldn’t stand a chance anyway. Fiat simply saved session time.” It’s not your character to play at this point. He’s not afflicted with the mummy rot or the zombie plague, he’s still a player character. If anything HE should have narrated the epic “blaze of glory” death scene. And the one that really chaffs my D20s “Fiat simply saved session time”. It was the last session? How about a campaing cliffhanger? “And the scene ends with Ryder’s hand on the door. The SWAT teams ready, and the music rising into a power rock tune.” How about, “This is too good to pass up, but it’s late. Let’s run through this scene next week. I’m dying to see how this plays out!”

I suppose it would have been easier to say FOUL! and save you all having to read this, but I am a narcissist and love the sound of my own voice, even on paper. Remember, this is all my opinion, and it’s based on sketchy facts. We only have the limited data you provided. As with all opinion pieces your mileage may vary.

#13 Comment By forbinproject On June 9, 2011 @ 7:28 am

I know what I’d do; I’d clear this with the other players first, and then have them control ALL the Feds, cops and SWAT NPCs and run it straight – all dice out in the open, no fudging. Keeps everyone involved, and there’s a slim possibility that the PC might get away. Avoids fiat while keeping the momentum of the game.

Also, no-one is harsher on PCs that other players.

#14 Comment By secretoracle On June 9, 2011 @ 7:31 am


Great! Verything inside “” ‘s is invisible and you can’t edit a post. Arrrrrrhhhhhhh.

#15 Comment By evil On June 9, 2011 @ 7:37 am

There have been times in my games when I have flat out told players that someone is going to die this game. Normally I only automatically hand out PC death when the storyline calls for it, and then in rare instances, because those PCs often come back in another incarnation or through story-driven healing of some sort. In this case, since your actions were story-driven, it was completely fair. As for the rolling of the dice for the player, it was up to you to skip them, especially since given the information you did give him, the player could have come up with at least three or four other ways of getting to that bike that didn’t include a mad rush out the diner doors.

#16 Comment By jayouzts On June 9, 2011 @ 7:39 am

If you can roll the dice, roll them. You never know; he may get lucky. And if he does, those are the things that make the most memorable campaign moments.

Yes, I realize it takes time. Yes, I realize that it keeps the spotlight on that player longer than perhaps the others. But unless the player is particularly selfish about the spotlight (if he his, you have a bigger problem) then I see no reason not to indulge him.

#17 Comment By jayouzts On June 9, 2011 @ 7:40 am


I would roll them on the table in front of everybody, so the players knew that if he did survive it was dumb luck.

#18 Comment By Wesley Street On June 9, 2011 @ 7:54 am

Foul. Declaring a PC dead without actually going through the motions in order to save time is the same as railroading. A DM is obligated to roll the dice in a situation like this, especially when it means the end of a PC.

#19 Comment By Thammorn On June 9, 2011 @ 8:00 am

I have told players before that the possibility of them escaping a situation was 1 in a hundred – a published scenario gave the holder of a sword dedicated to Sif exactly that chance to get her attention and summon her avatar. As luck would have it, the die roll succeeded and the planned humbling of the PCs became an epic battle of the heroes alongside an avatar of one of their deities.
By all means, run the encounter, but make all rolls in front of the PCs. You might also hint to the player controlling Sullivan that since he called the cops, he should be helping subdue the vigilante.
If a player has truly abused the game enough to have the authorites come after him, then by all means, you have EVERY right to bring him to book. Just make sure you do it by the book.

#20 Comment By brakeforguars On June 9, 2011 @ 8:36 am

Foul! There’s ALWAYS a chance the dice can surprise you and even a situation with grim odds of success can turn around after a few bad/good rolls.

Also, what you call fiat here is essentially railroading. I’ve been caught in this trap before, and it never makes players happy. I’m running a D&D 3.5e campaign and there’s an absurdly powerful NPC (she acts like a villain, but is more of a “shades of grey” bad guy). My players have expressed a desire to fight her a few times, but I’ve told them in the past that she’d just kill them outright.

Different scenario, admittedly, but essentially what you’re saying is “play along, or die”, taking the element of surprise and autonomy away from players.

Foul indeed.

#21 Comment By ChrowX On June 9, 2011 @ 8:43 am

Always roll the dice. ALWAYS.

Unless there is absolutely nothing the player can do because they are already at -50 HP, paralyzed, and bleeding out, you always roll the dice.

This may mean the impossible can happen, or it may simply mean that the player won’t be as angry at you, the GM, when luck fails him. It may also mean that your plan doesn’t go right and he does escape, despite impossible odds.

Allowing him to narrate his blaze of glory was a nice touch, but it doesn’t make up for just having him die instantly.

#22 Comment By EndlessBard On June 9, 2011 @ 8:55 am

As a player, I’d be right fussed if the DM just declared me dead without any chance of rolling the dice to escape. The entire point of having rules to begin with is to govern that sort of event, and the rules (almost) always allow for some chance of escape.

“Rocks fall, everyone dies” isn’t good storytelling. They at least need to get a reflex save.

Of course, if you’re playing Paranoia, then death by fiat is expected. So I suppose it depends a bit on which system you’re running.

#23 Comment By iserith On June 9, 2011 @ 9:27 am

Foul. You painted yourself into a DMing corner, tried to force the player’s hand to comply with your story, and sent him to his death. It’s like the lever in the dungeon that says “Do Not Pull.” You KNOW the players will simply have to try.

“I don’t care about the SWAT team. I’m a superhero,” says the player. “I crash through the front door and make a break for my bike.”

“Okay, you take a deep breath and get ready to run toward the diner’s glass door. Before you leap headlong into certain death, Flo, the sassy waitress at the diner grabs your arm with unnatural strength and looks you in the eye in an uncharacteristic manner,” says the DM. “‘If you want to get out of here alive,’ says Flo, ‘Forget about your bike and come with me.’”

Then call for a break so you can figure out how to resolve it while everyone gets beers.

But hey, hindsight is 20-20, right?

#24 Comment By BryanB On June 9, 2011 @ 9:29 am

I really don’t care for Death by Fiat, even if it speeds up the game for everyone else. If the peril was that lethal, then the PC would have likely been killed within the first dozen rolls anyway. I’d say roll it out and see what happens. The one time that a PC survives the situation will be quite the story to tell.

On the flip side, I have no problem telling the PCs that they have mopped up the enemy without harm to themselves whenever the odds are so overwhelming as to be impossible for PC loss.

During a Star Wars game, my PCs were on Onderon and had discovered the hidden base of a Sith cultist backed rebellion movement against Queen Talia. During the fight, a PC managed to punch through a jamming field and summon the aid of the Onderon Defense Force. Once the PCs had defeated a Sith spirit and the leaders of the cult, it was only a matter of time before the riff raff was mopped up. The Onderon Defense Force and Queen Talia’s Paladins were coming into the complex in division strength at least. So I described a short intense firefight, which ended quickly once half the cultists were killed and the others saw no hope in fighting on. Without the Sith spirit to compel them, the desire of the cultists to die for a cause had evaporated rather fast.

So I never use Death by Fiat on PCs. I will use it on NPCs whenever it seems to be appropriate. Even then, I’ll usually ask the PCs if they would prefer to fight it out round by round or allow me to cut to the chase.

#25 Comment By philipstephen On June 9, 2011 @ 10:12 am

I would say Foul.

There are plenty of cop movies where someone breaks out into a scene where they are surrounded by gunmen and they do not get killed.

They have choices and the cops have choices that might lead to survival of the PC.

The PC could talk or bluff their way out.

The police could shoot to maim… and they would only really have cause to open fire if the PC said they were shooting at them as they went out the front door…

or they got too close to that bike.

Megaphone conversations… Warning shots… even injuring shots were in your toolbox.

The actions of the PC and the other PC could have evolved as they were informed by the situation…

…which in my opinion did not have to be deadly force by every single cop holding a gun the moment the PC walked out the door.

My two cents.


#26 Comment By drow On June 9, 2011 @ 10:13 am

not only have i killed a PC by fiat, i killed them without reason or mercy. the player was absent for a game session, during which the party split into two groups to pursue different goals. one group survived, the other perished in a hopeless battle. when the player returned, i described the goals, and asked which group her PC would’ve gone with. guess which group she chose?

muhahahahaa…. anyway, she still games with us. and i haven’t done that again…. YET. >:D

#27 Comment By Patrick Benson On June 9, 2011 @ 10:23 am

@drow – But that is not the same thing as what is being described. What you are describing is the player being presented a decision with sever consequences. The PCs that died still had a chance. The player that chose had a 50/50 chance to survive.

The above scenario is when a PC has no chance to survive in the pursuit of what the player wants to pursue. For me, that clearly defines the two situations as one being a game and the other being scripted.

Quick question though, did the player understand that choosing one of the goals would result in the PC’s death?

#28 Comment By GiacomoArt On June 9, 2011 @ 10:32 am

Fiat has killed more than one PC in my games. One of my recurring villains is a shiny, red Panda 4×4 with all leather interior, possessed by the ghost of a Nazi war criminal, and with death rays mounted in the headlights.

Or was that just a bad dream I had?

#29 Comment By drow On June 9, 2011 @ 10:39 am

@patrick: i disagree. in walt’s scenario, the player was given a choice, made their choice, and was told “your PC is now dead.” in my case, the PCs who fought and died did so honestly. the PC who “joined” them after the fact clearly died by fiat. and no, the player wasn’t told that one of the groups had perished.

#30 Comment By Patrick Benson On June 9, 2011 @ 10:47 am

@drow – I agree with you now that I better understand the situation. If you did not clearly state the consequences beforehand it was fiat. The player was given a choice out of context, and that is not the playing of the game but the dictating of the PC’s fate.

#31 Comment By BishopOfBattle On June 9, 2011 @ 11:04 am

@Icosahedrophilia – Personally, I would have resolved that situation with a “story” kill rather than a “mechanics” kill. If both players want their characters to go out, then offer them a suitably climactic death, but don’t play it out. It takes less time and is less prone to that “one in a million chance” that they live through impossible odds.

For example, the party is being chased out of a cavern by a horde they cannot possibly hope to defeat, so one player stays behind to collapse the tunnel after them. Or one player adventures alone into a twisting nexus to close it from the other side with no hope of return. Or the players join up with another force which intends to hold the enemy army at bay, but expects to lose (Battle of Thermopoli style) while the rest of the party goes on to deliver a warning. Something of that nature.

OP – Given the described scenario, I would not have simply said you’re dead. That’s not to say I don’t think death by fiat doesn’t work, but given the scenario of a player who obviously wanted to try to win, not giving him a “chance”, even if its a heavily loaded and lopsided chance, was cheating him of the experience.

If time is an issue, I think its fair to abstract the rolls a little bit. Given that there were so many officers, maybe they don’t roll to hit, but just roll damage as though half had hit while the hero gets to roll to resist / dodge some of that damage off. Tell the player it will take him eight (or so0 rounds of whithering fire to reach his motorcycle, start it and take off. If he makes it, he’ll have to lose them in a chase (though that sounds like it wouldn’t be an issue).

Chances are, with that much fire coming at him, he’s dead in three rounds. Maybe he gets lucky and you can narrate him shrugging off a significant amount of damage and crawling on to his bike before succumbing to his wounds, drapped over the seat as he tried to crawl up to it. Or maybe he doesn’t get lucky and the first volley at the door stops him in his tracks.

I’ve done this before with an entire party and it worked well (given the session in question was the finale for the campaign) with the heroes having a somewhat bittersweet victory where they stopped the BBE Dragon but still had to flee from a portion of the world overrun with demons. I had them make a series of attack rolls, skill rolls and other saves against a static DC, then multiplied their failed saves against a small number of hit points lost. Those who ended with a “net positive” hit point total made it to the ship for the escape while the others (in true heroic fashion) turned to delay the tide of demons long enough for the rest to get the ship out of harbor before succumbing.

#32 Comment By Roxysteve On June 9, 2011 @ 11:24 am

Well, it seems obvious to me that there was an undercurrent of “just desserts” here, along with a side order of “not keen on keeping this one in the game after this night’s nitwittery”.


To recap: Police sharpshooters ready to go and “have the drop” on the PC. Another PC on the side of the police inside ready to act too. Most of Teh Luser’s mojo outside, more than one round away.

If it were me I’d either turn myself in or take the PC inside with me as a hostage/shield. I’d still get killed.

But I’d want the dice rolled, just for the fun of it. I might suggest the other players (including Mr Hostage) do the police rolls.

#33 Comment By Roxysteve On June 9, 2011 @ 11:27 am

I’ve killed a player by Fiat.

Call of Cthulhu modern, guy in much the same situation as yours but with cultists rather than police. Investigator announces he wants the Mac-10 in his car trunk, parked on the other side of the road. I say “go for it” and he sprints out of the otherwise deserted diner the cultists had tricked him into entering.

Halfway across the road he is fatally struck by a speeding X-19.

#34 Comment By Roxysteve On June 9, 2011 @ 11:43 am

Two points:

a) Games where death is off the table unless otherwise stated aren’t adventure games at all, they are molly-coddle consequence-free touchy-feely meh.

2) Isn’t escape sometimes spelled “surrender to overwhelming deadly force”?

Players should beware games in which the character generation calls for a whole session with everyone in attendance. Long and complicatedly interwoven character generation says “you’ll never die in this game” which also decides the excitement factor of adventures using those characters.

GMs should beware games in which the character generation calls for a whole session with everyone in attendance. Long and complicatedly interwoven character generation says “if anyone is ever put in the position of having to make a new character using these rules which are comparable to the tax code, that person will almost certainly find better ways to spend the time than playing that game”.

Which is why you should all play Savage Worlds or trad Call of Cthulhu. You die, you make a new character. Five minutes post mortem, you are gaming again. It takes longer than that to decide on the wording of your defining aspect in some games.

To be clear, Walt, and speaking as a really thick player who would be likely on the sharp end of this one many times were I ever to step around the GM screen, I agree that sometimes players are their own worst enemies, and totally agree that anyone who willfully acts in total disregard for their characters safety deserves to suffer the consequences.

But the dice should fly high.

Because it’s funnier.

#35 Comment By Razjah On June 9, 2011 @ 5:47 pm

In the moment: Fair. I see why you did it and I know the pressure of split second decisions, you can’t always send the players away for a beer while you plan.

Reading this: Foul. I do not agree with stripping the PC of actions. Explaining the terribly low suirvival chance is good. But then not letting him do it is a bad idea to me. I think you should have at least rolled the dice to see how it played out.

#36 Comment By Clawfoot On June 9, 2011 @ 8:10 pm

@Roxysteve – Here’s an idea: you and your players can play the kinds of games you like, and me and my players will play the kinds of games we like, and we don’t get insultingly condescending at each other over it. Sound good?

#37 Comment By lomythica On June 9, 2011 @ 9:15 pm

Hi Walt,

Thanks for this post.

The vibe that I get is that the player either didn’t understand that the choices were ‘surrender or die’, or he refused to agree with the choice. This is proven by his desire to roll for it anyway.

If the issue is that he didn’t understand the choice and consequences, then that would be up to the GM to mKe sure it was clear.

If he refused to believe or agree to the choices presented, the situation gets a little more hairy. If he refusedthat suspect that he is a player that enjoys control of his character, and simply doesn’t agree with fiat. If that is the case, it would be best to determine that beforehand, or in the moment, and come to an agreement out-of-game, before fiat is used in-game. Otherwise, you end up with a player who is mad because he wasn’t given a chance to succeed.

Another important element is context. Has fiat been used in the campaign before? Was the meta game stage set for fiat being used in this way?

I would say this goes back to communicating expectations clearly ahead of time. If fiat had been discussed beforehand, either you would have had buy-in from the player, or you would have seen that ending with fiat would put a bad spin on the ending of the campaign.

I have some players in my group that are fine with fiat to advance story or for dramatics, but others in my group would never go for it, especially for an end campaign scene with life or death on the line.

Thanks again for posting this Walt! It takes guts to post personal gaming stories, especially on controversial topics, and then allow the fans to fire away. You are the man just for posting this!

PS> I think that defining and explaining the player’s “sloppy play” sounds like a great topic for a future article.

#38 Comment By black campbell On June 9, 2011 @ 9:32 pm

I’ve used fiat, but rarely — and I’ve always hidden it in a cloak of rolls and narration.

Usually, if the player is about to do something monumentally non-career enhancing, I’ll lead off with a “Sure about that..?” The players have come to know that phrase, so the scenario above doesn’t tend to happen.

#39 Comment By timespike On June 9, 2011 @ 10:47 pm

Foul – law enforcement isn’t typically authorized to use deadly force just to prevent someone escaping. I’d have let him run out into a bunch of bean bag rounds and taser wires and go down in an unceremonious heap rather than a bloody smear.

#40 Comment By cwhite On June 10, 2011 @ 4:33 am

Wow, hot topic?

Doesn’t matter if it was fair or foul, so long as you were clear.

If you did what you said you were going to do, and told the character he was going to die by doing this, well, he’s a dolt if he didn’t listen. He had the opportunity to beg for rolls, and I’m guessing that, if he would have presented a good reason, you would have rolled.

#41 Comment By This Gnome On June 10, 2011 @ 6:16 am

Foul! Although I’d say it _is_ ok to use fiat in situations where chances of survival are nil. More than ok, in fact, I’d recommend it.

So, why foul? Because, obviously, there was a big misunderstanding at the time. And it is a GM job to detect them and then (try to) solve them. (Well, it should be the player’s job too, but in practice…) In hindsight (always easy), maybe you should have called for a break and tried to solve the issue OOC.

Why did he want to try it anyway? Why was he angry at the betrayal? It seems to me that he wasn’t expecting _that_ kind of game.

On your side, why did you felt that there was no other way than killing him? I bet there were plenty of ways to save him while maintaining world consistency, at least from the PC’s points of view. OTOH I know how one can feel, as a GM, stuck in a situation where you can’t see any alternative. But that’s generally a deceitful feeling, fight it.

A trick I learned from L5R intro scenario: if the group is just frustrated (in a bad way, weirdly we can also get frustrated in a good way), simply rewind.

#42 Comment By lomythica On June 10, 2011 @ 6:21 am

Hey, I did just brainstorm an outcome for you!

He went out, and managed to dodge most of the bullets until just the moment he got to his motorcycle. Then, the last sniper took his shot, right into the back of the neck. Now he is a quadriplegic that is alive, but he has to ride in a side car.


#43 Comment By Roxysteve On June 10, 2011 @ 8:36 am

@Clawfoot – The “meh” was a little close to home? It wasn’t directed at you (whoever you are) but into the air.

Rest easy. No-one has seized control of the country and is now, on my advice, sending secret police to drag GMs from their tables to be tried in closed court for counter-doctrinal offenses to gamedom.

We are all stumping here. There is no “right” or “wrong” just acres or “my opinion” which for the purposes of the question posed in the article (“what do you think…?” is understood.

Also, I wasn’t being entirely serious. I thought the bombastic delivery and the way the bullet points were marked up would telegraph that. Obviously not.

In the interests of full disclosure, the previous entry was a complete fabrication too, written to make a pun on the subject of the article. This is what passes for humor in my head. Before you complain, consider I have to live with it 24×7.

The entry before *that* was totally serious.

#44 Comment By Roxysteve On June 10, 2011 @ 8:44 am

Addendum: “Let the dice fly high” is an alternate liberal translation of Julius Caeser’s famous quote when he crossed the Rubicon according to some scholars. The allusion was deliberate, referencing the finality of the player’s decision in this case.

#45 Comment By Nofka On June 10, 2011 @ 12:57 pm


Except that Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon and lived, his mission a success. Which is slightly different than this decision.

Regardless, I agree that the decision NOT to “Let the dice fly high” is a wrong one. Even if the finale added another hour, or the first role ended it all. I (as a player and a GM) would want to see the death played out. It’s only fair to the player who put so much love and effort into their character to see the hard rolls actually land on the table.

#46 Comment By Clawfoot On June 10, 2011 @ 2:39 pm

@Roxysteve – You know, when I asked you if you thought NOT being insultingly condescending towards each other sounded good, a simple “no” would have sufficed, and saved you some typing.

#47 Comment By Martin Ralya On June 10, 2011 @ 3:12 pm

I’d like to take a moment to remind everyone that the Stew has a strict policy of not tolerating personal attacks and other BS. This comment thread is getting a bit too heated.

This is a hot topic, as Walt’s Hot Button articles always are — if you find yourself taking something personally, or dishing out something personal, please step away from the keyboard for a few minutes before returning.

Let’s keep discussion civil and limited to the actual topic. Thank you.

#48 Comment By Toldain On June 10, 2011 @ 4:10 pm

One time in a Cthulhu campaign long ago, a rather young player said the wrong thing at the wrong place, and the evil sorceror animated a gargoyle that slashed her throat out in one hit. Fortunately, the target was standing-er, lying down bleeding-next to another PC who was the greatest trauma surgeon in the world. So she lived.

It seemed out of proportion to all of the rest of us at the table, but the dice were still rolled.

I’ve played with this DM a long time, and he only does this kind of thing when he thinks he’s being challenged. Challenged not as in, “wow, this will be hard”, but challenged as in, “You aren’t in charge of the game” or sometimes, “The players aren’t playing up to snuff”.

When I first read your story, my reaction was one of “Wow, I’m glad I don’t have players that are that headstrong.” Reading other comments though, has made me realize why they aren’t – I never back them into a corner. I railroad them all the time, but I give them big signals when I’m doing so. And I let them make their additions.

Really though, I think that I would have tried to take the conversation meta before the point. I take it that the character seemed to you to be derailing the whole session, driving the story into a direction you didn’t want to spend time on. Why not break action and ask him in character what’s going on, and how does he see that fitting in with the story, where he wants to go with it?

That is to say, if your concern was the time it was going to take, why not address that directly, rather than by proxy?

#49 Comment By scruffylad On June 11, 2011 @ 4:02 am

Foul. Never kill a PC by simply saying that it is so. Maybe that works if you have an epic, glorious narration for it, and if your player will stand for it. Otherwise, roll the dice. Yes, the odds are impossible. But roll them anyway, just in case…

And I second the previous comments, regarding rolling them in the open. Although I usually use a screen of some sort, when it comes to a player charging headstrong into foolishness, roll the dice.

There’s nothing worse than dying, “just because the GM says so.” The player holds on to the fantasy that the character might have survived, and now the GM is the bad guy for killing the PC. Going down in a hail of dice rolls is usually more palatable (by a little).

#50 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On June 11, 2011 @ 8:34 am

@Toldain – To me, what you describe seems like a kind of jerk move (though it seems completely in the flavor of “old school” 1e, since Gygax pretty much espoused it multiple times in the official manuals) “The players think they’ve got a bigger set than me? Time to slap it on the table and show them.” Is what I get from “he only does this kind of thing when he thinks he’s being challenged. … challenged as in, “You aren’t in charge of the game”…”. Of course, I’ve only got a single sentence to go on, so I’m probably taking that completely out of context. So talking about the stereotype I’m assuming for a moment, NOT your GM who I don’t know, I think that kind of move is unacceptable. It violates the trust the players put in the GM. Of course if they start it with their own asshattery, than I suppose there’s an even bigger problem at hand.

#51 Comment By Tharsis On June 11, 2011 @ 9:50 am

@Roxysteve – Funny you should mention traditional CoC, as it has so many deaths by fiat built into the game.

One that always bothered me was Cthulhu himself automatically grabbing and killing X number of players each round. I realize this fits well within the story setting, but I much preferred d20 CoC’s solution of giving him something like +100 to grab and a huge damage bonus. Functionally it did the same thing, but it looked like you had the smallest chance of enough natural 20s saving you from the grab — probably to be stepped on and killed immediately after during any one of Cthulhu’s extra attacks, but still…

#52 Comment By Sarlax On June 12, 2011 @ 6:53 pm

Foul. First, “realism” cuts both ways. Good guys don’t wear spandex, and cops don’t kill people at the drop of a hat. The situation described, as others note, sounds like nonsense – his fate was sealed the moment he opened the door? Dozens of cops and SWAT are just going to shoot the guy, not only risking their own lives, but the lives of their contact inside?

Second, by refusing to let the player roll, you were refusing to let him play. Sure, it saves time, but that’s only because you stop playing the game when you take choice from a player. It’s important to remember that in most games, a player’s entire interaction with the game is through his character, so simply deciding “You’re dead” entirely kills the game for him.

Third, impossible means two things from the GM’s perspective. Many have discussed statistical impossibility, and knowing nothing about the system you were using, I’m willing to accept that there was less than a 1 in 100,000 chance that Ryder would live. Fine, but let the player roll.

However, I suspect that his survival would also have been made by you to be constructively impossible – even if his dice went nuclear and Ryder started dodging bullets, you’d just keep summoning police until the character was dead, knowing that, eventually, his luck would run out. I think this is a pretty foul move, too, but if you want to kill off a PC, at least try this out: It might at least create the illusion that the PC had a chance, and that the player’s preferences mattered.

#53 Comment By Clawfoot On June 13, 2011 @ 10:18 am

I’m still not sure I call foul. I believe it is absolutely possible for a player character to make choices and take actions that lead to an impossible situation.

Yes, it’s true that police don’t usually shoot to kill under normal circumstances, but what was this “sloppy playing” that led to such a situation? Did he kill a van full of cops? Has he been labelled (justly or unjustly) as a dangerous terrorist? I think there are situations in which the police would take someone down in a hail of bullets, especially if the target in question refused to surrender and instead of emerging calmly with his hands on his head, made a break for his most dangerous weapon.

I don’t think you need to give your players a roll in every situation. If a character becomes convinced he can fly (when he can’t) and jumps out of a plane at 30,000 feet with no parachute, I’m not going to give him a roll to see if he miraculously survives, especially not if I’ve clearly outlined to the player the consequences of those actions.

If I’ve said “If you do this, you will die,” and they do it anyway, I assume that they’ve made the choice to die.

#54 Comment By Patrick Benson On June 13, 2011 @ 2:07 pm

@Clawfoot – I don’t see the example of the PC jumping out of an airplane as death by GM fiat. There are probably rules for falling damage in many games, and the PC jumping out of the plane is an example of death by the player choosing only one possible outcome. The character will take X amount of damage no matter what from the 30,000 foot fall. The character can only survive so much damage and the rules state that the minimum amount of damage is greater than the PC’s maximum damage capacity. There is no fiat in that situation.

The PC choosing to try and survive several attacks where it is possible, no matter how unlikely, and the GM foregoing those dice rolls is fiat.

In the airplane example there is no chance for survival. In the example Walt gave there was an unlikely chance of survival. The player in your example is choosing to kill the PC outright, while the player in Walt’s example was choosing to try and escape in a situation where he perceived a chance of his PC surviving.

The fiat was not in the outcome, but in the manner in which the outcome was reached. Declaring the PC dead because the scene is unlikely to be survived is fiat, while the declaring the PC instantly dead because the situation has no other outcome is not fiat.

What I see people defending or attacking here is whether or not the situation only had one possible outcome. If the situation has only one possible outcome it cannot be fiat, because in such cases even the GM has no choice.

#55 Comment By Clawfoot On June 13, 2011 @ 9:28 pm

@Patrick Benson – I see what you’re saying, but I don’t think I agree that there was a chance the character could have survived a takedown like the one described. I still think it’s entirely possible for characters to get themselves into unwinnable situations, and in those cases, I don’t think rolling is necessary.

So considering your clarification on what is or is not Death By Fiat, I guess I don’t see the situation described as fitting the criteria for it. I can see it as a “there is no other outcome possible” situation, not just a “survival is unlikely” one.

#56 Comment By This Gnome On June 13, 2011 @ 11:37 pm

@Patrick Benson – “in such cases even the GM has no choice”

He always has, see rule #0 ;)

#57 Comment By Roxysteve On June 14, 2011 @ 12:55 pm

@Nofka – “Except that Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon and lived, his mission a success. Which is slightly different than this decision.”

Not really, because when he said it his victory was anything but certain and he was doing something the “game rules” said was insanely dangerous – bringing troops within a certain distance of Rome while still in a warmaking profile.

Your assessment, while valid, is taken from the viewpoint of someone in hindsight. Mine was intended to convey the sentiment “in the moment”.

#58 Comment By Tsenn On June 14, 2011 @ 7:14 pm

I don’t recall ever executing a PC in this way, though gods know I’ve wanted to at times. I would play it by the dice. That’s my gut feeling. Live by the dice, die by the dice. But.

Apocalypse World asks the MC (GM) to be a fan of the characters. With that advice in mind, I’d want to make sure, given the stakes of the situation, that the player had taken the time to consider the options at his character’s disposal before committing to a course of action that has a high chance of maximum cost, i.e. death. From an outside perspective, I would say the player was mindful of the “last session”, perhaps overly so. A situation had developed that maybe he hadn’t anticipated. Things weren’t going his way, and he couldn’t see a clear path since getting caught out by a sudden onset of player versus player conflict. But it’s the last session, so heck, blaze of glory it is!

Death by fiat is pretty final. What about cripple, capture, humiliate, drive off? Offer me a hard choice or a bad deal that avoids death at a cost, or show me some dice before you take away my character.

#59 Comment By DireBadger On June 15, 2011 @ 6:09 am


I try to go by the maxim “don’t say no, but determine difficulty”. And I prefer to give them choices.

I’m not really sure what he did to become a fugitive, or why police would shoot with intent to kill, but since apparently his motorcycle gave him superpowers, I’ll assume they had some good reason for that.

So he gets lured to the diner. At that point it’s fair to give him a roll to notice the other character is setting him up (contested; the other PC may be a really good liar). Then when the SWAT team is moving into place, another roll to notice something is happening. Those helicopters are noisy, after all.

If all that fails (quite possible; I assume the police are competent), lay out the situation for the player:

A) You can surrender; you’ll be put in a cell somewhere and eventually face prosecution. That’s not the end of your character, but it’s a big setback. You might escape or try to get acquitted, or do the time (play another character for a few sessions, or the DM institutes some downtime) and maybe get released early. Anyway, there’s a whole lot of options remaining if you go that way.

B) You can storm out to your motorcycle. “But as you peer out the door, you see the glint of rifles, barricades, helicopters and so forth. This looks like suicide-by-cop.” Tell the player what he needs to roll, and what he needs to survive. If he still goes for it, roll everything openly on the table.

So, my point is: you should have laid out his chances, however bad, and gave him a chance to back down in the face of those odds. And if he went for it, then you should have rolled it. Because it sounds like PC death is a big thing, and you shouldn’t give the player the idea he didn’t give a chance, _just because you wanted to save time_. This escape attempt is the main thing of the session; you don’t try to cut corners on the main act!

On the other hand, I think often players lack the flexibility to know when to back down. They tend to assume that getting captured is practically suicide (character in jail for years, all valuable equipment lost), so they don’t consider it a realistic option. As a GM, you might want to change their mind about that. Bend realism a bit; make capture a little less harsh. There should be an opportunity to prove his innocence (or mitigating circumstances) in court, or to escape (and then to break in to get back his motorcycle).
If the PC gets a jail sentence, give the player a different character to play for a couple of sessions, followed by some downtime, followed by early release of the main PC for good behavior. Or run a prison break scenario.
But in all cases, inform the player that you won’t try to castrate the character if they surrender.

#60 Comment By Kosh On June 15, 2011 @ 7:47 am

As a DM, I would never kill a PC through fiat unless the player wanted it to happen (prearranged death).

As a player, I would be infuriated if a DM killed my character through fiat. I completely understand your player who felt betrayed and cheated.

#61 Comment By This Gnome On June 15, 2011 @ 8:10 am

If my GM said “if you do that, you’ll die”, and if it did not seem reasonable to the players, we’d discuss it before deciding of the characters’ actions. (A discussion that might go “you’ll die for reasons I don’t want to disclose now, just trust me”.) Now, if the statement was left standing, and I decided to proceed anyway, I would certainly not feel neither betrayed nor cheated.

#62 Comment By Thought On June 19, 2011 @ 8:45 pm

Fair or Foul? Both!

The most common objection from those who have cried foul is that even if Ryder surviving was incredibly improbably, he still could have made it with the right rolls. As Benson said, “Sometimes that one-in-a-million event occurs.” The problem here is, sometimes things just aren’t possible. For example, I suspect that if a player said they wanted to jump into a black hole, few GM’s would waste the time rolling to see if the PC was able to resist the crush of gravity. If something is impossible, it does player’s a disservice to pretend that it isn’t, especially if the system being used doesn’t allow for wild successes.

But if it is madness to pretend that a player has a chance as an impossible task, why did I say that this situation was both fair and foul? Because while it is madness, the player is the one who is nutters and as GMs we have to play with the players. If the impossibility of the situation had been clearly explained to the player and they still want rolls, then it is the proper political thing to do to roll for it. It will be less interesting than pure narration, but that is the player’s choice. It isn’t logical, it isn’t reasonable, but it is still necessary.

#63 Comment By Patrick Benson On June 19, 2011 @ 10:42 pm

@Thought – But your example is comparing a situation with an unlikely yet possible outcome to an impossible situation. You can survive a shootout, but nothing can survive entering a black hole and remaining in its current state. I don’t see how this situation can be both fair and foul based upon your example. It is the same as what Clawfoot suggested in its logic, and I just do not see the comparisons as being of like situations.

#64 Comment By Thought On June 21, 2011 @ 9:09 pm

@Benson – Both situations are entirely survivable given the right context. For my ridiculous black-hole supposition, one just needs to be playing a game in the right sci-fi setting. The Doctor Who RPG, perhaps. For Walt’s example, one would need to be playing something not-gritty real-world-esq. Alas, that wasn’t the game they were playing, from the sound of it. People do survive shoot-outs in gritty settings, true enough, but the situation wasn’t a shoot-out, it was a mad-dash through a wall of bullets. Even if the player got lucky and the dice were on his side, surviving would have been a loophole in the rules that would have broken the setting. With 24+ cops firing modern guns at a specific area, aiming isn’t important anymore. It is a matter of random bullets and Ryder being forced to occupy the same limited space: Ryder is no longer dodging bullets but an environment.

But as noted, fiat killing still wasn’t the proper way to go regardless.

#65 Comment By Patrick Benson On June 22, 2011 @ 11:40 am

@Thought – Please call me Patrick. We’re not that formal here. :)

In your original post you said -

“The problem here is, sometimes things just aren’t possible. For example, I suspect that if a player said they wanted to jump into a black hole, few GM’s would waste the time rolling to see if the PC was able to resist the crush of gravity.”

But then you replied to me with -

“Both situations are entirely survivable given the right context. For my ridiculous black-hole supposition, one just needs to be playing a game in the right sci-fi setting. The Doctor Who RPG, perhaps.”

These seem to contradict each other, because one example implies that the game is realistic and the other says the genre determines what is acceptable. In a hard sci-fi setting a player choosing to jump into a blackhole would be killed. The GM is not using fiat because in keeping with the tone of the game the GM only has to follow the rules for damage.

“Your character has 10 hit points total and black holes cause 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 points of damage at minimum. Your character jumped into the black hole so that is an automatic hit. The character dies.”

That is not fiat. You don’t need to roll the dice. The player chose to kill their character. No way to save the character unless the GM use rule #0 as previously mentioned and doing that would destroy the realism of the setting. The example isn’t fiat because the GM’s hands are pretty much tied. End of story.

But if we start applying the “reality” of Doctor Who then the example is completely different. The guy flies around the entire known universe in a Police box defying both time and space. Yeah, in that situation I would probably allow some rolls by the player to see what happens to the character because its Doctor Who. The rules of reality do not apply. Your examples are two completely different ones IMO.

In the second example (blackhole plus a Doctor Who setting) I would allow the player to roll, because the genre and setting have numerous examples of “certain death” being avoided. To kill the PC for jumping into a blackhole in that case would be fiat.

#66 Comment By Thought On July 1, 2011 @ 9:40 am

@Patrick – Sorry for the delay in responding. Anywho, the contradiction from the two statements comes from two different perspectives. That is, certain situations in a game can be possible or not depending on the sort of game being played. If we look at something from a high-fiction perspective, it could be possible, while if we look at it from a low-fiction perspective, it is not. There tend to be two setting errors that players (and GMs) make in regard to what is and is not possible in a game: the first, probably less common, is that something is possible in real life but not in a game. The second is that something is possible in a different game but not in the one currently being played. My examples are different because the settings are different, but I would argue that the same basic premise lies behind both: certain things are only possible if the settings are appropriate. In the present situation, where individuals are playing a gritty setting, even though a hailstorm of bullets might be able to be survived in a different game, it is a question of if it can be survived in this game. My examples were intended (though I selected them poorly, it seems) to highlight this question: the situation, from a mechanical aspect, could only be foul if the setting allows for individuals to survive bullet storms.

I suspect part of our disagreement comes from how we are looking at the in-game situation. I suspect (though forgive me if I am assuming too much) that you view the situation as a series of rolls with individual instances of the police firing. It is entirely reasonable to roll against a single bullet to see if a character survives, even in the most gritty of settings. But this reduces the situation to an unreasonable event. Since the black hole example wasn’t as effective as I had intended, I won’t return to it. Instead, consider rain. It is very reasonable for a character is almost any setting to dodge a single drop of water, but it is very unreasonable for even a character in a superhero setting to dodge a downpour, even though we could still break it down to a series of single droplets for the character to dodge. Hence, as I concluded previously, Ryder wasn’t trying to dodge bullets so much as to dodge an environment. Because of this, the rules that allow him to dodge bullets can’t be applied. Rather, we have to take the situation as a whole. I suspect the system used didn’t have rules for dodging bullet storms, just as most games don’t have rules for surviving black holes (okay, apparently I lied and I did return to this): it isn’t possible, so the games don’t waste the time trying to create rules for it.

#67 Comment By Patrick Benson On July 1, 2011 @ 7:54 pm

@Thought – I see your point, but I still believe that your argument is flawed and that GM fiat in this situation was wrong. Furthermore, I do not think that your examples are appropriate ones. Impossible according to the genre and impossible according to GM fiat are very different things.

The game is a supers game. Sure it is a dark, realistic and gritty supers game, but a supers game nonetheless. There are many dark and gritty supers comics where the perfectly normal human being still survives against insurmountable odds. I am not concerned if the rolls are many or a single roll. The issue here is if the genre supports what the player attempted, and it does.

And there are real life examples, albeit very rare ones, where a person survived being shot several times and escaped (or even was victorious):


So with real life examples of this amazing extreme and the genre having examples of a character surviving such a situation to kill the PC outright is ridiculous. Let the player roll. Make it a one in one thousand chance of surviving. Let the PC be hit multiple times and if the PC should survive the damage there is nothing wrong with that, just as it is fine if the PC dies by the rolls (which can be the most likely outcome as long as it is not preordained as the only outcome).

Your example of the rain is just as easy to rebuke by the genre. In a realistic game where dodging the rain is impossible the PC failing to dodge the rain is not fiat but genre. What if the genre is Kung-Fu fantasy with superhuman abilities? The wise old master says “Only a warrior who can dodge the rain can defeat the evil seven blades ninja clan.” Now you have something where maybe a PC can dodge the rain. What is possible in the example given of the gritty supers game includes surviving, if not dodging, bullets even if it is a large hail of bullets like the scene described. GM fiat killing the PC is wrong in that situation. The proof being that the player clearly saw that situation as being something that the PC could survive in the context of the genre.

If something is clearly impossible in a game an invested player does not have his or her PC attempt that action and expect it to suddenly be possible, because that player wants to keep the PC alive (unless the situation is one where the player believes that the PC would sacrifice him or herself) without disturbing the verisimilitude of the game world. The GM in the situation given in the article should have taken that as a big red flag – why does an invested player see this as being possible? That right there was enough proof that fiat was the wrong move.

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