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The lethality of any tabletop game is largely in the hands of the presiding game master. Even in games with a reputation for being non-lethal the GM can usually come up with scenarios that will insure at least a few characters bite the dust, and even the deadliest games can be nerfed if the GM desires. Then there is the "Killer GM" who delights in leaving behind a trail of casualties. There's nothing wrong with this approach which is preferred by some over the more narrative style of play which tends to protect the player characters to some degree either through how the rules are crafted or through outright interference on their behalf by the GM.


When adding games to this list consider their rules as written, not necessarily how they are ran. Some of the games below are more lethal than they are usually given credit for because GM's rarely run them as they are written, while others have garnered a reputation for brutality regardless of who is running them.

  • Dungeons & Dragons has zig-zagged through this trope over its lifetime. As a rule the older the edition of the game the more lethal it becomes.
    • 1st edition, ran as written, is quite lethal. It's entirely possible to start play with a character who has 1 hit point (characters die at 0 hit points in this edition). The adventure modules of the day were written with this trope in mind and some are legendary for their body counts, particularly Tomb of Horrors.
    • 2nd edition began the trend to a more character driven game and made some common house rules that made the game less lethal into core rules, such as the death at -10 hit points rule. The edition still has save or die spells that can drop even a high level character on a single bad die roll, and 2nd edition also saw the introduction of the Dark Sun setting, considered one of the more brutal of all D&D campaigns.
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    • 3rd edition further increased player character survival - characters start with the maximum hit points they could have rolled at first level which when combined with the -10 rule meant that characters were unlikely to die from a single hit barring very unlucky die rolls.
    • 4th edition was the furthest from this trope D&D has moved. It has rules on what encounters the DM should use with the goal of preventing unwinnable encounters (at least by accident). Spells have been restructured so that a character's fate no longer hinges on a single cast of the die.
    • 5th edition moves the pendulum back the other way. While careful players characters are usually safe, it's not unknown for them to be done in by a series of bad rolls if they don't back out and run away first. The Dungeon Master's Guide of this edition includes rules for making the game more or less lethal according the the tastes of the group.
  • The Call of Cthulhu games are known for being ruthlessly brutal. A player in Cthulhu should always keep spare character sheets to hand, and never get too attached to their hapless adventurer.
    • A rules-light Lovecraftian game called Cthulhu Dark takes this Up to Eleven by suggesting you might instead just bring a stack of index cards or a sticky-note pad instead of character sheets, your characters are so disposable.
  • Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader, Deathwatch, Black Crusade, and Only War of the Warhammer 40,000 RPG series certainly qualify. With only a limited amount of Wounds per character in comparison to the damage weapons can inflict, characters quickly burn through their health in fights. Though the game attempts to alleviate the problem by granting Fate Points, which can be used to avoid certain death, these too tend to get used up quickly.
  • The Legend of the Five Rings RPG is notorious for its lethality, and with good reason: with a dice pool task resolution system that allows you to keep the highest dice rolled in the pool, and the fact that rolling a ten (the highst number on a d10, the die type used by the game) on a die allows it to re-rolled and added onto the previous total in addition to the ten previously rolled allows for rolls (and in particular damage rolls) to become very high, often causing even the toughest character to die in one or two hits.
  • The exploding damage die rule is also used in Savage Worlds and has much the same effect as in the previous entry. It is not unknown for characters to go from healthy to dead in one hit backed by some lucky rolling.
  • In the Science Fiction RPG Traveller, it's possible for characters to die during character generation if the player rolls badly enough. Later editions removed this from the main rules, but kept it as an optional one.
  • The Witcher: Game of Imagination is a hard punch for anyone used to Player Characters being Made of Iron. You. Will. Die. A lot. Most basic weapons in the hands of average enemies can deal enough damage to take a quarter of your hit points with a single blow. In the hands of professionals, the same weapons can kill you on the spot. And that's without even mentioning monsters - they deal enough damage to kill a character even with a mediocre roll.
  • Shadowrun, like most post modern settings with guns, can be very lethal - this is the game system that is the trope namer for the Chunky Salsa Rule after all. Most editions give the Game master a choice of lethality levels, and at the most realistic / "hardest" setting anyone aiming a gun at your samurai war troll is a threat if they land a hit.
  • Stars Without Number doesn't quite go that far, but it's still a very deadly game where first level characters need to be careful about not getting shot at because a standard firearm will very likely kill them. There are suggestions for making it a bit less brutal, such as implementing a "dead at -10 instead of 0HP" rule, but ultimately the recommendation of bringing along a spare character sheet or two is in the corebook for a reason.
  • This has taken effect with Warhammer: The End Times. Named characters who have died in the fiction include:
    • Nagash: the Fay Enchantress, Thorek Ironbrow, Eltharion the Grim, the Grey Seer, Volkmar the Grim, Elector Count Aldebrand Ludenhof, the Nehekharan god Usirian, King Phar, Heinrich Kemmler, Zacharias the Everliving, and Crom the Conqueror. Krell, Mortarch of Despair, is an undead wight who was decapitated by a Tomb Scorpion but brought back by Nagash.
    • Glottkin: Everyone in the cities of Marienburg, Talabheim, and Carroburg, Taurox the Brass Bull, Louen Leoncour, Kurt Helborg and Karl Franz. Ku'gath Plaguefather and Festus are daemons, so they can return eventually, Elector Count Vlad von Carstein is both a vampire and has a ring of regeneration and so doesn't stay down very long, and Sigmar possessed Emperor Karl Franz's body after he fell in battle.
    • Khaine: Malus Darkblade, Kouran, Tullaris, Finubar the Seafarer, Korhil, Orion and Tyrion along with the realms of Naggaroth and Ulthuan. Morathi and Caledor were taken by Slaanesh him/herself to his/her realm.
    • Thanquol: Belegar Ironhammer, Lords Kroak and Mazdamundi, Boris Todbringer, Khazrak One-Eye, Malagor the Dark Omen, Gregor Martak, Queek Headtaker, Thorgrim Grudgebearer, the cities of Nuln, Middenheim, and Altdorf, the dwarf hold Karak Kadrin, the regions of Lustria and the Southlands, the god of winter Ulric, and Valten, Herald of Sigmar. Skaven Lord Skrolk of Clan Pestilens was killed by Kroq-Gar and brought back from the dead by a Verminlord.
    • Archaon: The entire world and everybody left, most notably Kairos Fateweaver, Vilitch the Curseling (though he swapped so his brother Thomin took control while Vitlich became the slave), Ludwig Schwarzhelm, Valkia the Bloody, Scyla, Ungrim Ironfist, the city of Averheim (and the Empire with it), Luthor Harkon, the Nameless, Luthor Huss, Egrimm van Horstmann, Shadowblade, the elven goddess Lileath, Sigvald the Magnificent, Mannfred von Carstein, Hellebron, Durthu, Caradryan, Ka'Bandha, Grimgor Ironhide, Teclis, Nagash, and Malekith. Krell and Arkhan were killed in the battle for the Black Pyramid (Krell was eaten by a Great Unclean One and Arkhan was hit with magic and a Nurglite curse by Isabella) but both were brought back by Nagash; Krell was later killed by Sigvald and that death stuck. Vlad was killed by Isabella's power, but was regenerated thanks to his ring. He gave it to Isabella and killed them both, knowing the death was the only way to free her from Nurgle's clutches and the ring would bring her back. The fiction ends with a human figure sparking the beginning of a new world after the Chaos Gods abandon the Old World in search of a new playing field.
  • Forsooth!: The game ends when all the main characters are either wed or dead. Tragedy games will tend to favor the latter—and often it's at the hands of other player characters.


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