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Killed a PC last night and honestly it was just the fault of habitual poor decision making

Content of the article: "Killed a PC last night and honestly it was just the fault of habitual poor decision making"

So ive been DMing for years and my friends and I have always played really casual games so death was rarely a looming threat. But we recently started a new campaign and I let them know that while I'll never actively try to kill a PC it is much more of a possibility than ever before. And wouldn't you know it, last night on session 3 of the campaign, I killed my first PC(outside of AL). It did not feel good and obviously everyone was crushed. However, I pulled the player aside and made the suggestion that they play their companion character that was captured and was caged with some village people the players were trying to save. She said yes and we picked back up pretty seamlessly with some of their best roleplay where she was able to react to the death of her own character and in game friend.

But a large part of me knows that the reason that character died is because my players make a habit of picking the absolute least optimal solution when they're under pressure even when at the table i would give them unlimited time to react. Honestly I just spent like an hour trying to condense their highlight reel of poor decision making but thats not only a pretty tall order, but its also immaterial. I guess my question is, is there some pavlovian response i can bake into their brains to make them think more critically about their choices? Maybe cookies or stickers when they do something smart? Its not that they don't care, they just don't stop to think.

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Edit: first off, all you guys are amazing. You've offered interesting perspectives and opportunities for me as a DM as I continue to work on this craft. I wanted to kind of summarize my main takeaways from this conversation we've been having. There has been a lot of really good information thatll ill be putting to use but these are the most actionable.

My first takeaway is that I can do a better job narrating a danger level. In dnd big scary monsters aren't always equally threatening and it could be a good thing to attempt bridging the gap between describing the monster to set a scene, and telling the players(with maybe some sort of check) on a meta level what kind of danger they are facing, even if that skirts the line of metagaming.

My second takeaway, is that while players can't be forced into making good choices, their characters(through me) can have just as much influence on the player as the player usually has on the PC. With maybe some kind of WIS or INT check, bits of descriptive factors can be tailored to a PCs class or background. For example pointing out the dark corners for the rogue, or funnel points for the barb, or even just a common sense check to discern if they should attempt something incredibly risky.

Ultimately that lands us at my final hard truth. Death is the ultimate way to induce a pavlovian response against stupidity. Sometimes players make bad choices. Sometimes it works out because the dice are in their favor and you end up with the most intense and memorable experiences; but sometimes the dice aren't in your favor, and the worse the plan is the better the rolls have to be. DND is a story driven game but jumping headfirst into danger might land you in the Darwin Awards hall of fame.

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Source: reddit.com

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