On Old Posts, The Uncounted Dead Revisited

This post was originally posted on September 9, 2010. With the theme of player death, it seemed interesting to bring this up. I believe the article in question came from Dragon. I do find some of the statistics quite interesting.

23 dead from sacrifice, execution, or torture?

Ran across an article by one 'Lyle Fitzgerald' noting the causes of death over his 4 year campaign. It contains a fair degree of accuracy, because of the over 600 deaths that it logs.


Now that's a number to reach for. That's a death every 2.4 days. I've been playing in old school campaigns for just over a year and only have 17 to my credit. Sadly, I have not been counting henchmen, which Mr. Fitzgerald seems to do, so my total is a little higher than 17 using his accounting system. Someday if I ever hit 100, I will certainly provide a similar statistical analysis. Here is his list of deaths.

"Goblin races (61) 10.1%
Dragons (45) 7.5%
Giants (34) 5.7%
General Combat (26) 4.3%
Lycanthropes (24) 4.0%
Execution/ torture, sacrifice (23) 3.8%
Undead (21) 3.5%
Bandits/ pirates/etc. (20) 3.3%
Giant insects (20) 3.3%
Assasination/ treachery (18) 3.0%
Giant rocs (18) 3.0%
Fireballs/ lightning (17) 2.8%
Trolls (16) 2.7%
Turned to stone (14) 2.3%
Guards, military patrols (13) 2.2%
Evil high priests (13) 2.2%
Man-eating vegetation (13) 2.2%
Related dragon species (13) 2.2%
Cursed items/ booby traps (12) 2.0%
Giant animals (12) 2.0%
Falls (12) 2.0%
Gnolls (11) 1.8%
Gargoyles (9) 1.4%
Hell Hounds (8) 1.3%
Demons (8) 1.3%
Elementals (8) 1.3%
Griffins (8) 1.3%
Kindred races (elves/dwarves)(6) 1.0%
Misc. spells (6) 1.O%
War (6) 1.0%
Misc. causes (85) 14.6%"

He notes that nearly 1 in 4 deaths results from the hand of man. He also notes 4 main factors that cause deaths from encounters are the power of the creature, the number of creatures, the willingness of the creature to attack, and the frequency of encounter. The main thing notable here is that the player approach has the most to do with the willingness of the creature to attack. In the end, I've found, players are most responsible for their deaths.

He also notes that the worst thing that can happen is to become surprised, even by relatively weak creatures. With this I agree. If you read my session logs, you can see that I might have killed 3 or 4 players earlier if their rolls hadn't been good when they were surprised by the Wyvern.


  1. A surprising wyvern is not good for anyone. I have no where near this kind of data, but I would agree that most times the players kill themselves. The other thing that happens and I see this a lot during our games, the GM has the hot hand and the player couldn't hit water if they fell out of a boat. This would be a small percentage of deaths, but still frequent enough that it pops to mind.

  2. I had 3 deaths (though one saved to injury) last session and the cause of all of them was "horrible fungus/metal spider", though one was more likely "trap involving horrible fungus/metal spider" My point is i'd rather see this data broken down by category of monster not specific type: I.e. Combat with soldier monsters, combat with brute monsters, combat with magic using monsters, because there are situations involving different kinds of beast that are really the same.

  3. In nethack some consider all PC deaths are YASD (Yet Another Stupid Death), though the Stupid might not have been proximate to the actual death.

    For instance, drinking from a fountain at the beginning of the game can be a quick path to joy ("blessed greased +2 grey dragon scale mail" please! Good AC, decent chance of getting the +2 -- wish-granted bonuses like that are less likely to come through if you get too greedy, +2 is generally considered a decent risk for return -- and doesn't interfere with spell casting), but the odds of getting a friendly water demon are fairly low. You might get an unfriendly water demon that you might be able to outrun, but much more likely is a swarm of water moccasins and you're going to die. However, eight turns into the game, you lose almost nothing, right?

    In other cases the Stupid comes because you made a decision earlier that has come back to haunt you. Neglecting to check for curses on gear, or overloading yourself because you feel like you must carry all your gold and stuff that "could be useful".

    Also, the RNG (Random Number Generator) is a bastard, but smart play can pretty much always mitigate it.

    According to some people, at least.


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