Character Survival Tips | how many of YOUR characters has Bob killed? 

Equipment | Combat | Character Creation | Negotiations | Extreme Environments | General Advice and Strategy


The 10 ft pole

As in the expression "I wouldn't touch that with a ten foot pole!" Well I guess u could carry a larger one. In a party I once played with the thief carried a collapsible 10 ft pole, made of sections with treaded ends so they could be screwed together. I think he also had some kind of pulley operated claw at the end. For picking things up, very useful for detecting trip wires and pulling suspicious levers too.


Bandages are a must!!! Unless your DM just kills you and doesn't do unconsciousness or bleeding to death.


A good way to keep from getting lost in dungeons and mazes. When you leave a mark, add a small, hardly noticeable detail so that you'll be able to tell if someone has messed around with your signs.


At least one person in the group should carry one. That way, you won't have to start using Excalibur to pry open a wooden chest or door. In an emergency, a crowbar will also serve as a weapon.

Light sources

Always carry torches, a flashlight or some other form of illumination. A coin with continual light cast on it is popular in many AD&D campaigns, though you shouldn't neglect to bring some ordinary lightsources with you as well. Otherwise a simple dispel magic could leave you groping in the dark. A burning torch can also be useful as a weapon, especially against animals and regenerating monsters.


String or leather tie straps are almost as useful as rope. Then you don't have to cut up your much needed climbing rope to tie up a prisoner (or whatever).

Piano Wire 

Thin very strong (metal?) wire, can be used to bind things together or for trip wires. Use in conjunction with spikes and drive them in at various heights. While traveling through a dimly lit corridor the group came to a wooden door. They listen and heard orcish voices on the other side. So they doused all the torches on the walls. And set up piano wire at head level by driving spikes into the wall and fastening the wire to them. Then the group's fastest runner opened the door, taunted the orcs and took off down the hall. The party had notched the wall where the wire was. And the runner was able to duck and keep running. While the orcs got some nasty headaches.


Fire is one of the most useful things there is. It can be used for illumination, warmth and destruction. You should always carry the means for making fire, whether it's old-fashioned flint and steel or a zippo-lighter.

The small mirror on a stick

Ideal for looking around corners. Also useful if you're being shot at and don't want to stick you're head out of cover. (Believe me, taking a quick peek only works in the movies. In real life (well, real role-playing), a quick peek isn't enough to give you any useful information but it's certainly enough for a sharpshooter to add a third eye).


Rope, you can never have enough, every PC should carry some, and at least one PC should have a grapple hook. Try to get silk rope, lighter and stronger.

Wooden wedges

Shoving a wedge under a door is a much quicker way of blocking it than by piling up furniture (of course, you should always make sure the door opens in the right direction). Alternatively, a wedge can keep doors from closing behind you (secret doors tend to have this nasty tendency).

Missile weapons

Always carry a missile weapon with you, even if it's only a couple of darts or a small pistol and even if you don't have the relevant skill. If an enemy is coming at you from a distance, a missile weapon basically means you get some free attacks. Also, there will be times when a gun or bow is simply the only way you can reach the enemy. Besides, a missile weapon can be very useful for intimidation purposes.


One thing I also like to do <...> is add some nasties. Like say caltrops, snap traps, dog pepper, or anything else your devious heart desires.

Stun weapons

Carry some sort of stun weapon (tasers, darts coated with sleeping poison, etc.) in case you need to capture someone unharmed (for example: a partymember who has been possessed or has gone berserk). You might even want to consider making a stun weapon your primary weapon of choice. People who don't leave trails of corpses behind usually get less hassle from the law. You also run less risk of being hunted down by the familymembers or friends of your victims (a lot of action movies are based on that concept and who knows where your gamemaster gets his or her ideas).

Protective clothing

You never know what you're going to have to touch or walk on, so a pair of heavy gloves and strong boots should definitely be part of your inventory. 

Paper and pen 

Useful for drawing maps, writing messages, doing calculations, drawing portraits ("Have you seen this man?"). The paper can also be used as kindling, to wrap things, and as a fan.Also the paper can be waved in front of a guard while stating "Important message for your boss" as you stroll past. As long as they don't get to read your laundry list you may get by. In a similar vein you can walk around ostentatiously taking notes and asking questions and people may assume you belong.

Hooks and whistles 

A note about preparation; five words for you: Fish hooks and signal whistles. Oh yeah, don't forget the string. Can you imagine dropping Nystuls Magic Medallion of Unending World Peace down the sewer grate, just as the bad guy with Tensers Magic Medallion of World Destruction, is about to tear your world apart? Is your thief really going to be strong enough to tear that grate from the ground? Hope your DM thinks so. What about that time you tried to get your friends attention before they mistakenly gutted the runaway prince in disguise, during the heat of battle, with swords clanging on shields all around? Bet he bit it didn't he? 


Standard operating procedure 

Have an S.O.P. for battles, i.e., these guys in front/left/middle/ right, and these guys in back, clerics casting this and this, and mages casting this and this. There aren't that many different situations you'll encounter. When you're under attack, if you ALWAYS set up the same way for the fight, then you'll get quicker at it and not only will the players react better as a team, but also it can make a difference whether you spend a round coordinating or can get set quickly. i.e., we spent two rounds deciding who does what and in the meantime, the monster was able to close on our mage; or the fighter went to close with the monster, but the mage was casting a lightning bolt at him, so the fighter moved into the path of the bolt and...


In certain circumstances a character yelling one word or phrase could make everyone do "the right thing". Little things like "double team right" might mean the mage and right fighter are to combine on the right side enemy. Customize the concept to your team and abilities.

Concentrating attacks 

Concentrate as many attacks as possible on one opponent: the quicker one is killed, the sooner there's one less attack on your group.

To fight or not to fight... 

Know when NOT to fight- A thief or mage who is out of spells is NOT useless in a fight as long as you realize that you can be valuable while not fighting. Reining up the horses, pulling wounded party members out of combat, throwing burning oil. These can all aid the party without placing a wounded or otherwise non-battle ready party member in jeopardy.

Evil altars 

Don't leap on the, actively used, altar to the Evil God to get a better swing at someone.


Surrender IS an option- I almost lost a character once because I got too "heroic" and never even considered paying off highwaymen as an option. Learn to recognize when the DM is hinting that you're outnumbered (forty of the king's archers with arrows nocked is a good sign), and learn to be able to eat crow and surrender when appropriate. A good DM will never let your characters rot in jail forever, but will use it to further the plot. What do you think thieves are for?


Use cover if any is available. Anyone who needlessly stands out in the open during a firefight deserves every bullet he gets. Remember that cover can sometimes be shot _through_ (not even stone walls can always provide safety), so try to never give away your exact location.

Melee against groups

When fighting against a large group in melee combat, always place your back against a wall or another large object so you can't be attacked from behind. Even better, try fighting from an enclosed space such as a doorway or a narrow pass. That way, even less enemies can get at you and, more importantly, you still have the option of retreat. If you yourself have the advantage of numbers, then be sure to use it. Surround your enemy so there's always someone who can attack from the rear, try to catch the opponent in a cross-fire, etc.


If you have an advantageous position, the enemy might try to lure you out of it by retreating. If you were winning before the withdrawal, you'll probably feel a strong urge to pursue and continue the fight. Only do this if you're sure the enemy is truly broken and disorganized.


Assuming a dungeon setting... When meeting an opposing group in a corridor, any fight which ensues is almost bound to be 'fair'- i.e. one on one, two on two etc. The odds can easily be weighted in the party's favour if the party is prepared to retreat to the last chamber they were in, then by clustering around the doorway inside the room, they can get maybe as many as three on one. This works best if the room is off the side of the corridor, rather than at an end- otherwise the opposition can 'charge' down the corridor and break through the 'shield-wall' in the room, negating any advantage. 


Spell selection

When choosing your spells make sure the spell isn't superfluous. A lot of spell effects can be achieved just as well by having the right equipment or by the skills of your fellow partymembers. For instance, if you're a low-level mage and have several warriors in your party, go light on the combat spells. Most of the time, the damage you can do with them is negligible compared to what the fighters will dish out. Pick something more useful instead.


With all the combat skills to pick from, it's often easy to overlook the more unobtrusive ones. Don't forget skills like swimming, riding (or driving) and reading/writing.

Group input

As a group make your characters as a group. Too often the characters are independently made. This results in holes in the group. By making characters as a group, it is possible to provide a better width and depth to the group. Think what happened when no one made a cleric or magic user.


Strange as it may seem, sometimes your odds are better if you don't try
to create an all-powerful character. There are several reasons for this:

a. GM compensation. It's a gamemaster's job to provide the players with a challenge. If you create characters capable of taking on a tank, then tanks are what you'll get.

b. Overconfidence. Powerful characters usually wade into combat without even considering if there's another way of dealing with the situation. But combat can be deadly no matter how strong you are.

c. Lack of character attachment. Powerful characters rarely have interesting non-combat skills or equipment, because the player spent all his resources on boosting fire-power. The end result is usually a combat machine with about as much originality as the average toaster. Because of this, the player tends to care much less about keeping the character alive.

If you're used to playing terminator-type characters, it can be quite difficult to make a change. Power gamers usually shudder at the thought of not maxing out a combat skill, and start sweating at the idea of actually spending some points on charisma or social skills. The best advice I can give is this: when creating a character, choose the one thing that most defines the character. This could be anything. Perhaps your character is a thief with a love for climbing. Or perhaps she grew up near the ocean and loves ships. Or tends to be very curious. Or wants desperately to be a part some social group. Or has a drug problem that he's trying to beat. Or wants to be the first mage to perfect the growing (and domestication) of really big carnivorous plants. Once you establish the core concept, the rest of the character usually comes naturally and you'll feel much less inclined to spend all your character resources on combat

Be interesting 

I have had at least one GM change a die roll so that I didn't die, just because he liked my character. In my experience, GMs are much more willing to let boring characters poorly played die, while they will go out of their way to find some way of keeping favorite fun characters alive.



Never let on how badly you need the other parties help. And always be sure to let your most charismatic/silvertongued partymember do the talking.

Talking is an option

One overlooked survival technique is to talk. Many people die because they attack the too tough for them creature because "it's there" or "it's evil". But kings have armies, some monsters gate in help (some fiends gated help can also gate), and sometimes you just aren't tough enough. But talking may give you a chance to deal with the enemy, get an idea of its plans, find a weakness, or deal with the villain while others sneak by to complete the mission. Perhaps he'd GIVE you the goal of the quest if you do something for him. <...> As usual talking requires judgement but may save you a painful death.


Never assume the other guy is telling the truth. All too often I've seen PC's take the word of any NPC as gospel truth, even if the NPC has obvious reasons to lie (i.e. is having the crap beat out of him by the PC's).


Always keep the other guy's motivations in mind. The key to negotiation is figuring out what the other guy wants. Is the other guy a mercenary? Offer double what the other guy's paying. Is the other guy a Techie? How about some flashy tech? Is he a religious devotee? Hope you know enough about theology to convince him that you're in the right.


Don't lie unless you need to. I've seen many PCs who ended up as pathological liars when talking with NPCs, when there was no known reason to lie. Often, the NPCs eventually found out they were being lied to. This does not make for successful negotiations.


And when you do lie, make absolutely sure that you know what you said. Lies are harder to remember. It's often a good idea to make sure that the GM remembers it as well, so that you can at least agree on something.

Losing face

When you've got your opponent over a barrel, make sure he knows it but be careful not to rub his nose in it too much. If you do, he might decide to refuse your demands, regardless of the consequences. There are people who would rather die than be extorted/humiliated, especially by someone they don't respect, so loss of face should be kept to a minimum. Staying polite helps. And occasionally you might want to consider giving up something relatively invaluable, so your opponent has something to show his own people that can be interpreted as a victory.

Ask for the moon 

Don't be afraid to ask for the moon. The other party may have no use for it.


Jungle: machetes 

<...> you want to take machetes with you when you're traveling through the jungle, as our group recently found out. Short swords get real thin when you use them like that.

Jungle: transport 

Also, horses aren't a very good form of transport in the jungle, and horsemeat gets a bit boring after a couple of weeks. (That must have been the third batch of horses we went through. And the first of the 4th batch died recently too. (Never charge unknown creatures that are slow enough to run away from.)


Bring something waterproof to keep your maps and other papery stuff in.

Space: vacuum-suit

NEVER, EVER go on a space-journey without a vacuum-suit. Somewhere along the line, your ship *will* get a hull breach. (They always do. Sigh.) Keep the suit handy and know how to use it. If you haven't got an appropriate skill, then at least train until you're able to: a. get into and out of it without too much delay. b. seal the suit and activate life-support. c. seal ruptures.

Stuff to bring along 

Jungle: insect net, poison antidote, machete, portable boat. Desert: water, white clothing, water, compass, water, camels and water, warm clothes (it gets COLD at night), water. Arctic: black goggles (to prevent snowblindedness), rope to tie each other together to avoid snow-filled chasms, knowledge of how to build an iglo, really warm clothes, ice pick, crampons. Space: well, gee, a space suit; comm gear; navigational stuff, spare fuel, space suit repair kit.


Keeping your Polish minedetector alive

When exploring a dungeon with a lot of traps, the person who walks point basically acts as a Polish minedetector. Needless to say that this person should have a lot of hitpoints/dexterity/good saving throws/luck. Since a lot of traps are of the pitfall variety, the pointman should always hold on to a rope that is also being held by the other partymembers. That way, if the floor collapses beneath him, he won't immediately be turned into hero-kebab on the spikes that traditionally line the floor of any self-respecting pitfall.

Marching orders

Several people have remarked to me about the importance of this. Though the actual marching orders will vary depending on the party in question, the general order usually resembles something like this: Point: any character with stealth. Front: warriors, preferably with distance weapons available. Middle: vulnerable characters. Rear: warriors again or other characters with at least a little bit of combat power.

Splitting up the party

Never. Ever. No matter how good an idea it may seem at the time. Remember that 'divide and conquer' works just as well for the enemy. If you are, by some act of God, forced to split up, then at least agree on a rendezvous-point and time and also on a recognition sign or password (shapeshifters can be a real pain in the butt).

The Law 

Use the proper authorities whenever possible. The cops are a lot less likely to think you are a crook when they see you show up every three month bright and chipper to renew your e25 monoknife carry permit. This came up in our game just last week. Someone broke into my apt. And tried to access my computer for incriminating information. We caught her and she though she had me over a barrel. She knew from her source that I wasn't going to kill her so she was all smug. So I picked up the phone and dialed 911. Everyone's jaw dropped. No one, ref included, had thought of that. Remember, 'punks straddle the line. Just cos they spend a lot of time on the wrong side doesn't meant they have to stay there. 

Public transport 

Use the subway. Everyone keeps suggesting that making a getaway on public transport is a bad thing. Not so. A subway is a really good place to get lost in the crowd. Plus, they can't run your plates or I.D. your vehicle. Guard: "They got away sir." Boss: "What did their vehicle look like?" Guard: "About 40 feet long, seats 60, 'Night City Transit Authority' written on the side..."

Public transport 

A corollary to this advice. Do not attempt to flee from the police or the Transit Authority via public transportation. They both have the ability to stop the subway car/bus/rickshaw you are on and come to get you.

Low profile

When your on a mission or if you've got something to hide (like having a body in the trunk of your car), don't do something stupid like speeding or driving under the influence. Even if you get off with only a ticket, that ticket might be enough to connect you to the crime. Also, don't get into fights and when a cop/guardsman tells you to do something, say "yes sir" and play the concerned citizen. Don't overdo it though. An overly helpful person gets remembered as much as a troublemaker.

Low profile

If you have expensive/military/or hard to get gear, do not flash it around. People would just love to take things away from you if they can.


Always check provided gear/safe houses for bugs.

Shooting cops

Don't shoot at the police (it makes them mad, and this point can never be overstated enough).


These were already mentioned in the combat section but they can also be useful in other situations. The party should have a short list of subtle signs, with meanings like: "Something is wrong, try to leave unobtrusively." "Get ready for a fight." "Get ready to run like hell."


When you're making a plan, _always_ make a backup plan for when things go wrong (which, let's face it, they always do). So don't just say: "We're going to sneak into the temple, steal the Ruby Eye of the Mad God, and then sneak back out again", but also decide in advance what you're going to do if you get discovered halfway and you've got hordes of mad priests and guards coming towards you from all directions, while bells madly toll the alarm. My group usually starts arguing, with half the players wanting to make a run for it and the other half wanting to go on and try for the Eye anyway. Of course, while we're arguing our DM happily lets the guards and priests close in.


In general, try to keep plans simple. You can't plan for every contingency anyway and having too many/too long/too detailed plans only ensures that things will get messed up, not to mention the fact that they suck up a lot of game-time.


Whenever you decide to make a plan, stick to it. Just because you discover a hidden door which might hide a load of treasure (and your usual Fiend or two) that doesn't give reason enough to sidestep from your original plan and screw it up completely, making your original goal harder to achieve.

Unknown territory

When heading into unknown territory, try to get information beforehand if you can. Try to find out about weather and terrain conditions, monsters you might encounter, local leaders, customs the people might have, laws of nature, laws of supernature, etc.

The real deal

Ask questions FIRST, shoot later. So many punks accept the line they are fed without bothering to check the facts. Get your employers line, then visit your local information sources and find out the REAL deal.

Mr. Johnson 

Always check out your job and the person hiring you before you take the job (but most GMs do not allow you the chance to do this). Never trust the equipment provided by Mr. Johnson.


Don't open coffins. Only stupid people open coffins.

Navigating buildings 

One of the best survival techniques is if you run into a building to evade capture NEVER head upwards, through yes, but never up because it's a lot harder to get back down again!

Portable phones

If your character carries a portable phone, turn off the sound before you go on a mission requiring stealth.


Never let the other party chose the place for the meeting. Make sure it's held somewhere public and unenclosed, such as a mall. If you need more privacy, try to meet somewhere in the open, a public park for instance. That way, it's harder for your enemy to box you in. Always arrive at the meeting place early and spend some time observing it. Note the available exits. During the meeting, have some backup waiting (preferably with a getaway vehicle and a long range rifle).


Before going on an assignment, try to get pictures or descriptions of people important to your mission. My own group once went to talk to a scientist without taking this precaution. The person we met later turned out to be a very well-armed imposter [Ouch].


When accepting a mission, try to get as much money in advance as possible. Not only does this reduce the chances of being cheated, it also makes it less likely that your employer will try to stab you in the back in order to avoid having to pay you. Don't forget to ask if your expenses (hospital costs, ammo, broken equipment etc.) are covered. Also, those surviving should receive the shares of deceased teammembers.


Be careful not to leave traces at the scene of the crime. You might want to invest in some gloves, a disguise or perhaps even some spells specifically designed to clear all traces. These can be extremely handy, especially in Shadowrun, where even a single drop of blood or strand of hair is enough for a ritual magic team to track you down. Also remember that a lot of firearms eject empty cartridges, which might be used for evidence.

Dealing with the Mob 

Don't wave sexual apparatus at the local mafia Don (we learnt that through experience).


Have more then one bolt hole or safe house with some extra gear, cash, and fake IDs.


While (or before) trespassing through a fortress/dungeon/corporate building, see if you can pick up an appropriate outfit/suit that will allow you to blend in. Also, pay attention to the names of high-ranking personnel (again, try to find this out beforehand if possible). That way, when someone stops you and asks you what the hell you're doing in the Inner Citadel carrying the Scepter of Urgh, you'll be able to say: "I've got direct orders from lord X, out of my way, you flunky." This will probably not be enough to get you out of trouble, but it should keep the guards from attacking you on the spot and thus buy you some time.

'To do' list 

Make a list of all things you are supposed to do, especially the dumb things. If you don't mention them, you will forget them. Have the list go around having rest of the team members make additions.

Some advice for thieves 

If you detect traps, do NOT assume just because you have a "Remove Traps" roll after the "Detect" that you are somehow responsible for removing each and every trap. Even at medium levels, the odds of you failing your roll and being killed by a trap are high. So, let the mage spend some spells removing it. Let the fighter use his polearm to poke around a bit. The best thief I ever ran with would go to the front of the party and say "Yep, there's a trap here" and then promptly return to his place in back of the party.


Keep a sharp eye and ear on the local fauna. When something is wrong, the animals often know about it before you do. An unusually quiet forest or a flock of birds that suddenly takes off for no apparent reason could both indicate trouble. You might also want to consider getting a trained dog or another animal with senses sharper than your own.

Use it!

If you've got it, use it! Saving your resources 'for the real emergencies' is all very well, but when you feel you might have need of a certain item/spell/whatever, don't hesitate to use it. A lot of characters die with unused healing potions in their backpacks and unused spells on their minds. Don't let that be you.

Know Who Your Friends Are 

Many groups fail to note who's good to deal with. Or worse, they even fail to remember who they've dealt with at all. Sometimes an old friend has just what you need, or knows who can help you - why takes risks all over again by asking favors of new contacts when you don't have to? Associates from years past don't drop off the face of the earth because you've been out of town for a while. In fact, they may have just the information you need, but you've forgotten all about them.


Long flowing hair (on either sex) looks good, keeps your neck (and possibly shoulders, depending on length and your taste in clothing) from being sunburned, and cushions those nasty crit hits - skull. Problem is, if a clever opponent gets close and grabs you by that hair, you're in deep trouble. Same goes for long beards. If you still insist on looking like a Viking, a punk rocker, or Weird Al Yankovic, I would suggest the following measures: a) pre battle haircut. possibly with dagger. b) some sort of magic spell, possibly "Retract Hair" or somesuch. c) grease applied to hair to make it too slippery to hold. d) become a character who wears a helmet, and tuck all that hair inside.

In short, GET A HAIRCUT. A short one. Even if you're female, and required by fantasy gaming law to have "midnight black"/"golden yellow" hair down to your ankles, it's better to break the law than to be one day dangled out a window by that hair.

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built by unclefester | sternzwischen | updated 14-05-29 23:15:25