Death Statistics in D&D: 1978

Character dies from spear

This is an excerpt from a short article by Lyle Fitzgerald in Dragon #20 (November 1978, p. 26). I find myself mentally returning to this glimpse of the past rather frequently.

Our campaign is primarily a wilderness one (as the statistics reflect), although huge dungeons do exist. The 600 deaths listed include deaths of playing characters and their advanceable hirelings, not mercenaries or other non-playing characters. We started compiling these statistics 2 to 3 years ago...
  • 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) 1.0%
  • War (6) 1.0%
  • Misc. causes (85) 14.6%


  1. So the highest death rate resulted from "Misc. Causes?" I'm willing to bet that the most common miscellaneous cause was botched dice rolls. :P

  2. That's a surprisingly large number of dragons...

  3. It's interesting how many deaths by goblinoids there are. It's second on the list. I wonder what the breakdown for kobolds vs. goblins vs. hobgoblins vs. bugbears is.

    "Miscellaneous Causes" is where the comedy lives! I presume it aggregates stuff like accidental defenestrations and poultry attacks...

  4. It's possible I should have just posted the whole article (very high signal-to-noise ratio in those days). On miscellaneous deaths:

    Miscellaneous causes include fifty odd monsters and other means of dying. Primary among these are liches, suicides and drowning (5 deaths each), minotaurs, ochre jelly-type blobs and stakes in hearts for those players who became vampires (4 deaths each), invisible stalkers, sea monsters, lizard men, harpies, tigers, rockslides, starvation and freezing to death (3 deaths each). Other interesting deaths are from Martians, mutants, poisons, acids, plagues, dying of thirst, dying in a river of boiling blood, run over by a coach (yes we do have traffic fatalities), donein by a whore with a hat pin, having a castle dropped on one’s person, andaccidentally killing one’s self in an epileptic fit.

    On deaths from goblinoids:

    ‘Goblin types’, while not being strong individually (although they
    may have the occasional troll or ogre with them), are usually found in large groups, eager to destroy, and can be encountered practically
    anywhere or anytime according to the monster encounter tables.
    Typically, you will come across up to 300 or 400 orcs or goblins, who will proceed to pepper your group with a huge cloud of arrows, wiping out all the low level players and hirelings. Very few higher level players ever get done in by these creatures, however.

  5. Yeah, with the goblinoids I was wondering how much HD/encounter level of said goblinoids matched with the level of characters killed.

    "...done in by a whore with a hatpin"

    Alas, the Appendix C Harlot table claims another unfortunate victim. When will they learn, Delta? When will they learn?

  6. 600 killed would be the equivalent of decades of play in my D&D 3.5 games! Also: random encounters with hundreds of goblins? Wow! No earning, no scout, just hundreds of arrows? I need to read this article in it's entirety!

  7. eh, "no warning" instead of "no earning" – I wonder what I was thinking, fresh out of bed! :)

  8. @ Alex Schroeder
    By "no earning" you probably mean "no earning those XP or that gold" when you've got 300 goblins worth of arrows in you.

    Meanwhile, a hooker with a hatpin has just made Lvl 2...

  9. Note that the 20d10 or so for number of goblins encountered was meant to be wilderness adventure, for a whole village. The average would have been perhaps 100 goblins. Quite a tribe, certainly not outside the bounds of possibility for an otherwise uninhabited wilderness.

    Dungeon encounter rates were supposed to be much lower.

    Also: if the hatpin whore got 10 GP and then had to give 8 GP to her pimp, does she gain the 10 XP or 2? Does the pimp gain 8 or none?

    In an identical relationship, if the King receives 500 GP a year in taxes from a certain county does he gain 500 XP?

    If it's a republic and the leader doesn't personally own public funds, does that mean everyone shares that 500 XP?

    Maybe just the landowning adult males, if they're the only voters.

    Or is it that once you gain a GP you wring that one XP out of it. And it needs to sit unattended for several decades in a dungeon before it absorbs enough of the foul dungeon vapors to impart another XP to the next person to haul it back into the sunlight?

  10. Just so we're on the same page, the OD&D monster appearing rules are enormously brief. For goblins/kobolds the table just reads, "Number Appearing: 40-400*" and that's it. Presumably this writer was just playing literally, and using the fixed "sighting monsters" range of 40-240 yards (Vol. 3, p. 17). Any other interpretations (like it being a village or with scouts) is purely an individual DM's addition to the rules.

    (*Note says "used primarily only for out-door encounters", but no alternate data for other environments. As a side note, men/orcs/elves appear 30-300, hobgoblins/gnolls 20-200, gnomes/dwarves 40-400, pixies/nixies 10-100, other types in much smaller numbers).

    And of course the gold/XP rules just cover adventuring characters, anything else is necessarily an invention by the individual DM. I'm sure if you published a wonderful add-on set of XP advancement rules for kings, nobles, pimps and whores, you'd accrue lots of gold and XP yourself!

  11. I wonder what a "dragon related creature" is. Interesting that there is an entry for Evil High Priest (the infamous EHP) but no evil magic-user...just fireball/lightning bolt and misc. spell (though presumably "turn to stone" wasn't always a gorgon or medusa).

  12. Hey JB, thanks for the recent comments!

    From the article notes: "Related dragon species include wyverns, basilisks, cockatrices,
    manticores and hydrae."

  13. I'd just add that the article suggests there are multiple referees in that campaign, and in those days, very large groups of players were more common. In all likelihood several parties were adventuring under different referees:
    "One side effect of keeping death statistics is that it gives the refs an objective in the game, either to become the biggest ‘ace’ or to cause the most interesting deaths. Most players, however, take a rather negative view of this sort of thing."
    So I think the numbers are most interesting as actuarial data for adventurers in that campaign.

  14. I concur. The most deaths in my campaigns over the years were either to large groups of orcs/gnolls/hobgoblins (often in a Boromir-like last heroic stand so that the rest of the party could escape), or the decidedly deadly dragon breath weapon.