For better or worse for players, I take a little pride in not pulling punches when death truly is on the line in a game. Above all, I think players should know that that the PCs live in a dangerous world where death is always possible. Even more, I think there is a kind of justice to the rule of the arbitrary dice in these circumstances. My sense is (although I could be wrong about this) that players learn to respect the choice not to fudge or change rolls for no reason other than to benefit the PC in situations where death is a likely result, and, even more, that they can become quite peeved if they perceive that this Rule of the Abritrary isn't uniformly applied to all. If all feel themselves equally subject to the capricious determination of the dice, then, somehow, the rule of the dice seems less capricious and even less arbitrary as if (again, somehow!) a little bit deserved.
At the very end of the final encounter of a long night of gaming, the latest addition to the adventuring party - a plucky female fighter named Drin - acted perhaps a bit rashly and found the tables had turned on her more quickly than she had anticipated. One moment the party found itself victors over 10 skeleton "Ones First Lost" and almost counting their treasure, only to be immediately faced with a terrible Gibbering Mouther. Drin found herself strategically cut off from the rest of the group, opening herself up to at least one attack from this awful creature before she could retreat.
Again, let me emphasize that it was very very late at this point.
But as I rolled the six attack rolls (see my exhibit 1 from the ad&d Monster Manual II above) I mistakenly attributed 3 points of damage to each of the 3 mouths of the mouther that successfully attached themselves to Drin, and then announced to the group that Drin had suffered a total of 9 points of damage that round. Drin's player Julia quickly announced at this point that Drin had died as a result of that damage, having had sustained a wound in the earlier combat and only having had 3 hit points left before the Gibbering Mouther attacked. I don't think I am alone in saying that this came as a complete surprise to me. I had sort of thoughtlessly assumed that Drin might be crippled by the surprise attack, but capable of living to fight another day. And I don't think I was the only one thinking that.
Given how surprised several of us were at the announcement of Drin's sudden death, my realization moments later that I had incorrectly calculated the damage of each of the Mouther's mouths (since each mouth = 1 point damage and not 3 as I had mistakenly assumed, then the correct total was 3 mouths = 3 points damage) no doubt sounded like it must have been too good to be true. Rather than dead, our new adventurer Drin is only knocked unconscious and does indeed live to fight another day. Understandable sidelong glances predictably followed from my correction of my mistake. Could it be the DM so brazenly changed a roll?
And I also suspect that Julia herself is the kind of player who would object soundly to undeserved treatment of behalf of her character. So I also wanted to explain this event and to post the creature's stat block to remove any doubt from all minds. (I'm sure you've all lost sleep over this issue). As you can plainly read above, there is no way that during the first round that the six mouths the mouther used to attack could generate 9 points of damage. At maximum, had all six mouths struck, 6 points of damage could have been done that first round. And, given my error at the time, I would have called this 18 points of damage. Deadly stuff, those Mouthers. But 18 points is pretty steep for a creature of its challenge level (so is 9 points for only 50% hit rate) so I suspect that I would have been tipped off to re-read the stat block either way.
Rest assured, however, that this judgmental DM still blames Drin's very near demise on her own impetuous grab for just a bit more before the night ended. Just wanted to make it clear that he is not responsible for Drin's near-miraculous survival. The Rule of the Arbitrary is still firmly in place.
Thanks for another great night of gaming, everyone. Session summary to follow shortly.