Still on the gaming theory kick today.
I've mentioned this before, and other very clever people have discussed it at some length, but I'm providing links to neither, and instead am briefly revisiting it with thoughts regarding my current game.
Firstly, I'm not a big fan of character death. People who come to play an RPG are looking for an enjoyable way to spend their time. If we just wanted to roll dice and get numbers on those dice, we could play Craps. Character death usually results in disappointment and frustration on the part of the player, and disruption to the group as a whole. And, while there is a time and a place for characters to die, an unexpected death can really cause problems for an ongoing game.
There's been discussion about having a Character Death Social Contract - death only when previously agree'd upon, or only at players permission, etc, but this does not work with every gaming group. I now grit my teeth and refer to D&D. Sure, Game Masters fudge dice rolls sometimes to spare a characters life (I have..), or sometimes just let them go, and its time to roll up a new character (I have..), but character death is a mechanism that I think is very important to a game like D&D. But still.
So in a World of Darkness Werewolf game, its a brutal and violent place. I want to convey that to my players, and I want them to run into opponents who are not push-overs, who perhaps might even prove more than a match for them, and send them running with tails-between-legs, but if players adopt the D&D mindset of "There are some ogres here. apparently the DM wants us to kill ogres tonight. Charge!" then we're going to end up with dead characters.
I could go on, but ultimately I think my solution is to be very clear on two occasions. First, before, or at the outset of combat - both through clear descriptions of.. well, making the opposition sound tough, and coming right out and saying to the players "Gang, this guy is dangerous. This is not an ogre that is here solely to be killed. Consider your actions wisely." And secondly, if we end up in a situation where we're in a tough, tough battle, and the system mechanics make it look as though a character might imminently bite the dust, to come right out and explain the stakes.
Also, on a related note, I've decided to try to do some stakes negotiation over dice rolls, instead of the seeming black/white, pass/fail assumed stakes of the core system.