There's been a lot of macho talk about death in D&D lately. Most of it I agree with. The occasional death of a PC, or even an entire party, gives the game a visceral edge that plot immunity simply can't match.
And yet, I've clearly wimped out with my Table of Death and Dismemberment. Well, mostly wimped out. There's a lot of save-or-die in Moldvay/Cook/Labyrinth Lord. Still, this table makes it a lot harder to kill a PC. So, if I agree that the threat of imminent death is good for the game, why have I watered it down?
Because, to be blunt, I find death boring and frequent death blunts its sting. Yeah, I know, rolling up Roger the Fighter II is something of a tradition in Old School D&D, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. When it gets to the point where you just don't name a character until he gets to 3rd level, and death is an annoyance rather than a serious issue in the game, the Trollsmyth is no longer a happy DM.
Besides, why would I want to kill a magic-user when I can chop off his hand? What's he gonna do now? Can't cast spells with just one hand, and nothing short of a wish will restore it. It's crunch time for the player. Take on some grand quest to get the hand back while enduring the handicap? Change classes? Or retire the character? That last might seem the most obvious, but just think of all the possibilities that offers the DM. The next time they're in town, the PCs might pass the poor crippled ex-magic-user begging for coins in the street. But that dude's still got a 17 Intelligence. You think he's going to stay down forever? Imagine how the PCs will react when their “old friend” returns, looking for a little payback a few levels later, backed up by the toughs of the Beggars' Guild...