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Death and Dying
March 18, 2014, 11:18 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I’m beginning to see a profound disconnect between the way I play D&D and the way most if not all of my players desire to play D&D. In the past it irked me, but now I’m seeing past my own biases to look for where we have common ground. This post is an effort to begin to resolve that disconnect.

When I play, as a player mind you, I make a character and then explore the world. The character  itself is created almost (sometimes completely) at random. I don’t do “backstory” and I don’t plan out what the character will become. To me, that’s the fun of the game. He gets the title “dragonslayer” when he slays a dragon, not for some imaginary dragon he slayed previous to the campaign.

My players seem to be more interested in exploring their characters. The challenges and battles and NPC’s are just a backdrop upon which they paint the epic story of their avatar. They come into my game as fully formed heroes in their own right, with tales and stories and abilities. That’s awesome, I just don’t always understand or remember it.

Thus a character dying is the ultimate disappointment. A disappointment because it means they aren’t as awesome as we’d imagined, but also because it ruins those well made plans. This view was brought into sharp focus when I listened to the most recent Nearly Enough Dice podcast and they spent quite a long time talking about how upsetting the unplanned death of a character was. That they had plans to develop the story of the character and that losing those plans actually robbed them of the desire to play!

It is my firmly held belief that good narrative comes from the intersection of difficult circumstances (and the catharsis of overcoming them) and the set up of random elements paired with the ingenuity of the DM and players. My personal favorite part of our current campaign was when the party was ambushed by goblins and one of their NPC’s was captured. The party rushed to his aid, and with the help of a druid, saved him from almost certain death. None of that was planned, it was a random encounter coupled with the decisions of the players and it was one of the most exciting combats I can recall. One player said he cheered out loud when they won.

So, I want to find a way to couple a campaign where the fear of death is real with a campaign where players can make long-term goals for their characters. I think the place to start is with the rules for dying. In my campaign, if you go to -10, you’re dead. When you’re below 0, you are bleeding out and can make a save each round to stabilize. When you’re at 0 you’re merely unconscious. I want to add an additional layer of “padding” to this scheme but it will also make things interesting.

Instead of immediate death occurring at -10, roll a d20 and if it’s under your Con, instead of dying roll on this chart:

  1. You take an arrow to the knee, speed reduced by half.
  2. Lose use of one body part 1d4 left arm, left leg, right arm, right leg.
  3. Lose use of one sense 1d6 hearing, sight, taste, touch, smell, speech (I know it’s not a sense, shut up)
  4. Bonked on the head, lose 1+1d4 int
  5. Wicked deforming scar, lose 1+1d4 cha
  6. Blown joint, lose 1+1d4 dex
  7. Deathwish, lose 1+1d4 wis
  8. Weakened, lose 1+1d4 Con
  9. Sudden onset rickets, lose 1+1d4 Str
  10. Lose a finger, you’ll never draw a bow again and -1 to hit with one handed weapons
  11. Your soul leaves your body for a moment and you see your deity who offers to return you to life, but you have to promise to be a cleric from now on.
  12. Your soul leaves your body for a moment but then you are brought back, but for a purpose (GEAS) by 1d4 a demon, a deity, an Outsider, an alien life-form.
  13. Your soul leaves your body for a moment but then you are brought back but now there’s an evil clone of you about, causing mischief and ruining your good (?) name
  14. You miraculously survive, but now you have a major grudge against whatever killed you. You must seek out any others and attack them on sight.
  15. You wake up in a vat in a wizard’s tower, naked and with strange memories of your old companions and your own death.
  16. After saying one last word of wisdom, you disappear like Yoda. You’re dead, but it was an awesome death.
  17. You totally die, but with your last breath you release your death curse on whomever killed you and they’ll die in 1d6 days in a very gruesome manner.
  18. You die, but your consciousness takes over the nearest NPC. Keep your mental stats and class, gain the hirelings physical stats.
  19. You awaken 1d6 days later but with permanent memory loss, lose one level. If you’re at 1st level, lose your class. You are a commoner until you gain 1000 xp and then you can choose a class and start again as level 1.
  20. You go towards the light and see a vision of how you will eventually die and then awaken. Dungeon master’s choice.

I think this is a cool solution. There’s still a big potential for death but if you roll well, you might have a chance to live on. I tried to make each of these interesting while still allowing players to maintain control of their characters core “person.”

Thoughts?

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4 Comments so far
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Wake up naked in a vat in a wizards tower… Lol.

I love all of these, they add some flair and an extra cushion.

Your thoughts on character development are intriguing, I had never viewed it through the lens of a reactive character developmental model. I think that would make it harder initially to determine actions. (unless you also use your alignment system and loyalty meter etc to determine those elements…) I think in the next play through of any of these I’m going to ask you for your NPC generation rolls to help determine my character. From there I will just play true to those rolls. I think that could be liberating and fun.

Comment by librarylegend

So my question for you is this:

Would you be happier if Shade was dead, or if Shade was, say, in the body of another person or if he’d lost an arm? Especially if he died ignominiously in a pit trap or something?

On initially determining actions:

I think it needn’t be as bad as you’d imagine. Normally in my campaigns, I try to start you off in play so you’re just reacting to some situation and trying to stay alive. Then after something has happened to catalyze the group, you get more freedom in the open world.

But even then, the stats can give you an idea of your character, or his race, or his class. You react to things and your character appears before your eyes. It’s quite fun.

And maybe in that first dungeon you found an object around which you form your character, or you make some heroic action and survive, or you play off the other characters..

It is very liberating and it lets you get “closer to the ground” in the game world, giving you a chance to get into the world.

Comment by S4M

“sight, taste, touch, smell, speech (I know it’s not a sense, shut up)”

First of all, funny as hell. I lol’d at this line. Second, what would a character be like that lost the sense of touch? I’m not sure why you left out hearing, since deafness is something people can usually cope with, whereas not having a sense of touch would make it really hard to do almost anything.

Other than that though, I really like the idea of this list, if not every option. I would probably find it easy from an RP perspective to play Thorvald as a Cleric for example (Rolled 11), but that would also make me not want to play him (as you mentioned was one of the impetuses for making this option). Thorvald would still be compelling from an RP perspective, maybe even more so, but from a mechanics perspective I wouldn’t be interested in it all. I thought about suggesting that the character lose a level in their main class and gain one level in cleric, but even that would be hard for me to stomach as a player. Not sure I have a helpful suggestion to replace it at this point, but I’ll think on it for sure.

Also, what does GEAS mean?

I was also kind of surprised there wasn’t some one-eyed werefrog option, but that was just me. The idea overall is one I would truly enjoy!

Comment by Fik

The honest truth is I typed this table up over the course of a couple of days and didn’t think through the senses. I’ll definitely add hearing. You’ll notice there’s only 5 entries so I probably remembered there were 5 senses and then forgot to add the last one. I think if you lost the sense of touch what I’d do is hide your hit points from you. You wouldn’t feel pain, but you also wouldn’t know if you were near dying. Like leprosy. At least that’s what occurs to me at the moment.

Maybe clarification is in order, if you ever rolled that entry you would just take cleric as a multi class when you next leveled up. Still, if you didn’t want to play him, you wouldn’t have to. I think this just gives a complication without insisting you abandon a beloved character. That seems right to me. You’ve already played Thor as a spiritual character, maybe Thunor granting him a second chance at life would change him?

Geas is pretty much an irresistible quest.

I did consider involving the reincarnation table in here somewhere and that would result in some funny body changing entries. Still, I didn’t want to get that peanut butter in this chocolate. Reincarnate is it’s own thing and I’d hate to water that fun mechanic down in this table, especially when I got so inspired on my walk yesterday.

Comment by S4M




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