A Monster for Every Season: Summer 2
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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Messing around with death

    So I have a problem with death. Especially in D&D.

    I dislike save-or-die effects, where your high-level character you spent months playing suddenly dies because you've got crap luck at dice today. It's anti-climatic.

    I dislike spells that raise one from the dead - the only thing more anti-climatic than dying from one terrible roll is to get up a couple rounds later and shrug it off. Ho hum, I died, wasn't so bad this time. Plus, it doesn't make sense. If anyone can be revived, there's no reason anyone should stay dead - good guys or bad. King assassinated? Roll out the scroll of True Res. Yawn.

    Now save-or-sucks, I don't mind so much. It still sucks as much to get paralyzed, but barring nasty combos your party can probably still choose to save you. So let's leave those out for the moment.

    I'm trying to find some quick fixes for my games, and I'm sort of torn between those two:
    - Remove all means of resurrection barring divine intervention (a.k.a Plot). Remove all save-or-die spells.
    - Slightly less extreme: remove all means of resurrection. Save-or-die spells don't kill you but put you at zero hp (or -1, haven't decided yet). And no, they can't be cast on a character in negative hit points (or even already dead ones) to bump them up to zero. Tsk tsk.

    Is there anything absolutely, brokenly stupid about either of those solutions?

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    Default Re: Messing around with death

    The problem with removing spells that allow you to raise dead is that it discourages players from taking risks to their characters. If the character that they have spent the last 2 years building up to its currently place of awesomeness could actually be killed without any recourse, the player is substantially less likely to take that risk (some would even go to the effort to completely avoid it).

    My personal solution to this was to alter the way Raise Dead spells operated. In my games, when a player casts Raise Dead, the caster makes a Heal skill check with a DC equal to 10 + one-half the target's level. For every 2 points the target succeeds or fails the skill check, the target gains a +1 bonus or penalty to the "resurrection saving throw" they much make in order to be brought back to life. From that point on, the character also takes a cumulative -1 penalty to resurrection saving throws. If the character fails the resurrection saving throw, they cannot be brought back to life by that caster until the caster gains a level, but the components are not consumed. If the spell is cast from a scroll, whoever is using the scroll makes the Heal check.

    This solution made it so that death is a more substantial risk than normal because it's risky, but it's not so risky that players are unwilling to risk death. By that same token, it also means that characters that routinely die are less and less likely to come back to life again.

    To avoid players from using Raise Dead on important NPCs like crazy, I often have villains use rituals or spells that irrevocably kill the target (because they're evil: destroying the very soul of a target is very evil) or make it pointless to raise them (if the king dies and is resurrected, he loses his claim to the throne because of the kingdom's laws; why spend money to rez a guy that's gonna be useless?). By that same token, it's also important to remember that adventurers are, by their very definition, ludicrously powerful and wealthy. Very few kingdoms are going to be willing to empty their entire treasuries to raise the king from the dead.

    I completely concur with save-or-die effects, which is one of the many reasons I moved to 4e (if you couldn't tell from my solution to Raise Dead), though I think the solution you have of causing those effects to immediately reduce the target to -1 hp is actually very elegant.

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    Default Re: Messing around with death

    With save-or-dies, you could also go the Pathfinder route and make them just do massive amounts of damage. Very likely to kill, but not guaranteed.

    I believe that they have them doing this:

    Circle of death: As writen, because it only affects 9 HD or fewer.
    Finger of death: 10 damage/caster level
    Phantasmal killer/weird: As written (because it needs 2 saves to work).
    Slay Living: 12d6 + (1 damage/caster level)

    There may be other save-or-die spells I'm forgetting, but in general I like this better. A spell called finger of death should at least be likely to kill someone, but this at least gives youa chance to survive, even with an unlucky roll.
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  4. - Top - End - #4
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    Default Re: Messing around with death

    Quote Originally Posted by ThePurple View Post
    The problem with removing spells that allow you to raise dead is that it discourages players from taking risks to their characters. If the character that they have spent the last 2 years building up to its currently place of awesomeness could actually be killed without any recourse, the player is substantially less likely to take that risk (some would even go to the effort to completely avoid it).
    You have a point, in that with death becoming more lethal (only in D&D... ), whatever the PCs aim to do has to be worth the risk of kicking the bucket. Hanging up the sword and retiring to a life of rich pastimes becomes a more attractive option than running blindly into that dragon-infested cave when you actually have a serious chance of not ever getting out.

    However, I feel it's up to the DM - that would be me - to offer the players the kind of story where they'll want to keep going. If they just say 'Nah, we've gone far enough, let the other heroes of the world deal with the BBEG', then I've failed to provide them enough reason that they should go on; it's actually good roleplay on their part, and bad world-building and sturytelling on mine (on the plus side, it means I've created a sufficiently scary villain - silver lining!).

    In most of the epics we read and watch and love, the heroes go on even though they are aware that they might not make it back. It's not just because they are heroic characters (or it shouldn't be): it's because there are reasons for them to go on. Maybe they're the strongest adversaries to the villain, or they are the only ones who can recover the artifact that's going to bring him down. Maybe there's something in them. Maybe they don't want to get blown to pieces when the BBEG finishes summoning Meteor and they figure they might as well go down fighting, especially since they're kind of the biggest badasses around and happen to know the BBEG better than most.


    I don't want to fix resurrection spells because hope of coming back remains. Even that bit cheapens death. And when you really want someone to stay dead, it's reality-bending shenanigans: suddenly every high-level enemy knows secret rituals to suck the souls out of people, everyone has Thinaun daggers and dead kings whose bodies haven't even had a chance to cool down are thrown into the ditch because the new king's already on the throne. I could probably find legitimate (and different) reasons why it doesn't work sometimes, but I figure if I'm going to restrict them like this I might as well save myself a headache and ban them outright.

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    Default Re: Messing around with death

    Use the death flag variant described here. It isn't perfect, and you have to work out some kind of benefit for the flag and limitations lowering it if you don't use conviction, but it sounds like it would serve your purposes.

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    Default Re: Messing around with death

    I generally run with the rule 'if someone gets to you in one round and administers sufficient aid to bring you up to -9 at least, you can be saved'. In this context death effects bring you to -10. It means more heroic rushing to save the downed party member (usually), and you don't have to worry quite as much about the unlucky crit killing a character from full or whatnot. I'd recommend doing something like that if you're going to remove resurrection.

    I've also been running games that have weird death mechanics lately. My current campaign is somewhat inspired by the psionic savegame trick. Every time one of the PCs dies, the universe shatters and the party as a whole finds themselves a few hours earlier in a parallel timeline, perhaps one that is substantially different. They get to keep whatever is on their person and their characters are the same, but things like strongholds, allies, etc, can entirely change or be lost, and so they try to avoid it. Of course, I had one player who kept trying to get himself killed because he wanted to re-randomize the universe

    Before that it was a 'you just died and now you're playing ghosts' type thing, where they could remanifest if destroyed but each time they did so they cared less and less about the world and so it became harder.

    I think you can run a game where death is either the big threat, or not a threat at all, and both ends can be fun. If you do 'not a threat at all' you have to make sure there are other things at (permanent) stake, though.

  7. - Top - End - #7
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    Default Re: Messing around with death

    -For dealing with Save-or-Die, maybe make Death Ward even easier to get, perhaps even put it on an item.
    -You're not "shrugging off" death, you do take a level hit. (Well, until True Res, but by the point that's available, there are other ways to prevent resurrection. And even at lower levels, double-check that Bag of Holding you found...)*
    -The reason they don't True Res that assassinated king is that the last guy able to cast True Res died 50 years ago, and he didn't leave any scrolls behind. High-level casters are quite rare.


    *As a side point, this makes a great trap for a lich or the like to use on the players when you feel like being an evil DM: Easily defeated minions with a Bag of Devouring.

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    Default Re: Messing around with death

    I've always liked save or die effects. It makes the game much more fun. Each player knows that their character could die at any time. And it's not that they act all scared of death, but at least the are aware of it.

    Now it's not like a character steps out of a tavern and gets hit by 100 save or die effects, it's just that it can happen. Players must always be careful and pay attention. Too often immortal characters(ones that players know the DM won't kill) can get boring. There is no point in even having hit points or a characters 'life' if they can't die. It's a lot like ''you get hit and take damage, but it does not matter as you can't die''. It's like watching a rated Y cartoon: no matter how scary the dragon looks, you know the prince won't get hurt and will win the fight in a non-violent way(tricks the dragon into a cave and covers the entrance).

    And I do so hate the 'I spent so much time making this character so they can't die' argument. If you feel so over protective of a character, then just have them sit in their role-playing home and not go on an adventure.

    This is the Storyteller type DM. When you sit down to play the game, you know your character is immortal and protected by the story. You know for a fact that your character must be alive at the end of the story, so what you do between the middle and the end is pointless. Use the simplest example: The Dm has a great story all about the kingdom, but as the characters travel they encounter some random monsters. In the storyteller game, the fight is pointless as no character can die. No story telling DM will kill of a character by a random dice roll.


    As for resurrection and raise dead, I put the role-playing penalty here: You can't just walk up to a cleric and get it done. You'd need to be in good standing with the church and do a service and such. Plus I add in all sorts of 'evil', such as where a cleric will control the raised character or such. And plenty of side effects of being dead.



    1)If you don't run a deadly game:you don't randomly kill any character any time by any means including a random dice roll, then this won't matter.

    2)What is the point of this? So a character is zapped and falls to 0 hp, until they get help. But what about attacking the 'dead' body? Why won't an attacking just do a bit more damage to the 0 hp character and kill them for real at -10.

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    Default Re: Messing around with death

    I'm inclined to agree with GamerGirl: the problem with the examples you give of the "Heroic Story" is that they're just that: a story. Everything's set in stone. No character in the story will even have the chance of dying unless the author wants them to. Sure, they may seem to be in danger, but they'll survive unless they need to die for added drama.

    But in D&D, or other RPGs, it doesn't work that way. The epic heroes can be easily killed by a lucky crit or two or a string of botched saves. There is no safeguard or "plot armor" for a D&D character. Even without save-or-dies, characters are still going to die. And unfortunately, you can't just reduce the Fellowship by one whenever there's a death: the character may be dead, but the player is still around and wants to play.

    Then you get the "revolving party" syndrome, as my group calls it. Halfway through the campaign, all the original party members are dead, and it's an entirely new party of random people who happen to join up on this quest the moment a previous member dies. Suddenly, no one can have that heroic potential, because all the newcomers, even those who finally finished the fight, just stood on the shoulders of the previous heroes. IT becomes like a relay race; "We don't need to complete this quest, we just need to make it progress. Whoever comes after us will keep going. Oh, and if they don't happen to be up to snuff, there'll be someone else who picks up after them."
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  10. - Top - End - #10
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    Default Re: Messing around with death

    And what's worse, Absol197, is when the relay race/PC hamburger grind is accompanied by ever-larger bags of holding, as the new characters start with WBL, and "inherit" the goods of the previous corpses...er...PCs.

    I've seen campaigns get way out of WBL guidelines purely through high body count, a lack of resurrection, and a mercenary attitude about the possessions of the fallen.




    On a related note, I once (several years back) ran a PBP Realms game that ran afoul of a PC death. PBPs are notoriously slow paced, and the event occured deep in a dungeon to boot, so getting the character raised and back in the action was a month+ long process IRL.

    My solution? I started up a separate thread and RPed his journeys and encounters on the Fugue Plain as he came to terms with his life, death, and the meaning of it all.

    Player enjoyed it so much, and his character was so moved by it, that he (previously a straight-up barbarian) multiclassed as a cleric of Tempus to honor the deity (well...church anyways) that returned him to life.





    One middle-ground solution worth considering is things like the Saint template, or a handful of spells I vaguely recall, that will bring someone back from the dead for a specific purpose and then "run out" when that purpose is fulfilled. This prevents the "flow-of-campaign" upsetting problem of losing a PC in the middle of a dungeon and the resultant awkward introduction of a new PC (also potentially in the middle of that same dungeon). It lets affairs be wrapped up, characters say goodbye to each other, and provides an opportunity for a replacement PC to be introduced during a down-time period.


    Solutions like this require a lot of DM intervention, interpretation, and trust (things like setting a reasonable limit on what the purpose or goal is). It also allows for interesting solutions to save-or-die situations.

    I'm not a big fan of how the actual game effect of a Banshee's wail works, as it doesn't jive at all with their mythological roots (yeah, same with a lot of things, I get it). I didn't want them to be any less threatening or scary, though, so here's the rule I introduced.

    Spoiler
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    A Banshee's wail is the herald of death, not the bringer of death itself. If you fail your save, you *will* die within the next 24 hours. How you die is partly in your hands, but the death itself is inevitable.

    Had 3 PCs (out of a rather massive party) fail a save versus a Banshee. One faced his death heroically and charged down the shadow dragon they later faced. He died, but enabled the party to gain the upper hand.

    Another kept doing 'business as usual', and was neither bold nor cautious. He failed to notice the tiny, yet fatally poisonous shadow spider that crept up upon him and bit him in the ankle.

    The third tried to cheat death..he tried so very hard. He was paranoid, utterly cautious, absolutely determined not to put himself in any danger whatsoever. Sadly, his death was the most ignoble of them all, for when all the undead were slain and the shadow portal closed, he found himself in one of the towers of the keep, directly below one of the old, rotting catapults that sat atop an equally-rotting wooden floor that chose that particular moment to give way and crush him to a pulp.



    A year or so later, during one of my rare chances to play instead of DM, the DM was so taken with the idea that he, too, used it in his campaign during a journey through Undermountain. Wouldn't you know, I was the only character to hear the cry of doom. Undaunted, I determined to meet my fate head-on. Threw every buff I had, drank every useful potion, let out a challenging shout, and charged...into the next room, through the foes there, bust down the door, continued on.

    I went on the most amazing rolling streak I've seen in years, and the rest of the party wasn't far behind me. We sprung every trap and cleared out every monster in about 2/3 of that level of Undermountain before I finally fell. The cleric kept trying to heal me whenever she could catch up, I kept busting doors down as soon as a room was defeated, and the DM just couldn't hit me with an ignoble, arbitrary death as long as I kept seeking it out straight-up. When was the last time you covered 20+ rooms in a dungeon without dropping out of round-by-round initiative?
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    Default Re: Messing around with death

    I like that no rez makes characters think before doing risky things. It makes risky things so much cooler when they are actually done and that characters are played more like real people. I allow rezzes IF the body is in good enough condition that the sould could go inside and the body could still function. (Whatever wound killed the player has to be healed right away, though, or it will kill them again.)
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    Default Re: Messing around with death

    Quote Originally Posted by SowZ View Post
    I like that no rez makes characters think before doing risky things. It makes risky things so much cooler when they are actually done and that characters are played more like real people. I allow rezzes IF the body is in good enough condition that the sould could go inside and the body could still function. (Whatever wound killed the player has to be healed right away, though, or it will kill them again.)
    I suppose this could be used to good effect. Resurrection does bring a PC back to life, but considering that he was just killed, it's really only good for a few seconds. You could rule that the PC is at -20 hp, and the party has 1 round to get him back to positives or he'll die again. If he was poisoned, death attacked, or failed a save or die? Game over.
    Last edited by Immonen; 2011-07-28 at 09:42 PM.
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    Default Re: Messing around with death

    Quote Originally Posted by Immonen View Post
    I suppose this could be used to good effect. Resurrection does bring a PC back to life, but considering that he was just killed, it's really only good for a few seconds. You could rule that the PC is at -20 hp, and the party has 1 round to get him back to positives or he'll die again. If he was poisoned, death attacked, or failed a save or die? Game over.
    It also means a character can't be brought back to life weeks after death without serious resources put into preservation. No carting around skeletons in a bag of holding, heh.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Andorax View Post
    I'm not a big fan of how the actual game effect of a Banshee's wail works, as it doesn't jive at all with their mythological roots (yeah, same with a lot of things, I get it). I didn't want them to be any less threatening or scary, though, so here's the rule I introduced.

    Spoiler
    Show
    A Banshee's wail is the herald of death, not the bringer of death itself. If you fail your save, you *will* die within the next 24 hours. How you die is partly in your hands, but the death itself is inevitable.

    Had 3 PCs (out of a rather massive party) fail a save versus a Banshee. One faced his death heroically and charged down the shadow dragon they later faced. He died, but enabled the party to gain the upper hand.

    Another kept doing 'business as usual', and was neither bold nor cautious. He failed to notice the tiny, yet fatally poisonous shadow spider that crept up upon him and bit him in the ankle.

    The third tried to cheat death..he tried so very hard. He was paranoid, utterly cautious, absolutely determined not to put himself in any danger whatsoever. Sadly, his death was the most ignoble of them all, for when all the undead were slain and the shadow portal closed, he found himself in one of the towers of the keep, directly below one of the old, rotting catapults that sat atop an equally-rotting wooden floor that chose that particular moment to give way and crush him to a pulp.



    A year or so later, during one of my rare chances to play instead of DM, the DM was so taken with the idea that he, too, used it in his campaign during a journey through Undermountain. Wouldn't you know, I was the only character to hear the cry of doom. Undaunted, I determined to meet my fate head-on. Threw every buff I had, drank every useful potion, let out a challenging shout, and charged...into the next room, through the foes there, bust down the door, continued on.

    I went on the most amazing rolling streak I've seen in years, and the rest of the party wasn't far behind me. We sprung every trap and cleared out every monster in about 2/3 of that level of Undermountain before I finally fell. The cleric kept trying to heal me whenever she could catch up, I kept busting doors down as soon as a room was defeated, and the DM just couldn't hit me with an ignoble, arbitrary death as long as I kept seeking it out straight-up. When was the last time you covered 20+ rooms in a dungeon without dropping out of round-by-round initiative?
    That is one of the most awesome things I have ever read! I am so stealing this!
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    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: Messing around with death

    Quote Originally Posted by Gamer Girl View Post
    And I do so hate the 'I spent so much time making this character so they can't die' argument. If you feel so over protective of a character, then just have them sit in their role-playing home and not go on an adventure.
    That's not exactly what I said: I said I don't want to throw down the drain a character randomly. Death is part of a character's life; if you just roll a natural 1, it's like tearing off the last pages of a book: you stop reading but you didn't really finish the story. Whereas if he charges right into the maw of the dragon, then you've got yourself something to remember . Killing people for doing something stupid or for taking on odds that they weren't ready for (either by overconfidence or lack of preparation), that's something I'm fine with. But Aynvlin the legendary warrior, Hell-Walker, Slayer of Dragons, Protector of the Crown, getting zapped by a level 7 mook that passed by just because he rolled a natural 1 on his save vs. Phantasmal Killer, that's the kind of thing I have a problem with. Do note that by the essence of save-or-dies, my concern is one for games that have progressed into the higher levels.

    2)What is the point of this? So a character is zapped and falls to 0 hp, until they get help. But what about attacking the 'dead' body? Why won't an attacking just do a bit more damage to the 0 hp character and kill them for real at -10.
    True, they could. How do your characters do it? Do they spend an extra round poking the orc that just fell just to make sure he stays down? Definitely a possibility, but even then it still gives a round for the other PCs to rush in a try to save the downed PC.

    I kind of like NichG's solution as well, because it also covers death by unexpected crit (the kind that sends you straight from 23 hp to -46). The Wail idea is completely awesome but does require that the players trust you a bit. Might try it but not in my next game as it's a new table (on the other hand, it's not like they'll see level 9 spells before a good few months...)

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    Default Re: Messing around with death

    There are a few things you can do to keep the high level games playable without ressurection magic.

    Firstly there's Revivify - for those unfamiliar with the spell (or psionic power) it basically works like True Ressurection except the casting time is reduced, its available at 9th level but can only affect a creature that has died in the last round (though the psionic version is augmentable to affect creatures that have been dead longer). Keeps death deadly but not an automatic "game over".

    Then there's the idea used in Dark Heresy. Characters gain fate points which can be used to re-roll certain dice. Characters could also lower there maximum of fate points by 1 to avoid death. If you're using Action Points or some variation then this idea could be worth taking (alternatively, if you're not using Action points you could just create something like "Life Points" which exist only to be used in this way).

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