Making Death Fatal

My game last weekend was pretty average; I had the group escorting a caravan from one place to another. The cargo consisted of many things including two special ‘items’. First was an evil magic item on its way to being destroyed and the other was an unconscious high priestess of the church that had sent the party out in the first place. The final encounter was with a group of cultists that wanted to steal the item, like I said this was pretty straight forward and average. The action actually culminated at a point in which one of the cultists was in a situation where she was threatening the helpless priestess. Being evil the cultist made the following threat, “Hand over the artefact or I kill her.” At first the party didn’t know what to do; they had to make a decision that they did not want to have to make. However after a little bit of talking one of the PCs said the phrase that has motivated me to write this; “It’s not like death really matters, the church will just bring her back….” and with that sentence a life or death situation lost all of its direness.

As the PC said the, no pun intended, fatal phase I knew he had forgotten the one house rule I have always used in my campaign world; although death is not final right away, it can only happen so many times and there are side effects. I’ve always felt that the idea of death needs to be one that cannot be taken lightly, if a decision has to be made concerning life or death it should be one that needs to be thought through. It can’t be AS final as it is in the real world because that makes the game a little too serious but it should still mean something to die.

It was with this thought in mind that I made up my death rule so many years ago in my first campaign. In my game any person, be they level 1 or level 20 may only be brought back to life three times, after that its borderline impossible to be raised as normal means of resurrection no longer work. Each time a person is brought back to life they are branded with a death mark, usually in the form of a tattoo like marking that is somehow related to the way the character died. Finally the resurrected person suffers from a lingering death effect connected in some way to how they lost their life. I once had a PC who was killed by a former party member who was a cleric of a sun god who had struck her down with his sword, when we brought the PC back she had the cleric’s god’s emblem on her chest where she had been stabbed and she was unable to go in direct sunlight without the aid of magic.

This is just one example of how death might affect anyone, be they PC or NPC, in my world. I don’t know if it’s an unfair rule that makes some people find the game less fun, it very well might be, however I do know that in the last few years the ability to use death as a real threat, and not just something they can expensively recover from has made for some very exciting and rewarding role play experiences. Sometimes the best moments to have are the ones that make the PCs face a really hard question that doesn’t have an easy answer. On that note I can’t wait until next game to see the look on my players faces when I tell them they indirectly caused the final death of the high priestess, it should make for one of those exceptional role play moments where the party realizes how evil a Dungeon Mistress I really am, but that’s a tale for another time.
[tags]Dungeons and Dragons, Gming, Role Playing Games, Death[/tags]

3 thoughts on “Making Death Fatal

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  1. Cool post. I like the idea of death marks.

    I teach art at an elementary school. On Friday, I taught kids to draw spiders and bats and skeletons and caves. The week before, I taught them to draw knights in action. (We’re doing a unit on Medieval art.) Guess what they made pictures of? That’s right: knights raiding caves full of bats, spiders and skeletons! Dungeon crawls galore!! They also invented knight-bats, skeletal were-bats, and giant fire breathing bat-winged spiders. My players better look out….


  2. I love the idea of death marks! I’ve always hated the idea of being able to do anything in these games, knowing that you will be resurrected and can simply try again as needed.


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