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Improving Death as a Threat

August 3rd, 2008 · Joe · 3 Comments

One of the major changes between D&D 3rd edition and 3.5 was an increased cost to the material components of a raise dead spell by a factor of ten. The intent was to change death from a minor inconvenience to an actual detriment to the character. Given the D&D economy, this change only had a significant impact in low-powered games where equipment couldn’t be sold if the gold wasn’t already on hand. While the loss of experience is also a deterent, this lessens over the span of a campaign as higher levels and larger xp requirements bring the party back into mutual equilibrium.

So without limiting the influx of gold or magic items into a party, how can a DM create circumstances in which death is something to be avoided at all costs rather than something to merely be momentarily disappointed in when it happens? How does he do this without pushing the pendulum too far the other way so that spells such as raise dead are worthless and death means that it’s time to make a new character.

Below is a chart for physical complications that may affect a body once the spirit is magically returned. These effects are unnamed penalties and thus cumulative for each death and resurrection. Regeneration, wish or miracle spells cast with a successful DC 25 caster level check can successfully reverse the penalty.

Roll d%
01-50 Revived with no ill effect
51-60 -2 Dexterity
61-70 -2 Intelligence
71-80 -2 Constitution
81-90 -2 Constitution and -2 Dexterity
91-99 -2 Constitution, -2 Dexsterity, and -2 Intelligence
100 Permanent Death

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3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 THAC0 // Aug 3, 2008 at 5:52 pm

    Joe, I don’t know how familiar you are with 1st 2nd editions. You only reference 3rd & 3.5 and the option you offer is similiar to a mechanic used in 1st & 2nd eds. Those editions incorporated two extra stats on the Constitution tables: System Shock and Resurrection Suvival. These were a roll on the percentage die. The higher your constitution score the greater your chance of survival. A score of 10 = 70% & 75% respectively. A score of 18 = 99% & 100%.
    I never understood why 3rd edition did away with these stats. I think they are totally viable and easily house ruled in. I like your idea and would consider taking it a step further by targeting the ability score that best matches the type of damage that led to the death. This would take a bit of work but I think it’s managable.
    Another idea is to have the resurrected character suffer some pyshcological damage directly atributed to the type of death they suffered, e.g. Dirk the Daring is put down by a ghoul, upon resurrection Dirk now has a phobia of the undead and/or becomes enraged when faced with the undead…plus to hit, neg to AC.
    Kinda like when you’re in a bad car wreck. It can take a long time feeling comfortable in a car again.
    Personally, I think bringing back system shock and resurrection survival is a good option – but I might tweek the percentages a bit so there’s a greater chance of failure. I know this penalizes the traditionally weaker classes and races already granted a penalty to constitution but then 3rd edition tends to trys to be more of a sim than other editions doesn’t it.

  • 2 Joe // Aug 3, 2008 at 8:13 pm

    Originally I wanted to make it more elaborate, nightmares, trauma, etc. But I find that such rules are often forgotten about except on rare occasions where the DM can work them into the story. These are a simple mechanical adjustment that allows the player to role play the effects if he so wishes.

    I’m a recovering power gamer, so I only ever played 2nd edition as a power gamer. In that capacity, system shock and resurrection survival were only effective on the worst of rolls (I had a friend who had a 99% system shock and failed twice in a row. :) ).

  • 3 Nathan // Aug 4, 2008 at 1:08 am

    My group decided to go with taking the raise dead option from the movie Conan the Barbarian. In order to raise someone, someone else has to willingly trade their future for theirs. In 4th edition terms, they become a minion until they are killed. The player is also free to narrate their death in any heroic fashion they like.

    In short, if a character dies, *someone* is making a new one.

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