A Walk in the Dark A look in to the mind of an RPG designer

11Aug/11Off

An Alternative to Player Death

I've run my share of campaigns and, as far as I can remember, I have never had a PC die.

Having a PC die is actually a problem for me, because the plot line in my primary campaign kind of demands that the original five players survive (at least until Chapter Three, that is). So if one of them dies it's somewhat of an inconvenience and "breaks" the story.

So I thought of a special way to handle it: give the dead player a chance to come back, perhaps even as a servant of the BBEG.

The following is a skill challenge concept I put together only a day or two ago, and probably still needs a little tweaking. I'm open to suggestions as to how to make it better. Anyone?

The Dark Offering

If a player dies after a certain point in the campaign, he is transported to something similar to a dream sequence where the "big evil" attempts to persuade the player to join its side. As DM, you are welcome to roleplay this in any way you see fit. The primary thing to remember is that the voice will attempt to recruit the player to go against the other players and the enemies of the BBEG in the local village. The voice may not be particularly sincere of its offer, though.

Skill Challenge: Complexity 1 (4 successes before 2 failures)

Primary Skills: Arcana, Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate, and see below

Victory: The player is restored to life as if the Raise Dead ritual was used, but the penalties persist only until the first milestone is reached.

Failure: The player dies. If the player is later revived with a Raise Dead ritual, all the penalties are -2 (instead of the usual -1) and he gains vulnerable 5 necrotic for the next two milestones.

Arcana, Moderate DC (1 success, maximum 2 successes): You focus your mind and resist the voice’s influence.
Bluff, Hard DC (1 success, maximum 2 successes): You manage to convince the voice that you will his bidding if your life is restored, knowing full well you don't mean it.
Diplomacy, Moderate DC (1 success, maximum 2 successes): You speak with the voice and try to talk your way out of the difficult situation.
Intimidate, Moderate DC (1 success, maximum 2 successes): You rebel against the voice in the darkness, stating you are not one to die so easily.
Attack (1 success, maximum 3 successes): You retaliate at the voice with violence. All attacks are made against a defense of 10+Level, and it could be any form of attack (melee, ranged or burst) and target any defense.
Surrender (automatic failure): You would rather die than become a servant of the dark.
Embracing the Darkness (2 successes, maximum 4 successes, with special conditions): You accept the darkness, realizing that the voice’s offer is quite enticing. Using this method at any point grants the player additional bonuses if the skill challenge ends up a success.

Note: The player that died must do this skill challenge alone; he cannot get any assistance from other players.

Upon a victory, if at any point during the skill challenge the player agrees to accept the voice’s offer and embrace the powers of darkness, the player gains the following conditions:

  • Player gains the "shadowtouched" keyword.
  • Resist 5 necrotic.
  • Vulnerable 5 radiant.
  • The player will be able to identify any and all creatures that have the "shadowtouched" keyword.
  • +1 to attack and damage rolls against creatures that do not have the "shadowtouched" keyword.
  • +2 to attack and damage rolls against other players or creatures that would normally be considered allies, or at least are enemies of the BBEG.
  • If the player makes any burst attacks, all other players and allies in the area of effect are treated as enemies.
  • The player gains a special "shadowtouched" power (which I will not elaborate on here for spoiler reasons).
  • No creature with the "shadowtouched" keyword will willingly attack the player in any way.

These bonuses remain until:

  • The BBEG is defeated.
  • The player makes an attack or threatening gesture against a creature with the "shadowtouched" keyword. The attack does not have to hit the target; the mere act of rolling the attack is sufficient.

Once the effect ends, the player must make an immediate saving throw with a -5 penalty; on a failure, the player loses two healing surges. If the player does not have any surges, he takes damage equal to his surge value for each surge that he is missing. If the player drops to 0 HP or lower as a result of this attack, the player dies and the BBEG will make no further effort to recruit him.

If the player embraces the darkness, at any time the player can turn against the BBEG as a free action. If they do, the player loses the conditions and two healing surges as described above without a saving throw.

As far as skill challenges go, I don't think it's that difficult, and it at least gives the players an opportunity to come back.

So anyone out there have alternatives for handling player death?

Comments (4) Trackbacks (0)
  1. I love this. In game terms, dying should be a natural part of adventuring, but you have to deal with the reality of a player who now has nothing to do for the rest of the night.

    I think there is room for other players to assist in a skill challenge like this. If a demonic entity is assailing a PC’s spirit, it’s only natural for the PC to try to reach out to his comrades and say “I wish I had Dernan the fighter’s strength, or Lad the cleric’s faith”. Each living PC would feel the spirit of the dead PC pulling at them from within, pleading for help, and they would try to give that PC assistance as best they can with skills like Religion, Endurance, Heal, etc. Of course this skill challenge works on its own, but I always prefer challenges that involve as many PCs as possible.

  2. I really like this idea. It gives the player an idea of how powerful the BBEG is without obvious displays of power. The variety of options are great too. I love the idea of a player defeating death (especially at a low level) and coming back in an encounter in a sort of “hell yeah I’m Gandalf” scene. Cool idea, I might steal it.

  3. Heh, why do I feel like Shad may have influenced these plans…


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