10 Minor Side Effects of Returning from the Dead

Sadly for adventurers (violent, painful) death is a part of life.

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)


Of course, death isn’t the end of the adventure! A powerful—or rich—PC probably has the wealth or the friends to return him to the living. In game, this is often handled quickly and easily. At worst, the PC might lose some experience points or perhaps lose a level. Sometimes, there is literally no penalty for dying (except embarrassment or the loss of thousands of gold pieces).

I think that’s little sad as a PC’s death (and subsequent return to life) should be a huge part of an adventurer’s life. It’s not like they caught a cold or strained a muscle; they were death—they stood in Death’s own hall awaiting judgement. There should be (fun) consequences.

Of course, like all the best consequences these shouldn’t be merely mechanical. Mechanical consequences are often quick forgotten once factored into the PC’s attack rolls, saving throws or whatever. The best consequence are something that changes the character and that the player and GM can have fun roleplaying.

Use the table below, to generate a minor side effect for a PC recently returned from the dead. Depending on the side effect, it might be worth taking the player aside privately to discuss what has happened—this way, he can have fun roleplaying the side effect without everyone else knowing exactly what has happened.

  1. The PC has night terrors and often wakes in the dead of night screaming. He can never remember his dreams, but has a linger sense of foreboding. Over time, he develops an irrational fear of shadows.
  2. When the PC returns to life, Death did not wholly relinquish his grip over the adventurer. The unfortunate’s skin takes on a grey, unhealthy pallor and his voice always seems flat and lifeless.
  3. Time in Death’s realm has changed the PC; he returned chronically colourblind and can now only see black, white and shades of grey.
  4. Shades of the fallen cluster thickly about the PC. While this has no in-game benefit, the light around him always seems slightly darker and suspiciously deep shadows seem to cluster in the folds of his clothing.
  5. When he was in Death’s realm the slain PC spoke with many folk. Their whispered voices have stayed with the PC. and occasionally he hears them still. The whispers are not loud enough for anyone else to hear, and the PC cannot make out what is being said. However, they are loud enough to distract him occasionally. They are strongest when the PC is in mortal peril or badly injured.
  6. The intense pain associated with his death have dulled the PC’s senses. Pain often feels distant to him now and even the worst injuries sometimes feel like nothing more than a scratch.
  7. Undead sense the PC’s connection with death. This sometimes confuses them—particularly mindless or unintelligent undead. Such creatures may ignore the PC on occasion, perhaps believing he is one of them.
  8. While in Death’s realm the PC absorbed much of the fell energy of that terrible, forlorn place. This energy is anathema to living plants. Plants in prolonged close proximity (such as wen the PCs camps overnight) to the PC wither and die. Even when he is passing through vegetated areas, perceptive viewers may notice the surrounding plant life seeming to shrink back from his presence.
  9. The PC no long casts a shadow except in the brightest of sunlight or magical light.
  10. The PC always feels cold to the touch, and his skin seems clammy. When exposed to natural cold—such as that generated by bad weather and so on—he is affected as if the cold is one-step worse.

This article will appear in GM’s Miscellany: 20 Things II, available in March 2017. For more, check out our Free Resources page.

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Am I Dead Wrong?

Do you see what I did there? Do you like this idea? Is it pointless? Or can you not wait to try this out on your PCs? Let me know, in the comments below.

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17 thoughts on “10 Minor Side Effects of Returning from the Dead

  1. Interesting ideas, but with a couple of “issues.” First, if death happens a lot in a campaign, more options would either be needed, or players will know these are “to be expected” when returning from the dead. Second, some of these are major detractions for an adventuring PC, so a way for them to be temporary might be in order. Either the PC “recovers” as he/she spends more time in the world of the living, or some sort of “atonement” might be called for to completely sever the grip Death has on the PC.

    In any case, you have roleplaying fodder from these, and that can certainly spice up a game where the players have become “blase” about dying. Great article.

    • Check out the comments–there are another four cool side effects there. That should keep you going for a session or two!


  2. 13) Gains morbid sense of humor and cannot pass up opportunities for death related phrases: love you to death, you slay me, I’m dying here, a grave situation, people are just dying to get in, asks for brain whenever eating out, etc.
    14) Reversal of alignment as character “turns over a new leaf.”


  3. 11) Death has not entirely given up on this character, and will not relinquish what belongs to it willingly. The character, when facing off against agents of death (such as priests of a war or death deity, for example), finds himself singled out by them.

    12) Ghosts and apparitions can sense his or her connection with death, and the revived character can see them as well. Of course, this means the ghosts may drag them into whatever score they may have to settle.

  4. Once, I had a player who’s character had fallen to his death in a deep gorge and whose body hadn’t been recovered. He hit me up with an interesting idea. He quit the campaign and we statted-out a ghost version of his character with some house rules to make it playable. He solo played with me for a bit on the side, working through figuring out his ghost state and finding the party again. Then I stashed him in a closet during the early part of a group session one night and had him start calling to them. After that, he haunted them until they went back to get his body ;-)!

      • I did something similar when GM’ing for a few new players. They let their lone healer die because no one came to her aid during death saves. They did take her body out of the cave system and buried it (rather than taking it back to her church for possible help). So I thought I could create a “teaching moment”. When passing by the grave site the next time (buried along a route they used regularly), the ghost of the dead PC began haunting them with long painful moans of “Whyyyyyyy?” and followed them around as an NPC. The next time a player “went down”, the ghost interrupted anything the players tried to do until they aided the downed character. (It didn’t hurt that the ghost also did it’s best to scare off the attacking hobgoblins at the time as well). Needless to say, fewer characters DIED, rather than “passing out and being revived” from then on. But if they *do DIE*, I’ll be using these options to have Death “linger” on.

  5. One of my PCs died. He already had a bounty on his head. Because he came back, he now has a curse from his deity (for screwing up) and the deity of death (for escaping her reach). And another bounty, for good measure.

    Things are about to get hectic.

  6. That’s why I prefer reincarnate to resurrection. Because a human cleric of lathander becoming drow, but not speaking a lick of elvish or undercommon is hilarious.