Sadly for adventurers (violent, painful) death is a part of life.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Time in Death’s realm has changed the PC; he returned chronically colourblind and can now only see black, white and shades of grey.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The PC no long casts a shadow except in the brightest of sunlight or magical light.
- 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.
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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.