Saturday, April 3, 2021

Things to do in D&D After You're (Not Quite) Dead Part IV - Going out in Style

    Death and dying happens in old-school D&D, a lot. In the three articles preceding this one, I laid out some rules for playing a PC returned to a half-life, playing in the afterlife, raising the dead, and replacing dead characters. This installment is going to go over an oft-discussed aspect of D&D’s combat system: Dying. On the surface this seems like a fairly simple topic, when a PC/NPC/Foe is reduced to 0 HP, they die. Dungeons and Dragons is undoubtedly more on the simulationist side of table-top role-playing. Hit points are at best an abstraction meant to give us a sort of heroic tone to the game, rather than having a single stab to the gut putting a character down for weeks. This does however come at the cost of a sort of critical existence failure, where a character can seemingly fight on as an automaton, undeterred by injury and just as able until they collapse and die.

    There are various means to subvert this in systems both within and without D&D—wound penalties, massive damage, death saves—all of which attempt to address some of the inherent issues underlying the HP system. All of these are effective in their own ways, but unfortunately some of them bog down or otherwise slow the flow of combat—which already tends to have some issues. Instead of interacting directly with the HP system (which I’ve already covered in another article) we are going to look at what happens when a PC is already doomed, and death is inevitable.

Moment of Glory

    Sometimes you just have to go out with a bang. Horatius Cocles did it, Sturm Brightblade did it, Gray Fox did it, Cu Chulainn did it. Fiction and real life are rife with examples of people who lay down their lives in pursuit of a greater goal, or just an awesome way.

    When a PC is stated to have died by the Referee, the player may request a Moment of Glory. This should be thematically appropriate; it is difficult to have a Moment if the PC has fallen off a cliff, or been disintegrated. Moments of Glory are an enhanced state where the character is empowered beyond their normal abilities. The player of the soon to be deceased is allowed to select one of the options below for their last moments. The GM remains the final arbiter. Any and all conditions such as fear, holding, charm, or paralysis are removed. A Moment of Glory last a number of rounds equal to the character’s ½ of their Constitution score, minimum 3. The PC cannot die during their Moment, but they may still suffer from the effects of spells (other than damage), though they gain advantage to all of their saves. A PC who accepts a Moment of Glory cannot be resurrected by any means short of a Wish spell.



On the Bridge

The PC’s attack bonus doubles. They also gain an extra attack per turn

Unerring Concentration

Skill rolls and tasks involving concentration gain advantage, and any relevant skills are doubled. Further, a means of transmitting some final message or missive will somehow be available during such time.

Herculean Effort

Summoning a burst of strength from their last reservoirs, the character can accomplish a single seemingly impossible physical task. This can include lifting up a portcullis, tearing the limb off of some massive beast, or smashing through a brick wall.

The Last Spell

All expended spell slots are restored. Spellcasting from the character may not be disrupted during their remaining life span.

Brutal Bargain

    In lieu of dying, the PC may alternatively ask the Referee for a Bargain. The PC is removed from the combat, and instead accepts a terrible consequence of the GM’s choice from the list below. Not all of the effects of a bargain are permanent, some of which can be remedied by high-level clerical magic. Referees are encouraged to make access to means of curing the consequences of a Bargain particularly difficult.



Horrifying Scar

Some terrible wound has left the character with an awful, highly visible scar. This marring is so terrible that it acts as a -3 penalty either the PC’s Charisma, or checks related to the injury; e.g. a stiffened hand making a sword difficult to wield, or a scar across stomach or leg making exertion more taxing.

Severed Limb

One of the character’s limbs or other major part of their body has been ruined or cut off entirely. While the particulars of how a character would be affected by the loss of a hand, eye, nose or foot may change, they are all fairly negative. The GM is encouraged to levy fairly substantial penalties, with a -4 being suggested.

Battle Fatigue

The PC has seen too much suffering, death and destruction for their mind to bear any longer. They are jittery and easily frightened, and their sleep is interrupted by nightmares. There is a 25% chance that the character’s sleep is too fraught for them to gain the benefit of natural healing. They also gain disadvantage on any checks relating to Fear.

Mortal Injury

An awful and debilitating wound has made the PC unable to adventure until they can heal. Whether taking the form of crushed ribs, broken arms or systemic blood loss, the character is going to be out of commission for a substantial period. The PC is not playable for 2d4 weeks, and must recuperate in a place of safety during that time.

Lost Memories

Due to some injury to their mind, the character has trouble with tasks involving memory for the next 2d6+1 weeks. Maps, written and even spoken instructions require the character to make a successful Wisdom roll in order to recall. In addition, successfully reading something longer than a few words also requires a successful Wisdom or Intelligence roll, PC’s choice.


  1. Ooo, this is great stuff. Especially like the last table. And the Jamie reference lol.

    1. Right? I feel like that scene with Jamie was a good example of what I was driving at with Bargains--Jamie could have died there, but his player made a deal off-screen to take one, and so his hand gets chopped off because the GM is a dick.

  2. These are pretty brilliant. I like the idea of death when it's meaningful and also of exploring all the mythical options of subverting death. This gives me an idea. Maybe I should conspire with my next DM to fake my own PC's death for dramatic effect.