Spells and powers that allow characters to return from the dead can take away from the ability for players to immerse themselves in fantasy roleplaying games. In a world where we can cast a spell and return a person to life, how and why does anyone die? Why would your players take risks seriously when they know there's no permanent danger to their character? These are things to consider if you're a referee who loves gritty, realistic adventure games. One of the easiest, if not one of the best options is to remove (or not use in the first place) Resurrection spells.
This turns up the difficulty quite a bit, and may frustrate veterans who lose characters due to silly mistakes. Let's face it – it sucks when a campaign that is running well is upset by a few poor choices. Some of our characters are cooler than others and we'd like to keep them around for just a few more expeditions. We're not all comfortable with having to ignore a die roll or hand-wave an event to keep characters alive, either. So...
What Happens When A Character Dies?
Character death can take on many forms, from losing a single henchman to a pit trap to rocks falling on an entire party. This table is designed to be rolled on after a character would die in a way that allows them to re-enter the game believably. This table isn't for characters cremated by lava pits, pulled apart by ghouls, or annihilated in black floating spheres. It's mainly designed for characters that fall to 0 HP or below through routine adventuring risks – combat, traps, accidents, et cetera.
These rules modify the standard system of character death. When a character reaches 0 HP, they fall to the floor unconscious, a status referred to as “out of action.” The character is not technically dead at this point, but will be unable to continue in the current encounter unless medical attention is given, magical or otherwise. If the encounter is still happening around them (for example, the character fell during a fight, and the fight is still continuing with other characters involved,) the character's body is now considered little more than an object. Any creature may interact with an out of action character in any way they wish, including dismembering or destroying the body. If dismemberment happens, those effects are taken into account in addition to the chart below. If the body is destroyed, the character won't be able to roll on this chart.
Most intelligent combatants, however, will ignore characters knocked out of action. A party low on resources or backed into a corner may not be able to assist a character knocked out of action during a fight, often forced to leave a comrade in a pool of blood on the floor. These are the characters which must roll on this chart to determine how badly they are injured.
This counts for the PCs, too. Should any game character be knocked out of action, the referee must roll a d20 and consult this chart (assuming the controlling player wishes to continue with the character.) The roll takes place as soon as the game moves out of combat and back into exploration mode. If the character was knocked out of action outside of combat, go ahead and roll as soon as they are tended to by another creature. If no creature is there to assist, and they are left alone, the character awakens in 8 hours and rolls on the table at that time.
- Dead. The character couldn't escape fate this time.
- Multiple Injuries. Roll d6 times on this chart, ignoring and re-rolling “Dead,” “Captured,” or “Multiple Injuries” results.
- Amputated Leg. The character has suffered extensive trauma and/or infection in one of the legs and it must be amputated. The character will need a wooden leg to walk, and is counted as having an extra 2 points of encumbrance to represent their decreased speed and carrying ability.
- Amputated Arm. The character's extensive arm damage has forced the loss of an arm. They will be unable to use two-handed weapons or tools, and will only be able to carry one item at a time now.
- Smashed Leg. Bones have been broken beyond the aid of a splint. The character's leg will heal and function normally, but will prevent the character from running.
- Chest Wound. The wounds heal, but the character's Constitution is reduced by 2.
- Light Leg Wound. An infection persists, preventing the character from naturally healing above 1hp for 1d6 days, and reducing them to half speed for 1d12 days.
- Light Arm wound. The character can heal as normal, but the arm is unable to be of any use (even in an emergency) for 1d12 days.
- Hand Wound. The character won't be able to use the hand for 1d12 days, after which time his grip will be poor. The character will suffer a -2 penalty to hit on all attack rolls.
- Old Battle Wound. The wounds heal normally for now, but the character must roll 1d6 at the start of each day to see if old injuries act up. A roll of 1 indicates the character will be in serious pain, suffering -2 on all to-hit rolls in combat, -1 on skill rolls, and moving at half speed for the duration of the day.
- Nervous System Damage. The character's wounds have taken a toll on their reaction speed. They now no longer benefit from initiative bonuses, and have a -1 penalty on all initiative rolls (to a minimum of 1.)
- Deep Wounds. These wounds must heal from the inside first, making recovery a lengthy process. The character will remain unconscious for 2d4 days before they are able to heal above 1hp.
- Stupidity. The character will suffer from brain damage that may impede his or her actions in the combat. When in battle, at the start of each of the character's turns, the controlling player must roll 1d6. A roll of 1 indicates that the character will suffer a problem, and will need to roll 1d6 again to see the effect. A roll of 1-3 indicates the character hesitates and falls to initiative 1, no matter what modifiers are placed on them. A roll of 4 or 5 indicates the character may do nothing more than move at half speed during their turn. A roll of 6 indicates the character may do nothing but drool on themselves.
- Rattled. The character has suffered from brain damage that has ultimately made them somewhat dumber. Their Intelligence score is reduced by 2. If this would reduce a character's Intelligence to 6 or below, the character can no longer read or write.
- Frenzied. The character has suffered from brain damage that has changed the way they act in combat, sending them into fits of blind fury. As long as the character is within melee range of an enemy, they will be unable to stop until the battle is finished, fighting to the death. They will also double the amount of attacks they make each turn as long as they remain in melee combat. This effect wears off should the combatants separate and re-engage in melee for any reason.
- Robbed. The character survives the experience, but awakens to find all of their possessions missing. Determining where it all went or who took it is up to the referee, and could make for an adventure in itself!
- Captured. The character awakens to find themselves a prisoner. They may have been taken by dungeon denizens, bandits, other adventurers, slavers, or worse – at the referee's discretion!
- Hardened. The character heals normally. If the character was a NPC, it gains morale 12 and will never flee combat in cowardice again. The character will also be immune to any fear-based effects.
- Horrible Scars. Enemies capable of fearing the character must make a morale check (in addition to any other morale checks required) before engaging the character in combat. Failure results in the enemy fearing the disgusting creature that the character has become, doing nothing during its turn.
- To Death And Back. Against all odds, the character comes back from the brink of death (just as the morticians are about to start using the character for parts, most likely!) making a full recovery and gaining 1,000 experience points.
These rules were inspired by the tabletop skirmish game Mordheim and modified to fit Lamentations of the Flame Princess. With a little work, they can be rigged for your favorite adventure game as well.