Saturday 13 April 2019

Playing Chess With Death

A set of rules I'm considering for what happens when a PC actually dies.

When you would die, Death comes to claim you. Time freezes, everything but Death and yourself become somehow less than real. You die automatically and are led away, unless you can do one of the following:

Gambling with Death
You can offer to play against Death in a game of skill or chance. You and the other PCs actually play a game against the GM (who represents Death), perhaps liars dice, a hand of poker, a riddle contest. Death gets to choose the game (GMs, pick one you're confident you can win). If you lose, death gets to take one of your companions as well as you. You only get one shot at this each time death comes for you.

Bribing Death
You offer Death a substitute soul in your possession, to take instead of yourself.  Spells to claim people's souls, such as Magic Jar, are useful here. Alternatively, if somebody has signed a contract saying you own their soul, you can sell that contract to Death in exchange for your own life. The soul should be at least as valuable as your own, but Death might be willing to haggle. Might.

Bargaining with Death
You promise Death something he wants. You might finally kill somebody who’s frustratingly evaded him (such as a lich). You might allow him to possess your body for a time. You might be set a  quest of cosmic importance. It’s up to Death to decide if he accepts, and if he feels you’re trying to renege, he can snap his fingers and have you die whenever he wants. If you do this, even though you get to live, your life just got a lot more complicated, and if you die while completing Death's task things will only get worse.

Fighting Death
If you insist. Death has 20 HD, passes all saves on a 2+, kills you on a successful hit rather than dealing damage, and is immune to fire, drowning, poison, mind-control, etc. He is a divine being and can, basically, create whichever supernatural effects he wants. You won't win this unless you have an especially clever plan, and even then it will only work once.

If you successfully wriggle out of dying, Death leaves, and you snap back to reality on 1 HP.

Where Does Death Lead You?
The GM makes a judgement call as to where your soul goes after death, based on the  virtue of your deeds, any pacts made with supernatural beings, and so on. This will affect your next PC.
If you go somewhere good, treat all 1s when rolling for attributes as 6s.
If you go somewhere bad, treat all 6s when rolling for attributes as 1s.
If your soul is claimed by a supernatural being, as well as this then your new PC is tainted by that being and may have an appropriate weakness (such as double damage from Holy things) and a tell such as an extra finger or birthmark.
If your soul is totally destroyed, you roll up your stats normally. However, your next PC is soulless, and dies automatically when they hit 0HP: no saves, no injury tables, no bargaining with death. Find a way to gain a soul before this happens in order to avoid this.


  1. I hear Death is a real stickler after playing against some dudes named Bill and Ted.

    1. In particular, Twister is absolutely not an option anymore.

  2. "You won't win this unless you have an especially clever plan, and even then it will only work once."

    The exception, of course, being if you have a blessed whip and he's hanging out with Dracula.

  3. I love how matter of fact all the stuff related to souls is. "Find a way to gain a soul before this happens in order to avoid this." is such a great sentence.

  4. 'Murdering Death in a duel' is now on my RPG bucket list.

  5. I ran a one player game and the player recklessly blundered into being captured by foes that wished to render their body. The player woke up strapped in to the rendering chamber and successfully bargained for their life, by proactively proposing a better deal for the renderers. Way more fun than some painfully implausible escape attempt. I think I will do as you have written in the future, play out the appearance of Death and reward the players who propose a way out.

  6. Hey cool, I made something like this a long time ago! It was one of my first posts, so you'll have to excuse any poor quality:
    Mine was more a take on death saves than any post-mortem affair. It was also heavily based on Arnold K's ideas on souls. Hope you like it!


  8. I love this, would only make one change, if you successfully destroy death, your character is now required to fill the office of death, the player must roll a new character.

  9. I am more fond of the Arnold K. version of this rule: that is, after you die, a Psychopomp shows up to ferry your soul to the appropriate afterlife. If you go with them, you are dead for real, and beyond the possibility of resurrection.

    That being said, you can also try to fight or evade the Psychopomp. If you manage to do so, then you can hang around the mortal world as a Ghost.

    I also added a rule where a passing spirit, such as a Ghost or Demon/Angel can possess other bodies. So if you're just a Ghost floating around and you manage to take over or steal someone's body, you can keep going on as if you were just normally alive. However, this is a crime against God and Nature and the Church or another ecclesiastical authority might be coming after you to re-kill you, but who cares, you're alive!

    The latter idea might be a very good option if the Psychopomp who comes to take you to the afterlife has horns and smells of brimstone. Bad people die too, remember?