While the Ultraviolet Grasslands (kickstarter complete and awesome, yay!) is a road-tripping, point-crawling game that mixes a lot of OSROWHY sensibilities with a whole lot of heavy metal, I’ve never been fully satisfied with what happens in most tabletop roleplaying games when characters die. Some games make death very unlikely, with multiple sequential saves and many opportunities for a healer to run up and cast a healing slap and tickle or whatever, while others (I’m looking at you, most OSR games) just go with a straight, “0 hp, you’re dead, roll a new character.” And while I always found death and dismemberment tables hilarious, they also introduced a gruesome sameness to combat. I got bored after the second “One-arm” and third “Nine-fingers.”
A solution offered itself to me when I was editing some UVG tables, and I remembered how one PC had left to run an orphanage, another had gone off to raise a tribe of degenerate eighthlings to sentience, while a third ascended into the heavens on a silver chariot of fire like the shamans of old.
See, when we talk about character death, we’re pretending that characters are living creatures, like us, but for the purpose of a roleplaying game, they’re not alive—they’re imaginary protagonists—and so cannot die.
What they can do is retire. Or rather, get retired by their players-narrators.
Out of Life: Death Replacement Mechanic
When a hero reaches 0 life (or 0 hp, if you use those), they gain one fatigue level and their player can either choose what happens (options 7 to 14) to the hero, or roll d20 + Charisma (in 5E, Charisma modifier).
Each result is only available once per session per group. If a result is not available, the next available lower result is used. If all the results are used up, feel free to reset the table, or add extra setting-appropriate results.
Note: Formatted as a single table, this mechanic is much simpler, but that’s a bit fiddly in wordpress.
Oracle of the Death Dice
- Cinematic Supertraumatic—Hero is dispatched in gory cinematic slo-mo. The battlefield falls silent in horror.—All nearby allies lose 1d6 life from the trauma, followers check Aura or break.
- Vorpal Decapitation—Snicker-snack, the hero’s neck goes crack.—Nearby creatures check Agility or are blinded by the blood fountain.
- Blood Tears Water the Earth—Hero is down, pumping arterial blood on the ground, and dying in 3 rounds.—Adjacent creatures check Agility or slip.
- Fork in the Guts—Ripped open, the hero can crawl away or play dead. They will die in a few hours.—When the hero takes vigorous action, they check Endurance or slip into the deep sleep.
- Five More Steps—Hero is mortally wounded and dies after 5 more actions.—Hero gains d20 temporary life per round, until they die.
- Stumpy Six—That wasn’t good. That limb is supposed to be attached. Still, the hero has a few minutes before they bleed out.—Hero gains d20 temporary life.
- Final Sacrifice—Hero knows they will die soon, but they get 7 final advantages to spend as they like.—Hero gains 77 temporary life for a cinematic last stand.
- I’m Too Old For This Shit—Hero is down and realizes they’re so too old for this shit. If they get out of this adventure alive, they’re retiring. No ifs and buts. They then regain up to 20 life.—Hero’s hair turns white.
- Just A Flesh Wound—Hero loses a member in dramatic fashion. Gritting their teeth, the loss reinvigorates them. Finger = hero regains up to 10 life and 1 advantage. Hand = hero regains up to 20 life and 1d4 advantages. Foot = hero regains up to 40 life and 1d6 advantages. Something more embarrassing = hero regains up to 60 life and 1d8 advantages.—Hero has one member less.
- Enter Sandman—Hero is knocked unconscious and sleeps off the rest of the fight. Some memories are missing.—Hero loses half a level’s worth of experience point.
- Sense Compensate—With a long, drawn out scream, the hero loses a sense organ. Lost eye = hero gains exceptional hearing. Lost ear = hero gains sharper smell. Tongue = hero can’t speak but gains keener eyes. In any case, hero regains 1d12 life.—Hero is now visibly mutilated.
- Nope. Nope. I Quit.—Hero is knocked back, armor torn and blood gushing from a superficial wound. Their life flashes before their lives and they immediately quit. They pass their weapon to a follower and exit the stage as soon as possible. The follower gains 1d6 advantages.—Hero retires and a follower immediately gets half of their experience, three choice items, and a keen desire to prove themselves.
- Betrayer of Friends—Hero ducks behind a nearby ally and they take the killing blow instead.—Hero has one friend less.
- Broken Spirit Whole Heart—Hero staggers back, their spirit broken. They will never fight well again. They regain up to 20 life and ponder the quiet life.—Hero has advantage in non-combat situations and disadvantage in combat.
- Bruised Bruiser—Hero falls for a round, something’s broken in there, but not too badly. Still, it hurts. Hero has disadvantage on all actions, but regains 1d20 life.—Hero has humorously large bruise.
- Blinded By Blood—Hero staggers back, blinded by blood. They regain 1d20 life. They must take an action every round to keep wiping away the blood or they have disadvantage on all actions.—Hero now has a dramatic scar.
- Spitting Teeth—Hero falls for a round, then gets up again, spitting out a tooth. They regain 1d20 life and gain 2 advantages.—Hero is now gap-toothed.
- Nanowar of Steel—Hero falls to the ground for a round, their blood activates compatible dormant war nanites in the dust. They regain 1d20 life and one physical stat is permanently increased.—Hero now has visible vomish cybernetic implant.
- Red Mist Rises—Hero falls for a round and a spirit of destruction enters them. The hero regains full life and gains d100 temporary life. For the next 2d6 rounds the hero has advantage on attack and damage rolls.—Hero keeps fighting so long as they have advantage, attacking allies if all enemies are dead.
- Battle Hymn—Numinous presence blocks the killing blow. Hero regains full life and gains advantage on all rolls for the remainder of the battle. Hero permanently gains one numinous blessing (special ability).
And that’s all there really is to it. This way, when death comes knocking, it’s a chance for cinematic set pieces that throw a lot more narrative power to the players’ heroes in exchange for the risk of horrible and gory and sudden death. It should have two key effects: reduce the need for a “healbot” type character, and produce more satisfyingly heroic “ends” for characters.
An extension of this death replacement mechanic is a straight up character retirement mechanic, where a player who has grown tired of their hero, or decided they want to give them a fitting send-off, chooses—before a session starts—that this will be the character’s last outing, and gains a few special abilities and actions for that last session.
But that’s for next time.
Meanwhile, have I mentioned …
The last two months were absolutely ridiculous. Our shared UVG kickstarter, with my WTF Studio and Exalted Funeral, was a resounding—and exhausting—success. For the next couple of months I’ll be posting pretty regular updates on one topic: fulfilling the kickstarter.
Expect, in relatively short order, the following:
- First, the UVG setting book’s .pdf for backers (and higher tier / longer term patreons) sometime in May.
- The big long map redesigned for accordion print (and .pdf for backers and patreons) also sometime in late May.
- Third, the Referee screen sometime in June.
- Fourth, actual photos of the custom dice some time in late July.
- Fifth, throughout August, photos of the physical products as they arrive in El Storage Camino of Exalted Funeral for subsequent distribution.
It’s going to be pretty hectic, but it should be feasible. I just hope I manage to hammer out the next two parts of Longwinter by the end of May. 😛 Maybe my patreons will allow me to do an art-free update for April?
In any case, much new, much happening.
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