Reassessing my incipient proposal for a Death and Dismemberment Table. Although much of the thinking behind the original proposal still sticks, two things immediately jumped out: its lethality is through the roof and it is lousy with fiddly die rolls. I want to rein in the killing potential, streamline the design and make it more evocative all in one fell swoop.
Even for a game where the deliberate choice has been made for character death to be on the cards, I made the egregious mistake of viewing several degrees of results as distinct, whereas their empirical value ranks them right alongside with death. Let’s face it, if a campaign is low level and the setting presents magic as scarce, a severed limb result is about as good a character send-off as full fledged death.
After accounting for a whole party as frame of reference, with each character making multiple rolls as time goes by, one would soon enough find the group turned into a roving gang of cripples, akin to the remnants of the Grand Armée.
I also want a more elegant, tiered single table that accounts for a greater variety of circumstances, reflecting the fact that opponents of immense size or hazardous catastrophes are much more likely to cause grievous injury and death than the brigand's knife thrust.
The Many Faces of Death
Once a game’s been decided to allow for character death, it can either be done in a dry fashion or through a table such as the one that follows, which implies subscribing to a certain aesthetic, rather than simply bidding a character farewell once the last hit-point drains off. The major purpose of a dismemberment table, other than scratching that jig-ai itch, is upping a combat’s tension without pulling the plug too soon, all the while keeping a measure of meaningful decision in the hands of those seated alongside the referee. Some of the results are harsh but it must be kept present that the alternative would be the simple death and nothing else.
After pushing down the table’s bottom tier, the lower rungs gave me room to play with some branching types of death, from slowburn agony to the goregrind excesses, allowing last ditch heroics at first and aknowledging that healing magic and even resurrection may fail, being negated in the most grievous of cases.
Dosis Facit Venenum
With the recalibrated version, a standard roll is vastly less likely to see a character perish. The chance is there: tucked away at the fringes of probability and yet centerstage on the player’s thoughts when rolling, which is just the way it should be.
The most likely results are deliberately plotted to be a recoverable string of consequences, the intent being that the average roll’s result should not be too punishing, that a harried character may, excepting for truly ill luck, escape the occasional brush with death with little to weigh him down for it. It being true, however, that once a character starts rolling repeatedly, he is liable to lose something he'll later miss and be eventually cut down. The one safeguard at the end of the Hp rope is there to signal to the player the kiddie gloves have come off, allowing a last call to reassess.
The Crunchy Bits
The Wounded Condition
On some of the more dire table results, the character will become Wounded, becoming subject to the following penalties until the character is magically healed or the injury’s healing time has run its course:
- Disadvantage on attack rolls;
- Base exhaustion level increased by 1 per wound;
- Certain physical tasks may now require a roll (at referee’s discretion);
- Rolling on the table is a player-character’s privilege (or, at the least, a levelled character privilege). NPCs, once stripped of hit-points, are simply dead.
- The table presumes the character to be near to man-sized.
- All saving throws requested by the table are rolled for at the end of the character’s combat turn, unless specified otherwise.
- Any uses of non-specific healing magic deliberately applied to lingering injuries may instead restore no hit-points and deduct the spell’s level from the number of days remaining until the wound is healed.
When to Roll - Outside of Combat
Situations may crop up, however rarely, where a character’s misfortunes will merit resolution through a direct roll on the table, bypassing Hp entirely, depending on whatever proves the most adequate abstraction.
When to Roll - In Combat
- If a character has no Hp left, every attack or non-incidental source of damage that connects means a roll on the table.
- An attack partially absorbed by any remaining (or regained) Hit-points allows a Constitution Saving Throw of DC equal to the excess damage.
What to Roll
A player rolls 3d6 on the table, minus one d6 for each of the below circumstances:
- Opponent is a Monstrous Creature (of Large size or larger);
- Attack is a Critical Hit or a Coup de Grâce;
- Damage rolled exceeds the character’s maximum hitpoint total;
|In a pique of irony, the dismemberment table was itself mangled by the mobile formatting. Expand.|
On Getting Too Old For This Shit
A player is completely free to roll up a new character at any time and retire his old persona, returning him to the coils of the setting, to become a living entity much like any other in the world, probably allied with the party, possibly otherwise. The logistics of the open table then dictating how the economy of coincidence is to thrust the newly-minted protagonist onto the world’s stage.