10 Side Effects of Returning from the Dead
by Creighton Broadhurst
November 15, 2019
Sadly for adventurers (violent, painful) death is a part of life. Of course, death isn’t the end of the adventure! A powerful—or rich—character probably has the wealth or the friends to return them to life. In game, this is often handled quickly and easily. At worst, the character might lose some experience points or perhaps a level. Sometimes, there is literally no penalty for dying (except embarrassment or the loss of thousands of gold pieces).
I think that’s little sad as a character’s death (and subsequent return to life) should be a huge part of an adventurer’s life. It’s not like they caught a cold or strained a muscle; they were death—they stood in Death’s own hall awaiting judgement. There should be (fun) consequences.
Of course, like all the best consequences these shouldn’t be merely mechanical. Mechanical consequences are often quick forgotten once factored into the character’s attack rolls, saving throws or whatever. The best consequence are something that changes the character and that the player and GM can have fun roleplaying.
Use the table below, to generate a minor side effect for a character recently returned from the dead. Depending on the side effect, it might be worth taking the player aside privately to discuss what has happened—this way, they can have fun roleplaying the side effect without everyone else knowing exactly what has happened.
- The character has night terrors and often wakes in the dead of night screaming. They can never remember the dreams, but a sense of foreboding lingers over the character. Over time, the character develops an irrational fear of shadows.
- When the character returns to life, Death did not wholly relinquish his grip. The unfortunate’s skin takes on a grey, unhealthy pallor and their voice always seems flat and lifeless.
- Time in Death’s realm has changed the character; they return chronically colourblind and can now only see black, white and shades of grey.
- Shades of the fallen cluster thickly about the character. While this has no in-game benefit or penalty, the light around him always seems slightly darker and suspiciously deep shadows seem to cluster in the folds of his clothing.
- While in Death’s realm the slain character spoke with many folk. Their whispered voices have stayed with the character, and occasionally they hear them still. The whispers are not loud enough for anyone else to hear, and the character cannot make out what is being said. However, the whispers are loud enough to distract the character occasionally. They are strongest when the character is in mortal peril or badly injured.
- The intense pain associated with death has dulled the character’s senses. Pain often feels distant to them now and even the worst injuries sometimes feel like nothing more than a scratch.
- Undead sense the character ’s connection with death. This sometimes confuses them—particularly mindless or unintelligent undead. Such creatures may ignore the character on occasion, perhaps believing they are one of them.
- While in Death’s realm the character absorbed much of the fell energy of that terrible, forlorn place. This energy is anathema to living plants. Plants in prolonged close proximity (such as when the party camps overnight) to the character wither and die. Even when they are passing through vegetated areas, perceptive viewers may notice the surrounding plant life seeming to shrink back from the character’s presence.
- The character no long casts a shadow except in the brightest of sunlight or magical light.
- The character always feels cold to the touch, and their skin seems clammy. When exposed to natural cold—such as that generated by bad weather and so on—they are affected as if the cold is one-step worse.
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