Dungeons & Dragons Online

What do you think of this gritty feature?

I've been thinking about running a gritty campaign for my players (all modifications and optional rules pending group approval, of course) and I had an idea for an interesting mechanic to modify death rules – to make death a larger threat.

Posting this to get opinions, and to share if others are interested.

Without further ado…

Black Scars

Fluff (skip to the next section if you just want mechanics)

When a person dies, their blood runs red, just the same as any of us.

However, when a person is brought to the brink of death, and – through magic, the skill of a physician, or their own bodily constitution – they survive, their would-be death-wound turns black, the blood curdling and scabbing into a permanent, macabre display of the event.

Additionally, having your spirit nearly released and forcefully replaced takes its toll; a person can only endure so much stress before they must die. Further healing attempts fail, there is nothing further that can be done.

In D&D 5e

Whenever you are reduced to 0 hit points and are stabilized or healed by any means, you gain 1 black scar. The black scar is visible (though it may be hidden by clothing or disguised with makeup) and should reflect the wound that dropped the character to 0 hit points.

A character may have a number of black scars equal to their constitution modifier (minimum of 0) (WIP, see edit). Once a character has or exceeds this number of black scars and drops to 0 hit points, at the beginning of their next turn they die as if they had failed 3 death saving throws.

Note that a character's constitution modifier may be changed temporarily (such as with abilities, spells, or magic items) to temporarily affect the maximum number of black scars the character may have.

The additional benefit not spelled out here is that NPCs can use this too. The PCs might know that an NPC is especially tough (and will make death saving throws and may live rather than die instantly) if they see one of these black scars.

Read more:  20 Friendly NPCs' bittersweet last gifts to PCs

I could also conceive of a plot to slip a stamina-reducing magic amulet on a target while they are making death saves to make them die instantly (e.g. they have 2 black scars and a con of 16, but the cursed amulet reduces their con to 15, meaning they are at their maximum allowed scars, and immediately die instead of making death saves).

Comments and suggestions are all welcome!

Edit: As has been pointed out, this punishes low con twice over, which seems excessive. Thus, I'm leaning toward a flatter maximum distribution (either 1 size fits all, or based on level, or maybe even given as mega quest rewards) – will edit once I've hashed out the details.


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