Failure is not the End (3.5e Variant Rule)
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Failure is not the End
While death has often been a sacred cow in D&D, many believing that it allows the game to carry some risk and have negative consequences to risk, the death of a main character against their will brings far more problems than it fixes.
Due to the possibility of death, especially random death (such as in combat), some of the problems that arise include...
- Players have less emotional investment in their characters.
- Characters have more risk aversion when they should be heroic.
- Players feel less invested in the game.
- The story can be disrupted as main characters are suddenly removed, story arcs being chopped short arbitrarily.
These all are direct consequences of the fact that characters can be removed randomly from the game, and from a player's control due to death. To fix this problem we have this variant.
Rather than dying, a character enters the "defeated" state for 1d10 hours minus their Constitution modifier (minimum one hour) when they would normally be dead. During this time, they are unconscious and helpless, though they can be woken up at 1 HP with a successful heal check (DC 20) or actual healing after at least 10 minutes have passed from the start of their defeated condition. Either way, they receive a wound upon reviving.
The only time a character permanently dies is when the player controlling him agrees to his death--that is, if it fits the story, is a heroic sacrifice, and the like, though this should be discussed beforehand between the character's player and the DM. If one or more characters are left behind, then the players of those characters might temporarily play NPCs so that they may partake in the action while their party plans a daring rescue--or escape somehow and rejoin the party later, but either way, their characters are not dead.
In the case of a total party kill, characters must face the consequences of their failure rather than dying, being taken out of the story, and having the plot stop abruptly. In this way losing in combat is still a risk, and can still have its own dire consequences should the party members fail. The important thing is that there be a consequence that ties directly into character motivation, so that the characters are impacted directly by the consequence of their failure. The consequences should be character and story related, rather than arbitrary.
Some example consequences may include...
- Being shamed in front of their peers.
- Waking up in orcs' cages, getting ready to be eaten.
- The dragon razes the village to the ground.
- The villagers get turned into undead.
- The princess they were supposed to rescue dies.
- The king banishes them from the kingdom.
- They wake up in the belly of a whale.
- The bandits capture them, and a village pays their ransom. Now they must work off that debt.
- A demon binds them to its will, forcing them to fill out a contract in return for their lives.
- A dragon deems them its servants, forcing them to do its bidding.
In this way, rather than interrupting the story and causing players frustration and disappointment at the loss of their characters, this variant allows for further complications and story hooks to appear, forcing players to find some way out of new and interesting situations propelling the story in new directions rather than stopping it abruptly