Originally I was going to represent different stages of Death by negative HP, but that doesn’t work so well with scaling, or with the implication of negative HP. What does being at negative HP mean? Usually the PC is “incapacitated” so they don’t really participate in the game other that wait to die.
I don’t want my players to wait to die — I want them to either be In Life or In Death. So, 0 HP is the threshold between Life and Death (“Death’s Door”). If a PC arrives at or goes below 0 HP, they make a save against Death (= Poison) or their spirit gets swept into the First Precinct. The saving throw is modified thus:
- if the last damage the PC took would have taken them to negative HP, that number is applied as a penalty
- if the PC has any major wounds, subtract 2 from the worst wound and apply the number as a penalty (cumulative with above)
While the spirit is in the First Precinct they can be brought back by strong healing. However the spirit won’t hang around there for long — and once beyond the First Gate, no healing can save them; the Abhorsen or a Necromancer must venture Into Death to pull them back into life.
In the Abhorsen trilogy, Death is a series of Precincts separated by Gates. Although the Old Kingdom and Ancelstierre are on two different planes of existence it seems Death connects both (as both Sameth and Hedge enter Death south of The Wall). Possibly Death is easier to reach when the North Wind blows.
Falling or Walking Into Death
Newly dead souls get disoriented when they’re swept into Death, and may find themselves in any Precinct.
- every round the new soul rolls an unmodified save vs Death. If they pass they get to stay in the First Precinct, otherwise they will pass through the First Gate.
- if the soul makes 3 checks in a row they are no longer disoriented and can resist the pull of the First Gate (but they’re still dead).
- If they get swept past the First Gate they get to continue making checks in the Second and subsequent Precincts. Fails mean they get swept through the next Gate, success means they stay, and with 2 saves in succession they regain their senses and can choose to remain in that Precinct.
An Abhorsen or a Necromancer can just walk into Death and keep their wits. When they do this, rime frost may form on their body and clothes in Life, and their body is potentially vulnerable.
Once in Death the Precincts and Gates are negotiated like other physical obstacles. The Gates and Precincts are well described on this page, so I won’t reiterate them here.
Negotiating the various waves, sinkholes, whirlpools and flares is at the GM’s discretion, but in general if a character fails a check they are at risk of being swept away, and should make a save against Death or become disoriented. A second save (should the first be failed) or help from another is required to avoid stumbling into the next Gate.
The Dead are an obvious threat in any Precinct, and the deeper down one goes the more powerful the Dead are. Combat should be handled just as in Life, and the noncorporeal body will have the same hit points, etc.
The types of dead encountered will generally be:
- degenerate souls which have taken on different forms (features of insect, worm, etc.) with only animal intelligence
- human souls retaining intelligence and memory, who may speak (assuming they’re not immediately violent)
- powerful dead like the Fifth Gate Resters
Death as a Dungeon?
In theory Death could be developed into a dungeon, however there’s not a lot of value unless the whole party is able to venture into Death — for now the loose descriptions of the Precincts and Gates will be enough.