I swear I drafted this before the Angry GM wrote his article ”Death Sucks”, which includes the system he calls the “Scars of Peter Molyneux”, I just hadn’t got around to publishing it.
The reason I still play 4th edition, instead of trying to coax my players into trying 5th, is because I like the combat engine so much that it makes more sense for me to tweak the non-combat portions of 4th edition to make them act like other editions, than it does to tweak the combat rules of another edition to suit my tastes.
Part of the reason this is easy to do is because the non-combat portion of 4e are nearly non-existent, which makes it easy to create rules without messing much up. Another reason is that, if you know a game element really well, you can modify that element with a reasonable degree of certainty that it will not mess up game balance.
There are sacrifices, however. Character generation is a pain in the ass, and difficult to do quickly or on the fly. This is only exacerbated by my use of programmed tokens in MapTool, which greatly speed up play but can take quite some time to prepare. Creating a low-level PC token and testing it can take about an hour, for example.
As a result of this (as well as the fact that my plots are character driven), character death is a pain in the ass. Oh, I will happily kill off NPC allies, but I am very reluctant to kill PCs. And the problem is exacerbated because the availability of Raise Dead is very limited in Eberron. Most priests are not clerics, those that are only cast spells for the faithful, House Jorasco is expensive, and even if you can find someone to cast the spell, on Eberron it often doesn’t turn out quite right.
However, I still want there to be consequences for screwing up. So, there came a time when a character I didn’t want to die would have died by the rules, and I decided to put that character in a coma instead. I figure, if the rules would have killed a character, I can do nearly anything I want to the character short of killing it, and the players can’t really complain.
After that, I started thinking of all sorts of interesting things I could do to characters short of killing them. Taken down by a power that blinds, and fail your third death save? You are permanently blind. Same thing happens, but with a power that slows or immobilizes? Your leg is broken: you are prone and cannot stand without assistance.
Some of these injuries will heal on their own eventually, and some are permanent. Since the “dead” state could be cured by an 8th level “Raise Dead” ritual, in order to make this change no more onerous than the existing rules, I needed fixes for these problems that were no more expensive than “Raise Dead”.
And “Raise Dead” as an 8th level ritual? That always seemed a bit low level for such powerful magic. I mean, in other editions it is available around 9th level, so in 4e I figure it shouldn’t be available until low paragon tier at least. I ended up making it a 14th level ritual.
So suddenly I found myself with a reason to create rituals like “Cure Blindness/Deafness”, which existed in previous editions. And magic prosthetics to replace severed limbs.
I haven’t had a chance to use it since (subsequent character deaths could not plausibly be turned into anything else), but I think this solution will add a lot of nice potential story elements. D&D is short on stories that can be told around injuries or amputations, unless you use one of the rather lethal critical hits tables that were in vogue for a while.
I was content to just go with that for a while, but my tinkering with diseases, poisons and long term status effects inspired me to add another layer. More on that later.