On Death and Dying in Dungeons & Dragons

These vultures surely do not represent players!
I'd be sure to tell them, you know?

I'm a fan of communicating information before-hand, because I never want to have a conversation that a player starts by saying "Well, my character would have known beforehand. . ." because they are likely right.

Who likes to lose an argument? Not this guy!

However, the players won't have the information about the below, they will have only information about the effects.

In addition, I'm not submitting the following article for perusal because I have any sort of moral platform against the desecration of the dead. I mean, if the players want to loot their dead companion and leave his body in the dungeon, that's ok!

I think it is a pretty fantastic fantasy world that we are imagining here, and that it might be made better if we stopped thinking so scientifically about it.

What happens at death?

At the moment of death, the soul of the player is immediately trapped within their body. They are trapped within their body, for the many, many, hours it takes their body to truly, fully, die. However, they are separated from all the influences that have made them who they were in life. They remain in their corpse in their most pure and ideal form, consisting of nothing but oceans of emotion and thought.

Of course they are exposed to the endless winds of the far realm.

No longer feeling the bond they once felt with their companions, they remain aware of all that transpires around them. If this activity is heinous enough, it will reinvigorate their bond with the prime, and they will not be able to pass on, eventually becoming undead. Certain awkward passions, such as hungering for human flesh, or the torture and molestations of innocents will also cause this bond to be strengthened. So will being forced ahead of the party at sword-point

The only way to insure the passage of the soul from the material, is to expose it to comfort. A funeral, wake, ceremony of some kind comforts the raw spirit, and it passes on, knowing that nothing is left for it to do.

What happens when we loot the body?

1. The body or spirit rises as an undead. The undead that is created has no relation to the hit die of the deceased. The abuser of more than one low level henchmen has been surprised by a vengeful specter.

2. The deceased opens a passage from the far realms into the prime. Those who have treated it poorly are blasted with this energy and lose 1-4 life levels.

3. A haunting occurs. The deceased becomes focused on a specific being and begins to affect their life. This can involve the character saying things he did not mean to say, randomly attacking the wrong person, or simply having a variable penalty on attack rolls.

4. You become a target of the dead. Undead rise up and hunt you no matter where you go for your offenses against the dead. 

5. Curse of the bounty. Any loot or items taken from a dead person who has not bequeathed them to you, result in a curse. A stolen sword will strike a friend. A magical protection will fail. A wand will backfire. 

6. The dead spirit possesses the body, producing sores, boils, and eventually killing the victim creating more undead horrors.

7. The clock curse. The items you stole and the corpse you left have had no downside so far as you can see. But it is not long till you will have to pay that debt with your life.

8. An undead will rise that will haunt the victim, harassing him, chasing him, getting him run out of town. However if this undead were slain, a doom would befall the victim.

Note that these curses affect those who loot the recently dead. The long dead have passed on, but they have other protections.

Hack & Slash


  1. What if the deceased perished at the hands of enemy soldiers in a war? Hundreds or even thousands of people die in massed battle. Just as many (and more) die of wounds days or weeks later. Will a slain army rise from the dead if their bodies are looted without proper burial? Or will the site of a battle turn into a permanent haunt?

    Or is this meant to apply only to adventurers? If so, how are you not targeting a specific action as undesireable? The list above includes one item that does not have a well defined consequence. Bu all of them are bad. Do we assume that all who are slain and robbed before the spirit passes on (how long does that take, anyway?) invariably curse their tormentors?

    I love the idea of a rule concerning death, undeath and curses. But this is a seed. How might we help it grow into a tree?

    1. What if that happened? Will the slain army rise?

      Like, these are questions for the Dungeon Master, and his worldbuilding.

    2. In the Witcher 2 there is an awesome segment of the game where you have to fight your way through a battlefield of ghosts/specters. The dead don't know they are dead, and continue to fight an eternal battle. Could be a really cool way to handle battlefields and mass death in campaigns - especially if you have some high level PCs who's base gets attacked. If the enemy is defeated, but left to rot before their fortress, it might be fun to have the dead haunt around their castle/tower/whatever until they can preform some kind of ritual to turn them all.

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  3. I am not opposed to a version of this idea - perhaps this is what Clerics are for, to release the dead from thier earthly imprisonment. This has been proposed before, I think blog of holding had a good bit on it.

    I do worry a bit that this sounds like an artifical morl constraint on certain anti-social character behaviour. "You must not leave a man behind or loot the dead ir the ghosts will get you." Much more comfortable as a general fantasy concept "the unshriven dead return".

    1. The fact that it dictates appropriate character behavior is a completely fortuitous side effect!

  4. I always loved how a ghost gains an ethereal version of the equipment on their corpse in 3.5e/Pathfinder. This has some interesting implications.

    1) A ghost has a good reason to be angry if their corpse is looted, but might be more accepting if an ally takes something for a greater good.

    2) It influences culture. One of my NPCs comes from a ancestral oriented tribe where the living honors their ancesters while the spirits of their forefathers continue to serve the community beyond the grave. It's customary to bury the dead with their equipment to honor them and enable them to continue to help the tribe in the afterlife. At the same time, it's encouraged that people bestow their belongings to their kin in order to help future generations.

    3) Graverobbing becomes sensitive to time and the materialistic nature of the deceased. A person who died ages ago and passed fully into the afterlife won't care if someone loots their grave. Robbing the grave of an ancient materialistic king, however, may result in the king rising from the grave as an undead.

  5. It would be cool if you had to bribe and/or fight your way through the afterlife. So if you leave someone without a weapon in thier dead hands, or money, then they have to come back becasue they couldn't go through.

  6. Of maybe a cool set of clothes so they can CHA their way through. And if they can't then you see them in your dreams and have to help them.

  7. And if you have someone formally in your service then you are responsible for whatever happens to them after death becasue feudal culture, so thats why it effects some people and not others


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