It happens to the best groups, but every now and then… PCs die. I tried not to let it happen, as I don’t think it was necessary for the story — but sometimes the story goes where it wants to and I don’t have a whole lot to say about it.
Now, earlier in this blog, I talked about a specific incident where a DM used a coup de grace on a downed PC. This is a different situation. In my heart, I still think that the fabled coup de grace blow should be used for PCs only, but I don’t believe there’s any such rule in the book. Anything that is not forbidden is allowed, after all.
To understand the situation, a little background is necessary. The PCs were in hostile territory, up against their fourth or fifth encounter with undead monsters. They talked their way past a hag and her pet goristro, but when they got closer to the actual ziggurat, they decided to hack and slash their way past the two giant mummy guardians and the death knight ambassador.
To their credit, the group fought intelligently, using tactics like climbing up on a wall and firing down onto the large creatures from a distance. An ambush is always the best way to start, as long you’re doing the ambushing. But soon enough the mummies tried climbing up the walls and knocking the PCs down into the stone courtyard. The death knight was pretty powerful, and soon one of the strikers had taken a couple big hits — but in an interesting turn of events, the others declined to rush in and save him.
It was a unique situation. Fighting on walls, up above a courtyard in which they (rightly) believed they might become trapped. So they allowed the striker to languish near the back of the fight, drawing the mummies away from him, confident that he could make his death saving throws and stabilize before they could get to him.
Long story short: He didn’t stabilize.
After the rest of the PCs destroyed the death knight and the mummies (and after they had a terrifying run-in with a rakshasa), they rushed to his lifeless body and bemoaned their fate.
As a DM, this is where things got interesting.
They remembered the hag that they had dealt with earlier might be able to provide a healing ritual (like Raise Dead), but weren’t sure they could negotiate properly. They eventually talked her into it, after a healthy payment of gold — and a unique form of payment that I made up on the spot. She demanded one year of their lives from each of them.
Now, I don’t know where this came from, what sort of sick DM inspiration hit me in that moment. All I know is that it was fabulous. They all (eventually) agreed, as they believed it was the key to reviving their fallen companion, and 8 hours later through a disturbing ritual of undead blood and a cauldron, the striker was back on his feet.
Here’s the twist: The hag didn’t take a year off the end of their lives – she stole a year’s worth of memories that they’ve already lived. What memories and information will they lose? Will they ever be able to get it back? What will be the consequences of losing those memories? That’s all yet to be determined. All I know is that I used an unfortunate event like a PC death and turned it into a story point.