Death is a funny thing in tabletop RPGs. As the perpetual GM, it was quite some time before I had my first character death. Steven was running Curse of Strahd with 5th Edition, and we had a TPK in the Bonegrinder. It was brutal and horrifying. We were Level 3.
However, after coming back and leveling up, I noticed for the most part, death in 5th edition is pretty underwhelming.
Now I don't want to beat a dead horse with the "Character death is a GOOD thing" spiel, it's not even the point of this post, really.
My main issue with 5th Edition is how the death mechanics work. There's many random saving throws, little actual tension, and next to zero long-term consequences. I like adventurers with eye patches and missing limbs.
Which is why I was thrilled when I stumbled upon the treasure trove of Death & Dismemberment tables. I like them a lot! Death & Dismemberment rules engage the characters and the fiction in a great way.
I was using David's D&D tables for my LotFP home game for a while, but sometimes it was a little too random for my taste. When my squishy magic user got "Severed Limb" from taking 1hp of damage from a small, rabid dog; well it just didn't sit right with me. I yearned for something a little less random.
Which led me to Emmy's rules for Horrible Wounds. I love the way the effects scale by how much damage is done to you, but they were a little too involved for my taste. So like with most things, I decided to homebrew some Death and Dying mechanics. They are similar to Emmy's in some ways, but unlike Emmy's my rules aren't divided up by damage types. I wanted some descriptions and mechanics that allowed me to customize the wound on the fly based on the type of damage present in the fiction. I feel that these rules are robust and simple! Let me know what you think.
(note: I run Saving Throws the same way Skills are done in LotFP, based on an x/6 chance and risky casting is per the new Magic rules for LotFP)
DEATH AND DYING
When you hit 0 hp make a Fortitude Save.
If you fail, compare the total damage taken to the corresponding entry on the table.
If you succeed you are alive and conscious, but doing anything other than lying still or moving slowly will likely trigger another Fortitude Save. A successful medicine check will stabilize you at 1hp, as will appropriate healing magicks.
You may continue acting at 0hp until a save fails; in which case roll 1d4 on the Critical Damage table.
1-2: Ouch. This is gonna hurt for a while. You're conscious, but in a lot of pain. After taking a turn to refocus and catch your breath, you stabilize at 1hp. Skills and Saves are 1/6 for the next 1d4 turns.
3-4: Out cold. You're no longer conscious due to shock. Once roused, you return to 1hp. Skills and Saves are 1/6 for the next 1d4 hours.
5-6: Traumatic injury. You're conscious, and currently Dying*. Once stabilized, one of your Attributes (determined randomly or by the referee) is reduced by 1d6, recovering 1 point every Long Rest. All associated Skills and Saves are 1/6 until your Attribute has recovered. All casting is risky casting for the next 1d4 hours.
7-8: Permanent damage. You're conscious, and currently Dying. Part of your body is beyond repair. Hand, eye, ears, mouth, genitals, whatever makes sense. One of your Attributes is permanently reduced by 1d6. All associated Skills and Saves are now 1/6. All casting is risky casting for the next 1d4 days.
9-10: Dismemberment. Parts are not where they should be. You are Dying. Your intestines are out, your forearm is across the room, your leg is incinerated, your jaw is missing. Make a Fortitude Save or lose consciousness. Two of your Attributes. are permanently reduced by 1d6. All associated Skills and Saves are now 1/6. All casting is risky casting for the next 1d4 weeks.
11-12: Dead Man Walking. You're not coming back from this. No amount Medicine or Magical intervention short of a wish is going to prevent it. You're unconscious, but regain consciousness on your next turn with the awareness that your fate is sealed. The adrenaline pumping through your body will allow you to act without being stabilized. You will die in 2d3 rounds. Make them count.
13+: Instant Death.
*When you are Dying, your comrades still have an opportunity to save you. You can be stabilized and brought back to 1hp through a successful Medicine check or by proper healing Magicks. If neither of these conditions are met, you will die in 2d3 rounds.
Let me know if you steal these for your games and what you think
Cheers friends, and happy gaming :)