Death Rolls! Making unconsciousness thrilling

Hello there!

I’ve been playing Open Legend for a few months now and I’ve found the mechanics lovely in so many ways. But coming from D&D 5E there is one thing I’m really missing: Death Saving Throws.

I always found it thrilling to leave your characters fate up to pure chance in the hands of the dice gods. The ever present threat of dice gives your characters life meaning in a way. And when I read that death can only be fixed if a DM allows some sort of quest I was excited but then I got to how to actually die and was a bit dissapointed when I saw that it’s quite difficult to die.
You can only formally die in Open Legend (as far as I know):

  • when affected by the death bane (and even then you get three attempts at a 55% chance of survival).
  • If someone deals a finishing blow (which an enemy has to choose to do and has a chance of failure).
  • Through the Fatigued bane (which you need 6 levels in to actually die).

Sorry for the long intro the post starts here:
This is why I created my own rule for it: Death Rolls. With this system I tried to keep the cleanliness and simplicity of the system while still making death threatening yet escapable. Enjoy and feel free to provide as much feedback as you want:

Immediately when a character reaches 0 HP or if they start their turn at 0 HP they have to roll a Death action roll with a DC of 10 + the amount of excess damage from the damaging effect that put them below 0 HP. When a character rolls a Death action roll they choose whether it is a Fortitude, Will or Presence roll. If the character fails this action roll they gain a level of the Fatigued bane. If a character rolls an exceptional success (succeeds with 10 or more) on this action roll they become “stable” until they aren’t at 0 HP anymore, meaning that they don’t have to roll a Death action roll when they are unconscious. Anyone with access to the Healing, Restoration or Regeneration Boon could stabilize a character as a major action if they beat the DC defined above with the attribute that they use the boon with. For example:

  • Sherlock, who was previously at 5 HP, gets shot by Moriarty who deals 9 damage. Sherlock immediately makes a Death action roll with a DC of 14 (10 + (9-5)). He rolls a 12 and fails, receiving one level of the Fatigued bane. Unfortunately for Sherlock, his turn is right after Moriartys and he now has to roll another Death action with a DC of 14, gaining another level of the Fatigued bane on a failure. He rolls a 15 and succeeds meaning he only has one level of the Fatigued bane. Now that it’s Watson’s turn, he has to decide if he should possibly take down Moriarty once and for all or if should help Sherlock get back on his feet.
  • The Great Orcs of Mount Ruin have received specific instructions to drag their prey back to their master’s castle alive before killing it. The orc captain can see with a successful Perception roll that two of the six humans have become stable, as they beat their Death action rolls by 10 or more, so he decided to stabilize the rest with a presence roll (1d20+1d10 with disadvantage 4). The orc captain rolls a 20, stabilizing all but one human who had gotten a DC of 22. Now that the human failed his sixth Death action roll he is dead and the orc captain now has to decide if he should bring the human and try to explain the situation to his master or if he should leave the human and try to convince his master that there were only five humans.

There is an oversight with your second bullet point. You said

  • If someone deals a finishing blow (which an enemy has to choose to do and has a chance of failure).

Dealing a finishing blow does not have to be an intentional action at all. Any damage you suffer while unconscious (including an area attack, environmental damage, a rock falling, or any number of other situational causes) is considered a finishing blow. So enemies do not have to initiate a finishing blow.

From the core rules

Finishing Blows

When you suffer a damaging attack while unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to defend yourself, the attack counts as a finishing blow and may cause immediate death. Your defense against a finishing blow does not include any bonus from your attributes. Furthermore, if a finishing blow deals any damage, you must make a Fortitude roll with a Challenge Rating equal to 10 plus the damage dealt. If you fail this roll, you die.

That said, death is meant to be more intentional in the system, but we also encourage house rules.

An example of how I might introduce this within the current rules would be to apply the Persistent Damage bane to a character. Imagine that they were lit up by a fireball in a massive magical inferno attack. In this case, damage would happen on each turn. Of they are at zero hp, each would be considered a finishing blow. If you think about most stories where characters die, it is from poison, bleeding out, or some lasting effect. Other ways of dying are fairly rare in stories

And just for clarity, of course I understand and agree that sometimes a massive attack that takes out a character in one hit can cause them to go unconscious and never regain consciousness and die instead. Perfectly reasonable to do something as simple as roll a d20 plus Fortitude or Will on each turn they’re unconscious, with death happening on a ten or lower

1 Like