Life Insurance for PCs
Reviewed by Robert Wenner ©2002
Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion
Player characters can have an unfortunate tendency to die in situations
where you just don't want them to die -- rolling too low on the roll
of the adventure, drinking potions by trial and error instead of reading the
label, or being killed in a random encounter, etc.. What's a GM to do?
Saving characters by breaking the rules is easiest. The enemy's swing
just missed or deals just a bunch of hits, the potion has no effect instead
of being poisonous, and so on. Remember the GM's job is not to follow rules (blindly)
but to keep the game going.
Some rules suppose (deadly) accidents happen -- that's what fate points (in
RM2, RMSS and RMFRP) are for. Characters in the service of some deity may receive
an extra bonus as their patron takes care of them.
If these measures do not work, then skills like Stabilize Body Damage
may help. In extremis, it does not really matter if the player developed any
ranks in that skill -- the GM makes the roll and as GM you can have 98, 96,
99, 76 in a row, can't you? With such a skill, the almost dead character relies
on help from somebody else. Even if the character was alone and far away from
home, the GM should have no problem in arranging to have someone pass by and
help. Of course, some of these "good Samaritans" might be more interested
in looting the "corpse" before helping a stranger.
Besides (fudging) the rules, magic can also be helpful for life insurance.
The amulet (or ring or any other jewelry) that teleports the injured wearer
to his favourite healer is the old RM2 alchemy example. There can be some variations
on this. The amulet may also heal the character (or send him into a healing
coma for some hours) and teleport him to the last known safe place. To do so,
the amulet stores the wearer's location at each midnight if the wearer is not
injured. The amulet "remembers" the last location where the wearer
was in good health. It will return the wearer to this place if he is injured,
assuming he may recuperate there. To maintain gaming plausibility, the amulet
should not work with coordinates like 34 degrees east, 56 degrees north but
with more mundane places: in the captain's cabin of the "Dancing Dolphin".
The ship probably won't be at 34 degrees east, 56 degrees north next midnight,
but the ship will hopefully still be safe somewhere. Bad luck on the character
if the ship has been captured by pirates, but where there's life there's a chance.
Of course, if the ship has been destroyed, the character is really in trouble
The evil variant of the above amulet is to tie a demon to the amulet. The amulet
works similar to the one described above (or even better, like healing all wounds
instantly) but the healing powers don't come from a "good" source.
Instead a demon lord is invoked by the amulet and the demon speaks in the dying
character's mind. The demon offers a simple deal: the character's life for a
favour in return -- to be given when the demon lord asks for it. (The demon
lord may also ask for the character's soul and later offer an opportunity to
buy the soul back.) The favour is a nice adventure hook, and the demon lord
might even save the character's life again (for another favour, of course).
(How many times will your characters sell their souls to the Devil?) This insurance
is not necessarily tied to an amulet or other item. Ihe demon lord could be
simply waiting for an opportunity (perhaps has even arranged the situation wherein
the character is about to die) and now wants to offer a diabolical bargain.
This version may still work if nothing else does: the character just cannot
die. This is especially usable for clerics, paladins, and any other religious
or driven characters. He won't find eternal rest while the quest he was on is
unfinished (or until he gets to take revenge for the death of his comrades).
So after having "died", he returns as an undead, his mind set only
on his one goal. The exact power and level of the undead has to be determined
by the GM. Example restrictions include: being active only at night (perhaps
at full moon), scaring animals and little children, taking holy criticals from
holy water or sunlight, or attracting more undead that come to destroy all life
(the undead's former friends!). On the other hand, the undead may have benefits
like being immune to non-magic weapons, stun and bleeding injuries, lack the
need to sleep, etc.. Consult Creatures & Treasures or Creatures
&Monsters (for Rolemaster) or the monster compendiums of your favorite
Once dead, the character may also enter a spirit world (especially if the character
belonged to a shamanic cultures), shifting the game to a different level. While
his comrades continue their quest or chase the murderers, the dead character
may interact with spirits, demons, and other supernatural creatures and contact
the world of the living by sending signs by bird's flights, dreams, or whatever.
After a character has died and completed his undead or spiritual existance
the adventure may really end for this character -- the GM saved him for the
campaign. If the GM wants to (and this fits into his world) the character may
be reborn keeping (some of) his memories. This is the stuff of destiny and ancient
tomes on the seventh son of a seventh son....
The above suggestions are emergency measures. They should not be used for hack'n'slash
players who are willing to enter combat every time. So don't tell your players
about the magical stuff they are wearing. If they use magic to find out about
their jewelry (or whatever form the insurance items take), the spells just yield
vague information like "...something about healing...".
To avoid players becoming careless or complacent after they discover their life insurance,
have the items burn out (lose their polish, crumble to dust, fade away, whatever)
after usage, i.e. they work only once.