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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?

Rules

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.

Magic

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.

Supernatural

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 gaming system.

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....

What else?

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.

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