Setbacks And Death (Mar 5, 2012)
You can run into a serious logistical problem when one of the player characters in a party drops in the beginning or middle of a fight and is then removed by hitting “minus ten” or receiving a deathblow from one of the party’s enemies. Not only does the party have one fewer turn worth of actions, but the unfortunate player has nothing to do.
You could let them sit there, but if you’re playing Fourth Edition Dungeons & Dragons fights can go an hour or more, that’s a lot of thumb-twiddling. Here’s the thing, you’re playing in a fantasy setting where Death Is A Revolving Door, aren’t you? Not only are the heroes (or anti-heroes) special, they defy the standard conventions of mortality.
Fourth Edition provides a great framework for enabling a player to continue exerting influence on the living, starting with the “Spirit Companion” shaman feature. Treat a fallen character as a unique “conjuration” created upon the character’s death. The character’s “creator” would be the party, and the effect “ends” with a short rest.
Now you don’t necessarily want to directly restrict anyone (even the “dead” player) or penalize the players for keeping another player in the game, but there’s a way to manage the situation without taking away or sharing anyone’s actions (as you would normally with a conjuration or spirit companion).
A dead character’s “spirit conjuration” is generally unable to affect the environment, and is also generally unaffected by attacks or effects. They have their own actions, they’re simply unable to use them as they would normally. They must therefore have allies to act through, using rules similar to “granted actions.”
By using a Standard action, a “spirit conjuration” may grant an adjacent ally an at-will attack (which they use as a free action), much as a leader or other character might grant attacks. The attack otherwise uses all of the recipient’s bonuses and restrictions. Skills are special though – even companions tend to use their own bonuses.
Whenever a “spirit conjuration” wants to make a skill check that affects the living world in some way (let’s say by making a Thievery check to pick a lock) or any check really that isn’t a reaction (passive checks like Perception and Insight), they can use their own skill bonus and act through one of their adjacent allies.
Unlike conjurations, a player’s “spirit conjuration” has phasing and can move through doors and such, but only while they remain with the party. They can’t “scout ahead” to a place the party hasn’t been and attempts to move more than 100 feet (20 squares) from the party causes them to “snap back” to the party’s immediate vicinity.
A player’s “spirit conjuration” is invisible and inaudible, though their speech can be understood as though transmitted telepathically by anyone within “earshot.” Other creatures unfamiliar with the character instead receive what amounts to an easily-dismissed “psychic noise.” Some creatures may be more sensitive however.
Though most creatures will ignore a player’s “spirit conjuration,” they can still sustain damage however unless a single attack deals damage in excess of the character’s bloodied value, they remain in play. If they’re somehow dispelled or destroyed, treat the effect instead as “removed from play (save ends).”
At some point, I’ll probably do a full-page treatment of this and throw it up in the “Media” section of the site as a significant variant rule.