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What happen when a player's character dies in an ongoing campaign?

Does he/she create a new character?

If so, what level is the new character?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you asking "in general" or for some sort of organized play (eg., Adventure League)? Is this in the context of an ongoing campaign or a one-shot adventure? \$\endgroup\$ – minnmass Jan 30 '18 at 23:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related (but in a different game system's context): What happens when player characters die? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jan 31 '18 at 2:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ Possible duplicate of What happens when player characters die? \$\endgroup\$ – Sandwich Jan 31 '18 at 5:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ What details or clarity is still being sought on this question? Or given its age: why is it unclear? \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Apr 29 at 21:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Someone_Evil To me it seems opinion based. And the question of minnmass also remains unanswered. \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Apr 30 at 0:58
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It all depends on what is available.

Firstly, lets just cover exactly when a PC actually dies:

  1. The PC takes enough damage from a hit to "outright" kill them. While there are no "negative hit points" per se, if a PC takes enough damage to bring them to 0 HP, and the remaining damage from the same attack is greater than or equal to their maximum HP, they die.
    • For example; a PC has 20 maximum HP, and currently has 3 HP. The dragon scores a critical hit with a claw attack, dealing 25 damage total. This reduces the PC to 0 HP, but there is an excess of 22 damage left to deal. Since that exceeds their HP maximum, they are killed instantly.
  2. The PC has fallen unconscious, and has gotten 3 failures on their death saving throws. At this point, they die.

Just because they reach 0 HP, doesn't necessarily mean they're dead.

Now, as for what happens afterwards: it all depends on your game, and the DM. For the most part, there are ways to bring back party members from death, and the Resurrection spell is one such way.

Resurrection

You touch a dead creature that has been dead for no more than a century, that didn't die of old age, and that isn't Undead. If its soul is free and willing, the target returns to life with all its hit points.

This spell neutralizes any Poisons and cures normal Diseases afflicting the creature when it died. It doesn't, however, remove magical Diseases, curses, and the like, if such affects aren't removed prior to casting the spell, they afflict the target on its return to life.

This spell closes all mortal wounds and restores any missing body parts.

A Caster in the party can learn this, if they are of high enough level, or, you can likely quest for a healer to do so. That is, of course, if the DM allows it. Talk to them to discuss the possibility.

(Other spells that can bring back dead party members include Revivify, Raise Dead, Reincarnate, and True Resurrection. Each spell has different requirements, costs, and effects.)

That said, there are certain quests (Tomb of Annihilation, for example), where the whole point is that PCs cannot be resurrected, and it is up to the party to cure the land of the curse that prevents this.

In the meantime, since Resurrection is often not a straight-forward event, it might be worthwhile to roll up a new character, or perhaps take over the role of an NPC that has joined the party, or whatever, as a stand in so you're still a part of the game.

Otherwise, if all of these are not a possibility in your game, you will have to roll up a new character. As for what the character level is, that is something to discuss with your DM. Boosting your PC level would depend on the level the rest of the party is at.

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Let's turn to the Dungeon Master's Guide

Surely this topic must be addressed in there. I mean its an experience that will happen to every playing group eventually.

Well, if you look at page ... just a sec ... page, um ... can't seem to find it. The index has "Death Dells (Abyss)" and "Death Domain" but no "death" ... they wouldn't have left this out? Surely not.

Oh wait, I was foolishly thinking that because it was called the Dungeon Master's Guide it might actually contain guidance for Dungeon Masters. Silly me.

OK, rant over ...

How to die

The rules for dying are on pp. 197-198 of the Player's Handbook - either you can be killed by massive damage or by failing enough death saving throws.

Death is only the beginning

After you are dead there are a number of spells that can bring the character back to life:

  • Revivify (3rd level: Cleric, Paladin) You need 300gp worth of diamonds (which you lose) and it must be cast within 1 minute of death. The spell doesn't restore missing body parts.
  • Raise Dead (5th level: Bard, Cleric, Paladin) You need a single 500gp diamond (which you lose) and it must be cast within 10 days of death. The spell doesn't restore missing body parts. The creature's soul must be free and willing to return.
  • Reincarnate (5th level: Druid) You need 1,000gp of rare oils and unguents (which you lose) and it must be cast within 10 days of death. You return as a random PC race in a new body. The creature's soul must be free and willing to return.
  • Resurrection (7th level: Bard, Cleric) You need a single 1,000gp diamond (which you lose) and it must be cast within 100 years of death. The spell does restore missing body parts. The creature's soul must be free and willing to return.
  • True Resurrection (9th level: Cleric, Druid) You need a 25,000gp worth of diamonds (which you lose) and it must be cast within 200 years of death. The spell does restore missing body parts or creates a new body if there are no remains. The creature's soul must be free and willing to return.

The spell Gentle Repose (2nd level: Cleric, Wizard) can stretch the time limit on any of the spells by 10 days per application. The spell Animate Dead (3rd level: Cleric, Wizard) can allow you to make use of your late, lamented colleague and make them responsible for hauling themselves back to town for some high-level magic.

He's not coming back

Having reached the he's dead, Jim point the usual response is the player goes through the five stages of grief. Be warned, only experienced players go through them as quickly as Homer Simpson and the anger stage can involved improvised missile weapons in the form of dice and pencils.

The player really only has 2 options:

  1. They can leave the campaign,
  2. They can get a new character.

Option 1 is simple and clean, they pack their gear, pay for their share of the pizza and walk out of everyone's life never to be seen again.

So let's think about option 2. Well ...

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And here they are:

Do you pause the game while the player makes a new PC or just send them to the corner of shame with a pile of d6s?

The player can get cracking straight away in either case - the question is about the rest of the group. I would suggest that you should play out the rest of the encounter and then decide after that.

Do you introduce the character as soon as they are ready or do you make the player sit on the sidelines playing with their phone and saying "Are we there yet?" every 2 minutes?

My take: you stick the PC in as soon as its ready and bend the narrative to make it fit. If that leaves some thinking the fix is a just so story that's because it is. If that jars some people's sense of verisimilitude: tough - we're here to play and one person sitting on the sidelines is not "playing".

Does the new PC start at 1st level, or the level of the previous character, or a level below their previous level, or the lowest level character in the party, or ...

Dropping a 1st level PC into a 12th level party is clearly not going to work - the player would be rolling up another new character one round into the next combat encounter. The new PC must be of sufficient power to survive the encounters the party will have. D&D 5e has bounded accuracy so being a level or 2 behind is not the end of the world. It really depends on whether you think the player should be mechanically punished for PC death.

Does the PC own the previous PC's stuff? Or, do they get their own stuff?

Gear and magic items are not critical in 5e to a PC's success. However, introducing unearned items can cause a perverse incentive to seek out death so the next PC is more powerful. Of course, punishing people for losing a PC is a bit onerous. No right answer.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 mainly for "you stick the PC in as soon as its ready", I've had to sit through too many sessions where my new character was only introduced more than 75% in the session because of a combination of a DM who had a "super cool idea how to introduce it" and an unwillingness of my fellow players to stop inspecting every bird's nest on the way to that idea. (I die regularly since I'm generally the only frontline on the team) \$\endgroup\$ – DonFusili Jan 31 '18 at 9:16

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