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Notes: I am the DM, my players are a group of 7, levels of 11 or 12.

So, our last weeks session ended with a black dragon releasing an acid breath attack on the only visible enemies in a courtyard. This was a servant, my wife's ranger PC, and her falcon animal companion. The servant and the falcon failed their Dex saves and took 58 points of acid damage, outright insta-killing both of them.

Going back to look at it as I prep for the upcoming session, I realize the falcon stats were incorrect. It should have 4 times the ranger's level in hit points. As she is level 11, this would mean the falcon should have 44 hit points. Not only that, but the falcon should have had the ranger's proficiency added to the Dex save, which would have made them pass the DC 18 Dex save, reducing the damage to 29 instead of 58.

As this was the last thing to happen at the end of last session, I wasn’t sure if I should retcon the hawk to still being alive and conscious, or leave it a pile of goopy acid and note that I will fix it with the next animal companion? What are my options in a situation like this and what are the pros and cons of making those choices?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Unfortunately this is entirely up to opinion. You can do one or the other, and it will affect the game one way or another. There is no "right" answer to this. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Feb 10 at 22:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. StackExchange is a Q&A site, and questions are expected to be worded in a way such that we can choose a "best" answer. Unfortunately, this is a highly opinion-based question, as what you "should" do is entirely up to you. Such questions might be more appropriate on a forum. That said, we might be able to help you edit it into an appropriate form. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Feb 10 at 23:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Ben I think it's much less clear whether this is off topic than that. There are such things as DMing best practices when it's scoped to a specific situation and game like this. "Should" often flags that a question is a matter of opinion, but it's a heuristic, not an infallible rule. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Feb 10 at 23:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ Do you have any policys at your table about what is whoms responsibility? In teh groups I played so far it was usually the case that "Players are responsible for their character and everything directly related to their char, the DM is responsible for anything else." So in my groups, the wrong stats for the falcon, would have come from the player not calculating the stats correctly. So was it actually the player telling you their dex save, and you figured afterwards they did wrong? Or was it you maintaining the stats of their falcon? \$\endgroup\$ – Zaibis Feb 11 at 11:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ While there is a perfectly valid question right below the surface here, Ben and V2Blast are right that the “should” wording tends to pull people who want to give their opinion rather than useful analysis. I have made a very slight edit to the question to make it not “tell me what I should do” but “tell me my options and what’s good about them.” It’s a good model for people to follow when confronted with a “should I” question. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Feb 11 at 13:27
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Ask the player.

First there is nothing wrong with making a mistake, we all do it, you will make more, don't try and hide it. You're the DM you are tracking a lot of stuff mishaps happen.

Just ask that player what they want to do, do it before the session even starts. Pull them aside, explain what happened, (they should be tracking the companions saves and hp anyway, not you) and see what they want to do. They may be satisfied with their companion's glorious death, or they may feel cheated. Find out.

If they want the animal back tell everyone what happened, just like you did for us with what you forgot to do, (that takes care of any sign of favoritism) and then bring it back. If they want to try a different companion, let the results stand, and let them seek a different animal.

Fun is more important than a seamless narrative, if you make a mistake that impacts a players fun, fix it as best you can. If you make a mistake that does not impact anyone's fun, just make a note and try better next time. Heck sometimes a mistake is the best thing that can happen to your story, it's rare but sometimes a mistake can make the game more fun.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for the quick response! I ran this by her and she understood the situation. She was leaning both ways with which she would pick, but ended up saying she would prefer to keep her childhood companion with her as long as she could. So, looks like I will be adding "time controller" to my abilities! \$\endgroup\$ – klemmtob Feb 10 at 23:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ @klemmtob Alternatively you could use this as an opportunity to start a resurrection side quest ;) \$\endgroup\$ – Tobias Kienzler Feb 11 at 9:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @klemmtob: If the death was right at the end of the session and no-one had interacted with the fallen companion's body too much, then the retcon could simply be that it was not killed, only stunned. Or maybe just worn out after a long squawk (sorry!). Either way, this would require less time travel, and the Ranger's grief could of been a real event in the game, just temporary etc \$\endgroup\$ – Neil Slater Feb 11 at 10:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Because the player in question is your wife, you will need to be extra careful in making sure that the other players in your group understand that (a) it was a maths/rules mistake that you're correcting, and (b) you are open to similarly reversing mistakes for other players in the future. \$\endgroup\$ – Charles Miller Feb 11 at 10:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think adding a part here addressing that the player is the DM's wife might be important here. This could easily look like favoritism if not handled correctly and the answer could be improved by including something about that and how to properly deal with that. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Feb 11 at 14:36
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Ask the players.

Unlike traditional board games, as DnD has no "winner" or "loser" - everything that happens can be as canon (or not) as the group wants it to be. There is nothing to say that you necessarily made a mistake (if you want to have the falcon stay dead - that's your purview), and equally nothing to say you can't undo it.

But the important thing to recognise is that this is an adventure with multiple players. Every decision impacts more than just yourself, or the specific adventure.

As such, you need to talk to all the players collectively and check what their thoughts are on this. It's likely that most will be indifferent, and only the affected Ranger will have a strong idea of what they'd prefer to happen to the falcon. But if you make this decision in isolation - you take the power away from your players to shape the story, and so they need to be somewhat consulted.

Of particular note, as the affected player is your wife - you need to avoid actions that suggest you are picking favourites or giving them special treatment. Even if the discussion with the rest of the group is cursory, having it in the open prevents anybody feeling like you've picked favourites and ensures everything stays transparent. Of course, you can also talk to your wife in private first - but you need to make sure any actual decision is made at a time when the rest of the group can voice their opinions.

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You made a mistake, and figured it out. That is great!

You have three options.

Let it ride

Don't retroactively change anything. You made a mistake. Explain it to your players, and say "but I don't like rewriting reality".

Undo it

Especially because it was the last thing that happened; undo that moment. Tell your players you made a mistake. Have the companion not die.

Make it awesome

The Falcon dies in a pit of acid. That stays.

The next session, the Falcon is dead. But soon after (next round?) it starts to smolder. In a burst of flame, and the Falcon is reborn. It starts to hack and cough; after a bit, a shimmering phoenix feather comes out of its mouth.

The Falcon has been reborn, and is now at full HP. Apparently it ate a Phoenix Heart Feather a long time ago, and the residual magic was triggered by the Dragon's breath.

Now, that is a pretty pointless bit of story. We can then add an adventure hook.

The Heart Feather is a potential magic item. By doing side-quest X, it can be forged into a Phoenix Blade.

A Phoenix Blade is a feather than, as a bonus action, can turn into a shimmering longsword that deals magical fire damage instead of slashing damage.

If attuned to its wielder it turns into a tattoo on their sword-arm. While attuned, it can be wielded as a finesse weapon, and the wielder and any animal companions gain resist fire. As an action by touching a fallen avian animal companion with the sword, you can cast revivify on it with no material components. The companion is then reborn in a burst of fire and regains full HP. You cannot do this again until the next dawn.

(Tweak the stats of this so it becomes worth having).

That, or something like it, will turn an oops into a moment your party will remember.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The problem with the third approach is that shoehorning in an explanation like that feels contrived on it's own. It also lessens the players' agency, as though the consequences of their decisions are not really theirs, but instead up to the whim of the DM. The straightforward approach is far better, and if they agree to the retcon, then it's ok to make up an explanation like that. \$\endgroup\$ – Mwr247 Feb 11 at 17:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mwr247 True: so replace the treasure with an adventure hook, if you have the plot space. The item is a heart-feather of a Phoenix; it has no direct use, can be used to construct a Phoenix-sword (as described) after doing X Y and/or Z. \$\endgroup\$ – Yakk Feb 11 at 18:21
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Hawky isn't dead. During the beginning of the next session, reveal that while it looked like he was dissolved in a spray of dragon acid, he is actually fine. Hawky actually made his dex save, dodged it by hiding somewhere, but then got stuck in its hiding place so it couldn't participate in the combat anymore.

When someone asks: it's not a retcon. You just misled the players to create drama and a heartwarming reunion.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I found that laying to players is a bad thing. Sooner or later they will catch you and here goes the trust. \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot Feb 13 at 10:35
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One option missed is that Falcon is very sick and the players need to go on a mission to get the herb to make Falcon better. Now it is a choice to other players how much do they care about falcon and how much does the ranger care what reward will the ranger give them.

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Along with asking the player (as suggested - very good idea to consult them first) if the player does feel cheated, you can always propose bringing the Hawk back from the dead next session.

This isn't as odd as you think - sometimes we make mistakes and have to 'revise' how things happened in a DND game. You could easily explain it away as the falcon being 'knocked unconscious' and mistaken for dead last session.

If you do this however, you should make it clear that it really was because of a mistake on your part - and more importantly, that this isn't going to be a regular thing when someone or something important dies - the last thing you want to do is encourage your party to treat death with reckless abandon.

All that being said, you should suggest this only after consulting with the player, if they feel the death of their falcon was unjust.

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If the player agrees with the companion still living, you can avoid its death by having the companion be found inside a small pit in the floor, with the acid simply fully covering its feathers, so it looked like a pile of goo at first glance.

Something similar happened to my wizard in a game of Pathfinder just last week: I got stabbed twice, for just over half my hit points each time, but the second time, the DM forgot to roll miss chance (it was in a dark alley), and the attack would have missed. We agreed that the second attack was a graze, and my character fell over in shock (the turn was over already). The narrative became that I fell over, and in the next turn, I realised that "oh, it wasn't that bad".

Retconning can be done without breaking the narrative, if you accept a small bit of Deus-Ex.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "the DM forgot to roll miss chance" - What does this mean? There's nothing called "miss chance" in D&D 5e... And from the context it doesn't sound like a saving throw. (I assume you don't mean the DM forgot to roll the attack roll; I don't even know how that would happen, since literally every attack starts with an attack roll...) \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Feb 12 at 8:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ It was in pathfinder, where low-light situations cause a 20% chance to flat-out miss, even on a critical roll. The situation was similar enough from the DM situation though, the DM made a mistake, and it got retConned without breaking the narrative \$\endgroup\$ – ThisIsMe Feb 12 at 8:31

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