I am a DM running Tomb of Annihilation. I am toying with the idea of giving one of my level 5 players an item that prevents death, just once, and then breaks. Note that I do not mean dropping to 0 hit points, but rather actually dying. This is different from death ward. In other words, if the player is to die instantaneously through some mishap or fails his death saves, this item will prevent them from dying just that once.

I like the idea of doing this because an item that gives death ward once would break as soon as the player is about to be knocked unconscious or hit 0 HP for any reason, which isn't very infrequent. I think this item is particularly interesting in this campaign.

How powerful would an item like this be? I'd like it to be comparable to a +2 weapon or a +2 armor, or a Necklace of Prayer Beads, or a Gem of Seeing.

I have not thought through whether the item would bring the person to 1HP or stable at 0HP. I'm leaning towards the later, but I wouldn't mind hearing people's thoughts on either option.

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    \$\begingroup\$ What happens when the player fails a third death save? I get that they don't die but are they stable? Do they continue making death saves? \$\endgroup\$ – Sdjz Aug 8 '19 at 14:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ So you want to replicate the second half of death ward in an item, as opposed to the first half? \$\endgroup\$ – illustro Aug 8 '19 at 14:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ There's a big power difference between stable at 0 and alive at 1 HP. Until we know how your item works, I think it's best we put this on hold. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Aug 8 '19 at 14:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch I have not thought through whether the item would bring the person to 1HP or stable at 0HP. I'm leaning towards the later, but I wouldn't mind hearing people's thoughts on either option. \$\endgroup\$ – Behacad Aug 8 '19 at 14:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ Might be better to hop into Role-playing Games Chat (we're actually talking about it there) for that. Canvassing for ideas in answers is not something we really do. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Aug 8 '19 at 14:59

It is probably balanced

I think the thing to compare this to is the Revivify spell.

This is a 3rd level spell, and so is accessible to a 5th level cleric. It is a slightly expensive spell, in that it consumes 300gp of material components, but as a one-use only magic item, it is probably equivalent.

So your magic item is basically a one-off automatic-Revivify spell. And since this spell is accessible to level 5 characters, the item is also pretty balanced for level 5 characters.

Giving it to lower level characters could be a bit overpowered (as would giving them access to any high-level spell), but again, as a one-use very specific item, its up to the DM. It probably wouldn't break the game as long as such items aren't handed out like candy.

The only thing you may have to watch out for is player jealousy and squabbling over who gets it (hopefully you have reasonably mature players) and the possibility the player may become a bit more reckless knowing that they can come back from death!

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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch: The OP only talks about a level 5 character, but I will add some additional thoughts on this \$\endgroup\$ – PJRZ Aug 8 '19 at 14:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you're making the comparison to Revivify, you could probably also compare with Contingency + Revivify, since it's a bit closer to the proposed item. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Aug 8 '19 at 14:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ You might want to mention the context of Tomb of Annihilation, where Revivify actually does not work. In this case, a magic item that prevents death is probably one of the most powerful items in the world (at least it would be the most desired!) \$\endgroup\$ – Destruktor Aug 9 '19 at 12:48

It sounds fine

Preventing death once is not that big a deal. Generally speaking, if you are in a position where you need to prevent that death, odds are you're already so screwed that you'll still die the next turn anyway, but it might help prevent that odd time you get critted for a bazillion damage and die from near full-health. I don't think it would generally be as strong as a +2 weapon, which is a far more powerful effect than not dying once, but in Tomb of Annihilation players may very well still use it.

My personal experience

I ran Tomb of Annihilation, and in my campaign the players ended up encountering a necromancer I developed myself, who was experimenting with soul gems to store the souls of people who die so that they get trapped in the gem instead of being dragged away to the Death Curse. The players ended up helping him with the experiment (with one player trusting him so much he offered to drink poison to help test the theory), and in the end the experiment was a success and they got 3 Soul Gems that trap their souls upon death.

It's not a "prevent death" type item, but to higher level characters in Tomb of Annihilation, it functions essentially the same because they can simply revive the character with the gem. (A dwarf cleric helped them in that fashion.)

2 out of the 4 players in my campaign found that worthwhile enough to attune to it despite having other items they wanted to attune to. So from my experience, a prevent-permadeath like item does hold some appeal to players in the ToA adventure.

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