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In my last session a PC left the party and engaged a one-to-eight fight. He is dying alone in an isolated place without many chances of becoming stable and the other players will probably need some hours to find him.

He actully did some stupid things despite my warnings about the danger, but he also had some very unlucky rolls and my group is very fond to him; moreover, due to some mistakes from me, the encounter was rather unbalanced, so I would like to save him. The problem is, how can I do that without being to obvious?

Some more informations about the situation:

  • The PC attacked a bandit camp with the help of a secondary NPC that is not yet died but will surely be in a couple of rounds
  • He is now unconscious on a secondary path into a woodland that is not used anymore
  • Neither the PC nor the NPC has healing potions or spells
  • The rest of the party should reach the dying PC in some hours
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    \$\begingroup\$ The tags say system agnostic, but system really matters here. You say the PC is at negative 8 hp - depending on system (and the PC's stats) he might be about to die or he might have several minutes left. Without knowing the system, we don't know what the possibility of him stabilizing on his own is (or if it's even possible). We don't know how much time there is for a wandering good Samaritan to find him and help him. If this is a "lose one hp per turn, die at -10" system, even the bandits might not have time to save him, if they dropped him at range or need to dig for a potion. \$\endgroup\$ – gatherer818 Feb 2 at 20:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @gatherer818 You're reason about that detail, but my question was intended to be more focused on the story then on the system and that's why I tagged it as system-agnostic. Anyway, I removed the HP amount: the PC is unconscious, so I'm not telling him what's happening around anymore - we can assume he has few rounds without specifing anything more. \$\endgroup\$ – Ntakwetet Feb 2 at 21:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ I assume you're the GM, based on the [gm-techniques] tag? Reading the title, at first I thought you were a fellow player trying to "save" another in-game. It might help to explicitly mention this in the question. That said, it might be hard to address this in a "system-agnostic" way, given that mechanics around character death vary drastically, and your question seems to be about a specific situation in a specific game. Many RPGs have no concept of "unbalanced encounters", "healing potions"/"spells" are entirely system-dependent, etc. You might want to edit to specify the RPG/edition instead. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Feb 2 at 22:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Basically, there might be a way to approach the issue at a very high/broad level in a way that's not reliant on understanding the RPG and edition you're playing (which, if I had to guess, seems to be some edition of D&D), but the particular problem you present definitely seems system-specific to me. Some solutions might be entirely unworkable depending on the game you're playing - not all RPGs are the same or even similar in that sense. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Feb 2 at 22:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's what I'm getting at - if you want to make it make sense with the mechanics, we need to know the system. If you just want to explain it story-wise and not engage with the game mechanics at all, that's fine, but you should make that more explicit in the question. (In the 3 systems I'm currently playing in, characters can't have negative hp, and how long they can be unconscious from damage that isn't "non-lethal" before they die varies from "12 seconds" in 5e with a crit fail to "90% chance to die every 10 seconds" to "depends on the crit that dropped him" in FFGSW). \$\endgroup\$ – gatherer818 Feb 3 at 11:00
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1. The Bandits Decided To Not Kill Him

In fact, they saved his life so that they can torture him later on for information, revenge, or simply because they are sadistic. The NPC who was with him managed to escape and informed the group of the situation. Now, this becomes a quest for the group of breaking into the bandit camp and saving their friend.

Alternatively, maybe a bandit member does not share the bandits' views and secretly healed him. Or, maybe one the bandits is actually a long lost friend/relative of the PC who saved him afterward and the PC did not recognize him/her in the heat of the battle.

2. Deus Ex Machina (in the form of NPC/creature/god)

Maybe an NPC happened to find the body and decided to help him. This NPC can be a simple traveler or a cleric of some god (bonus points if this particular god plays a role in the campaign). Maybe a creature with healing abilities found his body, dragged it over and healed for reasons unknown. Maybe a literal god was nearby for unrelated reasons, was intrigued by this heroic fool and decided to give him a second chance.

As @richardb very nicely added in the comments, whoever saved the PC might have done it because they are simply empathetic or because they have ulterior motives. Per his example, the NPC/creature/god that intervened now thinks that the PC owes them. This can create very interesting subplots, i.e., "Your life was saved, but at what cost?" dramatic music plays in the background

3. Not Dead But Crippled

One way or the other a player should be punished for making stupid/lethal mistakes. One way to deal with this would be to cripple him, at least for a few sessions. The idea is that the PC is not dead but lost a lot of blood (or any other excuse you want). The result is that now he has constant -2 in Constitution. You can be very creative with this. Maybe he lost a limb, or an eye/ear. Whatever the damage is it should have some permanent mechanical effect. E.g., the player now has a constant fear of the thing that killed him and has to make a wisdom saving throw every time he faces it.

However, the goal is not to leave the player crippled for the rest of the campaign (unless he enjoys that), but rather to create a whole new subquest for him to regain his lost abilities. He may use magical methods (i.e., grow a new limb) or train really hard and overcome physical and mental obstacles. This is how you change a bad moment into a story moment. However, make sure that your player likes the idea, this is not everyone's cup of tea.

Opinion

Like I mentioned in (3) I think that it's a good idea to somehow punish a player who plays stupidly. This is important because you cannot save every PC that dies. If you save your player's PC today, another player may feel that it's unfair when their PC dies for real. So, no matter the solution you choose, I suggest imposing a penalty to the PC like the examples I mentioned.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Just to supplement to 2, the wood could be full of creatures that you don't know about. He might be saved by a centaur, a local druid, a dryad might save his life but charm him. All might think the PC owes them one. \$\endgroup\$ – richardb Feb 1 at 11:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ On the saving by npc, let the npc be a devil which will save him for a price, prefferably one that does not sounds to bad bug gets back to bite him. \$\endgroup\$ – lijat Feb 1 at 14:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ Another reason for the bandits to save him is so he can be sold for ransom. A corpse is worthless, a hostage could be worth a lot. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan_L Feb 1 at 23:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you want the Bandits to spare him, but are uncomfortable with torture, they might hold him for ransom or sale to slavers, giving the party time to mount a rescue. \$\endgroup\$ – Gramor Fale Feb 3 at 12:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ To follow up on @Ryan_L's comment, "The Bandits Decided To Not Kill Him" so that they can ransom him back to the party. This is a creative way to take a single player's mistakes, and make it the party's problem (or next challenge), reminding them that it is in fact a team based cooperative game. Alternatively, let him die. Loosing characters because of luck/choices/circumstance, and making new characters in their wake, is a dramatic and classic RPG experience that we all go through eventually. \$\endgroup\$ – Alex Johnson Feb 3 at 20:57
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My rule of thumb, which I give great credit for my games being received with great interest, respect, attention, and being engaged seriously and pro-actively by my players, is to play everything out logically and fairly, without forcing results.

So for my desire to have game worlds where characters (PCs and NPCs) may often survive a combat defeat, I address it at the campaign design level, not the "oh no, a PC fell in combat, how do I change the situation to save that PC?" (which I do not do) level. So I tend to design my worlds with cultures that have a fairly high level of care for life and distaste for murder, which means characters in the world tend to fairly often accept surrenders, not kill prisoners, and if they can, treat the wounds of fallen foes, or at least call out that someone's been hurt before leaving a bleeding mugging victim. Unless of course the characters in question are murderous, or there are good reasons not to.

I also usually play games where there is some amount of a gap in the amount of injury to have someone collapse or go unconscious in combat, and the point where they're dead, at least if a healer gets to them in time to try to save their lives. That means that bandits who don't especially want to kill someone can fell them and leave them, and there may be a reasonable chance they will survive. (Though I also like those things to have uncertain chances of worse outcomes as well.)

But I would not invoke Deus Ex Machina to save a PC, because I see my job as GM as providing a logical and fair game situation, which includes real straight RAW chances for death and other bad effects. Otherwise, I feel it undermines the game at a fundamental level, cheating everyone of the experience of actually facing dangerous situations and seeing what actually happens, of actually maybe succeeding against actual challenges, or of actually maybe failing but finding that fun and interesting too.

"Live and learn. Die, and learn faster!" - Mtrek Klingon proverb

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    \$\begingroup\$ Amen. Miracles are valuable because they are RARE. The other 99%, die and create a new character. \$\endgroup\$ – Gustavo Apr 2 at 17:43

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