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I've been reading through the Deck of Many Things and Skull got my attention. It says the Avatar of Death appears and

attacks you, warning all others that you must win the battle alone

and

If anyone tries to help you, the helper summons its own avatar of death

The battle should proceed until the PC dies or the Avatar is defeated, in both cases it disappears.

But here, the twist: Let's suppose PC1 is at 1HP at the end of their turn, at this point PC2 jumps in and attacks PC1, knocking them unconscious. With two more strikes (either has 3 attacks, or uses Action Surge, etc) it effectively kills PC1 (since all hits on the unconscious PC are -2 death saves). PC1 did die, so the Avatar must disappear, since

avatar fights until you die [...] whereupon it disappears.

This seems like a fairly straightforward way to make the PC resurrectable. Is there anything preventing this?

One might also ponder, whether this would be considered helping, since PC1's "soul" is saved, they can come back, but it was not help against the AoD. Also, this action could be performed by any (semi-)sentient being capable of killing the character, so maybe this second part is just a technicality. But also raises the question of what happens if PC1 committed suicide? Technically, then the helper already had an AoD, which disappears after they die.

Or am I missing something crucial here?

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    \$\begingroup\$ whichever way this works out, attempting this seems like a great plot hook for the DM to start a stereotypical "you cheated death" plotline \$\endgroup\$ Mar 14 at 16:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PixelMaster This is absolutely the best interpretation. It's this sort of narrow and messed up loophole (you killed your friend!) that makes for great roleplaying experiences. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 15 at 19:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ Now I'm wondering what happens if the player manages to kill themself. That's probably not easy due to death saves, but maybe there's some game feature that allows you to bypass that problem. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kevin
    Mar 16 at 23:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kevin actually, it can be quite simple if the player falls at the time of death. I realized this from an episode of Vox Machina, where Vex fell off her broom and almost into fire. The fall itself is 2 death saving throws, since she was taking damage while unconscious. If there was additional (eg fire) damage, that's basically it. \$\endgroup\$
    – theLance
    Mar 18 at 15:07

2 Answers 2

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Rules As Written this seems correct

The rule is:

A creature slain by an avatar of death can't be restored to life.

so killing the PC oneself would solve the problem.

The DM would have to rule about whether this counts as helping

The question seems to be about whether "helping" means "helping to win the fight" or "helping to not be permanently killed".

The DM might object to metagaming

How does your PC know that "a creature slain by an avatar of death can't be restored to life"? If they made an appropriate skill check to learn this fact, then great -- but if the DM doesn't choose to share that information on a skill check, then killing the PC seems like a pretty high level of metagaming.

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A merciful death is help, too

Just to be save for context, although I think you got all the relevant bits, the full text of Skull (except for the description of how the avatar looks) is:

It appears in a space of the DM's choice within 10 feet of you and attacks you, warning all others that you must win the battle alone. The avatar fights until you die or it drops to 0 hit points, whereupon it disappears. If anyone tries to help you, the helper summons its own avatar of death. A creature slain by an avatar of death can't be restored to life.

If you intervene to avoid the PC's permanent death, you are helping the PC to avoid unrestorable death. The text does not say you need to step in to help them win the fight. So, the helper will summon its own avatar of death. I guess it then is a question if you in turn will summon another one, if you interfere in their fight. I think you would.

If your party members put you down and manage to kill you before your avatar can, I think you are right that (a) you die and so your avatar will disappear and (b) you were not slain by the avatar, and thus could be restored to life. Your team then just has to deal with all the extra avatars.

As @NathanielFord has pointed out in the comments, intent probably matters here for the DM's interpretation what is help spawning an avatar, and what is not: the other characters acting with the intent to help their friend to not die permanently are helping. A random monster showing up by chance and killing them to eat them, is not helping.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Eh, I dunno. It really depends on 'if anyone tries to help you' means 'if anyone tries to do something beneficial for you in any manner' or 'if anyone tries to help you win the battle' (which is what the avatar warns about). Consider the case where the PC's arch nemesis is in the room next door. If the rest of the party go and kill that guy, it 'helps' the PC because their archnemesis is dead, but it would be weird for that to trigger this effect. If I deposit 1000 gold in their GoFundMe during the fight, does a death avatar show up to fight me? \$\endgroup\$ Mar 15 at 0:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NathanielFord I don't think it's that ambiguous. "If anyone tries to help you," while there is no qualifier, should still be interpreted within context. A GoFundMe is not relevant to the Deck or the Avatar. Avoiding permanent death caused by the effect of the deck is, and would directly trigger its magic. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jason_c_o
    Mar 15 at 2:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Jason_c_o That would require defining a 'goal' for the avatar of death, which as far as I know isn't really defined. Is the goal to defeat you, is the goal to defeat you in honorable combat, is the goal to permakill you (or is that just a side effect) or is it something else? I think NathanielFord's criticism is valid, even though his examples are intentionally reducing the claim to absurdity. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 15 at 12:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DavidMulder We probably also have to consider the extreme metatgaming. The helping player clearly knows the only outcome that matters is forever-dead vs. slightly-ruffled. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 15 at 14:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ "If anyone tries to help you" - woe unto the waiter who attempts to get your order mid-battle! \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael W.
    Mar 15 at 18:40

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