Magical Mondays: Gambling With Death   Leave a comment

It’s a classic story, isn’t it?  A person sits on death’s door either due to illness or old age or some grievous wound, and Death itself arrives to claim the individual.  The person convinces Death that it doesn’t necessarily need to die now, and that they can play a game of chance or skill to settle the matter.  Death is persuaded, either by virtue of the novelty of the situation or (more likely) by the force of tradition to play this game.  Different authors have given different endings to this story over the course of history, but it’s one of the most archetypal stories of all time.

This means that not only would a crafty wizard be familiar with it, but a skilled necromancer would try to exploit it.

I have a file on my computer that I call “Spells for the Discerning Wizard”, with subsets for each of the different specialist wizards in D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder.  I originally started making this list because I felt that some schools of magic were underrepresented (low level Abjurers, for instance, don’t always have a lot to do with that bonus spell slot).  One spell that I added for the Necromancy school is called “Gamble With Death.”  It’s one of those odd forms of “healing” that wizards can manage by calling upon the powers of the grave.  It looks a little something like this…

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Gamble With Death

School necromancy; Level sorcerer/wizard 2, witch 2

Casting:

Casting Time 1 standard action

Components V, S, F (a game of chance or skill that costs at least 50 gold (an ivory chess set or antique deck of cards, for instance))

Effect:

Range medium (100 ft. + 10 ft./level)

Target you and one dying character within range.

Saving Throw none (see text); Spell Resistace yes

Description:

The caster may target a single dying creature within range and, while using a high-quality game of chance or skill, call upon Death to gamble against the life of the target.  If the target is not actually dying (or if the target would be unwilling to be brought back to life, as in the case of a character being unwilling to be resurrected) then the spell fails without any contact from Death.  The caster then plays against Death in a semi-real dream plane.  The game may be over in an instant or may appear to take days or even years from the vantage point of the caster (though this length of time has no impact upon the caster’s ability to play.)  Regardless, the caster’s body remains in the plane where it cast the spell, and appears to only manipulate the spell’s focus item for a single standard action.  At the conclusion of this standard action, the caster makes a Wisdom check or a Profession (Gambler) check against a DC of 10 + 1/2 the HD of the dying creature.  If the caster is successful, the dying creature is restored to 1 hit point and consciousness.  If the caster fails, then the caster takes 1d3 Con damage, +1 for every three hit dice above 5 that the creature possesses.  This Con damage is lost as part of the mystic nature of the wager and not as part of an attack or supernatural force, and as such is not subject to reduction (though it can still be healed after the fact.)

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Is this spell balanced? Likely not, I’ve barely touched it for testing purposes, and only ever shared it with another DM once.  However, I’ve always enjoyed the flavor of the spell.  Death is willing to gamble with the caster of this spell, but the risk is actually all on the part of the caster.  Death isn’t personally doing anything to hasten the demise of the target, after all, Death is just there to cart the creature’s soul away when it kicks the bucket.  However, Death does desire more powerful creatures, and will increase the stakes (while playing more fervently) for them.  Meanwhile, what Death gains from the outcome is the lack of health of the caster.  Admittedly, a wise caster will likely have measures against dying due to this Con damage, but the caster will still be “closer” to death, if even for just a moment.

As a secondary benefit of this spell, I like to imagine that this spell basically puts the caster on Death’s radar as being more than just a regular life form meant for eventual culling.  Death will eventually claim the target in time, of course (silly liches, you really thought it was that easy?) but for now the caster has some sort of relationship with Death.  Almost certainly distant, of course, and not necessarily a friendly one (or from Death’s point of view possibly not even an important one), but the spell does suggest that the caster is beginning to understand the cosmic concepts behind the fire that’s being played with.

And while the rules of the spell don’t support this kind of thing… I maintain that any player of mine who has this spell always has a partner for a chess game just a quick spell-slot away.  If they’ve got something to wager with, that is.

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