There comes a point when death is no longer scary. The precise moment differs between campaigns, but it generally occurs somewhere in that strange, far country known as High Level.

Here’s what got me thinking about this. After five years of play, my megadungeon players have finally arrived at level 15. One of them died last session. So if you’ll indulge me, I shall regale you with a copy + paste from the campaign log. This excerpt comes from a session entitled “A Cherry and Dwarf Snowcone.”

…Yet you could not rest easy, for that was only the opening salvo. Something huge passed beneath the frozen floor, and it was by no means humanoid. A massive orca made from living ice breached. It was decidedly unfriendly. 

“Come here ye fishy bastard!” growled the dwarven barbarian Azagar. “I’ll make a snow cone out of ye!”

Azagar brandished the cherry juice he’d purchased to guard against medusa petrification (“It’s good fer the joints! Keeps ’em limber.”). The huge beast was in fact shedding quite a bit of shaved ice every time you struck, so victory snow cones did not seem out of the question… At least until the creature’s next turn.

If you’ve ever been to Sea World and seen a whale jump, the monster’s next attack went a little bit like that. It landed square atop Azagar, crushed him into the ground, and then began tearing at the poor barbarian’s body, trying to drag the chewy bits into the floor. The luckless dwarf was very dead, and his blood mixed with cherry juice across the ice.

It was therefore a Pyrrhic victory when you killed the elemental leviathan the following round.

Exposure to the Elements: 12,800 XP

“Ummm…” said Laurel. “I know it’s a long shot, but I’ve got this amulet that casts breath of life on you.”

“That only works if you’re wearing it when you die, right?”

“Well I mean… technically.”

Your GM, in his infinite mercy, gave it a shot. Each surviving member of the party got a chance to tempt Azagar’s spirit back into its broken body. You saluted his brave spirit, raged at the dead dwarf, and entreated his warrior’s pride. One of you even held out a makeshift snowcone.

“Ach!” said Azagar, who managed to make his save versus death.

As it turns out, a cherry and dwarf snowcone isn’t half bad.

You might have noticed the Critical Role style resurrection in there. It seemed appropriate for an ad hoc this-shouldn’t-work-but-I’ll-allow-it kind of call. My point in relating this silly story is that, at that moment in the game, I didn’t want to deal with death. That’s because there were no consequences for shuffling off this mortal coil beyond “the game slows down for half an hour while we drag the body back to town.”

You see, when you step onto the distant shores of High Level, death is only an inconvenience. You pay your gold, you cast your spells, and you come back with no injury sustained except to your pocketbook. It was then that I realized only a TPK would pose a real threat to the party, and that those consequences for dying we talked about way back in The Worth of a Life were better reserved for significant deaths rather than oops-I’m-dead games of rocket tag.

What do the rest of you guys think? Should death remain a threat throughout all levels of play? Should you shift towards fates-worse-than-death (e.g. zombification or imprisonment in the lower planes) when the players have the means to trivialize their trips to the Boneyard? What I’m asking is this: Should you strive to keep mortality relevant, or does arriving at High Level mean that the dead condition becomes one more debuff to deal with? Let’s hear it in the comments!


ADD SOME NSFW TO YOUR FANTASY! If you’ve ever been curious about that Handbook of Erotic Fantasy banner down at the bottom of the page, then you should check out the “Quest Giver” reward level over on The Handbook of Heroes Patreon. Twice a month you’ll get to see what the Handbook cast get up to when the lights go out. Adults only, 18+ years of age, etc. etc.