This system is designed to limit the effectiveness of magical healing in D&D 3.x/Pathfinder. It can be used to make a game grittier without altering all the healing spells directly, or to make a game rules distinction between PCs (who tend to shoot through up in level as soon as gameplay starts) and NPCs (who seem to take years to level).

Unnatural Healing

The energies created by healing magic aren’t, in the long term, compatible with the mortal form. Being healed by the grace of the divine is overwhelming, even painful, as tissues are knit together not by the natural processes of the body, but by the mandate of a god. Healing pushes the body past its mundane limits, and can be very dangerous: magical healing exists on a different plane, and beneath this divine health is a body wracked with injury. Masking the body’s natural limits is dangerous: even a small mending by magic is enough to keep a person from knowing his own point of expiration.

Whenever an individual is healed by magic, begin a separate record of his unspelled hit points. All healing magic only cures the modified total, but further wounds adjust both the mortal and magical totals, and natural healing restores both as well. If the character’s mortal HP are negative, but magical are positive, do not track dying and stabilization—the magic at least prevents the character from unknowingly bleeding to death.

For example, a 2nd level mortal with 20 HP takes 10 points of damage. He is granted a healing spell that gives him 8 HP… his actual HP is recorded as 10, but his magically modified total is 18.

He takes a 14 point wound, reducing his totals to -4 and 4. As far as his body is concerned, he should be dying, but the magic allows him to act as if everything is fine.

He is again healed for 8 points to -4/12. If he takes 6 more points of damage, he will be dead even though the magic allows him to walk around as if nothing is wrong.

However, if he escapes the fight without further damage, he will begin to heal naturally at his normal rate of 2/day (discounting the Heal skill). In 4 days, he will feel perfectly fine, but he actually needs 12 days to even his mundane total to his magical one (and remove the distinction).

Death and Resurrection

If a character’s mundane HP ever reach -10 or lower, he is dead, even if magical healing keeps him from realizing it. Crossing this line permanently ends his life, and he begins living on time borrowed from the gods. As soon as mundane hit points reach -10, cease tracking them as they no longer matter. Instead, the character is now effectively a Revenant, though he gains no undead traits, instead suffused with magical life. He no longer heals naturally, and can only be restored with magic. He must immediately decide on the goal that is keeping him moving (with the GM’s input or control; see below).

Characters that are reduced below -10 without previously acquiring healing (or even after becoming Revenants) can be restored to Revenant status with simple healing magic if healed back above -10 before their soul departs at sunset (or other short-term, setting-appropriate limit). Those that had not previously become Revenants must also gain a Revenant goal or the healing cannot restore the body. After sunset, only magics such as Raise Dead can restore a dead individual, and these, too, create a Revenant, not a true mortal, forcing the target to take up a goal or remain forever dead.

Once a Revenant completes his goal, no further magical healing is possible and the divine energies quickly bleed out of his system (at a rate of HD per round, hour, or day, depending on how much time the GM wants Revenants to have to say goodbyes and tie up loose ends). Once the Revenant drops below 0 HP, it is the final end for him: further healing or resurrection magic does nothing unless something changes to invalidate his success at his goal and a great hero is needed again.

Goals of Revenants

For most Revenants, the goal that drives them should be to avenge their death by killing the being responsible. In general, this should be either the individual that dealt the killing blow or the being responsible for the attack (i.e., the mastermind behind the combat that killed the Revenant). This mastermind should be someone the Revenant is aware of or, if the leadership of the murderer is secret, only a step or two removed from the killer. Additionally, the target of the goal should not be more than a few HD greater than the Revenant. Essentially, if the Revenant’s death was part of a plot, the mastermind should be within the Revenant’s power to kill within the short term. If it is unrealistic for the Revenant to achieve his goals in a short period, the target should fall upon the most responsible leader that the Revenant can get to.

Other goals should be similarly short term, if the GM lets the dead character define his own agenda. They should be concrete, measurable, and obvious to the character to keep him going. Example goals could be evacuating a village before it is destroyed, destroying an artifact, defending an item or location from a specific assault, and so on. Any goal that would reasonably take several months or more to achieve should only be approved if the GM wants the character to stick around for much longer.

However, even with longer term goals, the Revenant is essentially geased by his own agenda. If the character has made no measurable progress towards his goal since the last sunset, he cannot be healed. If the character goes more than a day without making progress, he begins to bleed HP at Level/Day until he once again begins working towards his goal. Without constant focus on the force that allows the hero to transcend death, the divine energy cannot be retained by his spirit.

Revenant’s Speed

A possible benefit of being a Revenant, for games where it makes sense, is an increased rate of leveling: as an essentially magical being with a razor focus on attaining a goal, the limits of mortal learning do not apply to the character. Essentially, a Revenant levels faster than true mortals, quickly accumulating experience that would take a regular character years to achieve. Give the Revenant up to 10 times as much XP as you give a regular character (exact rate should vary based on how long you give the Revenant to live, whether you have a mixed party, and how fast characters normally level in the world… it may be reasonable to drastically cut the exp awarded to still-living characters if you want a world where only those on borrowed time achieve high level in the course of a single adventure path).

Less Gritty Option

As written, the rules reduce healing pretty much to +10 HP before a swift slope to Revenancy. If you want healing to matter a bit more, use the following options:

  • Number of dice of healing is actually applied to mundane HP. For example, a roll of 12 on 3d6 heals 3 mundane HP and 12 magic HP.
  • Character level is added to negative HP required to die. A third level character dies at -13, not -10.

These rules should allow magical healing to scale a bit more with level so it actually remains viable while still increasing the risk of Revenancy and reducing the efficiency of trying to heal to full after each encounter.