D&D General Consequences of serious failure... other than death


We often talk about death as the consequence of the PCs failing to stop the BBEG or the PCs failing their objective when 1 or more PCs die etc. - and that's the consequence.

But, IMO, death of a PC isn't the most interesting consequence. Sure that PCs story is over, but the player introduces a new PC and moves on.

What are some great consequences of failure you've imposed or have had done to your PC?

Consequences while I was running:

Characters released an Undead horde onto an unsuspecting kingdom;

Characters released a lich and his minions possessing automatons (essentially a horde of warforged) onto the land of Greyhawk. Ok, maybe my players have a thing for releasing very bad things into the game world!

Characters didn't stop the BBEGs chronoton (sp?) bomb in time and got catapulted from Greyhawk to Deadlands (that was a fun one).

Lots of much smaller scale stuff - all of which I feel were actually more interesting then when PCs died (We've had 3 deaths in my 5e campaign, and while 1 was absolutely hilarious none of them were actually all that meaningful or lead anywhere all that interesting!)

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Bill Zebub

“It’s probably Matt Mercer’s fault.”
That artefact sword is forever out of your reach.

Your castle is in rubble.

Your reputation is ruined.

You are polymorphed into a gnome paladin.

All of the above.


The party has to flee, leaving their wealth behind to be looted by enemies.

The party gets enslaved, their equipment being taken and gone.

Their houses get destroyed.

Henchmen die.

Horses get eaten.

Towns get destroyed.

Personal personal
Give the players noble titles in the early game (e.g. after a first accomplishment). Then you can strip them of these titles again.
You can also just take (magic) items away, or just take their cash.

Global/regional consequences
Maps get stolen from the PCs, now the enemy knows where to strike.
They unleash an army on their hometown.

Personal & regional
The undead horde that's unleashed destroys the favorite pub of the PCs (and optionally their stronghold).

Li Shenron

Failure in epic adventures presumably mean epic consequences, such as the BBEGs' plan succeeding, and the outcome is usually be quite clear since the premise of the adventure itself: a legendary monster is released and starts torching the world, an evil tyranny is established and life turns grim, and so on...

Failure in more regular-level adventures have proportionally lesser consequences, in some case it doesn't even matter significantly. Maybe it's just another criminal business going to fruition, an injustice remaining unpunished, or a group of critters taking over a farm. For the PCs themselves however it can mean losing equipment, wasting valuable resources, losing reputation, being captured or forced into doing something they don't want, and more generally not gaining XP.


Follower of the Way
Two examples from my current game: one that actually did happen, one that was a possibility if things had gone really, really badly.

Actual event: The party had discovered the very poorly-hidden paper trail of some druid eco-terrorists (the Shadow Druids). There were two locations they could go to: one that seemed to be the "source" of things, and one that seemed to be a spot they were "routing" through before returning to the big city. They chose to go to the latter, situated in the marshy headwaters of the main river in the region. Unfortunately, they had some trouble on the way there (low rolls on Undertake a Perilous Journey, struggling through some fights with wildlife), so by the time they arrived...the marsh was on fire. They had to put out the fire, then investigate the location--where most of the information or benefit they could have obtained was lost. As a result: (1) the Shadow Druids have been able to pull most of their resources out of their other locations, to avoid other attacks by their enemies, so although their current operations have been dashed, the bulk of their forces remain--meaning the final showdown with them will be a lot more dangerous; (2) the river ran black because of the smoke and soot from the fire, which has severely ramped up the tensions in the city as the common folk saw it as a Horrible Omen; and (3) emboldened multiple other factions to act faster and capitalize on the atmosphere of fear and doubt.

Possible (averted) future: I adapted the very excellent The Gardens of Ynn into "Zerzura," expanding it to include an actual "city" portion in addition to the (now "exterior") garden portions. I also expanded the Idea of Thorns into the Song of Thorns, a spirit of savagery and entropy that slowly degrades both living things and reality itself. The Song can infect people simply by hearing or reading its lyrics, and the abilities of the party genuinely just so happened to be INCREDIBLY SCARY if the Song had somehow been able to take them. That is, at the time, the party comprised three people: a Druid, a Battlemaster, and a Bard, each of whom had immunity to passive infection by the Song. But if the Song found a way around that immunity...it would have been Extremely Bad. If it had managed to possess and subvert the Druid....it would have learned how to make all of its thralls transform into any animal it had observed, potentially turning it into an unstoppable force. The Battlemaster's immunity comes from a magic item; if it had been able to infect him and then re-apply that item, it would have found a way to keep a single highly-intelligent human mind WITHOUT breaking it down as a consequence of its innate decay effect on all sapient beings it corrupts, allowing it to act with full tactical brilliance rather than mere animal-level instinct. But the Bard...the Bard would have been the scariest of the lot. The Song of Thorns IS a Song--and the Bard is a master of the magic of song. With his powers, the Song of Thorns could rewrite its own lyrics, giving it the ability to create its own powers.

If even a single one of them had fallen to the Song, it would have been really, really, REALLY bad for the multiverse at large. Thankfully, they both leveraged their prep quite well, and managed to roll particularly well in both stages of that combat, such that none of these untoward consequences occurred (indeed, they killed the Song very, very dead--it is gone and cannot be restored, period.)


Victoria Rules
The party has to flee, leaving their wealth behind to be looted by enemies.

The party gets enslaved, their equipment being taken and gone.

Their houses get destroyed.

Henchmen die.

Horses get eaten.

Towns get destroyed.
The first two here are the only consequences listed so far that actually represent a straight-up hit to the PCs' continued ability to adventure, that being loss of items, wealth, and-or possessions.

And those are the consequences that hit players where it matters: the ones that impact a PC's continued ability to adventure. Level loss, permanent stat drain, limb loss, major aging, wealth/item loss, and of course death (but only if revival itself has lasting effects e.g. the permanent loss of a Con point in 1e); all are examples of such.

Of those, other than a very few corner cases, wealth loss and death are all that 5e has left that long-term affect adventuring ability and-or effectiveness; and even wealth/item loss isn't nearly as common as it once was and now needs to be engineered through means such as those listed in the quoted post.

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