Why does everyone recommend Death Ward?


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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber

I hear again and again on these forums that at high level play up you better have death ward up or your dead. That if you don't have death ward up, you deserve what you get.

I. don't. get. this.

Death ward SUCKS.

I am continually surprised to hear that this is a common spell at higher levels. I have been roleplaying D&D and Pathfinder for over 15 years, and I have NEVER seen that spell cast. Not once.

Among other problems, it's duration is simply too short. At 1 minute/level, you aren't going to cast it until you witness someone die from a death effect (assuming you can even identify a death affect for what it is).

The only method of having an ongoing death ward effect, that I know of, is to possess a darkskull with the spell attuned to it, but good luck getting a hold of that if you aren't evil.

EDIT: Also, contingency might work if you have a lenient GM.


Death ward isn't to help you against death magic*, it is to prevent you from getting level drained into a wraith, vampire, etc.

*Although if you know you are going up against a necromancer or something, death ward is a good idea.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber

But why would you ever prepare this spell unless you know you're going against such things in advance?

Paizo Employee Creative Director

You probably wouldn't. But when you DO know you're going up against such thigns in advance, it's a great spell.

Part of the reason folks seem to like it so much is due to the fact that in 3.5, it was REALLY good. Like freedom of movement, it's a really long-lasting spell that generally will last for multiple encounters. It also made you completely immune to death effects, among other things.

It only takes your character succumbing once to a death effect for you to want to have death ward in your back pocket at all times.

Of course... one of the reasons we have dozens and dozens of spells of each level for folks to cast is so that you can vary things up. What you like might not be what someone else likes. That's fine.


Undead are common. More to the point, virtually any high-level wizard will use a few save-or-die spells on you. Finger of Death is a common one. (High-level clerics will frequently dish out Destruction instead.)

At 7th-level, it's probably not that useful, but so many types of spellcasting opponents (and some undead) dish out attacks stopped by Death Ward that it's useful. It's the kind of spell you probably want to prep every day, even if you don't use it every day.


Same reason you might prepare delay or neutralize poison even if you don't specifically know you will be facing poison- it is best to be prepared.

With that said, death ward is probably best as a scroll or wand, or something that you memorize once and pearl of power for an additional casting.

If I was a mid level cleric looking to cast defensive spells (which I am), I would probably memorize freedom of movement first, then death ward second.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

Enervation(spammed even) is a crippling encounter/game changer when its dropped on you, as well.


In my experience many traps are negative energy based. Plus facing clerics who can channel negative sucks, and getting negative levels sucks. For all these reasons and more, Death Ward is great.

Liberty's Edge

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Why does everyone recommend Death Ward?

Because they don't want to die!


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RD, I'm guessing your group has never played Curse of the Crimson Throne? To avoid spoilers, I'll be vague and just say that our current group's adventuring paradigm is based on the fact that we need to have death ward up on everyone mission-critical at all times. Fortunately, we somehow have an alchemist, a cleric, and a druid in our party, and an NPC cleric joined us, so that is a possibility. We would have certainly had multiple deaths if we didn't adopt this as standard operating procedure. Anyone who has played the part I'm talking about will know what I mean.


Links, for those who care to read them: Pathfinder Death Ward, d20 Death Ward.


Possibly 'cause lots of people still interpret it using old dnd3.5 rules rather then pathfinder rules (much like remove disease and neutralize poison).

They *used* to be guaranteed to work if you used them.
In pathfinder, its not...

Lots of folks I've seen seem to still assume the former.

Though Death Ward at least still guarantees protection from negative energy at least.... if not the death effects.


Oh wow, they nerfed that hardcore. :(


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber
James Jacobs wrote:

You probably wouldn't. But when you DO know you're going up against such thigns in advance, it's a great spell.

Part of the reason folks seem to like it so much is due to the fact that in 3.5, it was REALLY good. Like freedom of movement, it's a really long-lasting spell that generally will last for multiple encounters. It also made you completely immune to death effects, among other things.

It only takes your character succumbing once to a death effect for you to want to have death ward in your back pocket at all times.

Of course... one of the reasons we have dozens and dozens of spells of each level for folks to cast is so that you can vary things up. What you like might not be what someone else likes. That's fine.

Could you clarify for us what a "death spell" or "magical death effect" is exactly? Is fireball a death spell? What about a spell with the [death] tag? What about a supernatural ability that says it is a death effect?


If it says it's a death effect, it's a death effect.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber
Cheapy wrote:
If it says it's a death effect, it's a death effect.

So, by your logic, circle of death isn't a death effect as it says nothing of the sort.

Do you think cloudkill is a death effect? It can slay creatures outright with a save versus death. That sounds like a "death effect" to me.

Death effects are not defined, which is what is causing confusion.

I'm not asking these questions for myself, I'm asking because these very questions have been asked (and debated) several times before with no apparent clarification on the matter (least none that I recall seeing).


"School necromancy [death]"
If that is the first line of the spell, it's a death effect.

I would also add anything that results directly in death, but not effects that result in death due to other factors such as lose of HP, Con, breathing, etc. Just - boom - death.

Silver Crusade

I think another big point is that raise dead can't be used on a person who has been killed by a death effect. That is super important in Society Play since Resurrection cost a ton.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Though I personally believe that to be correct, that's still not clearly stated anywhere in the rules, Fergie.


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Ravingdork wrote:


Could you clarify for us what a "death spell" or "magical death effect" is exactly?

Any spell (or spell like or supernatural ability that emulates a spell) that has the "death" [Descriptor].

Ravingdork wrote:


Is fireball a death spell?

No:

FIREBALL
School evocation [fire];

No:
TRAP THE SOUL
School conjuration (summoning);

Ravingdork wrote:


What about a spell with the [death] tag?

Yes:

WAIL OF THE BANSHEE
School necromancy [death, sonic];

Yes:
SLAY LIVING
School necromancy [death];

Yes:
POWER WORD KILL
School enchantment (compulsion) [death, mind-affecting];

Ravingdork wrote:


What about a supernatural ability that says it is a death effect?

Yes:

DEVOURER
Devour Soul (Su) By making a touch attack as a standard action, a devourer can deal 12d6+18 points of damage as if using a slay living spell.
SLAY LIVING
School necromancy [death];

No:
INTELLECT DEVOURER
Body Thief (Su) As a full-round action that provokes an attack of opportunity, an intellect devourer can reduce its size, crawl into the mouth of a helpless or dead creature, and burrow into the victim's skull to devour its brain. This is a coup de grace attempt that inflicts 8d4+3d6+8 points of damage.

Yes:
BANSHEE
Wail (Su) Once per minute, a banshee may wail as a full-round action. Those that fail take 140 points of damage (as if affected by a CL 14 wail of the banshee).
WAIL OF THE BANSHEE
School necromancy [death, sonic];

Yes:
CACODAEMON
Soul Lock (Su) Once per day as a full-round action, a cacodaemon can ingest the spirit of any sentient creature that has died within the last minute. This causes a soul gem to grow inside of the cacodaemon's gut, which it can regurgitate as a standard action. A soul gem is a fine-sized object with 1 hit point and hardness 2. Destroying a soul gem frees the soul within, though it does not return the deceased creature to life. This is a death effect.

That's how I rule it anyway.


Fergie wrote:

"School necromancy [death]"

If that is the first line of the spell, it's a death effect.

I would also add anything that results directly in death, but not effects that result in death due to other factors such as lose of HP, Con, breathing, etc. Just - boom - death.

Unfortunately, this fails the litmus test.

Raise Dead has a rider of you can't bring back someone who was killed by a death effect. The Assassins True Death class feature strongly implies that they can be brought back from the dead using a simple Raise (and by implies, it spells out "If you try to use Raise Dead or similar..." and goes on to say it can succeed). I had thought that in the 3.5 days the Assassin's Death Attack class feature had a mention in there about it explicitly being a Death Effect, but I could be mistaken. At the very least, it is no longer the case in Pathfinder and the 3.5 SRD doesn't say it is.

There are a handful of special monsters that have 'this is a death effect' in their ability block (eg. Bodak, Banshee being the two prominent ones), but beyond individual entries, there doesn't seem to be an 'X sort of ability is a Death Effect'. I mean, in both of their cases, it isn't even Save or Die effects that are denoted as being 'Death Effects'. Bodak is now a level drain (which is blocked anyway as it's negative levels), and Banshee does a flat 140 pts of damage.

So.... Death ward protects against negative energy, a gives a save bonus vs a handful of spells and an even smaller amount of special abilities on a handful of monsters.

Sorry.


The Cacodaemon one makes me wonder how that would work: the target is already dead, but it still gets a save if under the effect of Death Ward? Would the spell effect end on the target's death (would it vary if the caster was the one who died, or if someone died with it on but the caster still lived)?


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Here's a thread that highlights some of the confusion that can be caused by not clearly defining death effects within the rules.

Run a search for "death effect" and you will find ten more just like it.


No one really knows what a death effect is (besides the obvious,) but anything that makes you immune to negative energy, and immune to level drain, is good in my book.


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Wow, I am one of those who did not realize how much they nerfed the spell in PF!

Though it still does protect from enervation spam, which is one of a caster's (well, anyone's...but especially a caster's) worst nightmares.

What an odd direction to go, though... "Save or dies are overpowered and game breaking! So, we're going to leave some in, add a few more, and then go and utterly wreck the one spell that protected against them." Perfectly logical...

Sovereign Court

All in all, seems like a few scrolls of Death Ward are something I'll be happy to carry around. If we spot level-draining undead, we buff up and show them who's boss.

But in a campaign where meeting level-draining undead isn't an everyday occurrence, it's not something I'll regularly prepare.

So it's good that the spell exists, but not every good spell is good for everyday preparation; that's why Scribe Scroll is a good feat for clerics.


I am also one of those who didn't realize that death ward was nerfed in PF, anyway still when you know that you are going to be facing undead or knowingly going against a high level arcane spellcaster i like to have a death ward on me.

Silver Crusade

I'd certainly want it on me if I was going to be headbutting demiliches to dust or punching daemons in the throat, just in case.

Liberty's Edge RPG Superstar 2013 Top 16

what cibet44 wrote:
cibet44 wrote:


Ravingdork wrote:


Could you clarify for us what a "death spell" or "magical death effect" is exactly?

Any spell (or spell like or supernatural ability that emulates a spell) that has the "death" [Descriptor].

Ravingdork wrote:


Is fireball a death spell?

No:

FIREBALL
School evocation [fire];

No:
TRAP THE SOUL
School conjuration (summoning);

Ravingdork wrote:


What about a spell with the [death] tag?

Yes:

WAIL OF THE BANSHEE
School necromancy [death, sonic];

Yes:
SLAY LIVING
School necromancy [death];

Yes:
POWER WORD KILL
School enchantment (compulsion) [death, mind-affecting];

Ravingdork wrote:


What about a supernatural ability that says it is a death effect?

Yes:

DEVOURER
Devour Soul (Su) By making a touch attack as a standard action, a devourer can deal 12d6+18 points of damage as if using a slay living spell.
SLAY LIVING
School necromancy [death];

No:
INTELLECT DEVOURER
Body Thief (Su) As a full-round action that provokes an attack of opportunity, an intellect devourer can reduce its size, crawl into the mouth of a helpless or dead creature, and burrow into the victim's skull to devour its brain. This is a coup de grace attempt that inflicts 8d4+3d6+8 points of damage.

Yes:
BANSHEE
Wail (Su) Once per minute, a banshee may wail as a full-round action. Those that fail take 140 points of damage (as if affected by a CL 14 wail of the banshee).
WAIL OF THE BANSHEE
School necromancy [death, sonic];

Yes:
CACODAEMON
Soul Lock (Su) Once per day as a full-round action, a cacodaemon can ingest the spirit of any sentient creature that has died within the last minute. This causes a soul gem to grow inside of the cacodaemon's gut, which it can regurgitate as a standard action. A soul gem is a fine-sized object with 1 hit point and hardness 2. Destroying a soul gem frees the soul within, though it does not return the deceased creature to life. This is a death effect.

That's how I rule it anyway.

Nailed it.

Also, Extend it. At 15th level that is half an hour of death ward. You can kill an awful lot of bad guys in half an hour.


Today I Learned (although I probably should have known):

Phantasmal killer is not listed as a death spell (as per the text in UM that ties the death descriptor to a death effect).

Phantasmal killer is actually now an emotion spell.

The death attack by an assassin, while it is probably a non-magical death effect, cannot be mitigated by death ward.

PRD wrote:
The subject gains a +4 morale bonus on saves against all death spells and magical death effects.

. . . interesting.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I always thought death effects were pretty cut and dry.

If it's a spell that has the [death] tag, then it's a death effect
If it's a SLA or supernatural ability that emulates a [death] spell, then it's a death effect.
If it's a supernatural ability that has the text this is a death effect, then it's a death effect.

If none of those apply then it's not. Even something like a Demilich's Devour Soul.

Edit: And yeah, that does mean Phantasmal Killer isn't a death effect. That's probably because there are a bunch of other ways to counter it.


For my higher level characters Death Ward is a lot like Freedom of Movement. I want the protection they offer, ideally 24-7, because they prevent/protect against many spells and effects which instantly incapacitate or kill (save or 'die' type spells) often regardless of my current health status and do so with few other options available to protect against those effects. No evasion, no elemental resistance, no ... you get the idea.

That said I rarely memorized it unless the circumstances made it very likely to be needed. I'd seek items offering the protection either around the clock or 'as needed' through scrolls, wands, staffs, rings, etc..


It's one of the only spells (the only spell?) that protects against negative energy effects and drain. Or at least, improves your chances.


If you're the sort of caster who will actually cast minute/level spells before combat, deathward is great. If you're in a situation where you expect negative energy, negative levels, or death attacks, deathward is great. If you're nervous about casting anything shorter duration than an hour and you have no idea what you're going to be facing, it's at best a good choice to spontaneously release for cure critical wounds.

Interesting point on Assassin's death attack - no, deathward doesn't help with that. And when the assassin gets True Death, which is supernatural, it still doesn't help with the death attack. But I *could* see saying "if you would have made it with a +4 bonus, True Death doesn't apply," as a house rule.

This whole topic is quite simple in Pathfinder - it was older editions (1st/2nd) that might have you guessing as to what counts. Also, we've had a FAQ.


A a DM (or Game Master), I nerfered Death Ward even more, since no negative energy can damage the PCs. Imagine an adventure with incorporeal undead that can't wound characters because of Death Ward! Shadows, Specters, Ghosts, even Banshee can't cause damage to PCs protected by the spell.


Pascal Théroux wrote:

A a DM (or Game Master), I nerfered Death Ward even more, since no negative energy can damage the PCs. Imagine an adventure with incorporeal undead that can't wound characters because of Death Ward! Shadows, Specters, Ghosts, even Banshee can't cause damage to PCs protected by the spell.

What changes did you make to the spell?

As a general principle, I like the idea of half damage more then blanket immunity. Although negative levels are soooo nasty that there should be spells like Death Ward.

Death ward did not prevent thread necromancy!
Not complaining, just making a bad joke.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber

You never know when you might get a free pass to a succubi brothel.


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Why can't the incorporeal undead, once they realize they can't hurt the PCs, retreat into a solid object and follow them until the ward's duration has expired?


Paladin of Baha-who? wrote:
Why can't the incorporeal undead, once they realize they can't hurt the PCs, retreat into a solid object and follow them until the ward's duration has expired?

Short answer: Absolutely no reason, nothing to keep them from doing exactly that. On the other hand, Wraiths, as one example, while plenty smart enough to learn, do not possess the skills of Spellcraft or Arcana so maybe they don't out of lack of knowledge. Maybe they do for 5 or 10 minutes then testing and get the same results but 'suffer' through some readied actions before deciding this isn't working in the process. And technically if under total cover within the walls or what ever they can't actually see the PC's to know where they are going ... and peeking leaves them vulnerable to PC actions (Unless they happen to possess Lifesense, which personal is extremely tempting to give many if not all undead but again isn't RAW or even RAI).


Double necro!

So as this is a subject that interests me- one possible house rule for non-evil characters to get a permanent or semi-permanent Death Ward:
The Lord's Banner of Crusades (from the APG) gives a constant hollow effect much like the skull. You could allow players to attach a spell to it from the hollow list much. The price is actually 40,000gp more than darkskull (20,000 if you craft it), so I feel its cost doesn't need re-balancing.

Cheers!


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Thanks Wingnuticus!


Its one of the best scroll spells. Ever.


The immunity to energy drain does it for me, but it's sort of situational. If the party's going to face Ughmez the Goblin King, I'm probably not packing death ward automatically. On the other hand, if I'm going to face Ughmez the Vampire Lord, you bet your sweet bippy I'm spreading Death Ward around.


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pennywit wrote:
The immunity to energy drain does it for me, but it's sort of situational. If the party's going to face Ughmez the Goblin King, I'm probably not packing death ward automatically. On the other hand, if I'm going to face Ughmez the Vampire Lord, you bet your sweet bippy I'm spreading Death Ward around.

You're fashionably late to this thread.

Grand Lodge

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I cast Deathward to protect me from this necromancer !


Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber

My GM enjoys using undead. I make it a point to pack death ward. And have backup scrolls.


Little late with this information but it also used to be an item enhancement which could be used to enhance magical armor. The first time (in a 24hr period) the user was subject to Death magic the enhancement would protect them as if Death Ward had been cast. The enhancement was permanent so essentially 1/day you were protected by Death Ward as needed.


I think Deathward was more useful back in the "good old days" of instant player death being a core mechanic of the game. I know Deathward was invaluable to getting the "No One Died" achievement on the Enhanced Edition of Baldurs Gate 2. Now that player generation takes so long and deaths are far less common, I doubt Death Ward sees nearly as much use. So much of it is nostalgia, like this thread from 2013.

God I miss 2013.


Ravingdork wrote:
But why would you ever prepare this spell unless you know you're going against such things in advance?

Scrolls.


I do love a good sale.

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