What is a "death effect"?


Rules Questions


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What is a death effect?

The Special Abilities section mentions "Death Attacks" but doesn't define them, and most spells commonly considered death effects don't fit the "In most cases" line.

The Magic section has a sub-sub-section on the [death] descriptor that suggests that any spell with the [death] descriptor is a death effect, but it also says that such spells cause immediate death--when, in fact, surprisingly few [death] spells cause immediate death even on a failed saving throw. But many spells commonly considered death effects don't have this descriptor, and supernatural and extraordinary abilities don't have descriptors.

A short list of potential argument-starters:

  • disintegrate (not [death]; doesn't kill unless 0 HP)
  • slay living ([death]; doesn't kill, moderately easy to survive a failed saving throw)
  • finger of death ([death]; doesn't kill, quite difficult to survive a failed saving throw)
  • suffocation (not [death]; kills, albeit slowly)
  • stricken heart ([death]; doesn't kill, barely damages at all)
  • enemy's heart ([death]; doesn't kill or damage, only does anything if you perform a coup-de-grace (see below))
  • deadly juggernaut ([death]; doesn't kill or damage, just gives you buffs if you kill something otherwise)
  • phantasmal killer (not [death]; kills on two failed saves)
  • aqueous orb (not [death] or even necromancy; kills if target can't hold breath, such as if the target is asleep)
  • power word kill (OK, some are pretty obvious)
  • An assassin's death attack ability (oh come on, it's right in the name)
  • A rogue's capstone ability (kills on a failed save)
  • A coup-de-grace (kills on a failed save)
  • The optional "massive damage" rule (kills on a failed save)

Is there any chance that the Powers That Be could define this term that strikes fear into the hearts of players everywhere--something up to which we can clearly hold a spell or ability and state, "Yep, that was a death effect" or "Nope, that just up an' killed 'im"? Note that the ramifications of this definition go beyond "can't use raise dead".


Got no citations for you but death effects seem pretty simple to me. It's not something that causes you to die as an effect of something else. It is something that just outright kills you, without having to go through the normal means of damage, drain, starvation, suffocation, etc.p (though it can still do damage, the damage isn't really what kills you) Simply "You Die", though you might get a save or two first.

So:
Phantasmal Killer: Yes
Power word kill: Yes
Death attack/rogue capstone: Yes

Liberty's Edge

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This is an old, old question actually:

http://paizo.com/threads/rzs2mh5m?What-Defines-a-Death-Attack

http://paizo.com/threads/rzs2sv1o?What-constitutes-a-death-effect

even back to 3.5: http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?29218-What-exactly-is-a-quot-de ath-effect-quot

A death attack doesn't have to actually send you straight to dead - taking enough damage to die from slay living still counts as having died from a death attack.

http://paizo.com/pathfinderRPG/prd/coreRulebook/glossary.html#death-attacks

In most cases, a death attack allows the victim a Fortitude save to avoid the effect, but if the save fails, the creature takes a large amount of damage, which might cause it to die instantly.

Raise dead doesn't work on someone killed by a death attack or effect.
Death attacks slay instantly. A victim cannot be made stable and thereby kept alive.
In case it matters, a dead character, no matter how he died, has hit points equal to or less than his negative Constitution score.
The spell death ward protects against these attacks

Liberty's Edge

Everything below with [death] is a death attack, even if it doesn't kill the target.

blahpers wrote:

What is a death effect?

The Special Abilities section mentions "Death Attacks" but doesn't define them, and most spells commonly considered death effects don't fit the "In most cases" line.

The Magic section has a sub-sub-section on the [death] descriptor that suggests that any spell with the [death] descriptor is a death effect, but it also says that such spells cause immediate death--when, in fact, surprisingly few [death] spells cause immediate death even on a failed saving throw. But many spells commonly considered death effects don't have this descriptor, and supernatural and extraordinary abilities don't have descriptors.

A short list of potential argument-starters:

  • disintegrate (not [death]; doesn't kill unless 0 HP)
  • slay living ([death]; doesn't kill, moderately easy to survive a failed saving throw)
  • finger of death ([death]; doesn't kill, quite difficult to survive a failed saving throw)
  • suffocation (not [death]; kills, albeit slowly)
  • stricken heart ([death]; doesn't kill, barely damages at all)
  • enemy's heart ([death]; doesn't kill or damage, only does anything if you perform a coup-de-grace (see below))
  • deadly juggernaut ([death]; doesn't kill or damage, just gives you buffs if you kill something otherwise)
  • phantasmal killer (not [death]; kills on two failed saves)
  • aqueous orb (not [death] or even necromancy; kills if target can't hold breath, such as if the target is asleep)
  • power word kill (OK, some are pretty obvious)
  • An assassin's death attack ability (oh come on, it's right in the name)
  • A rogue's capstone ability (kills on a failed save)
  • A coup-de-grace (kills on a failed save)
  • The optional "massive damage" rule (kills on a failed save)

Is there any chance that the Powers That Be could define this term that strikes fear into the hearts of players everywhere--something up to which we can clearly hold a spell or ability and state, "Yep, that was a death effect" or "Nope, that just up an' killed 'im"? Note...

Sovereign Court

1 person marked this as a favorite.

My understanding is that it's pretty much only death-magic style things; merely cutting someone's throat is no more a death effect than blowing someone up with a fireball or scoring a critical hit for more damage than the whole village has hit points.

It's a death effect if and only if:

A) It says "this is a death effect".
B) It has the [death] descriptor.

Death effects are almost always necromantic - they literally yank someone deep into death, so deep that it's hard to pull them back with Raise Dead.

Of course there are some weird spells with the [death] descriptor that don't actually kill someone directly at all, like Deadly Juggernaut. Those effects probably do something like using the energy of death to do something else. Kinda like how Summon Monster (fire elemental) gains a [fire] descriptor despite not actually burning anything directly.

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