Player wants her character to have a terminal illness


Advice


Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

One of my players is playing a lashunta mystic, with the mindforward race option. To reflect her low constitution, she wants her character to have some type of chronic, terminal illness. However, I'm not sure exactly how to do this in game. The disease track seems more tailored to something that would kill you quickly, or at least debilitate you for long periods of time (as is the case with leprosy), but she wants the disease to be slow. And I don't want her to have to suffer through several games of being sickened or worse due to a long time between saves. I also don't want it to be daily, for fear she'd die within only a few days after the game starts.

How would you deal with this? Any ideas? I want her to be able to have fun, while still keeping this aspect of her character.


Zertroz,

The game isn't really set up for those types of illness (as you said the disease track is set up to kill you quickly not live out over months)

It sounds much more like a roleplaying thing that you enforce on a role playing basis when it is cool for the story to do so.

I wouldn't so much worry about putting hard rules to the disease unless the player is looking for some extra benefit because of this down side that she is taking.


Well, you don't generally see a lot of afflictions that are chronic and terminal that let you be an adventurer until you die later on in life. You tend to have a host of of problems impacting the various systems your body uses to do stuff. So here's my advice:

Go research Polio. Then give her Polio. Every few game days do a hidden check to see if this is the day paralysis starts setting in.

Personally, I'd probably force to her to play her character as basically debilitated to the point of bed rest, but I wouldn't let the Polio kill her.

I'd make her recover from the Polio and have Post Polio Syndrome get her a couple sessions down the line.

Hopefully she'll enjoy having a character that can't really do much besides wait and hope most days.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

As a thought, you could adapt the Plagued corruption from PF 1E (Horror Realms) using the Starfinder corruption rules from SF AP #10.


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You could just make the disease frequency 1/month.

Or, better yet, just have her affected when it would improve the plot (like she is about to strike down a bad guy who you want to live; her hand freezes up from her degenerative condition and she drops the gun).

RP illnesses are best handled by RP consequences.


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Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Why not just decree it as background flavor? The near term ( ie, within the next several years ) effect of the illness is "I have a crap Constitution score". It otherwise has no mechanical effect. Anything more than that and you are basically talking an unplayable character, outside of perhaps a very short and very carefully choreographed story.

( This is also setting aside the logistics of actually *having* a chronic terminal illness in a setting where death itself is only a moderately hard "illness" to cure. . . )

Grand Lodge

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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Maps Subscriber

So... Early in my librarian career, there was a popular teen series that was basically terminal illness wish fantasy. The basic concept is a chipper and deserving character who contracts an illness, and realizes that they only have a short amount of time to make all their dreams come true. So they go out and do crazy stuff and have all the adventures that healthy people with jobs usually don't get around to doing. They go waterskiing and dare greatly and live dangerously, and usually either use up all their savings and retirement money or get funding from the Make-a-Wish foundation, and they have a glorious life -- and then die in the last five pages with a glorious funeral where all their loved ones say, "Oh, man, she knew how to live!"

I think that is the storyline your player wants. They want to have a terminal illness that will kill them -- someday. They want everyone to understand how brave they are, and they want to adventure while racing against their biological clock. They want news media to interview them while they blog about their "Only one life to live" and eventually have a doctor tell them that with their heart condition they could go at any time, and then they want to die sacrificing themselves in a glorious battle so that the rest of the team can live.

It's a really weird fantasy trope, but... remember how popular John Green's "The Fault in our Stars" was? It was basically terminal illness wish fantasy, except that it actually dwelled a bit on how sucky cancer really was, and it had a nice snarky and sarcastic teen narrator who really made the storyline work without being cloying.

Anyway, this is something to think about.

Hmm


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Recent necromancer fantasy/sci-fi novel Gideon the Ninth features a hereditary house of necromancers (the Seventh) who study debilitating diseases that hold one on the edge of death and who have a genetic predisposition to one that results in lots of bloody coughing while otherwise looking both fragile and radiant (and providing an internal necromantic power source). It’s an excellent book and worth reading for some inspiration from Dulcinea, one of the prominent characters.


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Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber

Val Kilmer as Doc Holiday in the film Tombstone is another example of someone with a terminal, chronic illness in what is at heart an adventure movie.


Yeah, I think it is very important to understand why she wants this before figuring out the exact mechanics.


What prevents her from being cured by spacescience/magic?


I suggest Void Death.

Tell her to bring a backup character on the first session.


Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Ixal wrote:
What prevents her from being cured by spacescience/magic?

This is an issue, though its not a *completely* unsolvable issue. Its a magical space fantasy setting, there certainly is room for exotic diseases ( or "diseases" that are probably more like curses or mutations or whatnot ) that are harder to cure than a couple Medicine checks and some low level spells or items. This doesn't mean "incurable", necessarily, it could just mean "Costs more to cure than they currently have". If treating the exotic Space Parasite that is slowly killing the character would cost about 50,000 credits worth of cutting edge medical care, that could be the motive for adventuring.

However, the problem arises. . . okay, death itself can be undone, and without needing unique epic level methods, even. If the character ( note, character, not player ) wants to be cured, it almost certainly should be possible, even if they literally need to have their soul yanked out of their body and reincarnated into an entire new body ( possibly custom cloned or such ). This means if the *player* wants the disease to be truly incurable. . . that would require extreme mechanisms. The problem is that most of the logical mechanisms are variations on "This 'disease' does not just kill the body, it destroys the soul'.

The player *might* not be so hot on the "unavoidable death" fantasy, if its also an "unavoidable damnation or obliteration of the soul" fantasy. And it is really hard to come up with a good reason for true incurability otherwise. Note, "good reason" means not simply switching to a different writing failure, like "arbitrary fiat".


I have no idea what aesthetic they want to go with but I have a fun suggestion, the nanite corruption mentioned in Signal of Screams. It would give fast healing and a weakness to electricity it is also incurable because it is nearly impossible to remove all the nanites...
However, I have no idea what the GM is cool with, or if it's even for the limited spaces of society.


Metaphysician wrote:
Ixal wrote:
What prevents her from being cured by spacescience/magic?

This is an issue, though its not a *completely* unsolvable issue. Its a magical space fantasy setting, there certainly is room for exotic diseases ( or "diseases" that are probably more like curses or mutations or whatnot ) that are harder to cure than a couple Medicine checks and some low level spells or items. This doesn't mean "incurable", necessarily, it could just mean "Costs more to cure than they currently have". If treating the exotic Space Parasite that is slowly killing the character would cost about 50,000 credits worth of cutting edge medical care, that could be the motive for adventuring.

However, the problem arises. . . okay, death itself can be undone, and without needing unique epic level methods, even. If the character ( note, character, not player ) wants to be cured, it almost certainly should be possible, even if they literally need to have their soul yanked out of their body and reincarnated into an entire new body ( possibly custom cloned or such ). This means if the *player* wants the disease to be truly incurable. . . that would require extreme mechanisms. The problem is that most of the logical mechanisms are variations on "This 'disease' does not just kill the body, it destroys the soul'.

The player *might* not be so hot on the "unavoidable death" fantasy, if its also an "unavoidable damnation or obliteration of the soul" fantasy. And it is really hard to come up with a good reason for true incurability otherwise. Note, "good reason" means not simply switching to a different writing failure, like "arbitrary fiat".

My concern with this type of backstories is that "terminally ill" becomes a central part of the character concept which leads to more and more "creative" reasons why the character doesn't do the sensible thing and get cured.

If you do this kind of backstory you should imo leave it story only with no mechanical effect as then getting cured is less of an issue.


Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Ixal wrote:
Metaphysician wrote:
Ixal wrote:
What prevents her from being cured by spacescience/magic?

This is an issue, though its not a *completely* unsolvable issue. Its a magical space fantasy setting, there certainly is room for exotic diseases ( or "diseases" that are probably more like curses or mutations or whatnot ) that are harder to cure than a couple Medicine checks and some low level spells or items. This doesn't mean "incurable", necessarily, it could just mean "Costs more to cure than they currently have". If treating the exotic Space Parasite that is slowly killing the character would cost about 50,000 credits worth of cutting edge medical care, that could be the motive for adventuring.

However, the problem arises. . . okay, death itself can be undone, and without needing unique epic level methods, even. If the character ( note, character, not player ) wants to be cured, it almost certainly should be possible, even if they literally need to have their soul yanked out of their body and reincarnated into an entire new body ( possibly custom cloned or such ). This means if the *player* wants the disease to be truly incurable. . . that would require extreme mechanisms. The problem is that most of the logical mechanisms are variations on "This 'disease' does not just kill the body, it destroys the soul'.

The player *might* not be so hot on the "unavoidable death" fantasy, if its also an "unavoidable damnation or obliteration of the soul" fantasy. And it is really hard to come up with a good reason for true incurability otherwise. Note, "good reason" means not simply switching to a different writing failure, like "arbitrary fiat".

My concern with this type of backstories is that "terminally ill" becomes a central part of the character concept which leads to more and more "creative" reasons why the character doesn't do the sensible thing and get cured.

If you do this kind of backstory you should imo leave it story only with no mechanical effect as then getting cured...

Me, I lean to a different answer: the disease isn't incurable, the character just has no desire to cure it, because they don't wish to avoid death. Instead, they have a religious belief that, rather than spending the time and resources avoiding death, they would rather spend the time and resources living their life in accordance with their higher calling. This might be charity, or courage, or exploration, or hedonism, or possibly even darker motives. . . but the basic idea is to live life to the fullest, and die in a state of spiritual exaltation.

The downside is that this is a rather different mentality than the typical "early death fantasy", and might be a bit creepy. The upside, though, is not needing to worry a wit about the plausibility of a cure. As long as treatment is not trivial, you can always give the answer of "But I'd rather spend that money feeding the poor/observing the stars/inflicting vengeance on those who wronged me/etc".

( And if either the player or the GM wants to throw in a curveball, the character can "miraculously" encounter a chance to cure themselves at no great cost or difficulty! Now they have to deal with the spiritual dilemma of no longer having looming death as a motivation. Can they live their life with the same spiritual fervor indefinitely, or is it impossible to do so without burning out? And is either answer actually a bad thing, or just a different opportunity to learn different lessons? )

Dataphiles

I'd suggest having a further conversation with the player about whether they want this to be story/rp only, or if they want mechanical repercussions. Go from that conversation.


I agree with the suggestion John Mangrum makes - that you could use the Corruption mechanic from part I of Signal of Screams.

It's pretty important to discuss this with your other players, too. Most characters in campaigns are setting up 'the long game' - making contacts and collecting funds for distant goals. A currently-healthy-but-doomed character is going to make very different decisions because survival and long-term prosperity don't matter to her. The other players will have to be willing to support that, and the player of the terminal character will have to remember not to hog more than her share of time.


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Xenocrat wrote:
Recent necromancer fantasy/sci-fi novel Gideon the Ninth features a hereditary house of necromancers (the Seventh) who study debilitating diseases that hold one on the edge of death and who have a genetic predisposition to one that results in lots of bloody coughing while otherwise looking both fragile and radiant (and providing an internal necromantic power source). It’s an excellent book and worth reading for some inspiration from Dulcinea, one of the prominent characters.

So excited for the sequel. June 2nd can't come soon enough.

Sorry for the non sequitur.

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