today is my dying day

March 5th, 2014 by paul

There's a family story about my wife as a little girl: while playing with her dolls, she monotoned in a creepy Children of the Corn voice, "The mother said, 'today is my dying day.' The mother said, 'today is my dying day.'"

Even without the Twilight-Zone-child element, this quote has something eldritch to it. What is this "dying day" which can be identified so presciently? I thought I'd see what D&D content I could get out of it.

The "Dying Day" is obviously a high elf thing. When they enter the autumn of their lives, high elves learn the day on which their spirit will move on (barring early accidents). Knowing this would bother humans, but high elves seem fine with it. They make ready cheerily for their departure. They might even send craftsy invitations letterpressed on oak leaves: "Save the date: Lunaniel Weatherbow's dying day is Feb 23 at the Big Tree. INVITATION TO FOLLOW"

elfyThe deathbed is another high elf tradition. Elves don't need to sleep (although some do for fun!), so this might be their only bed ever. It's a big wooden affair with white sheets (symbolizing winter). Young high elves won't use a bed with white sheets; it's bad luck.

A day or two before your dying day, you become too listless to move: you just lie around in your deathbed looking attractively and non-specifically sick. On your dying day, all your friends visit your bedside; you clasp their hands feebly and give them each one last memento: some money, a piece of artwork, your job title, your unfulfilled quests. That's how high elf inheritance works. If someone can't make it to your dying day, they don't get anything. Once you've said all your goodbyes, you close your eyes and drift away.

Some high elves get the urge to hurry the process. A few years or decades before their dying day, they head west, across the sea, to the mysterious homeland of the elves (Elvenhome, Feywild, Faerie, Tir Na Nog, Lyonesse, whatever it's called in your campaign world). As soon as they reach that shore, they gain +2 Wisdom. But they will never willingly return to the mortal lands. They keep migrating west until they disappear from the world.

Wood elves? No dying day. They've lost that sense. And they think the whole dying-day party is creepy. Half-elves with a high elf parent DO know their dying day, but they inherit their fear of death from their human side, so it drives them CRAZY.

Here's how you could use the dying day in a D&D campaign:

  • It would be handy to talk to a certain elf for a quest, but he's already Gone West. Follow him into elf-land?
  • Your broody half elf character learns his dying day. Something new to brood about!
  • A PC gets a dying day invitation from an old friend. If they attend, they might get presents!
  • The inn has a big party of fancypants elf nobles camping outside, muttering about how they were insulted by the innkeeper. They were given beds with white sheets. Will the PCs smooth things over or incite a riot and profit by the confusion?
  • The PCs stumble on a dying day ceremony in a random clearing. There's a tradition that everyone who attends should get a gift, so the elf is bound to give something to each PC. Depending on how they act, it might be something nice, or a single gold piece, or an unfulfilled quest (a geas).
  • An NPC elf hires the PCs to help with a dangerous mission. He's two days away from his dying day, and he'd really like to get there in one piece. Furthermore, he's too old for this shit.
  • An evil elf decides to hold his dying day revels in the unwilling home of his enemies. Throughout the day, he appears (or sends an illusion or messenger) to each inhabitant, bestowing curses and laughing in a highly obnoxious Phantom of the Opera manner. How are the PCs involved? A month earlier, he sent an ominous Save the Date. The terrified hosts asked the PCs to be on hand to help.
  • 7 Responses to “today is my dying day”

    1. Mike Monaco says:

      Great ideas! Hilarious picture.

    2. NUNYA says:

      “What is this “dying day” which can be identified so presciently?”

      TIHS ARE AM NOT A MYSTICYCLE OR A KORN CHLDREN SAYINGS (GEWD BAND BTW)! THIS MEANS SHE WAS INN A ELECTRA-COMPLEX!!1

      LOOK IT UP. CARMEN ELECTRA WAS TEH DISCROVER (BRANES AND A BEAUTY)

      :p
      -NUNYA

    3. Baf says:

      Wizards have a similar death sense in the Discworld novels, although they aren’t terribly consistent about it. I seem to recall a wizard getting a deathday party at one point.

    4. SolCannibal says:

      Knowing one’s dying day makes me think of the Cyclops in Krull and the gift/curse bestowed upon them – it also beggars the question, what did the Beast in taking half the eyes of the whole race, or was their betrayal and expected misery reward enough?
      As an aside, the film’s cyclops are just the right size for D&D’s cyclopskin.

      Also, i might put this kind of awareness as an HALF-elf thing, a colateral manifestation of their nature as children of two worlds forever in a threshold, so to speak. Just my two cents of thought so far.

    5. Paul says:

      I’m fine if my D&D campaign slowly morphs into Krull.

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