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Killing off Raise Dead

Written by MythicParty - Published on April 5, 2015

Miracle MaxPicture this in your mind.  Rapier in hand, Darwidian dashes forward, desperate to get in front of the gigantic demon and protect the party’s vulnerable spellcasters from hideous claws.  But he mis-steps.  The pincers are a feint, and the clever monstrosity has really been looking to snare him all along.  Panic fills Darwidian’s face as the thing’s mouth elongates to an impossible degree, its dripping jaws reaching completely around the rogue’s torso before snapping shut.  His body falls wetly into two equal pieces, a gurgling scream abruptly cut off.

Ok guys, just bring me back when you’ve Teleported us to the capital city and found a high enough level caster.  I’ve got enough money in gems to cover the costs.  Sorry for that dumb move, I always forget about AoO.”  Darwidian’s unperturbed player then closes down his license of the group’s Hero Lab software, opens up a pinball game on his iPad, and proceeds to quietly occupy himself for the remainder of the evening while the rest of the group goes right on with the adventure.

So this more or less literally happened in my last gaming session.  Our party unluckily was fighting not 1, but 2 glabrezu thanks to their 20% summoning ability.  The Rogue tried to protect the Cleric & Wizard, but in the process of moving to engage the enemy, instead got sliced/diced.  He died pretty early in the night, then nonchalantly played a video game the rest of the time.  Why?  Well he knows his character is coming back, and, after a few thousand extra GP, with no worse the wear.  No reason to break a sweat, let alone be upset about it.  And a rather routine revival of characters is pretty much the case for every edition of D&D.

Think about that for a minute.

Dying, without it being permanent.  Granted, our world doesn’t (apparently) have genuine magic, but the last person even thought to have returned from the dead has a religion based around him.  (It would explain why we place a ridiculous value on diamonds though)  And while there’s certainly a small fortune of GP required to complete the task, even that isn’t always something DMs mandate.  Here’s an argument from designer Sean K. Reynolds against including the diamond component:

“For people who can teleport across the world, literally travel to Hell and back, and conjure deadly fire and stone out of thin air, death is a trivial obstacle. In terms of game math, the 5000gp cost for the spell also encourages metagaming, which is bad. See, if you have a party of 3 live PCs and one dead PC, they have two options:
  1. Scrounge up 5000gp (either from the dead PC’s stuff or from a group donation) and have the dead PC raised. Net result: party has 5000gp less than before and two more negative levels than before.
  2. Leave the PC dead, divide his stuff among the PCs or sell it, have the dead PC’s player bring in a new character (who has full gear for his level, and no negative levels). Net result: party has X more gp than before (where at worst X is half the expected wealth for a character of their level) and no extra negative levels.
In other words, it’s better for the party to bring in a new PC than to resurrect the old one. Which is lame. In a “roleplaying” game that barely encourages roleplaying at all, costly PC death actively DIScourages roleplaying someone who’s compassionate about a fallen ally, and ENcourages you to be a mercenary metagaming player who’s only interested in the wealth and damage output of the group. I don’t like the expensive material component for a spell that is critical and necessary to the typical game experience, and I don’t use it.”

Now obviously this is completely meta-gaming rationale.  In some settings, high Level PCs might be the only available movers & shakers around so equal replacements aren’t an option.  But supposing using the Pathfinder version of Restoration (which restores 1 negative Level for $1K) there is still an undeniable logic to what SKR is saying here: just bring in a replacement dude, dude.  Send in the clones, ala the Paranoia RPG, to save spending several thousand gold plus make up a revised version of your character that is better suited for the adventure & doesn’t mistakenly take the stupid spells/feats/skills you inadvertently picked along the way.

At this point some people are probably shaking their head at how they definitely make the Raise Dead process more believable (i.e. ‘realistic’) either with limiting the number of times it can be done based on Constitution or rolling a percentage against a constructed chart or requiring a short side quest to locate the necessary diamond/caster, and involves roleplaying.  But really any of these just delay the inevitable re-do, and these re-dos completely diminish the specter of death.

What’s the answer?  Well in July 2014 I wrote a piece about how Diablo III had some ideas for D&D games.  The third one being ‘Hardcore Mode’ where you only had 1 life instead of constant respawns.  A single existence, that’s it.  In Hardcore Mode, you’re mortal. Die, you die.  And really this is what makes the game tense and therefore exciting- the possibility of it ending.  Rather than effectively inserting another quarter to start over, that character is dead.  If we apply this mortality concept to D&D the stakes become much more significant, the stress of combat palpable, and the risks rewarding when successfully overcome.   So let your players know that you’re kill off Raise Dead (although admittedly Reincarnation can be fun) for the good of the story part of the RPG and leave coming back from beyond the grave to the undead.  And Jesus.

What do you think- too much?  Was SKR right about ignoring the diamonds? How do you handle character death/resurrection in your game?  Shout at us in the comments below.

Written by MythicParty

Dog-loving, movie-watching, pizza aficionado. Content Editor for DMing.com, Project Manager for AvatarArt.com, & player of the coolest characters in a weekly D&D game. Halflings are the real heroes.

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8 Responses to “Killing off Raise Dead”
  1. In campaigns I play in, they go one of a couple ways:
    1. We aren’t at a point where we can raise anyone, so a dead player will usually take over an NPC
    2. The player died in a tragic, soul-imprisoning way that they cannot be brought back
    3. Give the player the choice

    I personally don’t like it when someone can easily bring in a new character after theirs died. It just shows everyone that they didn’t really care. However, not caring about dying due to the party having a ton of funds also ruins the experience.

    So, what I try to do is, if I am raised, act a bit differently to simulate the affect of the raising. Perhaps a part of me is still off in the abyss and therefore I am not 100% whole. Or, I try my hardest not to die. I spend hours designing my characters. I do not want them to die even if my party is rich. It takes time away from the campaign and other players if someone has to take my corpse to the nearest temple to be raised.

    Hardcore mode could work as a workaround, but I think people will design their characters in a way that makes them expendable.

    There’s no perfect solution. However, perhaps the “better” way is to emphasize how dying will detract from the story and other players’ time, and have characters actively try not to die.

  2. Jonathan Shade says:

    I killed off Raise Dead years ago. Characters only have one life, the deceased can communed with if there is a need, but there is really no coming back from the beyond.
    The only extremely rare exception is if the party somehow convinces the Gods of Death that the soul of that particular character needs to be returned to the land of living (less than 1% chance of success) but even if they do somehow succeed, the soul isn’t restored to the same body, nor the same skill set right from the start. An entire campaign thread will revolve around “awakening” the soul inside of the new body, and even that won’t restore everything. End result – the soul will still be a new character with some memories of the original, and maybe, altho highly unlikely, a skill or feat.

  3. Sean Holland says:

    While I like the idea that sometime a character can be rescued from death Raise Dead always seemed far too easy and lacking drama. I usually give players the option of taking a permanent physical penalty to the character as a cost of survival when they are faced with death.

  4. Sean Robert Meaney says:

    I was utterly disgusted at the cop out raise dead that suddenly needed ‘wealth’ to do the spell. So I changed it. You should be forced to undertake pilgrimage to some major temple and get a high priest to raise dead. Gone are the days when tundra the barbarian cleric could cast a raise dead on a doa paladin. Now you pretty much need to carry that paladin’s bones around in a sack (aka reliquary) just so you can cast a cure light wounds on your pet horse.

  5. MythicParty says:

    Wow, thank you for the positive feedback guys. “Tundra the barbarian,” lol

    @Benjamin Hagen: “have characters actively try not to die.” Definitely. But how to achieve that. There’s the rub.

  6. zig says:

    What if in 5th edition you require raise dead to cost an inspiration point? Then just be very careful with doling out inspiration points.


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