While Raise Dead is only a level 8 ritual, I would argue that it is one of the most powerful rituals in 4e Dungeons & Dragons. The ability to return a soul to its body is awesome and is a power beyond the understanding of most people.
This month the RPG Blog Carnival is hosted by Campaign Mastery and the focus is on Life and Death in RPGs. At Dungeon’s Master our contribution to this discussion will focus on the implications of casting the Raise Dead ritual.
All societies have grappled with the question of what happens beyond life. In a society where the ability to raise the dead exists, the question becomes what does it take to bring a soul back and restore the body to life? What toll is imposed on the caster of such a spell? What is involved in casting such a ritual?
The flavour text of the ritual is as follows: You bend over the body of your slain comrade, applying sacramental unguents. Finally his eyes flutter open as he is restored to life.
For a ritual that takes eight hours to cast the description is fairly brief. The text describing the mechanics of the ritual features even less information about the actual casting of the ritual. Instead it focuses on conditions that could prevent the Raise Dead ritual from working.
I find the lack of information about what it takes to cast the Raise Dead ritual disturbing and annoying. Perhaps the game designers just didn’t want to go there. Indicating that the cost of the ritual and the time required to cast it would reveal the complexities associated with it. What I feel has been missed is an excellent role playing opportunity.
What Really Happens When You Cast Raise Dead?
I imagine that there is a fair amount of liturgy read during a Raise Dead ritual. The use of expensive ointments to prepare the body are required and a deep belief in the power of ones deity to restore life. While all of these things are true and interesting, they aren’t what I’m really interested in exploring.
Instead, I am interested in what happens to the caster of such a ritual. What do they experience? Not what physical actions do they take, but what is the impact of casting such a ritual on them? The individual being raised suffers some penalties until three milestones are reached, but the caster seemingly walks away with no implications. I would imagine that casting such a ritual is a very draining emotional and spiritual experience.
Much of the idea of raise dead or reincarnation comes from our own religions. If you read in the Bible about when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11) you will find the following sentence: Jesus wept. This sentence is before Lazarus had been restored to life. If the build up to such a ritual caused the son of God to weep, what role playing implications might be involved for our characters?
In RPGs death is seen as a nuisance. Something that pulls us out of the dungeon so we can have a Raise Dead ritual cast, so that we can go back into the dungeon. We don’t often stop, slow down and make an event of the death and subsequent resurrection. From a meta-game perspective this is so that the player running the dead character can get back in on the action. Unfortunately this behaviour causes us to miss a great role playing moment.
So what happens when a individual casts Raise Dead? I imagine that they invoke the power of their deity. Further to that they actively negotiate that the soul be returned and the body restored. In effect a mortal is bargaining with a divine power. A power that on a whim could make world altering decisions. This is not the type of being that you negotiate with lightly.
I believe the caster invests a part of themselves in the ritual. To communicate and make a bequest of the gods and that such a request takes a toll on the caster. Such a spiritual toll might manifest in the form of a slightly lower Will defense or a similar penalty as the target of the Raise Dead ritual only with a shorter duration.
Expectations and Perceptions
The entire village has just watched you carry your fallen comrade into the church. It seemed like just days ago they were cheering all of you on. You were their heros, come to save them from the oppression of the dragon Smaug. Now, just a few days later one of you has fallen. The villagers respect your privacy and leave you to your grief, celebrating the demise of the dragon can wait.
It is to their great surprise the next morning that your dead comrade is walking once again. Word spreads quickly that the Cleric in the party is a devout and holy woman. As she appears outside the temple villagers flock to her, hoping just to touch her cloak or to receive a blessing. Those with illnesses beg for curing and one young mother comes forward with the body of her son who has just died of the plague. Surely, the Cleric can bring him back.
What are the social perceptions on a character who can raise dead? How will commoners view the character? If he refuses to heal others will they despise the character as selfish? Perhaps thinking his motives are selfish or unworthy of respect. If the character is generous will he be taken advantage of? Will some seek to find a way to manipulate this power for their own purposes.
What view will the nobility take on the knowledge that an adventurer has power over life and death? Will such an ability be abused? Might a noble seek to become the patron of such an adventurer in the hopes that if they die in some unforeseen circumstance the character could bring them back from the grave?
Finally, what view will the character’s church take upon learning that they have obtained mastery over life and death? Will the church seek to control who the character uses the Raise Dead ritual or will they allow them to carry on as they see fit.
The Raise Dead ritual is an easy way to bring a dead character back into the game. It allows the player to continue to play a character they have invested their time into with minimal penalties. The event of the death itself might make for a great story or even a joke around the game table. I’ll never forget the time one of my characters died to some Dire Badgers. I took a ribbing for that death for some time.
However, the Raise Dead ritual also carries some baggage with it. It comes with a whole host of social implications that need to be dealt with in some manner. To simply say ok, your character is alive again subtract 800 gp cheapens what has just happened. It robs everyone at the table of a great role playing opportunity. It makes the most powerful ritual a common day event.
How has the death and subsequent resurrection of a character at your table been handled? Were the role playing elements explored?