Yesterday as part of the RPG Blog Carnival hosted by Campaign Mastery we took a look at what it means to Cast the Raise Dead Ritual. Today I wanted to follow up on that post and examine the inner workings and role playing possibilities that are available when this ritual is cast. Some of these idea’s were inspired by the excellent comments in yesterdays article.
When a ritual caster performs the Raise Dead ritual they are merely the initiator of a divine miracle. This isn’t to belittle what they are about to do. As I mentioned in yesterdays post, I believe that casting this ritual takes a grave toll on the caster. However, once the ritual has been cast everything is out of their hands. Raise Dead is the only ritual where once it is successfully cast there is actually no guarantee that it will be work as expected.
In reading the flavour text of the Raise Dead ritual we find the following sentence: …the gods can intervene to prevent a soul from journeying back to the realm of the living. In short this means that the caster may pay the gold piece cost of the ritual for nothing. Now from our perspectives as players, the ritual is going to be successful. If the player wants to keep playing his character it is a cruel, and soon to be out of a job DM, who denies the request.
However, from an in-game role playing perspective things aren’t that easy. There is no guarantee that the gods will allow the soul to be released. There are multiple reasons for why this might be so.
The deity of the deceased may not release the soul as it feels that his faithful servant deserves the rest and reward of eternity. The character has fought long enough, sacrificed much and now deserves peace. Therefore it may ignore or rebuke the request that the soul be returned to its body. I truly see the casting of this ritual to be a negotiation of divine proportions.
In the games of the gods many factors are at play. The deity of the deceased may be willing to release the soul, but perhaps a rival god intervenes. This malevolent deity finds a way to trap the soul, or misdirect it on its journey back to the mortal plane. The reasons for this are various. It could be a way to strike out at the deity of the deceased, a way of harming this divine being. The reason has nothing to do with the deceased at all. Perhaps, the deceased and his companions have been fighting against this one deity and stopping the Raise Dead ritual is in the deities direct self interest.
Finally, while we mortals toil in our own lives we recognize that there is a far greater conflict being fought on other planes. Perhaps the deity of the deceased is unwilling to release the soul because he is needed to lead an army of angels to war.
In his comment on yesterday’s article, Mike Bourke mentions the idea of a skill challenge being incorporated into the Raise Dead ritual. This would be a great way to move a campaign from the mortal planes onto other fields of battle. To have the remainder of the party attempt to find the soul and then navigate their way back home. Fiction and movies are full of this type of idea, simply take a look at Greek mythology and you’ll find many examples.
It makes for an interesting plot twist and allows a DM to introduce new monsters for the heroes to fight. Getting involved in heavenly conflicts is a sure fire way to make enemies that can come to haunt the characters for many levels to come.
Perhaps the deceased truly doesn’t want to return to the realm of the living. Eternity or heaven is the reward for a life of faith. In D&D most NPCs and PCs would identify with a faith group of some sort. Whether it is a dominant part of their life or not might depend on the campaign world or player preference. The exception to this is Dark Sun where there is no real divine presence felt at all.
Given that heaven is a reward why would a character want to come back? Now from our perspective as players, we of course want our character back. Death is an inconvenience that keeps away from the dungeon and lumps penalties on us. From a real in-game perspective the reason that Raise Dead is such a rare ritual, beyond the cost, is because most people don’t want to come back.
Where this idea works best is if the deceased is an NPC. The caster of the ritual realizes that the ritual failed because the soul didn’t want to return. This once again sets the characters up for a journey to the planes to search for the soul and convince it to return.
What are your thoughts on the Raise Dead ritual? Is it best left as a mechanic to return a character to life or should it be more fully explored and developed into role playing and adventure opportunities?