Resurrection

by Wimwick (Neil Ellis) on April 20, 2013

a-to-z-letters-rIt’s the ultimate get out of jail free card: Resurrection. No consequence is too severe, no danger too great, no threat too overwhelming. When death has lost its sting does the game just get too easy?

Of course no one likes death. In real life its the great unknown, the end of this life as we know it and there is no coming back for second chances. Fair enough, but Dungeons & Dragons isn’t real life, it’s a game. As a result second chances abound and the Raise Dead ritual provides the ultimate do-over. Granted it is not a true do-over, nor is it necessarily even a second chance at the adventure. What resurrection is in D&D is avoiding losing that character you spent countless hours building and playing.

Resurrection is a good thing. It helps keep the game fun, even if it does have a few drawbacks.

Throughout April Dungeon’s Master is participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. The challenge is to write a new article ever day in April, excluding Sundays. That’s 26 articles over the course of the month. To make things even more interesting the title of each article will begin with a different letter of the alphabet. Today “R” is for resurrection as we explore the role of the resurrection ritual in the game.

At its core the Raise Dead ritual is a way to keep a character in the game. It is not an immediate come back to life card. However, it does ensure that the hard work in creating a character and the countless hours of enjoyment playing the character can continue. Losing a character to death is already disappointing. It usually means spending the rest of the evening watching from the sidelines. If you are unfortunate enough to die early in the game session it can be downright boring and I’ve seen more than a few player’s call it a night and head home when their character dies. If losing a character to death is disappointing, not being able to recover the character is devastating.

The benefit of the Raise Dead ritual is that you get to keep your character, providing an in game mechanic to keep the fun factor up. Sure there might be some down time involved for you as a player but you’ll be back in the action before you know it.

However, resurrection just as a tool to keep characters in the game is boring. Used this way it is little better than loading a saved game. Death is a consequence and it should have one in game. In 4e there are no hard penalties associated with being resurrected, a -1 to a few checks until you reach 3 milestones. Really, the goal is to get the dead character and therefore the player back into the game. The trick is to make death a significant event and still get the player back in the game quickly.

I have always like the concept that a quest be involved to return a character to life. The problem with this is that it keeps the dead character out of the game until the quest is completed, which of course defeats the purpose of being able to quickly resurrect the character. Of course, the quest could need to be accomplished once the character has been revived, where this can get messy is during long term complicated campaigns. Unless the quest can be tied to the main story it may be viewed as a nuisance, after all the character has already been resurrected.

Another way to approach the topic of resurrection in 4e is to simply not worry about it. With the three-strikes you’re out death saves it is already really hard to kill a character in 4e. As Raise Dead is a level 8 ritual the party is going to acquire it fairly quickly. The problem is that once your game enters the paragon tier players simply have too many resources at their fingertips, killing them becomes very difficult. Unless you are being very deliberate about it, your players are going to survive 99.9% of encounters intact. If this is the case, then why worry about character death? Just bring the character back and get on with it.

The problem with this solution is that it really isn’t very much fun. Where is the risk if there is no consequence? This is where 4e being a game developed around a combat engine (powers) falls down. Once you enter the paragon tier combat can take a while and let’s be honest you want to use your characters powers as often as you can, they are a big part of what defines the character. However, in order for death to have consequence, character decisions need to matter. If character death and resurrection are to work properly then the game needs to be tied around a strong storytelling element.

In past editions Raise Dead spells were tied to divine characters, it was the power of the gods who brought characters back to life. In 4e the ritual is tied to the Heal skill and though the text of the ritual indicates that the gods can intervene to prevent a soul from journeying back to the realm of the living, there needs to be a strong role playing reason for why the DM would make that decision. What I’m saying is that the idea of resurrection needs to have stricter rules around it. Doing so ups the ante for role playing, encourages players to make smart decisions and to work together. The Raise Dead ritual should be tied not to the Heal skill, but to the divine power source. Is bringing the dead back to life magic or something beyond this world?

How have you dealt with death in your campaigns? Is it something to be laughed at, does it carry a heavy consequence? Have you ever had a player react badly to the death of their character?

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ocampo April 20, 2013 at 1:40 pm

I totally threw the 4e resurrection concept out the window. As you say, it’s hard enough to kill a character, and they get infinite continue… I mean, resurrections?

I reduced the time limit to 24 hours and allow only one resurrection per character. And right after I made that decission, my veteran players suffered a devastating TPK, but there was no turning back.

2 spindlethin April 21, 2013 at 9:55 pm

Playing pathfinder, we houseruled that no character lower than 10th level can be resurrected; this helps avoid some awkward moments when NPC’s die and the party may feel obliged to bring them back. The exception to this is Reincarnation, which I encourage people to use as often as possible, if only for the hilarious consequences. High level NPC’s that are aware of the party’s ability to resurrect themselves will frequently have things like Trap The Soul to make it more difficult.

If I was going to have a quest to bring back the character, I would set it in the underworld/afterlife/limbo and include the dead character.

3 Svafa April 22, 2013 at 9:54 am

I’ve more or less made resurrection unavailable in our game. If a player really wanted to have their character brought back, then I’d turn it into a quest, likely having to broker a deal with a god or something. The player of the dead character could reroll, grab an NPC, or fully stat out an NPC for the duration of the quest.

That being said, two of my players don’t want to ress their characters if they die, and would prefer creating a new character. One of them has even asked me to kill his characters in the past, and has made sure to let me know he’s still perfectly happy with character death.

4 Petrus November 20, 2013 at 1:50 pm

I remember the old days when the PC was allowed to return from the dead but with a permanent -1 to his CON. The DM in 4e must find something to make the Raise Dead have a deep impact in the reborn PC. It must be something really strange for the PC this experience of “being raised”. Maybe 1d3 surges lost forever or 2 points of CHR, or 1 or 2 points of CON.
Great site by the way!

5 TheXython December 4, 2013 at 11:12 am

My sandbox campaign that I am currently DMing/Playing in uses a resurrection potion mechanic. These are un-brewable for PCs and only obtained as very occasional rewards in loot. The catch is that they must be consumed at least 2 rounds before death and then lasts till the next long rest. They can also be fed to an unconscious character (Next Rules) in order to completely reset a player’s Death Saving Throws to 0 fails and 0 successes. They are soul-bound to whomever first possesses them and cannot be used be used by anyone else. Thus their use has become a precious commodity with many players reluctant to use their potions on others, however deals have been made and has even lead to some “you saved my life, I am eternally grateful” relationships between characters.

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