Monday, January 11, 2010

Cheap Death

When I began my Dwimmermount campaign, I did so with the expressed intention of starting with the OD&D rules as presented in the LBBs and expanding from there, (generally) allowing house rules to evolve naturally through play. This is part of my "D&D is always right" philosophy, which is simply my belief that it's foolish to assume that, even in OD&D, the rules were not written as they were for a very good reason. Naturally, this philosophy doesn't preclude the possibility of changing rules, either by modification or outright removal. Rather, it's meant to apply a break to the commonplace notion that the LBBs are a haphazard concatenation of half-baked ideas without any guiding principles behind them. Having refereed an OD&D campaign for over a year now, I'm fairly confident in saying that's very much not the case and that most, if not all, of the seeming haphazardness of the game comes from context lost or obscure to us thirty-five years on.

That said, I wish I had established early on that the raise dead spell (never mind raise dead fully from Greyhawk) did not exist in my campaign. As I said, I am philosophically predisposed to let D&D be D&D and build my world around its assumptions rather than try to conform the game rules to my world. Down that path lies the madness of 2e. That's why I convinced myself that retaining raise dead as a clerical spell and a reasonably easy to obtain one at that was a good idea. And, on some level, I still do think I was right to hew closely to the LBBs. Otherwise, I doubt I'd have come to the realization that the presence of raise dead has a profound effect on the complexion of any campaign.

One of the "themes" -- and I hate to use that word but I can think of no better -- of the Dwimmermount campaign is uncertainty about the existence of the gods and, more personally, a hereafter. Though the cult of Turms Termax is supposedly predicated on self-willed deification, the characters have seen evidence that suggests it's not as straightforward as that, with at least two presumed former members of the cult denying the existence of anything beyond death but oblivion. Likewise, the Termaxians' obsession with the undead would seem to suggest at least seem doubts about a more spiritual understanding of life after death. And then of course, those avatars of Chaos, the demons, outright deny the existence of both gods and an afterlife, but then it serves their purposes to say so, doesn't it?

Brother Candor's goblin henchmen, Brakk, died in the first third of the campaign and circumstances prevented his being raised from the dead. That was not the case for either Vladimir the dwarf or Henga, Dordagdonar's henchman, both of whom were returned to life after meeting their demises. What's interesting is that Brakk's death is still keenly felt, months after the fact. The players -- and not just Brother Candor's player -- frequently remark on how they "miss Brakk" and express remorse about the way they left his acid-splashed body behind so as to cover their own escape.

No such feelings are attached to Vladimir or Henga's deaths, because they weren't permanent. They were just bumps in the road and, if they're mentioned at all, they're treated more as sources of comedy than drama. Now, let me be clear: I'm not looking to inject "drama" into the campaign. I remain more firmly committed than ever that all campaigns, even ones mired in purely venal dungeon delving will, given enough time, develop the depth from which good roleplaying is born. There's no need for the referee to insert his own prepackaged drama to achieve this and indeed doing so may well have the opposite effect. Yet, here I was, faced with the deaths of a PC and a longstanding NPC, and I punted. I passed up the opportunity to see some campaign development -- and in the case of Henga, development of Dordagdonar's feelings toward ephemerals -- because raise dead made it easy to do so. What a waste.

I don't believe in changing horses midstream, so I won't be eliminating a spell I've already clearly established exists and to which the PCs have access. However, I do regret my early decision to allow the existence of raise dead and wish I'd disallowed it. Brakk's accidental death remains one of the more tragic, even poignant, episodes of the entire Dwimmermount campaign, whereas the deaths of Vladimir and Henga mean nothing. That's a pity and I know that, in my next campaign, I won't make the same mistake I did this time.


  1. Although it won't prevent the party's lightness over the "non-permanent" deaths, I do think you can (if you want to) fold in the magic of "raise dead" without it being, in any way, a clue into the truth of the existence (or non-) of the hereafter.

    I see "raise dead" as a sort of super-CPR more than a portal to the beyond (regardless of what occult knowledge practitioners of the spell might ascribe to it.)

    At the risk of sounding a little like Miracle Max from the Princess Bride, I see death in stages: body death, brain death and spirit death, with spirit being the "spark of life" that ultimately animates us - merely the core question of the Turmaxians (what does animate man?), not necessarily an answer (i.e. does not definitively state that if man is animated, there must be an animator.)

    So a man "dies" of a heart attack, but he can be resuccitated from it. His body died, but something else kept him on. A man (Frankenstein's monster?) suffers brain death, but the proper amount of electricity resets the computer, so to speak. These forms of "mostly dead," however are not final until a mysterious cord (spark of life, spirit, soul, identity, whathaveyo) that isn't fully understood, is severed.

    Because of the mystery surrounding that silver cord, some clerics ascribe it to a tunnel (located, say, through the star Polaris) that leads one-way to the hereafter. The Termaxians identify this as the point of oblivion, where a man truly ceases. Monotheists see it as a point ruled by a dominant god. Polytheists see it as more of a playground.

    And spell practitioners only know that it is the point at which "raise dead" no longer works.

  2. perhaps there's some "hidden cost" to being raised that hasn't yet been revealed?

    in my own campaign, "raise dead" only works on a warm, more-or-less intact body-- like really potent CPR.

    and the successful use of "raise dead fully" implies some sort of pact between the human and divine forces involved such the person raised has a limited time to acheive some final purpose.

    I don't think either of these interpretations quite work with your campaign, but there might be some other way that being raised may be subject to qualification.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. What do you mean with your comment about 2e? I cannot recall any setting which mandates a total (mad) overhaul of the rules. Even Dark Sun, the most "extreme" of the 2e settings, stays pretty close to the core rules, with the possible exception of defining the effects of extreme environmental conditions.

  5. D&D is a game.

    Some people hate to lose their characters in a long running game.

    Raise dead is one method of avoiding that.

    While I can appreciate the need to keep things 'real', I always find it strange that we have have dragons, demons, undead, but raise dead is the 'nail in the coffin' that stresses it for some people without taking into account the meta knowledge that yeah, it's still a game.

  6. Speaking of the 'cost' of being raised... what is the literal cost of raising a slain adventure in Dwimmermount? How much do characters need to tithe to recover a fallen brother?

    I don't remember when d&d first included pricing for Raise Dead and other benevolent spells - 1E, maybe? I do remember it being very expensive. In the ten thousand gold piece range. $16k? In any case, raising characters was pretty uncommon when I gamed 1E back in the early 80s. Our gold pieces went to other purposes and the thought of raising a mere henchmen was ludicrious. Maybe we just didn't form those kinds of bonds with NPCs or it was miserliness.

  7. I'll be contrarian: what I like about the effect of raise dead that you describe here is that it makes character death a collective failure of responsibility rather than an individual failure of fortune: Brakk died because the party fled and his body was lost. If the party is placed in such dire straits that they cannot recover their fallen, then permanent deaths will occur and they'll blame themselves for getting into such a bad situation. Which sounds like high drama to me, and a roleplaying opportunity that a more "realistic" take on death would tend to efface.

    It certainly affects the flavour of the campaign, but I don't think that has to be in a bad way, unless you're attached to a certain aesthetics of death. CoC has cheap death too in the sense that the players expect it to come often. As a result, in very lethal CoC games players tend to be less attached to their characters, and therefore closer to the cosmic indifference that HPL abhorred - so really it's life that's cheap. Maybe raise dead cheapens death but makes life more of an asset.

    As to how it affects the flavour, 2 things that came up in my research might be apposite: reportedly one popular 18th c pirate toast was "a happy life and a short one" - large hazards and no safety net lead to a certain mode of living. OTOH, Dutch mariners who faced the risk of being captured by Barbary corsairs and sold into slavery formed one of the first insurance co-operatives among themselves: everyone contributed to a ransom fund that was used to free those few that were captured. Maybe the henchmen's union could demand raising terms in their contracts.

  8. I share your pain here, James.

    In our campaign I've handled it by (a) sharply restricting the number of high-level cleric NPCs
    (b) permitting only characters of the same alignment as the cleric to be raised

    The scarcity of clerics has kept the cost high and the number of Raises low.

    The alignment provision has resulted in many (neutral) NPCs and a few (neutral) PCs not being able to return (as all clerics are lawful or chaotic in my setting).

    This has created an interesting dynamic as higher-level characters puposefully begin to align themselves with law or chaos, picking sides as it were.

    Even so, there have been some extremely dramatic and powerful death scenes that have been rendered moot by a quick Raise, and every time that happens I wish I'd adopted no Raises.

  9. I'm of the mind that the game should be what you and your player want it to be.

    If you don't feel raise dead is serving your campaign well then change it. If you don't want to just do it with a hand wave, then come up with a story element.

    It has already been mentioned in previous comments that perhaps such tampering with death might come at a cost. Perhaps there are only so many times it can be done or maybe something shifts in the cosmology of your gaming world and suddenly it's not such an easy thing to do.

    "Why have the heavens abandoned us!?" You may hear your players and their characters cry, but overall they will roll with it.

  10. I speak as someone who eliminated Raise Dead for a long time in AD&D.

    I think you'd still find Brakk's death poignant and the others not so much, even if those characters were still dead.

    It's my experience that early deaths mean something. Later deaths are taken in stride if you have Raise Dead.

    If you don't, they're really more annoyances than anything, with players girding themselves to create *yet another* PC and begin anew the process of finding out "who he is" through play.

    Often, they try not to get attached the second time around.

    Overall, I prefer the problems associated with Raise Dead, than I do the problems that stem from its absence.

  11. You could... insert an effect that limits the power while adding drama.

    For example

    ...perhaps only a certain number of raised people can be alive at any time. Not only will this create interesting choices, there'll also be the problem of NPCs taking out hits on the resurected characters in order to make space for their own nearest and dearest.

    ...or, once you hit a critical mass of raised people, they are all revealed to be demonic entities in disguise, or markers used by something horrendous to enter our dimension...

  12. It doesn't matter how clever your players are, unfudged DM dice rolls are going to kill all their characters before they get anywhere near 12th level.

    What's wrong with failing the system shock roll as a final curtain? Permanent death's possible, it's just not so likely.

  13. There's always System Shock failure.

  14. I don't allow PCs to have personal access to Raise Dead. Only powerful NPC Patriarchs with a direct line to a diety can do this.

    Also, returning from death changes the PC. There will be a forced alignment change to that of the raising clerics god. If this alignment is in conflict with the PCs previous class, then the PC must change classes and start over in the same manner as the Dual classing rules for AD&D.

    If a player really wants to save that PC from death and keep running him, then this option gives him the chance. In a way though, the old PC is still dead and the raised version is not quite the same person.

  15. I sympathize with your concerns, James, but, rather than eliminate the spell, I placed social and cultural impediments to its use. One was that coming back from the dead was a privilege held by the powerful in society, the "people who mattered." Thus royalty, powerful nobles and churchmen... and, in some cases, their favored friends. Some of the religious sects would have restrictions or outright bans on its use for or by their adherents, for various reasons. Finally, in a world with vampires and other undead, locals might look askance at someone who's been "there and back again." After all, who's to say he's not really some undead or a demon-possessed corpse?

    All that isn't to say that I never let it happen, but getting someone raised became a goal in its own right and the source of adventures, and never felt cheap or commonplace.

    security word: "bastri," devotees of Bast.

  16. Try this on: to raise someone from the dead requires a deal or sacrifice to be made. Perhaps a character asking for another to be raised has to forfeit his life (and soul) after a certain number of years to have the soul of their companion returned to their body. Maybe the bargain requires that a task must first be performed that is less than desirable, problematic or morally objectionable. It's possible that the person is brought back to life, but they are changed by the experience, with new phobias or even a changed personality. Another possibility is that they are returned to life, but they are denied something (they can no longer be healed magically, they cannot bear to use or be near fire, the touch of iron or steel sickens them, they are mildly burned by daylight, etc.).

    You could even implement this without retconning your Dwimmermount campaign by building in some reason that the priest made the deals rather than the characters for some unknown reason, but may be discovered in time.

  17. Given the uncertain presence of divinities & afterlife in your campaign - speak with dead, raise dead, etc could be problematic. I wonder what the circumstances of the use of this spell have been in your game so far (is there a PC that can cast it? or has it only been from NPCs?)

    If you don't want to take Raise Dead out of rotation, though, maybe you can make Finger of Death more common... ;)

  18. Another idea is you could go the Orpheus route. The afterlife is a place, and the deceased needs to find/fight their way out with help from their friends on the other side.

    Depending on cosmology/alignment, there may be special conditions on those who have passed beyond the veil (cannot speak, can be turned as undead, etc. etc.) or on those living who are daring to rescue them (can be easily detected by what psychopomps they encounter, cannot eat the food of the land of the dead or they are trapped there, etc.)

    One overall rule would be if you "die" in the afterlife, that's it, you're there for good. (Unless you really wanna get funky and have an after/afterlife.)

    I've been wrestling with this idea for a while, after having been inspired by the "Goku in the Afterlife" sequences of Dragon Ball Z, of all things... This might be the solution.

  19. My main complaint about raise dead is that it cuts into the turf of reincarnation, which, face it, is pure unadulterated awesome.

  20. In some of my campaigns having the possibility of raising the dead also created some "trouble". But I don't like the idea of completely removing it, what I usually do is to limit it's use in various ways:

    -Using a random chart each time a character is raised, depending on the result it might go well, but there's also other possibilities: the PC raises, but as an undead creature; the PC returns but it's not quite himself anymore (amnesia, change of class, change of alignment, stats loss, only has limited time to live, etc.); the ritual is performed but the "soul" or whatever it is that inhabits the body doesn't come back so the money is spent in vain, etc.

    -Give the player the chance (sometimes) to return to life by making a deal with some kind of demon just moments after death occurs, but at some point in the future the entity will come for payment. This can also lead to interesting roleplaying and/or adventures.

    -Also I make the spell not only extremely expensive at the temples but also requiring rare and valuable materials. This has sometimes led to interesting sessions as the players tried to obtain (usually by unorthodox means) the components quickly.

    And there are many more options. What I try to do is to make players know that coming back is possible, but even in the best circumstances (being raised at a temple, by a priest, with all the elements needed, etc.) the results can be far from "good".

  21. It sounds like in James's campaign there are few clerics who can cast such a high level spell. it is easy to imagine them being the target of assasination or kidnappings.

    If i was going to kill my rich uncle for inheritance i would damn sure kill the guy who could bring him back first. On the other hand if i am a poor farmer and my wife dies i might not be above a kidnapping of the high level priest to force him to bring her back.

    You don't have to remove the spell to remove the problem if the PC are not high enough level to cast it. Give them one scroll for an emergency and then see how they choose to use it.

  22. I agree with Aelwe on this point. Depending on the deity or means to raise the PC's, there could be some serious side effects that will come into play.

  23. I was thinking on the same issue when I started my first 3rd ed campaign. Since I, inspired by amongst others Necromancer Games, wanted a "1st ed feel with 3rd ed rules" I researched how Raise Dead and cousins worked in former editions. Quite enlightening. While later editions sometimes have a very video game like feel to them, I was surprised by how easy it seemed to be to be raised.

    I think that death should be something more significant than just a speed bump, but in some editions that's just what it is! Reading this post I think, realism and questions about the social and economical implications aside, that a more scarce Raise Dead makes for a more intense game.

    I never implemented any extra limits on Raise Dead in my 3rd ed campaign than limiting it by decreasing CON on the target after a casting.

    Another observation about reading Dwimmermount.

    Since it will cost you $150 to start a OD&D campaign (the price of OD&D on eBay right now), I think it's great fun to read about realizations like this from those fortunate to be able to run such a campaign.

  24. Priests shouldn't cast Raise Dead on anyone who doesn't worship their god or isn't a member of their church....period. This is i addition to the gold piece cost of such a spell. I've used this for years and it actually encourages roleplaying and creates interesting dynamics. Once a priest used Speak With Dead on a character to ask him if he would switch to the priest's religion if he was raised. The character was agonized as he realized his character would say "No" because he was a druid, and the priest did not raise him after all. The group finally found another druid to reincarnate the dead character (who came back as an owl!) It was some powerful roleplaying and the character did a good job with the decision.

  25. I once had a character get Reincarnated, rolled, and was disappointed to find that he came back as exactly the same person.

    First thing anybody said: "Wow, you must have really bad karma"

  26. Although it may be too late to implement in the Dwimmermount, and interesting limitation on Raise Dead would be to require a blood sacrifice on behalf of the individual being raised (i.e. a soul for a soul). For evil characters this would not be as much of a problem, although it would most certainly run afoul of the law. For good or characters, the use of an unwilling sacrifice would not work (beacuse the patron Gods would not allow it), which means someone would need to be a willing to sacrifice (i.e. to die so that so-and-so might live). Now let's see exactly how loyal the party's henchmen are, or the Cleric's followers, etc.! Maybe even put some restrictions on who the sacrifice can be depensing on the alignment of the Cleiric raising the dead. Just a thought.

  27. Not so sure I agree wuth the no healing or raising of people not of the same faith. This should really depend on the faith. A god of healing and life may very well insist that all those in need be given whatever healing/raising that a priest of that faith can manage.

  28. I find that having resurrection and raise dead magic available in the campaign is just an extension of the concept of the dungeon as a logistical challenge. In that paradigm, character death becomes yet another part of the logistical puzzle to be solved; do we have enough gold sacked away for a resurrection? Are there enough high-level clerics in the vicinity (so we don't have to go to the nearby druid and his not-so-hot reincarnation spell)? How about saving up wishes just in case we need to bring back a fallen comrade, rather than using them for some other purpose? Heck, even the mechanics of dragging the body back out of the dungeon could be seen as being part of the challenge...

  29. Yeah, I guess that's the way to see it, historically how it evolved. But still...

  30. Some time by the late 80's I eliminated all things "get your character back from the dead" from my games. I will admit though, that maybe only 1 out of 10 characters ever die in my games, so maybe that is why it hardly ever comes up.

  31. James--
    I don't remember--why did the PCs raise the henchman instead of just getting a new one? I assume it would've been cheaper.

    To me, the main impediment to Raise Dead is simply that by the time the PCs have hauled the corpse back to civilization, enough time will usually have passed that the player playing the dead PC will generally have rolled up a new one.

    If the new PC is the same or close in level to the dead PC, then it's fairly likely that the player decides "Ok, I'm gonna sever my emotional attachment to the old PC and enter a whole brave new world."

  32. I know I'm shouting against the consensus here, but I've been thinking about the implications of moderately cheap and common Raise Dead, and it occurs to me that you could end up with Saving Private Ryan scenarios: your henchmen demands Raises in their contracts, you're forced to retreat in the face of some massive but not hungry threat (golems? undead?), and then you're forced to go back in to get the body, because you can't afford to have the rest of your team quit/the compensation. I started out half-serious, half-joking, but I'm beginning to like the setup.

  33. Hey Richard, that is a very cool idea.

  34. The problem of why there is no pathos associated with Vladamir's and Helga's deaths is that they didn't die. They just stopped moving for a little while.

    Of course it can be an anti-climax if they then fail their system shock roll.

    Personally I didn't mind Raise Dead in my original game, although I admit I changed the time limitation to hours instead of days in my own game (and perhaps even turns might be better). After that time I considered that it's impossible to restart the life processes and the spell just results in a perfectly healed corpse. This eliminates a lot of the "economic" problems with the spell.

    Especially since you couldn't be sure that the only cleric in town who could cast it hadn't already cast it to heal that boy run over by that wagon earlier that morning.

    There doesn't even need to be anything necromantic or spiritual about it - just make it a form of super-heal. [This even works for Speak With Dead; if a cleric can make stones talk then a dead body should be simple. This is the spell that I had the most problems with with regard to an afterlife or lack thereof.]

    I do however recommend James P Carse's Death and Existence, which is a conceptual overview of the idea of death in most of the major religions and philosophies of the world. Very useful when you start wondering about how the real world treats the idea of death.

  35. If raise dead is going to be commonplace, them you have to consider the logical implications. If there are enough clerics to raise everyone who dies, then do they raise the dead as a matter of course? If they don't, why not? What does it say about the cleric or the church if they fail to raise commoners from the dead, despite the ability to do so on a once-per-day basis. If raise dead is something that is afforded to the masses, then what happens when the number of deaths outstrip the abiltiy of the clerics to raise them? Do their loved ones mob the church and demand that their loved one be given priority? Does rioting and, ironically, even more death result?

    On the other hand, what if resurrection is considered unnatural, and those who have died and come back are treated with fear and revulsion? In that case, those who die a public death and was later raised become persona non grata, as do their companions. If you want to raise your comrade, and you yourself aren't squeamish about adventuring with one of the accursed who has returned from beyond, maybe you need to keep the death under wraps, sporting the body in secret to a trusted cleric to perform the ritual. But how do you know who to trust? Asking around for a raiser of the dead would be a very bad idea.

  36. ...perhaps only a certain number of raised people can be alive at any time.
    Oh that's very good. I'm stealing that.

  37. If I want to go for uncertainty about the existence of the gods, I’ll personally just not use the cleric class. (Or choose a different game without clerics.) Go the “priests are magic-users” route that has been discussed before.

    I have become very much in favor of changing horses mid-stream. If you can make changes that will make the game better—however the group defines that—do it! Ignore the inconsistency (as countless books, TV shows, and movies have done without disaster). Or rationalize them if you want. My group can rationalize almost anything good enough for a fantasy game.

    Plus, I like the idea of worlds that can change.

    (Which is not meant to argue against your choice, James. Just sharing a thought.)

  38. W2: these are exciting ideas. If being Raised is a universal medicine, what does that mean for the aristocracy (or whatever class can afford it), for succession, for lifespan? Are there quotas for training priests to cast it?

    I like where this is going. It sounds like the beginning of a doomed immortal Empire.

  39. In terms of raise dead on the common peoples, the easy way to go is most people don't want to come back. "Gee, I miss my life as a farmer working 70+ hours a week and attacks by goblins, orcs, and strange underground beasties."

  40. I agree very much with Richard.
    Indeed, bringing Henga and Vlad back to life doesn't cheapen the impact of what happened to Brakk in any way I can see. They still failed him in a much bigger way.

  41. Well, you could always make things a little more interesting

  42. "If raise dead is going to be commonplace, them you have to consider the logical implications."

    One of the greatest things about D&D and other fantasy games, to me, is that I *don't* have to consider the logical implications, whether the issue is resurrection, demihumans that stop learning forever when they reach a set level, treasure somehow transmogrifying into XP, what all those dragons eat and where they poo, why magic-users can't wear armor, etc.

    It's just a game, you know? Some things are just there for playability, nothing more, and the practical thing to do is just wave any annoying questions about them off and get back to the adventure.

    Anyway, I've found that taking away resurrection only hurts the flow of the game. You wind up with players that are so paranoid and so risk-adverse that getting anything (nevermind anything heroic) done in a timely manner is a chore.

    Sure, a trapeze act without a net is very impressive in its own way, but you're probably going to see many more and more elaborate feats of aerial acrobatics if you allow for the presence of one as a general rule.

  43. anyway James, I hope we've convinced you that 1) you can switch to one of a thousand horses mid-stream and 2) even when you start at the beginning, every path leads to madness.

  44. Besides, your players would not have felt the remorse for the henchman if Raise Dead had not existed at all. The regret was there because there could have been a way to restore him.

  45. I think you need to look atthis differently - not in terms of the existence or prevalence of raise dead in your game, but in terms of the frequency of PC/henchman deaths you as DM mete out. Perhaps the lethality of your encounters and challenges can be adjusted to make this a non-issue. But you are dealign with a system with plenty of save-or-die effects. Removing Raise Dead means you should notch them back accordingly IMO

    If your players want to foster and develop one character they like over the campaign, then you as DM should acknowledge that. WHen I DM, I actually find permanent PC death to be a failure on my part (as well as the players).

  46. James,

    Instead of regretting what your campaign has missed because raise dead is available, why not try to see what it has added? What does it say about your players and their characters that they've actually cared enough about Vladimir and Henga to sacrifice their hard earned treasure to bring them back? This is especially true in the case of Dordagdonar. Rather than waste time with regret, why not introduce NPCs (especially some elves) which question these choices and explore the reasons why they did use raise dead. Take advantage that this is intimately related to the "theme" about the uncertainty of the existence of the divine. I think you'll find this just as rewarding, if not more so, than their permanent loss. To use your own mantra: trust in the game, adjust on the fly and have some fun.

  47. Very interesting post, and many good answers indeed. I offer my view with the description of my own raise the dead/resurrection spell- I have one version and no variants...

    By the power of this high-level spell, the priest is able to restore the life of a dead creature. The subject cannot have been dead more than 1 day/level of the caster. A detect life used specifically for this can determine if the body and soul is not dead beyond the caster's ability to raise him. At least most of the body of the subject must be present within range, which must include the heart and brain. However, there are certain limitations beyond this which must be taken into account.
    The soul must be strong and willing. One who wishes to stay dead or is weak-willed cannot come back. Otherwise, the spell will be corrupted and the subject will rise as an undead monster of some sort. Or an evil spirit could slip into the restored body instead, or something worse (such as a demon). The soul must also have a specially driving purpose or fate to return to the living, such a burning ambition or mission, or a hero touched by the hand of fate. One who has no reason nor drive to come back will stay dead. Or the very act of raising the dead could anger the gods, particularly gods of the dead. And so bring upon their wrath and retribution. The spell augury can be used to detect if these conditions are met.
    The spell cannot bring back a creature who has died of old age (natural causes). Such perversion and defiance could create an undead or risk the wrath of the gods. A spirit that has been drained is utter destroyed. Thus, there would be no spirit to return to the body. Also, there must be a body. If it is reduced to ashes or disintegrated, then the soul has no body to return to.
    The resurrected creature must make a System Shock roll to determine if the body and soul endured the strain and shock of being suddenly re-united. Failure means that the body did not endure the shock and the subject remains dead forever. Success indicates that the individual is raised back to life, but the shock still causes a permanent subtraction of 1 point of Constitution. The creature will be in very fragile conditions, having 1 hit point, and will need rest for at least 3 days. Throughout this healing time, the creature will be in a comalike state, having a Constitution of 3 at the time of resurrection, gaining 1-4 points per day of complete rest. The number of times that one creature can be resurrected is ¼ his Constitution score.
    As can be expected, this spell takes a terrible toll on the caster. He will need to rest for roughly 1 day, and won’t have the strength to cast spells. He will also visibly age 1-10 years. If cast more than once in a single day, he must roll a system shock roll of his own. Failure could lead to a coma or other.

    ...even if they get raised from the dead, they must roll and all factors must be in place. Also, there is a limited window of opportunity. Make the whole thing long and dramatic for the players to feel the impact- this is not an everyday thing. Pause before they roll the dice- maybe even keep the results from their immediate sight. Adding drama to the role-playing will lessen the cheap death and make them appreciate the life given back, as opposed to a bump in the road. Make them sweat for it... and the character may be traumatized by this however small, if you want to add a little 'lovecraftianism'

  48. I don't remember--why did the PCs raise the henchman instead of just getting a new one? I assume it would've been cheaper.

    Dordagdonar, the henchmen's employer, claimed that it would take too long to break in a new "ephemeral," so he thought it more cost effective just to raise her from the dead. His adventuring companions didn't quite buy his reasoning but made nothing of it, since, being an elf, he's always been a bit odd.

  49. Hah! Tsundere elf is tsundere.
    "Stupid henchman... It's not as if I like you or something like that!"

  50. I guess the easy availability of Raise Dead should also discourage the use of knives and poisons as methods of assassination, and encourage devastating magics that are "raise-proof." Apart from "finger of death" I'm not sure what those are: maybe if you can make "touch" impossible...

  51. >You wind up with players that are so paranoid and so risk-adverse that getting anything (nevermind anything heroic) done in a timely manner is a chore.<

    Great theory, but I don't really have resurrection and my players don't play like that.

    Gee, I hope I'm not "doing it wrong."

  52. "As I said, I am philosophically predisposed to let D&D be D&D and build my world around its assumptions rather than try to conform the game rules to my world. Down that path lies the madness of 2e."

    I think this statement is one of the few I've vehemently disagreed with since I've started reading your blog.

    If anything, as a GM I specifically look for rules sets that are adaptable to the world, to the campaign, I'm playing. It seems as if you're saying that the rules are paramount here, above and beyond the specific world the GM and players build. Yet, that seems contradicted by your willingness to allow house rules, and your regret over allowing the "raise dead" spell. Could you comment further, please?

  53. My take on “let D&D be D&D”, for what it is worth...

    I used to think I understood (pre-2000) D&D better than most people. I think I did. At some point, however, I realized that there was more about it that I didn’t understand than I thought. One way to improve my understanding is to read and play it while taking on the assumption that it is “perfect”. This helps me make sense of stuff that I might otherwise have ignored or rejected. That understanding then helps inform the evolution of my own style of play—which may deviate from D&D as written. In many cases, I’ve discovered things that I do like that get incorporated into how I pay. In other cases, the understanding merely confirms that D&D’s way isn’t the way for me.

    The other half is this: “Let D&D be D&D” means that there’s a point at which I should stop house-ruling D&D and just pick a different system. When I play D&D, I need to not try to shoehorn it into a place it just isn’t going to fit.

  54. The other half is this: “Let D&D be D&D” means that there’s a point at which I should stop house-ruling D&D and just pick a different system. When I play D&D, I need to not try to shoehorn it into a place it just isn’t going to fit.

    Robert pretty well summarizes my feelings on the matter. My 2e comment was about the way that, as that edition wore on, so many world-specific options were introduced that I rather felt "D&D" ceased to have meaning as a thing unto itself. I was -- and am -- a big fan of many of those 2e era settings, but the truth is that I think many of them would have been better off using different rules sets rather than trying to mutate D&D into something it was never intended to be.