Editorial: Death in D&D and a fix proposal

the-princess-bride-mandy-patinkin-billy-crystal

(http://images.moviefanatic.com/iu/s–bTHCLOGS–/t_teaser_wide/f_auto,fl_lossy,q_75/v1404174259/the-princess-bride-mandy-patinkin-billy-crystal.jpg)

Okay, so for some time now I’ve have a real problem with death in Dungeons and Dragons. Or rather, the lack of death. Maybe I should explain a little better.

In many RPGs, death works like you’d expect it. Bite the bullet in Shadowrun? Roll a new character, eat the consequences. Die in Call of Cthulhu? Who knows what repercussions your corpse will bring in the hands of the wack cultists? Lose a pokemon in PTU? Niagara Falls Frankie angel. But D&D takes “Revolving Door Afterlife” to a whole new level. Death has NO repercussions at all. The worst that happens is that you need to go find/pay for someone to revive the dead party member. They pop back to life good as new and nothing has changed. There are fewer consequences to death in D&D than there is in Dragon Ball. At least in Dragon Ball you can only revive people once per year. It kills any kind of tension or sense of dread. You don’t need to be as careful because death actually doesn’t matter. The worst offenders are the Clerics, who can bring people back to life from their 5th level spells. What’s worse is that once they get Resurrection, they can bring anyone back who has been dead for decades to centuries. Even higher, they get True Resurrection which doesn’t garner loss of levels or even require ANY remaining piece of the deceased. The only ones it can’t bring back are those who have died of old age, or those who have their soul sealed away. Now, the obvious argument is that it requires a cleric of a very high level to do this, so frequently the party won’t have the resources to do the True Resurrection. Unfortunately, usually all that you need is Raise Dead. Even if you do need True Resurrection, finding an NPC to do it and footing the bill for the 25K Diamond isn’t too tough (depending on the setting). Now, let’s also look at the flip side of this. The players who abuse this will get punished, but sometimes it results in something worse than a dead character: a useless character. Deep into the campaign if 10th level Druid Johnny Appleseed dies a bunch and is brought back a few times, suddenly he’s like three levels behind everyone else and now there’s no point in playing him. So why even have the resurrection spells if they’re better off dead anyways? Some DMs ignore the level penalty or allow potions which also won’t have the penalty (which results in the aforementioned abuse) but if the penalty is there, DMs may hedge back challenges and fudge rolls for fear of crippling a character and making a player just abandon their ass, which is bad for fun and for narrative. Either way, death makes the world bland rather than tense. To that extent, I’ve tried to change the revival spells to what isn’t exactly a hard nerf, but certainly reduces their power significantly. Please note that all of this is done in 3.5, but it wouldn’t be difficult to adapt this for another system. 3.5 is just the easiest to screw around with.

Current:

Raise Dead: 5th level Cleric, Touch Range, cast time 1 minute, dead up to 1 day/caster level. Revived player loses 1 level (Level 1 character loses 2 con instead). Chance to lose prepared spells. Requires intact body.

Resurrection: 7th level Cleric, Touch Range, cast time 10 minutes, dead up to 10 years/caster level. Revived player loses 1 level (or 2 con if at level 1), but is restored to full HP and vigor, no loss of prepared spells. Requires some part of character to be revived.

True Resurrection: 9th Cleric, Touch Range, cast time 1 minute, dead up to 10 years/caster level. No loss of levels or con. Revived to full HP and vigor. Requires no body; only requires the deceased to be identified in some way, such as the time and place of their birth or death.

 

Revision

Raise Dead

Level: Cleric 4, Druid 6

Casting Time: 1 round

Range: Touch

Target: Dead touched creature

Duration: Instantaneous

Saving Throw: See Text

Spell Resistance: Yes

The caster delivers a burst of healing magic to a recently deceased creature, bringing them back from the brink of death. You can raise a creature that has been dead for no longer than 1 round per 2 caster levels (An 8th casting level can raise a creature that has been dead for up to 4 rounds). The target’s body cannot be too damaged or the spell will not function (HP must be no lower than -10 minus 2 per caster level). This spell will repair mortal wounds and lethal damage up to the indicated HP limit, but the body must be whole. Any missing body parts will still be missing when the creature is revived. The creature’s equipment and possessions are not affected by this spell. Life will be restored even if the creature’s soul is unwilling to return to life.

This magical procedure isn’t guaranteed to work. A creature has a base chance to survive the revival process equal to 20% plus 5% for every point of constitution the creature has minus 10% for each time a magical revival attempt has been made on them, regardless of success (spells, potions, and limited wishes all count towards this number). If the attempt fails, another attempt can be made with a new casting if still within the allowed time frame, but the penalty for survival will still count.

The revived creature will be returned to 0 HP and stabilized. Any ability scores damaged to 0 are raised to 1. Any normal poison or disease will be cured, but magical curses or diseases will not be cured. Additionally, the revived creature will be unable to make any strenuous actions for one day. The revived creature’s maximum age will be reduced by 1 year.

Constructs, elementals, and undead cannot be raised. This spell cannot bring back a creature that has died of old age.

 

Resurrection

Level: Cleric 6

Casting Time: 1 round

Range: Touch

Target: Dead touched creature

Duration: Instantaneous

Saving Throw: See Text

Spell Resistance: Yes

The caster transfuses life force to restore life to a recently dead creature. You can raise a creature that has been dead for no longer than 5 minutes per caster level. The creature’s body must still be at least somewhat intact (No lower than -10 minus the creature’s maximum hit points). This spell will repair mortal wounds and lethal damage of most kinds, but the body must be whole. Any missing body parts will still be missing when the creature is revived. The creature’s equipment and possessions are not affected by this spell. If the subject’s soul is not willing to return, the spell will fail.

This magical procedure isn’t guaranteed to work. A creature has a base chance to survive the revival process equal to 20% plus 5% for every point of constitution the creature has minus 10% for each time a magical revival attempt has been made on them, regardless of success (spells, potions, and limited wishes all count towards this number). If the attempt fails, another attempt can be made if still within the time frame, but the penalty for survival will still count.

The life force required to return the character’s life must come from somewhere; usually the caster. The caster will become Fatigued for one hour and their maximum age will be reduced by 1 year upon casting the spell. The life force can be taken from another, but it is not nearly as efficient. A creature giving their life force must be touching the deceased and willing to give their life force. In this case, the caster will not become Fatigued or have their maximum age reduced. The creature giving their life force in the caster’s place becomes Fatigued for 1 hour and has their maximum age reduced by 1d3 years.

The revived creature will be restored to half of their maximum hit points and regain consciousness. Any ability scores damaged to 0 are raised to 1. Any normal poison or disease will be cured, but magical curses or diseases will not be cured. Additionally, the revived creature will be Exhausted one hour, and afterwards will be Fatigued for one day. The revived creature’s maximum age will be reduced by 1d4 years.

Constructs, elementals, and undead cannot be raised. This spell cannot bring back a creature that has died of old age.

 

True Resurrection

Level: Cleric 8

Casting Time: 1 hour

Range: Touch

Target: Dead touched creature

Duration: Instantaneous

Saving Throw: See Text

Spell Resistance: Yes

The caster guides a soul back to its body from the afterlife. You can raise a creature that has been dead for no longer than 1 day per caster level. You must have at least some part of the creature’s body that you wish to restore. This spell will wholly repair the creature’s body. The creature’s equipment and possessions are not affected by this spell. If the subject’s soul is not willing to return, the spell will fail.

This magical procedure isn’t guaranteed to work. A creature has a base chance to survive the revival process equal to 20% plus 5% for every point of constitution the creature has minus 10% for each time a magical revival attempt has been made on them, regardless of success (spells, potions, and limited wishes all count towards this number). If the attempt fails, another attempt can be made if still within the time frame, but the penalty for survival will still count.

Guiding a soul from the afterlife is strenuous, and the caster must give some of their own life to make the journey. The caster will become Exhausted for twelve hours and their maximum age will be reduced by 1d4 years upon casting the spell. The life force can be taken from another, but it is not nearly as efficient. A creature giving their life force must be touching the deceased and willing to give their life force. In this case, the caster will not become Exhausted or have their maximum age reduced. The creature giving their life force in the caster’s place becomes Exhausted for 1 day and has their maximum age reduced by 1d10 years.

The revived creature will be restored to maximum hit points and regain consciousness. Any ability scores damaged to 0 are raised to 1. Any normal poison or disease will be cured, but magical curses or diseases will not be cured. The revived creature’s maximum age will be reduced by 1d8+1 years.

Constructs, elementals, outsiders, and undead cannot be raised. This spell cannot bring back a creature that has died of old age.

 

The Explanation

This is a pretty serious nerf to a lot of these spells, and I recognize that. To compensate slightly, I dropped each of their spell levels by one (and also made Raise Dead available to Druids at a higher level) and also added a few advantages, but I’ll get to those later.

The first thing I realized was important was that the time frame needed to be very strict. If you have 100 years to get revived, there isn’t so much tension and rush. But if you had, say, 3 rounds, suddenly combat becomes frantic as the cleric has to dance across the battlefield to quickly bring your ass back. Resurrection is still strict, but gives you generally enough time to finish the battle and maybe even quickly sprint you over to the local cleric if you’re close to a town. I like the idea of reinjecting tension into dungeon crawls and battles; if you’re stuck in a dungeon, you’ll have to start taking more precautions. The other important thing with this change was to give the Cleric some reason to prepare these spells ahead of time. No one is going to prepare revival spells ahead of time if you have more than a week (Or more than a century) to cast it. But having these spells on hand to keep someone from death at a moment’s notice now becomes a really important skill to have. Even once you have True Resurrection and have a more flexible time frame, the cost for it can be severe, which still make Raise Dead look attractive. Speaking of which, the idea to reduce maximum age was one that I thought long and hard about. At a glance, it doesn’t seem too significant, though it suddenly involves role playing much more in the revival process. Snap decision: is 1 year of your life worth your companion’s life? If you drag your buddy’s corpse to the local cleric, they likely will require one of you to provide the life force required for the spell. Now is 1d3 years worth it? 1d10? In a lot of ways, this penalty is a lot more severe and debilitating than a level loss, though it won’t affect your character’s ability to fight in the short term; it’ll just affect your role playing in the long term, which is a much more interesting mechanic in my eyes. Now, there DOES have to be some other kind of penalty associated with coming back to life so you can’t just do it over and over again, which is why I brought Resurrection Survival back from AD&D along with a cumulative penalty. This ensures that an elf won’t just eat the maximum age penalty forever so that they can just come back as frequently as they want. Yet another reason to want to avoid death as much as possible; you’ll never know when it’ll be for keepsies. Oh, and I decided to add an HP limit as well. It generally goes without saying that as it currently is, a body that has sustained too much damage won’t be revived with a Raise Dead, but I wanted to set an exact limit on how badly damage the corpse could be, though I wonder if this number could be made a little more generous. Perhaps with some playtesting, that will become more obvious.

Now let’s talk about what I did to make these better. The level reduction is nice, and having a quick revive at a lower level is a nice boon (I even considered making Raise Dead C3/D5. Might be worth trying out, but for another reason it makes me nervous). Making Resurrection a 1 round cast time is also nice, especially since it’ll get your ally back up on their feet (even if they’re exhausted). A small change that you may not have even noticed is that I allowed Raise Dead and Resurrection to affect Outsiders. Since these spells are less about bringing the soul back from the afterlife and more about keeping their life force from going completely out, I figured it would be worthwhile to allow Outsiders to get this benefit. Not losing levels or Con is nice and while the previously mentioned penalty is there, this is a good way to not beat up your players too badly for a poorly timed critical failure. However, the big buff that I did was for Raise Dead. If you notice, unlike any of the other resurrection spells, someone who is revived with Raise Dead doesn’t have the option of saying no. For some, this tool will be invaluable. The ability to quickly kickstart a henchman’s heart to interrogate him will be useful, but it can also be a fallback tool for a DM who kills a character by accident. It does seem weird that a bad guy would revive you, but if they want to interrogate you, it might be reasonable to work that into the story. On top of all that, whoever you bring back will be extremely weak, making escape all but impossible until they recover.

Anyway, I’ve rambled on long enough about all the changes I made. These are really just notes and an idea. I have no idea if it would work in practice, but it’s how I perceive would be the best way to fix the death problem in these types of systems. Do you have a better idea? Issues with my idea? More to add on the topic of death in RPGs? Let me know in the comment section!

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s