Resurrection and the Afterlife


What are everyone's thoughts on this? It's a topic I've always cringed from to be honest. I hate the resurection spells in D&D, and disallow them in any campaign I've ever run. I've gone so far as to rework entire pre-published adventures I wanted to use just because at some point there's a resurection of an NPC villain. However, it is part of the rules in many fantasy games, and sometimes we come across players that want to (over)use it.

My favorite thing to do to combat the feeling that players (or NPCs, or whatever) can just plug some more quarters in and keep going is to remove those spells entirely. But, sometimes you really *want* someone to come back from the dead, so how do you have your cake and eat it too? I suppose one could rule that rising from the dead is something that only the gods can do for you...but if you want religion to play a fairly minor role in your campaign, that solution doesn't help you.

Maiming and crippleing is a good alternative to death...but after awhile your players will know that they won't die, they'll just lose limbs and eyes and all that good stuff. Same goes for the NPCs..."Oh Max Ernst? We left him back in Bogenhafen with a gaping hole in his chect. I suppose he'll be back for revenge eventually." This can be a great plot device, but if overused it becomes pure cheese.

The easiest thing I can think of is "dead is dead". Ghostwalk, for those familiar, did a good job of this by allowing the dead PCs to keep adventuring with the group as spirits. A cool idea, but not for everyone. It raises too many questions about the nature of death that some GMs may not be prepared to answer...

...which leads to the second part of this post. What do the other GMs out there do about the afterlife? Have you ever ran a campaign for entirely dead PCs (barring Vampire and Wraith of course ;)? And as for the D&D players out there...notice how there's all those planes that dead souls go to...just not the PCs? Are those planes just for commoners, NPCs, and the people the group never met?

I know someone who plays in a campaign where the PCs keep dieing over and over and going to all these different hells...wish I could explain it better, but I thought the idea sounded frustrating for the PCs, and wack at any rate ;)

I like to keep PC mortality very low in my campaigns as I love to see the characters develop over time, and my players are like that too. They don't want me sending a stream of orcs through the revolving doors, and I don't want them doing the same thing with their characters.

So...death and the afterlife...what's everyone got to say?

first, regarding warding off character death: as long as the characters know when to run away, they should be fine. especially with all the "-1 to -9 HP" system in D&D.

Now, if you dislike very powerful religions, you could make resurrection (and any other very powerful magic: stuff like mountain moving, sea rising or stop-the-huge-dimentional-rift spells) into very specific, complicated, expensive and/or prolonged rituals. this way characters who really need/deserve resurrection could have it done, but without cheapening it. Examples could be visiting a specific location on the outer plains and convincing a powerful outsider to do the ritual, going to a secret cavern at the bottom of the sea and making the mermaid queen happy with a song or going to the heart of the dangerous, magic-dead crater and throwing a powerful (maybe specific) magic item down an abyss there.

If you want a twist, how about if the characters taking a shortcut to resurrection (by making a powerful cleric/witch/ghost cast the spell) , having the character come back as an undead? think of all the drama and difficulties the decaying character & co. will encounter...

the same ideas hold true for NPC resurrections. Having the enemy baron return from being killed as a mummy, after his followers followed a forbidden ritual, can be a nice surprise for the PCs

I'm with you, Scott: I dislike resurrection intensely. Most of my players seem to agree. After a while, you get used to character death, and you want it to mean something. If there is real risk -- if, in this case, your characters go into a conflict from which they might not emerge victorious -- the heroics of all those involved, living and dead, mean all that much more. If the players are just "putting more quarters in the slot," to use your apt analogy, they've achieved very little, and the stories of their characters fail to engage most listeners. "Great, your dude was a big hero and a total badass. Yawn. Say, have you read A Feast for Crows yet?" But if you tried to die and failed*, that's a great story. If several of your friends died horribly so that a few could triumph, that's a good story, too.

Like you, I remove Resurrection and most spells like it from my spell lists. If somebody has a well-planned Contingency, if somebody risks terrible damage to deliver a Heal to a downed comrade in the middle of a fight, that's dramatic and fun. If they die but you know that Father Callahan can rez them after combat because he still has one prepped, it's just not quite the same. It's less dramatic, and therefore I think less interesting.

Nephandus (more recently Nefandus) argued pretty well for using the 3.0 rules as written and trusting in the game design. I found his arguments persuasive, but I can't do them justice. dwhoward, someone I'd love to have debated but who came before my time, argued:
Reigning [sic] in high level PC clerics leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Players work hard to attain higher levels and should enjoy the privileges of them. Letting them toss around *cure light wounds* like nothing but then conspiring to make *raise dead* a rare event just seems unfair. It dilutes the value of being high level.

For those who are interested, the old article and comment thread was by Ballestra, and was entitled "What Does A Guy Have To Do To Die Around Here?" I've read it many times, and I reiterate that I only bring it up for reference -- I'm much more interested in the current crowd's opinions. But there are some great arguments and styles of play propounded there.

I would point people currently interested in this subject in the direction of alternate mythical systems as their point of reference. D&D's conception of the afterlife seems most strongly to resemble those of western cosmologies: judeo-christian (heaven) or norse (Valhalla), for example. But consider the Hindu idea of reincarnation -- the afterlife is the next life.

Resurrection as a spell seems mythologically cheap to me. The myths of resurrection that I can think of -- Enki's delivery of Inanna from the underworld, Isis' resurrection of Osiris, the rebirth of Dionysus, and yes, the resurrection of Jesus -- are all extremely significant events in their respective mythologies. In some cases, there is a terrible price to be paid: the fate of Dumuzi, Inanna's faithless lover, is a good example (see also: Tammuz). In others, powerful magic is involved, such as Isis' convoluted spell to revitalize the scattered bits of her husband's body, or Zeus' use of baby Dionysus' heart as the basis of revitalizing him in the womb of Semele. In almost every case, resurrection is a quest in and of itself. Myths give us cautionary tales that it isn't always successful, as in the cases of Orpheus and Eurydice and Izanagi and Izanami. While you can make all the system-based arguments you want, and while you can take the position that the power of the Holy Spirit investing the Christian apostles makes resurrection as commonplace as that in the daily spell list of a D&D cleric, myths present resurrection as serious business.

Finally, in the thread referenced above, Lilith points to Call of Cthulhu. She has a great point -- in the Cthulhu grimoire, Resurrection is a nasty, disturbing spell that reduces a corpse to "essential salts." It can bring back the dead person from those salts, but such revived people are subject to being forced back to salt form by people who know the spell. And when some of the salts are lost, trying to revive the person they were part of produces only "the liveliest awfulness."

H.P. Lovecraft has some interesting ideas about death and an afterlife of sorts, or more like a parallel life, in his Dreamlands. Those who reach the Dreamlands live on there even after their waking-world selves die, and those who die in the Dreamlands but remain living in the waking-world can never return to the world of dreams. I have little doubt much of this is influenced by or outright stolen from Dunsany, but I haven't read enough of the latter to say.

What do I do about it? Usually, I just let dead PCs stay dead. But there are loads of interesting possibilities even there, not least of which is communion with the spirits of the dead. The protagonist of the Hero's Quest typically descends into the Underworld (see Odysseus, Aeneas) for advice. That's strong stuff -- not only is it creepy, but it resonates with players. They tend to remember a well-played ghost, I can assure you of that.

*I just finished watching Dances With Wolves, in which this is a prominent motif. I have also seen a Call of Cthulhu character do something similar, strapping dynamite to himself and trying to leap down the jaws of a horrible monster, only to...miss. Then he frantically tore the dynamite from himself and hurled it at the beast, thereby obliterating the monster...the girl he was trying to save...and half an apartment, incidentally putting himself and two others in the hospital. But nobody in the player group has ever forgotten it.

Have you ever ran a campaign for entirely dead PCs (barring Vampire and Wraith of course ;)?

Not personally, but I am reminded to refer you and any other interested parties to thinkanalogous' review of Dead Inside.

It seems the thing to remember when handleing death and the afterlife in an RPG is to make sure it's creepy and signifigant. All too often, I think that it's just another obstacle for the PCs to overcome; much the same as bartering for gear or making a good impression on the local baron. I don't really have this problem in my own campaign...I run for people that have been playing together with me as the GM for years and years...but I can see how it would be a problem when running for a new group, or even adding members to your current group. Meshing playing styles can be a pain in the butt sometimes.

I like Cocytus' point about decending into the underworld as in mythic legends from our own world. This is a damn signifigant thing to have to go and do...and the flavor that comes across in most source material (well, D&D material anyways) is that it's a jaunt across the plains and home for tea; but that likely relates back to my pet peeve...implied setting.

I don't use resurrection in most of my games. When players die, they die. I did use resurrection once as a plot device though.

The Antagonist, a 200+ year old vampire, had spent the last 200 years studying magic and had finally invented a spell to resurrect his dead fiance. Unfortunately, he needed a magical staff owned by another mage in the city to power this spell. He coerced a rogue Drow Elf with a bite into stealing the staff.

The Drow, having disgraced himself in the eyes of Lolth and his family by striking an ugly priestess who wanted to sleep with him, tried appeasing his God with the ritual sacrifice of a young human girl that he found in the room with the staff.

This girl was the newest apprentice of the mage and a friend of the other two apprentices, the PCs.

The PCs spent the entire adventure tracking down the Drow and the vampire without realizing what and who they were dealing with. During the final confrontation, which was memorable to say the least, the PCs managed to kill the Drow (with minimal help from the vampire) and let the vampire keep the staff so that he could raise his dead lover.

They managed to avenge themselves on their friend's killer and they felt good about the vampire's love life (so to speak).

This is one of their all-time favorite adventures and the only time that ressurection has ever come up in the game.

"True love is like ghost, which everyone has heard of but few have seen."

I fully agree with the over-use of ressurection and ways to return from death. How do i handle this in my realm (an on going game for over 20 years now)? thats easy.

1-there is less then 5 people in my realm (npcs) who have high enough level to even use such a spell as ressurection. The head of each active church has one head-cleric who is powerful enough to raise the dead. infact, 3rd level is the common cap for powerful NPCs in my realm. Yes there are people who are higher, but they are seen as amazing and rare.
This level-cap is realm-wide. A third level mage could easyly become a king's advisor, or a well-known (or feared) wizard. So obtaining the levels past third is somthing the realm will notice as so-rare that all the lands would see you as a scion or a hero of huge value.

2-ressurection can only be performed on a person who has earned the love, respect or honor of an active god. Meaning, if you find a 11th level cleric who digs you enough to raise you- you still need to have earned a god's good favor. If you offend a god for any reason, that god wouldnt allow the spell to be cast on you.

3-the age of high-magics in my realm is over. over 10,000 thousand years ago, the realm had many many high level people from 6th-15th level (or higher). In that age, items of power, magics and what-not were created, but since then no real powerful items have been created in numerous amounts. A rod of ressurection may be able to bring you back to life, but good luck getting one. there is less then 10 such rods left in the realm, and all are either church guarded relics hoarded or protected for future use on very important people.

now players almost always raise above the levels of 3rd. So they are always seen as rare or amazing for simply becoming such high levels in a world where 3rd level is considered "very powerful"

this balence works very well in our games, and has been the way-of-the-world where they play.

i dunno if this sounds good to most of you, but this low level cap cuases all sorts of great plots for a party of 5th level and up. when reaching above 3rd level, you will find that kings and queen will be there to give you the adventures that you deserve as a "true scion".

make sence? anyone care? no? either.

No time to get too deep into this now...

...but, in general, I'm against using resurrections (and that goes for comic books too -- Bucky and Jason Todd are still dead in my book).

I used not to have raise dead in my campaign at all, but I introduced it as a spell a few years back. In is only acessible to priests of 4 dieties (3 from one pantheon and 1 from another). Resurrection is completely out of the equation.

However, I'd like to share a resurrection story that has nothing to do with the Raise Dead Spell.

I have had a character in the campaign die and be raised back to life. He was a Cleric killed doing a task specifically for his Goddess. As a dual class human he had put aside his Monk path to follow a lost Goddess whose temple they had found high in the Mountains. They returned the dead body to the mountain and the goddess descended to restore his life. As a Goddess of cold and Ice she also restored his left arm (that had been hacked off at the elbow) with one of ice. She proclaimed that the next time she saw him he would come to dwell with her for eternity in her hall of Ice and she would save a place of honour for him.
The player knows that there is absolutely no third chance at life. He looks forward to his death and the idea of going to the Halls of Eloda, but dreads it equally. As a divine proclamation he knows that there is no room for equivocation on this point. Once or twice a gaming session he refers to going to be with his Goddess and the event probably happened seven or more years ago. For a DM who had always been against resurrection, I am sure glad I was in a merciful mood that day. It was a defining character/player moment.

Sifolis -- How do you maintain the milieu of danger with NPC's at such a low level? I tried something like it once and it didn't work for me. If the challenges that the players face are so far above the abilities of the hoi poloi then you either get a comic-book dynamic with characters being "super-heros" or you have to have a method of seaprating the players challenges from the world in which they live. Any thoughts from anyone else or am I missing something?