Building a Better D&D

Death and Resurrection

I have a separate article on the site that pretty well already covers this topic.  If you've read that you don't really need to read this, but I'm going to pare it down a bit and tilt the perspective in terms of the project.

Characters get raised too easily in D&D and too often.  (Well, in AD&D at least.)  It's obvious because there is a constant stream of complaints from DM's who feel like they're running a video game, not D&D, and it bothers them.  Players have such a careless attitude about it all.  As a DM you just want a certain feel to your game and it grates on you to see how they handle it.  I've been there on both sides of the issue, player and DM, and that shared experience is necessary for the proper perspective here.

Many DM's in response to the issue try to make Raise Dead harder to get and to deal with; increased rarity, expense, difficulty or even outright hazardous to use.  I don't blame them for wanting to do it, but it's treating the symptom, not addressing the disease.  The disease is that players and their characters have little or no fear or respect for death.  I know I don't when I'm a player.  It's literally the last thing you need or want to think about.  The more intense and dangerous the combat the more tunneled your vision is to the here and now of the fight.  Even right after your PC dies your first thoughts are along the lines of how disappointing it is not to have won, or how you're unable to continue to enjoy the fight.  Only after THAT do you think, "Oh yeah.  Now I have to get my ass raised.  Dammit!"  The easier and faster it is to get a PC raised the stronger the impression - for everyone - that death is just an annoyance or highly temporary setback instead of a life-altering, momentous occurrence in the characters life experience.  That kind of attitude is a problem.

But, you need to ask yourself what your goal is.  Is it to STOP the players from getting characters resurrected?  If they want their characters raised they WILL get them raised and the reasons will be entirely meta-game.  The only thing that is going to stop them is if you make it SO rare, SO difficult, SO expensive that it becomes UTTERLY impractical from a roleplaying and/or game rule standpoint.  All you're going to do with such efforts is make players annoyed when their characters die because you've made it such a pain in the ass to recover them.  Recovering their character and continuing on with play is the meta-game reason they want their character raised - and it should be YOUR goal to facilitate that, not make it an even greater obstacle.  You just need to do it without breaking your own suspension of disbelief.

Extra efforts needed to raise their PC's aren't going to make them want their characters revived any less, yes?  Needing more gold and facing higher difficulty in obtaining the spell will not counteract the desire to have a character continue his adventures; making it more annoying isn't going to promote the roleplaying you're after.  "Oh boy!  My PC just died.  How fortunate I am because now I get to roleplay even more with OTHER PC's as they struggle to help me get my character back up and running.  Yessir, all those annoying hoops the DM has put in place are exactly what I wanted and needed at this point in the game - and all the other players feel the same.  Death of my PC is something I can even look forward to thanks to the complex challenges my DM heaps on my already dead character and his PC friends who want him resurrected."

So again - what's your goal?  If you genuinely don't want the players to be able to raise their characters why do you allow the possibility AT ALL?  If you DO want to allow the possibility you have to expect that they are going to almost universally do so.  However, they will do so for entirely meta-game reasons.  They do it because they like their characters, enjoy playing them and want to continue to do so.  But to PUNISH the character (and the player) for being raised by instituting additional ailments or quirks is an action which suggests that the player is doing something WRONG just by wanting to have his character back, and that you consider it your job to discourage all players from EVER resurrecting a dead PC.

Consider this example:  A player has a cleric character that is bold, forthright, never wavers in the face of danger, always acts with honor, never shirks his duty, and in general he's a funny, enjoyable, and interesting PC.  The player enjoys running him and does a good job roleplaying him.  The other players enjoy having their PC's interact with his.  He is an ASSET to the campaign.  That character dies fighting a giant spider and the other players seek to obtain a Raise Dead.  What, at this point, is your goal as DM?  Is having that character back in your campaign a problem?  If not, why do you want to make the player reconsider whether it's going to be worth the extra annoyances YOU have attached to Raise Dead to bring the character back?  Perhaps you claim to want to reduce the frequency of getting characters raised.  Well, here's your chance to remove that horrible positive asset to your campaign.  You can simply disallow the character to find the spell, or to be unable to afford it, or to give it so many drawbacks and side effects that the character would be greatly changed, even to the point where the player would no longer enjoy the character.  Are you happier?  Is your player happy now?  No?  Then what the hell are you doing?

It's not the "ease" or "frequency" of Raise Dead and Resurrection that bothers DM's - it is the cavalier attitude that players (or usually more accurately, their characters) have toward it.  Here's the surprising part - it's your own damn fault.  Yes, I think it's directly traceable to the DM's own attitudes and rulings if he's complaining that his players play his campaign as if it were a video game.  Any cavalier attitudes evidenced by the players are the fault of the DM who has failed to establish a proper tone for it in the first place.  The DM doesn't need to make Raise Dead/Resurrection expensive and impossible to get - he just needs to have NPC's treat it with great solemnity and respect.  He needs to have the ceremony of it roleplayed out every time.  He needs to have NPC's treat raised characters differently than those who have never returned from the dead - even if there's no game-rule effects beyond simply losing a level (as if that alone isn't supposed to be enough of a deterrent).  DM's are failing to lead by example.

The causes of too-frequent deaths are reckless players/characters and DM's who don't recognize their own over-aggressiveness or recklessness in challenging the PC's, or who by inaction encourage/allow such approaches from players.  As DM it is YOU who controls the degree of challenge that the PC's face.  If PC's die too often your issue is NOT with Raise Dead or Resurrection.  Players aren't going to complain much (if at all) about frequent deaths if there IS relatively easy access to resurrection magic.  But if the DM is saying to himself "there's too much easy resurrection going on in my campaign" then the most likely problem is the DM!  Possibly it's the players themselves and inappropriate attitudes - but it's not the rules for Raise Dead/Resurrection.

Be proactive about the issue.  First, discuss it with the players rather than silently brood and fume.  Don't just demand that they roleplay death and resurrection with seriousness and solemnity - explain to them what your problem is as DM and how it breaks suspension of disbelief.  Talk about how various cultures in your campaign world (which their PC's will know) handle death and resurrection issues.  Talk about how those cultures view the afterlife.  Know and explain what the exact process is when a PC dies - what happens to the soul, how it can/cannot be brought back to the body, etc.  Most of all accept the fact that RD/Res is not in the game for its campaign-setting construction benefits, and it's NOT in the game for widespread use by the NPC's.  It's in the game for the PC's, or even more precisely - for the benefit of the players.

That brings up one other point that grates on DM's about bringing back the dead - that they wind up with every NPC living forever short of disintigration.  Casually destroying the finality of death is indeed a LOUSY thing to institute in a roleplaying game - except that it makes it a hell of a lot more fun for players to be able to resume play with a favorite character rather than constantly rolling up new ones.  There is no rule that says that because RD is a spell available for PC use that it MUST be UNIVERSALLY approved of and applied as widely as possible across your game setting and damn the consequences.  If you find NPC access to be a problem as well then again you have only yourself to blame for your own failure to even try to institute rules that forbid the problem spell to any except PC's and a very minor group of select NPC's that you would want to see specifically raised just as the PC's would be.

If you want players to roleplay the entire subject appropriately then lead by example.  Do not EVER have an NPC simply quote a price and cast the spell.  NPC's that knew the PC will grieve accordingly at the loss.  NPC's casting the spell will do so with lengthy and solemn preparation, and with great rites and ritual.  When PC's are disrespectful of the dead or cavalier about the process of resurrection have the NPC's react appropriately with NEGATIVE perceptions of the character.  After a character IS raised, even if there is no game rule reason for the PC to be thought of differently there is every roleplaying reason for it.  Have the NPC's react appropriately when they become aware that the character has died and been raised.  This is an individual who has cheated death and yet is not a zombie, ghoul, vampire, or lich.  This is a special individual even if no game rule makes that specific indication.

Remember that in AD&D the assumption is that upon the death of a character, PC or NPC, of any race, class, etc., their soul begins a journey to one of the outer planes to assume its place in whatever the characters religion indicates as an afterlife.  When you die you're on your way to paradise, whether your idea of paradise is frolicking in meadows, seeing old friends and family long gone, freedom from pain and worry of life's long struggle, ruling over subjects who serve you willingly, etc.  Whatever paradise is, that's where you're headed - or even where you already ARE when the call comes to you from some priest back among the living asking your soul to choose between resuming the drudgery of mortality, or continuing your afterlife's journey of bliss.  Now ask yourself whether the mere existence of resurrection magic really is your problem, or is the problem merely that YOU have failed to assign appropriate attitudes to NPC's?

Now, it is not your decision to make as DM regarding what attitudes and opinions a Player Character will have on life, death and the afterlife.  It is not your concern if the player decides (however unsurprisingly) that his character will yet again choose life instead of blissful afterlife.  What IS your concern is to have NPC's react to those attitudes and decisions appropriately.  All it takes to solve resurrection problems in an ongoing campaign is to adjust YOUR OWN thinking.  EVERY NPC that dies and is given the chance for resurrection can and should choose the afterlife instead, or else simply be forbidden to be resurrected by the gods - unless you, the DM, want them resurrected.  Voila!  Your campaign is saved from the disruption of the NON-finality of death.

I all but guarantee you that if you provide that kind of roleplaying lead you will have no further issues with Raise Dead.


So, as I said in entry #9 I was going to talk a bit about the Resurrection Survival roll specifically.  Given all the above SHOULD there be a Resurrection Survival roll at all?  My conclusion is actually that there should.  That may seem to be contradictory at first but AD&D also needs to have some point at which player characters face the finality of death.  Player characters can and should occasionally die permanently.  They may die permanently because players may never gain access to resurrection magic, the player may decline to have the character ACCEPT resurrection (rare but it does happen, and I've done it myself), and players should nonetheless retain a minimal level of fearful respect for death and desperately trying to avoid it if only because it DOES introduce the possibility of a permanent death that the player cannot anticipate, dictate or avoid.  However, the mechanics for that are not beyond alteration.

My thinking is to institute a 3-Strikes policy.  You get to resurrect a character at least twice - assuming only that the magic is available.  Whether the character fails his RS% check or not, as noted his Con is reduced by one (along with his success chance for his next Rez).  Failure means it must simply take longer for the dead to return and you'll have to roll again at your reduced %.  After you've been successfully resurrected twice (though your Con and attending RS% chances may have been lowered further than that might suggest) you get no more freebies.  From that point onward the dice RULE.

This is VERY generous, some will undoubtedly say it's far TOO generous.  I think it's a good compromise between keeping a point of final death and allowing players to continue the game without undue arbitrary influences.  As always, individual DM's will STILL be free, and are even encouraged to alter rules to fit THEIR games.

Entry #11
Return to 1E Project Page
Return to D&D Page
Return to Home Page