Mar 1, 2016

House Rules: Death and Resurrection

Note: The following are modifications of some excellent ideas I found online from another creative dungeon master. I can no longer find the original to credit him. If you recognize your work below, please comment, and I will provide proper credit and link back to your website.

Not all deities grant spells to bring back the dead, and even those that do may have severe restrictions in terms of how it is being used. A cleric who attempts to bring back the dead in violation of the edicts of his religion could lose all clerical powers and be excommunicated by his church. While most churches require an excessive donation to perform the ritual, a person’s wealth and station in life are never considerations for their worthiness to receive the spell (if this were the case, king’s would be resurrected all of the time). Generally, worthiness is related to some unfinished business the deceased needs to perform in life that is in service of some greater good that priest’s deity wants done.

Even in cases where a resurrection may be warranted, there are risks that may make both the spellcaster and the player character to be resurrected consider the choice carefully.

The Step-By-Step Process:

  1. The priest must first commune with his/her deity to determine if it is okay to cast the spell. It may be that the person’s soul is serving his/her deity in an important way, and
  2. The spellcaster casts one of the spells below and hopes for the best
  3. The dead person, in whatever afterlife they currently inhabit, becomes aware that somebody is trying to call his/her spirit back to the living world. The dead person will know who the spellcaster is if he/she knew the spellcaster previously; otherwise, the dead person will only know that the soul is being called back, but not who is doing it or what spell is being used.
  4. If the deceased is a follower of the same deity as the priest performing the spell, the dead person's spirit chooses whether or not to allow the spell to complete successfully. None of these spells work on an unwilling subject (though in some cases, divine intervention can force the matter). However,
  5.  If the deceased is a follower of a different deity, or of a different alignment than the priest performing the spell, the deceased’s deity (or whatever has its soul in service), may need to also allow the soul to leave (DM’s discretion)
  6. If the spell is completed successfully, then the dead person rolls a resurrection survival check (for Raise Dead or Resurrection) or rolls on a reincarnation table (for Reincarnate)
  7. If all goes well, the subject returns to life as dictated by the rules of the spell. The subject retains no memories of anything that happened while he/she was dead unless he/she was active during the period of death as a free-willed undead creature.


Resurrection Survival Check:

A potential resurrection subject may be required to roll a resurrection survival check depending on the spell used. If successful, the subject will be successfully revived. If it fails, however, that person is gone forever. No further attempts at resurrection can be made, and attempts to contact the spirit of the deceased will always fail. That person’s soul is considered to no longer exist, either trapped outside of the known planes of existence, or utterly destroyed (theologians are not certain on this issue).

This is a Constitution-based check, and it is known among priests, and others who are in a position to learn these things, that healthier and heartier people have a significantly greater chance of being successfully revived from the dead. So on this subject, characters can make a semi-informed decision regarding their chance of success.


Spells to Revive the Dead:

Raise Dead (5th-level cleric spell)
-        works on a dwarf, half-elf, halfling, or human
-        only works if the deceased has been dead for less than one day per level of the cleric
-        requires a whole, mostly-intact body with all essential parts present
-        non-essential body parts (limbs, eyes, etc.) which are missing will still be missing when subject is revived
-        if subject died of poisoning and the poison was not neutralized prior to revival, a new saving throw vs. poison will be required immediately
-        requires a resurrection survival check
-        upon revival, subject loses one point of Constitution permanently
-        upon revival, subject is weak and helpless, has only 1 hp, and requires one day of bed rest for each day spent being dead

Resurrection (7th-level cleric spell)
-        works on any sentient creature
-        only works if the deceased has been dead for less than 10 years per level of the cleric
-        requires at least some small amount of remains
-        body will be whole, complete, and healthy upon revival
-        requires a resurrection survival check
-        upon revival, subject loses one point of Constitution permanently
-        upon revival, subject has full HP and feels otherwise healthy and energetic

Reincarnate (7th-level druid spell)
-        works on any non-artificial sentient creature
-        only works if the deceased has been dead for less than a week
-        requires at least some small amount of remains
-        does not require a resurrection survival check
-        after the spell is cast, subject appears nearby in a new body within 1d6 x 10 minutes, with memories of his/her former life
-        the player or DM creates a new character for the subject; new ability scores are rolled and a different class can be chosen
-        there is a very significant chance of being reincarnated as an animal or some weird woodland creature (dryad, pixie, centaur)
-        once the spell is cast, the new form is considered to be the subject's true, natural form from that point forward

Reincarnate (6th-level magic-user spell)
-        works on any non-artificial sentient creature
-        only works if the deceased has been dead for less than one day per level of the magic-user
-        requires at least some small amount of remains
-        does not require a resurrection survival check
-        after the spell is cast, subject appears nearby in a new body within 1d6 x 10 minutes, with memories of his/her former life
-        the player or DM creates a new character for the subject; new ability scores are rolled and a different class can be chosen
-        all potential forms are sentient humanoids, though some are definitely not traditional PC races (bugbear, goblin, ogre, etc)
-        once the spell is cast, the new form is considered to be the subject's true, natural form from that point forward

Limited Wish (7th-level magic-user spell)
-        mostly unable to raise the dead effectively
-        if the subject's physical body has been totally destroyed and lost (ashes scattered in the wind, etc.), this spell may be used to produce enough remains for a Resurrection (but not Raise Dead)
-        may, depending on circumstances, bring a very recently-dead person back to life briefly
Wish (9th-level magic-user spell)
-        may be used to, in effect, duplicate any other spell on this list
-        may be used to change a reincarnated character back into the form he/she had in a previous life
-        may be used to wish for the full return of a living being, without Constitution penalties, HOWEVER, this is a very tricky spell that can have dire consequences, and it isn’t easy to come by, so it should be a last resort option
-        If a deity or another greater power is keeping a soul from returning, a Wish spell could, in some cases, be used to force the matter – at the spellcasters own risk, of course

Alter Reality (7th-level illusionist spell)
-        functionally the same as Limited Wish

Theological and Philosophical Notes:

Because Raise Dead and Resurrection can result in a person's soul being lost to all contact forever, many clerics are reluctant to perform these spells. For the same reason, many dead people are reluctant to allow attempts at casting these spells on them. Most religions generally hold that having your soul "lost" in this manner is just about the worst thing that can happen to a person, although it's an unknowable mystery whether the soul is just destroyed into nothing, imprisoned in some unspeakable circumstances, or just kicked back to its normal afterlife but cut off from further availability. Some theologians claim that these spells are never acceptable, while others claim that the object of their religious faith (God, the spirits, the Earth, etc.) would not grant these spells if they were not to be used. Most, however, take the middle ground that these spells should be available for use, but only rarely and in circumstances that warrant them. Of course, that ends up being a judgment call of each individual priest.

It's actually very common for someone to refuse a resurrection attempt due to religious beliefs, fear of being "lost," or general contentment with the status of being dead. For that reason, before casting a spell to attempt resurrection, it's common to use the 3rd-level cleric spell Speak with the Dead to inquire about the dead person's willingness to be restored to life in the first place.

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