Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Thou Shalt Not Raise the Dead

Recently I have been growing on the idea of removing Raise Dead from future campaigns. I'm losing the ability to buy into a society where the dead can be raised, but where good aligned priests charge more for the service than anyone except the wealthy (or adventurers) can afford. If a peasant man dies in an cart accident and leaves a wife and seven children with nobody to provide for them, is the neutral good cleric going to leave them to starve because they can't pay thousands of gold to have their father revived? This is also making me think about the various spells to remove blindness, madness, etc... but that is another post altogether.

Perhaps I'd leave in the reincarnation spell and/or the high level resurrection, but good luck finding a cleric high enough level to know the latter spell.

Of course, if I did this, I'd probably have to do something to make the campaign a little less deadly...perhaps death at -10 or the Hit Point/Constitution duo method. I will cross that bridge when I come to it.

I was discussing the removal of a raise spell with my wife last night, and she ventured the opinion that raise dead was an unclean spell that should be avoided by good clerics. In her opinion, such a spell challenges the realm of the gods themselves. We had a pretty interesting debate about the subject, with my general opinion being that the cleric would never be granted a spell that his deity did not approve of. We eventually drifted into the discussion of just what clerical magic is, and by discarding the basic assumptions of D&D, we found we were no longer discussing the game as written. (Not always a bad thing)

Now more than ever, I want to merge the cleric and the paladin into a class that can turn and use paladin-like powers, but with few or no spells. Meanwhile, I want magic-users that either have to pick between light and darkness (cleric/MU lists) or to divide the spells into white/black/gray a la the rules over at Akratic Wizardry. (GO and check them out...worth a read)

Here's a thought.... perhaps a slain character can only be revived if his companions can retrieve him from a mythical underworld, a la Eurydice and Orpheus.


  1. I always felt that Raise Dead meant a loss in possible interesting events. For example, if a king is assassinated, smoeone can just Raise the body. So I've always felt free to throw in soul-trapping as an alternative, basically a magical kidnapping, so that the body can't be raised without it.

    You could say that every character gets one second chance, but the adventurers have to find him and give something up in exchange.

    Then again if you say that raising the dead means the Cleric and the recipient each lose a level ... well, the player of the recipient cannot possibly EXPECT or DEMAND a raise, since the penalty is so great. So he will need to negotiate some exchange using Speak With Dead to pay the Cleric off.

    Is 50,000 GP worth a high-level Clerc losing a level? How much would be pay for a magic potion that gave him a free level? It depends on the value of money in your campaign, but based on magic item values I'd argue that the level between 10th and 11th is worth at least 1 GP per XP, especially since you can't just trade them.

    This means a Cleric will never raise a dead peasant. The peasant cannot possibly replace the Cleric's loss. Unless the Cleric is just really that pious. But then what about next year when another peasant dies?

    But it means a Cleric might raise a wealthy merchant - he sure won't be wealthy afterward though!

    Kings would be guaranteed a Raise by some Cleric, in fact Clerics may strive for the chance to do it, because it means getting a fat parcel of land and various titles and annuities.

  2. I like the way your wife thinks. I've often considered having only evil priests cast Raise Dead. They take all the cash they make and fuel their evil exploits!

    The whole idea of good-aligned churches charging obscene fees for healing magic is something that has never been adequately explained. Perhaps, the fess charged to adventurers allows the churches to increase their support of the downtrodden, but who knows.

  3. Hmm, maybe the D&D vision of health care as written is not so different from our own (*US's) world.

    Yes, by all means let's throw out Raise Dead. A perfectly reasonable proposition to rule that good clerics would never do it - another option would be that they could do it, but it would completely reverse the alignment of the dead person in question (justifying why good glerics wouldn't do it but evil ones would). All the more reason to see to a proper and quick burial, cremation being preferred!

  4. Yes, discard Raise Dead (and Reincarnation). Require a side quest into the dread labyrinth known as "The Waiting Rooms". Lend teeth to it by saying the dying in The Waiting Rooms means a one-way ticket to the afterlife, so that would-be rescuers think twice.

    Have you read Peter Jared Seckler's Pumpkin Town? When a character 'dies' in that game they wake up in Pumpkin Town Hell and must journey through the Creepy Catacombs beneath the local graveyard and "dig their way out of their own grave from below."

    I've always liked that.

  5. I love "a slain character can only be revived if his companions can retrieve him from a mythical underworld, a la Eurydice and Orpheus."

    I also think that raising the dead is an important aspect of non-gritty D&D. Are you sure you want gritty D&D? Then by all means drop the spell.

    Personally I've always liked the -1 Constitution loss upon being raised and the resulting ex-adventurer running a tavern somewhere with but 3 Constitution left (an explanation offered in the 3rd ed. Crucible of Freya adventure by Necromancer Games, for example)

  6. Don't stop there, though.
    --Really go through all the lists and eliminate spells that just don't work for your conception of how things ought to be.

    Then, once that's finished, lump the remainders not by Evocation, etc., but by Special Effect (all Fire, all Sound/Sonic, etc.)

    Then, when a caster or divine conduit goes to pick their spells, it will fit the notion of the character's master or head priest who had taught/helped discipline them.

    Of course, some teachers would be of the Generalist mindset, especially former adventuring casters, but that is more a concession to the game as a game than a Renaissance mentality.

    One may find that by doing all of the above, the distinctions between casters (Wizards, Illusionists, Sorcerers) and Divine Channellers (Clerics, Druids, and Shaman) is actually more about effects than origins of powers, and that those that clearly fall within one or the other may be more like Class Abilities than proper 'spells'.

    Also, all the rest will likely be up for grabs by any sort of worker of the amazing, rather than a Class List.


  7. One way to do this is to split the spell...

    Good clerics can cast Revivify, which returns a being dead less than 10 minutes per level to life. This is useful when on adventures, but has fewer long-term ramifications socially or politically.

    Evil clerics can cast Seeming Life, which "raises" a subject dead for no more than one day per level of the caster to an undead state, though physically he appears to be alive (complete with need to eat, breathe, and so forth, gaining no undead benefits though suffering all the penalties). Kinda like a weak version of what the bad guys did with Xaltotun in "Hour of the Dragon" from Howard. Resurrection has only this negative version, Resplendent Unlife, which enables the caster to "raise" a being dead for any length of time. For Good clerics, add Mass Cure, which heals all Good-aligned beings within a 30-foot radius as per the cure critical wounds spell.

  8. Aha! Ask and ye shall receive! Phil and Kaja Foglio's Girl Genius has an excellent bit about exactly this (though from a steampunkish perspective) in today's comic:


    The important bit of course is where Gil discusses how the royals and nobles ahve come up with all sorts of rules for being dead and revivified... essentially, once you are dead, you are DEAD, even if resurrected later, so you lose all your rights to succession and so forth. Maybe you remain a "Lord of the Court" or somesuch, with a stipend, but as far as rising to rule (or even returning to rule), you are out...

    Imagine if that works in D&D under the existing rules... you'd have all sorts of former nobles, once dead but raised, running around with no chance to rise up to their former positions legally. Some might try to retake "their" lands through other means, but others would seek to found their own new realms and colonies... works in well with the classic D&D end-game, don't it?

  9. James, I dig on those spell solutions. Thanks for commenting!

    (and thanks to the rest of you, too!)

  10. "...the Hit Point/Constitution duo method.." For what it's worth, this worked quite well in my just-completed summer S&W 'mini-campaign'.

    And thanks for the kind words on 'Akratic Wizardry'! :)

  11. I like the ideas presented by James with some adjustments. I think when somebody dies they no longer have a claim to anything they owned. Of course if their possessions are passed on they might get them back. For instance if their wife inherits everything, she could remarry him and whatnot. Though I suspect many would choose not to remarry this now penniless man, since many marriages in a fantasy setting are about convenience and not love. As far as peasants not getting raised by good aligned clerics I have some other thoughts. People who have made a positive contribution to the community and are good aligned and etc. should be raised for free (as there is no material component for the spell). People who have died of natural causes are ineligible. The raised person is expected to donate say 10% of their income to the clerics church until they die of natural causes. A person can be raised only once in a certain amount of time...say a year. That would prevent player characters from getting free raises constantly though it does grant a character one free raise if their party can find a cleric of their alignment.

    - Kittor the Cleric

  12. I like the social component of someone losing all rights, titles, obligations, possessions, etc. when they die. I can imagine a guy dying, putting in his will that he wants to pay for a raise, just to get away from his wife who will not stand for a divorce.

    Or a knight who is ordered to do something that his honor cannot allow, and arranges a death to escape his knighthood and the Catch-22.

    Plots by nobles to kill each other off. Etc.

    The problem I see is that in a revolutionary society, a powerful person could get raised and then by force of arms or politics seize what he had lost legally. So this works best when you have a society of powerful people who believe in the status quo enough to fight for it - like in the world of Girl Genius.