Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Wages of Death

I haven't had raise dead as an option for characters that die in my campaign.  But seeing players really attached to a particular character because of his goals, equipment and hard won XP, I 'm thinking "why not?"  I've thought through the implications of death in this post.  And I realize making it too easy for players to sidestep will have a negative effect on some important things in the game.  So I want to make resurrection possible but costly. Here are some ideas about costs:
  • Money, is the simplest.  Unfortunately my world is pretty low wealth and money is hard to scrape up.  What should the price be?  More than a single player might have at low level would mean the party would have to pitch in and there would be pressure for everyone to be more careful  in the future. 2000sp, 4000sp? (I'm on a silver economy)
  • Favors.  This is least interesting to me because of the logistics of our games, the person raised might be gone for several sessions and am I supposed to keep retribution for ignored loans until they come back, and when that trouble starts unrolling and they miss the next session?
  • Physical Change.  The most extreme example is the reincarnation spell from 1e.  Sure you are alive again but now you're a badger.  The problem here is that if the player is forced to be too different how is that different than just rolling up a new character?  It would only matter if you were roleplaying heavily and the character had kids or a domain or something else that mattered than their class abilities etc.
  • XP. You could just start them fresh but strip them of all XP, but again the MU in my game wants to come back mainly because it took so long to gain 400 XP.
  • Affliction.  I think this is the key to give them want they want while extracting something that will result in more gamefun.  I had a player that was struck with seizures from being bitten by rats.  Anytime she rolled a 7 she would have one.  It was funny and dramatic every time she rolled to hit.  I could just have them roll on my symptoms chart.  A quest could be done for a cure.
  • Moral Price.  The price isn't money but something squicky the players have to do.  This is problematic for like Favors above, because players likely won't care, or I'll have to make it so foul it will be awkward in real life "I have to do what!?"
  • Vows.  I think this might be another possibility.  They come back hale and hearty with all their XP, but they have an vow that if the break it means instant turning to dust death.   The tricky part is crafting a vow that won't ruin the game for the player but won't let them off the hook.  I wrote a post about this here.  Here are some ideas: Never draw first blood, never eat flesh (this could matter because I let them heal more if they make meals when they camp), never accept a favor, never lay hands on a woman/man.
Okay, got to go.  I like the idea of giving the players a choice.  So maybe I'll offer three possiblities from the above:
  1. A wealthy church that is very expensive but offers to raise with no complications.
  2. A shady organization that raises through alchemy and incomplete anatomical knowledge leading to a symptom.
  3. And a bunch of lesser gods that offer it in favor of a permanent vow in their name.  The vow would be unknown to players but dependent on which god they pledge themselves to (giving them clues).
Now I realize this choice is most important to the player who is dead, but they are dead.  How can they have input?  Should I let it be a meta-decision because it would be more satisfying and fun?  Or say "quiet you!" and have their party mates decide for them?


  1. vows seem the best to me. I can't imagine a church that would expend high level divine powers like that without demanding some great service in return.

  2. I really like the "Cheat Death" tables from Crafty Games' FantasyCraft. Take a look at those if you get a chance - I feel like many of those options had a very old-school styling on them.

  3. Here's what I've got from my current campaign-under-construction:

    - The druids of Silvanus will cut out a character's heart and keep it for her. If the character should die, the druids, if the proper obsequiences and remunerations are made, will reincarnate her into a new earthly shell.

    - The Reanimator can attempt to restore the character to life with an injection of his potent elixir. Success is usually partial. A steady supply of embalming fluid may become necessary.

    - The character may, for an extraordinarily large fee, purchase a clone from the cloning banks of the Gensu Wizards. A sizeable amount of living flesh and bone marrow is needed to create a clone – a finger will suffice. Such clones only occasionally go insane, escape, and hunt down their progenitors.

    - The character could be restored to life by a wish. The statue in the Temple of Marduk grants wishes of a limited sort, but it does so according to the god's divine and omniscient justice rather than anything so petty as the desires of the supplicants. Most adventuring-types would be advised to keep well away from it.

    - The party could venture into the underworld to recover the lost character's shade.

    1. What I meant to add but for some reason didn't is that I like costs which come before the character dies; a sort of insurance policy. Some combination of an affliction, moral price and monetary price. I think it makes the choice more interesting, and if the player doens't opt in then they have nobody to blame but themselves.

    2. Awesome, consider them stolen!

  4. I like the idea of making raising the dead dangerous. That is somewhat related to your "affliction" entry, but much broader.

    Here was a raise dead side effects table I whipped up a while back:

    ACKS also has a nice "Tampering with Mortality" table.

  5. On the last question - Players can always leave a "living will" as it were...

  6. I like your three options. You could have the player interact with the party's choice through a very limited "talk to the dead" sort of spell/situation. Otherwise, how would they know that he even wants to come back?

    As for the cost, it seems like it ought to be esentially all of the cash of a typical party, because it is the party making the call to bring back their freind. So if they have 10,000sp, then it is 10,000sp.

    Shady organization does it for a large cost as well, but they want the squicky thing (elf child's heart maybe), AND there may be a side effect.

  7. Yeah any player who cares and knows the issue will come up will have something tattooed on his chest saying "If I die, raise me at the Temple of Moneychargings" for example. A new player might care but not know in advance, which means a conscientious party should Speak With Dead on him to find out what he wants done. As soon as he's raised he'll get the tattoo if he cares.

    If he doesn't care, then why should anyone else? Toss him in the reincarnation booth and hopefully someone remembers to set it to "mammal".

  8. Scroll of Rendering Into Essentiall Saltes. Second level spell.

    This will turn any character into a handful of dust - but it's time-consuming and fiddly magic: casting time is 5 rounds and a living character gets to save at +6. If ALL the dust is collected then the character may be brought back from it alive and fully functional with another ritual (sold separately), which must be repeated every day, to prevent relapsing into dust. Characters reanimated using this spell may be Turned as if they were undead, or rendered back into dust by Dispel Magic. Returning to dust returns the character to the physical and mental state, memories, experience and skills they had the first time they were pulverized - that is, all xp since that first pulverizing are lost.

    One advantage of this for the DM is it allows them to set a quest - to find the returning ritual - and allows them time to set the exact terms of return. And gives the player a chance to be someone else for the duration of the quest and think about how much they really want that old character back.

  9. ...I really like the vow, though. Especially if the wording is just a bit vague.

  10. I've been grappling with this issue in my GURPS DF game. I'd like to allow people to get raised from the dead, but I don't see any reason to make it common or easy.

    So I decided it was available, at a cash cost and in return for some kind of vow, quest, or promise to the church that did it. It almost always involves some kind of conversion, too, if you're a heretic or nonbeliever. The church uses the cash for the myriad things churches need money for, and gets a service.

    In a pantheistic/multi-church game, just set some kind of base price. A god of wealth might charge more but not require a vow or service, a god of war might require less cash (down near the base) but service in war or lots of money to support war vets, a god of dead might require cash and a promise of deaths in return (adventures are a great investment for gods of death), etc.

    That's how I'm approaching it more or less.

  11. I think from a game perspective, a high cost is probably enough of a disincentive. But that always seems to beg the question of why any wealthy NPCs ever die of any unnatural causes. If one goes there (i.e., past the game mechanics issue of wanting PC death to be a real cost to the player), I'm not sure vows and quests are enough to create a sense that all NPCs would not partake of this option. Wouldn't you sort of by default convert to any church that could actually bring you back to life reliably? Thus, I think you need some form of taboo. It doesn't need to have a squick factor (though depending on the group that can add nice flavor). Another idea: every raise dead spell is cosmically counterbalanced by the creation of an undead creature that seeks the PC's death. This could be some sort of metaphysical balancing thing or it could be the cheated god of death dispatching an agent to take back what is his. Hmm, I'm really liking that actually.

  12. The Reanimator can attempt to restore the character to life with an injection of his potent elixir. Success is usually partial. A steady supply of embalming fluid may become necessary.

    Love that too. Maybe all aged powerful NPCs end up being Lord Vader style monstrosities with tubes and injections keeping them alive?

  13. Thanks, all. Sorry for the delay.

    @Brendan: Normally I dig the dice telling the tale, but in this instance the players have already lost, they screwed up, they're done. It's a little too harsh for me to give them a chance to come back with 25% of it not working. I reserve the right to change my mind in the future, though.

    What happened Friday: I offered the three choices, dead player seemed most interested in a vow, we improved a bunch of possible small gods (I didn't have any charts ready for that), and he chose one that he was actually excited about trying to fulfill, it was Karasuma the Meticulous (or something similar) and he has to collect bits of anything he kills or he'll turn to dust.

    1. Fair enough.

      If you're talking about my Raise Dead Table though, only two of the entries (i.e., 10%) are a failure: 19 - Possessed and 20 - Undead. All the other entries are either "it works" or "it works but this other bad thing happens too." I suppose 18 - Homeless (the PC returns as a ghost) might also be considered failure, but I see that as a very temporary state. The party just needs to find a way to reunite the spirit with the body. Minor quest.

      I would consider 19 - Possessed to be akin to a doppelgänger scenario, so that may actually still benefit from player participation (if they are up for playing a double agent for a while).

      Perhaps you're right though. Maybe there should be no total failure options.