Posts Tagged ‘Death’

In many Dungeons and Dragons campaigns death is merely a hurdle. In fifth edition PCs and NPCs alike can return from death with a diamond and a 3rd-level or higher spell slot. Creatures can return from death as wights, revenants, ghosts, and other more powerful undead.

Now I know in most D&D worlds returning from death isn’t possible for common folks. One must have the money and the means to return. While the masses may not have access to such means, many adventurers at least have access to someone who can cast revivify by 5th level. In a world where such things are possible, I would assume that even if many have no hope of access to such magic, they have heard of these spells. That awareness would certainly change the way the world interacts with the characters.

Here’s a few tips for you to use in your campaign that make death and returning a more layered and complex story in your campaign world.

PCs Coming Back

The fact that there’s a chance PCs can come back to life after dying is probably not a complete shock to your villains. They know the spells are out there and if they’re aware the PCs have access to other higher level spells, they might assume raise dead is also in the mix. Even if that’s not the case, if the villain or a henchman kill a PC and that character returns to face them again, the game is up. They know that magic is out there now and that the PCs have access to it. What might villains do with a vulnerable character in their clutches to assure they stay out of their hair?

The first option is that enemies may go for what I call the super kill. A simple beheading after a PC has died dramatically increase the resources needed to bring the character back to life. Instead of diamonds worth 300 gp and a 3rd level spell slot for revivify, a single diamond worth 1000 gp (a more difficult find) and a 7th level spell slot for resurrection is required. If the villain disintegrates their body and they tosses it in the wind or throws the corpse into lava, suddenly diamonds worth 25,000 gp and a 9th level spell slot are needed for true resurrection. Heck if the villain absconds with the body of the deceased, the PCs have to go on a mission to get it back if they can’t cast true resurrection. If they hang onto the body for longer than 10 days, raise dead isn’t going to work anymore. Something more powerful is needed.

Of course there might be even craftier villains. PCs can choose to knock a target out with a melee attack instead of kill it. Why can’t villains do the same? They could run, fly, or teleport away with an unconscious PC and lock that person away or torture them for secrets. Suddenly an exciting prison break adventure is on the menu. Or perhaps the bad guys kill that PC, steal the character’s head, and cast resurrection on it as soon as they’re back at their stronghold. They party tries to raise the fellow adventurer only to find the spell doesn’t work because that character is already back from the dead and imprisoned.

There are also otherworldly forces that could stop the return of PCs from coming back from the dead. In a fourth edition D&D campaign I had two characters royally anger The Raven Queen, who was the goddess of death. She did not let them return from the dead when their spirits were called by the magic of their companions. Instead she threw them into a demiplane where time passed differently and her servants tortured them for the equivalent of 100 years. Then she gave them a mission to do in her name and returned them to the Material Plane. Their characters and the story were completely changed by this action.

Death and Returning Modules

If you want character death to have a more debilitating impact on PCs in fifth edition D&D, checkout the modules I created. The first module limits the number of times a PC may return from the dead and has some add-on features which make dying more easy and coming back more difficult after each death. The second module features tables of random effects which might occur when a spell such as raise dead is cast.

You can pick up the PDF of these modules over in the Free Game Resources section of this site anytime. If you go there feel free to also explore the backgroundsmagic itemsmonstersD&D fifth edition rules modulesspellsadventures, and more  I have made for fifth edition D&D.

When Villains Return

Of course in a world where the PCs have access to powerful, death-defying magic, why wouldn’t the villains have access to it as well? Any intelligent, high level NPC is going to have a back-up plan. There’s a cleric friend coming by each week to check in on the villain who can cast raise dead or an invisible druid nearby with a rod of resurrection. Many of our villainous NPCs have many resources at their command. If I was someone with a pile of gold, a high-level cleric or bard would probably be the first person on my retainer. When villains like this come back again and again like the Tyrant in Resident Evil 2, your PCs will be searching for a way to destroy them for good.

I’m baaaaaaack!

Some villains might return as undead instead of their former selves. Vampires, liches, mummies, revenants, and more might seek the characters as vengeance for their deaths. In the same fourth edition game I mentioned above, the PCs were taking on a cult of Orcus-worshipping baddies. Since he is the Demon Lord of Undeath many of the high-ranking members of the cult would be killed by the PCs only to return later as more powerful, undead versions of their living selves. This was great fun for me to role play and gave the PCs a preexisting relationship with the villains they were facing.

Be sure to only bring villainous NPCs back from death when it’s going to make the story more interesting and fun for your group. Doing this with every single villain will get tiresome and become a predictable trope! You don’t want the shock of a returned baddy to lose its surprise.

NPCs Want to Live!

If the PCs require help from an NPC, the NPC might contractually obligate the party to bring him or her back from the dead if the unthinkable happens in the line of duty. The husband of a soldier who died defending the town from orcs might beg the PCs to bring back his wife. A PC’s best friend and sister dies in a dragon attack that was a response to the party raiding its hoard. If word gets out the PCs have the power to return themselves from death other people will be pressuring them to use that power on themselves or those they love.

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcasts on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

Hey everyone, happy New Year! It’s been a great year so far here at World Builder Blog. Some of you have been here since the beginning, some of you came along later, and for others of you this might be your first post. Maintaining this blog is a lot of work, but your comments, likes, +1s, retweets, favorites, bumps, views, shares, and more have really kept me going. Thank you for encouraging me.

Here’s a quick look at what I’ve accomplished in the world of tabletop roleplaying in 2014 with your help and support.

  • 300+ Pages of the Exploration Age Campaign Guide written
  • 175 Blog posts here on World Builder Blog
  • 57 Podcasts recorded, edited, and posted on The Tome Show
  • 22 PDFs added to the Free Game Resources section of this site
  • 11 Podcasts recorded where I appear as a guest or guest host
  • 6 Videos of 3 livestreamed D&D games on YouTube
  • 2 Campaigns in Exploration Age launched
  • 1 Life goal of finally attending Gen Con achieved

So thank you for that. Here’s looking forward to more in the future. In 2015 there will be even more (including Gamer to Gamer interviews with Erin M. Evans and Ed Greenwood) especially if Wizards of the Coasts reveals their OGL.

Special Shoutouts

I need to throw some special shoutouts now. First of all I live with an incredibly supportive woman who is smart, funny, beautiful, passionate, creative, and (most importantly) the kindest person I know. Bonnie MacDonald is the greatest person ever, and if you like cooking or eating checkout her blog. She’s the one who encouraged me to finally go to Gen Con this year where I interviewed Mike Mearls!

Of course, I didn’t interview Mike alone. Rudy Basso is a man with big ideas, big humor, big fun, and a big heart. Not only did Rudy interview Mike with me, he’s a force of creativity and inspiration, constantly coming up with ideas to be used on podcasts, blogs, at the game table, and more. He’s also the one who pushed for more Round Table episodes at the beginning and is basically the reason the show is now a weekly podcast. My new favorite podcast is hosted by Rudy and his super amazing brother, Alex Basso. It’s called D&D V&G and you should be listening. Episodes of the hilarious and informative show can be found on The Tome Show’s website.

Speaking of The Tome Show, this blog and all the podcasts and livestream games would not be a thing if it weren’t for Jeff Greiner taking a chance on me and letting me produce The Round Table and later Gamer to Gamer and Bonus Action. He deserves a huge thank you and applause for running The Tome Show for over seven years as well! Of course I also have to thank Sam Dillon, The Tome Show’s editor, the host of Bonus Action, and all-around awesome dude as well. Sam’s putting up the episodes you love to hear and that’s no small task.

Another shoutout goes to Mike Shea of Mike is the one who told me I should talk with Jeff about podcasting and his own site served as inspiration for World Builder Blog. Mike graciously and masterfully DMed all the live games I put together and even invited me over to his house to play some D&D. I know, I’m jealous of me too.

Greg Blair is a great friend and one of the nicest dudes around. He’s a brilliant D&D player, wonderful podcast guest, and amazing editor. Greg is a huge help with this blog because regularly sends me emails informing me of my typos and grammatical errors. He also comments on the blog and provides a lot of cool insights and thoughts on the work. If you want to know a thoughtful, cool dude get to know Greg.

Speaking of great commenters, this year I got to know the blog’s top commenter personally, Joe Lastowski. Joe is super creative, funny, and has a sharp intellect. Talk about your nice dudes, Joe is right up there with everyone else in this post. A lot of Joe’s feedback has helped to shape the Exploration Age Campaign Guide, so thank you very much for the comments here and on all the podcasts Joe!

There are too many guests to list, but if you’ve ever been on a podcast with me thank you so much. I have enjoyed those immensely and can’t wait to talk to you again on or off the air waves.

Finally, since birth I have been the number one fan of a guy who gives the best advice, tells the greatest jokes, and lives his life in a way we all should emulate. My big brother Andrew listens to every podcast and reads every blog post. He hasn’t played D&D in years, but he did introduce me to the game so without him you get none of this. More importantly he sets the example for living I strive to follow every day. He’s honest, friendly, compassionate, and kind. A big shoutout to him for all his support and love.

Yeah, Yeah… But What Did You Get Me?

So to thank you all for this year, I went back to a popular post I wrote titled You Only Live Thrice. In this post I discussed making death have a little more of a consequence for PCs and presented a few rules modules. Well those rules have been added to the Free Game Resources section of this site as a downloadable PDF. That PDF is also available in the link below.

Death and Returning Modules

Based on the feedback I got in the comments and on the various sites and forums where these modules were shared I created an add-on to one of the modules suggested by fans. This idea actually came from top commenter Joe Lastowski and got a lot of support. Check it out in all its glory and thank you so much for reading this post on World Builder Blog! Here’s to another great year!

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcasts on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

I have a bit of a problem. Some of my players have begun to look on dying as a minor inconvenience rather than the big deal it should be. You see, my players are seasoned, and know that when their PC dies, there’s always a raise dead or resurrection spell to be cast. For the most part, I’m ok with this. D&D is just a game after all, and as long as my players are having a blast, who cares if they’re coming back from the dead? But this has really begun to go too far…

When a character dies, he or she may spend a session or two playing another character while their original’s corpse spends its time gentle repose-d in a bag of holding, but eventually they find that diamond, or scroll, or rod and they’re able to bring the old character back to life. They have even begun to see the death of major NPCs as, “Oh well, we can just raise them later,” as opposed to the big story moments they should be.

The Current Penalties

Take a look at how the raise dead, resurrection, and true resurrection spells read from the Basic D&D Player PDF.

Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 3.14.12 PM

Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 3.44.39 PM

Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 3.45.01 PM

There are some good things going on here. There is no experience point loss, Constitution score loss, or level loss, as in first, second, and third editions. While I may be looking for some more serious consequences when it comes to dying, these permanent draining penalties are no fun. They just give you an underpowered character compared to the rest of the party (unless everyone in the party dies and is raised an equal number of times). Always being a level behind everyone else can be embarrassing for many, and having low Constitution makes it even easier and more likely for a character to die again. While a little shame for dying can be fun, having a constant reminder like that is simply not fun for many players (myself included) which makes folks less likely to take risks with their characters. I would rather see my fictional hero die in a blaze of glory than cower in the back because I don’t want to have to feel the shame associated with being second-rate compared to the rest of the party. These old school penalties are a bit of a pain in the butt as well, since backwards math can take some time to figure out and get used to.

So the fifth edition spells do not have some of the bad drawbacks I personally disliked in older editions. They have a few other drawbacks which make sense to me. Let’s break it down spell by spell.

Raise Dead Drawbacks
  • Price and gem rarity. 500 gp is typically in the reach of PCs within the first five levels, perhaps within the first few sessions if the party pools resources and the DM is a handsome and generous person like myself. But a diamond worth 500 gp is more difficult to find than a few (hundred) coins. Only the most successful big city jewelers, nobles, and royalty are likely to have something like that lying around waiting to be sold. Even then they may not wish to part with the item (or have the characters undertake a quest before they consider selling it to them). Making these diamonds hard to find is the first drawback and it goes hand in hand with the next.
  • Time limit. A person may only have died within the last 10 days for the spell to work. Now in most campaigns that’s a time crunch to find a 500 gp diamond if the party does not already have one, so it does put the pressure on a party find a gem more quickly, which is great fun.
  • Gotta have the body. This makes sense for a fifth level spell. You can be raised from the dead provided you haven’t lost your head or turned into a pile of ash. So if this is the only spell available and you just died via red dragon breath, you are SOL. Also lost limbs stay lost and all magical diseases, curses, etc. remain in effect. So it’s not a heal all spell (like resurrection and true resurrection).
  • Fifth level spell. A fifth level spell for bards, clerics, and druids means the caster must have at least nine levels in one of these classes. So if the party does not have a ninth level caster in one of said classes (or a 17th level Paladin), their options are somewhat limited. Either the party must have a magic item such as a scroll which casts the spell and someone capable of activating said item or be able to find a willing NPC to cast the spell. The rarity of both of these is, of course, up to the DM. Not a bad drawback, but at a certain point this isn’t a hurdle once the party has a caster who can cast the spell.
  • Temporary penalties. I like this one. Coming back from the dead and being dead should take more out of you than having the flu, but eventually you get back to your old self.
Resurrection Drawbacks
  • Price and gem rarity. Now you need a 1000 gp gem, so it has all the drawbacks of raise dead at seemingly double the price, right? Nope! This drawback barely matters because you have 100 years to find the thing if you don’t already have it.
  • Time limit. If we’re talking PCs, in most cases this isn’t an issue. Unless you’re playing a game with a party of elves which spans centuries (actually a pretty awesome idea… called it), if a party member dies this is nothing to worry about. It could come up in other ways in your story, but won’t matter much for dead PCs. However, a caster is taxed greatly if a creature dead for more than a year is brought back to life, which is a little more likely to happen to a PC (though still not very in most cases).
  • Caster taxed. If a creature has been dead more than a year, the caster pays a big price… for a day. This isn’t a huge sacrifice, unless the spell is cast in the middle of a dungeon, which it very well may be, but again, in most cases probably not.
  • Seventh level spell. The spell is seventh level which means, a caster must be a 13th or higher level caster to cast the spell, and in most cases a DM will rule it’s even harder to find a scroll or NPC caster than for raise dead.
  • Temporary penalties. I’m still loving it.
True resurrection penalties
  • Price and gem rarity. Dang! 25,000 gp is a pretty penny and it’s even harder to find in gem form. Even with 200 years, you’re going to have to go through heck to get a diamond of that worth.
  • Time limit. 200 years. Really not a worry for a PC. This is barely a drawback (as it should be for a ninth level spell).
  • Ninth level spell. Good luck finding a scroll or NPC caster in many settings. If you do, be prepared to make some big sacrifices or before you get your hands on an item or a favor granted.

My Conflicting Feelings

Overall, I’m pretty happy with the way these spells play out and their penalties. The pay off and penalties seem to scale well with spell level, but I do want something more. Here’s what I’m keeping in mind as I come up with some modules for death in Exploration Age.

  • It’s A Game. I want my players to have a shot at bringing their characters back from the dead if they truly love them. Characters returning from the dead is a hallmark of fantasy (Gandalf and Harry Potter did it) as well, so I’m cool with the fact that it doesn’t actually happen in the real world. At the same time, sometimes people lose games, so coming back from the dead shouldn’t be a gimme.
  • Death Should Be Scary. Death needs to have consequences beyond what the spells present, for my players have lost their fear of dying, a subject which should really be the main concern of players in most D&D campaigns.
  • Death Should Not Be A Straight Punishment. I want my players to take risks with their characters. Risks should be rewarded with great story, whether or not they pay off. A sweet, fiery death is a lot better than running around a few levels or Constitution points shy of the rest of the party.

With that in mind, check out these modules for death I’m offering in the Exploration Age Campaign Guide. The first makes PC death permanent… eventually. This seems fair as I have never had a PC die more than twice, but it could happen and would make death more meaningful. The second makes coming back a riskier proposition (though still fairly easy to accomplish), and was inspired by some first edition rules.

In an Exploration Age game, GMs can rule that character death has greater consequences than what is presented in the current Dungeons and Dragons rules. These variant rules are meant to make death a more serious threat.

Module: Three Strikes and You’re Out

Each time creatures are brought back to life via magic, a piece of their soul remains in the afterlife. They may only return from death twice, before their souls are permanently anchored in the afterlife. A third death is the absolute final for any creature, after that they may not be brought back to life by any means. In a sentence – every creature only gets three lives maximum.

Variant Module: Escalation Strikes

In this variant of the Three Strikes and You’re Out module, creatures may be brought back to life three times and a fourth death is the absolute final for any creature. In a sentence – every creature gets four lives. In this module a raise dead spell can no longer bring dead creatures who have died more than once back to life, and after their third death only a true resurrection spell may return a character to life.

Module: The Soul is Fragile

Outside of the body, a soul is fragile and can easily be destroyed. The process of bringing a person back to life is hard on the soul and there’s a chance a returning soul could be destroyed in the process. A caster must make a DC 15 ability check using their spellcasting ability modifier. If the check fails, the GM should roll on the appropriate table below for the result, based on the spell cast.

Raise Dead
d100 Effect
1 – 40 Spell works as normal.
41 – 60 Soul is not returned to the body, spell slot and diamond are expended, but soul is not destroyed.
61 – 99 The soul is destroyed.
100 Soul is not returned to the body, spell slot and diamond are expended, but soul is not destroyed. In addition, an outsider (such as a devil, demon, or angel) instead inhabits the body of the deceased. The inhabitant must be removed from the body before the original creature may be returned to life.
d100 Effect
1 – 50 Spell works as normal.
51 – 70 Soul is not returned to the body, spell slot and diamond are expended, but soul is not destroyed.
71 – 99 The soul is destroyed.
100 Soul is not returned to the body, spell slot and diamond are expended, but soul is not destroyed. In addition, an outsider (such as a devil, demon, or angel) instead inhabits the body of the deceased. The inhabitant must be removed from the body before the original creature may be returned to life.
True Resurrection
d100 Effect
1 – 60 Spell works as normal.
61 – 80 Soul is not returned to the body, spell slot and diamond are expended, but soul is not destroyed.
81 – 99 The soul is destroyed.
100 Soul is not returned to the body, spell slot and diamond are expended, but soul is not destroyed. In addition, an outsider (such as a devil, demon, or angel) instead inhabits the body of the deceased. The inhabitant must be removed from the body before the original creature may be returned to life.

Module: A Combination

You could combine the Three Strikes and You’re Out module and The Soul is Fragile module, by limiting creatures to only three lives and asking for a spellcasting ability check and rolling on the appropriate table anytime raise dead, resurrection, or true resurrection is cast.

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcast on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!