Monday, February 3, 2014

Death, Resurrection, Raised Dead, and My Games

This started as a response to Erik Tenkar's post on the subject, but it got big.

In my elementary school D&D/AD&D days, dead was dead. No one had a character high enough level for Raise Dead so that was that - there was no such thing as NPCs except the ones in the adventures. Heh. Okay, there were, but no one allowed this.

In my junior high school and then high school AD&D days, it was possible but rare. We finally read the right section of the DMG, I guess. I can't tell you now why it was rare - probably cost and availability - but it did happen. I don't remember anyone losing a mid to high level character permanently. I'm not even sure if anyone died temporarily.

In my Rolemaster games and early GURPS games, you were out of luck. No one came back from anything. The spells just weren't available. The last 1st edition GURPS game I ran back in the day featured PCs getting resurrected, but man, it cost them long-term servitude to a powerful wizard.

In my previous GURPS game, Resurrection and Elixirs of Life were expensive and rare. Couple that with GURPS's aging rules meaning it wasn't a useful long-term cure for infirmity, just violence, and that took care of the larger world. The King gets resurrected from assassination and such but he's doomed in the long run anyway barring longevity magic, and that's a different issue. "Won't Die of Old Age" is nice, but it's not the most useful advantage for an adventurer with treasure to get or bad guys to deal with right now. Even with it available, it wasn't without issues (the cascading penalties per day for being dead for one, cost for another.) A few characters died and came back - off hand I think of three who each died once (one may have died twice, I'll ask his player when I get a chance.) Only one came back without permanent harm, and she had some temporary harm for a while (migraines from the head injury that killed her.) No one saw it as a non-issue; dying was huge and costly and possibly forever even with access to lots of money and world-class magic. Even then, the purveyors of such spells knew they had you over a barrel and bargains almost unfairly.

In my DF game, you can just go and pay $15K to be Resurrected at the local church. We even have a posted price list! As Mike aka Galen Longtread says, it's a paper Roguelike. If you want to spend in-game resources to keep playing your guy once he blows a Death Check, it's fine. GURPS has pretty strict rules on how much damage you can suffer and still come back, too - no bone fragments turning into a fully-healed character here. You die automatically at -5xHP and above -10xHP you're not coming back. Even our toughest PC in this over-the-top game has only 25 HP, which means 275 damage (high but not crazy given fire, lava, acid, hungry trolls, etc.) and you have to make a new PC no matter what. Even so, my players keep talking about a party Resurrection fund and wondering if you can pre-pay for one. It's that kind of game.

(One tiny addendum - in my GURPS games, it's a spell and a roll - and it's a one-shot roll-in-front-of-everyone one-try spell. An elixir is more sure - no roll - but more expensive and takes too long to prepare so you need to have one ready to go. No one has had that usually 15 or 16 or less on 3d fail, but it's possible, and I don't allow you to use Luck . . . )

So that's death and resurrection in my games. How about yours? Share here or at Tenkar's Tavern (or both!)


  1. One thing I liked about older editions of dnd was that even though Raise Dead was really expensive you could always opt for Reincarnate at a lower price point and have fun rolling to see what you get. I like the possibility that you could get something pretty wild. I guess that wouldn't work very well in GURPS though, where races are actually point-costing templates. Would be hard to make it work out with the points you've already spent.

  2. I think the DnD reincarnate spell would be lots of fun in GURPS. It would be entertaining to roll "Treant" and spend the next session detailing your guy. The liberal use of disadvantages might even make some of the more powerful creatures point-neutral in a way that's tough to do in DnD.

    In one DnD campaign, my character spent some serious time and money getting reincarnate cast on a fallen drow he was smitten with. When she came back human, she was really pissed. That's like being brought back from the dead with "terminal illness." Good roleplaying opportunities there.

    1. It could be a lot of fun, but a lot of work. No one in my campaigns ever used Reincarnation. The chart of what you could get in the PHB was mostly animals, anyway, and no one in our gaming circles saw that as a good thing. With the druid version, you had a great chance of coming back as a non-human (even non-humanoid), with changed speech, changed abilities and even changed class. It was the same as saying you are dead - the GMs I knew treated rolling "black bear" as "you're a bear now, use the bear stats and act like a bear, which means you're an NPC."

      With the Magic-User version, you needed to find a magic user who knew the spell. We had a general dearth of 12th level magic users,
      I have some hand-written notes on the chart in my PHB, but still, no one wanted to risk coming back as a different race and different class (roll up gnoll and what class can you be? Gnolls don't have classes, so take your 2 HD and suck it!, etc.) Nevermind that weird line in the Druid version about "If an elf, gnome or human is indicated, the character must be created." Er, what does that even mean, anyway? We read it as "start back over at 1st level with a new guy, but he remembers his old adventures." So you can see why it wasn't chanced in my games.

      In GURPS it would be funny if you did the work though. Get killed, roll up "orc" or "wolf" or something and bolt on the template.

    2. The whole "roll on a table" thing kinda bugged me with DnD. It seemed to imply that you were going to get killed often enough that it was possible you'd roll "dryad" and have a really cool character concept. Same thing with Strength 18 (%). I'm not going to make up that many characters that I'm ever going to roll 00 on my percentage dice.

      But with some GM/player conspiring, you could use spells like reincarnate to good effect, especially in GURPS. A sentient bear is thoroughly doable in GURPS.

      I also thought simulacrum (the DnD version) had real possibilities for dealing with death as well. Maybe not quite so much in a pure hack n' slash DF type campaign, but there could be some fun roleplaying opportunities there. In GURPS terms you would be able to reimagine your character with a lower point total and then stack on the relevant advantages/disadvantages.

      By the way, I've been reading for a while, just thought I'd comment.

    3. I get what Peter is saying about people not wanting to get stuck with an undesirable result but to me that's half the fun. Roll up a gnoll and go crazy! That might sometimes require the DM to get a bit creative with the rules in 2nd ed, but in 3 or 3.5 you could just use it as a monster race (with or without a level adjustment, depending on the class).

      David, I love your idea of even just lowering the overall skill totals (dying and coming back messes with your mind) and doing crazy stuff like sentient bears or whatnot.

    4. It's not just that it's undesirable - in the 1st edition AD&D rules, you basically got a new PC. The DMG even singles out centaurs for an example, that you could get more HD (you're presumed to start at their normal HD), or a badger could get giant-sized or achieve "maximum hit points." Reincarnation was basically getting a new character, and if you were lucky it was another humanoid sort that could use some of your gear.

      In GURPS you could basically charge the difference between your original race and the new race in the form of reduced stats, skills, etc. or added disads. I've done that with a retroactive Extra Life advantage, sort-of, but generally I play it that benefits accrued in play and disadvantages accrued in play just change your point total. You don't have to re-balance your points. If you got lucky and got some awesome template, well, isn't that my problem as the GM for making it possible to roll that, not yours to pay for?

      That said giving a small "reincarnation penalty" in the form of reductions in abilities that are lost in the process would be amusing, and a good way to justify making the spell cheaper . . .

    5. It actually wouldn't be all that hard to do reincarnate for DF -- there isn't that much variance in racial point values, so you could either not really worry about it, or not include the expensive races on the random chart.

    6. Well, they range from 0-75 points, or more, for half-spirit non-humans. More if you add trolls to the roll, like AD&D did. ;)

  3. I play it differently, as I explained sometime back in my own blog.

    And your GURPS sounds much like the Jewish beliefs of a few thousand years ago. It's one of the reasons Christ used the illustrations that he did.

    Interesting, well, to me, anyway.

  4. Useless Response: In a modern day secrets agents campaign, dead is dead until you need a contrived explanation of how said character didn't actually die so you can bring them back.

    Useful Response: Death is one of the harshest penalties for failure a player can experience- and shouldn't be reversed lightly to make sure that combat remains important.


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