Content of the article: "Resurrection is just wrong. So here’s one alternative."
Deep down, you know it. The moment your party gets a reliable way to resurrect other party members, any "death" in the group becomes simply "Oh gee, we are down 500gp". And before, there are sometimes clerics or payment or organizations or whatever thing that will do the same thing.
This just… sucks. Makes encounters either less emotionally engaging or forces them to a "TPK or nothing" mentality. Which eh… I mean some groups will dig it, there are people for everything, but most will agree it's not the most engaging dynamic.
But of course, removing it is also wrong. And unfair to clerics and the such. Some do go that way, but still, eh. Not good.
The other common thing people make up is some kind of consequence for dying. But either the penalty is irrelevant, or after 1 or 2 deaths the players will just want another character. So it's like taking revival away but with extra bitter steps.
The one I've implemented is simple. First, because I am nerfing the revival spells a chunk, I do buff them by making them cheaper. Half, or a quarter, up to DM discretion.
Now, each time a PC dies, the soul separates and leaves the body. And, as you all know, revival spells only work if the soul is willing.
Well, unless the player says the soul isn't willing (then this whole thing is for nothing), the player will roll a D6 to see which aspect of the soul is "affected".
On a 1-2, it's Exhaustion.
When the soul finds exhaustion, it feels the drain that living carries. The pain, the struggle, the loss.
- The first time Exaustion is rolled, the DM tells the player that the soul finds itself being called back to the body. And that despite the pain it just suffered, the trauma, it goes back, back among the living.
- The second time Exhaustion is rolled, the DM goes more in depth about how, even after being called, the soul is tired of fighting. Exhausted. It yearns for release from all that suffering and struggle and betrayal and fire and rage. The soul is ragged. It's giving up, but then images of (something important to the character) flash to it. It's exhausted, but it gathers the will and dives back into the living. The player adds a new exhaustion-related flaw. It can be cynism, it can be laziness, it can be a phobia, it needs to reflect the reluctance to keep suffering. Of course this flaw can be interpreted for inspiration, or go mostly ignored, but it's a chance for the player to roleplay change.
- The third time Exhaustion is rolled, the soul can bear it no more. It needs, desperately, to rest. And thus it refuses to go back among the living. It needs rest, it needs cleansing. The character will not be resurrected, and the spell fails.
On a 3-4, it's Truth.
- The first time Truth is rolled, the soul glimpses onto something horrible, some unnameable truth about its existance. Something incomprehensible and traumatic. It was dead long enough to get a glimpse, but not to truly understand it. It goes back to the body shaken and disoriented.
- The second time Truth is rolled, the soul really sees the truth. It's a despairing truth. Something terrible about them or the world or the gods that must never be told, but that will never be believed (Use your creativity in this, entwine it with your world). The player adds a new truth-related flaw. They know something terrible that they can't talk about. Something unbelievable, maddening or despairing. Their reality is forever warped. Of course this flaw can be interpreted for inspiration, or go mostly ignored -the PC is in denial or trying to fight it-, but it's a chance for the player to roleplay change and madness.
- The third time Truth is rolled, the terrible reveal finishes sinking in. The full meaning, all the implications. Going back among the living is pointless. Reality must be escaped. The consciousness lost to oblivion, too terrible to keep. The character will not be resurrected, and the spell fails.
On a 5-6, it's Unity.
- The first time Unity is rolled, the soul gets a sense of belonging. Of being part of something bigger. Wholeness, finally a calm warmth. Then it's called, remembering those it really has still living. Belonging can wait.
- The second time Unity is rolled, the soul understands it's simply a thread of reality. One among millions, billions. An aspect of something greater. How individual minds are but dreams of the same oneness. But it still has unfinished duties, and why would it matter, they are all one after all. They will eventually go back to one. The player adds a new unity-related flaw. Deep down, they understand that creatures, all of them, are not essentially different. How all of the races, and the celestials, and the demons and fae, are in some level the same. This can be interpreted by enormous empathy, or rejection, or a faith crisis, or any other reaction a PC could have to that realization. Of course this flaw can be interpreted for inspiration, or go mostly ignored -the PC is in denial or trying to fight it-, but it's a chance for the player to roleplay change and a change towards others.
- The third time Unity is rolled, the lull is just too strong. The oneness is complete, all traces of individuality lost. The soul is just a part of the All. Its life, a mere dream. It goes back where it belongs. The character will not be resurrected, and the spell fails.
Of course, all of those descriptions are just recommendations, and they can be freely altered or reflavoured. Maybe you want corruption or any other reason. Maybe your world has special conditions. But the concept is the same. Limited, relatively random amount of resurrections, and them showing but not really nerfing the character.
With the model I just showed, you get a minimun of two resurrections, and a maximun of six, with an average around four (five deaths). And they feel relevant. My model also allows easy combination of "reveals" and "flaws" -i.e, a PC that's hit exhaustion and unity will feel both tired of suffering, and pulled towards going back to becoming one-.
Finally, I believe it's a system that encourages and allows for a lot of really fun roleplay, the personal growth kind of one, and a feeling of "epicness". The characters grow scars, and they "see" and "understand" more.
- How would you respond if you were in my position?
- Letting player re-roll/change ability scores mid-campaign?
- Alternate Resurrection Rules
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