Thursday, July 21, 2011

Breaking The Barrier Of Death

D&D has a number of troublesome higher level spells.  Troublesome because they significantly alter how civilization would function if it were available, and therefore forces a game master to think hard about the implications to their world (or ignore it at their peril). In that definition, the various spells which can bring the dead back to life qualify as troublesome. 

Some game masters completely remove the spells.  I don't like that solution for a number of reasons, one of which is it removes a power from the clerics that is part of the D&D flavor.  Some game masters let it run rampant and are not troubled by the impact on the flavor of the game.  If it were that readily available, you would never have a ruler, rich noble, or otherwise wealthy and powerful individual die from anything other than old age.  This could be the source of a number of problems in game, especially if you desire a rich and interesting setting of cultures and civilization.

How would the returned to life individual feel if they had been removed from their benevolent eternal reward?  How might they be different if their reward was not so benevolent?  What about the death experience, would they behave differently in attempt to avoid or not in the future?  Would they be angry at those who returned them to life?

What about the legal issues?  If a ruler is slain, when does the next in line take command?  Would there be laws controlling succession or a waiting period?  What if they do not give up willingly?  Laws aside, would those in succession now work to make sure their predecessor does not return?  Imagine the politics of churches and clerics regarding whether they follow the laws, or get caught up in political intrigue.  This problem might go down the line to any member of nobility with a title passed on by inheritance.  Would the laws be different for nobility than for normal folks?  It could be a negative aspect of becoming a noble.

What about the common folks?  If you are killed and returned what happens to your inheritable belongings?  Are you legally still the same person if you come back?  Perhaps you only still own that which was buried with you, doesn't that have interesting game implications?  Would wealthy parents and their children all want the same laws on the books in this regard?  This doesn't even touch upon the related subject of magic enhanced longevity, which could be more than frowned upon for a number of reasons.

What about execution?  Would there be laws against returning someone who was executed?

What about social stigmas?  Would those returned be seen as normal folks, or would they be regarded as abominations, or akin to the undead?  Or is it possible those returned would be viewed as some sort of divine messenger or avatar, both awed and avoided all the same?

There is much to consider, and a plethora of fuel for creating interesting cultures and traditions around returning from the dead.  For me, I want to keep 'Breaking The Barrier Of Death' something rare and special.  Typically in my game, any wealthy or powerful individual who was slain and returned would usually attempt to keep that a secret.  Additionally, there are some criteria to meet to even be eligible to return.  Rather than just explain it as part of the setting rules, I had the characters learn it from interacting with the world.  They found this letter, from a well known and respected cleric, sent to a cleric about to be ready to learn about raising the dead:

Dear Youtharn

As you do, many young acolytes question me about using our sacred granted powers to bring back those who have left this world through death.  First let me remind you that the gods grant us only a limited time on this world, and when our bodies are spent we are meant to go on to whatever rewards we have earned in this life.  You may have heard of stories regarding powerful magics that prevent aging and therefore extend life.  Be wary of such attempts to circumvent the god's plans for us; it can only lead to corruption and ruin.

There are powerful spells that senior clerics are granted by the gods that can breach the barrier of death.  All of these spells are subject to two core canons.  First, the spirit of the deceased must be willing to return.  No power we understand here or in the realms of the gods can force a spirit to come back to this world against their will.  Second, the barrier of death is breached only by the combined power of the cleric on this world and the boon of a god or goddess to hold open a portal to the realm of the dead.  It is no small feat for mortal and immortal to breach the curtain.  The natural order of life and death is not easily put aside.  It is rare and unusual for the gods to spend whatever power it requires to hold open the curtain between life and death that allows the mortal cleric to call back the dead.  We have come to believe that a god or goddess will only spend their powers to part the curtain of death for those with an unfulfilled destiny here on the mortal world that furthers that immortals greater purpose.

An Augury can be cast asking a particular god if they will support the opening of the curtain of death.  A answer of weal indicates an immortal's willingness to support your attempt.  A Divination can be cast to determine if the mortal spirit is willing to return.  Neither of these spells is required to be cast to have the Raise Dead, Resurrection, or True Resurrection spell be successful.  However the prudent cleric will determine in advance whether or not it is possible for their attempt to breach the barrier of death before casting these spells as the material required for the spells is consumed regardless of success or failure.

Even though their spells are sometimes alien to us, we are certain that the druids of the woods have the same limitations to breaching the curtain of death. 

I pray you fortune in your studies and in carrying forth Eukko's will.  Yours in his grace,


I find this works much better for me.  It allows me to have some control over who comes back without completely removing the power from the players and the clerics.

The dice never lie.

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