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erradin
2015-10-02, 01:34 PM
My friends an I have discussed, at length, death in the DnD world. There are, of course, lots of different kinds of games and play styles. In the current version of DnD(5e), as well as in 3.5- the only other version I have much experience with- death is almost a triviality. It's more like a resource tax than anything. It's gotten to the point where characters might seriously have the conversation:

"What if I died!?"
"I suppose that would be inconvenient."
"It's not like I want to waste our gold every time we enter one of these deathtraps! We might even have to come back later!"

Now I understand that, in some games, maybe this is all you want. Death IS an inconvenience and it should stay that way. But what about games where part of the fun is having the risk there? What if you want death avoided rather than accounted for in the bill?

Anyone tried any systems for making death matter? I've heard banning Resurrection spells. One idea that came to mind is, and one DM proposed this though we never used it, requiring a journey to the Underworld in order to retrieve the soul. Thoughts?

Sith_Happens
2015-10-02, 01:51 PM
This might just be my group, but in 3.5 we've had three resurrection items in reserve for a while now and still gnash our teeth whenever someone's hit points start to get dangerously low. Avoidable costs can still be a source of tension even if the cost itself is less than you'd expect.

VoxRationis
2015-10-02, 01:59 PM
In most of my campaigns (either as a DM or as a player), the assumption was that resurrection was not practically available. This made death pretty meaningful.
Another method is to apply the logistical issues of finding and reaching someone who can cast resurrection, at least in those levels where the PCs can't. You need to transport a corpse, plus all the corpse's gear, while taking steps to prevent rotting the whole way through, to say nothing of the need to positively identify where you can get someone resurrected in the first place. That's getting a little into the "inconvenience" side of things, but it's more than just a monetary cost, and making sure the PCs spend spell slots on gentle repose has a significant effect on any combat they see on the way to a temple (that spell slot could have gone to protection from arrows, or the encounter-winning summon swarm).

1337 b4k4
2015-10-02, 02:04 PM
Now I understand that, in some games, maybe this is all you want. Death IS an inconvenience and it should stay that way. But what about games where part of the fun is having the risk there? What if you want death avoided rather than accounted for in the bill?

Anyone tried any systems for making death matter? I've heard banning Resurrection spells. One idea that came to mind is, and one DM proposed this though we never used it, requiring a journey to the Underworld in order to retrieve the soul. Thoughts?

Take a page from old D&D, resurrection required a system shock roll (saving throw) and permanently lowers your CON by 1. Also (at least pre-3e) a lot of the spells required most of the body and had a limited amount of time before it wouldn't work. That turns your dungeon crawl into a "how the heck do we get out of here with the body and back to town before time runs out"

Sacrieur
2015-10-02, 02:11 PM
Anyone tried any systems for making death matter? I've heard banning Resurrection spells. One idea that came to mind is, and one DM proposed this though we never used it, requiring a journey to the Underworld in order to retrieve the soul. Thoughts?

Yes.

Resurrection spells are banned or reworked. The simplest changes are:

-Banning the use of Wish or similar abilities to resurrect someone.
-Removing spells which resurrect someone.

I have a system for Death similar to The Old Kingdom series by Garth Nix, which requires walking into Death to obtain someone who has died then returning with their soul. There are an obvious number of restrictions on this, like having a host body that hasn't decayed and having a soul that hasn't been warped by Death (not really a restriction so much as an undesirable scenario). A brief summary...

Traveling to Death
Death exists outside of planar cosmology entirely, so spells such as Gate cannot be used to travel there. Only by a special Necromancy spell or supernatural ability can you enter Death. Your physical form is left in the physical realm while your soul travels to Death, leaving it completely unguarded. Upon entering Death, you begin on the border between Life and Death in the first precinct; it is impossible to enter or leave Death to or from any other location.

Being in Death
Death is a river that lulls the living and dead beyond the Ninth gate, so upon entering Death you must make a DC 10 Will save or be pulled into the current. Dimensional travel is impossible so that teleportation spells cannot be used; treat all of Death as if it were dimensionally anchored. This means you cannot summon creatures, commune or contact anyone outside of Death, or otherwise interact with any other plane of existence except Death. Neither is it possible to fly by any means. Certain spells may fail for no apparent reason, other than they cannot work in Death.

Time travels strangely in Death. You may spend hours in Death only to spend only seconds in the physical world, or you may spend seconds in Death to while hours pass in the physical world.

Dangers
Death has many dangers, not just the river that tugs beings that travel it. The gates require specific Necromancy spells to cross, and are otherwise impossible to travel through without being swept into the current. In addition, the dead that dwells in Death are hungry for life and spend hundreds of years, if not more, seeking a way to travel back to Life. Once alive, these souls are twisted and warped by Death into grotesque creatures with strange abilities. The deeper in Death one goes, the more powerful the creatures tend to be.

Use in Necromancy
The dead which reside in Death can be bound to a user's will with a modified version of the Summon Dead spell. This requires walking into Death, and the exact kind of dead created depend on the user's wishes, expertise, and the strength of the dead creature they bind.

---

In summary, Death is a scary place to be and attempting resurrection is just about suicide.

Mastikator
2015-10-02, 02:12 PM
Death is only meaningful if its someone important dying for something important.

So the PCs need to have well fleshed out characters and the death needs to accomplish something. Anything less than that and it's just impossible.

OttoVonBigby
2015-10-02, 02:16 PM
In cases where rez magic threatens to be taken for granted, I find this question helps:

"Would this deceased character really assent to being brought back to the mortal realm, full as it is of struggle and doubt, or would he/she prefer to remain in the blissful* afterlife?"

For NPCs, I as DM get to decide, and if it serves the purposes of my story for the seemingly-perfectly-happy NPC to have long harbored a secret and abiding pain from which death mercifully releases him/her, then so be it. :smallwink:

For PCs, it obviously only works if the players are heavy into RPing and willing to take being in-character very seriously. And even then, the answer to that question almost invariably corresponds closely to the answer to the question "Do I feel like rolling up a new character?"

There's lots of other approaches to make death meaningful, of course, but I find this to be my go-to. It's simple, it's organic, it feels true to the setting, and as an added bonus, it's supported by the rules (well, 3.5 at least).

* = Obviously the equation changes if the character in question goes to the Other Place and isn't one of those rare breeds that's all like "yay! Hell!"

Mark Hall
2015-10-02, 02:49 PM
Conversely, you might make death partially meaningless. The Vlad Taltos series by Steven Brust has death as mostly meaningless... unless you're killed in such a way that will destroy your brain, or with a weapon that will eat your soul.

Mr.Moron
2015-10-02, 02:58 PM
I've only ever run in settings without resurrection spells and frequently ones where the lack of an afterlife was commonly known fact of the universe. This is functionally the same as "Banning" them and it works. Death is death. I've also never had one of the PCs in my games manage to get themselves killed, maybe they play things safer knowing things are permanent. Like super-duper permanent.

Lvl 2 Expert
2015-10-02, 04:48 PM
I think one of the reasons for the spell lists being what they are is that the higher level the characters are, the longer a campaign they have lived through already, and the more meaningful they have become as characters. In the early levels the threat of death adds to the excitement, in later levels too much death mostly takes away from the story. Thus better and better means become available over time.

One step in making death less avoidable could be to strictly enforce the levels at which this stuff is available. The characters are lower than 9th level? They're not going to find anyone who can or will cast raise dead for them. And from there on they can get people back, but only if they get the body to a cleric intact, because resurrection is not available until level 13.

Some people will hate that play style, others might like it.

Kelb_Panthera
2015-10-03, 07:53 AM
Death is only meaningful if its someone important dying for something important.

So the PCs need to have well fleshed out characters and the death needs to accomplish something. Anything less than that and it's just impossible.

Very, very much this^
What you're asking about is how to make the threat of death meaningful.

I'm personally fond of making sure the PC's current goal is time sensitive enough that they can't afford to stop for a revival side-quest.

There does come a point where revival magic can be had on demand and that is a bit trickier. At the same time though, this is also about the same point that soul threatening magic becomes available. If death is scary, utter oblivion is scarrier. Bet money that a paladin's teeth will be grinding through the whole fight when the blackguard he's up against has a soul stealing blade at hand. Being turned into an undead creature also prevents res magic from functioning normally and should fill players with a certain dread.

As a last resort, there are the old fall-backs of making revival magic impossible, difficult, or unreliable. I'm not personally fond of these but if you can't come back then red-lining your HP will make you sweat. A side-quest to the underworld to recover your buddy's soul is a fun idea but that player will need a temporary character to play with in the mean time so there's that. Of these three I like the last the best. Maybe you come back wrong, something like an alignment shift or a possessing fiend or spirit comes along for the ride or you come back with a curse that requires a side-quest to lift or at least mitigate.

Frankly though, I've always found the resource drain made it bad enough to make it something players really wanted to avoid.

shadow_archmagi
2015-10-03, 08:14 AM
In ACKS, being knocked to zero HP causes PCs to have to roll on the Mortal Wounds table, with modifiers for how long before they got medical attention, constitution, how FAR below zero they went, etc. The Mortal Wounds table includes a variety of conditions including actual death, but also broken bones, missing teeth, scars, etc.

Then, when a PC actually dies, there are two revive methods: One is Restore Life and Limb: fairly cheap, commonly available, and involves a roll on a similar table, modifiers based on time passed and quality of body and WIS score etc. So the PC that was charred to crisp by the dragon a week ago? Roll low, and his soul is destroyed permanently. Olaf who was stabbed this morning? Nice and fresh, probably just traumatized for a couple days. Roll really low, and he comes back with one hand that is a cat's paw.

There's also a resurrection ritual that requires a high level caster to either have incredibly rare magical ingredients or be the spiritual leader of a small country (Clerics can substitute their congregation's faith for components) and it takes three months to prepare.




I really like this, because even though in play, Very Bad results rarely happen, the threat of them makes players very reluctant to die. They'll risk a certain amount of danger, but there are penalties to the roll for successive deaths/wounds, so they tend to wise up pretty quick.

Mastikator
2015-10-03, 09:10 AM
Very, very much this^
What you're asking about is how to make the threat of death meaningful.

I'm personally fond of making sure the PC's current goal is time sensitive enough that they can't afford to stop for a revival side-quest.

There does come a point where revival magic can be had on demand and that is a bit trickier. At the same time though, this is also about the same point that soul threatening magic becomes available. If death is scary, utter oblivion is scarrier. Bet money that a paladin's teeth will be grinding through the whole fight when the blackguard he's up against has a soul stealing blade at hand. Being turned into an undead creature also prevents res magic from functioning normally and should fill players with a certain dread.

As a last resort, there are the old fall-backs of making revival magic impossible, difficult, or unreliable. I'm not personally fond of these but if you can't come back then red-lining your HP will make you sweat. A side-quest to the underworld to recover your buddy's soul is a fun idea but that player will need a temporary character to play with in the mean time so there's that. Of these three I like the last the best. Maybe you come back wrong, something like an alignment shift or a possessing fiend or spirit comes along for the ride or you come back with a curse that requires a side-quest to lift or at least mitigate.

Frankly though, I've always found the resource drain made it bad enough to make it something players really wanted to avoid.
If you can just magic someone back to life then Death isn't really "Death death". I don't know how to explain it better, but it doesn't really count as death if you come back. If you can come back then you're functionally immortal.

There's nothing wrong with having functionally immortal heroes, but you can't have a "meaningful death" without the death part. ;)

Regitnui
2015-10-03, 09:29 AM
I personally like Eberron's plane of Dolurrh as a great dissuasion. No matter who or what you were, when you die, you go to Dolurrh. Once there, your soul simply fades away into a harmless, amnesiac shade. If you're not revived quickly enough, you won't wake at all. When Dolurrh is close or coterminous, you could even call the wrong soul up to place in the body, or a number of incorporeal undead appear, one of which might be the intended revivee...

Darth Ultron
2015-10-03, 03:12 PM
What if you want death avoided rather than accounted for in the bill?

Anyone tried any systems for making death matter? I've heard banning Resurrection spells. One idea that came to mind is, and one DM proposed this though we never used it, requiring a journey to the Underworld in order to retrieve the soul. Thoughts?

I have never liked the idea of the pointless inconvenience. I wonder why people that don't want death in a game even play a combat based game like D&D. I mean I get the idea that it is fun to slay dragons and explore dungeons, but why play a game system that uses things like hit points and death. If people really want to have the fun of slaying a dragon, but only want the dragon to ''knock there character down for a second '' why bother with all the details? Why not use a system with nothing like HP where characters can only be pointlessly ''knocked down'' or some other type of pointless non-death effect? Playing a combat type game with character death as a possiblilty in Safe Mode is pointless to me.

I like combat heavy games with character death because it has character death as a possibility. I like death to be random and meaningless. Something that can happen to any character, any time. And ressurection is not much of an issue as in higher level games it is easy to kill or ''destroy'' a character in ways other then bland death.

Eldan
2015-10-03, 03:44 PM
For me, one o the biggest strengths of D&D 3.5 is how it plays differently at different power levels. So the answer to "how to keep death meaningful", to me, is "play at low levels".

arccos
2015-10-03, 04:02 PM
I have never liked the idea of the pointless inconvenience. I wonder why people that don't want death in a game even play a combat based game like D&D. I mean I get the idea that it is fun to slay dragons and explore dungeons, but why play a game system that uses things like hit points and death. If people really want to have the fun of slaying a dragon, but only want the dragon to ''knock there character down for a second '' why bother with all the details? Why not use a system with nothing like HP where characters can only be pointlessly ''knocked down'' or some other type of pointless non-death effect? Playing a combat type game with character death as a possiblilty in Safe Mode is pointless to me.

I like combat heavy games with character death because it has character death as a possibility. I like death to be random and meaningless. Something that can happen to any character, any time. And ressurection is not much of an issue as in higher level games it is easy to kill or ''destroy'' a character in ways other then bland death.

On the flipside, I think that the temporarity of death makes for some really interesting implications on the campaign world. Also, reocurring villians are fun.

That said, D&D is wierd. It does not do classic fantasy very well, as unintuitive that might be. Longdistance teleportation and highlevel divination makes the world fundamentally different from our world - it's not just medieval + combat magic & elves. It's inanely high-magic; I don't think we have any myths or fantasy litterature that compare to it. Dresden Files is the closest example I can think of, but it bails out on revolving doors afterlife, amongst other things. Still, statting up Michael Carpenter as a CoDzilla could be a fun time.

You can absolutely bash it into something low-powered, if you want to. E6 does that well, for one. Maybe you should do that.

Edit: A journey into the underworld to retrieve the soul of the departed sounds like an insanely cool adventure hook. I don't know that I'd change the campaign world to make room for it, but it's definitely on the list of things to do at some point.

Pluto!
2015-10-03, 04:38 PM
Feature, not bug.

The real people sitting around the table are there because they want to talk in funny voices and wargame, not because they want to sit quietly listening to the rest of the group actually play, just because they rolled a 1.

Darth Ultron
2015-10-03, 04:42 PM
The real people sitting around the table are there because they want to talk in funny voices and wargame, not because they want to sit quietly listening to the rest of the group actually play, just because they rolled a 1.

The people can just play another character too.......

Mastikator
2015-10-03, 04:57 PM
Feature, not bug.

The real people sitting around the table are there because they want to talk in funny voices and wargame, not because they want to sit quietly listening to the rest of the group actually play, just because they rolled a 1.

This is a good point, death from just bad luck is not meaningful. Adding grit and grimdark won't make death meaningful, it will merely make death possible. Meaning is something you have to infuse to both the character AND the cause of their death.

Some random NPC dies to save the world is not meaningful, neither is a deeply beloved PC dying because he rolled a 1.

Edit- I think I should clarify my position. Meaningful death is a good feature to have in a game, but it's the "meaningful" part that is good. Meaningless death is really bad, especially if it takes meaningful characters away from the game in a non-meaningful way. Then it's better to be functionally immortal and just let players get rez'd

Darth Ultron
2015-10-03, 05:01 PM
This is a good point, death from just bad luck is not meaningful. Adding grit and grimdark won't make death meaningful

Why must death be meaningful?

ExLibrisMortis
2015-10-03, 05:08 PM
For me, one o the biggest strengths of D&D 3.5 is how it plays differently at different power levels. So the answer to "how to keep death meaningful", to me, is "play at low levels".
Yeah, this. At higher levels, soul trapping is accessible even for non-casters (thinaun weapons and so on), so you could have smart enemies use those things to capture PCs. After the first one, the party should be pretty careful of known thinaun-wielders (e.g. "The duergar in grey robes are soul-trappers, I'm going to shatter their weapons").

Death, the reversible biological process, may not be dangerous, but there almost certainly exists a way to capture, torture or destroy a PC that does not involve -10 HP and a resurrection.

noob
2015-10-03, 05:10 PM
The people can just play another character too.......
Yes but again allowing players to play a new character will makes its death meaningless if you allow them to take the same build and if they must create a different character they will either dislike that if they do not like creating new builds or it will take a lot of time or the player might like creating a new build but then dying was not really a penalty in this case but if it annoyed the player it was time where he was unhappy and making annoying stuff should not be done since it is a game.
If the player was attached to the character and that he is linked to the game world it can make the player very unhappy to loose him and in fact might make the world really weird: for some reason one brother or something else came to join the team suddenly.
If you consider that dead people stop playing then basically you chased one player and it will probably make him sad only because a dice made a random value which meant his character died.
Basically Resurrection is extremely player friendly and some group of players prefer to play with Resurrection and the others generally roll new characters ending up not feeling at all like if they died since nothing changed except some stats.

Sith_Happens
2015-10-03, 05:20 PM
I wonder why people that don't want death in a game even play a combat based game like D&D. I mean I get the idea that it is fun to slay dragons and explore dungeons, but why play a game system that uses things like hit points and death. If people really want to have the fun of slaying a dragon, but only want the dragon to ''knock there character down for a second '' why bother with all the details?

For the same reason that people play video games despite most of those not deleting your save file when you die. Dying still means that you lost (at least partly), and most people don't like losing when they could have won.

Darth Ultron
2015-10-03, 05:42 PM
For the same reason that people play video games despite most of those not deleting your save file when you die. Dying still means that you lost (at least partly), and most people don't like losing when they could have won.

I don't really get the video game reference. Playing a video game with the cheat code of 'never dying' makes no sense to me.

Sure people don't like to lose, but to sanitize the game so much as it is pointless does not make any sense.

Mastikator
2015-10-03, 05:58 PM
Why must death be meaningful?

It must not, nearly all NPC deaths are meaningless and it's fine. It's just really sour when you have a meaningful PC that dies because of BS reasons. Which is fine if you want it to be that kind of game.

Pluto!
2015-10-03, 08:15 PM
I don't really get the video game reference. Playing a video game with the cheat code of 'never dying' makes no sense to me.

"Never losing" and "recovering quickly after losing" are subtlety but saliently different things.

Cheap rpg revives and video game save points fall into the latter category.

Character death happens in most RPGs, and frequently happens randomly and unimportantly. This isn't a medium that you can reasonably go into expecting to generate deliberately-nuanced and heartbreaking literature, at least not unless you really like trains.

Eventually someone's going to roll a 1 against a goofy "pack of Gnomish Were-Voles" random encounter, their character will die to a stray bite, they burn some resources or time and start again. Or maybe the DM throws them a new plot hook at the temple they visit for healing. Either way, the player lost, and he/she knows he/she lost, but the game goes on, the DM gets to show off a couple of the cool plot ideas or encounters he/she thought up over the previous week, and the players get to respond. Everybody goes home feeling good.

What no one wants is for their group to take DMing notes from Chick tracts.

The Bandicoot
2015-10-03, 10:30 PM
Why must death be meaningful?

Because that's the name of the bloody thread mate?

Anyway, in my world death is meaningful because of how difficult it is to resurrect someone. Not only do you have to gather information like where the soul is, the person's full name, birth date, birth location, his ancestry back at least five generations, etc. Etc. Then you have to set up a very precise ritual and pump enough magic to destroy a small city-state into it. And guess what, if you mess any of that up? Boom.

So needless to say it's rarely done or even attempted.

tomandtish
2015-10-03, 11:19 PM
There’s also a part of the resurrection magics that people often forget. It’s almost always useful against evil characters (esp. those who like to make deals with nefarious powers), but it can be applied to anyone with a little work.


In addition, the subject’s soul must be free and willing to return

In a game I ran many years ago, players were warned in advance that resurrection magic was much more difficult than the norm. Souls were the currency of the gods, and they didn’t like to let them go. Debts and obligations were taken very seriously. Among the party were a cleric of Pelor and rogue who worshipped no god at all. At one point the rogue was seriously injured.

Cleric: “I’ll heal you, but it wouldn’t hurt you to donate to the temple every now and then”.

Rogue: “Just do it. Tell Pelor I’ll owe him one”. (The rogue was obviously planning on blowing this off)

Me: Makes written note of the date and time of the comment.

A few sessions later the rogue gets killed in a nasty fight. The cleric goes to raise him.

Me: “The spell doesn’t seem to be working”.

Cleric: “Why not?”

Rogue: “Yeah, I want to return, so why not?”

Me: “You are suddenly in front of Pelor. He waves his hand and you see a scene that looks familiar – you and Nebrah (the cleric) talking. You hear your voice saying ‘Just do it. Tell Pelor I’ll owe him one’. Pelor then looks at you and says ‘Now, about that one you owe me…’

Illven
2015-10-03, 11:38 PM
There’s also a part of the resurrection magics that people often forget. It’s almost always useful against evil characters (esp. those who like to make deals with nefarious powers), but it can be applied to anyone with a little work.



In a game I ran many years ago, players were warned in advance that resurrection magic was much more difficult than the norm. Souls were the currency of the gods, and they didn’t like to let them go. Debts and obligations were taken very seriously. Among the party were a cleric of Pelor and rogue who worshipped no god at all. At one point the rogue was seriously injured.

Cleric: “I’ll heal you, but it wouldn’t hurt you to donate to the temple every now and then”.

Rogue: “Just do it. Tell Pelor I’ll owe him one”. (The rogue was obviously planning on blowing this off)

Me: Makes written note of the date and time of the comment.

A few sessions later the rogue gets killed in a nasty fight. The cleric goes to raise him.

Me: “The spell doesn’t seem to be working”.

Cleric: “Why not?”

Rogue: “Yeah, I want to return, so why not?”

Me: “You are suddenly in front of Pelor. He waves his hand and you see a scene that looks familiar – you and Nebrah (the cleric) talking. You hear your voice saying ‘Just do it. Tell Pelor I’ll owe him one’. Pelor then looks at you and says ‘Now, about that one you owe me…’

Pelor the burning hate confirmed!

Mastikator
2015-10-04, 04:29 AM
There’s also a part of the resurrection magics that people often forget. It’s almost always useful against evil characters (esp. those who like to make deals with nefarious powers), but it can be applied to anyone with a little work.



In a game I ran many years ago, players were warned in advance that resurrection magic was much more difficult than the norm. Souls were the currency of the gods, and they didn’t like to let them go. Debts and obligations were taken very seriously. Among the party were a cleric of Pelor and rogue who worshipped no god at all. At one point the rogue was seriously injured.

Cleric: “I’ll heal you, but it wouldn’t hurt you to donate to the temple every now and then”.

Rogue: “Just do it. Tell Pelor I’ll owe him one”. (The rogue was obviously planning on blowing this off)

Me: Makes written note of the date and time of the comment.

A few sessions later the rogue gets killed in a nasty fight. The cleric goes to raise him.

Me: “The spell doesn’t seem to be working”.

Cleric: “Why not?”

Rogue: “Yeah, I want to return, so why not?”

Me: “You are suddenly in front of Pelor. He waves his hand and you see a scene that looks familiar – you and Nebrah (the cleric) talking. You hear your voice saying ‘Just do it. Tell Pelor I’ll owe him one’. Pelor then looks at you and says ‘Now, about that one you owe me…’

http://oi59.tinypic.com/30wa3yt.jpg

Thrudd
2015-10-04, 10:22 AM
There’s also a part of the resurrection magics that people often forget. It’s almost always useful against evil characters (esp. those who like to make deals with nefarious powers), but it can be applied to anyone with a little work.



In a game I ran many years ago, players were warned in advance that resurrection magic was much more difficult than the norm. Souls were the currency of the gods, and they didn’t like to let them go. Debts and obligations were taken very seriously. Among the party were a cleric of Pelor and rogue who worshipped no god at all. At one point the rogue was seriously injured.

Cleric: “I’ll heal you, but it wouldn’t hurt you to donate to the temple every now and then”.

Rogue: “Just do it. Tell Pelor I’ll owe him one”. (The rogue was obviously planning on blowing this off)

Me: Makes written note of the date and time of the comment.

A few sessions later the rogue gets killed in a nasty fight. The cleric goes to raise him.

Me: “The spell doesn’t seem to be working”.

Cleric: “Why not?”

Rogue: “Yeah, I want to return, so why not?”

Me: “You are suddenly in front of Pelor. He waves his hand and you see a scene that looks familiar – you and Nebrah (the cleric) talking. You hear your voice saying ‘Just do it. Tell Pelor I’ll owe him one’. Pelor then looks at you and says ‘Now, about that one you owe me…’

That's good. Conan the Barbarian style. Someone needs to pay something or promise something serious for resurrection to work. "The spirits of this place extract a heavy toll!" "Then I'll pay them!"

erradin
2015-10-04, 01:01 PM
(noticed a lot of errors in this post. Fixed a few, but I'll re-check when I'm not typing on my phone.)


Very, very much this... What you're asking is how to make the threat of death meaningful.

I suppose that is a pretty good way of putting it. And I see your point, Darth Ultron. For me, it's very similar to sky diving. It's the possibility of losing and winning anyway- the defiance of danger- that makes it alluring. So, I suppose I must, in the light of the many insightful things said in this thread thus far, admit that I don't want death to be permanent, I want to make a character actually suffering through it significant and part of the story- not a mere inconvenience. Or perhaps a better way to put it is that, if the characters DO gain a mastery over death, I want that to be an accomplishment, not a given.

Mark Hall- you brought up an interesting point, echoed in part by arccos and others, which is that, perhaps the ultimate triviality of death can be a point in itself, making the way for the obvious horror of things like Soul Binding.

From thinking about the different posts here, I'm starting to realize that whatever one does with death, the game must go on. Exploring the realm of death, or having to go on a quest for a god every time, is nice and has an epic feel, but eventually becomes burdensome and tedious. Ignoring death, I think, detracts from the story however. I am a big proponent of the story itself being the journy and triumphs of the PCs, so, I think I'd like to consider how to make triumph over death a part of the story for the PCs.

Sacrieur- I've read the old Kingdom series and really like the idea. And tomandtish, I enjoy the Paying the Gods idea, too! (also, Mastikator, that picture of Pelor was hilarious).

What do you guys think of starting the PCs off as unable to 'ressurect' anyone without a lengthy quest or intermission, and building up to the triviality by placing even fewer restrictions on ressurection than even dnd ressurection spells do as a point of character triumph? They will still have to contend with soul-binding blades and the like, but I think the story as a whole will benefit- especially if the villain learns their secret and copies it him/herself. (One of my PCs reads the forums and I don't want to give him any tips until the group figure out who the villain is.:) )

Also-what are some good ways, do you think, of involving a dead character in their own ressurection? Maybe the process involves a spirit guide that they get to play as? Or is this a terrible idea?

erikun
2015-10-04, 06:11 PM
Why even have death in D&D at all?

I think it is important to sit down and seriously take a look at the question, because if you think about it, the reason death is in D&D is really to Convenience the Player more than anything. Look at it this way: players regularly go up against a large number of opponents. Players want some way to ensure that the opponents will re-appear to challenge them again, or at least to not stand right back up and attack them a second time when they are busy with something else. In something like a superhero game, this can be accomplished by simply knocking an opponent out and letting the police handle them; the assumption is that the enemy won't be coming back until some plot-relevant event like breaking out of prison happens. This isn't something that could generally be done in a D&D game, where the players are far from civilization or even any allies, and they must rely on themselves. The only real viable options involve death, drugged into unconsciousness, and securely tying up enemies. And in a world where poison is irredeemably evil (even knockout poisons) and where most characters can wiggle out of rope fairly easily, it leads to a convenient beheading to solve the problem.

The problem, of course, is when an attempt at narrative cohesion applies this concept to the PCs of the game. If the PCs are slaughtering cultists by the dozens and the cultists are abducting small children for blood sacrifice towards a world-destroying god, then it doesn't make too much sense to have those same cultists just beat up the PCs and take a few coins when they win. Reasonably, they would try to kill the PCs if given the chance. Logically, there is little reason for them not to. And even if you could make up some flimsy justification for why those particular cultists might not, many of the other situations - attacked by ravenous wolves, being overrun by zombies, being left alone in the frozen wilderness with no protection - would lead to some generally fatal conditions.

And on the other hand... well, would you play in a game where, if your PC character died, you were banned from the group permanently? Would you run such a game? Outside the sheer novelty, probably not - the game would run out of players fairly quickly, if nothing else. But that is sort of what death means: eliminating a PC (and thus a player) from playing the game while their PC is gone. Other options are available, of course, but the general response to a dead PC is that the player is no longer able to do things in the game. Otherwise, there isn't too much difference between a PC dying and a PC just under some sort of negative status effect.

In that light, I might recommend a few possibilities for the "How to make death meaningful in D&D" question.

Make Death A Really Bad Thing. That is, make killing an exceptionally negative activity to engage in. Have the heavens open up and avenging angels pour down when it happens. Have some sort of murderer stain appear on the character's soul, visible to everyone. Make it something that is exceptionally bad, and which matters - to the point where most characters would not engage in it regularly. Your local orc horde might attack a town and ransack its valuables, but they aren't going to be killing the villagers. Your local bandit squad is either focused on capturing people or threatening out of desperation. Your evil cult is kidnapping people for a blood-sacrifice, as opposed to leaving dead bodies around. This means completely taking away the PCs' ability to just murder random enemy encounters, at least unless they are prepared to deal with the exceptionally negative things which come with it. It also means that most situations don't involve dead characters, rather kidnappings and blackmail which the characters have to deal with. On the other hand, a dead character would probably remain dead in this case, since if such extreme circumstances happen when someone dies, then there probably should not be an easy way to bring them back - although PCs are far less likely to end up dead as a result.

Give Players A Pool of PCs. The idea behind this is to grant each player a "family" which they can easily generate PCs from. It gives a reasonably consistent reason for a player to continue playing after a particular PC death. A player running the party hireling could be thought of as basically this: they run a different character that has a similar interest in their previous character, or at least an interest in the previous character's stuff. If death is still mechanically meaningful in some way - say, the old character had training with equipment that the new character could not have, or the old character had something which cannot just be transfered to another level-equivalent character - then the death has some impact and isn't just a slight speedbump before the player rolls up an identical replacement. Even if the character eventually does get resurrected in town, it gives the player something to do which clearly says "your character has died" more than just sitting on their hands or running the NPC cleric for a bit.

I think I'm running low on ideas, so I'll leave it at that. There are some other ideas as well, like the PCs being distinctly special and so can be resurrected because of that, or that just allowing resurrection to everyone and making NPCs coming back similar to the superheroes situation - only with plot points which would cause them to return. Tomandtish's situation with Pelor and the deities is an interesting one, although I would probably make it more a situation of "You have been receiving healing and disease curing for years, putting your life into Pelor's domain" rather than basing the entire situation on a single throwaway RP line from months back.

TheOOB
2015-10-04, 10:12 PM
I died twice in a Pathfinder campaign we ran last year, like permanently. First time was before Resurrection was a realistic possibility, second time it wold have been expensive but manageable, but I keep it permanent because I thought the character had run it's course. In our current 5e campaign my character can totally resurrect people for fairly cheap(Life Cleric FTW), but we still fight tooth and nail, both to keep drama up, and because I may not be able to find another valuable diamond, much less afford it.

You can have meaningful death in 5e is your players decide it should feel meaningful.

Remmirath
2015-10-04, 11:40 PM
We mainly deal with it in our games by banning True Resurrection and imposing limits on Resurrection and Raise Dead -- so one can come back, but only if one falls within a certain range of negative hit points. Even within those limits, either the brain or heart being destroyed means you're not coming back (the head being severed from the body is generally included in this, but characters can make a Heal check to stitch the head back onto the neck -- constitution penalty upon resurrection is applied depending on how successful the Heal check was). Soul destruction is also a not uncommon threat in our main campaign, but that is a more high-level centric solution.

Other possibilities I can think of include bringing back system shock so that there's a chance of failure for resurrection, enacting some manner of solution to ensure that all characters who die and come back are haunted by the experience (the after-life is nothing like they were expecting and is in fact terrible, or they saw far too much into the nature of the multiverse, or some such), or keep track of how long the character was dead and apply penalties based upon that. Making resurrection more difficult could also work.

Regitnui
2015-10-05, 02:11 AM
all characters who die and come back are haunted by the experience (the after-life is nothing like they were expecting and is in fact terrible, or they saw far too much into the nature of the multiverse, or some such),

This is why I use Dolurrh. It's a horrible afterlife. You get a vegetable back if you wait too long or (if you wait) don't use the right spell. Hell, they might just Come Back Wrong.

Zale
2015-10-05, 03:27 AM
The people can just play another character too.......

Depending on the system involved, I may well have been working on that character for hours.

Gotta make stats, gotta make design choices, gotta make a backstory, gotta make a personality.

I am very meticulous when it comes to making sure my character is fun, interesting and blends well with the setting. I want to make an effort to make them enjoyable.

If I know that I can permanent lose them from bad luck, with no way of returning them, I'm going to stop making that effort.

There's no point in getting attached then. I'll just hand up the same character sheet and give them a wacky accent and call it a day.

Milo v3
2015-10-05, 07:42 AM
I reflavour the negative level into reflecting that a portion of their memory has been lost. Having things like that roleplayed seems to help in my experience.

mephnick
2015-10-05, 11:45 AM
In my experience only the players can make death meaningful.

My current group would go "Shucks, oh well here's my next guy." There is absolutely no way I can make that attitude meaningful. I could impose all kinds of penalties, but I don't think it would add anything but annoyance to the game. If the players don't want death to mean something, it won't.

Kelb_Panthera
2015-10-05, 03:29 PM
In my experience only the players can make death meaningful.

My current group would go "Shucks, oh well here's my next guy." There is absolutely no way I can make that attitude meaningful. I could impose all kinds of penalties, but I don't think it would add anything but annoyance to the game. If the players don't want death to mean something, it won't.

Agreed.

On a separate note:

Since we're talking D&D here I do remember two other, rather unique options. In 3.5 there are a couple of ways to continue playing while dead but with strict, "you have a narrow window to finish the adventure," caveats.

In BoED there's the risen martyr PrC that allows you to play the returned soul of your dead character as he slowly moves toward becoming a celestial creature. This option comes with the heavy RP requirement of maintaining an exalted good status and once you've taken all ten levels of the PrC (advancement is mandatory on level up) and gained enough XP to level up once more, you're swept into the afterlife for your rewards. Same thing happens if you complete the quest or fail to remain exalted.

Ghostwalk has the non-undead rules for playing your own ghost. This one is both freer and more restrictive than the previous. On the one hand, your behavior isn't restricted. On the other, you're incorporeal, you have to take levels in either eidolon or eidoloncer (one for non-casters, one for casters), and if you have more levels in eidolon(cer) than in non-ghost classes you're swept into the afterlife.

The former is better if res is a non-option while the latter is better if it's rare and difficult, IMO.

DonEsteban
2015-10-05, 04:09 PM
You could use the Alexandrian's take. (http://thealexandrian.net/wordpress/1017/roleplaying-games/optional-death-and-dying) I haven't used it myself.

Zale
2015-10-05, 06:24 PM
You could use the Alexandrian's take. (http://thealexandrian.net/wordpress/1017/roleplaying-games/optional-death-and-dying) I haven't used it myself.

As far as permadeath rules go, I like this set much better as it tries to compensate for the lethality of the game.

Mr.Moron
2015-10-06, 09:34 AM
In my experience only the players can make death meaningful.

My current group would go "Shucks, oh well here's my next guy." There is absolutely no way I can make that attitude meaningful. I could impose all kinds of penalties, but I don't think it would add anything but annoyance to the game. If the players don't want death to mean something, it won't.

Well there's a lot the tone of game and the GM can do to influence player attitudes. If players are never presented with non-mechanical challenges, or opportunities explore their characters (assuming they'd be interested in such thigns) they'll remain numbers on a page.


Consider say, how one might apply a fear effect. You might try some different approaches:

Roll a save against the dark magic. Failure? You've got -2 attack rolls for 3 rounds.
Roll a save against the dark magic. Failure? The shadow of a giant monster hangs over the target, as you strike the claws lash out at you, forcing you to hesitate. -2 on attack rolls"
Roll a save against the dark magic. Failure? "What was the scariest thing that happened to bob as a child?"

Whatever the player names gets worked into the description of the fear effect for approach #3. It's not really changing anything about how the encounter itself plays out, but it's using a prompt to breathe life into a character by expanding their backstory in a way that connects directly to the experience of play. You're far more likely to have players with an invested attitude doing that than with other approaches.

Flickerdart
2015-10-06, 10:02 AM
The problem with "making death matter" or forcing the party to quest into the underworld or whatever is there's now a guy at your table who stops being a player. With a cleric who can prepare raise dead, the party can finish the encounter, rest, and have him back within minutes of real-life time. The more complications are added to this process, the more "taking time out of your life to enjoy a game with friends" time becomes "sitting and twiddling your thumbs" time.

There are essentially two solutions to this, but both solve this problem of turning the ex-player into a player again as soon as possible.

1: Provide a substitute
This can be any sort of thing, from the character's ghost clinging on to the mortal coil, to the wizard's familiar/paladin's warhorse/psion's schism suddenly taking on the dead guy's personality, to a contingent spell that temporarily animates the body (Control Body type, zombie type, whatever), to repeated castings from a stash of revenance scrolls. If the party has a cohort in it, perfect. If there are NPCs invested in getting the character back, let the player control one. The gist is that the player of the dead character has something to do until he can be properly resurrected, even if that something isn't 100% the character that bit it.

2: Take out a loan on life
There's nothing wrong with a quest for the soul of a dead guy aside from the whole "the dead guy's player is bored to death" thing. So why not take that out? A god that sends the party on a task in exchange for the soul probably wants the party to succeed, so it's in his best interests to resurrect the guy first and then send the party on the quest. Fail, and the soul is forfeit once more. Succeed, and you can keep it. The whole "came back with a purpose" schtick is just as flavourful, if not more.

3: Secret super duper combo option
There's no reason that a character can't return partially and also be beholden to some authority to return completely. A Good deity might grant the PC the use of Archon's body for the quest, since truly resurrecting him would be more difficult and only worth the god's while if the PCs succeed on their quest. If you don't want to truck with gods every time someone dies, make resurrection a time-consuming ritual with a rare component the PCs must quest for, and without that component it's only possible to partially restore the PC to life. A secular necromancer might be willing to bind the character's soul back as a ghost or some other undead. A druid might be able to temporarily fuse the character's soul to an animal (think reincarnate with the old school badger table). A squire might be willing to offer his service to the party in a quest to revive his knight, and so on.

1337 b4k4
2015-10-06, 05:02 PM
Well there's a lot the tone of game and the GM can do to influence player attitudes. If players are never presented with non-mechanical challenges, or opportunities explore their characters (assuming they'd be interested in such thigns) they'll remain numbers on a page.


Consider say, how one might apply a fear effect. You might try some different approaches:

Roll a save against the dark magic. Failure? You've got -2 attack rolls for 3 rounds.
Roll a save against the dark magic. Failure? The shadow of a giant monster hangs over the target, as you strike the claws lash out at you, forcing you to hesitate. -2 on attack rolls"
Roll a save against the dark magic. Failure? "What was the scariest thing that happened to bob as a child?"

Whatever the player names gets worked into the description of the fear effect for approach #3. It's not really changing anything about how the encounter itself plays out, but it's using a prompt to breathe life into a character by expanding their backstory in a way that connects directly to the experience of play. You're far more likely to have players with an invested attitude doing that than with other approaches.

To add to this, letting your players write some of the game fiction (even if it doesn't change the mechanics) not only invests them more in their character and the game world, but it makes your life as a GM easier too. That scariest thing that happened to Bob? Now it's a plot hook you can use. It's also a "symbol" you can use to stamp on certain events (including death) to make it that much more meaningful not just to the character but to the player. To continue my streak of being a broken record, if you haven't yet checked it out, do some digging into Dungeon World. Even if you don't play it, just reading through their GM advice and watching/listening to a good actual play can give you a whole new set of tools to use as a GM and a whole new appreciation for asking your players questions.