Saturday, July 29, 2017

Fun With Raise Dead, Resurrection, and Reincarnation (in Pathfinder)

Death is a constant threat hanging over anyone who steps out their front door with the intention of heeding the call to adventure. Whether it's on the end of a hobgoblin's mace, or in the fiery jaws of a dragon, death is waiting to pounce at any moment. But if you are powerful enough, or rich enough, it's possible that you could get a second chance. A chance to come back from death's country, and to continue on your adventure. But sometimes the person who gets up is not the same person who fell... or, at least, not entirely.

When you rise, a part of you stays in the grave.

The Potential of Resurrection, Reincarnation, and Possession

So, if you get dead in Pathfinder, the most common means to bring you back is a basic raise dead spell. It's a 5th-level cleric spell, it will run you 5k gp in components, and it requires a part of your body. The major sticking point, though, is that you have to be raised a number of days after you died equal to the caster level of the person performing the spell, or it's not an option. Resurrection  is a 7th-level spell, runs you 10k gp in components, but it can take place 10 years per level after the target died. Neither of these spells will resurrect someone who died of old age, but other than that you should be golden. Reincarnation is the cheapest option at 1k gp worth of oils, and it's also the lowest-level since it's a 4th-level druid spell. Of course, reincarnation rolls the wheel of random chance, putting you into a new body that may be very different from your old one.

Being dead is a big deal, and it comes with a lot of questions. For instance, how would a character be changed by a few days in hell? What about ten years, or twenty, or fifty? And more importantly, what would they bring back with them once they've been raised? How would they react if they died of old age as an elf, but were reincarnated as a human with centuries of accumulated knowledge and skills?

It's all right, Lianna. Just cut his throat... it's probably for the best.
While there's nothing in the rules that says being dead changes you at all, or that you recall where you went to, there's nothing that prevents those things, either. So if your character has had a brush with death, take a moment to ask yourself how it changed them. What was their purpose in returning to the mortal coil? Do they want to return to the same afterlife the next time they die, or are they eager to make sure the next time they stand in judgment that they go through a different door? Are they different now than they were before? More humble? More afraid? More savage? Do they possess strange powers they didn't have before they died (as an ideal origin story for a witch or an oracle)? Did they receive a new lease on life to go along with a new face, trying to become someone completely different than they once were?

These aren't questions that have to wait for a spot of bad luck in the campaign, either. Death is an ever-present threat in the game, and it's possible you died and came back before you ever came on the scene as a 1st-level PC. Perhaps you were fortunate enough to come from a rich or influential family, or you were unfortunate enough to make a deal with something that has haunted you for the rest of your life, but you've managed to stay above ground... for the time being. That's where traits like possessed can add a great deal of flavor to your character, especially if you combine them with feats like the Possessed Hand tree. These create the mechanical backing that something is sharing your body with you, and occasionally acts of its own volition. The Haunted oracle curse might also represent some malign force that clung to your soul on its way back to your body. You could even embrace a character with the undead or destined bloodline, implying there are forces beyond this world keeping them on this plane until their task (whatever it is) has been completed.

If this is a topic that captures your interest, you might also want to check out Undoing Character Death: Unique Methods of Resurrection in Pathfinder.

Well, that's all for this week's Fluff post. Hopefully it gave folks some ideas for interesting story lines, or unusual characters. If you want to check out additional content from me, take a gander at my Gamers archive. It's going to grow steadily, so check back in from time to time. If you want to keep up on all my latest posts, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to support me and my blog, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. All I ask is a $1 pledge per month, and that gets you both my everlasting gratitude, and a small pile of gamer swag as a thank you.


  1. Isn't it a thing in the Standard Pathfinder Setting that the souls that have been judged (and thus seen the real afterlife) cannot be brought back? And the goddess of death is also the goddess of fate, so she knows whether to judge a particular soul and send it to the afterlife or to keep it waiting, because it's yet going to return.

    1. I have not read the extended lore on most of the gods past the splat books (Inner Sea Gods is outside my book budget), but in the core rules of the spells the only requirement is that the spirits are willing to return. Also, given that resurrection can be used on undead creatures to bring them back whole and complete, there are a lot of answers that the DM, and the player, must provide.

  2. My favorite incident with reversing death was when I ran this super, over the top, trippy session the literally steal one to the party member's souls from Urgathoas domain after the character died from a ghost raised by an unholy artifact from the pallid princess. The game was super high fantasy, and the evil gods were trying to kill the good gods after our party accidentally triggered Armageddon my destroying an artifact that was protecting the world from some of the more ambitious gods wanting to return to the material plane. Because Urgathoa was the main antagonist, a boring old raise dead spell just wasn't going to cut it

  3. A game run along the lines of the movie Flatliners would be interesting. A bunch of PC priests learn how to do raise dead at a much lower level and with an egg as the material component. They use it to go exploring the realms of the dead.

  4. I had a character who was terrified of being resurrected. She was dead certain she'd come back different, and not *better*; since she was a sociopath that was enough for the other characters to try to keep her from needing the resurrection spell in the first place.

    Same game we *just* failed to save a king when his brother and a small group of traitors ambushed him. We killed the ambush, then used a resurrection spell. The DM sat there for a solid ten seconds before saying 'No one I've run through this adventure has ever thought to resurrect an NPC before, and this dude would *totally* want to come back.