Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Death Note

D&D Next should meet the needs of the majority of fans. The style of games I prefer often aligns with that of mainstream Dungeons & Dragons players. AFAIK. Only run games through 12th level? Check. Ignored nonhuman level limits despite the fact that they existed for "play balance"? Check. &c. However, there are some times when I just don't know.

Raising The Dead

We don't play with raise dead. My group generally doesn't get together to play adventurers who randomly explore dungeons for treasure without an overarching plot arising in the game. We play to have fun but there has to be story thread woven into the game or it's just a bunch of pointless dice rolling. We're not playing the roleplaying game equivalent of a D&D board game.

Death is a big deal. As 2e notes, "curative and healing spells have no effect on a dead character - he can only be returned to life with a raise dead or resurrection spell (or a device that accomplishes one of these effects)".

In AD&D 2nd edition, raise dead was a 5th-level priest spell and resurrection was a 7th-level priest spell. Who could forget reincarnate (also a 7th-level priest spell) turning your Level 20 Wizard into a raccoon, wild pig, etc. Clerics couldn't cast any of these death defying spells until 9th level and only if their patron granted "major" access to the Sphere of Necromancy.

D&D 3e offered raise dead (a 5th-level cleric spell that cost at least 500 gp in components), reincarnate (a 4th-level druid spell), resurrection (a 7th-level cleric spell that cost at least 500 gp in components), and true resurrection (a 9th-level cleric spell that cost at least 5,000 gp in components). A druid could not revive the dead until 7th level and a cleric couldn't do so until 9th.

Version 3.5 increased the costs of returning to life. Raise dead now cost ten times as much (5,000 gp). Reincarnate now cost 1,000 gp for components. Resurrection (10,000 gp) now cost double what raise dead cost and true resurrection went up by five times its previous price (25,000 gp).

Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition introduced ritual spellcasting separate from your character class. Even my dragonborn warlord, or a fighter, could cast raise dead (an 8th-level restoration ritual) with the proper training (i.e. the ritual caster feat plus, usually, trained in either the arcana skill or the religion skill). Now you could come back from the dead starting at 8th level. The cost of raise dead now depended upon the level of the deceased. For characters up to 10th level, it cost 500 gp to return to life. Characters of levels 11-20 paid 5,000 gp. Epic level characters of 21st level and above paid 50,000 gp (presumably using five astral diamonds as coin to buy the spell components).

The truth is that certain aspects of the game are ridiculously easy to change or "houserule". Did we excise all those spells and abilities from our D&D tabletop games? Absolutely. Frankly, only a small portion of our character's lives were played above the levels where they'd have access to those spells.

Death loses its impact, characters lose their humanity, and the world loses verisimilitude when people don't stay dead. Ghostwalk just doesn't appeal to me or at least I wouldn't use the word "death" to describe what's happening in such a game. When death equals "become a disembodied ghost" then the story line of that event isn't about the loss, of that person, to the world and their friends but, rather, about the loss that the character suffered because they no longer have a body. Inconvenient but not tragic. Raise dead works out to be the same; maybe you lost some points off your Constitution score (2e), maybe you lost a level (3e), or maybe it just cost you a small amount of free cash you had lying around (4e).

Death is part and parcel to the human condition. Appropriately, you don't see death & rebirth trivialized in the world. Nor do you see such a lackadaisical attitude in literature, storytelling, or myths. A game might need a way to rescue characters from a string of unfavorable die rolls. My group relies on a more sophisticated solution than raise dead spells: the Dungeon Master. Computer games don't have this luxury and neither does competitive tournament play. Some D&D players really want death and with that they want (or need) raise dead options. I recognize and admit that my style is at odds with those players. This is one of those times when I don't know how "most" other people play. Are the majority of games using raise dead as no big deal or are most people like our play group?

Tell me your experience.


1 comment:

  1. I currently play Neverwinter Nights myself, (uses a modified 3.5 D&D ruleset for those who don't know) and on the heavy RP server I play on, how raising the dead is roleplayed really relies heavily on each and every partying group.

    Some people don't want to raise someone of a different deity... some people don't want to be raised by someone following a certain deity.

    The thing about raise dead and resurrection... is it's almost more like instant perfect surgery as well as one giant shock of energy to kick-start them back to life. If humans had the technology to do this, to repair the brain and vital organs ecetera effortlessly, then we WOULD only die of old age, just like the games resurrection rules.

    The entire idea of D&D is there is magic. Magic let's you do the technically impossible. There is magic, in a game, so of course it won't match up to real-life where there (to my knowledge) is no magic.