November 12, 2009

Dead Characters

What to do when a character dies?
When I run a campaign I tend to have an overarching plotline in place, one the characters have had since the start. In my current campaign the character all started as pre-level children. From there we covered their childhood from ages 12 to adulthood (16 in my world). Throughout that time I built the foundations of the plot, giving them hints here and there. I presented them with enemies they could hate and a world shaking plan they feel they need to stop. The characters (and by extension the players) have alot invested in the plot.
So, what happens when one of them dies?
What happens to their involvement in the plot?

The obvious answer is to get the character raised. Most rpgs, especially the ones based in fantasy, have a Raise Dead option. The difficulty of returning a character is tied into the setting. Sometimes it only takes cash, sometimes a long involved quest. Sometimes the time between death and renewed life is short or long, again depending on the difficulty the setting has set up. Most DMs will tweek the setting's defaults with their own preference, sometimes even removing the option to come back form the dead.
However, I feel the Raise Dead option is an easy way out, too easy. There is no fear of death, no fear of the consequences of doing something stupid with their character. At the same time I want the characters to be able to come back to participate in the plot with the same involvement. There are other options to returning a character from the dead other than the standard Raise Dead.

Here are a few options I have saved up for my players. I plan on using each option once per death in the group, and after that they are on their own, which will likely be a reroll of a new character.

Undead Body
Most fantasy settings have rules for playing an undead character. Most modern day settings do as well. In my current campsign one of the characters worships the Raven Queen, goddess of death. The next time a character dies I will have her ask the character if he wishes to bring the dead character to life immediately. Unknown to him she will do so as an undead Revenant, a "race" for 4E.

Undead Form
Another option is have the PC turn into a spirit or ghost, 'because his task is not yet done'. In this case the character will have no body of his own but will be allowed to possess the bodies of those close to him, those he has bonded with; ie his party members.
To keep things fairish, the body will be used by both players, even during combat. This will allow each character his normal number of actions but the body will be performing twice the number of actions per turn. I will rule that the body becomes tired faster and requires more sleep and food than normal. The possessing ghost will also be able to switch between bodies of the party after an extended rest or 6 hours.

Alternate Form
I have always been a huge fan of the Reincarnation spell from older D&D. It was wildly random and forcd something completely new upon the player. I am going to do something slightly different and instead have a tinkerer take the freshly dead body and put the soul of the dead character into a construct, in this case a Warforged. Warforged are not a race in my campaign, but that doesn't mean there can't be an experimental model out there somewhere.

In one of the earliest adventures of my campaign the characters came across a fortune-teller who read their fortunes through some tarot cards. Each character received a special power or perk depending on the final card they drew. One of those cards will bring the character back from the dead the next time she dies.
You can also do this by giving the players a one-use expendable magic-item that will raise a character from the dead the next time he dies.
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