Resurrection - Homebrew
The problem with characters is that they just keep coming back to life. After you kill them, they come back thanks to some handy spells like Revivify, Resurrection and Reincarnate. So what is a DM in DnD 5e to do?
Now, I say all that as more of a joke. I’m not trying to kill off the characters, but it happens… and I realized, it happened at least 10 times in my last level 1 to 20 campaign… but it made no impression on me or on my table. Sure, at pre-level 5 it was dangerous to die as they had no means of resurrection and the land of Barovia is rather short on diamonds to begin with, but that’s only a minor hurdle for a party willing to do what they had to do to find some diamonds… and once you get out of Barovia and over level 10, the world was their oyster and they were going to find them some damn diamonds.
For those that don’t care for the nitty-gritty explanation:
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Death… It’s Coming
I wasn’t happy that death had little impact on characters once you get access to Resurrection or Reincarnate. At least with Revivify you gotta get there in a minute and Raise Dead has a lot of minor negatives that will fade in just a few days. So I decided to create a system that made it a bit harder to come back to life, and the more you died, the harder it was to come back.
Resurrection magic has a chance to fail, and all characters start out with a 55% chance of coming back to life. This is a DC 10 check, and there is no ability modifier for the character. Its a flat roll, like a Death saving throw, and puts fate in the hands of the dice.
I choose DC 10 because it mirrors Death saving throws, and it gives a small tip of fate to the characters. I didn’t want to ever see them come back to life, but I wanted them to know that death was more meaningful than 300 gp worth of diamonds and a 3rd level spell slot. It shouldn’t be just another event. A character died, there should be some tension at the table for their upcoming resurrection.
Increasing the DC
Now, I wasn’t happy with just a flat DC 10 resurrection, what happens if that one character doesn’t learn their lesson and keeps splitting the party? Well, each resurrection spell increases the DC to come back. After they’ve been subjected to Revivify, the DC increases by 1 so that they have to succeed on a DC 11 check on their next death, and higher level resurrection spells impose bigger increases to the Resurrection DC.
The chart is:
Spell / Increase to Future DC
Revivify / +1
Raise Dead / +2
Reincarnate / +2
Resurrection / +3
True Resurrection / +4
This has the added bonus of: if a player dies four times and each time they die, they are resurrected with a stronger resurrection spell… on their 5th death, they have a Resurrection DC 20 check to make. Example:
Death # / Resurrection DC / Spell / Increase to Future DC
Death 1 / DC 10 / Revivify / +1
Death 2 / DC 11 / Raise Dead / +2
Death 3 / DC 13 / Resurrection / +3
Death 4 / DC 16 / True Resurrection / +4
Death 5 / DC 20 / TBD
This wasn’t anything I planned for in this system, but it is a pleasant surprise!
Tendrils of Death
Now, this is a pretty simple system to put into place, and it doesn’t really change much when it comes to the characters. It can be pretty hard to die in 5e, especially since a well placed Healing Word can put the brakes on any type of death you are trying to inflict on one of your players… I mean characters… *cough, cough*
But, if they are to die, than it is on the GM to inform the player exactly what kind of afterlife their character’s soul is living. This doesn’t have an impact on the resurrection magic system, but rather helps provide closure to the player… or lets them make an informed decision about whether or not the character wants to come back to life. See, there is a key word in all of the resurrection spells, and that is “a willing creature”.
Unwilling creatures don’t come back to life, a willing soul is happy to return to their body and will go back to their body, if they can escape the tendrils of death. These tendrils of death are the mechanics behind the DC of the check, these tendrils are what is holding back the character from returning to life, this could be that their god wants them to stay on their divine domain, the character themselves want to stay in the workshops of Mechanus or they just aren’t strong enough to escape the after life. This provides flavor and a reason as to why a character may not choose to return to life, and even if they do, why the resurrection spell might have failed. Death can have a strong hold over a soul.
Never to Return
Some souls may be trapped in the afterlife thanks to a poorly made contract with a devil, in this case, no amount of resurrection magic is bringing that soul back to the material plane… but this can provide a nice plot hook for the party and they can go and kick some devil ass. There are a variety of ways that this could happen to a player, and is up to the DM.
End of the Line and Some Advice
So that’s my system for resurrection magic. When a character dies, I pull the player aside and tell them about the afterlife for their character. It is up to the player to decide if the party should attempt to resurrect them, or if their character would prefer to stay in the afterlife. If they decide to go the resurrection route, its more than just spending a few diamonds, it becomes a challenge for the character’s soul. If they make it, great! If they don’t… than they’ll just have to try again as the hold of death is keeping their soul back, for whatever reason.
Now… This is not something you should just pull on your players with no warning, but rather talk to them about it. They may not be comfortable with a DC 10… or they may want to make it even more vicious and start it out with DC 15, regardless everyone at the table should agree to what resurrection should look like… even if there is no consequence of death. It’s about having fun at the table, and some players may not like how final death could be.