Death becomes us. It is the undeniable, inescapable inevitability of the universe. That is unless you are a divine spellcaster with the raise dead spell. Then to hell with the reaper! Get some of that bling and start raisin' homies from the grave!
"And the good lord said, 'Get your ass up, we got shit to kill!'"
And that is the beauty of magic, isn't it? Being able to bend the laws of the universe with zero repercussions. Why would there be? You're only snatching a soul from the jaws of death and stuffing it back to its meat shell.
What could go wrong?
Oh, that's right. Everything.
Many Game Masters treat a return to life like a brief vacation. You lose a level and your back at it like nothing happened. But death is not a trip to the day spa, and there should be consequences to returning to life.
Below are ten possible side-effects from a good old fashioned resurrection, sure to make your spellcaster think twice about playing God. After all, if you're invoking that kind of mojo, you should be ready to pay the price.
P.S. "The Price" is not a ridiculous amount of diamonds.
1. Not Alone: The PC that was brought back doesn't return alone. Someone or something hitched a ride on their soul, be it a benevolent force or a malevolent one. Occasionally the PC may become possessed by the entity. The only way to rid the character of this unwanted hitchhiker is a lengthy ritual. But note this; these things don't typically want to leave once they're here, and can put up a hell of a fight.
2. Madness: The act of dying and returning to life was extremely traumatic and could lead to any number of psychosis. Depending on the system you play, there is typically an insanity chart with all sorts of disorders befitting someone who recently returned from the dead. Roll away and watch the madness set in.
3. Nightmares: Dying, seeing what lays beyond, and returning can be trying for the mind. The things that have been seen that no other mortal should see can lead to night terrors that plague the PC. Unless heavily medicated with various herbs or elixirs, the character will be haunted with terrifying nightmares that keep them from receiving the benefits from a good night's sleep. This can be devastating for spellcasters, who typically require eight hours of uninterrupted rest to regain spells. Even elves, who do not dream, are visited upon by visions.
4. Wrong Soul: The good news is your buddy is back among the living. The bad news is that isn't your buddy. The soul that has entered the body of the fallen character is not the original. Something else changed places at the last moment. The being now wearing the party's companion like a meat suit could be a drastically different person than the previous owner. Hand the player a new alignment and a short paragraph about the soul's desires and aspirations. It need not be a permanent thing, just a brief pitstop on the road of death and resurrection.
5. Resentment: The character died. Their struggle was over. Finally, they had time to rest. For those who didn't lead wicked lives, death isn't a punishment, but a reward. Now, imagine you are basking in your eternal reward, knowing a peace you have never known when you feel the tug. Your friends must need your help, they must be in trouble so you heed the call and return. You are ripped back into the world. It's dark, and cold, and you feel again, and it's horrible. You were in heaven, and now, in comparison, you are in hell. And who put you there?
It wouldn't be a stretch for the PC to resent their friends, the world around them, or even the Gods for making people needlessly suffer through life to receive peace. A PC's perceptions and attitudes can be drastically altered by the transition back to life. How they handle those changes can make for some pretty stellar role-playing and storytelling.
6. Inevitable: Death is supposed to be a one-way street. When folks start driving the wrong way, believe you me, there are beings that notice. There are a number of entities whose job it is to ensure the dead stay dead, souls stay put, and life ends where it is supposed to end, not the least of which are Inevitables.
To get one of these things to take notice is like waving a sparkler at a Terminator, and in true Terminator fashion, they will hunt you down. They don't sleep, they don't eat, they never stop. You can run, sure, but your meek, frail little body is going to give out at some point, and the Inevitable is going to return things to the natural order as well as possibly add a few more souls to the mix for good measure (i.e. the folks that brought the PC back from the dead).
This nearly unstoppable foe can add a sense of tension and urgency to nearly any campaign. The party brought the character back. How far are they willing to go to keep them back.
7. The Gods Are Displeased: People live. People die. Then their soul is ferried off to any number of glowy planes of existence, most of which are ruled over by, or home to at least one God or God-like being. So how do you think they feel when some punk-ass mortal decides to hit the reset button and restore their friend to life. Think of how you would take it if an ant flipped you off, called you an asshole, and stole a french fry. Sure, you got more fries, but it is the principle of the thing! Who does this ant think he is to go around talking to you like that?
Now you know what is going on in a God's ethereal head when a spellcaster plays tug of war with a soul. Let us be honest, the God could lay some serious smite down upon the head of said caster, but lowly mortals are hardly worth that amount of effort and Gods are mysterious and unknowable.
Perhaps a subtle manipulation of events, like dangerous monsters straying into the PCs' path, unseasonably bad weather (blizzards in mid-summer) hounding them on long journeys, or just plain bad luck could get the message across that tiny creatures with a limited understanding of the universe should not be meddling in the affairs of gods.
Curses are also a nice touch if a tad less subtle. And if a God feels like being a little heavy handed, 100-foot-tall flaming letters spelling "YOU DONE FUCKED UP" are sure to drive the message home.
8. Came Back Wrong: Summoning a soul from the ether and placing it back into a dead body is not rocket science. There is and should be a margin of error. Sometimes things don't always go the way they're supposed to. Sometimes folks just come back wrong. These could be little things, like the character finding them self with dulled nerves, dulled emotions, or just plain dull. Maybe food they liked before doesn't taste right.
Sometimes, however, these can be big things, like positive energy harming their bodies while negative energy heals them, a hunger for the flesh or blood of the living, or an aversion to sunlight.
9. Magnet For The Dead: The character died. Now their back, but the lingering sensation of the grave follows them around, acting like a beacon for the undead. Vampires, ghouls, ghosts, ghasts, and any number of intelligent or mindless undead creatures find themselves drawn to the character, greatly increasing the number of undead the party will encounter until they can find a remedy. Stronger cases could see the poor character perpetually radiating an aura that animates any dead creature in the area. This is hilariously fun in cemeteries of battlefields where the party has just wholesale slaughtered a cubic butt-ton of foes.
10. Switched At Rebirth: Magic is wacky, and not without its sense of humor sometimes. Bringing someone back from the dead is just a simple matter of summoning their soul from the great beyond and anchoring it to their body. However, sometimes things go awry, and the soul ends up in the wrong body. In this instance, the caster accidently summons the soul into their body, forcing their own soul out. With nowhere for the soul to go, it finds the nearest empty vessel (i.e. the body of the dead PC). What follows is some sitcom level shenanigans as these two PCs switch bodies (and physical stats). Hilarity ensues when you have to different races like dwarf and half-orc or elf trading places. Who said side-effects had to all be soul-crushing, emotionally charged terror-dramas.
And that, my friends, are merely ten side-effects from resurrections. Perhaps you have a few of your own? Let me know in the comments.
Roll well, my friends
+Ed The Bard
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