I’ve been thinking about ressurection lately. In general, when I run a game I don’t allow ressurection of any kind, because I feel it just causes too many issues.
For example, I feel resurrection removes one of the most important tools a GM has to provide challenge: the threat of death as a consequence of failure. I also worry that it leads to in-game problems; a king has little to worry from assassins when he can simply be resurrected.
I think I’ve come up with a framework for resurrection which addresses both of my main issues, and perhaps even opens up new space.
- People are resurrected at the same age they were when they died. In other words, if you die of old age, resurrection can’t bring you back.
- When someone is resurrected, their new body is whole, healthy (with the exception of the ravages of aging), and unscarred.
- A portion of the body is required for resurrection. The rule of thumb is bone, blood and flesh. If you’ve got that, you can resurrect them. It should be noted that the “sample” must actually be from the corpse. You can’t cut off a finger and leave it behind just in case.
- Consent is required. Someone has to be willing to be resurrected.
- That said, the deceased doesn’t know who is performing the resurrection or under what circumstances.
- Resurrection requires a sacrifice–a soul for a soul. The soul must be relatively similar to that of the deceased; elves, orcs, humans, dwarves, etc are interchangable. A wolf’s soul would not work to resurrect a human, though, and a human’s would not work to resurrect a dragon.
Analyzing this, I reach the following conclusions.
First and foremost, the requirement of bone, blood and flesh means that it’s slightly more difficult, but still completely feasible, to kill someone permanently. If their body can’t be recovered, either because it’s lost or destroyed, there’s nothing to be done. This alone solves almost all my problems with resurrection.
An idea I had related to this is that kingdoms might “save” their greatest heroes by euthanizing them and then magically preserving a part of their body. Picture a reliquary in the heart of a great cathedral where the remains of the greatest paladins in history are stored, ready to be called upon when a great evil arises.
The source of souls for resurrection raises some issues as well. If we’re going to assume that resurrection is a common and accepted part of life, then that leads to the implication that even good societies integrate this soul sacrifice into their culture. I see the ‘good’ societies having institutions where elderly or terminally ill poor can offer themselves for sacrifice, and in return their families are given considerable compensation. On the flipside, a fascist state might use prisoners and dissidents to power resurrection, perhaps even using it as a form of execution. And of course, there are always going to be evil folk who happily kill anyone they like.
Tangentially, I like the idea of vampirism and lichdom as corruptions of resurrection magic. Vampires are practitioners of blood magic. They drink the blood of their victims as a proxy for the victim’s soul. Anyone can become a vampire, it’s literally as simple as just drinking a lot of blood (with the same stipulation that the ‘soul’ needs to be of similar calibre). They heal faster and becomes stronger and faster, but don’t gain any ‘special effects’ for lack of a better term. They can’t fly or transform or charm people.
Liches, on the other hand, steal their victims’ souls directly. Lichdom requires a great deal of arcane prowess, and so liches are quite rare and powerful.
In both cases, they don’t actually cheat the age restriction on resurrection magic. Both liches and vampires are undead. Death is part of the ritual one uses to become a lich. It’s a bit more nuanced for vampires, though. Technically a vampire isn’t a vampire until they “die.” Until that point, they’re a blood mage. At some point, whether from physical trauma, old age, suffocation, etc, a blood mage will die. They might not even notice at the time, for when they die their unlife as a vampire begins immediately and seamlessly. As a blood mage, they can sustain themselves on blood but also can sustain themselves on food and water like any other of their race.