Life and Death…and the Stuff in Between

Hello! And welcome back! I’m not even going to bother coming up with a reason for why it has been months since I posted. Instead, I’m just going to say, “Hope you’ve been well!” and then move on. It is I, Jim the DM, as before, here to talk to you about running Fantasy RPGs.

In this post, I want to talk about Resurrection, and the impact it can have on a game. I’ll be clear going into it: I believe it is a negative impact. I don’t think it is a good idea to allow resurrection in your game. I certainly don’t use it in mine.

“But why, Jim?”, you ask, “Won’t it super suck if a character dies in a stupid random encounter or after a year or two of sessions but before the climax of the story?” Well, yes, it will suck. It will be anticlimactic and disappointing and irritating, and it will be even worse for the player. Even so, games are 100% better without it. Don’t use resurrection.

The reasons I don’t use resurrection in my games are fairly straightforward. Resurrection, as a game mechanic, completely and utterly removes any tension and drama from the story. If any character, player or non-player, can be brought back to life at any time, you, as a story-teller have lost the primary tool that you can use to tell that story.

Take any of your favorite novels, movies, or stories of any kind. Where would they be if any character could be brought back after paying a few thousand gold pieces on a resurrection spell? Where would the drama of Boromir’s death be if after he breaths his last words (My Brother…My Captain…My King…), Aragorn was like, “LoL. Rez.”

The Lord of the Rings has a kind of resurrection (Gandalf the Grey -> Gandalf the White), but it isn’t a thing he can repeat, and it certainly isn’t possible for anyone else. Harry Potter comes back from the dead, but only because he had one of the Deathly Hallows, and even it couldn’t bring back his family. Why would Kylo Ren’s murder matter, if his victim (no spoilers!) could just be rezzed a few minutes later?

The risk of death is THE primary tension in 99.99999% of action, fantasy, sci-fi, etc, and common resurrection removes that. The stakes immediately become nothing. What that leaves you with is either the video game, or the comedy. If either of those two things is your goal, then by all means, leave resurrection in. A video game with no save points or re-trys is mostly not fun, and a comedy where the main characters die is usually only enjoyed by a few kinds of people. But if you want to play a dramatic game, with real stakes, tension, and a serious plot, you have got to take the rez spell out.

“But maybe,” you rejoin, “a rez spell can be done, but it is a huge quest to complete it, and takes a whole campaign in its own right.” Sure. That is an option. It certainly makes it more dramatically satisfying. But what if another party member dies while on the quest to complete the first rez? Will the party go do another campaign to rez the second character? And what about a third? And a fourth? You might get lucky, and no one else will die while resurrecting the first character, but you might not, and now you have a comedy on your hands, with a line of characters stretched out all waiting for the others to complete the epic quest to bring them back to life. Once again, the dramatic tension of the story is lost.

From a player’s point of view, resurrection also kind of sucks. If I can bring a character back at any time, why do I bother putting any thought into my plans? If we attack the castle head first, and all die horribly, well, we can have the nice cleric that we befriended in town cast resurrection on all of us and we can try again. If I choose to stay behind in this hallway and sacrifice myself so that you can all escape…wait, why would I do that? If you all die, I can just have you brought back! So, sorry guys. I’ll see you later.

As I said before, this is just my point of view. Let me know if you use resurrection in your games and how you manage to keep the tension and stakes high throughout.

As always, happy gaming.

And Always Split the Party!the_death_of_boromir_by_cg_warrior-d2wcunn


3 thoughts on “Life and Death…and the Stuff in Between

  1. I have never personally used resurrection in any of my games, but I also haven’t run any games long enough for my players to die.

    That being said, however, I have had a character be rezzed. If I had been ressurected with a spell, than I think it would have been a bit disappointing like you have said, but I wasn’t. My party took my body to an evil artificer and had him ‘fix’ me. I was brought back to life, but there were consequences. I now had a machine in my chest acting as a heart, and that machine was easily susceptible to rust and a few other natural phenomenon.

    In my opinion, ressurections are okay, if hey are unique and still cause problems like this one. Now, if it just keeps happening, than yeah, it loses its tension; but I still think resurrections can be an option.

    Liked by 1 person

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