Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Foolish and Wicked Thing

Even his wife's face seemed changed as he entered the room. It was white and expectant, and to his fears seemed to have an unnatural look upon it. He was afraid of her.

"Wish!" she cried, in a strong voice.

"It is foolish and wicked," he faltered.

"Wish!" repeated his wife.

He raised his hand. "I wish my son alive again."

W.W. Jacobs, "The Monkey's Paw," 1902
When the dead come back, they come back wrong. And the act of bringing them back is a crime against god. A terrible thing.

"The Monkey's Paw." Pet Sematary. "Herbert West -- Reanimator." Frankenstein. Vampires. Zombies. In their way, the central figures of "Scanners Live in Vain."

" is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment." (Hebrews 9:27)

Bringing someone or something back from the dead will not -- can not -- turn out right.

Raising the dead is a form of necromancy.

Like many folks, I've always had mixed feelings about Raise Dead spells. Some DMs ban it. Others keep it as is, albeit begrudgingly. Others manage it by designing low level worlds with few high enough level priests to cast it, or by making it difficult to get access to in other ways. In a game as deadly as D&D can often be, raising the dead can allow for character continuity that might otherwise be lacking and can protect players from the loss of favored characters. But it's fair to say (and is often enough said) that it also cheapens death. After a certain point, character death becomes little more than a temporary setback. An annoyance, certainly. But not a truly significant event, in most cases.

Making the raising of the dead an act of necromancy in the campaign world is just another way to put a darker spin on this classic D&D trope, without taking it away completely. Perhaps the dead always come back changed -- chaotic and evil -- twisted versions of their former selves. Raisers of the dead are hated and feared, outcaste or untouchable, dangerous and hunted.


Only the desperate and reckless would dare seek them out, the driven and dangerous dare to take upon themselves such power.

But what are adventurers if not desperate, reckless, driven, and dangerous...


  1. I generally don't have to deal with spells of that level, but in that case, I would have a 'good' character lament and pine for the Silver Lands beyond the veil, so much so that they will more often than not, be of little to no use to anyone afterwards, even refusing to eat; eager to again die and rejoin the Blessed Dead.

    The 'bad', though, are often rather pleased to have escaped their lot in the Abode of the Damned, and occasionally, this experience is worthy enough to merit a fresh start and a change of 'alignment'.

    I don't saddle PCs with actual changes, although both sorts will invariable be aware of the hidden things of the world: Shadows creeping along the walls, stern archons standing in observation of mortal deeds, and indeed, ghosts and other such dwellers in the World Between the Walls.

  2. Raise Dead as written? Bo-o-o-o-o-oring!
    Entering the spirit world through wacky mystical rites performed by wizened, morally bankrupt sorcerers and fighting the dread guardians of the afterlife to recover the soul of one taken untimely: now /that's/ adventure.

  3. Yes! These ideas both sound like interesting ways to approach it. Raise Dead is one of those spells that has a lot of potential to add to a campaign rather than just being a (boring) reset button.

  4. Yeah, this is the kind of thing that can go badly in so many ways. Legions of undead goblins is always a good time, though...