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Hey I Can Chan

High-level Play, Part 8

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The Perils of Preventing the Dead from Returning
Those who earn a reputation for removing actors from the milieu—those who frequently make folks forever dead or try to prevent others from returning from the dead—lose access to the free raises and reincarnates helpful clerics and druids otherwise supply. Clerics and druids never agree to return from the dead those who forever murder characters level 9 or higher. The absurdly low number of high-level characters makes level 9+ characters valuable resources, and removing those resources means shit doesn’t get done.

In an average metropolis (Dungeon Master’s Guide 137-9) realize that when the Clr16 can’t be returned from the dead there’re only 3 other Clr16s left in town and after that all the other clerics in town are level 8 and below. It’ll take over 7 months before one Clr8 reaches Clr16, and in the meantime whatever enemies that Clr16 was holding back (which is the nearly two dozen EL 9-15 encounters he had to overcome to get there—ask me about math) are unchecked because somebody was angry enough at him to swipe his head after he died.

Team Antagonist is practical. When a member of Team Antagonist is returned from the dead, his initial question is not, “Where’s the dude who killed me?” but, “How do I regain the level I just lost so I can play the game I was playing before?” Team Antagonist doesn’t immediately try to destroy the foe who just destroyed him when he’s now less powerful. That’s stupid. He was dead. He lost. Fighting that fight again now meaning losing harder. Very rarely is Team Antagonist revenge-driven; pride takes a horrible beating throughout the Dungeons and Dragons 3.X rules—wizards eat spiders to cast spells, clerics beg gods for power, fighters are fighters. Ego’s in the backseat; reality drives.

For most folks if the foe’s dead, that’s enough. He’s defeated. Revenge is low on the foe’s to-do list. Sure, he might try again after he’s gained a level, but he should now be perpetually one level behind, and if he’s been beaten before he can be beaten again.

But everyone also understands that some folks don’t play by the rules or that one side holds a grudge longstanding and brutal enough that punishment beyond death is necessary. Therefore everyone looks the other way at a very small number of forever murders—a good rule of thumb is 1 consequence-free forever murder every other level per group—and this isn’t retroactive. Beyond that, unless it’s done under extremely controlled circumstance, a reputation for forever murder exists among the group, and everyone who can return folks from the dead or plans to return folks from the dead won’t help multiple-forever-murderers or their party members return from the dead.

Of course, no one cares about this until someone involved is level 9 or higher. The world collectively yawns at the passing of characters levels 8 or below. Those folks are disposable. Dynasties end and empires crumble because the ruler’s only level 8; despite his status such characters just don’t deserve to come back for free, and paying for a raise dead spell or two leaves low-level rulers penniless. Casting the spell death knell [necro] (Player’s Handbook 217) on random low-level dudes is evil, but it’s not disruptive.

Preventative Measures, Part 1: Make Folks Deader
The spells true reincarnation and true resurrection don’t require a corpse to return a creature from the dead. All the other dead-raising and sort-of dead-raising spells require at least a piece of the corpse (e.g. reincarnate, resurrection) or as much of the corpse as can be acquired (e.g. raise dead). Thus, like real life, ditching the body is a thing.

To the uninitiated this is trivially easy. Burn it and scatter the ashes. Feed it to your animal companion. Throw it in a barrel of lime. Whatever. Gamers are infinitely resourceful in this regard. But the spell reincarnate needs only “a small portion of the creature’s body” to be effective. How small? The resurrection spell, which needs the same thing, says that “[t]he remains of a creature [destroyed] by a disintegrate spell count as a small portion of its body.” I’m not making that up. That means a locate creature [div] (Player’s Handbook 249) spell (remember: corpses aren’t objects but creatures with the dead condition), a reincarnate spell, and ashes, undigested bits found in animal scat, or a gooey barrel of mush really is enough for CSI: D&D to bring back a dead dude, and this game starts at level 7.

Further, a creature killed by a spell with the death descriptor (Player’s Handbook 174)—the lowest-level is the 0th-level Sor/Wiz spell necrosurgery [necro] (Dragon #326 73) for no reason but the lowest-level one that kills folks is death knell—can’t be returned from the dead by the spells raise dead and reincarnate.

The 3rd-level Clr and 4th-level Sor/Wiz spell animate dead makes the corpse an undead creature, and, as noted, undead can’t be returned to life while undestroyed. This conveniently foils many divination spells—the undead creature’s changed kind, type, and identity. The corpse’s still out there, though.

The 3rd-level Clr, 3rd-level Sor/Wiz, and 4th-level Drd spell infallible servant [necro] (Exemplars of Evil 27) prevents “any spell or effect that restores life (such as true resurrection) or a semblance of life (such as animate dead) short of miracle or wish,” making it one of the most hardcore, you-ain’t-coming-back-no-more spells ever. Convincing a living creature to have it cast on them isn’t easy, but casting it on a dead creature so he’s humped after he’s returned from the dead is a possibility. The duration’s only 1 hour per level though.

The 4th-level Asn spell cursed blade [trans] (Spell Compendium 57) prevents all but a true resurrection spell from returning a creature to life who’s been killed by a melee weapon affected by the spell unless a remove curse spell is cast first.

The 5th-level Clr spell charnel fire [necro] (Book of Vile Darkness 87) prevents all but a true resurrection spell from returning a creature whose corpse is destroyed by the spell. It can also destroy any undead who fails a saving throw against it, which is badass.

The 5th-level Sor/Wiz spell lesser planar binding [conj] (Player’s Handbook 261-2) can bind a barghest (Monster Manual 22-3). The barghest’s feed supernatural ability reads, “When a barghest slays a humanoid opponent, it can feed on the corpse, devouring both flesh and life force, as a full-round action. Feeding destroys the victim’s body and prevents any form of raising or resurrection that requires part of the corpse. There is a 50% chance that a wish, miracle, or true resurrection spell can restore a devoured victim to life. Check once for each destroyed creature. If the check fails, the creature cannot be brought back to life by mortal magic.” That’s pretty intense, but only works when the creature’s humanoid and the barghest gets to slay the creature, exempting many high-level foes from the risk of permanent death via barghest feeding and making creatures who’ve already become corpses still a problem.

Further, there’s a goddam unwillingly-bound barghest around. I’m of the opinion that things called by planar binding spells are always dicks and always have to be paid or won over. The caster has absolutely kidnapped and trapped the creature, so no matter what the caster asks, the creature’s first answer is always, “No.” The creature always assumes a catch, hitch, or ulterior motive even if the offer is stupidly attractive—like eating dying humanoids to increase the bound creature’s own power.

The 6th-level Clr and 7th-level Sor/Wiz spell barghest’s feast [necro] (Spell Compendium 24) costs the caster a 5,000 gp diamond (the same as a raise dead spell!) to utterly destroy a corpse (no ashes, even) and applies a flat 50% chance that “mortal magic” can’t return the creature from the dead. This spell is just the right size for a high-Wisdom undead with the template spellstitched (Complete Arcane 162) to use 1/day. This note is for the DM not players.

The 7th-level Clr spell destruction [evoc] (Player’s Handbook 218) prevents all but the spells miracle and true resurrection, and “a carefully worded” wish spell followed by a resurrection spell from returning to life a creature killed by the spell.

The 7th-level spell finger of expulsion [conj] (Dragon #330 31) foils the raise dead spell, but getting the spell is tricky.

The 8th-level Sor/Wiz spell blackfire [evoc] (Spell Compendium 29-30) prevents all but the true resurrection and wish spells from bringing back a creature killed by the spell.

The 8th-level Clr and Sor/Wiz spell last judgment [necro] (Book of Exalted Deeds 102) bodily transports a creature now to the plane he’s headed to when he dies, yet a “true resurrection or miracle spell can restore life to a creature slain by this spell normally. A resurrection spell works only if the creature’s body can be recovered… before the resurrection is cast.” Yeah, so even though the creature’s not technically dead, it’s apparently dead enough. Whatever.
The 8th-level Clr spell plague of nightmares [ench] (Book of Vile Darkness 100-1) can reduce a creature to Charisma 0 at which point the creature “dies and is beyond even a true resurrection spell,” which is a little vague (what about reincarnate spells?), but as it makes no mention of the miracle or wish spells, those remain options.

The 9th-level Sor/Wiz spell Ensul’s soultheft [necro] (City of Splendors: Waterdeep 152-3) kills a creature when the spell reduces the creature’s Intelligence to 0, and the creature “cannot be brought back by raise dead, resurrection, or similar magic unless used in conjunction with a miracle or wish.”

The 9th-level Clr and Sor/Wiz spell necrotic termination [necro] (Libris Mortis 69) kills a creature so dead that “[r]aise dead, resurrection, true resurrection, wish, and miracle cannot return life to the subject […, and the subject] is gone forever.” This costs 1,000 XP and the subject must already have a necrotic cyst (a negative energy tumor created by a 2nd-level spell), so it’s a two-step process, but that creature is not returning to life in its current body.

The 9th-level cleric spell putrefaction [necro] (Dragon #300 56) magically ages a creature to death with no saving throw in at most 4 rounds, turns the corpse into a zombie, turns the soul into an evil ghost, and makes it so “only a carefully worded wish or miracle can reverse the effect.” Bonus: Most spells that return creatures from the dead can’t return creatures that died of old age. Other bonus: The zombie and ghost the spell creates are under the caster’s command and don’t count against his undead control limit. Even the 1d6 points of Constitution damage can be healed pretty easily, making this spell awesome.

This list is undoubtedly incomplete because finding spells that do this requires reading every spell. Were I to rewrite the Dungeons and Dragons 3.X rules, I’d standardize this language using keys like almost dead, slightly dead, seriously dead, and forever dead instead of the messy, messy language that’s used here.

Sidebar—Unconscious Creatures: In a curiously sympathetic nod to date rapists, in Dungeons and Dragons 3.X “[u]nconscious creatures are automatically considered willing” (Player’s Handbook 175) for the purposes of saving throws versus spells. It’s already been established that dead creatures are creatures with the dead condition, not objects, so spells can be cast willy-nilly on dead creatures, and they get no saving throws. While spells that create new bodies eliminate the effects of curses (probably—it’s not clear), diseases, and poisons and, unless otherwise specified, have full hp and no ability damage, the raise dead, resurrection, and true resurrection spells cure only nonmagical poisons and nonmagical diseases and only raise to 1 damaged ability scores reduced to 0. This means dead creatures can be the subjects of many long-lasting, permanent, and instantaneous effects while they’re dead to—cue evil laughter—welcome them upon their eventual return.

Sidebar—Old Age: When a creature dies of old age, it can’t be returned from the dead. However, reincarnate spells specifically create “an entirely new young adult body for the soul to inhabit,” strongly implying that death via old age is physical not mental and that some god doesn’t have a cosmic loom and snips the thread that makes creature forever dead by old age. In other words, if death from old age is a concern, before you die of old age, kill yourself and get a druid to cast reincarnate or true reincarnation on your corpse Yes, you might end up a troglodyte, but you’ll be a young adult troglodyte. This also means some druids—especially elven ones—are really freakin’ old. You’ve been warned.

Next: More preventative measures.

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