Resurrection and Character Death in Dungeons & Dragons

Jeremy Crawford: Death and coming back from death happen quite a bit in Dungeons and Dragons campaigns. In some campaigns the ability to bring people back from the dead is heavily curtailed by the Dungeon Master and that is totally in a DM's purview to do so. In other D&D campaigns, death is kind of a minor inconvenience, some magic is used, and the adventurers are brought back and are right back into the action. That's also fine.

We've designed the game so that depending on a groups taste and the style of fantasy that is being used in a campaign, that either of those approaches and something in between would all be fine. But it still brings up the question, what does it mean to die in the D&D multiverse? What does it mean to be brought back? And, what are our ideas behind the spells that let you do these things?

Now the idea in D&D is that a typical person when they die, similar to when we die here, but, just as the Gods are known to be a real thing in the D&D multiverse, we also know in the D&D multiverse that the souls of the dead go places. Depending on a persons alignment, their allegiance to a particular God or family of Gods, they're soul might wander off to one of the paradise like upper planes, it might be consigned to some horrific existence in one of the lower planes. It might become a spirit in the Feywild or a nature spirit in the material plane, or the dead might go on to be a wandering husk in the Shadowfell. It all depends on the particular soul and it depends also on the DM's world building.

But, it can be a lot of fun, particularly as a DM who likes to build a world and cultivate a cosmic story to consider, where do these souls go when they die? And it's not just a kind of academic question to ask, because, when you have a player character who dies, it can be a really good thing to know, well, what's next?

Now in some cases, even if the DM knows what's next, it's fair to keep it as a mystery in a particular campaign. The person dies, the curtain falls, and we don't know what is beyond the vale. But it becomes trickier if, what if you bring that person back from the dead? Do they remember what they saw when they died? Where were they for that amount of time? It might be a little amount of time if you use a spell like revivify which, basically, just snatches a person out of the jaws of death. But what if it's a much higher level spell, such as resurrection or true resurrection? Where you could have had somebody who was dead for quite some time, suddenly brought back. What did they experience? Where were they? Were they on the slops of Mount Celestia, were they being tormented in the Nine Hells? Interesting questions that can really shape how that character is role played thereafter.

If you plucked them back from the joyful paradise of Elysium, are they actually glad to be back? This is a really important question to consider in certain types of campaigns that are really about world building and characterization, is if you were in paradise, are you actually pleased to be back in a dungeon fighting monsters?

Now in D&D, resurrection magic requires the willingness of the person to come back. Unless you're doing some dark wish or using some ancient artifact like power to bring somebody back against their will. If they come back they have done so willingly. And so, if they've left some paradise, they must have had a good reason for coming back and often it will be because they love their venturing companions or they have some great dead left undone. Or, in the case of maybe some rascally character, they just want to come back because it's just ... the material world is fun, they were getting a little bored of endless happiness. They want some of the scruffiness of material life, so they've come back to delve into one more dungeon, to have one more mighty quest. So there are a lot ... you can imagine a lot of motivations for why a soul would come back. Now, if the soul was being tormented, they are delighted to come back.

I have sometimes found as a DM, going back to ... going through that door, whether you're going through it to die or coming back through it to come back from the dead, that journey can spawn whole adventures. Sometimes some of the most moving scenes in the campaign ... in my current campaign, one of the most striking moments for my group occurred when a character died and I described to the player what the character, what she was experiencing after she died. But I did it in front of the whole group, because I was using that scene actually, to help tell a broader story for, not only the campaign, but for the setting. There was a real sense of wonder at the table as I basically allowed my players to see through the vale, for just a moment, because I ... the way I often handle it as a DM is that there's kind of a way station when you die and you're met by somebody, and depending on the world I'm DMing in, it changes who you're met by.

It also depends on your characters species, it depends on what you've done, what your alignment is. So that person who meets you in that way station, how they appear will be different and then I have this idea that then the soul goes someplace else. And you never get to see that as a player, that ... there's usually a doorway they go through. But I will often let my players see this brief glimpse of what they experience right after they die and right before they go through the door to their final destination.

Again, DM's can use that to sometimes blow their players minds, to seed new stories, and then again, when the character is coming from the other direction, coming back through the door into the world, I think it's great when DM's and players consider this question of, what did they see? How much of it do they remember? And what does it do to their personality to recall the darkness they might have seen in the abyss or one of the other lower planes? How does it lift their spirits or fill them with melancholy if they can remember joys on the upper planes that no joy in the material plane can match?

That would have a lingering effect on the character and could change them for the rest of their career. Both brightening the character, but also it could turn into sort of a melancholy, not unlike the melancholy that most elves end up feeling in their lives. As essentially the descendants of a God, most elves eventually start having this sense of melancholy because some part of them remembers being in a place more splendid than anything they've ever experienced in the mortal realm. And some part of them even remembers that they themselves were essentially Godlike and again, that starts leading to a melancholy. And so again, can start thinking, what does that do to my character?

And then DM's can also think about MPC's who've come back from the dead. Was does it do to them? Is this villain or this heroic MPC, is their villainy or their heroism actually influenced by what they experienced when they were dead and they can back. Now, a lot of this, these questions, or course can be avoided by just, you don't remember, and that's also fine. It is perfectly fine for death in a campaign, and I think often this actually is the default, for death to be just a complete mystery and that when a person comes back from the dead it's almost like waking from a nap that had no dreams, and the person ... they don't remember.

You could also think of it as a very dreamful sleep and so the DM could feed the risen character with occasional visions that may or may be accurate reflections of what happened beyond the grave, and then again, the other extreme is, no you remember. And it's ... if you go that route, that's when you can have strong effect on your campaign story telling.




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