March 23, 2012

Reincarnation and a Fun Way to Die

Update: I'm not as clever as I thought! Rob Schwalb did something similar awhile ago here.

In addition to my own Dungeon Mastering, I also am able to step around to the other side of the screen (metaphorically, since we don’t use screens anymore) and play the other half of the game. Not only is it a ton of fun, but it also gives me some insight onto what it’s like to be on the receiving end of some deadly dungeons. This post talks about some interesting and fun mechanics we created to handle the issues we were  having with death and resurrection in D&D.


The campaign started out not long ago, we’re on session #4 I think. Like many others, this campaign was a fiery rebirth from a collapsing prior campaign I was in where shifting schedules made time outside of work became too much a premium for about half of the group. The current party is generally all of a similar mindset. Although we have varying subtleties in our gaming tastes and have varying levels of proficiency with the game, we all enjoy creating optimized characters, defeating very difficult and deadly challenges, and exploring dungeons. As such, we decided at the campaign start that we would have a single, unifying theme: we had an all-Dwarf party. With only a thin veneer of plot from the Dungeon Master, we took what we had and ran with it creating The Seven Sons of Moradin. There are, of course, only six players; the seventh son being setup as some sort of mysterious end-quest.

The campaign is set in Dark Sun, which restricts our available classes considerably, although frankly we revel in that sort of thing since those restrictions are themselves a form of challenge, especially when coupled with our self-imposed racial limits. We have also fully embraced the Dark Sun added rules in a more challenging way than most. With the Dungeon Master’s permission, the players elected to apply the following house rules:
  • Arcane casters who miss with a daily attack spell must use the defiling option
  • On a weapon attack roll of a natural 1, a dungeoneer must choose to attempt the reroll and risk weapon breakage
  • Characters start play with one magic item or their Level + 2 or lower. Dead characters are buried with their gear. (The campaign started at Level 11).
  • Stop being such a baby.

Sidebar: Why Dwarves?
Quite simply, they are the best race for dungeon delving. From a fluff standpoint that makes a lot of sense. Dwarves are very often depicted as living their lives underground and having an innate knowledge of the ways of the world outside the reach of the sun. From our mechanical optimization standpoint, we saw fantastic choices in feats, a racial bonus to the often used Dungeoneering skill, great selection for racial ability score modifiers, a great racial bonus against poison saving throws (which can often carry with them save or die effects), and resistance against prone and forced movement, which can easily spell the end of a party via push effects into extremely hazardous terrain.
And of course, the crown jewel of the race, second wind as a minor action, negating our reliance for a leader or magic items for healing.

Death and Dying

Over the course of play, we have lost a dungeoneer. The dead dungeoneer was expected, I was actually surprised we have had so few deaths considering how much we goad the Dungeon Master and tempt fate. Right before this happened, literally 45 minutes beforehand, we all got together and hashed out some ad hoc rules on how we would handle the inevitable piles of dead bodies in what I think was a novel and clever way. We started with the basic premise that the current rules as written for resurrecting fallen dungeoneers and creating new characters to add to the party were leaving us all feeling a little dissatisfied and unfulfilled. Death had little sting, and was just a road bump and an annoyance. Even with the death penalty (-1 to all d20 rolls for 3 milestones), there was little real challenge. And we wanted a challenge. To solve this, we harkened back to some of the fun things in the game that we all remember back from when we were new to the hobby in the early 90's.


When a dungeoneer dies, his body passes away, but his spirit lives on for eternity. However, to complete our quest, we must gather together all Seven Sons of Moradin in their living, Dwarf bodies. While we search for a new Dwarf body for our fallen comrade, his spirit forcibly inhabits the unwitting body and mind of someone else. A total party kill ends the campaign in failure.

That night we created, off the top of our heads and on the spot at the gaming table, a random race and random class reincarnation table, limiting ourselves to what was available for Dark Sun and eschewing the easy path of gaining another Dwarf. This system provides a means for the player to remain a part of the game every step of the way, creates a challenge and a lasting threat by handing out often sub-optimal race/class combinations, and throws the whole group a curveball with potentially wacky random results.

Various different class options are lumped under their more generalized names and left to the discretion of the player as to how they want their dungeoneer to represent that class. For example, a player  forced to play a Fighter could choose their dungeoneer to be a Weaponmaster, Knight, or Slayer.

Without further ado, Behold!

Click here for the PDF version

Take It A Step Further

Although not particularly useful for me, I figured some readers would enjoy seeing a similar table expanded to include all of the races and all of the classes, at least what was available at the time of this posting. The frequency of the races and classes is ad hoc and determined mostly arbitrarily by me, so don’t feel like there’s any real logic behind them.
Click here for the PDF version

Sidebar: We’re Screwed

After the session wherein we created these reincarnation rules, we asked the Dungeon Master to pre-roll all of our soon-to-be reincarnated forms so that we could bring backup character sheets to the games and not end up bored for an hour when we had a dungeoneer suddenly die. Here are our results, and I quote:
“Here are the next lineup of characters (I rolled for all of you, except matt, who already has his new character). MAN! You guys are fucked!
1) Samorodin - Goliath Sorcerer (HAH!)
2) Hap - Mul Bard (double hah!)
3) Andy - Goliath Barbarian (...not bad actually)
4) Kevin - Tiefling Shaman (haaaaaaaaa)
5) Ross - Thri-kreen Warlord (heh)”

To The Audience

What do you think? Have you handled death and dying in a unique and interesting way in your game? What worked? What didn’t? Don’t tell me about how you use rules as written; I already know plenty about those.

Any tips on how to optimize a Thri-Kreen Warlord?


  1. That's god-damn awesome. I think I just found myself a new houserule!

    I've always hated ressurection... but reincarnation has some sting to it.

    If you wanted to lessen the sting of race/class disfunction (for those with less of a stomach for such things), you could always remove the class determination. You can still get screwed over with this; ie, the party losses its defender, but ends up with a pixie replacement.

  2. Beautiful! And I guess you dreamed all this up without reading my series on Reincarnation in Role Playing Games:

    Just added a post to link your piece too. Nice blog, btw.

    1. Aha, I had not, but thanks much for sharing the links! Very good stuff.

  3. Hints of the reincarnate spell from 3.5 but with more fun of picking a random class as well. At this point in 4e when character building challenges are sort of few and far between this is a fun rule.

    Also with the second wind-based dwarfcore team, a number of the good powers that take advantage of second wind are cleric related and as such were off limits in our dark sun campaign. There is still tons of good second wind synergy including the Time Out skill power and the druid's Vital Form feat. We were originally going to make a party with no leader and rely entirely on second wind for healing, but when we got up to 6 players we ended up with a warlord.

  4. Dwarfcore is the most awesome and brilliant idea ever.

    I don't really handle death in a creative way, but I do make it sting more than the official rules say: in my campaigns, resurrected characters get a permanent and cumulative -1 penalty to all d20 rolls; eventually it becomes more viable to make an entirely new hero than to have the group's magic caster repeatedly revive the dead hero (which also costs a horrendous amount of gold in later levels). (Of course, the player of a dead character may always opt for making a new character right from the first death... and this "option" is forced if nobody in the group knows the raise dead ritual.) The only time I've ever made an exception to the permanent+cumulative -1 rule is as a major quest for one of the characters in one of my campaigns, a shadar-kai necromancer (who has a ton of houseruled powers anyway) whose main goal throughout the campaign is to find a way to revive his dead teacher.

    Great post, like many others on this blog. =)

    / Rain