Raise dead

In OD&D, clerics gain access to the raise dead spell upon reaching seventh level. One of the cleric characters in my current campaign is at fifth level right now, and has a pile of unspent treasure. The ability to restore life is right around the corner. This spell is potentially game-changing, and thus requires careful consideration. First, let’s look at the text (Men & Magic, page 33):

Raise Dead: The Cleric simply points his finger, utters the incantation, and the dead person is raised. This spell works with men, elves, and dwarves only. For each level the Cleric has progressed beyond the 8th, the time limit for resurrection extends another four days. Thus, an 8th level Cleric can raise a body dead up to four days, a 9th level Cleric can raise a body dead up to eight days, and so on. Naturally, if the character’s Constitution was weak, the spell will not bring him back to life. In any event raised characters must spend two game weeks time recuperating from the ordeal.

This description is characteristically ambiguous and demands interpretation. The way I read the timing rules, a seventh level cleric can only raise those freshly slain (one turn? one day?), since the example given has an 8th level cleric able to raise those that have been dead for four days, and that deadline increases by four days every further level gained.

The most obvious need for a ruling relates to constitution. What defines a “weak” constitution? Does this refer to the “withstand adversity” or survival chances given on page 11 of Men & Magic? (You can see the chances in my OD&D ability scores post.) That seems like a reasonable interpretation. I think a constitution check would be a more elegant resolution system, but I want to stay close to the original rules where possible.

The “two game weeks” recuperation fits nicely into how I have been handing time passage already. I assume that one week passes between sessions, representing downtime and recovery, unless there is some urgent reason compelling continuous adventuring (this happened once that I can remember, when the PCs were in pursuit of a sorcerer). So a raised PC would be unable to participate in the following session (the player could temporarily run a retainer). In game terms, this seems like a small XP progression speed bump (if a PC dies and is raised, they miss out on one session worth of XP).

The spell description says nothing about side effects, and of course there should be some. What marks are left on a character’s body or mind from a layover in the land of the dead? Are there cosmic consequences to calling someone back from eternal rest? Perhaps the land of the dead is forever drawn closer to the land of the living at the site of a raising. Perhaps there is a chance that something else comes back along with the soul of raised character. I have some half-baked thoughts on raise dead consequences here.

Here is a preliminary ruling. A raised character must make a survival check (using the percentage as determined by constitution score). Failure means the character is not raised, and can never be raised. If the check is successful, the character is restored to life but also loses a point of constitution permanently. Further, life and death are not to be trifled with, and there will almost certainly be some other consequence to tampering with the order of things.

12 thoughts on “Raise dead

  1. FrDave

    According to biblical thinking four days is when a body begins to decompose. Thus, any one up to three days dead might simply have been asleep…this is what makes the raising of Lazarus so significant. According to tradition, Lazarus never smiled after being raised because the horrors of Hades/Sheol prior to Christ’s descent were too much for him.

    1. FrDave

      No, I’d rule that the 7th level cleric would only be able to raise bodies up to three days dead. It is at 8th+ that the really miraculous 4 days+ gets to happen; however, given the experience of Lazarus, folks raised after 3 days would have some kind of consequence due to either the decomposition or the psychological shock that comes from being dead as opposed to just “asleep.”

  2. Tom Hudson

    ACKS has a large Tampering with Mortality table to answer this kind of question:

    Roll d20 + character’s WIS modifier + half caster’s level – days spent dead – (penalties if body is badly hacked up) – (penalties if the character’s done this before) – (penalty if not in a temple) to determine success/failure and how much recovery is needed.

    Then roll 1d6 and cross index with the above to determine side effects. These can be bonuses, flavor (vegetarianism / sterility / sex change / scare animals), penalties, supernatural complications…

    1. Ynas Midgard

      Indeed… On the other hand, they barely list the thing a regular DM might want to take into consideration; the only difference is that these factors are hard-coded here.

  3. Gus L

    When I was young I read “raise dead” as a temporary restoration of life, with resurrection required to bring someone back for good. I think I thought the 4,8,etc. timeline was as long as the character had before dying again. It was rather biblical – we usually allowed the dead guy t find something or someone that could keep them alive after being raised so it was moot – but it was a strange reading of the spell description.

    1. Brendan


      Heh, I like that. Especially if you could keep doing it. All those holy crusaders continually being raised by clerics would essentially end up being zombie knights. In fact, I may even make a spell variant that uses that interpretation.

    2. Gus L

      Make me think of the Brotherhood Without Banners and the zombie Stark Mom in Feast of Crowd/Game of thrones.

      Totally should be raise dead – yay your’re alive – sorta, you look hellza rough and you are a slave to the church now, but it’s better than worm food!


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