From the Ashes looks at making reincarnation special and strange in your 5E D&D game.
Want to develop a backstory that goes all the way back? Tome of Heroes has hundreds of options to make characters of every sort. Even past lives!
Reincarnate, resurrection, true resurrection, revivify, raise dead, and wish all bring characters back from death in their own way, providing players and GMs with a plethora of options to keep a campaign going after characters meet untimely ends.
However, when your adventuring group lacks a cleric or druid to use such magic, you need outside help.
A variety of options are out there to hire spellcasting services, but try this one to determine the cost of vital services like reincarnate.
Hiring spellcasters should always be costly, because magic is costly—in vitality and coin. For reincarnate, just the 1,000 gp cost of spell components can be more than the entire wealth of a first-tier party!
Here is a quick and dirty way to consider the costs and alternatives service-selling spellcasters would ask for. In the event that the desired spellcasting service doesn’t include a material component to derive a cost from, look to another spell of the same level and school to find a suitable spell component cost to work from.
|Buyer’s Reputation with Seller||Buyer’s Cost per Service|
|Favorable||Cost of rare spell components OR their retrieval|
|Ambivalent||Cost of rare spell components +10–30% of cost OR a roughly equal task determined by the seller|
|Unfavorable||Cost of rare spell components +25–60% of their cost AND a high stakes task determined by the seller.|
Favorable. If the spellcaster is an ally and the PCs are on good terms with their organization, the PCs might simply need to retrieve rare components for the service from an out-of-the-way location or cover their cost.
Ambivalent. If the PCs are not allies of the spellcaster or have little reputation, they can expect to pay an additional 10–30 percent above the spell’s component cost, covering time spent and value of the spell slot. Alternatively, undertaking a task too time-consuming or dangerous for the spellcaster could be sufficient barter for services.
Unfavorable. If the PCs are known as trouble or have a bad reputation, a spellcaster might insist that PCs earn services. In this case, the price is always at a 25–60 percent markup on the spell’s component cost and only after the PCs complete a time-consuming or dangerous task for the seller. PCs should expect to earn the gold needed to pay the markup during the task unless social relations are particularly strained.
Learning from Real-World Examples
As long as humanity has been interested in the afterlife, we’ve been interested in rebirth. Understanding how humans historically regard the subject can bring verisimillitude to our roleplay and worldbuilding, especially when bringing to life the non-human options we play, such as those found in Tome of Heroes or the Midgard Heroes Handbook.
When you develop belief systems in your own games, religion and history are great places to start. How might we take examples from our own world and apply them to our games? Here are two angles on the multi-pronged subject of rebirth.
- The Christian holiday of Easter celebrates Jesus Christ’s return from the dead. But there are also ties between that holiday and the Anglo-Saxon Goddess of spring and fertility, Eostre. Taking from this example and others like it, intertwining differing belief systems can foment drama between rival communities or bring characters together on common ground.
- Buddhism teaches that the cycle of samsāra provides people with continued existence after death in accordance with their actions in previous lives. This belief is as much rooted in religion as it is in philosophy. It’s a guiding star for how to live one’s life and what to strive for. To break the cycle of samsāra and achieve moksha, or liberation from the cycle of rebirth, one must strive to be a better person than they were before and develop good karma, a metaphysical currency based on personal impact. By learning more about and understanding this belief and others like it, we can develop strong motives for more three-dimensional characters.
You can also find representation in popular media. Two great examples are Avatar: The Last Airbender, the animated show and the Legend of Zelda video game series. The former’s main character, Aang, is a link in a chain of martial arts practitioners who reincarnate with the flow of the elements. The latter’s iterations take place after one another and are tied by the rise and fall of heroes, Link and Zelda, and villain Ganondorf.
What other great examples of reincarnation, rebirth, and the afterlife can we look to in popular media?
As you roleplay with the theme of rebirth and adjacent belief systems, consider how your characters, their communities, and in-game organizations feel about them. Also, keep in mind that while we play TTRPGs to have fun, much in-game culture and content reflects real world beliefs that can be deeply meaningful to many different people. To avoid learning from the cultures these game features are based on can be a disservice to a culture and history that is not our own. But also, take care to respectfully draw on those cultures. Reverence and respect for others’ beliefs is a courtesy that can go far.
When you take a look at reincarnate, true resurrection, and other life-altering magic, ask worldbuilding questions like:
- Are there new or old or old beliefs about this in the setting?
- Is this practice widespread or a closely guarded secret. If the latter, who holds the secrets and why?
- What can I draw from in real life to respectfully bring depth and relatability to this?
- How do most people (read PCs and NPCs) regard this practice or belief?
- How has this changed over the ages?
- Where does this sit in the religions of our setting?