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I am searching for a good respawn rules set that I can apply to the next Pathfinder game I have in mind. I believe someone already had this idea, but I can't find anything on the subject. So here is my version of what I think will work best.

As in games like Dark Souls, World of Warcraft, or Guild Wars, the player is not permanently punished by death if he is beaten in combat. It is a part of the game that the player accepts and uses to its advantage in some cases. In fact, some even consider death in games as a design flaw.

Respawn system notes:

  • it should in no cases replace the utility of any resurrection spell
  • it must not impose permanent changes to the characters (like leaving the character blind, or missing a leg, or having a permanent level drop).
  • players must still be scared of dying while not making it the end of the story for that beloved companion.
  • it must be applied only to a certain pool of characters: the players and some NPCs.

I've also heard of systems where a GM manages character death by making a private session with the player(s) that died, and he/they must go through the underworld/limbo to get revived for the next session.

Here's my best guess until now:


When a player character dies, they roll a d100, as though they've fumbled or received a severe critical. This indicates the intensity of the punishment the character will get, and will depend on the way the character died (overkill and the player dies from being at -35hp; falling from a cliff; dying from unstabilized blood loss at -10hp, drowning, etc.) in the form of injury, equipment loss/damage, or sickness.

Questions that I came up with

How many times can they resurrect?

  • should they be able to rise an infinite number of times?
  • or should they gather items that must be spent each time someone dies? (phoenix feather)
  • should they need a particular item for each character, but that is not lost upon use? (lich's phylactery)

Where should they "respawn"?

  • in the nearest cemetery in ghost form and they must retrieve their corpse to complete the ritual?
  • directly where they died?
  • on a check point that I decide on the fly?
  • on a point that I clearly indicate and whose location the players are aware of?

In all cases, it must not be too far from where they died, or they will have a hard time getting back to the group. And if more than one player dies, should they spawn at the same place, or have different resurrection points?

I am seeking advice from anyone having some sort of real-use experience with this kind of system and/or rules set for Pathfinder.


I want to remove the idea that "death is final" (and no resurrection is possible in game). I'm a video game player, as are most of my players, so it is a sort of compromise between finality and save/load that I seek; very much like Dark Souls offers in its gaming experience, as its world was built around it.

Like mxyzplk said, I plan to make a respawn/revive system to go along with my world, so I expect answers that will help me decide which rules will fit best to punish, but not annoy, my players. (For example, by breaking their weapons each time, or making them spawn 200km away.)

I am aware of the existing mechanics for resurrection, but they are not what I want. These use permanent punishments like negative levels and have restrictions I'm not interested in (like requiring a level 7 cleric). I would prefer to use an existing respawn ruleset that has been proven acceptable in execution, but if none exist, then I will most likely make my own.

The Context

To place this in context, I plan to have the players be in a religious order (LG, LN, N and/or CN) and have them fight for its power/control/influence in a big city/region/continent. Inspirations may come from Assassin's Creed, the Crusades, any religious war-movies/series/stories. It must be in the Dark Ages (500-1500) so I can place the fantasy elements we all love.

I know its still vague, but I plan to work with the system that I will build (and release, if there is some interest) to make the main general plot.

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As this is a game-recommendation question, please adhere to the FAQ, the rules for subjective questions as outlined in Good Subjective, Bad Subjective and our rules for game recommendations. All responses must cite actual experience or reference others' experiences!

To have this question not be too open ended, answerers should use Good Subjective, Bad Subjective critera. We do not want your random opinions, that's not what RPG.SE is for - please cite real systems for this you've used or seen used. –  mxyzplk Apr 13 '13 at 17:44
Hey guys- in my personal opinion this is a terrible idea too. But he's not asking if, but how. Keep answers on topic, and frankly I'd reccommend NOT expanding on the question to turn this into an opinion fest on whether this is against most people's play style. If you haven't run Pathfinder with respawn then move along, that's answer enough. –  mxyzplk Apr 13 '13 at 19:14
It seems a bit odd that this has the "game-recommendation" tag; I thought that was for recommending entire systems, not just mechanics. I guess I'm wrong, though? –  GMJoe Apr 27 at 3:51

5 Answers 5

up vote 15 down vote accepted

I played in a short campaign that was literally us versus the Monstrous Compendium. We created a simple system: Saving or restoring the game required sacrificing a magic item. Since the randomized haul from each randomized monster usually included at least one magic item, it worked well enough in practice for the half-dozen sessions we ended up playing.

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+1 Simple but effective –  Wibbs Apr 13 '13 at 21:00
It makes sense if you use each item as a kind of an expendable horacrux or phylactery. I like it. –  World Engineer Apr 13 '13 at 23:25
Was this an in-setting thing? If so, how did you justify all those monsters who weren't doing it? –  GMJoe Apr 27 at 3:55
@GMJoe Weren't doing what? –  okeefe Apr 27 at 4:11
@GMJoe Oh, it was entirely a metagame construct so that we couldn't just freely save and restore as we saw fit. –  okeefe Apr 27 at 12:24

If you remove death as a consequence, institute a new threat to threaten loss with. I used a time limit with infinite respawns and world-reset on party TPK with player precognition-through-death allowed.

From daydreamsofmelissa.blogspot.com

Happy Groundhog's Day from daydreamsofmelissa

These insights were taken from my run of a Fourthcore game. Instead of death being the threat, I made time be the ultimate arbiter of failure. I had a large red timer counting down 3 hours. At the end of 3 hours, the players would fail if they had not achieved their goal.

Therefore, if you go with this stylistic mode, every adventure has a goal. When a TPK is suffered, the adventure resets. Death, therefore, is a brief timeout that absolutely allows kibitzing and observation on the player end. Suicide is certainly allowed.

This changes the challenge to a players-versus-game challenge, making the characters almost secondary. But it does provide an interesting and engaging challenge that is appropriate for high-risk high-lethality environments.

It's also quite quite fun to kill the same person 16 times in 3 hours.

Note, that to some people, this is an especial kind of hell. Make sure you have group buy-in first and be prepared for a fascinatingly distorted gameplay as players use their "foreknowledge" to subvert initial obstacles. This precognition by death is absolutely allowed because they have to solve all the puzzles and the combats every time. A TPK is not nice. It costs them time. Be prepared for shortcuts and subverting many combats. This style absolutely encourages that style of play.

To have this work in a campaign framework, allow "checkpoints" to occur that provide world-reset to checkpoint. The timer is important, but instead of "you lose." have it "your antagonists achieve an objective." So it's a back and forth between precognitive through trial and error players and... inexorably advancing antagonists.

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I love the idea of the deadline. Reminds me of half-minute hero actually. –  Bigeshu Apr 15 '13 at 21:37

My group spent a bit of time experimenting with a system based off of bionoids (http://www.spelljammer.org/monsters/conversions/Bionoid.html):

  • a component of each character is nigh-indestructible (ie, the bionoid gem).
  • the full character can be restored from the component
  • various degrees of destruction warrant various degrees of effort for restoring the character
  • the indestructible component has to be retrieved before respawn can occur

We had characters carrying around a limited resource that can be used to regenerate/respawn dead team-mates, and the resource would deplete at higher rates depending on the amount of damage a character suffered when killed (ie, if their body melted in a pool of acid, the resource would be at maximum depletion, while death by poison would be minimum depletion).

The gem had to be retrieved/within a short range of the restorative resource, for respawn to be possible, making more obvious type of deaths (jumping off a cliff) more costly in time and resources.

The system seemed to work well - characters dying in basic combat could, mostly, be respawned (usually not until combat was over, and with some penalty to their reward for the encounter, but those are customizable rules depending on your goals), and obviously silly behaviour was discouraged (no jumping off a cliff for fun - only if you have good reason to believe there's something to get at the bottom).

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In one campaign (post apocalyptic world, custom rules) we tried this: Campaign was divided into "missions" (like retaking school building held by crazy mutants). If it went well, mission could be played during one play session or even faster.

If all characters survived and completed mission, they got experience points and equipement points for what they killed, additional rewards for roleplay/hummor etc. and mission reward.

If some died, they got half (and their personal part was usually smaller).

If all died, they could retry mission, but oponents changed positions/tactics but did not actually prepare for new attack (they again behaved like it was first attack for them).

Reward was scaled by oposition worth vs character worth, so initially players got higher rewards for individual deads and as they failed mission, they got stronger and next reward was potentially lower (but they got further, so they got more deads done).

It genneraly took form of players wiping first time they tried mission (by not knowing what to expect and because they were underequipped/skilled) and succeeding second or third time.

It was initially anjoyable, but we quit this campaign after four or five missions because it got boring. OUR conclusion was that what is good in computer games we like is not so good in pen and paper RPG, YMMW.

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One campaign I'm involved in uses a system of boons granted by high-level NPCs. One of the boons is that they will grant a resurrection, but the race of the character may change (yes, that violates your "no change to the character" rule, but it's worth it).

When someone dies, the other players each choose a race for the new form (you may or may not allow the dead player to choose one, also). The GM rolls a die to determine the new race.

The disadvantages

  • Player may not get the race he or she wants
  • Player and GM will have to do some recalculation to determine new stats, etc.

The advantages

  • It's fun
  • Player gets to play around with new ideas and concepts for the character he or she may not have previously considered
  • It opens up whole new potential storylines as NPCs (and maybe even the party) suddenly have to come to grips with an undesirable race in their party, with potential consequences from NPCs who are unaware of the nature of the change

Something to think about.

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So basically the Reincarnation spell? PFSRD entry: d20pfsrd.com/magic/all-spells/r/reincarnate –  Kyle Willey May 8 '13 at 5:42
Yes, that's basically it, with the addition of allowing the other players to pick the race (for fun or good-natured revenge). I don't play casters, except Maguses (Magi?), so I wasn't completely aware of that one. Also, our GM pretty much stripped out any requirements, since it was an NPC boon. –  drivingmenuts May 8 '13 at 21:26

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