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In our homebrew universe, we don't have resurrection (as we feel it cheapens character death, etc. - don't really want to get into that debate). Spells like revivify, raise dead, and resurrection simply aren't on anyone's spell lists. They don't exist.

But then Xanathar's Guide to Everything includes the Path of the Zealot barbarian (p. 11), which has the class feature Warrior of the Gods, which is all about resurrection:

At 3rd level, your soul is marked for endless battle. If a spell, such as raise dead, has the sole effect of restoring you to life (but not undeath), the caster doesn’t need material components to cast the spell on you.

In a universe without resurrection, this class is now missing a key feature. I want to come up with something to replace it that is still balanced and has a similar flavour but that doesn't involve resurrection.

I've come up with this:

At 3rd level, your soul is marked for endless battle. If you drop to 0 hit points, you have advantage on death saving throws, and any creature that attacks you in melee whilst you are at 0 hit points must roll a natural 20 on their attack roll to score a critical hit against you; otherwise, the melee attack is considered a normal hit, and you only suffer one death saving throw failure.

Compared to the original feature, is my proposed modification of the feature balanced?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Did a player express interest in the zealot despite your campaign's resurrection prohibitions? (I'm just curious if this is an actual problem, it's future-proofing, or something else.) \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Jan 30 '18 at 18:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan It's more future-proofing, although I have considered it as a genuine character option... \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Jan 30 '18 at 20:01
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Thematic Equivalence

The current third level ability Warrior of the Gods states that your soul is marked for endless battle. The functional aspect of this is that when you die and someone casts a Resurrection type spell there is no material cost for the casting. This allows the zealot to more easily return to keep fighting for their God(s).

In a world without resurrection, what can give this flavor without making the Zealot overpowered?

My idea riffs off Yakk's, but introduces some additional consequences. While I really liked the idea presented, I think that it is much more powerful than the original.

The original still requires a caster and for them to expend at least a 3rd level spell slot - if not higher. Additionally, unless Revivify (PHB, 272) is cast, there will be a fairly steep mechanical penalty for the resurrection. Namely:

The target takes a -4 penalty to all attack rolls, saving throws, and ability checks. Every time the target finishes a long rest, the penalty is reduced by 1 until it disappears.

In order to balance the Zealot's 3rd level ability in a world without resurrection, similar penalties need to be incurred. The following is my suggestion:

Warrior of the Gods

At 3rd level, your soul is marked for endless battle. When you take damage that reduced you to 0 HP or suffer and effect that would cause you to die while raging, you may instead use a Rage to return to life with 1 HP and gain temporary HP equal to 1/2 your maximum HP value that lasts for 1 minute. You will also be exhaustion level (4). Once you do this, you may not use this again until you have completed a long rest.

Exhaustion Level 4 (PHB, 291) has the following effects:

  1. Disadvantage on ability checks
  2. Speed Halved
  3. Disadvantage on attack rolls and saving throws
  4. Hit point maximum Halved

The balance explained

In the original ability, it was required to find or have a caster who had the necessary spell slot available. When coming back (except for Revivify), the penalties are also very big. Allowing the Barbarian to bring themselves back is a big boost, as it becomes an on-demand ability. In order to mitigate this, I have set up a once per long rest mechanic. This way, the Zealot is immediately back up, but with many of the penalties typically given to a creature who has been resurrected.

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Power level is important, but think about effect.

Try to give them something that offers the same sort of flavor as the feature. The original is there to encourage the zealot to be willing to charge into battle, attract all the attention, and die - to sacrifice himself repeatedly for the cause, and so forth. He goes all-in and dies, he comes back a day or so later, at minimal cost, and then just has to sleep it off. Death is supposed to be cheap for the Zealot. That's kind of the point.

So, my first suggestion is that if you want to play in a game where life isn't cheap, you not include the Zealot at all, as its themes and yours clash.

If you want it anyway, then you're going to need to re-theme them a bit. If you want to play with the idea of a warrior who's willing to sacrifice himself/herself for the team on a regular basis, and you don't want to let them bring themselves back easily, then that character's life may be pretty short.

My second suggestion... suppose that we have a religious organization of zealots who have sworn themselves to some holy cause, and concluded that the party deserves their support. They're willing to keep showing up to die for the cause as long as it takes. When one of them dies, a while later another one shows up (perhaps with minor changes in background, gender, characterization, and so forth) and takes up the dead warrior's gear (assuming the party managed to rescue it). You're leaving a trail of dead allies behind you, but that's kind of what you sign up for when you accept the assistance of the Children of the Martyred Sword. It's very nearly a refluff of "roll up a new character", and thus not all that bad as far as balance goes. Of course, circumstances may mean that they either show up faster or slower, depending.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think this answer would be improved with some not to the experience(s) that lead you to suggest these routes. It doesn't have to be experience with the zealot exactly, but if you've re-jiggered a class to fit better in a campaign before I hope you'll share how it worked, how you knew it had to happen, how you knew if it was good or not. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jan 30 '18 at 22:08
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Greater Restoration as a replacement for Raise Dead

Simply replace Raise Dead with Greater Restoration. It's less valuable (100gp), but it'll be a spell that they may need more often.

Balance is based on materials cost, not combat mechanics

In order to balance the 3rd level Feature, you need to make an equivalence. The original feature is one of literal cost-savings. Raise Dead requires a 500gp diamond, and the feature allows this to be cast without the expensive material component.

Zealot Theme, different flavor.

This gives you the theme of the Zealot who is willing to sacrifice themselves (or their bodies), and the mechanic to undo it (much like Raise Dead, etc.) But it also still requires a cost (a spell to be cast, just like the original).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ If you wanted to balance it a bit more for the cost you could allow the zealot to select 2 instead of 1 of the effects of greater restoration when it is applied to them. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Jan 30 '18 at 19:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Rubiksmoose An interesting thought, but the lower level spell that may needed more often may be balance enough. Something for NathanS to consider, though. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jan 30 '18 at 19:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is an interesting answer, swapping out one spell for another. In the theme of @Rubiksmoose's suggestion, it could be the case that they gain extra benefits from healing-type spells, almost like the Life Cleric; rather than healing more, they're healed more. Needs more thought... \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Jan 30 '18 at 20:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NathanS I had considered a max heal or something like that, but then it's getting used all the time - which the original Warrior of the Gods wouldn't. You die rarely, but when you do, you don't need money to come back (just the spell.) Giving healing boosts (which will happen often) seems overpowered from the original. That was why I tried to find a similar type of spell that also required a costly material component. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jan 30 '18 at 20:06
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This feature is meant to make the Zealot willing to run in and die.

At 3rd level, your soul is marked for endless battle. When you take damage that reduced you to 0 HP or suffer and effect that would cause you to die while raging, you may instead end your rage and gain temporary HP equal to your maximium HP value that lasts for 1 minute. If you do so, you may not rage again until the end of a long rest, and you are exhasted (3).

You get a get-out-of-death, but not free, card.

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Yes, this is fine. But I'd change it a bit.

Don't give advantage on the death saving throws. Give proficiency instead. This way the barbarian will be even harder to kill as he levels, and you cut on the amount of dice rolled. advantage on a flat d20 is equivalent of a +4 bonus. Or you can change a bit and give him a wider berth on the failures. Like he needs an extra # of failed saves equal to his proficiency bonus to actually die. 3 successes stabilizes as usual.

In my game, all death "saving throws" are actually Con checks. Nobody is proficient in it unless they pick a homebrew feat called diehard. And Tymora forbids some of them gets to 0 HP while their Con is hexed.

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While I cannot comment on the balanced of your proposed feature, there is another existing feature (UA) that might be of interest to you.

The Brute fighter subclass (from Unearthed Arcana: Three Subclasses; Jan 2018) gets the 7th-level feature Brutish Durability, which allows you to roll 1d6 and add the total to any saving throw (including death saving throws). There is no limit to how often this can be used.

When applied to a death saving throw, if the new total becomes 20 or higher, you gain the effects of rolling a natural 20 (regain 1 HP).

For your purposes, providing only the death saving throw aspect of this feature, or adding other minor aspects might keep this relatively balanced for the class and level, but the full feature is likely too powerful (perhaps limiting number of uses).

This has the benefit of semi-official precedent and thematically maintains the resurrection idea of the original feature (the Zealot's faith allows him to rally from deadly blows more easily) without it being true resurrection.

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