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Going by RAW, is there a way to (reliably) kill someone that cannot be undone? Short of outright wishing it'd never happened, I mean.

I don't mean just Imprisonment, or whatever. The creature has to actually be dead, and this death has to actually be non-undoable by using something like True Resurrection.

I'm aware of quite a few in 3.5, and aware that there is a creature called a Barghest that has a 50% chance of doing this.

I'm also aware that something like this could easily be house-ruled in, but I'd prefer it if it were RAW.

Only affecting living creatures, or have obscure ways of avoiding it would be fine.

Area of effect > Single-target spell > Melee weapon


It occurs to me that you could (possibly) transfigure an avatar of death into something, and use them to kill someone. I'd be cool if there was an answer derived from this, as long as it's RAW.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Do you mean a spell or a weapon from official books that is accessible to PCs? \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor May 31 '18 at 21:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you interested in anything outside of the core books that is official material? Or just core books? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast May 31 '18 at 22:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you can provide us the problem that led to the question, we might be able to help more. While it's fine asking for methods of doing something within the rules, it's possible the problem can be solved in other ways, as well as making it more clear as why you want to solve it this way. \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Jun 1 '18 at 2:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PixelMaster As the comment was deleted and I don't have enough rep to see deleted comments, I don't know what misconception you're talking about, but usually we prefer to correct these misconceptions as an answer, and then answer the question with the correct concept. If the misconception is a fundamental/core part of the question, an answer detailing why it's wrong should be fine. Example where the asker thought Spell slots = Prepared spells. \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Jun 1 '18 at 7:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PixelMaster HellSaint has the right if it. For things that are really tangential to any kind of answer, another possibility is asking & answering a question (linking to this one as the inspiration, or not) that tackles the misconception. The general guide is that comments have a specific job, and stuff that isn’t that job gets deleted even when there’s nowhere else to post it, so there being nowhere else to post something won’t save a comment. (That rule is designed to force us to focus on Q&A, so the rule is fine with making some things have nowhere to be posted.) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jun 1 '18 at 14:53
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Have your pet Wraith turn the dead creature into a Specter and then kill the Specter

A Wraith can use its action to turn a recently slain humanoid into a Specter:

Create Specter. The wraith targets a humanoid within 10 feet of it that has been dead for no longer than 1 minute and died violently. The target''s spirit rises as a specter in the space of its corpse or in the nearest unoccupied space. The specter is under the wraith's control. The wraith can have no more than seven specters under its control at one time.

So long as the creature died violently (which can be ensured if you are fighting it) then the Wraith can turn it into a Specter.

The specter has this description in its description in the Monster Manual:

When a ghost’s unfinished business is completed, it can rest at last. No such rest or redemption awaits a specter. It is doomed to the Material Plane, its only end the oblivion that comes with the destruction of its soul.

As a result killing the Specter will destroy the soul of the being it was created from, preventing resurrection.

Necrotic Damage could potentially damage the soul enough that it is destroyed on death

In the Player's Handbook (p. 196), necrotic damage is described thus in the "Damage Types" section:

Necrotic. Necrotic damage, dealt by certain undead and a spell such as chill touch, withers matter and even the soul.

As such it is possible that enough necrotic damage would destroy a soul.

Ensure your target is evil and employ a Night Hag assassin

Night Hags have the following feature:

Nightmare Haunting (1/Day). While on the Ethereal Plane, the hag magically touches a sleeping humanoid on the Material Plane. A protection from evil and good spell cast on the target prevents this contact, as does a magic circle. As long as the contact persists, the target has dreadful visions. If these visions last for at least 1 hour, the target gains no benefit from its rest, and its hit point maximum is reduced by 5 (1d10). If this effect reduces the target’s hit point maximum to 0, the target dies, and if the target was evil, its soul is trapped in the hag’s soul bag. The reduction to the target’s hit point maximum lasts until removed by the greater restoration spell or similar magic.

As a result a Night Hag can permanently kill someone if they have trapped its soul. While the soul is trapped no resurrection is possible.

Have a Barghest feast on the corpse

The Barghest's Soul Feeding sidebar (VGtM, p. 123) has the following text:

This feeding takes at least 1 minute, and it destroys the victim’s body. The victim’s soul is trapped in the barghest for 24 hours, after which time it is digested. [...] Once a creature’s soul is digested, however, no mortal magic can return that humanoid to life.

So after 24 hours the soul is 100% digested and the creature can no longer be revived by mortal magic.

During that 24 hours there is a 50% chance the humanoid can be resurrected on each attempt of revival, but only by a spell that works without the complete original body (so Reincarnate, Resurrection or True Resurrection).

Have your pet Lich feed the soul to its phylactery

A lich can sacrifice a soul to its Phylactery, and after 24 hours the soul is destroyed by the Phylactery. The only way to free the soul is to find the Phylactery and cast a 9th level dispel magic on it, within the 24 hour time limit.

Source: Monster Manual entry on a Lich (p. 203):

Soul Sacrifices. [...] A creature imprisoned in the phylactery for 24 hours is consumed and destroyed utterly, whereupon nothing short of divine intervention can restore it to life.

Summon an Avatar of Death to slay the creature

The Deck of Many Things gives the stat block for an Avatar of Death, and contains this sentence about one of its unique properties:

A creature slain by an avatar of death can't be restored to life.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast resurrection requires the soul to be free to return to the body. If it's trapped in the Night Hags soul bag then by definition it's not free to return. \$\endgroup\$ – illustro Dec 17 '18 at 16:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ OK, I'll go with that. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Dec 17 '18 at 17:08
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Exceptionally few methods of killing are truly irrevocable in D&D 5th edition, since even a soul consumed by a lich can be restored by divine intervention (and a cleric can request this). This means the only truly irrevocable way to kill someone in D&D is to go either co-opt the power of the gods, or go beyond their reach:

1. Feed it to an atropal

An atropal is an undead stillborn godling. According to lore in Tomb of Annihilation (spoilers ahoy):

In Tomb of Annihilation, a device called the Soulmonger captures the souls of all people who die in the world, and an atropal consumes them. This destroys the souls utterly, in a manner explicitly stated to be beyond divine intervention.

2. Free Tharizdun

Tharizdun is an elder god, an entity of pure annihilation, trapped only by the concerted effort of all deities. His mad servants (typically warlocks, in this edition) attempt to free him. Should you help them succeed, Tharizdun will destroy the entire multiverse.

This will not only kill your enemy, but make their death permanent and irrevocable.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the literal interpretaion with option #2. \$\endgroup\$ – Reinstate Monica Jun 1 '18 at 8:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm always unclear on what 'destroy the soul' means. If the Soulmonger gets destroyed, don't the souls get released? \$\endgroup\$ – Piomicron Jun 1 '18 at 9:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Piomicron that's an answerable question. Please go ahead and ping me in Role-playing Games Chat--I'd rather not answer it here, for spoiler reasons. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jun 1 '18 at 11:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ Your choice of ordering is questionable. The OP explicitly stated that AOE > Single-target, and #2 is clearly more AOE. But it does work for prose reasons (more insane = later is a common prose technique). Uncertain if it would be an improvement \$\endgroup\$ – Yakk Jun 1 '18 at 19:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ You have to do it in this order, because Tharizdun will destroy the atropal too. \$\endgroup\$ – Quadratic Wizard Jun 1 '18 at 21:32
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My answer is probably not what you are looking for, but I will give it anyway.

Imprison and Torture

Be an elf that will live at least more 200 years. Imprison the victim. Torture them. Kill them as slowly as you can. Let it be clear: every time they come back to their body, you will torture them again. Cast resurrection spells. If they do come back, repeat the process. Make the soul unwilling to come back. Ever. Again. Note: if you weren't, you are now certainly Evil. Hope this is not a problem. Soul Therapy solves it, though.

Some comments pointed out that DMG p. 24 ("Bringing Back the Dead") states that the creature knows who is calling them, so they would refuse to come back when you are the one resurrecting them:

A soul can’t be returned to life if it doesn’t wish to be. A soul knows the name, alignment, and patron deity (if any) of the character attempting to revive it and might refuse to return on that basis. [...] If the evil cleric wants to revive Sturm to interrogate him, she needs to find some way to trick his soul, such as duping a good cleric into raising him and then capturing him once he is alive again.

Despite this issue, revivify still works, since it does not have the restriction of a "willing" soul. It only works on a creature that died within the last minute, though, so the same method can't be used to revive the creature later, after they have been traumatized. There you go: create psychological trauma and make them not want to revive. Ever.

Hide and protect the Body

AFAIK, every resurrection spell needs the body, if it exists. Reincarnate gives you a new body, but it requires that:

You touch a dead humanoid or a piece of a dead humanoid.

True resurrection states:

The spell can even provide a new body if the original no longer exists

So, making the original body exist, but being not within reach will make the resurrection impossible through resurrection spells.

Obviously, wish solves it. Finding it and killing the guards too. Essentially it depends on how undoable you want it to be.

Death from old age + Destroy the body

BladeBriar suggested in his answer that this method would be ineffective, but I disagree with his conclusion. He says this can be undone by wish. Let's be fair: Anything can be undone by wish.

Anyway, the only way to resurrect someone without a body is with true resurrection, which

You touch a creature that has been dead for no longer than 200 years and that died for any reason except old age.

Turning the corpse into an undead

Flaw: This can be undone by killing the undead and then resurrecting the character.

Solution: Hide the undead. Flaw: Can be undone by finding the undead.

Again, it depends on your problem.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Your imprison and torture method does not work. Anybody else can still revive them afterwards, as they know who is attempting to revive them, so they'll simply refuse after you've killed them and wait for somebody else to revive them. \$\endgroup\$ – Theik Jun 1 '18 at 6:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ "as they know who is attempting to revive them" - not sure. Can you provide any evidence of it? Aside from that, let me assure you that years of psychological and physical torture will not be healed by "oh, it's not the same guy that is trying to revive me this time, I'm fine now and will gladly accept" :P \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Jun 1 '18 at 7:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ Maybe I'm misremembering and that's 3.5, I can't find it at the moment. I vaguely recall a "will know the identity and alignment of the person casting the spell". \$\endgroup\$ – Theik Jun 1 '18 at 7:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ @HellSaint It's explicitly stated in the DMG p.24 under Bringing Back the Dead: "A soul can't be returned to life if it doesn't wish to be. A soul knows the name, alignment, and patron deity (if any) of the character attempting to revive it and might refuse to return on that basis." \$\endgroup\$ – Sparksbet Jun 3 '18 at 6:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Theik Added Revivify as a way of forcingly revive someone against their will, effectively traumatizing the soul. I think I'm taking this answer too seriously for my own good though haha \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Jun 14 '18 at 4:43
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Step one: Use some form of mind control to make your target draw from a deck of many things.

Step two: Hope they draw the skull before a different card that stops them from drawing more cards.

Step three: Use the same mind control to make them lose the fight against the Avatar of Death.

It's really not great, but my other ideas did not pan out. Old age is pretty potent, but reincarnate still works. Even if you destroy the body they could wish for the body back and then reincarnate. Blackrazor can eat your soul, but a wish still brings you back.

Maybe if you could kill them normally and then find a way to convince their soul to not be willing to come back to life?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Can't wish also undo the avatar of death death? If not, it can still probably be undone by a fate card. \$\endgroup\$ – findusl Jun 14 at 7:42
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I'll go with a simple LvL 9 wish, just be precise on what you want.

I would advise against using this on PC, it may seem unfair; unless he totally earned it, like killing the daughter of the Royal Arch-mage.

But instead of killing the guy, (destroying souls is an act of godhood), i would bound his soul eternally to the most pathetic creature of all planes. (Or depending on the player, wish he would become the living embodiment of a very benevolent deity. (charity, helping others, and guilt for what he have done)

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No

RAW there is not one item, creature, or spell that will reliably outright and permanently kill a player character.

There are lots of round about ways to make scenarios where they die permanently: Losing to the Avatar of death, finding ways to force them to refuse resurrection, and such. However, permanent death is going to be much easier to achieve either via house rules, homebrew, or just for narrative purposes.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ You mentioned the Avatar of death, I would consider a death at its hands to be permanent and reliable. I'm not looking at instant just, just permadeath. Similarly, for an item, what about blackrazor? \$\endgroup\$ – Piomicron Jun 1 '18 at 0:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ The Tomb of Annihilation would tend to disagree with this answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Theik Jun 1 '18 at 6:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Piomicron I would say forcing someone to draw from a deck for a specific card and then forcing him to lose to a creature that deals 11 average damage and has half your HP is not reliable. If you do think it's reliable, I honestly suggest you clarify what the term means for you. \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Jun 1 '18 at 7:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HellSaint You could just chain the dude up. Can't defend much against the avatar then, can he? \$\endgroup\$ – PixelMaster Jun 1 '18 at 7:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PixelMaster Well, fair enough. The DoMT says you can't help against the Avatar, it doesn't say anything about helping THE Avatar. Although I wouldn't call the whole process reliable at all. \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Jun 1 '18 at 7:52

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