In our high-level Pathfinder game, player characters die relatively often, whether to save-or-die or just to high damage.

When a PC dies, then players either defeat the enemy or escape, and unless the player wants to start playing a new character, they then teleport to a safe place, bring the corpse to a temple, pay for raise dead and restoration and hopefully remember to cast the second restoration again in a week.

This seems like a simple process, but in practice it tends to eat up quite a bit of time which is not particularly interesting. The teleport could miss, inhabitants of town might react to PCs returning, PCs might want to haggle down on the price of raise dead and the party might want to spend the downtime between the two restoration spells somehow. It is noticeably slower in real time than a PC falling unconscious and getting tapped with a wand of cure light wounds until at full HP.

Can this time somehow be minimized or made more fun?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Which is more important: minimizing table time or making the "get the character back alive" more fun? The former could be accomplished trivially by investing in a custom staff or other magic item... \$\endgroup\$
    – minnmass
    Commented Nov 16, 2020 at 17:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ Define 'high-level'? \$\endgroup\$
    – YogoZuno
    Commented Nov 17, 2020 at 1:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related: How to mitigate glass cannon syndrome in Pathfinder? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 17, 2020 at 10:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ We're level 14. Either solution -- making resurrection fun or trivializing it even further -- would work, I think, but I don't want to turn each resurrection into its own adventure because they're frequent and interrupt existing plotlines in progress. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 17, 2020 at 15:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ The effort of revival adds some impact to dying, makes players want to avoid it more and makes things more exciting when players are close to death (which are all generally good things). So the question becomes why players are dying so often, if this is avoidable (since dying less is preferable to less impactful deaths) and whether dying is impactful enough already to justify making revival less cumbersome or whether doing so would make the game boring. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Nov 18, 2020 at 9:28

4 Answers 4


Just say

OK, I assume you teleport back to Xyz Temple, get raise dead cast for you, cast restoration, wait a week, cast restoration again, and teleport back here. It takes... [rolls a d20, saying “1 week” unless it is a nat-1, in which case saying “2 weeks”] to get back to where you were. You spent the week of downtime doing favors for the temple to cover the costs of raise dead. [Person who can cast restoration], you’re down one 4th-level spell slot because you just cast restoration, and [person who can cast teleport], you’re down one 5th-level spell slot since you just cast teleport to get here.

Now that takes just about the same minimal amount of time as curing someone who got knocked out.

How did I determine this?

Remove things that waste time

Various parts of this process aren’t adding anything to your game:

  1. Figuring out how the party gets to the appropriate temple if teleport misses. Even if it misses, most likely the party isn’t terribly far away from where they wanted to be, and is in no particular danger getting from there to the temple.

  2. Figuring out how much the party is paying. The game expects a certain general “wealth” for a party of a given level, so by spending this money, the game expects that future loot is bumped up a bit so they can “catch up.” As such, the expense is a temporary one, and not worth worrying about. At levels where teleport is available, the 5,000 gp for raise dead is a paltry sum that shouldn’t take up time.

  3. Waiting around for a week to cast restoration again.

  4. Dealing with the repercussions of raise dead prior to that week being up and restoration being an option.

  5. Getting back to what they were doing.

So just ditch them:

  1. The party gets to the temple no problem, just hand-waved. It doesn’t matter if they got lost and had to find their way again.

  2. Say the team raised the money for raise dead during the downtime. Originally I had suggested just docking the party the 5,000 gp—it’s a fairly trivial amount to a party of this level—but Austin Hemmelgarn suggested this great idea to just let the solution for 3 also stand in as a solution to 2. Now there’s no reason for anyone to complain.

  3. Just time-skip the time. Raising money for raise dead gives a good enough answer to “what were we doing?”

  4. Assume restoration got cast after the week.

  5. Just hand-wave this too—either their teleport worked, or it didn’t and they found their way back by other means.

Now this process has taken exactly as much real time as someone getting cured after being knocked unconscious.

Reintroduce complications that are actually meaningful

We assumed that the whole process is pointless and absolutely nothing in it was worth devoting time to. This is often going to be a fair assumption. When adventurers are off exploring, when villains’ plans are long-term and not subject to any immediate deadline, and so on, the time taken won’t matter. The money and the spells will basically never matter. And the area around the temple is very likely to be not particularly dangerous people who are high enough level to cast teleport.

So our baseline is to remove all of those. But what if the assumption isn’t totally fair? Then we add back in just enough to cover things where the assumption gets wonky.

There are basically 2 things that could be problems:

  1. Missing on one or the other of the teleports is a problem.

  2. Time is actually a critical limitation.

Missing on the initial teleport back to the temple is likewise almost impossible to make into a problem: they are presumably very familiar with the target destination, and anything similar to their target would presumably work about as well (and if nothing else, is at least a safe place to land and get their bearings from). Under those conditions, they have only a 2% chance of even having to worry about what else is in the target area. And then the problem zone would have to either be very large, or very close to the temple, for there to be even a remote chance of actually hitting it. So unless the temple is right next door to something the adventurers don’t want to teleport into, it’s not even worth rolling. If that is the case, call it a 1% chance and just roll a d% for it.

The second teleport gets a little more interesting, because they aren’t likely to be “very familiar” with wherever someone got killed, and in any event, the environs there are clearly dangerous. So this can be rolled normally if desired—94% of the time, it’s the same as our assumption that nothing goes wrong, but it’s also just one d% roll to find out if this is going to be one of the 6% where something does.

But in my short version, I just hand-waved all of that as a 5% chance of something delaying the party for a week. Seemed good enough to me.

If time is a critical factor, I wouldn’t assume this behavior at all—at that point, the spell to cast is resurrection, followed immediately by restoration, and the entire procedure should take under an hour unless the party runs out of teleports, at which point it takes a day or so. Spending a bit more real time to minimize the game time that passes is legitimate, because this is now a challenge.

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    \$\begingroup\$ If it isn’t part of the fun, why worry about it? Nice take on it. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 16, 2020 at 20:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer has so much application beyond high level resurrections. This may be the best gaming advice answer I have seen on this site. \$\endgroup\$
    – ruffdove
    Commented Nov 17, 2020 at 0:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ I can attest that this works wonderfully, as I use a similar approach in my own games. The one difference is that I operate under the assumption that the party will spend the week of waiting working to raise money to offset the cost of raise dead and have everybody (including the person being resurrected) roll once to contribute to this (I just have the temple send them on a prorated collection or extermination quest that would otherwise have to be farmed out to local adventurers, but which is relatively low-risk for the party) and calculate remaining cost based on how well the rolls go. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 17, 2020 at 2:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AustinHemmelgarn Yeah, that’s a fantastic idea; I’ve stolen it (with credit). Though I wouldn’t bother rolling at this level—just say they can raise 5,000 gp at this level, they probably can and even if they can’t really, it saves time. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Nov 17, 2020 at 13:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan Yeah, normally I wouldn’t worry about it either at this level, but most of my regulars like to feel like they’re actively contributing (and some really like having another excuse to roll dice), and I’ve found that having them roll for it instead of just saying that they manage to raise the 5k helps them feel engaged and involved. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 17, 2020 at 13:17

I've had this problem in multiple campaigns.
The context of difficulty changes a lot in longer term games, especially in systems with a big power curve. It's not very by the book, but I'd say you should stop worrying about it so much, and use that same energy to focus on new, different issues and challenges. I ran a pirate campaign where the first 8 or so levels had a lot of focus on the logistics of running a ship and sailing it between ports. After that, they had enough crew, resources and skill to make traveling a given, because it wasn't interesting anymore. You could just hand-waive the issue, but I think you could view it as an opportunity to turn the problem into something more appropriate for their level.

For instance, with the pirates, a fun trick I did once they became super-high level characters is I made them suddenly ressurect after a few hours automatically. They thought it was strange, but weren't too worried about why it was happening, until they later realized that their bodies were slowly sort of decaying with each death. They were resurrected so many times, they accidentally became a unique sort of undead that was barred from the afterlife. For a little while, it was a neat plot point, because suddenly dying wasn't the issue, now it was a matter of making sure they found a way to basically get un-damned. It was a unique, very high-level problem that was interesting for them to fix, basically they had to make some deals and do favors for a psychopomp, which I worked into the story. As a bonus, after they fixed the damned state, they sort of kept the ability to auto-respawn for mundane deaths, as long as one of them was still alive and could keep the bodies from getting destroyed (Perks of befriending a psychopomp). It really didn't mess up much, because again, it already was no longer a question if they could do that anyways. When I wanted to make it more challenging again, I just upped the ante, again. Eventually that psychopomp caught the wrath of some other deities for pulling strings like that, and now they have to address that, too. Instead of it being mundane, it became a really cool plot point that they were very excited about.

Obviously, messing with deities might be a bit of a leap for your players, but off the top of my head, maybe a decent-level healer affiliated with that temple wants to investigate some hidden chamber or even wing of that same dungeon. Maybe they interrupt an evil necromancer who was in the middle of a ritual, and now they can't stay dead, but neither can the necromancer, and so they have to address that eventually.
I know it's a long ramble, but it's just an example to show that while simply hand-waiving boring stuff is a great approach, the advantage of TRPGs is that they are run by a person who has the flexibility to do things like this. In a fantasy setting, you make mundane things fantastic. And when those fantastic things start being mundane, make them legendary. It's a real fun trick.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Agreed, this is the same way I approach the problem. If anything is a matter of course, then it probably doesn't need to be in your game. Having players slog away at a meat grinder isn't the best gameplay - start having some meaningful challenges instead. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 17, 2020 at 5:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is some great stuff, +1 and thank you. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Nov 17, 2020 at 13:02

Turn it into a story

Turn it into an adventure by adding something. Rules as written, the spell finishes, the sacrifical components are exhausted, and the spell is done. The rezzed person wakes up. But we can do better than that!

The first time a party member dies

In that instance, once the cleric performs the spell, we enter the "fugue plain" scene.

The spirit of the recently deceased, and the spirit of the cleric, both find themselves stood on a grey plane of existence with The Reaper stood between them. The reaper holds out its hand, demanding the cleric give it the spell components (in this case, a large diamond).

Upon receiving its "payment" it releases the soul of the recently deceased back to the party. But it leaves the cleric with a warning; if they make a habit of this, they might start to irritate the gods of the dead.

For bonus points, have The Reaper be the spirit of somebody or something evil the party once defeated. Its punishment is to be The Reaper. (I actually used the spirit of a silver dragon turned evil, which the party had killed some weeks before, as the reaper)

If it happens again

At this point it starts to get more interesting. Depending on how long it took them to be rezzed, the whole party gets drafted in and must negotiate with The Reaper using a social check. The less party deaths there has been, the easier the check.

If they fail, they can defeat the reaper in a challenge of its choosing, or the reaper takes the soul and tells the party they must now deal with its employer. A time and date are set for a meeting.

If the character has been blocked from rezzing (e.g. through necromancy or because the time limit expired

One can always challenge The Reaper to a dual. If you win, you get an extension of, say 5 years.

If you lose, congratulations, you are now the new Reaper for that campaign.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Maruts can be a factor in this interaction. A Marut is an Inevitable (construct-like Outsiders that enforce the laws of nature) that enforces the natural law of death. When a person or a group goes to extreme lengths to avoid death, a Marut tends to get involved to ensure that Death gets its due. They're CR15, and IME CR 15 is closer to CR12 or a boss for CR9-10, so they'll probably need a buff. \$\endgroup\$
    – VHS
    Commented Nov 18, 2020 at 8:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ Note to above: I'm pretty conservative in the books I allow, so if you allow blatant nonsense like Advanced Class Guide or Unchained Rogue, you might need to consider printed CR15 to be even weaker than I do. For reference, I generally allow 1st printing Ultimate Combat material (original MoMS monk and Crane Wing), but no version of Ninja is allowed without a nerfed SA progression, and I explicitly ban anything that grants DEX to damage. \$\endgroup\$
    – VHS
    Commented Nov 18, 2020 at 9:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @VHS Is there something I can add to my answer in this respect? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 18, 2020 at 15:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ The Marut/s could get involved at any point in this interaction, as long as the party member has been resurrected multiple times ("goes to extreme lengths to avoid death"). They could play a part in the end of paragraph 3 of the section "The first time a party member dies," where it could be a part of the retribution of the gods of the dead. They could be agents of the Reaper instead. Both 3.5 and Pathfinder are vague on when exactly Inevitables get involved, so it's DM's choice. Your answer was largely fine, but lacking without acknowledging Maruts and the role they can play. \$\endgroup\$
    – VHS
    Commented Nov 18, 2020 at 20:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ That seems OK as long as its fun. This is the point, right? The system I've detailed above is designed to turn what has become an inconvenience (rezzing somebody) into a series of role playable encounters. While being potentially an interesting combat encounter, a Marut is not going to be interested in talking. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 19, 2020 at 14:22

Soul needs to be willing

I recently had an interesting relevant experience in a game (5e, but the relevant rules happen to be the same) when during the party's first raise dead the GM pointed out a key phrase in the spell, namely, that (among other conditions) the soul has to be willing to return, and that it shouldn't be easily assumed that this will always be the case. Death is a traumatic experience, and it's not a given that returning to the party's unfinished business is preferable to the soul than whatever afterlife it has been experiencing between the time of death and the resurrection.

So performing the spell/ritual (in 5e it's an hour, in pathfinder a minute, but - well - "dream time" in afterlife can be relatively much longer) can involve, as we did, a roleplayable scenario (including argumentation and various skill challenges) of the party convincing the soul to return, and if it does not succeed for some reason, then it's within RAW that this attempt of raise dead would fail. Furthermore, it would be plausible (depending on the character personality) that with repeated gruesome deaths the soul would become less and less willing to return.


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