Nearly all the resurrection spells state that your soul has to be free and willing to be revived. The DMG on page 24 further states that A soul can't be returned to life if it doesn't wish to be, so the soul always has to be willing, whether the spell says so, or not. But curiously the DMG omits that the soul also needs to be free. And revivify, the lowliest of resurrection spells, lacks any explicit requirement that the soul needs to be free and willing.

I think revivifying a trapped soul may not be intended to work, as all the more powerful spells can't do it; but outside of such a balance consideration, is there any rule support for that?

Examples for effects that can trap a soul upon death (so one could cast revivify to try and bring it back in under one minute) are: the Blackstaff, a Night Hag's soul bag, or the Soul Cage spell from Xanthar's Guide to Everything.


4 Answers 4


Revivify cannot bring back trapped souls

There is a general, DM facing rule that precludes revivifying a trapped soul. The DMG states under Bringing Back the Dead on page 24:

When a creature dies, its soul departs its body, leaves the Material Plane, travels through the Astral Plane, and goes to abide on the plane where the creature's deity resides. If the creature didn't worship a deity, its soul departs to the plane corresponding to its alignment. Bringing someone back from the dead means retrieving the soul from that plane and returning it to its body.

By this logic, you can only bring someone back from the dead, if you can retrieve their soul from the plane where it naturally would reside. If the soul is trapped anywhere else or no longer a soul, then you can not bring its owner back from the dead, and revivify will not work.

Nearly all trapping effects trap the soul in an item, transformed into a lemure or larva in the lower planes, or resorb it into a monster, which in general are different locations from the natural home plane of the soul, so in all of these cases, revivify will not work.

(Thank you to Trish for finding this answer).



The description of the spell Revivify does not require that the deal creature's soul be 'untrapped'. While other resurrection-type spells do mention that requirement, those descriptions only apply to those spells.
Revivify itself only requires that the creature have died from some cause other than old age, and that the death have occurred less than one minute before.

When a creature dies, its soul departs its body, leaves the Material Plane, travels through the Astral Plane, and goes to abide on the plane where the creature's deity resides. If the creature didn't worship a deity, its soul departs to the plane corresponding to its alignment. Bringing someone back from the dead means retrieving the soul from that plane and returning it to its body.

This description of Bringing Back the Dead from the DMG has been mentioned to suggest that trapped souls can not be revived, because they do not meet the requirements here. There are several problems with taking the criteria here as literal rules, rather than general background, however.

The first problem is that it requires that the creature's soul be on either the plane of the creature's deity or its alignment plane. If the soul was anywhere else, even if not trapped, then this 'rule' would require that all Resurrection-type spells fail.

Second, in a similar manner, any spell effect that blocked planar travel would also cause all Resurrection-type spells to fail, since the soul would be unable to be "retrieved" from the planes as this 'rule' would require.
It seems odd to have spells like Private Sanctum or Hallow prevent spells like True Resurrection from working.

There is also the fact that the other spells do, explicitly, lay out the untrapped requirement. At the same time, spells and effects that trap souls usually state, explicitly, that the creature cannot be restored to life while the effect is in place (Soul Cage, early edition Demi-Liches, etc). The presence of that effect in each of the spell/effect descriptions strongly suggests that there was no general rule for the writes to fall back on.


It seems clear, from the wording of other Resurrection-type spells and soul-imprisoning effects, that souls considered "trapped" are not eligible for returning to live. It seems an accidental oversight and for balance purposes it seems best to treat Revivify as if it has the same "no trapped souls" restrictions as other Resurrection-type spells.
Attempting to twist other rules into covering for the flaws in this one spell description would have worse side effects.


It depends on the soul trapping method

There's no obvious rule about this situation because it's actually many entirely separate, if similar, situations.

The result of attempting revivify varies depending on what specifically happened to the target's soul. Unless an effect specifically states that it prevents restoring a target to life, revivify will do exactly what it says it does, no more and no less, and what it does is return a creature to 'life'...even though it can't restore that creature's missing soul.

A creature can be alive but soulless

Drawing a card from a deck of many things can leave your still-living body incapacitated and soulless:

The Void. This black card spells disaster. Your soul is drawn from your body and contained in an object in a place of the DM's choice. One or more powerful beings guard the place. While your soul is trapped in this way, your body is incapacitated. A wish spell can't restore your soul, but the spell reveals the location of the object that holds it. You draw no more cards.

In that specific case, if your soulless body later dies, a quick revivify can restore it to its still soulless, incapacitated state while your companions (hopefully) continue the quest to restore your soul.

The magic jar spell leaves the caster's soulless body catatonic:

Your body falls into a catatonic state as your soul leaves it and enters the container you used for the spell's material component.

In that specific case, the revivify spell can restore this living-but-catatonic state without ending the magic jar spell: the caster's soul enjoys an uninterrupted stay in the jar or in some unfortunate host's body.

(The incapacitated condition doesn't reduce your speed, and 'catatonic' just means what the English word means, so these soulless bodies can presumably still be led around by the hand and forced to drink water, get fed, and be bathed.)

A creature can't be restored to life if an effect specifically says that it can't

The soul cage spell traps the soul of a humanoid as it dies, and it specifically says:

While a soul is trapped, the dead humanoid it came from can't be revived.

The artifact Book of Vile Darkness specifically says:

If you die while attuned to the book, an entity of great evil claims your soul. You can't be restored to life by any means while your soul remains imprisoned.

Unrelated to this, but there are also effects that stop revivify in its tracks without requiring the soul to be imprisoned.

The magic greatsword Blackrazor specifically says:

Devour Soul. Whenever you use it to reduce a creature to 0 hit points, the sword slays the creature and devours its soul, unless it is a construct or an undead. A creature whose soul has been devoured by Blackrazor can be restored to life only by a wish spell.

The description of the Skull card in a deck of many things specifically says:

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


No, they're trapped.

This is a case of "specific-beats-general":

Remember this: If a specific rule contradicts a general rule, the specific rule wins.

Here, the text of revivify is the "general" rule:

You touch a creature that has died within the last minute. That creature returns to life with 1 hit point. This spell can't return to life a creature that has died of old age, nor can it restore any missing body parts.

Now, this spell does explicitly outline some limitations - it cannot restore a creature that died of old age and it cannot restore missing body parts. These are the only limitations the spell places on itself, but that doesn't mean that the effect of the spell cannot also have exceptions caused by other effects. A soul being trapped is one such effect.

The general rule is that revivify works as long as the target doesn't fall under the spell's stated limitations. And this makes sense, because not being trapped is the default state for the soul of a creature that dies. A soul being trapped is caused by a specific effect applying at the time of death that creates an exception to the general rule of revivify.

To think about it another way, there is no reason to believe that revivify creates an exception to "trapped" since it doesn't mention being free or trapped. Does the spell say it can free a trapped soul? No, so it can't free a trapped soul.

If revivify can free trapped souls, then it is a secret effect of the spell nowhere to be found in the spell’s description, that isn’t even explicitly mentioned anywhere else, that can only be inferred from the text of other spells that do mention a requirement that the target’s soul be free. I typically avoid mentioning it, but this is exactly the sort of thing Jeremy Crawford was trying to help us avoid when he said “There are no secret rules.”.

  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ it actually is a general rule: Dungeon Masters Guide: Magic in Your World > Bringing Back the Dead > Bringing someone back from the dead means retrieving the soul from that plane and returning it to its body. - rpg.stackexchange.com/a/196150/30306 \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 5:15
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov That's not my point, the point (and question) is if there is a general rule or not. I think there actually is one, as Trish has pointed out. The two answers come to the same conclusion, the main difference it that the other one cites support for that conclusion, whereas yours seems to assume that you only can revive someone who dies normally, but gives no support for this from the rules text. I do agree with the conclusion, I just do not agree with the specific over general argument. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 8:11
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ This answer would be improved by citing the alleged specific rule that a soul must be free in order to return. As is, it only cites the general rule. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 22:23
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov Yeah, what Joakim M. H said. This answer says that this is a case of "specific beats general," and provides a citation for what it the general rule (the text of revivify), but no citation for the specific rule, which seems like a fatal omission. (It also doesn't provide any argument in favour of whether the text of a spell should be considered more general than whatever the specific rule citation is.) \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 9:36
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe …it’s what the word trapped means. Do I need another rule that says trapped means what it means? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 9:37

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .