In 4th ed, the Raise Dead ritual specifies that "you must have a part of the corpse of a creature." Is a part removed from a living body considered a part of the corpse once the original body has died? Or does it have to be a part removed once the person is a corpse?

For what it's worth I've already made a ruling in my own game. That ruling is "maybe." Because it's a tenuous use of the spell it sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. In the case of a removed finger providing resurrection insurance, I'm going with the caster making a religion check. That value is the percentage of a chance that it'll work. This rewards higher level casters (which is important because it means the players will always be seeking out a better insurance policy), but it's never a sure thing.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Whole Army Insurance: "Mommy, why do all the paladins only have nine toes?" \$\endgroup\$ – yhw42 Dec 6 '10 at 22:14

10 Answers 10


There are two alternative interpretations to answering this question, both of which are very important.

First, and critically, players doing this are signalling that they don't want to stay dead. Turning around and saying "No!" means that you're negating a player wish. Certainly allow them to specify what level of body part is needed for resurrection. Toss the question onto the players, especially if one of them is a wizard, and try to this in character. Then, inform them that the entire world will be held to the same rules. Let them decide the consequences and hardships they want, don't impose arbitrary hardships on them.

Fun, and more to the point, antagonisism, don't come from negation. Allow the players to be crafty, reward them for having excellent ideas, and then insure that they're aware of the ultimate consequences of their actions. This means that they've had an impact on the game world, instead of a fun-destroying No!. Never say no. It's boring.

Secondly, looking at the problem in the 4e world from an Ars Magica perspective, fingernails and hair can certainly be used as Arcane Connections to a body. Perhaps, taking a page from that, the 4e DM could request that such ephemera be "enchanted" to form a "lasting connection" to the person. Of course warn them that many rituals can use such a lasting connection. The law of sympathy, from actual magic theory certainly holds that a fingernail is as good as a person. Let it be so in 4e. Let there be Magic!

Then let there be complications! Not all the time, cause that too is boring. But it's details like these which inform the game world, and give the choices of the players weight. Dying is boring, or exciting. Let the players decide. All of their decisions have interesting corruptions and consequences, so there's no need to restrict the design space!


I don't agree with the interpretation that "part of the corpse" includes parts removed before the moment of death. To me, lopping off one's toe to save as "resurrection insurance" is just as much a cheat as cutting off your hair an putting it in a jar.

The hand-waving I would use to justify this restriction is that the spirit or soul of the creature is unitary and tied to the body during life. If you cut off your finger, your soul does not split and part of it carry into that body part.

However, the moment you die, even if your body is torn into a dozen pieces, your soul is torn from the body, moving to the outer planes, whichever they may be. There is still a gossamer thread tying your soul to these body parts. If you use a resurrection spell, the body is regenerated and that thread pulls the soul back into the new body. The threads tying the soul to whatever other body parts exist but aren't in the area of the resurrection spell are severed as the creature is resurrected.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is closer to my interpretation, although I didn't use the soul explanation. A toe removed last week was never a part of the corpse of a man who died today. OTOH, if a man is beheaded I'd argue that head and body were part of the corpse, even if one part remained vital longer than the other. Maybe both parts are only part of the corpse if the separation of parts led to death? \$\endgroup\$ – valadil Dec 6 '10 at 20:08

Semantically speaking, the rule makes an assumption: There is one corpse ("the" corpse as opposed to a corpse). That implies that the entire sum of the physical construct of the creature, collectively, is "the corpse", and any portion of that physical construct, therefore, is a portion of the corpse. Therefore, having a portion of the body, whether removed before death or not, qualifies.

Players frequently take that opening and try to drive a freight train through it; players collecting hair/fingernails/saliva etc. and storing it "just in case". You can allow that if you like; the approach most recently taken by our DM/GM was that things which fall off naturally (saliva/skin flakes/dandruff/hair/fingernails/etc.) cease to become part of the collective "creature". Therefore, you cannot resurrect using only naturally-discarding elements; nor can you target "the creature" for damage by nuking his fingernails!

The players at this point set about ritualistically mutilating themselves; I think every member of the party agreed to give up a toe or something that doesn't naturally discard/regenerate for "resurrection insurance", which was deemed acceptable by the DM/GM and we moved on with the game (the issue of "can I cast a heal on so-and-so by healing their toe in the bag I carry" didn't come up till later :)

  • \$\begingroup\$ "That implies that the entire sum of the physical construct of the creature, collectively, is 'the corpse', and any portion of that physical construct, therefore, is a portion of the corpse." I'm not sure I agree with the implication. I think it implies that any part that is killed becomes the corpse. ie, if the character is blown to bits in an explosion, any bits the other PCs find is part of the corpse. But it doesn't imply (to me) that previously removed parts gain corpse status when the rest of the body expires. \$\endgroup\$ – valadil Dec 6 '10 at 20:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ If not a part of the corpse, what other status would a dead part of a dead person have? \$\endgroup\$ – GWLlosa Dec 6 '10 at 22:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ What if, for example, a villain lops off your arm and retreats with it. A few weeks later on another continent, you get slain from wounds. Can this villain (using whatever means as usual to fool people into being resurrected) actually snipe your raising by your party, using your arm? \$\endgroup\$ – Grace Note Dec 6 '10 at 22:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GWLlosa I'm not sure there's a term for it. Does inert or meat work? \$\endgroup\$ – valadil Dec 6 '10 at 22:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Grace If resurrection insurance works, then your idea does too. I'll make sure to use it against the PCs if I let insurance work for them. \$\endgroup\$ – valadil Dec 6 '10 at 22:49

A body part removed before death is certainly not part of a corpse. If you extrapolate from that, ruling that a body part to be used for a Raise must be acquired after the being expires, i.e. literally "a part of the corpse", that obviates all the above nonsense and self-mutilation so contrary to the spirit of the game.

Some methods of termination leave no parts (such as disintegrating or complete dissolution in acid), while others (being blown to bits) certainly do produce usable fragmentary residue. :)


I ruled this as a literal interpretation, part of the corpse is 'Part Of The Corpse' Not 'part of the thing that is now a corpse, but wasn't when they took the part'. The Magic works on the fact that the part is from a dead thing and there is a 'deadness' nature that is part of that. Kind of similar to a vampire becoming a vampire only by dying first. it has to be dead for the magic to work.

The magic should work like it says. If a character is killed, there is no body remaining, and you didn't get a piece first, well, just use some time travel, lop of a piece from the then living character and come back in time and resurrect them. TADA! Can you say broken system ruling. I as a DM would never allow this. So why allow it here?

Part of the fun of the game is not knowing when you could 'kick-the-bucket'. Being prepared is good, but in this case I would rule that the wording is literal.

Sometimes dead is dead.



The Level 14 Ritual 'Corpse Gate' from Open Grave sheds new light on the situation.

You create a portal similar to that produced by Linked Portal, but connecting your present location to that of a corpse. You must have a piece of the corpse—at least as much as the tip of a finger—in your possession to begin the ritual. This piece is consumed at the ritual’s completion. If the target corpse is alive, animate, undead, or otherwise more than a simple corpse, or if the corpse is on another plane, the ritual fails and no components (including the bit of the corpse) are expended.

Thus, you can have a piece of the corpse of something that is no longer an ordinary dead corpse. Specifically, you can have a piece of the corpse of something that is now alive...and it very specifically doesn't stop being part of the corpse, it just doesn't work for the ritual.

Interestingly, a now obsolete definition of 'corpse' had the word apply to human bodies whether alive or dead.

As ioanwigmore pointed out, setting this up is not the end of your concerns. There is a time-limit for how long a 'corpse' can lie dead before it can no longer be affected by the Raise Dead ritual. The ritual specifies that the corpse must have died no more than 30 days ago; Gentle Repose and Embalm rituals can increase that time. Whatever sample piece you use to work the ritual starts on this timer as soon as you remove it, so you must either work to preserve it or continually replace it.

These latter two rituals apparently work purely by preserving the corpse from decay, so a casting of Preservation on the sample piece should do the trick. It appears the main reason Preservation isn't normally used is that you need a very high Arcana check to affect 200 pounds of of material.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Add in something about the time limit for Raise Dead being applicable also to the finger that was cut off (with the timer starting as soon as the finger is removed) and you have my vote :) \$\endgroup\$ – ioanwigmore Jun 12 '12 at 2:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ There we are, a note about the timer and a suggestion as to how to deal with it. \$\endgroup\$ – Ananisapta Jun 12 '12 at 3:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for pointing that out! I haven't been keeping up to date on new materials but this definitely helps clarify things. \$\endgroup\$ – valadil Jun 12 '12 at 13:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ You are welcome - it appears rituals are becoming something of my speciality on this site XD. \$\endgroup\$ – Ananisapta Jun 12 '12 at 13:52

Our group does allow the removal of a body part in order to use as Raise Dead insurance later on. However, it must be a substantial part of the body (hairs & toenails don't count).

The house rule I use is that a substantial part of the body applies some penalty. Eg - cutting off an ear would give -1 to perception, cutting off a finger -1 to to damage with weapons, etc.

The caveat to this is that it will only work if the body part has been removed within the last 30 days, as per the ritual. If a player cuts off a finger and they try to use it to Raise him 31 days later, it fails. I do allow Gentle Repose to be used on the removed body part.


In instances of earlier editions and in at least a couple examples of official fiction, this was perfectly acceptable and used by powerful characters to allow them a means of returning to life after death. As a DM, however, I would probably not allow it. If a PC wants to make use of this as a means of returning to life, suggest that they take up being a lich as a lifestyle choice.

  • \$\begingroup\$ The difference though is that other editions had several raise dead spells. If you had a finger, go with raise dead. If you had a distant memory of a guy you used to know, go with true resurrection. Since 4e does not have all those spells, I'm not sure which version 4e's raise dead is supposed to emulate. \$\endgroup\$ – valadil Dec 7 '10 at 16:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yea, another reason I don't like 4e. What might be fun, though, from a role-playing standpoint is to implement some kind of penalty for a cleric who worships a good aligned deity (such an one would probably look poorly on self mutilation, even if it were for a "good cause" such as self preservation). \$\endgroup\$ – BBlake Dec 7 '10 at 17:27

I would handle this in a way that's oriented toward "keeping it interesting": define the underlying principles of raise dead such that the point of the body part is a connection with the character's essence, and the part of the essence that's in the severed part does not stay synchronized. Upshot being, you can cut off some trivial part and store it, and use that for resurrection, but you get resurrected as you were when the part was removed.

This keeps the practice as a meaningful option, so one isn't just being the mean DM who's offended by cleverness, but gives it a serious cost. It also happens to make its implications very much like those of braintaping-type character persistence solutions in various SF-setting games, which lets you draw on the established body of thought surrounding those.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This has the potential to be very un-fun for players if you don't warn them about it in advance. In fourth edition, levels are kind of important to survival. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Mar 6 '12 at 3:35

It would not work.

You need a piece of the corpse, therefore you need part of the body after it was dead. Before that, it's not a piece of a corpse.

It's as simple as it gets.


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