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As the DM of a campaign, I have an army that is about to overrun the town my players have been living in. I want to create an encounter in which the players meet a small part of the army lead by an evil NPC. In this encounter, I would like the PCs to think that they are doing well only to find out that they are in big trouble. In order to accomplish this, I want the evil NPC leader to come back to life after they kill him. It needs to be an instantaneous thing he does himself so that he can get back up in the middle of the fight. How can I accomplish this?

I'd like to stay close to the rules because I have a bad rules lawyer in our group, and because I want the subsequent loot from this encounter to be explainable. Also, I'd like the NPC to have a clear set of limitations in the event that the party manages to beat him or do something else unexpected. If I just make up stuff, then the players might feel cheated.

Note: The party is 6 level 5 characters with very good gear. The NPC is an officer of the invading army. While the army consists mostly of undead, it also contains red mages of Thay (Forgotten Realms setting), and warriors. The evil NPC is most likely a human cleric level 7 or higher with equivalent wealth.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Related: Is bringing a major villain back from the dead a bad idea? \$\endgroup\$ – Sandwich Dec 3 '15 at 22:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ Does he need to be able to do this more than once in the same fight? (e.g. is there a problem if your players then very swiftly slay him a second time?) \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Dec 4 '15 at 0:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener just once is probably best. There is no problem if they kill him a second time. \$\endgroup\$ – Multitallented Dec 4 '15 at 1:05
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You are looking for Contingent Spell.

It comes in both a feat (CArcane) form and a spell form.

You can place another spell upon your person so that it comes into effect under some condition you dictate when casting contingency. The contingency spell and the companion spell are cast at the same time. The 10-minute casting time is the minimum total for both castings; if the companion spell has a casting time longer than 10 minutes, use that instead.

(phb Magic chapter, 'Contingency' spell)

Revivify from the Spell Compendium is probably the ideal target. The affected doesn't lose a level from being revived. A second Contingency (only the Feat can make multiple Contingencies at once), with Heal, would bring him back to full health.

Alternatively, a Delay Spell'd (CArcane) Revivify could be your ticket. Especially if it's cast using Cloaked Casting (CMage) to disguise what spell has been cast. A psicrown containing Anticipatory Strike (CPsi) (GM can explicitly design custom psycrowns), could allow a cleric to cast a delayed revivification as an immediate action right before the last blow is struck.

Alternatively, a custom magic item

A custom wondrous item of Revivify, costing about 1,000gp, that is exhausted when used and is triggered by the wearer's death. It's a custom magic item, but the DM is explicitly allowed to make those, and 1,000gp is about right for a single-use use-activated item of a 5th level spell. Add a second effect (+150% cost of that effect) of Heal to the item, making it cost around 2500gp all up.

Make it only work for clerics of that god.

Item Requires Specific Class or Alignment to Use

Even more restrictive than requiring a skill, this limitation cuts the cost by 30%.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think the item is the way to go here, especially since it can be made to shatter or otherwise show that it has been used up and it can be clearly put into his description when he's first seen to foreshadow it a bit. \$\endgroup\$ – Tim B Dec 4 '15 at 10:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ even more sinister might be a spell combination of revivify, heal and some illusion magic to disguise he is alive again while it shatters - the heroes might think that the item was his 'supersecrtet power source'. When he arises fully healed a round later, the shock effect might be even greater! \$\endgroup\$ – Trish Dec 9 '16 at 14:14
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I think you're looking for the Craft Contingent Spell feat, from Complete Arcane, and the Revivify spell, from Spell Compendium.

Revivify must be cast within one round of death, but brings you back with no level loss and no other adverse effects. It does bring you back at -1 hp (stable) though, so you likely want to follow it up with Heal (likely also contingent).

This has a couple of huge advantages. First, it's significantly easier to adjudicate edge cases. What happens if your players subdue him unconscious? Nothing, but it can trigger later. What happens if he's charmed instead? Same. What happens if he's killed with Disintegrate, so there's no body? Both spells fizzle (no body). Etc... Second, your players can duplicate it, if they want. It's fundamentally fair, because they could do he same thing (it's also kind of expensive, so they shouldn't).

There are a few snags though. Craft Contingent Spell requires an eleventh level caster, and is slightly pricey for seventh level. It also doesn't have an obvious visual tell.

For the visual effect, I suggest you just make one up. However this guy got a contingent spell, let him have some associated visual effect (face tattoos which disappear, lens flares, etc). If your rules-lawyer player is worried about it, let him add similar visual effects to any of his contingent spells (It's like glowing magical weapons: an effect so minor that it's not worth charging for).

As to where he got these pricey, high level effects, I see two good options: Best option is to tie it into your campaign. If this guy is working for some shadowy organization or secret overlord, this is a perfect excuse to link them.

Second best option is to slightly fudge the sacrifice rules from Book of Vile Darkness. Either insert contingent spells into the partial list of potential rewards, or declare that they are an "equivalent effect" under Limited Wish. Direct insertion into sacrifice is probably best, because a) it's too icky for players, and b) gods can be a bit fickle.

Technically, when you calculate his treasure, you should roll in the value of any contingencies. I suggest that you fudge in some extra pricey components (diamonds, maybe) to keep this fair to your players.

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There are a number of ways that you can do it within the rules. The most obvious one that could be done around that level would be a scroll of raise dead (or similar) read by one of the other clerics (assuming they don't die before the officer). Higher level options include contingent spells of raise dead/resurrection/reincarnation as a flying squirrel/whatever.

The problem with these options is that the level appropriate ones won't be as dramatic as you seem to want, and the higher level ones, while certainly within the rules, are still likely to make the PCs feel cheated, since essentially they involve a higher level NPC popping in for a round to undo their work.

But if the key features you need are to make the PCs feel like they're in trouble but without feeling cheated, I'd recommend that you make the cleric use a custom spell or ability, but have it come at a cost. Perhaps as soon as he gets killed, a black glow surrounds several of his minions (possibly even the other clerics), and they drop dead as he rises again. It clearly hints at powerful magic, but the PCs have still accomplished something: without the minions, he doesn't have enough troops to capture the town and is forced to retreat, or is at least at a severe disadvantage if he wants to stick around and risk getting killed again. (It also makes it more obvious that this was something you planned ahead of time, and that you aren't just cheating because they killed him before they were supposed to, which they might assume if he just used a scroll or something.)

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When the villain falls, a necklace flashes into coloured smoke that writhes its way into the villain's mouth and nose. A voice is heard "No, you are too important in my service to be allowed to die!" Suddenly, the villain's wounds are healed and their chest starts rising again.

You are letting the players know that this NPC is important. Some powerful being thinks the NPC is valuable enough to bring back from death. You are also letting the players know that this higher power doesn't accept death as an excuse to leave it's service.

You also make the players really anxious when their characters spot another NPC wearing the same kind of necklace.

Additionally, by using an item that is consumed, you are sending a message to the players that this is a one-off thing - the NPC isn't going to get up every single time the characters beat them down (because that would be really dispiriting).

The magical affect and the sound of the voice should be clues to the identity of the powerful being.

You should also plan for what happens next. is the NPC going to keep fighting or use their new life to escape? What happens if the characters kill the NPC the second time?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Good trappings, but fails to provide the rules-based answer requested. \$\endgroup\$ – fectin Dec 4 '15 at 1:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @fectin: Combine with Jack Lesnie's answer for the mechanics of the item :) \$\endgroup\$ – Matthieu M. Dec 4 '15 at 8:12
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Expanding on @user2754's custom magic item, give it visible charges. A great example would be a helm or crown with gems that shatter when used, or glowing gems that extinguish.

This makes it somewhat clear to the PCs that they're going to have to kill this guy exactly N times. If the first fight isn't one where they can stick around to win then it also makes it clear that there's a bad guy out there looking for them who they need to plan to kill another N-1 times. An entire campaign arc could be based around a group of scared characters repeatedly assassinating somebody in ways that let them get away each time.

The rogue uses stealth and disguise to slip into the camp and poison the officer's wine, 1x gem gone.
The wizard burns a scroll of summon monster IX to send some demon, another gem down.
The ranger executes a wilderness sniping ambush with a bane arrow, yet another gem down.

A few months of in-game time later and the NPC is huddled in the end dungeon in a fit of paranoia and sending out minions to find the PCs who are forced to come to the end-game scene and finish him once and for all.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm pretty sure they'd come up with a plan to steal the helmet, instead. \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Dec 9 '16 at 8:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Haha, they probably would. Nothing necessarily wrong with that plan though you can always make it some sort of bound item or even dispense with the item and have the gems embedded into badguy's skin/skull. \$\endgroup\$ – bp. Dec 9 '16 at 9:13

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