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I am running a homebrewed RPG cobbled together from bits of systems like VtM, D&D, Pathfinder, etc. (that's not the problem, it works for us). Our campaign includes player-versus-player conflict, including death, and death is always possible. We talked about this before we started and agreed as a group.

We current have a problem with death and resurrection making a lethal PvP conflict tedious and pointless. The problem is that one PC can assassinate another, but the assassinated PC has the ability to come back to life pretty easily.

If a murder victim can just come back from death without penalty, we feel it cheapens the efforts of the assassinating PC.

How can we make such an assassination success meaningful?

  • We have considered giving the killed PC some penalty (like you come back but with mental alienation, a phobia, etc). But we don't think that really helps the main problem that they came back to life.

  • We thought about the character coming back with amnesia — losing everything gained up to that point, like deleting every relationship with another PC, every quest you did, and so on, becoming a blank sheet with just your skill/abilities. But that still puts a lot of responsibility for “forgetting” information on the player and I don't have so much faith in the players to do that fairly and consistently, and not meta-game with information their PC is supposed to have forgotten.

So I'm wondering, how do we make meaningful the assassination of a PC who can just come back to life? How do we make a death meaningful so that the player of the killed PC doesn't just feel “No problem, I'll be back in five days” and instead feels “Oh no, this is a problem I care about.”

Note that being killed by an NPC doesn't give us the same problems — we're OK with an NPC's efforts being wasted.

For example of the kind of pointless loop we want to avoid:

  1. King Arthur kills Mordred.
  2. After five days Mordred rises from the dead.
  3. King Arthur kills Mordred again.
  4. After five days Mordred rises from the dead, again
  5. And it goes over and over and over in an infinite loop.

This loop sucks because it's a waste time killing him, and he comes back without any lasting effects. The assassination is just erased.

Changing the resurrection system isn't an option. I just want to avoid having coming back from death after being killed by another PC becoming like a quick ride on a merry-go-round.

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    \$\begingroup\$ related: How do I not cheapen death, while also respecting my players' time? \$\endgroup\$ – eimyr Jun 6 '16 at 13:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Cybele, I think I understand the question well enough to give it a rewrite! I'm going to do that now, and afterwards I'd like you to look over the result and make sure it's still clear to you, and still asking for help with the correct problem. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jun 6 '16 at 15:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ It looks perfect! And yeah, definitly makes much more sense than before, now. I knew i should take as nickname, not Cybele but Tarrasque. Thank you again SevenSide ♥ \$\endgroup\$ – Cybele Jun 6 '16 at 15:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you interested in how putting a cost / price on "raise dead" issue was addressed in a particular game or system or will any game system do? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 6 '16 at 16:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ Korvin, any idea is welcome! \$\endgroup\$ – Cybele Jun 6 '16 at 17:33
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Briefly:

Based on the content of the question, it sounds like resurrection takes five days. Can you make something important happen during those five days, which would be costly to the dead character or to her player by not being around to participate in it?

But:

Where did "changing the resurrection system isn't an option" come from? Your players? As the game-master, are you all on the same page? How would the group respond to you presenting to them that "NOT changing the resurrection system isn't an option" for you? Is it or is it not?

It might not even have to change very much. The amnesia concept seems ideal - if the player understands that their character is expected to forget some amount of their life when they resurrect, can that not be part of your group's social contract? Can't you all very easily spot metagaming, if they aren't supposed to remember the last 10 in-character days, and the first thing they say after resurrecting is "J'accuse!"?

If your group can't trust each other not to meta-game with character knowledge, then what about permanent loss of stat points, skill points, or experience points? (By "permanent", I of course do not mean that they could not buy back the lost strength stat or spellcasting skill with newly earned experience in the future, I just mean that their resurrected self has lost it and won't get it back without earning it).

So:

If easy resurrection is what's cheapening death and making it meaningless, change resurrection and make it less easy or more consequential.

Not as a railroader or unilateral rule-changer, though. Give them a stake in it.

How to achieve this? Make a plot of it. Change the world via in-character activity. Get these characters involved in something where the stakes are that they could lose resurrection entirely unless they save it with their actions, however that looks in your setting. Are they heroes? Traitors? Saboteurs? Put them in conflict with some other faction who have some in-character motivation or other need which would result in resurrection getting destroyed. When your party saves the day, resurrection will never be the same.

It would be easy for this to turn into a railroad, so, I recommend accepting that your players' outcome could be any of: Resurrection is destroyed forever, resurrection survives unchanged, or, resurrection gets damaged so that death becomes riskier than it is today.

So, before trying it, I recommend getting on the same page about what you all want out of your gaming together. If the group wants death/resurrection to be pointless, painless, cheap, consequence-free and possible, and you do not, talk to them about why they want it and why you don't. The conversation may stimulate you all to brainstorm other ways out. Or it may just show you all that you aren't on the same page and don't want to be.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for 'change resurrection'. Right at the start of my current 5e campaign, I said that there was no resurrection, and that all resurrection spells had been removed. As long as you talk to your players, and give their reasoning, they should be accepting. \$\endgroup\$ – Ladifas Jun 7 '16 at 16:09
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If you haven't, read Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny. It takes place in a world where (some) characters return from the dead. BUT. They can do it only a limited number of times (a number each one knows for himself, but keeps a deep secret for obvious reasons), and when they rise, they rise in a special location, far from their places of power. They must then make their way from this very unpleasant place, through all of their world, only to find someone else sitting on their throne.

This is key: rising from the dead should be such a major inconvenience that those who can rise will still avoid death like, well, death.

Beyond this, in that world, one of these people would sometimes capture and imprison another, not allowing him to escape by dying -- a punishment far worse than execution, for many of them.

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There should be consequences happening in game already. How are the characters being resurrected? I find it unlikely that their corpses are just wandering over to the local temple and footing the bill. Do they have NPC allies resurrecting them? If so, then perhaps the players are too powerful to "just" be murdered, and an aspiring assailant would have to destroy their supporters too. Is it fellow party members? if so, why do they still hang out together? If I were Mordred in the above scenario, what motivation do I have to ever go near King Arthur after he murdered me the first time?

Alternately, if for whatever reason death really isn't permanent for the PC's, what does the killer DO while the target is dead? If they loot the corpse, the target will lose all their cool gear. The killer can then freely burn down the victim's house, kill their family, pillage their town, and do whatever dastardly deeds they want with no opposition from the dead player.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The story consequences is a good way to approach this. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 7 '16 at 16:01
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Thanks to the further clarification that

yes there's an attribute like constitution!

You can borrow a mechanical method from AD&D 1e: the cost for dying and being brought back is permanent loss of a Constitution Point. That score also defines a statutory limit on the number of times being brought back from the dead can happen. Death has serious consequences! (Well, yeah!)

Since your table uses consensus, kick this idea around and see if that exact form or a modified form fits your table best. You can use the "Constitution" score itself, or a value based on it (a fraction thereof, such as "only 5 raises from dead ever if you have a 10 Constitution"). The attendant loss of attribute point has longer term implications, since the cumulative effect is of making that stat weaker and weaker. Players are incentivized not to get killed at all, or at least not to get killed very often due a long term detriment to their overall health.
(PHB pg 12, 1e)

... a character's initial constitution score is also the maximum number of times the character can be raised from the dead/resurrected ... each such revivification reduces the character's constitution score by 1. Although a character's constitution can be restored to its former score, or even raised above this number, by magical means, this in no way alters the initial score limitation, nor does such magical change in constitution restore to the character additional chances for revivification. Thus, if a character has an initial constitution of 15, he or she can never be brought bock to life by a raise dead or resurrection spell more often than 15 times. The 16th death is final and irrevocable without use of some other magical means such as a wish.

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I'm not going to address the mechanics of resurrection, since your question pretty much states "changing the resurrection system isn't an option". I am however going to proceed under the assumption that the physical body of the deceased comes back to life, and does not spontaneously appear out of thin air, alive and well.

There are plenty of mechanical penalties that you could assign to a resurrected character, this answer is to provide some in-game alternatives that are not system-mechanical in nature.

Once the body is a corpse (and apparently no amount of dismemberment will prevent resurrection), it is pretty much out of the character's control. The victor could remove all possessions and imprison the body in a remote location, or simply seal it in concrete or lead. Yes, the body will resurrect, but is essentially hors de combat for as long as the imprisonment lasts. I don't have enough specifics of the campaign setting or system to know if an unescapable prison is possible, but hopefully the potential loss of freedom is a deterrent to dying in combat.

If the body does indeed magically reconstitute out of the victor's control, it sounds like the act of coming back cannot be prevented. In which case, the best option the victor has is to take advantage of the time during which the loser is absent. Plunder his belongings or land. Besmirch his reputation. Burn his house. Destroy things he holds dear while he is unable to defend them. The loss of all your stuff and your status is a pretty big deterrent.

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