The existence of the spell True Resurrection is playing havoc with my plot hooks. A king's daughter (his heir) was a high level adventurer who got TPKed while fighting an excessively powerful monster. The king loves his daughter and is willing to spend a lot of money to ensure that his succession. He pays the party a bunch of money to travel 1000 miles to cast raise dead on his daughter's body.

I love this plot hook, but the existence of true resurrection is a giant plot hole that somehow needs plugging. Why go to all that effort? Spend the money on a giant diamond instead of mucking about with expensive and unreliable adventurers.

I can't be the only one who has this problem. Players have wanted to assassinate a evil king or general. It seems like that just cannot be done as long as the leader has a few loyal and wealthy minions.

Right now the only thing I can think of is the king cannot get a hold of a diamond good enough for true resurrection. The excessively powerful monster who killed his daughter, also killed a bunch of other wealthy and powerful people, and started a bidding war on giant diamonds. This solution feels hand wavy.

My group uses Pathfinder, but I think my question applies to most D&D systems.

How else can I write a module where true resurrection is off the table, but spending 25000 gold on a party of adventurers to cast raise dead is still in?


10 Answers 10

  • Access to True Resurrection might be rare; the king might not have the connections nor the pull to get someone to cast it
  • There may be cultural misconceptions about True Resurrection; e.g. that a new body must be a new person
  • There may be cultural taboos about True Resurrection; e.g. the disrespect of leaving one's body to rot
  • The body might be important; e.g. enchantments or items needed to prove her right of succession or needed to rule the kingdom once she becomes queen
  • There are serious concerns of what nefarious persons might do if they could get a hold of the dead body
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    \$\begingroup\$ One such concern, on that last point - if the body of the princess were to be converted into undead, it would then have to be destroyed before the spell could be used. d20pfsrd.com/magic/all-spells/t/true-resurrection \$\endgroup\$
    – user31942
    Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 20:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mactrent Why was that a comment? That is a pretty good answer. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 21:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ I like the way you are thinking. I forgot that casting true resurrection can mean that the original body is left to rot. That makes sense to be a cultural taboo, especially if it is the body of the heir apparent. It would also be pretty simple to tell the party that they absolutely have to retrieve a holy heirloom that the princess was carrying. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 21:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ Access to True Resurrection might be rare? It's a ninth level spell. It requires a caster of at least 17th level to be able to do it. Such characters would be vanishingly rare in any sort of sensible population distribution. It would be considerably easier to use one of the divinations to find the location of the dead person, teleport to retrieve the body, and use one of the lesser resurrection spells to revive the corpse. If 17th-level casters are available to handle the problem, lower level casters are more available and can also obviate the travel requirements. \$\endgroup\$
    – Carcer
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 17:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Carcer D&D 3.5e included in its DMG exactly such demographic information. Only a metropolis—which, if the DM is randomly rolling towns (because I guess that's a thing?), only appear on a d% roll of 00—has a 1 in 3 chance rolled 4 times of having within it a level 17 or level 18 cleric. Otherwise, outside of specifically-placed-by-the-DM dudes, such high-level clerics just don't exist. But, so far as I'm aware, Pathfinder, despite its origins in 3.5e, leaves all demographic information to the GM, and the asker's been silent on the campaign's setting. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 18:39

I like the cultural taboo ideas, but another idea to consider is that there are spells that can trap souls (such as Trap the Soul) and thus negates the issues created by True Resurrection's existence in the world. The king may have tried a True Resurrection and it failed because the soul isn't willing or able to return.

For True Resurrection to work, the creature's life force would need to be free.

You don't necessarily have to get an outside entity involved to cast the spell. Perhaps the monster itself absorbs the souls of those it kills making resurrections off the table for everyone killed by this thing, making matters even worse for the victims' families.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It is completely clear. ;-) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 3:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ Rather than including an edit note that contradicts what you said earlier, you should simply edit the answer to replace the inaccurate statement with the accurate one (and include the citation). \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Commented Apr 15, 2018 at 22:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast: Or any old random editor can do the job.... \$\endgroup\$
    – user17995
    Commented Apr 15, 2018 at 23:00

They still need the body

This spell functions like raise dead [...]. This spell can even bring back creatures whose bodies have been destroyed [...].

  1. The fact that it can bring back creatures whose bodies have been destroyed, doesn't necessarily mean they can just cast it wherever they want if the body does still exist.

  2. If the body does still exist, maybe they can cast the spell wherever they want, but the person resurrects where their body is. Does the king want his daughter to pop back in the lair of the very monster that killed her, all alone? No.

  3. When in doubt, add planes. The princess died in a pocket plane that the monster uses as a lair. Magic doesn't work across planes. Or the monster itself generates an anti-magic barrier that blocks the spell.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The wording in D&D 5e makes this a much stronger case: "You touch a creature that has been dead for no longer than 200 years ..." followed later by: "The spell can even provide a new body if the original no longer exists...". So if the princess's body still exists in D&D 5e you need to find it and touch it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ian Miller
    Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 14:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ This! And an additional point: Raise Dead has a range of Touch, and a Target of "dead creature touched" - both of which are not changed by True Resurrection. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 9:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Cristol.GdM The fact that it can work even if the body is destroyed makes that whole Range thing part of the very question at hand: if there's nothing left to touch, how exactly do you cast it? You obviously can since it specifically says what happens in that case, yet it doesn't specify what you need to do... \$\endgroup\$
    – Falc
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 10:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Falc Oh I was agreeing with you, just pointing out an additional point reinforcing the fact that yes they still need the body. With a range of Touch, it's pretty safe to assume that in the question's example, it solves the "Why would the king send adventurers on a 1000 miles trip to resurrect his daughter?" issue: they don't have a choice. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 15:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ (as for Resurrecting someone whose body got destroyed, I would rule that you have to go where they died, because that makes a cool adventure, but I think it's pretty much left to GM fiat) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 15:34

The King's problem might not be to get the diamond, the problem might be finding someone able and willing to cast True Resurrection.

Being able to cast 9th level cleric spells isn't something common. Anyone who achieved that level of power (at least 17 levels in Cleric) would already have the status of a living legend. There might only be a handful of people in the whole campaign world who are that powerful. It's not implausible that even if the king knows any of these people, they might be impossible to contact. And even if they can be contacted, they might have no interest in helping. Even a king might be unable to gain leverage on someone of that power level. Remember, you are talking about someone who can literally call the wrath of a god upon you.

Finding someone who can cast True Resurrection and convincing them to help might be a quest even harder than the one proposed. So the king needs to settle for the next best thing: That ragtag bunch of misfits calling themselves the Player Party which are at least capable of casting Raise Dead.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Wraith or wrath? The latter seems more likely in general English, but in the context of an RPG I can't be sure... \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 17:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PeterTaylor I meant wrath. Calling the wraiths of a god only requires spell level 8. \$\endgroup\$
    – Philipp
    Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 17:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer hinges on the relative importance of epic level adventurers and kings. History is full of real life kings that no one listened to. This is a workable solution. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 22:38

The most direct approach, and also the best approach, is to just avoid high levels altogether.

Pathfinder tends to break down at high levels. The might of 7th, 8th, and 9th level spells is just too immense, too world-changing—true resurrection is a good example, but so are things like greater teleport and gate. (There are more; the list really does go on.) This causes problems for the narrative, and it can also cause problems in gameplay, as non-spell options (e.g. feats, rage powers, rogue talents, and so on) simply do not keep up and this can cause problems evenly challenging the members of the party.

So you can solve your problem with true resurrection, as well as a host of other problems in Pathfinder, many more pernicious than this, by keeping to low levels. This does not have to mean sacrificing your epic story! The power-levels of high-level Pathfinder, at least for the most powerful classes, are mind-bogglingly immense. Most of our epic tales, our mythology, our fantasy novels, and so on, do not operate at such heights of power. Based on what he accomplished, Hercules for example would probably only be around 8th-level (probably best modeled as a barbarian or fighter around 6th level with a custom Strength-boosting template). Even full gods in many mythologies pale in comparison to a high-power, high-level Pathfinder character. As such, most narratives do not actually need those high levels—indeed, they have problems accomodating them, because overpowered spells trivialize too many of the challenges, as you found with true resurrection. By 15th level or so, “saving the world” is often rote and routine—not actually an appropriate challenge.

Instead, we can replace increasing levels with other forms of growth and advancement, to maintain the sense of progression and improvement for characters, but without reaching into the heights of Pathfinder’s highest levels.

For example, using the E6 variant (wherein the level cap becomes 6th, but characters continue to gain bonus feats as they gain more XP thereafter) is a popular approach, and in an E6 world, even raise dead is challenging to achieve (requiring some kind of plot-enabled special ritual, as there simply aren’t any spellcasters capable of simply casting the spell). E6-like variants cutting off at other levels, or using other forms of growth than bonus feats, are also possible.

Another approach is the one taken by the Eberron campaign setting in D&D, where the greatest people in the world top out at around 12th or 13th level—so by the time the players are around 10th, they’re already dealing with the kind of world-changing/saving stuff that is usually associated with higher levels. Campaigns don’t typically continue past, say, 14th level or so, and if they do, the PCs are like gods, powerful movers and shakers and the game becomes very different (and a system other than D&D or Pathfinder is recommended to handle this new type of game and its challenges). Again, though, true resurrection is extremely difficult to come by (only a couple of canonical characters in the setting are capable of casting it).

If the actual number written down on a character sheet is important to you in terms of achieving an epic campaign, consider limiting characters to the spell progression of bards and other ⅔ spellcasters. These classes fall in a very nice “sweet spot” in terms of Pathfinder’s design, and avoid a lot of trouble. You can even allow full-casting classes to people—as long as they multiclass enough to keep their spellcasting in line with ⅔ spellcasters.

Anyway, you haven’t described the setting you’re playing in, but the kind of campaign you are talking about simply doesn’t make a lot of sense in the kind of super-ultra-high-magic world that Pathfinder’s rules make reality at high levels. I think you can avoid a whole host of problems—from balance problems to narrative problems within your setting—by preventing those kinds of spells, and power levels that high, from even existing in the first place. It may be less work to rework any plans you have for high levels to use low levels, because the system will better support your goal (or it won’t be, if you are using an established setting that you would have to rewrite to use lower levels—that would obviously be a ton of work).

  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 15:45

Reframe the problem: the king already tried to resurrect his daughter this way, and it failed. The PCs' first task is to find out why. They're also authorized to raise her if they can fix the problem themselves, since they will be the first people to know it's possible again. By then, they could probably use her help, since you mentioned she's a high-level adventurer herself.

This frees you from the normal problem whereby anything that would stop true resurrection would also stop raise dead, because your character's goal is now to handle that issue. Once that's done, they're the ones on the scene, so it makes sense that they'd be the ones to raise her. Possibilties include:

  • The princess isn't dead. She might have been turned to stone, or subjected to trap the soul or temporal stasis. Stuff that raises the dead requires the target to actually be dead. You will need some way to make the king think the princess is dead, but fooling divinations is often easier than keeping a high-level adventurer caged up.
  • The princess is undead. How this happened is up to you to describe, but even the most powerful magic cannot raise a being that has become undead until it has first been destroyed. The players might be set up for an epic battle against a powerful entity, or they may have to hunt down a nameless skeleton in the army of a necromancer who passed by later and didn't know or care who he was animating for his new troops.
  • The princess aged to death. This takes a turn for the bizarre in a few ways, not least of which is the effect that killed her. You'd need some effect to age her very rapidly, or shunt her off to a plane where time flows quickly, or something along those lines. But it also means you need a completely different set of spells than the king expected: reincarnate, perhaps, or multiple applications of wish or miracle.
  • The princess doesn't want to be raised. At some point shortly before her death she learned something terrible about her father's High Priest -maybe real, maybe not- and refuses to be raised by him, lest he use her as a pawn in his Evil Schemes. Once the characters raise her, she warns them of the truth... but now the only people who know of the plot are in a far-off land, and the nefarious (?) priest is out of their reach.

There are other possibilities. The point is that while you're right that spells like true resurrection can require making plots a bit more convoluted, there are usually still limits to their power. The trick is working those limits into the plot, even if that means the PCs will have to break them later.


The monster that killed the princess could be a Devourer who trapped the soul of the princess.

That way the party would need to kill the devourer first and, hopefully, do so before her soul is completely consumed so she can be brought back without needing wish or miracle.

The devourer itself is CR11 but with it's spell like abilities of animate dead and lesser planar ally it can build itself an army if it alone is too weak for your party. But note that this would deplete essence points thus bringing the princess' soul closer to the brink.

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    \$\begingroup\$ To know the reason for the downvote could help me improve my answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Umbranus
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 20:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ The downvote was not mine, have an upvote to cancel it out. I thought your answer was decent, but very specific. The Devourer is not an enormous monster, but it could be traveling with the enormous monster. This is a workable suggestion. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 23:51

Is Your World Godless?

True Resurrection could be offset by the fact that the King's chosen deity has no intention of granting the daughter's return.

This leaves the party in the position to fulfill the King's wish or to adhere to the deity's decision. If they pursue the King's desire they would need to spend time familiarizing themselves with another deity that would grant the True Resurrection. Alignment shifts and appropriate quests ensue to assure their allegiance to the new god/deity.


Maybe the king is paying the adventurers to get such a diamond, not the body. It is fair to assume that there is just a handful of famous diamonds in the world known to be good enough to resuscitate high level character (influential and/or important person, in game terms). If the king agreed to pay 25000 GP to the party to get the diamond, it was 25000 GP worth diamond for the king, right? And that is the requirement for the spell.

Also, in fantastic world settings, we are used to assume kings have unlimited money and resources, but in real world history, that is far from true. Oftentimes, kings struggled with bankers and creditors to pay for their armies to wage wars. Kingdoms in periods of true wealth and abundance were far and few, and frequently kings and princes couldn't to live up to their nation's past glories and history. Maybe getting a cleric to do the spell and mobilizing resources to get the diamond would place the king in a weak position before its antagonists inside the kingdom (a cousin that wants the throne is a close friend of the high priest?). For some reason, the king believes that going for the adventurers is a less risky political move.

Lastly, one in how many people in the world is able to cast such a powerful spell? Maybe the previous high priest, who died last year at age of 102, was pious and wise enough to cast it, but the new high priest, although competent, is too young to get such a big divine favor.

My point is: mundane limitations happens.


[Legal Loophole]-The laws of succession in this kingdom are worded in ye olde "heirs of his body" language. Ergo, a True Resurrected princess would technically NOT be an heir because she was not created naturally, from the seed of the king. Aaand this is why people hate lawyers.- Heirs of the Body

  • \$\begingroup\$ Please don't make sexual jokes here. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 5:30

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