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The standard means of recovering from death in 5e mostly require the use of spells like revivify, raise dead, reincarnate, and resurrection that are all costly to varying degrees in terms of time and resource expenditure as well as short-term or long-term consequences for character statistics, typically putting player characters out of commissions for long periods of valuable table time, and that's only at higher levels where the appropriate magic is even available. Otherwise, ad hoc side quests are often employed to find a way to recover a fallen ally, also at the expense of table time.

For a certain campaign I am running with a lighthearted premise in which the avoidance of death is not a primary motivator for players and death is thematically quick and easy to recover from in-universe, I want death to be a mechanical inconvenience rather than a costly trauma. I want to utilize a respawning mechanic similar to those used in many modern video-games, one which enables characters to recover from death quickly, cheaply, and with only temporary consequences. Specifically, I want player characters to be able to recover from death in less than 1 minute of in-game time in the middle of an ongoing dungeon delve or combat encounter.

What is a published rule variant or thoroughly tested house-rule for 5e that replaces or supplements the existing means of recovering from death with a mechanic similar to respawning that makes doings so quick and easy?

I believe there are no published rules that provide this variant, although I would be happy to find out that I am wrong. Instead, I'm anticipating house-rule recommendations, but only those that have been tested at a table and confirmed to operate as expected without unanticipated side-effects.

Note that I'm not concerned with balance per se, since respawning mechanics are by definition imbalanced in favor of the player characters, nor am I concerned with how to replace death with another motivator, since I already have other player character motivators in this campaign. Lastly, I am aware that revivify has a casting time of one action, but a solution to my problem should not require the party to have a particular class of character or access to particular spells. It should be a general solution that works for a party with no level or class minimum requirements.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Related: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/24706/… \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Mar 9 '17 at 14:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk I tried mining that other question for ideas, but I was unimpressed with the answers. It might give other people ideas though. \$\endgroup\$ – Bloodcinder Mar 9 '17 at 17:14
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The local temple can provide your PCs with death coins for a reasonable price. These golden coins, when placed on the tongue of a recently deceased corpse, serve as an offering to the gods to return the spirit of said corpse to its body. It takes an action to administer the coin to the corpse, and a full minute for the process to complete. Each coin has one use, after which it disappears.

This fulfills the quick and easy requirement, while still providing a way of limiting resources and giving death some small amount of tension and mechanical inconvenience. The coins should not be limited in their availability at the local temple, and should be priced reasonably but not cheaply. I'd recommend perhaps scaling the price by level -- something like 50gp per level sounds somewhat reasonable but you may have to adjust based on the amount of treasure in your adventure. You may need to fiddle with the price or other factors a bit to prevent them being bought cheaply at lower levels and used to resurrect higher level characters, or you may wish to ignore that requirement altogether.

I will note that I have played in RPG systems using this or very similar mechanics, both table-top and computer-based (primarily MUDs where roleplaying came before mechanics). It leads to characters often stopping by the local temple to make an offering and collect some coins before venturing out into the wild. It allows for a believable in-universe death/resurrection mechanic that doesn't restrict PCs as much as D&D resurrection-family spells do while still requiring some expenditure of resources.

As DM, if the player has angered their god in some way, you also have the option to prevent the coin from working but I would not do this lightly, and it may not fit into your idea for your lighthearted adventure.

I will also add that from an in-character perspective, this can fit very well into your lighthearted campaign. We would often make in-character jokes about the ease with which one returns to life after death, what with death being a supposedly harrowing and final experience, and the solution to it being shoving an affordably purchased and probably dirty magical coin into the recently deceased's mouth.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I accepted this answer because it most closely satisfies the restrictions of the question. \$\endgroup\$ – Bloodcinder Mar 16 '17 at 18:25
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Take a leaf out of Paranoia's rulebook

Paranoia is an RPG that's built around goofy, slapstick, ill-justified deaths. The rulebook advises "Kill your players if you think they really deserve it. Also kill your players if you don't think they deserve it but you think it'd be funny.". Tonally, it's brilliant, but mechanically there's really not much to it:

You're all part of a batch of six clones. If any of you die, then a replacement will just turn up somehow - I'll figure out the details as we go. Run out of clones and you're dead for good.

When one clone died, I as the GM was responsible for hastily and sloppily writing their replacement back into the story. Paranoia has a sci-fi setting, and in my campaign I'd either have fresh clones falling out of a convenient cupboard somewhere, or getting fired out of a 2,000mm calibre cannon at the vague area in which they were working. I needed to establish early on that stupid deaths would happen regularly, and the rulebook advises just killing off a couple of characters early on to point out that you really will be bringing people back quickly. By the end of it the party were getting into completely ridiculous situations, knowing that the result would likely be a TPK, and laughing along with it when they all inevitably got turned into a fine paste.

Though it'd need re-fluffing for D&D I think Paranoia is built around creating the sort of game you're after. 5e has already got the bits you need ready to go:

Clone

Components V, S, M (a diamond worth at least 1000 GP and at least 1 cubic inch of flesh of the creature that is to be cloned, which the spell consumes. A vessel worth at least 2000 GP that has a sealable lid and is large enough to hold a Medium creature)

This spell grows an inert duplicate of a living creature as a safeguard against death. ... It remains inert and endures indefinitely, as long as its vessel remains undisturbed.

At any time after the clone matures, if the original creature dies, its soul transfers to the clone, [which] has the same personality, memories, and abilities.

Regenerate

The target's severed body members ... are restored after 2 minutes.

(both exerpts heavily edited, but the meaning remains)

As part of joining your (completely loopy) adventurers' guild, the resident skilled necromancer lops a leg off each of your adventurers and regrows it. Each leg is then used to make a gigantic batch of clones - you can probably get a good 50 or so cubic inches of flesh out of a leg - and, several months later, the adventurers are ready to deploy!

As a bonus, the clones are completely inert and packed into various containers until they're needed, so you could hand them a bunch of copies on a giant wagon to haul around with them, bury them in convenient places, load them into a trebuchet and let them land on another player when they're redeployed...

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm a simple narrative-driven GM who doesn't really enjoy checking tables, rolling dice or even pretending to care about the result of said dice. I see Paranoia, I upvote. \$\endgroup\$ – xDaizu Mar 9 '17 at 12:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @xDaizu From my table: "OK, you hear a loud thud from the distance, and hear a high pitched whistle, getting lower and lower and lower. You see a great black shape in the sky get larger above you. Of course, it'd be a staggering coincidence if this were to land directly on top of you - the chances against it would be clatter... whoops! Traito-R-USS steps out of the drop pod, into your spleen" \$\endgroup\$ – ymbirtt Mar 9 '17 at 14:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you then clone off of the clones? You could theoretically have those same necromancers paid by the guild to keep making more clones off of the clones they have and then you have limitless respawns. \$\endgroup\$ – David Starkey Mar 10 '17 at 19:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DavidStarkey Hey, it's 3kgp a pop. Let's not get ambitious. Prove you're worth it and we might make a few more of you. \$\endgroup\$ – ymbirtt Mar 10 '17 at 19:37
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The Revenant Subrace is what you're looking for.

Wizards released an Unearthed Arcana for Gothic Heroes in April 2016. In it, you will find the Revenant Subrace, which replaces any character's subrace. The Revenant has a feature called Relentless Nature which reads:

Relentless Nature

  • If you die, you return to life 24 hours after death. If your body is destroyed, you reform within 1 mile of the place of your death at a spot determined by the DM. If your equipment was also destroyed, you do not regain it.

The subrace option has many other features including regeneration if you're below half HP, and the constant sense of vengeance for what killed you. The latter, you may omit, if you like.

Pros: - Easy resurrection, and totally controllable by the DM

Cons:

  • 24 hour resurrection time.
  • Cannot be used on Races that have no subrace. The last time I checked, only Half-Orcs have no subrace anymore, Half elves, and Tieflings have subrace rules with the release of SCAG. This can be tweaked, though, if your Player really wants to play a half-orc. (Also, though Dragonborn have no subrace, the UA details how to convert Dragonborn to Revenant Dragonborn.
  • The Regeneration feature may be a problem. I haven't playtested this, myself.
  • Intrusive. Players might not like it if you take away their subrace, especially the variant humans.

Warning, frame challenge incoming:

Perhaps DnD isn't the system you should be running for the kind of game you want. Though asking for game recommendations is off-topic, you could ask at RPG General Chat.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This answer does not meet the goal of recovering from death in 1 minute or less. I would characterize this as easy but not quick, because it does not get a player character back into the action during the same dungeon. \$\endgroup\$ – Bloodcinder Mar 9 '17 at 4:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Bloodcinder Well, at least the answer shows that there are (unofficial?) published rules for what you're looking for. It weighs in on what the designers think a sane amount of time it would take for insta-resurrection. If you want to tweak the resurrection time to 1 minute from 24 hours, then I have nothing on that, sadly. \$\endgroup\$ – daze413 Mar 9 '17 at 4:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Good point on it being something backed by the designers, relevant for comparison. \$\endgroup\$ – Bloodcinder Mar 9 '17 at 4:37
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My Experience

In my latest campaign, I let my PCs respawn at a particular location whenever they die. More specifically, they have a home base that contains an artifact that regenerates them, with all of their items, whenever they die.

It works remarkably well, in my opinion. As you might expect, death is cheap, and my PCs aren't too concerned about dying. However, because my PCs only have one respawn point, their effective power is greatest in their respawning room and decreases as they get further away. For example, I had them fight a powerful monster in the same room as their respawner, and they could handle dying because they immediately jump back into the fray. On the other hand, if they die several days out from their base, it takes them time to travel back to where they started. This imposes a minor inconvenience on dying, which I can tune by adjusting the distance between the adventure site and the home base.

My Suggestion

If you want to make resurrection even faster, you could simply put a respawn at the beginning of the dungeon, or let your PCs designate respawn locations (perhaps on a timer?). This would have the same travel effect as my singular respawn point, but reduce the costs even further, perhaps down to the 1 minute limit you want.

Things to Consider

  • Making death cheap turns death into a resource. Players will consider throwing themselves into suicidal situations, or using death in a clever way (to spook NPCs, for example). For example, a lot of the traditional combat incentives go away. When my players were fighting the monster in their spawnpoint, they attacked with reckless abandon. You need to create some external motivator, otherwise your PCs will constantly sacrifice themselves.

  • Be very clear on exactly what your PCs get upon respawning. This is mostly regarding losing items and regaining things like HP. If your PCs get fully healed and their spell slots back upon respawning, that will drastically change the way they approach an adventuring day ("I used my good spells/I'm hurt/I'm stuck, I guess I'll just kill myself"). On the other hand, if they hardly get any HP back, they're effectively doomed to constant deaths once the healing runs out. Similarly, if they lose their items, video game style, it imposes a cost to putting themselves in impossible situations.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Another consideration when it comes to motivation or what happens when you die, is the trauma of it. If killing yourself is still a painful ordeal, you could rule that you would need a will save (or something similar) to be able to do it. This could go up or down over time as you either keep remembering the terribleness of death, or down if it isn't so bad and you get used to it. This would also be modified by the respawning being something new introduced into the PC's life, or if it's always been there and is just how the world works. \$\endgroup\$ – Tylor Mar 9 '17 at 14:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Tylor That's a really good point. One of my favorite examples of that dynamic is the video game Limbo. The game gives you infinite respawns with generous checkpoints and no penalties in terms of gameplay. But the death animations are very explicit and disturbing. As a result, when I play the game, I try to avoid death as much as possible, even though I know it doesn't really cost me anything! \$\endgroup\$ – Kevin Mar 9 '17 at 20:05
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Simply take death off the table

If you fail 3 death saves or die from massive damage you are unconscious for the rest of the encounter (or 1 minute which is effectively the same thing). After which you regain consciousness with 1hp; until then you cannot be healed.

There are no game balance issues: the PC is out for the encounter (same as being dead) and usually, when a PC dies, the party retreats rather than pressing on until they get PC Mark II to replace PC Mark I - this just happens a bit quicker.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you tested this houserule in play? \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Mar 9 '17 at 1:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ My concern about this answer is that this isn't a means for recovering from death. It's a means for obfuscating or eliminating death. That's not really the same thing. \$\endgroup\$ – Bloodcinder Mar 9 '17 at 3:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Bloodcinder - if you prefer replace "unconscious for the rest of the encounter" with "dead for the rest of the encounter" and "regain consciousness" with "resurrect" \$\endgroup\$ – Dale M Mar 10 '17 at 0:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ You spontaneously resurrect? Well, anyway, as Miniman asked, has this house-rule been tested? \$\endgroup\$ – Bloodcinder Mar 10 '17 at 2:05
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The Favored of the Gods

Fluff

Well met, young friends. Welcome to the All Temple. You have each been brought here, brought by a feeling you cannot deny. Indeed, you have been summoned by the gods themselves. You have each been chosen by a god, for a destiny. This destiny may be great, or it may be small. But it is vital to you patron god, and it is one that only you can fulfill.

Of course, like many young folk, you are probably going to go out an do some stupid, adventurous things. Save a prince, fight a dragon, scale an unclimbable mountain. Things that will probably get you killed. The gods can't have that, can they. But at the same time, doing this adventuring will toughen you up for whatever it is your god has in store for you. So go out and die. At least for now, it won't stick.

Oh, that got your attention, eh? Yes, yes, as a Favored, if you die, your god will bring you back. But it's not quite that simple. The god will bring you back, yes. However they can only do so in a place of power. Usually that's a temple, but in some cases there might be a place of historic significance to your patron. Maybe the site of their birth, or a great battle or something. You must attune yourself to that place of power, but once you do, if you die, you will find yourself brought back to life in there. Of course, there are limits, and if you die too much, your god might decide that you aren't worth the effort, and try to teach you a lesson. Or even just withdraw their favor and find someone else.

'Only you can fulfill that destiny'? Bah. Where'd you hear such rubbish?

Anyway, now that should be long enough. You are all attuned to this place. Now get out of here.

Crunch

The Players Character, and certain NPCs and enemies, are considered Favored. This justifies why their stats and abilities are some much above average. It also allows them to respawn at the last attuned temple or holy site when they are killed. Each Player must choose a god who is the patron of her character. This does not have to be the same god they follow (if a divine caster) or the same as a Warlock's patron. Just consider that choosing a god diametrically opposed to your alignment or class may have other repercussions.

Attunement: A PC can attune themselves to any (true) temple of their patron god, or other holy site. A normal attunement requires remaining in the location for 15 minutes. The character does not need to focus on the attunement, and the result is automatic. A player may attempt to attune a site more quickly; this requires a Wis or Cha check (DC 14) and one minute. If the check fails, the character is not attuned to the site, and cannot try a quick attunement for 1 day. Normal attunement is still possible.

Respawn: When a Favored character dies, they appear in the location they are attuned to. The character has full HP, but any limited use skills or spells are not recovered. The character is still carrying the items they had at both the time of attunement and the time of death. Items acquired since the point of attunement drop at the location the character died, even if stored in a bag of holding or similar device. And items lost, used, stolen, or given away are not magically recovered.

The character can choose not to respawn for up to one hour. This can allow her allies to revive her, if some other means of resurrection are available. After the hour, the character returns to the attunement site.

Limits: The gods are picky and can be demanding. They don't have time to constantly bring back a troublesome mortal. If the character dies more than once in a day, or more than five times in a week, she will have a -1 penalty to all d20 checks (attacks, saves, skills, etc). This penalty lasts for six hours. Each additional death causes an addition -1 penalty, lasting six hours longer than the previous penalty (the second extra death is -1 for 12 hours, the third is 18 hours, etc). These penalties stack, i.e. if the character dies a second extra death 3 hours into the first penalty, she has a -2 to all checks for 3 hours, and then -1 for 9 hours.

This penalty can be omitted at the god's will. For example, a character defending a holy site from enemies of their patron may be allowed to respawn repeatedly without penalty.

A character who continually stacks up death penalties may be abandoned by her patron. This is more likely if the character is not compatible with the god, or is acting against the god's interests.

History

I used this in one of the few 4E games I DMed, for a group looking for an experience more like an MMORPG. It was also useful for recurring villains. It went reasonably well, though at one point there was an issue when a PC wasn't able to attune, and ended up half a continent away. I wasn't willing to push the MMO thing far enough to give them a fast travel system.

I tried to rewrite the crunch to fit 5E, but the concept is simple enough. And you could also try to adjust death penalty if it turns out to does not fit your campaign.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm really tempted to remove the fluff section of this answer as it doesn't really seem necessary to actually answer the question and adds a lot of unneeded noise. \$\endgroup\$ – Purple Monkey Mar 16 '17 at 1:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PurpleMonkey Please don't . The RP part of it is helpful \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Mar 16 '17 at 1:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ I concur that the fluff section is helpful for justifying why the crunch would make sense in context. \$\endgroup\$ – Bloodcinder Mar 16 '17 at 2:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ While I did accept another answer for being slightly more accurate to the restrictions of the question, this remains my favorite answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Bloodcinder Mar 16 '17 at 18:26

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