|Swaard of the Trollhaunt, Ghostmaster of Hammerfast - now approaching his fourth incarnation.|
Monte Cook recently posted about the role of Raise Dead in 5th Edition, arguing that peril is best supported if resurrection is rare, and proposing a two-pronged solution to character death: get the cleric to cast a "revivify" spell in the moments after, or undergo a costly ritual that can only be performed when the stars are in conjunction (or similar). He also brings up that old chestnut: "if Raise Dead exists, why don't the rich live forever?".
I think 4th Edition covers the story side quite well. I'll explain why in my next post, but first let's look at those thorny game-play issues. It's tempting to take a somewhat gamist view here (as I think Monte does): risk only exists if there are negative consequences to balance against, and punishment adds value to success. Under those principles, the benefits of springing back to life are countered through depletion of valuable resources, removal of powers, or significant setbacks (waiting until the stars are right!). At their most extreme, "perma-death" is touted as the de facto way of playing.
My first problem here is that D&D relies heavily on chance, and as such, it simply isn't very fair. Gamers accept punishment only if they feel they've deserved it, and chance working against you isn't a deserving fate for anyone. On a similar tack, making resurrection all rare and special works fine if you died holding back an army of demons, but it's not so cool if you died falling from a tree. Then, of course, we have the issue of player investment. Unlike most games, RPGs are designed for campaign play: multiple sessions spanning weeks of real-time. If a game is quick, we tend to be more forgiving of chance. But what if you're carrying that randomly-imposed penalty for months? As for permanent death, I think it hangs the game on a hook of hack-slashery, where treasure is the only reward and death the only punishment, and I'd guess most campaigns are more invested than that. I don't know anyone who's sacrificed their character because they knew the cleric could revive them, but I have known players quit outright if their heavily-invested character dies permanently.
So what to do? Put plainly, I think the current system is fine: a chunk of cash, an extended rest for the ritual to be performed, and a small penalty that lasts for a few encounters. In my experience, players only bother with resurrection when they're heavily invested in their character. Why punish somebody's investment in your campaign by insisting that they "start over"?
GRIEVOUS WOUNDS: A HOUSE RULE
When an adventurer dies, a player can choose to have them grievously wounded instead. The character is removed from play until the end of the encounter, at which point they return to where they died and are restored to 1 hit point. Any temporary conditions suffered at the time of death are removed, but permanent conditions remain.
The character suffers a grievous wound penalty until treated: -1 to all attacks, skill checks, saving throws, and ability checks. Treatment can only take place during an extended rest, and requires mystic salves. The component cost is 500 gp for heroic tier characters, 5,000 gp for paragon tier characters, and 50,000 gp for epic tier characters. Treating fresh wounds is more costly: any treatment made before three milestones have passed doubles the component cost.