On Death and Dying

So, there's a question on my favorite arrogant, narcissistic, 'love to hate it' blog The Tao of D&D about the role of the church, and more specifically how raise dead / resurrection affects the standing of the church in fantasy society.

It seems pretty clear to me that Alexis doesn't have much experience with the health care field.  I've had these same questions (when I was 14) about how this spell worked and about how it fit inside a actual representation of medieval society. I've come to terms with them long ago. (jab, jab, poke, poke)

First, it must be understood that it's necessary for the game. In every edition, by the time you reach a level where encounters have a regular chance of killing you raise dead appears. In Pathfinder, the spell appears as soon as the math shows you start losing party members from average distribution of damage. In earlier editions, it's when players regularly start running up against things that have multiple save or die attacks. It's necessary to have the spell, because without it campaigns would end at higher levels from the death of everyone involved.

To this point, the general thrust of the discussion seems to be ways to make the cleric 'pay' to 'balance' raise dead. I think what the post and responses (which are clearly designed to encourage discussion) are missing is actually looking at what the spell does, and realizing that we can do it today.

The spell returns life to a dead body. It doesn't fix anything, heal wounds (beyond a few points of damage), or resolve any current social conflicts and it has a failure chance and a limited time frame in which to be cast. Specifically this means there has to be a body in reasonable condition, it can't die from natural causes (because they would just kill it again if it were raised), it has to be fresh and not around anyone who, say, would just murder it all over again.

I think what many people fail to recognize about our medial system is that when a person is in a hospital, we basically have the option of keeping their body living indefinitely. (Anyone who's ever called a 'slow code' just so you don't have to deal with the resurrection (sic) of the body can relate to how frustrating this can be). Certainly there's an issue with it not always working (System shock/Resurrection survival), and it gets harder as they get sicker (-1 constitution every time it happens), and it's very, very, very, very, expensive.

The change it makes in society aren't an enigma, because they are ours. Longer life span, control of diseases, antitoxins/antiserums, the changes are the ones that we are familiar with. It makes a society look like our society.

There is a factor of having the 'church' being in charge of the whole thing is a somewhat minor point, driven by the polytheistic nature of the fantasy setting. I haven't even begun to address the class/level rarity issue - Learning to be a doctor in our society takes a minimum of 12 years of school (4 college, 2 post grad, 4 doctorate, 2 residency), and it changes who they are. It takes over their whole life. You need (approximately, depending on your gaming system) a fifth level cleric for the basic medical spells, cure disease, cure blindness/deafness, and a ninth level cleric for raise dead. These are available in most large communities, just like doctors. But they are not common, and they require a large infrastructure and support system so that they can do their job.  This, again, is similar to our current system. The costs are high, but cheaper in a fantasy realm then they are in reality. Even if you equate 1gp=20$ a hospital stay runs you a minimum of five thousand dollars a day just for lying there.

This doesn't necessarily address resurrection, which I've never had to deal with on a regular basis. However checking the game system I run, I see that it requires a 14th level cleric (over 1.35 million experience). I tally up experience and hand it out like the game says to do. It's a long road to 1 million experience - a long road just the quarter million you need to reach name level. It would take about 1 year of real time on average to reach name level, and about half a year for every level after that. So even for those 14th level clerics that exist, I imagine they are busy doing something besides helping their local communities. And if a PC cleric reaches that level? They earned it, let them resurrect away. I also note that resurrection has a substantial aging cost, limiting the number of resurrections the cleric can perform.

Again, would this make any changes to the way society functions? Not really. your average constitution gives a 75% chance this spell will work on you which gets worse every time it happens, it doesn't do anything if you screwed up your body (burned up, bashed head open, ruined liver, old). Sadly, much like modern day, just handing over the house to the church guarantees nothing. Also, people still fear pain.

Another interesting factor is that they have proof of an afterlife. Remember, raising only works on those souls that are willing, so how many people are going to want to leave heaven once they get there?

As far as handing money over to the players with no effort, I sympathize with Alexis. I have similar problems with my group. Given the option, they would spreadsheet earn their way to system mastery. I just use my infinite resources as a DM to make sure the rug of stability keeps getting yanked out from under them (in fair, sand-boxy, natural consequence, type ways) to keep them on the road to adventure!

Edit: Just a note added to point out that The Tao of D&D is one of the few blogs I've bothered to go back and read all of the posts. I agree a great deal with many of Alexis's posts, his thinking on many issues. He's also an excellent writer. I will continue to read and think about his blog posts. I will also continue to taunt him. :-) I wouldn't bother if it weren't an excellent blog.


  1. Yeah, I like some of this argument, but it doesn't exactly scan.

    Your first point "it's necessary for the game", is just straight-up wrong. There is no requirement in any game system to keep characters alive. Characters are the single most replaceable thing in the system, being that they are sheets of paper with words on them.

    Second point - we can do it today... also not really digging that one. We are really good at keeping people FROM dying, but we're pretty shit at bringing them back from the dead 6 days later. And factor in that magical healing seems to do away with infection, disability and lengthy recovery process. These are very real issues in modern health care.

    Finally, and most damning to your argument, to me, is that you slam Alexis for "not having much experience in the medical field" and then turn around and exhibit your lack of understanding of history when you say that having the church be in charge of the whole thing is a minor point.

    In our modern, polytheistic society, it still would not be a minor point. In medieval Europe, the church effectively ran the show for centuries - if they had control of cheap, magically effective health care, things would likely have been very different.

    So - interesting take on it, but I think you tried a bit to hard to make Alexis look bad, and didn't really spend enough time thinking.

  2. Thanks for your comments,

    "necessary for the game", in 3.x the math is fairly explicit that raise dead appears when the average encounter can drop a party member, and in old school Dungeons and Dragons, it appears when your characters are ready to take on things like beholders and dragons which can kill fairly instantly. It's a game and that's part of the control to keep it fun. I agree that there is no requirement to keep characters alive, and as stated there are lots of reasons that this might not work. Regardless, it's a game, and there's the rules.

    You are of course correct, the spells allow substantial delays in the raising of the dead, and it is not a direct analogy. I do not think that this is a significant enough factor to have a substantive effect on the results of culture.

    And your comments about my comments about Alexis are spot on. I thought that was made fairly explicit (poke, poke, nudge, nudge). What else are you supposed to do with narcissists besides taunt them?

    The church being in charge isn't a 'minor point' in the sense that it didn't have a huge effect on history - it's a minor point in that 'mercy baptist worship the christ zombie lord medical' is connotively identical to 'athiest science research experimental hospital' is identical 'Thor's patch 'em up altar and hammer sale shop'

    the fact that the 'chruch ran the show' being helped by the fact that they had cheap, magically effective health care is hurt by the fact that *all* religions have cheap, magically effective health care.

    Again, thanks for your comments. :-)

  3. Yes, I agree that in the context of a "save or die" environment, raise dead is both practical and useful. Maybe I've spent too much time playing games that either aren't that fatal, or encourage you to just roll up a new character. Heck, for RECON, I used to roll up 3 characters per session. 'Cause... y'know.

    Your argument that a society like that would reflect our society does carry some weight, though. In my experience, most D&D is set in our society with some medieval window dressing, so maybe it's not that far off.

    Ultimately, I was interested in Alexis' thoughts on where these rules would take 'his' game world - a world where, say what you will about the man personally, he puts in some effort for verisimilitude.


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