I used to hear people complain that the presence of raise dead and resurrection minimized the impact of death, but in these days of poofie games, when death doesn't occur at all, the subject doesn't come up so often. Still, I wanted to write a post about situations where spells, or even rods, aren't enough to change a bad situation for the better.
First, let's understand that spells and magic items have limitations ~ as does everything in D&D, because limitations are how games work. To bring back the dead, you've got to have a body. Even resurrection needs a body part ~ though gawd knows what the fuck the rule is in 5e ... probably, to make resurrection work in the newest version, we just need a memory of the dead. Hell, 5e probably doesn't even need a spell. I'll be you just have to really want another player to be raised.
But ... in the darker world of old timey D&D, there were limitations on a return from death that kept the game interesting, without having to create any rules. The simple fact of role-playing in a complex world made even resurrection with a rod impossible.
The gang I played with considered that "a part of the body" had to be something representative; an organ would do, but tended not to keep very well, where as a bone ... well, any of the 206 in the body would do. However, it had to be a part ... ashes were not enough. Therefore, if someone burned the body, that was the absolute removal of that creature from any possibility of resurrection. This fit neatly into the framework of religious cremation ~ so that we could argue that the reason why burning the body became a thing was so that kings and priests could not be brought back from the dead with the mere touch of a magic rod.
A similar argument is made for bodies dissolved in lime pits, or bodies that were eaten whole by creatures that made it impossible for the body to be obtained, even after the creature was dead. A character in my game once died permanently by remorhaz. The internal heat of the creature is such that as soon as he was swallowed (a special power of the creature in the original Monster Manual), the character was dead. No resurrection possible.
Of course, a character could be eaten by more normal creatures, too, who might swallow the bones, splitting them for their marrow or digesting the smallest pieces. If a character wandered off, and was killed, then dragged away by the monsters, so that by the time the players caught up to the player that the body and bones were rendered unrecognizeable ... that was permanent death, too.
There are a host of permanent deaths that involve the body simply being lost. It might be buried in an avalanche, never to be found again, even in the spring ~ and of course, some parts of the world have no spring. A body could be lost at sea and never found. A body could fall into a deep trench and be lost, or unrecoverable because the trench itself could not be navigated by a sufficiently skilled party. More than one character could die permanently in the attempt to recover one already lost.
Then we have my favorite. The crushing death. I once dropped a mountain on a character in a cave-in. Even if the body was recovered ~ next to impossible, as many kinds of rock cannot be excavated after a cave-in, because there's no way to "shore up" the new tunnel ~ it would be mush, as good as ashes ... and any lone bone that might exist would probably be missed and overlooked unless the space was excavated within a few weeks, before the flesh rotted away or was eaten by insects and other creatures.
Or the space between a glacial crevice; the body falls one hundred seventy feet, is wedged between the ice; which, moving, closes and squush. That's too much ice to simply turn to water. No spell would have been able to do it in less than three months.
Plus there's always lava, or being buried under a fall of ash. These are just things that happen. And for some reason, player characters are willing to go adventuring around volcanoes and other dangerous places, so it happens to them more frequently.
Of course, it doesn't take a physical force to end it. There's always transmogrifying into the undead. Once a character has become a shadow or a wraith, resurrection is out of the question. This isn't merely a curse. The soul itself has been lost from the body, entombed on another plane of existence. Resurrection presumes the soul and body are one. Without the soul, it might as well be the same issue as not having a part of the body. Perhaps the body could be raised ~ but like W.W. Jacobs' The Monkey's Paw, what comes a knocking is not what is hoped for.
The matter of the soul is often overlooked. For the body and soul to be restored to life, in the D&D framework of material plane and outer planes, where the latter is ruled over by gods who reap the dead according to their ethnic origin and ethical behaviour, resurrection magic requires a certain complicity. The god, having gotten the soul of your dead character, has to be willing to give it back. The existence of the spell, to me, suggests the god is mostly fine with this arrangement. After all, the god will get you eventually, and gods don't view time the way we do.
However, if your actions on the material plane have been running along with much conflict between you and some of the gods ~ and in those upper double digit levels that tends to be the sort of game that's played ~ some of the gods may not be so willing to give that soul back, once it's gotten. Remember, magic has limitations. And mortal magic is most definitely not the end all and be all of magical power in the multi-universes. At some point, if we've gained the enmity of the gods, that enmity is going to cost us when we want to get the soul of our friend back.
So these are ways that any character can die permanently. Some, because they failed a saving throw, or the dice were against them, or they made a bad decision and took too big a chance ... and others because it isn't possible to live forever. It's fine that most of the time the character can be gotten back; so long as we understand there's always a reasonable chance that they won't. Ever.
Though ... it's worth saying that if mortal magic does have its limitations in raising the dead, then immortal magic might have a few options that aren't normally available. And the gods might be convinced, somehow, to intervene even when deader than dead is not dead enough.
|Dungeons & Dragons means there's always a way to negotiate with this guy.|
But it's going to cost you.