Saturday, February 5, 2011

Resurrection as a Commodity

I've been digging through Labyrinth Lord with the idea of creating a world - not based on real historical societies - but on the mechanics of D&D.  Fighters are billy bad-asses, and high level magic-users are just frighteningly powerful with that wish spell of theirs.  It's probably even hard to imagine our world if you were from a fantasy universe.  But the clerics have some world-shaking skills of their own.

From first to eighth level, clerics gain the ability to cure disease, neutralize poison, and heal massive tissue damage.  Starting at ninth level, they begin to gain the ability to erase any affliction known, including death.  Sure, a magic-user can reincarnate you into a baboon or a unicorn, but the humble priestess can resurrect you exactly like you were, even if all that remains is a toenail clipping.  In fact, it's easier to bring someone back from the dead than to regrow a toe.

Death is only a speed-bump.  What does that do to a society?  Being not-dead has got to be a hugely desired product - more popular that even smart phones.  We have a problem here on Earth with not enough health care providers or the infrastructure to support it.

Loved ones will rush to the temple with their freshly decapitated loved ones - only to stand in line that would probably reach around the block multiple times.  Vendors would hawk their wares, selling roasted turkey legs and ale to bereaved - if hopeful - relatives of the deceased.  But there would come a point when some people would just have to be turned away.  There wouldn't be enough clerics to handle the load of bringing to life everyone that someone didn't want to die.  Resurrection refusal would lead to riots - and more dead people to resurrect.

Of course, the priest would have to charge for their services in order to meet costs and to find an economic balance.  Even the best of intentioned clerics would be tempted to charge exorbitant amounts of money for resurrections - since they could only do a very small amount per month compared to the actual amount of people who die.  Royalty, merchants, and successful adventurers would have much better access to the priests, of course.

Perhaps some temples would institute a raffle for some of the resurrections they would do to try to be fair.  Others might only resurrect those they deemed worthy - but eventually they might have to determine worthiness by forms filled in triplicate and authorized by local bureaucrats.

Of course, all this might be simplified by the god or goddess of the religion directly authorizing healing or resurrection or particular people - direct divine administrative guidance.  I can see a god getting pretty bored with that job, however, and parceling it out to avatars or angels instead - who would probably give it right back to the priests.  The entire system may eventually devolve into a series of bingo games.

If a PC cleric reaches ninth level, it's in their own best interest to not let anyone know - ever.  Our mighty adventuring priestess is supposed to be building a stronghold - a keep - at this point - not be working the night shift at Our Lady of Perpetual Life Hospital downtown on Washington and 10th Street as an intern.  A ninth level priest is supposed to have on average, 150 soldiers suddenly appear - and I think I know why now.

It's the health care plan.

What this all boils down to in lower level game terms is that when the PCs come out of the the dungeon carrying their dead companion, there probably won't be some hermit priest on the side of the road ready to resurrect them.  If that ninth level hermit priest was loitering in the ditch - a city would suddenly spring up around him overnight.

- Ark


  1. I think overall relatively few people would get resurrected so, I don't know if their would be riots or what not in most circumstances. It wouldn't be an expectation. Now, in rival political situations/ethnic conflict I can see this problem coming into play.

    We could look at resurrection two ways: (1) Gods are intensely involved and its pretty clear who they want ressurrected and who they don't, and so people would tend to know for whom the gods will exert themselves; (2) the gods are more distant, and resurrection is largely administered for and by priesthoods for their benefit. Again the power commoner would tend not to expect much because resurrection would mostly be used to serve entrenched interests.

  2. I have played 'resurrection' in AD&D as something that, while readily available, always has a cost that a PC or player may not want to pay.

    Usually it is the loss of an attribute point or some kind of curse if the PC fails to behave the way the particular adherents of the faith doing the resurrecting are required. Sometimes it is simply a quest for a lost relic or an escort of pilgrims to a newly discovered shrine.

    Once it was a Magic User who's finger was used to resurrect him, but could only be 'raised'. The loss of that finger would give him a severe disadvantage when casting some spells requiring a somatic component.

    In AD&D, the resurrection spell "...makes it impossible for the cleric to cast further spells or engage in combat until he or she has had one day of bed rest for each level of experience of the person brought back to life..." (PHB p53) - so that is a bit of a limit to a High Priest's time and effort.

    I like the bureaucracy angle: "We need some proof that Hazmat the Sly was indeed a pious a thief that would never have picked the pockets of a priest of Pelor before we'll consider him for the short-list. Does he have any dependants? Yes? Are they true-born or bastards? Oh, oh dear.."

    I'd also consider the point that you may be taking back someone from a god, who may have 'other plans' for that individual, and invoke some serious wrath for doing so

  3. Once I was in a campaign where the neutral temples sold death insurance. Killing rich people was a huge pain in the ass.

  4. Interesting project, I like to see the choices folks make when building a setting to the tropes of D&D, as opposed to a historical setting or literary emulation with D&D bolted on.

    A piece I'd look at is demographics. What percentage of the population are clerics with levels, and just how common are priests 9th level or higher? Is the setting high or low powered?

    I do think a "classic" approach to a D&D setting should have Raise Dead available to characters, though.

  5. Just taking a single city as an example.. If it's known that a cleric with raising ability is resident there, what does that do to the plans of a would-be murderer? A would-be assassin? A common killer would either be too wary of his victim returning to actually go through with the crime, or would be prepared to go to great lengths to dispose of the body in such a way as to prevent resurrection.

    An assassin, on the other hand, would be most likely to mark the capable cleric as target number one.

    Much like players in an mmo who all know to "target the healer first, dammit!' rivals to your city's or nation's ruling powers would want to first eliminate the spellcasting clerics.

  6. Possibly relevant: The Wish Economy (for when mere gold just doesn't matter any more).

    It assumes 3E as the game engine, but I hope the thoughts therein on wishes and resurrections as high-level mediums of exchange may be of interest.

  7. @Trey - Expectations would definitely figure into it. If only the nobles get resurrected, then that is what the lower classes would expect. But if some injustice occurred - like a little girl was run down by a Prince's carriage and killed - a popular upwelling - chanting 'Resurrect Little Alice" might take to the streets and create all kinds of havoc.

    Okay, so maybe I just like havoc. :)

    @biopunk - The AD&D take on it sure does knock the wind out of any attempt at commodifying resurrections, doesn't it. And pissing off a god - rarely a good thing to do.

    Hmm, what if the resurrected are somehow 'marked.' Like, oh, their skin turns translucent blue, a glowing diamond appears on their forehead, and the hover instead of walk. Or something else that really freaks people out. Not grotesque, just completely freaky. Would people be more apt to put a DNR in their living wills?

    @Jeff - What a great idea. The neutral temples could also snip off the pinky of any of their clients and keep 'parts banks' for backups.

    @Beedo - For years I've tried to invent world and then staple on the game mechanics to the side. Doing it the opposite way never occurred to me till now. :)

    I guess I'll need to do some demographic work to see how common resurrectionists would be. I'd say that high powered adventurers are common enough that the regional government/diocese/guild already has a plan for them when they reach 9th level.

    @migellito - Acid, green slime, and gelatinous cubes would be a very popular tool for assassins in that situation. A whole lot of killing would have to happen so that a killing would 'stick.'

    @Chris - Quite awesome link there. It got me thinking a lot. It's not 100% applicable to 0e or 1e, but certainly gets the mental juices flowing on the upper and lower levels of a fantasy economy. My mind is still swirling around it though to make much of a useful comment about it.

    I just love the image of the gold-laden PCs having to clean out the pig stalls of Farmer Fred to be allowed to sleep in the barn!

    - Ark