5e, Musings, Pathfinder, Spells, World Building

Reincarnation and You

by Jonathan D.

Today I want to talk to you about a matter close to my heart: overpowered game mechanics. I’ll admit it—I’ve been known to be a bit of a min-maxer (more on that in future posts). Actually, today’s topic is especially close to my heart because it encompasses another of my favorite rant subjects: realism in D&D. Now, these two topics frequently relate to one another. In a realistic setting, for example, most of us would be surprised if the wood elf barbarian we were fighting abruptly transformed into a bear and ripped out our larynxes. Some abilities are so busted that players will sacrifice realism to make themselves more awesome.

I’ve got something else in mind. Move aside, bearbarian. Who needs Elven Accuracy or Eldritch Blast? I’m not talking about your simple, garden variety busted here. I’m talking world-breaking, history-rewriting levels of busted. I’m talking about a level 5 druid spell called Reincarnate.

Are you underwhelmed yet? Unconvinced of the true magnitude of power contained in this spell? Well, if not, then you probably aren’t aware of how Reincarnate works. I will discuss the 5e version of the spell in particular, but it’s been around since original D&D and the important bits haven’t changed very much. Reincarnate is essentially a weirder druid version of Raise Dead, your lowest level resurrection spell. You can use it on any humanoid that has been dead for 10 days or less, and you need a piece of the body. So, if your half-orc buddy Chris chokes to death on his owlbear steak, just call up your neighborhood druid! 1 hour and 1000 gold pieces (500 more than Raise Dead) later, he’s back to life, good as new…except that he’s a gnome now, and his name’s Christina. To summarize, Reincarnate costs more than Raise Dead, works at the same time interval after death, and you come back as the wrong race. So what exactly makes this spell so great?

Well, first off, it only requires a piece of the target’s body. This is helpful if, for instance, most of Chris’s internal organs are trapped in the belly of a giant squid. But second (and most importantly), it fashions you an entirely new body, free of all the quirks and problems of the prior one. This includes a pesky thing called “age.” Chris’s new body is a fully grown adult body, without his old aches and pains, and with his hair returned to the glorious luster of his youth. For an adventurer like Chris, this benefit isn’t especially attractive since the debilities of age are years away. But what if Chris were an all-powerful monarch, a mighty tyrant, or even the grand progenitor of a great globe-encompassing secret society? This spell is suddenly a very attractive solution.

Every other resurrection spell specifies that the target cannot have died of old age. Not so Reincarnate, because it completely resets your age. For a man of wealth, such as a king, or even the head of a noble family, 1000 gold pieces really isn’t all that much. And time and time again within D&D narratives, powerful sorcerers turn to great extremes to defy the aging process. Some of them become liches, others imbibe strange concoctions, and a few spend their entire lives pursuing the philosopher’s stone. You may say that being the wrong race is inconvenient, but it’s much easier to change your appearance than it is to achieve agelessness any other way. Besides, if you really want, you can always just cast the spell over and over again until you get a body you like. And so why not simply have a friend ready to Reincarnate you as soon as death comes knocking at your door? Why not rise again to lead your family into a new era of prosperity–one in which your dynasty will never end? Besides, it also gets rid of that nasty case of herpes you got from that lamia in Skullport. I’m talking, of course, about cold sores.

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