D&D 5E Reincarnation thoughts and problems.

Kobold Stew

Last Guy in the Airlock
Supporter
Reincarnate is an amazingly rich narrative idea, but it gets gummed up in the reality of play. In 8 years of regular play, I have yet to see the spell used in 5e. Even without seeing the spell in play, the existence of the spell has some cool implications for the overall game world. There are also some interesting changes to how the spell works given the rule changes since Tasha’s, MOTM (with further changes expected in 1D&D)

1. Reincarnate vs. Raise Dead. Both 5th-level spells, reincarnation is druid-specific (plus Bard with secrets). In most cases, Raise Dead is better and more accessible: it’s half the cost (500 vs 1000 gp of materials), and you know what you are getting (which typically represents a player’s choices). Raise Dead means you keep any scars, your current age, and if body parts are missing, they’re still gone. That’s cool and frightening flavour-wise, but I can’t think of a game where villains have been trophy-hunting from fallen PCs.

2. “Piece of a dead humanoid”: one way Reincarnate is better is that you don’t need a body, only a piece of a [currently, at time of casting] dead humanoid. That could let you bring back someone whose body is lost at sea, or on another plane, or exploded, etc.

It also means that the “insurance” you give to your party druid (or some trusted ally within 10 days’ travel) is part of your body. Hair clippings and fingernails are traditional, but other possibilities exist. The Clone spell specifies “one cubic inch of flesh” (magic uses imperial) but there is no similar restriction for Reincarnate. Would you have your PC give a piece of their body to a party member? Are these other spells or magical effects that could use the body piece for other, more nefarious purposes? Does this difference justify the increased cost of the spell?

3. Diamonds. Thinking about the amount of diamonds required is also an issue. I’ve never played in a game where players are carrying around diamonds for themselves to be revivified or raised form the dead, but I also know that when I once suggested a party-pool of 1000-1500 gp-worth of diamonds from the party loot, the other players didn’t buy in. What’s been your experience? In most campagins I’ve been in, there just isn’t that much gold in play – higher level characters might have a couple hundred, but not more.

4. Psychology. This seems to imply a mechanism whereby after death, the soul is separated from the body,* but nevertheless retains a connection of some sort to the former body and all of its pieces for ten days, as well as a genetic memory of former ability scores, etc., which inform the new body,** which is also a humanoid. Even if that’s not all as intended, all of the races on the table are humanoid (it’s only a partial list at that). (DMG 24 has some discussion of the afterlife; MM Ghosts are souls).

* There are various abilities that talk about soul things: Astral Projection notes that when body and soul are separated, it kills you. Speak with Dead distinguishes the soul from the animating spirit; Nine Lives Stealer implies a considerable overlap between “life force” and soul; the Rogue Phantom’s Tokens of the Departed takes “a sliver of [a] life essence” from the soul. Probably others that are relevant as well.

** This, I guess, is my understanding of why you don’t re-roll abilities or hit points with Reincarnate – a question raised here.

5. Fey are excluded. The explicit wording of the spell means that Fey cannot be given a new body with Reincarnate. With MotM we now have non-humanoid PC races: Centaur, Changeling, Fairy, and Satyr. It seems certain that future books will have other creature types (oozes for Plasmoids, etc.). I expect a Sage Advice ruling, or a re-write in 1D&D.

6. Ability Scores. Using the recent rule changes (Tasha’s, MotM, 1d&d playtest), the impact of cross-species migration is significantly minimized: it is now the case, I believe, that with floating ability modifiers (or mods tied to background), reincarnation does not change any of your ability scores. There’s a smaller chance of getting shafted with a racial shift.

(more to come)
 

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Kobold Stew

Last Guy in the Airlock
Supporter
7. “changes its racial traits accordingly”. The presentation of new races since Tasha’s has also clarified/limited what constitutes a racial trait:
  • Languages are no longer part of a racial feature. A bugbear reincarnated as an elf still speak goblin, and does not learn elf.
  • Many of the entries in the initial 1D&D playtest materials make tool and skill affinities a divinely-imparted feature, to justify the association with race. This seems to double down on biological essentialism (which the above point on ability scores had worked against), but a clear rule is needed in any case.
  • The biggest obstacle comes with the free feat for variant humans and custom lineage. Certainly for the vhumans I’ve played, I know which feat is the free human one, even when the campaign has started at level 4+. But even if the feat lost is just made the player’s choice (even when it’s known that the feat being lost was taken at level 8), there is a chance that reincarnation will “break” some optimized builds.
8. “If the target’s soul isn’t free…” (Psychology pt 2). When is the soul not free?
  • When it’s in a Magic Jar, more than 100 feet away from where it wants to be.
  • XGTE has the 6th-level spell Soul Cage which traps souls for eight hours.
  • Asmodeus (DMG 66) and other devils (MM 67) keeps soul trapped in the ninth circle of Hell.
  • Under the effect of the Void card in the Deck of Many Things (DMG 164). Mirror of life trapping presumably captures a soul if it is killed there.
  • Demiliches (MM 49) and Liches (MM 203) have the ability to trap souls.
  • Night Hags can capture evil humanoid souls (MM 178-79)
  • Soul Coins in Baldur’s Gate: Descent to Avernus.
At death, the soul can also get placed in a Ring of Mind Shielding, which would seem to be an effective defense against soul loss (specific beats general), and so is pretty powerful for an uncommon item; I’d suggest it would be a way to trick a Devil (temporarily) with whom a deal had been made. I note that undead Revenants also have/are souls that can animate corpses (MM259).

9. Spell School. Reincarnate is transmutation, Raise Dead is necromancy. I think this is just cosmetic. Does the school have any effect? Apart from specialist wizards (who wouldn’t have Raise Dead in any case), I don’t know of a school-specific effect outside of the new proposed (and still UA) Rune feats.

10. A poor man’s Clone spell? Clone is level 8; same casting time, same cost as Reincarnate; and it’s necromancy. Is there a way to prepare a body and have it ready to go with Reincarnation? I don’t see one. The instantaneous effect means both that the soul’s willingness to inhabit a new body is determined (magically) in no time at all, but also that the soul’s journey from wherever it is to the new body is also instantaneous, even if the PCs have crossed planes before casting.

11. Updating the table? Somewhat anomalously, Warforged are considered humanoid, and so do fit the pattern of reincarnation races. I think there’s a temptation to update the table as more and more races get introduced, but doing so invites crazy biases associated with the author’s own preferences (one online update I saw had Halforc with a 14% chance, and Dragonborn with a 2% chance – nothing wrong with these numbers in themselves, but adding more races on the table more than triples the chance of becoming halforc, and halves the chance of dragonborn). The alternative to rolling (“or the DM chooses a form”) is no better – it’s DM focused and not player focused.

12. My house rule. None of this makes the spell more fun, I feel. I’d just keep the PHB random table, and let the default be a player choice: either they roll randomly, or they propose three or four different possibilities (including staying the same race if they want), and rolling between those. Possibilities can be any humanoid race normally allowed in the campaign (though I’d specify that you can only choose one subrace – you can’t pick four genasi types, for example). (At some tables it might be fun for the casting druid’s race always to be a possibility, but I wouldn’t want to force that.) This keeps the random element, but gives players real agency in the outcome. Whatever the resulting race, player chooses the sex of the new body.


Anyways, I’d welcome thoughts on any of these musings. What’s your experience with the spell been?
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
3. Diamonds. Thinking about the amount of diamonds required is also an issue. I’ve never played in a game where players are carrying around diamonds for themselves to be revivified or raised form the dead, but I also know that when I once suggested a party-pool of 1000-1500 gp-worth of diamonds from the party loot, the other players didn’t buy in. What’s been your experience? In most campagins I’ve been in, there just isn’t that much gold in play – higher level characters might have a couple hundred, but not more.
That's the opposite to my experience. After about 3rd-4th level money is so overflowing it's meaningless.
 


James Gasik

Legend
Having played in AL, where treasure guidelines are strictly adhered to, yeah, you get tons of cash that you don't have much use for.

However, since there's no objective reason to players to need piles of cash, I'm sure there are just as many cheapskate DM's out there as ever, lol.

The kind that want their 7th level parties to quibble over a bent copper piece they find in a giant's bag.
 

Quartz

Hero
Then there's opportunity for fun.

DM: Jane, Eric the Cleric has just been crushed by that trap. Has his story ended?

Jane: Hell no! Dave the Druid can Reincarnate him. I'd like to play a centaur...
 

Kobold Stew

Last Guy in the Airlock
Supporter
Exactly. Except centaurs don't appear on the table, and some DMs will say no to Jane.
That's what the spell should do.
 

lall

Explorer
It’s better than True Polymorph in that it (your new race) can’t be dispelled. And there would be no new race for custom lineage creatures as there was no old race.
 

MarkB

Legend
3. Diamonds. Thinking about the amount of diamonds required is also an issue. I’ve never played in a game where players are carrying around diamonds for themselves to be revivified or raised form the dead, but I also know that when I once suggested a party-pool of 1000-1500 gp-worth of diamonds from the party loot, the other players didn’t buy in. What’s been your experience? In most campagins I’ve been in, there just isn’t that much gold in play – higher level characters might have a couple hundred, but not more.
Certainly the opposite of my experience. I can't recall a group which didn't prioritise carrying around at least one revivify's worth of diamonds as soon as they gained access to the spell.
11. Updating the table? Somewhat anomalously, Warforged are considered humanoid, and so do fit the pattern of reincarnation races. I think there’s a temptation to update the table as more and more races get introduced, but doing so invites crazy biases associated with the author’s own preferences (one online update I saw had Halforc with a 14% chance, and Dragonborn with a 2% chance – nothing wrong with these numbers in themselves, but adding more races on the table more than triples the chance of becoming halforc, and halves the chance of dragonborn). The alternative to rolling (“or the DM chooses a form”) is no better – it’s DM focused and not player focused.
I made my own table when the spell came up in a game I was running, and I made an effort to equalise the percentage chances between all races - though I didn't individualise subraces.

So, for instance, you'd have the same chance of becoming an elf as becoming a human, but if you rolled Elf, you'd then roll randomly to see what subrace you were.
 

J.Quondam

CR 1/8
2. “Piece of a dead humanoid”: [...] Would you have your PC give a piece of their body to a party member?

"Druid, do you promise to bring me back if I die?"
"Yes, of course."
"Pinky swear?"
"Absolutely...."
* druid adds to his creepy necklace of mummified fingers *
 



MarkB

Legend
2. “Piece of a dead humanoid”: [...] Would you have your PC give a piece of their body to a party member?

"Druid, do you promise to bring me back if I die?"
"Yes, of course."
"Pinky swear?"
"Absolutely...."
* druid adds to his creepy necklace of mummified fingers *
"Are those even labelled?"
 

5E we have used it once. Did not work out well. Ruined the character concept and did not yield a new "good" concept. After a couple of sessions I let the player come up with a whole new character and go with it.
 


Voadam

Legend
3. Diamonds. Thinking about the amount of diamonds required is also an issue. I’ve never played in a game where players are carrying around diamonds for themselves to be revivified or raised form the dead, but I also know that when I once suggested a party-pool of 1000-1500 gp-worth of diamonds from the party loot, the other players didn’t buy in. What’s been your experience? In most campagins I’ve been in, there just isn’t that much gold in play – higher level characters might have a couple hundred, but not more.
In the 3e, 3.5, and pathfinder games I played in a party share for cure wound wands and some diamonds was the regular practice.

Has not come up in the 5e games I have played in but that is partly a factor of class choices and variously the levels played at.
 

cbwjm

Legend
Reincarnate is one of those spells that needs updating every time a new race comes out that you intend to use at your table. Like, you could ignore the new races, but much more fun to include them. I also think it is much more fun to make the player roll, perhaps also the caster, and allow the player to choose which of those two options they want.
 

11. Updating the table?
I have a crazy version of this with far too many races, but I also just let anyone who goes for it know that their soul can push a certain way to bias it towards stuff they want. Effectively they can bias it certain ways

or if they want me to drag out the Crazier Options table, I can do that as well. however the crazier options table has. Everything.
 

Kobold Stew

Last Guy in the Airlock
Supporter
I have a crazy version of this with far too many races, but I also just let anyone who goes for it know that their soul can push a certain way to bias it towards stuff they want. Effectively they can bias it certain ways

or if they want me to drag out the Crazier Options table, I can do that as well. however the crazier options table has. Everything.

Awesome. How often does it get used?
 

Basically never, especially with the current complete lack of games I got at the moment

but its ready. Prepared. Waiting. Ever expanding whenever I find some neat homebrew that makes me go 'yeah, let's just slot that into the madness portion' and worry about consequences later
 

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