UPDATE: The partial background found in this article is a preview. It is fully available as a Pay What You Want product on the DMs Guild in a pretty PDF with art and 14 other ready to roll backgrounds.
It’s time for another Halloweeny background! Last week saw the lycanthrope background for PCs who were once afflicted with the curse but have had it cured. Next up – dead! As in your PC was once no longer with us, but is back!
I’ve written a couple of posts on this blog about the way death is handled in Dungeons and Dragons. I presented a few rules modules to make PC death more of a consequence than a few thousand gold pieces and I also presented some ideas about how spells like raise dead and resurrection might affect the world of your game. Now it’s time for me to present it as a background for PCs. And why not? Having been dead can make a truly compelling story. Just ask Wesley in The Princess Bride.
What’s even more interesting is that spells like true resurrection can turn your PC into a time traveler. Some PCs could have been dead for a century or longer only to be brought back by powerful magic. Imagine how the world will have changed in that time! Friends of long-lived races might remember the PC, but shorter-lived ones have passed on. Kings may have been overthrown, entire cities built or leveled by dragons, new technologies, new magic – the list keeps going. How would all these revelations affect a character?
Then of course there’s the question of how the time while dead was spent. In a pleasant heavenly plane the PC is upset to have left behind a la Buffy? With the terrible fires or the Nine Hells or the demons of the Abyss torturing the PC? Maybe that time was spent as an undead like a ghost or vampire before the PC was raised. Surely the time spent as an undead being would have some sort of impact on the PC’s second (or third or fourth or ninth) life.
Of course there’s always the possibility that the PC could not remember anything from the period of death. Just absolute nothingness like a deep, dreamless sleep. That affect a PC’s faith in the gods or enhance the PC’s fear of the inevitable.
With these thoughts and questions in mind I present to you the dead background for fifth edition dungeons and dragons.
You have died and come back. This experience has changed you and helps define who you are today. The specifics of your death are up to you, but the following questions and suggestions will help you determine those.
How did you die? It probably wasn’t of old age. Spells like raise dead can bring back those who die before old age takes them, but after old age there is almost no magic which can bring a person back from the dead. Was it combat? An accident? A disease?
How long were you dead? Spells like true resurrection allow a PC to return from death after 200 years. How has the world changed politically, technologically, and culturally since your death? What remains of your family, friends, and personal life?
What was your period of death like? Did you spend time in the glory of eternal battle is Ysgard? Were you enjoying the heavenly paradise of Elysium? Were you being tortured in the Nine Hells or Abyss? Do you simply remember nothing from that time?
Maybe you didn’t completely pass on, but lived life as an undead, wayward soul such as a ghost or vampire. Why did you become such a being? What acts did you commit that you now regret? Who will think of you as a monster because of the time you spent as an undead?
Finally someone brought you back. Who was it? Why? Maybe it was to face an old enemy who has now returned. Maybe it was a loved one who searched for a long time and spent all their resources to bring you back. Maybe you were called back for some valuable piece of information only you knew. How did this person bring you back? Maybe with one of the spells that first spring to mind, but what about a spell like reincarnate, which could bring your spirit back in the body of another humanoid race? Or maybe it was some other magic which has a more sinister secret.
Skills: History, Intimidation
Languages: Two of your choice
Equipment: 50 feet of rope, a bit of dirt from your grave kept in a sacred vial, a set of common clothes, two rare coins with which you were buried, and a belt pouch with 5 gp.
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