RPG Blog Carnival: The Joys of Reincarnation

The RPG Blog Carnival just kicked off is about Life and Death this time. So I could write about how I ran a fantasy campaign for several years in which the dead wanted to invade the world of the living. Dead from a place like the Beyond, in the novels of the Reality Dysfunction. Horrible dead. Angry dead. Jealous dead. Possessive dead. But I won't. Not now.

Instead I'd like to touch upon what happens after death – if reincarnation exists. And what that means for your campaign world, if there are folks who remember. Remember who they were. And perhaps even remember what they were planning to do this life.

You might think reincarnation is not interesting enough for player characters. Because a character that reincarnates comes back as a baby. And a baby does not makes much sense in most dungeoneering parties. It doesn't even make much sense in most other types of story either. Because most babies don't talk much. Even if they do remember what they did last time. Or who killed them then. Or whether they're out for revenge, or redemption for what happened in their past life. And waiting until the character has grown up? In most adventure campaigns that just takes too long for the other player characters.

But, there are at least four ways around this – to make Reincarnation work in your campaign.

Reincarnation Baths
You can make the newborn grow up faster, by magic. This can be done before the “birth”, in a kind of Tleilaxu Tank or Reincarnation Bathtub, with a full grown soulless body. A body which is to be entered by the soul that transfers from the dying old body. Most often this body will be a clone. This is a costly process, which will usually be only for the rich and powerful. Or Paranoia PCs. Or Cylons. But it could be used for some player characters in a regular campaign too. Figure how such reincarnation tanks would be sought after. And how they would be targets of destruction, if they belong to enemies. Especially if “regular” resurrection was virtually unattainable, a secret hiding place with growing tanks could become the focus of an entire campaign.

Rapid Growing Pains
You can make the newborn grow up faster by magic after birth. In a process of agonising days or weeks, with intense growing pains, the hero reincarnated can get used to his or her new body. Meanwhile the rest of the party will have to protect our hero. Perhaps this is one of the most suitable ways for a “normal” dungeon romp style of play. The young hero can then join the party as a halfling style thieving child for a while, then as big as a young elf throwing stuff, and finally a young adult able to actually fight – and have some hit points. Naturally you would need a powerful spell or relic, or perhaps a very particular race, to attain such fast growth.

A Generation Later
You could kill off the entire party – though I'd not recommend doing that on purpose. And then you have them reincarnated together. You just pick up play with new young adults, and gradually have them remember parts of their past lives. You don't even have to tell the players that they are playing reincarnated versions of their old character. They can slowly figure that out for themselves from the hints you give them. Memories that crop up in their dreams, strange feelings of recognition. Sudden urges, like that of a magic user wanting to throw himself into a rage and a fistfight. Something you only start to understand once you know he was the berserker barbarian last time.

Memories from Another You
You can use parallel style reincarnation – or memory transfer, where already existing adult characters suddenly start to have memories of someone who just died. Whether this involves possession, transfer of the soul, mere transfer of memories, or companionship of the ghost of the deceased character – that's up to you. The important thing is, that it would allow a player to play with the memories, and perhaps some of the personality of his or her old character. And at the same time the old character does not have to be resurrected or raised from the dead. Whether you make this a gimmick for just once, or something that's very normal in your campaign is also up to you.

Naturally, if you use one of the above ways to reincarnate one or more player characters into new bodies, you must decide how much of their knowledge and skills are retained. I'd suggest that at least some of the skills are lost, if not all. But maybe it's easier to re-learn them. More about that in a next post. In a later post I'll also explore what remembering might mean for long term goals, and (fantasy) society as a whole.

I hope that gives you some nifty ideas for your coming adventures. I used most of the above myself. With varying degrees of success. But virtually always the players seemed to be happy to play some form of their old game self again – in a very different way.

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