The Elf is Hardcore Mode

In 1E, elves can’t be brought back by 5th level Raise Dead, but they can by 7th level Resurrection or an expensive set of charges from a Rod of Resurrection. Seems like few groups actually used this rule, allowing easy Elf Raising. I sure always ignored it.

Many tabletop games don’t have Raise Dead type effects at all. Car Wars lets you save your XP progress by encoding a clone. But Shadowrun has nothing; dead runners stay dead.

Later, when Roguelike games became popular, there was a more-common concept of permadeath in video gaming as a feature of the game or more often a special gameplay mode.

Some games have a lineage system where your success during a life impacts your future lives. See: upgrading the town in Heroes of Hammerwatch. The 1E Oriental Adventures hardback has a family system where your honor score affects your family so that other PCs you roll up in your family start with benefits.

And of course in an ongoing D&D game, the dead PC’s impact will be felt in future sessions. His equipment may have been salvaged by other party members or else strewn about the dungeon by looting monsters. Nethack features a “bones” level, where a dead player’s remains and loot are haunted by his ghost and whatever killed him still stalks the area! But bringing that dead hero back is still not an option. In a D&D game progress will have been made by the now-dead PC, such as puzzles completed and treasure looted, even if already-cleared areas may repopulate with monsters and eventually treasure.

But focusing strictly on the concept of a “hardcore mode”, if you die you don’t get to respawn; you reroll a new character. This is the expectation at low-level D&D play just because no PCs can cast Raise Dead (until you’re a 9th level Cleric), and the group can’t gather the resources to hire someone to cast it, and possibly because even if they could spend that money they wouldn’t want to since your PC is only level 3 and it’ll take no time at all to re-acquire a few thousand XP on a new character. After a certain point, though, a Raise Dead is expected.

So playing a Hardcore Elf who can’t be Raised makes a difference only during a level band between about 7th and 12th. Before then a Raise wouldn’t happen anyway, and after that a Resurrection is on the table. That’s a fairly limited slice.

What if we extended the Hardcore Elf playstyle indefinitely upward? Say that no magic, not even a Wish, can bring back an Elf. We could extend the playstyle downward too, if we made some limited Raise Dead available to characters level 2 and upward. Include a magic pool that takes a level and brings you back, so it’s not usable for 0-level townsfolk who represent 99%+ of the population, and it becomes a worse choice the higher level you get, eventually making a Raise Dead spell very preferable if you can get it.

Why would we do this? Elves live a long time, so this becomes an Achilles style roleplaying choice: live a long boring life or a short one full of excitement, heroism, and success. But also Elves just have so many racial benefits for which this can be a balancing detriment. To make the distinction way clearer I’d lower Dwarf and Gnome age categories closer to Halflings. And finally it’s an interesting choice (and interesting choices should abound in D&D) and players who hate it can 100% avoid it.

What to do if the player just really likes Elves and wants to play one? Maybe he’s willing to drop most of the Elf racial abilities and penalties if can just keep those pointy ears. Allow me to introduce the Half-Elf.

 

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