Welcome to Guidance, Private Sanctuary’s source for tips and techniques for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, written by Everyman Gamer Alexander Augunas. Today, we’re going to be talking about dying and the death tax.
This is an article that I’ve wanted to write for a few months, ever since my PFS series talking about some of the problems that I’ve seen with organized play. Ultimately, my biggest gripe about PFS comes down to how penalizing death is in PFS compared to, say, the homebrew game.
Now, I’m sure that I’ve just invited hordes of angry, typing gamers onto the Know Direction Network site, but here me out on this one. I think that I have some decent points, and maybe you’ll think so too by the end.
The Death Tax
I think its important to begin by defining a term that I’m going to be referring to quite often in this article: the Death Tax. What it is?
In the real-world United States, the Death Tax is a slang term for the estate and inheritance taxes, which basically takes a chunk of money out of whatever a deceased person has left behind for her loved ones.
In games and video games, the term Death Tax means something a little bit different. It’s the cost (usually in gp, but sometimes in other resources) that a player must pay in order to bring a dead character back to life. Basically, the idea is that game designers don’t want your death to equate to you needing to start over on their game. That’s not good game design. Instead, they typically make death an inconvenience. So, how is death an inconvenience? Well, I’m glad you asked, audience! Let’s talk about the three major ways that games make death an inconvenience.
- Money/Resources: Many games charge you money for dying. When you die in Pokemon, for instance, a set amount of money is deducted from your wallet, presumably paid to the other trainer. In some of the early Dragon Quest games, you need to go to a temple and pay to return a fallen party member to life. Many games, including Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, make you pay a small sum of gold for consumable items that can return you from the dead, like the famous Phoenix Down item. You could even argue that this is true for arcade games like Pac-Man, which require you to spend real money to come back to life in the game.
- Time: This is another very popular Death Tax; time. Think of games like Kingdom Hearts or the Legend of Zelda; when you die, you’re forced to “restart” your progression at a very specific point in the gameplay. You don’t have to completely restart the game, but it can be bothersome to try and replay all of the content you did between save points, especially if the game doesn’t allow you to skip cut scenes.
- Complete Restart: This is VERY uncommon in modern games and is mostly a construct of a lack of ability to save on older cartridges. Classic SNES and Sega Genesis games fall into this category, like Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 or Super Mario. Once the technology became available and affordable, however, this method was almost universally abandoned by most games. Why? Psychology.
With those three constructs out of the way, let’s talk about Pathfinder. By default, Pathfinder is a semi-restart. On one hand, your character is dead, gone, goodbye. On the other hand, most GMs will often try to get you back in the game by creating a new character, sometimes with appropriate wealth by level (WBL), sometimes without. There aren’t any hard-or-fast rules for what a player should do when his character dies, however.
Now, if your character has the funds, they can pay a resource fee to return from the dead. Compared to just about every other game out there, death is EXPENSIVE in Pathfinder, but we’ll be talking about that later. Furthermore, at low levels you need to drop what you’re doing in order to deal with a dead PC because the lowest-level spell, raise dead, has a time limit on how long you can wait before casting it. This means you have to drop what you’re doing, which is a time cost both in gameplay terms and in world terms.
But just what DOES it cost to get a raise dead in Pathfinder, anyway? Let’s take a quick look at the math.
Paying Off Pharasma
In last week’s Economics article, I chose $6.50 as being the rough equivalent of 1 sp, so I’m going to use that measure again when working on figuring out death’s cost. Death’s cost changes based upon which spell you need (or what) to be cast upon you. Spellcasting always costs an amount equal to the spell’s caster level x the spell’s level x 10 gp. With this in mind, let’s look over the cost game’s resurrection spells.
- 4th – Raise Animal Companion: 4 x 7 = 280 + 1,000 gp = 1,280 gp.
- 4th – Reincarnate: 4 x 7 = 28 x 10 = 280 + 1,000 gp = 1,280 gp.
- 5th – Raise Dead: 5 x 9 = 45 x 10 = 450 + 5,000 gp = 5,450 gp.
- 7th – Resurrection: 7 x 13 = 91 x 10 = 910 + 10,000 gp = 10,910 gp.
- 9th – True Resurrection: 9 x 17 = 153 x 10 = 1,530 + 25,000 gp = 26,530 gp.
Many of the PFS players reading this article will probably note that these numbers are listed on your Chronicle #0 page; I just like for people to see where I’m coming from. Using our gp to USD ratio from last week (1 gp = $65 USD), let’s see how much these spells would cost on earth.
- Raise Animal Companion / Reincarnate: $83,200 USD.
- Raise Dead: $354,250 USD.
- Resurrection: $709,150 USD.
- True Resurrection: $1,724,450 USD.
Those are some pretty high price tags, but let’s bring this back to the game world. Remember in my Economics article where we figured out how living expenses worked? That you could effectively make enough money to fill your living expenses level with one week of work out of the month? Well, let’s use that to figure out how long it would take someone in Golarion to pay only for the spellcasting services of each spell.
Before we get there, though, let’s figure some things out. First, we’ll assume that there are 52 weeks in a year. (Once every 5-ish years we’d have gained an extra week, but whatever.) Second, we’ll assume that of those 52 weeks, 12 of them are spend paying your living expenses (one month every year seems reasonable). Second, we need to recall that whatever the cost of living is for each tier, that’s roughly one week’s pay. Finally, we’ll assume that we spend 12 weeks every year paying living expenses, or one week every month. This leaves us with a total of 40 “profitable” weeks every year. Finally, we’ll assume that somehow, the character is able to save every copper piece towards a resurrection. Let’s see how long it would take.
Poor Standard of Living
- 3 gp/week x 40 weeks = 120 gp per year.
- Reincarnate: 10 years, eight months. (1,280 gp / 120 = 10.6)
- Raise Dead: 45 years, six months. (5,450 gp /120 = 45.5)
- Resurrection: 90 years, 11 months. (10,910 gp / 120 = 90.9)
- True Resurrection: 221 years, three weeks. (26,530 gp / 120 = 221.08)
Average Standard of Living
- 10 gp/week x 40 weeks = 400 gp per year.
- Reincarnate: 3 years, 2 weeks. (1,280 gp / 400 = 3.2)
- Raise Dead: 13 years, 7 months. (5,450 gp / 400 = 13.625)
- Resurrection: 27 years, 3 weeks. (10,910 gp / 400 = 27.275)
- True Resurrection: 66 years, 3 weeks. (26,530 gp / 400 = 66.325)
Wealthy Standard of Living
- 100 gp/week x 40 weeks = 4,000 gp per year.
- Reincarnate: 4 months. (1,280 gp / 4,000 = 0.32)
- Raise Dead: 1 year, 4 months. (5,450 gp / 4,000 = 1.3625)
- Resurrection: 2 years, 8 months. (10,910 gp / 4,000 = 2.7275)
- True Resurrection: 6 years, 7 months. (26,530 gp / 4,000 = 6.6325)
Extravagant Standard of Living
- 1,000 gp/week x 40 weeks = 4,000 gp per year.
- Reincarnate: 1 month. (1,280 gp / 4,000 = 0.032)
- Raise Dead: 1 month, 2 weeks. (5,450 gp / 4,000 = 0.13625)
- Resurrection: 1 months, 2 weeks. (10,910 gp / 4,000 = 0.27275)
- True Resurrection: 7 months. (26,530 gp / 4,000 = 0.66325)
These are all some interesting numbers, aren’t they? Why am I showing you this? To prove a point.
Fallacy of Death
In my experience, a major fallacy surrounds the topic of death in roleplaying games. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, a fallacy is a mistaken belief, especially one that is based on an unsound argument. In this case, the fallacy is that death is that the cycle of life in fantasy games is perverted by the presence of resurrection magic, such as raise dead and the like. It isn’t, and I just showed you the reason above. Did you find it? Let me help you out with a quote from raise dead:
“You restore life to a deceased creature. You can raise a creature that has been dead for no longer than 1 day per caster level.”
Here’s another quote. This time, from resurrection.
“The creature can have been dead no longer than 10 years per caster level.”
Here’s a final quote from reincarnate.
“With this spell, you bring back a dead creature in another body, provided that its death occurred no more than 1 week before the casting of the spell and the subject’s soul is free and willing to return.”
Have you figured out the unsound part about “everyone can get a resurrection?” If not, here’s the fallacy: not only does the average person not make nearly enough money for a resurrection spell, the time limit placed upon all of these spells makes doing so a rather poor idea. The game actually has a built-in reason as to why people stay dead, Pharasma’s judgment notwithstanding. People stay dead because resurrection magic is expensive; even if raise dead didn’t have a material component, it would be more than a year’s pay for a typical, average, trained individual. Therefore, the only reason that it has a material component at all is to be a death tax on PCs that die. And as I mentioned earlier, its not the only death tax that Pathfinder inherited from 3.5.
Restoration – Kicking Them While They’re Down
When you return from the dead, the experience takes its toll upon you. You are physically weakened by the experience, a shell of what you once where. You take two permanent, negative levels or a –2 reduction to your Constitution if taking a negative level would kill you. Negative levels and Constitution penalties are NASTY, regardless of whether you’re a PC or an NPC. Each negative level that you take effectively gives you a –1 penalty on everything while a Constitution reduction lowers your stamina and makes you more vulnerable to disease. Chances are that if you raise an ordinary person from the dead without the means to remove these penalties, they’re either going to die again sooner then they otherwise would have or they’re going to be severely crippled from the experience. Now, of course, you can remove those negative levels if you get restoration or greater restoration cast on you, but casting restoration with the intent of removing a negative level costs 1,280 gp per negative level, the same price as a reincarnate spell. Likewise, using greater restoration to remove all of your negative levels costs 5,940 gp, just south of what it costs you to cast raise dead. Even if a poor family had the means to bring a loved one back to life, would they truly want to bring that person as a wheezing, weakened version of themselves? Someone physically burdened by the perils of returning from the dead? In 99% of the cases, the cost simply isn’t going to be worth it. A person’s net value would have to exceed that of the resurrection in order for the person to be a worthwhile candidate for resurrection, and hence we get the reason why death still happens in fantasy worlds: most people aren’t worth the cost of the resurrection.
Of course, the PCs aren’t most people, are they?
This week I spent most of the article talking about what the Death Tax is and attempting to dispel the notion that even an above-average member of society can expect to be raised from the dead if they die before their time. I could continue on with how this all relates to the PCs, but this article is already running REALLY long, and as a general rule I like having content spread out in more manageable chunks. So instead, I’m going to finish up this discussion with the Death Tax as it relates to the campaign world and return to the topic next week with how it affects players. I’ll forewarn you on this, I’m not a big fan of the exuberant price tag that’s associated with death, so next week is going to feature me trying to defend the idea that death is too expensive in Pathfinder. Can I pull it off? Come back next week and see!
Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex also cohosts the Private Sanctuary Podcast, along with fellow blogger Anthony Li, and you can follow their exploits on Facebook in the 3.5 Private Sanctuary Group, or on Alex’s Twitter, @AlJAug.