Keeping Death Relevant in High Level Paly


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion


After six years IRL, my party has finally made it down to level 17 of the local megadungeon. The dangers are dire, but there don't seem to be any consequences for death beyond “the game slows down for half an hour while we drag the body back to town.” Sure they take a hit to their gold supply, but it feels more like a bookkeeping hassle than a true cost: You pay your gold, you cast your spells, and you come back with no injury sustained except to your pocketbook.

It's my first time in the GM's seat during high level play, so I'm looking for opinions from the community. Should permadeath remain a threat? Should you shift towards fates-worse-than-death (e.g. zombification or imprisonment in the lower planes) when the players have the means to trivialize their trips to the Boneyard? What I’m asking is this: Should you strive to keep mortality relevant, or does arriving at High Level mean that the dead condition becomes one more debuff to deal with?

Comic for illustrative purposes.


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Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

No.

High level play contains plenty of Save or Die effects. PCs die from bad dice rolls constantly. Making a big deal out of it every time is exhausting. So you either have to remove the sources of constant PC death, or let them use the spells for removing the dead condition liberally.

And unless you pay the big bucks, you're suffering a negative level for at least 1 week. (Raise dead, 2 negative levels, Restoration can only remove one a week.)

The real cost of raising dead is 7,000 gp and a week long debuff (Raise Dead, 2 Restorations) 11,000 gp (Resurrection and a Restoration), or 25000 and you're back in the action (True Resurrection) Or if you're in a party without a cleric 1500 for Limited Wish -> Raise Dead (5000) and then 2 Restorations 2,000 gp.

And all of that is in diamonds and diamond dust. Its not uncommon for PCs to convert large amounts of wealth into diamonds for carrying around for this purpose. Properly managing your 'what if somebody dies' needs is a tactical consideration of the game and it should be rewarded with less interrupted playtime.

How a PC wants to roleplay their constant death or near death experience is not a GM concern. That's on the player. Some people enjoy exploring that trauma. Some people don't. Its not the GM's job to force it on a player because you think they should be handling it differently.


Sorry, OP, but these are questions you should answer before you start a game. The answers inform not just how the players play but how the rest of society works as well.

The thing is, there is a very big field of possibilities between "as long as there's enough diamond there's no limit" and "no coming back".
You can (and should) set what sort of strictures there are ahead of time so the players know this. You might say that some gods are reluctant to hand out resurrection magic, or that you need the permission of the god of the dead and/or any patron gods the target may have. You may say that the neg levels they incur cannot be removed or mitigated in any way. You may say people are only allowed a limited number of raisings (being deemed unworthy or getting in the way of new growth or something).

There are also political/cultural/social issues to consider. Perhaps coming back from the dead is frowned upon in some cultures, and such people are considered to basically be undead. Perhaps there are rules about inheritance (like in Girl Genius) where if you are brought back you are legally dead and have few to no rights, especially where property is concerned. Perhaps resurrection is restricted to a privileged few in a certain area.

Personally, I don't care either way as long as the DM lets us know well in advance. What I don't want to have happen is start out thinking one thing and the DM suddenly changing his mind half way through the game.

In my current game I went into it with the revolving door philosophy: PCs can come back however many times they want if they have enough diamonds (with some minor restrictions here and there). This also applies to NPCs (remember: can =/= want), so if you want to permanently dispose of someone and make sure they don't come back, you'll want to go for soul trapping of some sort.
Coming back is expensive (though less so at 20th level than at 1st), and the negative levels are a minor hassle. The nice thing about the revolving door is I can be a bit less careful in the sorts of challenges I throw at my players. If a couple characters die in an encounter, it's not the end of the world. And you can get memorable fights like the one where there were 6 deaths divided among 4 PCs.


I think time is the answer.

Running back to town costs time. If there's a villain pushing some evil agenda, then the PC's aren't actively thwarting anything for a day or two. And hey, loosing a couple extra 5th+ lvl spell slots to an encounter that proved lethal to one or more party members is still a higher cost. If they don't want to loose even more time, that means jumping back into the thick of it with even less resources.


At 17th level? Leave death as it is. They earned their way to this point through six years of effort. (Unless the table already came to an understanding that resurrection would be nerfed for the campaign, anyway.)

While there are occasional effects that have "only a wish" or, more rarely, "not even a wish", I'd keep those limited to their natural scope, if only to underscore how serious such threats are.

Granted, this is simply mechanical. How death changes a character's perspective is a matter for the player's roleplaying desires and abilities and any campaign-specific details about what happens after death.

Edit: With regard to the illustrative example, I imagine Fighter would also be pretty irked about all the gear left behind on his original corpse.


blahpers wrote:

At 17th level? Leave death as it is. They earned their way to this point through six years of effort. (Unless the table already came to an understanding that resurrection would be nerfed for the campaign, anyway.)

While there are occasional effects that have "only a wish" or, more rarely, "not even a wish", I'd keep those limited to their natural scope, if only to underscore how serious such threats are.

Granted, this is simply mechanical. How death changes a character's perspective is a matter for the player's roleplaying desires and abilities and any campaign-specific details about what happens after death.

Edit: With regard to the illustrative example, I imagine Fighter would also be pretty irked about all the gear left behind on his original corpse.

I think you can change that in "Settings" by selecting "Keep gear upon death." Or am I thinking of another game... :)

No, the reality is that yes, death having consequences is something to discuss with your players long before 17th level and honestly isn't really needed in this game. There are so many bad things that can happen to a PC under a creative GM, even at high levels - magical manipulation or imprisonment, finding out they've actually been helping the BBEG the whole time, spells and abilities that cause stat Drain, not just Damage, etc.

What if, 17 levels deep in the megadungeon, the PCs encounter one of the party's oldest NPC contacts. "Well, thank you heroes! You've eliminated my worst enemies, paving the way for me to release the demon lord I've been worshipping this whole time! Now I will bring about the apocalypse you've fought so hard to stop!" If the PCs attempt to attack the NPC they're hit by a magical field that deals 2d4 Wis Drain which is permanent unless major spells are employed. Why Wis? Well because the demons who've been poisoning and manipulating the NPC into this exact moment need weak wills to dominate...

Now, even if the players defeat all of the villains and the magical field, and even if they heal from the Wis damage they may've taken, they still have to live with the knowledge that everything the newly-released demon lord does is on their heads, including the brutal death of a trusted ally. But hey, no one in the party died, so that's cool.


DRD1812 wrote:
What I’m asking is this: Should you strive to keep mortality relevant, or does arriving at High Level mean that the dead condition becomes one more debuff to deal with?

Now you are dealing with why high levels are less fun to play. The chance of Death is virtually none, just requires time. With the Mega Dungeon it is convenient to just go back to the town on the surface as they would have the Facilities to do this.

So only to options:
1 Make the places they need to get revived far away and a big hassle with them sitting out a few times.
2 limit the supplies in advance, it takes time to get the necessary items if you use over a certain amount. Set a replenish rate on the items like 1 returns every 6 days and they have 5 on hand. If they use it all see 1.

If it is just clearing a Dungeon not tied to a adventure, then yes it is just a boring mechanic because there are no repercussions.

Of course if it just the same guy dying over and over again maybe have the party charged with abusing the character is a option.


Dev insight on this awhile back was they wanted to remove the material component for Raise Dead entirely but thought that might be too drastic. Que stuff like Ultimate Mercy.


Before you even begin this conversation you need to ask a more basic question: If someone dies, then what? Does that player stop showing up to games? Or are you going to let them have a new character? If a new character, what level? What happens to the dead guys equipment?

There are lots of ways to permanently kill someone. No resurrection possible unless you drop a wish, and there are a small number of ways to kill someone that even a wish won't bring them back. What does your level 17 party do if someone can't be raised?

Bury the corpse with all his gear on him? Send it to his family? Donate it to a temple? Keep it for themselves? Hand it to some unknown stranger that wanders into the party looking to join them? Does evaporation work into this somehow?

Do you reward your player for dying by letting them make a level 17 character exactly like they want it to be? Give them their choice in gear? Do you punish them by withholding gear? Levels? Do they have to start a new level 1 character? Why would a level 17 party put up with anyone significantly weaker than themselves as an equal partner?

Resurrection is a crutch, and once you break your party you'll find out how much easier it is to get around with that crutch!


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GotAFarmYet? wrote:
DRD1812 wrote:
What I’m asking is this: Should you strive to keep mortality relevant, or does arriving at High Level mean that the dead condition becomes one more debuff to deal with?
Now you are dealing with why high levels are less fun to play.

Matter of taste. Some people only play level 15+

GotAFarmYet? wrote:


The chance of Death is virtually none, just requires time.

Actually, the chance of death is quite high, IME. It just isn't the end of a character.

Scavion wrote:
Dev insight on this awhile back was they wanted to remove the material component for Raise Dead entirely but thought that might be too drastic.

You mean like B/X-BECMI did it? Wish, too.

Can't seem to remember the game falling apart because of this.


High level adventurers are powerful entities in their own right and their souls are worth a fortune in the beyond.

Just because your party can cast resurrection doesn't mean the soul is available to return

What will the party do if they cast their true resurrection and the spell fails?
Perhaps the soul was beset by a demon lord en route to its destination? (and now the party has to delve into abyss to rescue their friend?)
Perhaps the deceased met their god and decided paradise is better than adventuring?

Plenty of options


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Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber
Lady Asharah wrote:

High level adventurers are powerful entities in their own right and their souls are worth a fortune in the beyond.

Just because your party can cast resurrection doesn't mean the soul is available to return

What will the party do if they cast their true resurrection and the spell fails?
Perhaps the soul was beset by a demon lord en route to its destination? (and now the party has to delve into abyss to rescue their friend?)
Perhaps the deceased met their god and decided paradise is better than adventuring?

Plenty of options

A Player not wanting to have their PC resurrected is the only reason that Pharasma should judge a soul and make the PC beyond coming back. Otherwise its just the GM being punitive to a particular player.

And everything else is sidequests. That the dead player has to either sit out on or make a new character for. And it depends on if the party actually wants to go on sidequests. They might just want to get on with the plot. Or there might be a timer to end the adventure, etc.

Making players jump through hoops just to play the character they want to play isn't good table etiquette in my opinion. If they die and want to come back and the party has the resources to do so then it shouldn't take up hours of gaming time to fix. Fixing that is what the spells are for. Nobody belabors casting remove blindness or remove disease.


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Lady Asharah wrote:

High level adventurers are powerful entities in their own right and their souls are worth a fortune in the beyond.

Just because your party can cast resurrection doesn't mean the soul is available to return

What will the party do if they cast their true resurrection and the spell fails?
Perhaps the soul was beset by a demon lord en route to its destination? (and now the party has to delve into abyss to rescue their friend?)
Perhaps the deceased met their god and decided paradise is better than adventuring?

Plenty of options

Does any of the above sound fun for the player with a dead character? Does it sound fun for any of the other players? If you don't want a character back, just say so. Stringing the entire party along making them go through an adventure while sidelining a player sounds like a Killer GM horror story.

Just because you can doesn't mean you should.


Bjørn Røyrvik wrote:

Sorry, OP, but these are questions you should answer before you start a game. The answers inform not just how the players play but how the rest of society works as well.

We started this campaign to learn the game. Nearly seven years later and we're still learning about things we should have added to Session Zero.

I don't mind the revolving door, but I do occasionally have trouble with my group assuming that they can change their chest of gold for rez-grade diamonds at the local general store.

Death ought to be a hassle sometimes, right? Not all the time, or even 50% of the time. But I feel like every once in a while, the ideas on this thread like trapped souls or missing reagents should come into play to add a bit of narrative heft to the game.


DRD1812 wrote:


I don't mind the revolving door, but I do occasionally have trouble with my group assuming that they can change their chest of gold for rez-grade diamonds at the local general store.

So say they can't find these diamonds at the store.

DRD1812 wrote:
Death ought to be a hassle sometimes, right? Not all the time, or even 50% of the time. But I feel like every once in a while, the ideas on this thread like trapped souls or missing reagents should come into play to add a bit of narrative heft to the game.

Sounds like you know what you want and don't need us to tell you what to do. Do what makes for a good game for your table.

Mechanics serve the game and the setting, and should be altered/added/removed/fluffed to serve your vision. The rulebooks are necessarily scant on fluff because for a game like D&D there are so many settings it can be used to run they, and so many rules they have to put in, they can't afford much by the way of discussion about how things actually work in setting.
It's why, by the rules, you can throw money at an item and stare at it for a few days and it becomes magical, unlike pre-3.x where you had complicated quests for rare reagents and whatnot. The rules only listing things in gp doesn't necessarily mean that all you need is a pile of gold 8though it might, if the GM is so inclined): you might very well need all the rare reagents you used to they just cost at least the listed gp value.

If you want diamonds to be harder to find than they are, just say they are. If you want souls to sometimes get lost on the way back from the afterlife, they do. If you want gods to not hand out res magic to anyone no questions asked, they don't. If you want there to be strings attached to coming back outside of gp cost, there are.

related story:

At ca. 6th level one of the PCs in my group died (call her A) to a wraith and became undead. You need Resurrection to come back from that, and the place they were didn't have anyone near high enough level. So they traveled to a big city and found a cleric powerful enough to cast 7th level spells.

The cleric in question (call him H) was of a rival god to the PC cleric (call her R) who did the talking. The Immortals in question are not antagonistic or anything - they get along well enough in person - they are just politically and philosophically at odds and like showing whose approach is the better. So H adds a wager. A must fulfill all the promises the R was making about how A would be a better person once she came back to life within a specified time period. If A failed, R would have to extol the virtues of H's god. A would receive the spell in any case and benefits wouldn't suddenly wear off or anything.

R lost the wager and had to humiliate herself and her god in public. One Atonement later, R (in the best tradition of her patroness) seduced H causing him to forget his strict logic and sensible attitude. Then R got pregnant and she and H married.

On a side note, I am curious how this wasn't an issue before level 17. Or have you been suffering in silence since Raise Dead came online?


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DRD1812 wrote:
Bjørn Røyrvik wrote:

Sorry, OP, but these are questions you should answer before you start a game. The answers inform not just how the players play but how the rest of society works as well.

We started this campaign to learn the game. Nearly seven years later and we're still learning about things we should have added to Session Zero.

I don't mind the revolving door, but I do occasionally have trouble with my group assuming that they can change their chest of gold for rez-grade diamonds at the local general store.

Death ought to be a hassle sometimes, right? Not all the time, or even 50% of the time. But I feel like every once in a while, the ideas on this thread like trapped souls or missing reagents should come into play to add a bit of narrative heft to the game.

If you have a reason to make something difficult, then make it difficult. If it doesn't make the story better, why are you making it more difficult? The material components are stupidly random objects of a certain value. Like seriously, a 25,000 gp diamond is a diamond of an unknown size and it should be highly subjective value, where the diamond's value would go up considerably because it has the qualities to be used in such a desired spell.

Likewise Diamond Dust...seriously how much powdered diamond is worth 100gp?!? Where do you get powdered diamond? Are people seriously taking whole diamonds and grinding them into dust? None of this makes sense. Don't try to make it make sense. Try to make it have narrative sense, as in it works well enough for a story and it advances the story.

And that brings me to the subject of trapping souls: before you do it is the player going to be all right with this? You aren't going to ruin someone's evening by making them the victim, right? Some people are fine with it, others are very much not going to be ok with it. It is very hard to judge, and it could be a very bad move in your personal relationship with that player. Taking agency away from players is a big no no, and nothing takes more agency away than being dead and waiting for a rez. You can't even start making a new character until you determine you aren't coming back.


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Dying sucks, especially when it's a high level character that you've been playing for 6 years. And at high levels dying is easy.
In my opinion, high levels enemies are designed to be more deadly because being brought back is so easy. If you make it harder to bring someone back, I think you should make it harder to die.


Meirril,
Diamond Dust is created when they cut and polish the stones so it is not easy to attain. Yes any diamond can be ground down into dust, the only advantage there is cheap diamonds can be used. A flawless 100,000 GP diamond can be turned into 100 GP of dust, or a 100 GP flawed diamond can be turned into the same amount of dust.

Death sucks, and in that I mean you cannot be brought back. Making a player wait for more than the half the next meeting will pretty much make them leave and not return.

One solution is find a items maker create a staff of resurrection, that anyone can use, with the charges set to a reasonable amount of dying during the campaign. If you exceed its' charges and have to return to revive someone consider the campaign as failed and the villain wins or escapes. It stops the lag in the play and allows the players to realize how closer they are to failing and playing more tactically and conservatively.


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Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber
Meirril wrote:

If you have a reason to make something difficult, then make it difficult. If it doesn't make the story better, why are you making it more difficult? The material components are stupidly random objects of a certain value. Like seriously, a 25,000 gp diamond is a diamond of an unknown size and it should be highly subjective value, where the diamond's value would go up considerably because it has the qualities to be used in such a desired spell.

Likewise Diamond Dust...seriously how much powdered diamond is worth 100gp?!? Where do you get powdered diamond? Are people seriously taking whole diamonds and grinding them into dust? None of this makes sense. Don't try to make it make sense. Try to make it have narrative sense, as in it works well enough for a story and it advances the story.

And that brings me to the subject of trapping souls: before you do it is the player going to be all right with this? You aren't going to ruin someone's evening by making them the victim, right? Some people are fine with it, others are very much not going to be ok with it. It is very hard to judge, and it could be a very bad move in your personal relationship with that player. Taking agency away from players...

Here's someone's interesting take on the subject of fiat components.

Fiat Magic Reagents


Bjørn Røyrvik wrote:

On a side note, I am curious how this wasn't an issue before level 17. Or have you been suffering in silence since Raise Dead came online?

It's a megadungeon campaign, so they've been smart enough to stock up on high-end reagents via traveling magic merchant since ~lvl 10. Before that it's been "quest to find druid who knows reincarnate" or "make bargain with dark tapestry gods." Other solutions have included "courtroom trial to get paladin's soul out of bureaucratic stasis in Axis" and "just cast the spell and raise the riding-gecko instead of making it a big friggin' deal."

It seems like every death is surrounded by its own unique circumstances. I've been working to make those deaths feel impactful, but it is indeed work.

I mostly started this thread to get a sense for whether the rest of the community falls in the "just cast the damn spell" camp or the "death should have consequences" camp. And I'm especially curious whether that changes when rocket tag comes online in a big way at high level.


Death does have consequences....if raising is abused you get psychopomps and inevitables after you. So i'm more of a just cast the damn spell guy. If there are to be other issues with raising of the dead they need to come from within the game world, from the methods the universe there put into place to prevent the abuse of resurrections and artificially extending your time on the planet. Messing with the spell description as written is a bit of a bait and switch once play is ongoing. Characters are built based on a players understanding of what works and what is available in the game after all. If you want to send a warning, next time have a nosoi come in and try to talk them out of the resurrection as a heads up that its been noticed.


Wait, in the OP you said

DRD1812 wrote:
The dangers are dire, but there don't seem to be any consequences for death beyond “the game slows down for half an hour while we drag the body back to town.” Sure they take a hit to their gold supply, but it feels more like a bookkeeping hassle than a true cost: You pay your gold, you cast your spells, and you come back with no injury sustained except to your pocketbook.
Then yesterday you stated
DRD1812 wrote:
It seems like every death is surrounded by its own unique circumstances. I've been working to make those deaths feel impactful, but it is indeed work.

In your reply yesterday you gave examples like the paladin having a trial for their soul, but also just raising the riding-geko because it's a hassle otherwise.

I guess I'm wondering... which is it? Do you want impactful deaths with afterlife consequences, hoops to jump through so that the PC is raised from the dead or forever removed from the campaign, or do you want no hassle res spells lobbed around so play can resume expediently?

More specifically... what do your players want?

I'm not trying to be antagonistic here. I'm genuinely confused. It seems like you've already had some impactful, consequential death scenes but then, as the PCs leveled up and death became perhaps more frequent the players found a work-around, bought a bunch of materials and said "lets just Res everyone and keep things rolling" which was ok for a while, but now that's starting to get under your skin a bit.

Is that accurate? Did I miss something? Again, I'm just trying to clarify.

I'm looking for clarity because, if you've already enforced consequences in the past and now your players want hassle-free Res, my answer would be have a talk with your players and tell them what you want, see if they're on board, and then take some of the suggestions in this thread.

If however I'm off, I might modify my advice slightly. Regardless you might still want to talk to your players. If they like the way things are running but you're not having any fun, they should know it. Perhaps one of them takes over the campaign for a while or something, to give you a break.

I don't know, I guess I'm just curious for the clarity.


Mark Hoover 330 wrote:
Wait, in the OP you said
DRD1812 wrote:

The dangers are dire, but there don't seem to be any consequences for death beyond “the game slows down for half an hour while we drag the body back to town.” In your reply yesterday you gave examples like the paladin having a trial for their soul, but also just raising the riding-geko because it's a hassle otherwise.

I guess I'm wondering... which is it? Do you want impactful deaths with afterlife consequences, hoops to jump through so that the PC is raised from the dead or forever removed from the campaign, or do you want no hassle res spells lobbed around so play can resume expediently?

It's been a mix in my game. The very first death was a via random encounter w/ a pouncing cave lion all the way down at Level 3. That one involved the PCs making knowledge checks to try and find a druid in the area who could rez via reincarnation. It was a big deal because it was the first death, and I did my best as a GM to make the casting of reincarnate a big deal ritual. It also helps that the spell has built-in RP consequences.

The second death involved an oracle bargaining with black tapestry things for another shot. Again, RP consequences down around level 5.

But as play progressed to higher levels, and as the "oops I'm dead" of rocket tag came online, it became harder and harder to make every individual death meaningful. That's where the lizard at lvl 8 and the dwarf in the OP at lvl 14 came in.

It's been an inconsistent experience, and I've tried to read the room in each case rather than set a hard-and-fast policy. Does that make sense?


Yeah, I think I'm seeing it. Let me run this past you, see if this helps: from the way it sounds what you might be troubled by isn't the lack of impact from death but the rocket-tag of PF high level play. I know this is something that is starting to bug me.

You see it all the time on these forums that high-level play is a tad, I don't know... binary. Think about it: the average CR 17 monster has a high attack of +27 to hit and deals 90 damage. On the off, off chance that such a monster gets up next to an arcane caster type and gets a full attack round in, the typical D6 HD character has about 96 HP on them by level 17. Sure, they might have spells or buffs pumping that up but one full attack round from an APL equivalent monster and they're pretty low on HP!

Then you figure that not every fight is APL equivalent, not every monster is exactly average, PCs have to manage through multiple battles at a time, and it's easy to see where every 4-5 fights at level 17 it might come down to: the players win initiative, they skate by with no HP loss; the players lose initiative, one of the PCs is going to burn a res spell.

Plus, it sounds like either you're running a pretty deadly game or your players early on weren't very experienced. One died at level 3 to a Cave Lion, a CR 6 fight - that makes me think this is more of a tough-to-hard-mode game. Then again they turned right around again and died at level 5, so maybe they still didn't have really great battle tactics worked out or weren't making optimal use of resources.

Whatever the case, it sounds like death has just gotten MORE frequent in your game by the nature of the game's mechanics. It might be then that what's grinding your gears is the fact that it's so easy for the PCs TO die, not that they're doing it a lot.

Personally you're my hero though. I'd LOVE to get a megadungeon game going to that high a level. I love running dungeons and have designed several mega versions over the years but my players are so paranoid of them that even IN the megadungeon campaign I'm currently running they spend half or more of their time exploring the wilderness sites, dealing with stuff in the city, or making the shortest possible dungeon runs they can.


Just keep in mind that at those levels, even if you limit diamonds, it makes other techniques like clones more viable. How you handle those things is up to you. You know your players and how they would react better than anyone here.


The best part of trying to emulate scarcity of diamonds is when the material components just get smaller because the price of diamonds increases. Amazing how magic is responsive to market forces, amirite?

The reasonable concern for death at 17th level is that your party may not be able to complete the particular encounter you died in or have difficulty getting back to town.


Serisan wrote:


The reasonable concern for death at 17th level is that your party may not be able to complete the particular encounter you died in or have difficulty getting back to town.

That's been my experience. Generally if "rocket tag" leads to the wrong PC getting splattered early, another one or two go down not long after and the survivors limp back to town to resurrect

Liberty's Edge

Could cause problems with the trade routes in the game with the Gem Trade. Thus causing the group to find a limited number of Raise Dead/Resurrections to be available. Could bring back the spark.

Generally I have a system of rolling a 1d6 and maybe a bonus if the city is on a trade route. this number gives me a limited number of times in a month the city can perform Raise Dead/Resurrect before the next month shipment.

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