View Full Version : D&D 5e/Next Incarnation of Immortality: How broken would true immortality be in 5e? (PEACH)

2016-01-15, 11:41 PM
I recently saw the reemergence of an old thread on how to become immortal in 5th Edition. Ultimately, the comments boiled down to whether or not the OP meant agelessness or true immortality (could not be permanently killed). I've always been a fan of the idea of immortal or ageless characters. However, I was wondering, how broken would true immortality be in 5e? I present below a character background with a feature meant to simulate (mechanically) true immortality using the simplest mechanics I could muster.

At one point and time, you were like everyone else. Then, you become immortal. The nature of your immortal existence prevents you from ever having a "normal" life. While some adventure in order to obtain power or wealth, you adventure out of necessity due to this blessing—or curse—and have lived long enough you know no other life than being an incarnation of immortality. Like members of other long-lived races, you do not have perfect recollection of everything you have ever experienced. Likewise, just because you have lived a long time doesn't mean you were present for every important historical event throughout that time. Rather, you remember the high points and the low points of your long existence. Seeing the world in broad strokes, you have forgotten more than most individuals will ever learn in their relatively short lifespans. This doesn't mean, however, that you exist completely apart from the rest of the world. You still live and work among mortals, pursuing your own agenda and goals that may take centuries or millennia to come to fruition. During this time you adapt to the current culture, share experiences with those you consider allies, and make a place for yourself in the world.

Skill Proficiencies: Insight, plus one from among Arcana, History, Investigation, Nature, and Religion
Tool Proficiencies: Your choice of an artisan's tool, a gaming set, or a musical instrument
Languages: Any one of your choice
Equipment: One set of traveler's clothes, any items with which you are proficient, a small piece of artwork or jewelry worth 10 gp in the style of craftsmanship of an older society, and a pouch containing 10 gp

Feature: Immortality
You have unlocked the secrets of true immortality. When you die, you reappear 24 hours later in a safe location of your choosing, which you must have visited at least once. Your body is restored completely, although you may choose to return to life as an older or younger version of yourself. Your physical remains, if they still exist, become inert and can't thereafter be restored to life, since your soul is elsewhere. This feature may change slightly depending on the reason for why you are immortal (see below).

Why are you Immortal?
The most important decision in creating an incarnation of immortality background is determining your source of immortality. The methods discussed here are all sufficiently powerful to justify the use of this background.

Arcane Secret. You gained your immortality after stumbling upon an arcane secret. This could be a piece of forgotten or dark lore, the remnants of a magical spell, or exposure to an artifact. Regardless, you are now tied to the Weave in such a way you will always return to life after death, no matter how many times you die. However, all magic can be undone by some means. When you choose this background, work with your DM to create a method by which your immortality can be undone (for suggestions see Destroying Artifacts, page 221 of the DMG).

Fated. You may be immortal because it is your destiny to perform great deeds in the world. Alternatively, you may be a fluke of the natural order, being brought back time and time again because of a loophole in cosmic law. Regardless, the universe seeks balance in all things. Whenever you are brought back to life, somewhere in the world a duplicate of you is also brought into existence. This duplicate looks, sounds, and acts just like you, except its only purpose is to kill you. While the duplicate has all of your memories prior to your being brought back to life, it lacks your immortal nature, does not possess class levels, and lacks the ability to gain class levels. The DM should create a challenging encounter based on this duplicate (for suggestions see Creating a Monster, page 273 in the DMG). If you are killed by your duplicate, your Immortality feature can't bring you back from the dead. In most cases, your duplicate will attempt to "take over" your life but will adopt a less adventurous existence.

Mysterious Magical Event. You became immortal due to a mysterious magical event. Perhaps you were dissolved in a cloud of acid conjured by a powerful spellcaster. Perhaps you were frozen to death by winds from another plane of existence. Perhaps you were immolated in hell fire, only to find yourself alive and well the next day. Perhaps you were struck by lightning during a storm conjured by a god's divine wrath. Perhaps you were exposed to the deafening sound of a word of creation. No matter what event was responsible for your first death and rebirth, you are now forever tied to those energies and only they hold the power to undo your immortality. When you choose this background you choose acid, cold, fire, lightning, or thunder damage. You can never benefit from resistance or immunity to this type of damage. If you are killed by this type of damage, your Immortality feature can't bring you back from the dead.

Nature's Blessing. Your immortality is rooted in your ties to the endless cycle of death and rebirth found in nature. When you are brought back from the dead, you do not return to life in your previous body. Instead, you are reincarnated into a new body of your previous race. You may choose the cosmetic physical features of your new form, so long as they fall within your race's normal range. This includes eye color, hair color, skin tone, height, weight, age, and gender. This method of rebirth ties you directly to nature and, as such, your ability to return to life after death is dependent on maintaining a balance with the natural world. You should work with your DM to create a list of tenets regarding maintaining balance with the natural world (for suggestions see the Paladin's Sacred Oaths, page 85 in the PHB). If you violate these tenets, ever purposefully despoil nature, or knowingly unbalance the natural world, you may lose your Immortality feature until you seek atonement and perform a challenging task meant to restore balance to nature.

Piety. Your immortality stems from your devotion to your deity or other higher power. When you use your Immortality feature, you are always brought back at a safe location considered sacred to your deity. So long as you continue to serve your deity's cause with your actions, offer them prayers daily with your words, and never turn away from their teachings or violate their tenets, you will continue to return to life when you die. You should work with your DM to create a list of tenets of your faith (for suggestions see the Paladin's Sacred Oaths, page 85 in the PHB). If you violate the tenets of your faith or ever turn away from your deity, you may lose your Immortality feature until you seek atonement and perform a challenging task on behalf of your deity.

Suggested Characteristics
An immortal existence lends itself to a unique outlook on life. Removed even from the longest lived races, an incarnation of immortality watches as the world changes and they remain virtually untouched by time.

Personality Traits
1 There is nothing I like more than a good mystery.
2 While history is often written by the victor, I know the "truth" about many historical events and feel obligated to correct those ignorant of what really happened.
3 I know a story relevant to almost every situation.
4 I am utterly serene, even in the face of disaster.
5 I can find common ground between the fiercest of enemies, empathizing with them and always working towards peace.
6 I judge people by their actions, not their words.

1 Selfless. I will do whatever it takes to help others, even if it means sacrificing my life. (Good)
2 Merciful. Because of my immortal nature, I go out of my way to ensure I don't unnecessarily take a life. (Lawful)
3 Independence. I am a free spirit—no one tells me what to do. (Chaotic)
4 Selfish. I will do whatever it takes to remain immortal. (Evil)
5 Live and Let Live. Meddling in the affairs of others only causes trouble. (Neutral)
6 Axiomatic Self. The goal of an immortal existence is the betterment of oneself. (Any)

1 Within my mind I hold the ancient knowledge of a terrible secret that must not fall into the wrong hands.
2 I will make my mark on history, whatever it takes.
3 I have been searching my whole life for the answer to a certain question.
4 An injury to unspoiled wilderness is an injury to me.
5 Everything I do is for the common people.
6 I suffer awful visions of a coming disaster and will do anything to prevent it.

1 I like keeping secrets and won't share them with anyone.
2 They say I was on the "wrong side" of history, but so long as I live, I will never concede defeat.
3 During my lowest point, I performed unspeakably evil acts. While that was long ago, there are those that would stop at nothing to see me destroyed if they knew I still lived.
4 I will do anything to protect the balance of nature, even if that means sacrificing myself or others.
5 My piety sometimes leads me to blindly trust those that profess faith in my god.
6 While I value the lives of my friends, I see others as little more than pawns to be manipulated and discarded when no longer needed.

I believe a true heroic character needs at least one flaw or means of being permanently defeated, so that is why I included multiple ways an individual with this feature could be permanently killed.

My questions are:

1) Which reason for immortality seems the most fun to play (arcane secret, fated, mysterious magical event, nature's blessing, piety)?

2) Where would this feature take the typical D&D campaign or D&D group (going evil, going social/intrigue, going dungeon delving)?

3) How manageable/unmanageable would this mechanic be in a typical D&D game? In a typical D&D group?

I am just curious to see what the playground thinks. Also, I am interested to see if anyone has any other mechanics to simulate immortality or better ways of wording my proposed feature. Thanks in advance for your time and response.

Edit: I removed as much of the mechanics of the Immortality feature as I could (no more reference to clone or reincarnate), and I tried to focus more on the "relationships" of the various methods of becoming immortal. I also gave reference to various pages of the PHB and DMG to help keep these suggested relationships from becoming too vague or exploitable by DM and player alike.

2016-01-16, 04:47 AM
2) What tier of play would a mechanic like this be appropriate to first gain access to (local hero, 1-4; hero of the realm, 5-10; master of the realm, 11-16; master of the world, 17-20)?

In fact the only place where it would be useful is level 1-4 and maybe level 5-10 but anywhere else it is useless to be immortal.
If it costs 1 LA then it is useless in level 1-4 and useful for non caster in level 5-10
So you can either put the feature at low level for free because it helps and it is the only place where it is useful because you die often or put it at high level so that it change nothing at all.

2016-01-16, 06:11 AM
True Immortality is... only as broken as the DM wants it to be.

I know that sounds like a cop out, but it's true. Immortality's weight and benefits only matter inasmuch as the DM makes them matter. If you lose a fight and it doesn't end the game for you, you might as well be immortal. Whether it's the DM choosing to knock you out or you waking up from death the next morning like it's Groundhog Day all over again.

Immortality, on it's face, is not broken at all. It doesn't give you mechanical bonuses to achieve your goals, it just lets the story continue when you fail. Which is functionally the same as scratching your character's name out and writing down a different one.

2016-01-16, 06:41 AM
Immortality, on it's face, is not broken at all. It doesn't give you mechanical bonuses to achieve your goals, it just lets the story continue when you fail. Which is functionally the same as scratching your character's name out and writing down a different one.

Exactly this.

The difference between rolling a new character when you die and just having the character return to life/survive death is arguably nonexistent.

2016-01-16, 07:46 AM
I believe a true heroic character needs at least one flaw or means of being permanently defeated, so I would add the following text at the end of the feature. "When you first gain this feature, choose one type of damage you don't have resistance or immunity to. You have vulnerability to this type of damage and can never gain resistance or immunity to this type of damage from any source. If you are killed by this type of damage, you cannot use this feature." I could have stated a static damage type, such as necrotic damage, but having versatility built into the mechanic allows players and dungeon masters to adapt the mechanic to fit the theme or backstory of a particular character concept.

I think immortality is pretty cool, but I think the weakness should explain the immortality a little and why every traveler (and more importantly ruler of towns) is not immortal. For example, perhaps they are endorsed by a deity and revive at a place of the deity's choosing instead. So, if you piss off that god, eternal suffering. Or a wizard/king is the fuel for reviving them and you have to do their bidding somewhat or they will not revive you. I think tying it with a particular entity in the world helps keep players acting sane and not abusing it. Also, perhaps more importantly, this style gives you an easier time dealing with players who want to swap characters or drop the campaign. You would have options like their family angering their endorser, being summoned for another task, etc.

1) Which version of Incarnation of Immortality works better, in your opinion (reincarnate or clone)?

Reincarnate, mainly because of my previous statement. Clone seems to just mean TPK = no gear, but I think it could be really interesting if you made it running around permanently doing it own things.

2) What tier of play would a mechanic like this be appropriate to first gain access to (local hero, 1-4; hero of the realm, 5-10; master of the realm, 11-16; master of the world, 17-20)?

I would probably give it very low level and have it explained through a endorsement of sorts.

3) Who should gain access to this mechanic (racial feature, class archetype feature, feat for everyone, epic boon for everyone)?

I say everyone that wants it. If the party only recently met, you might even give them different versions of the mechanism (maybe one person gets clone, one person is being revived by their deity, another is a king's man, etc.). Then you would get to play around with them in the campaign a bit, and perhaps have them as the backdrop of uniting bigger pieces for a larger scale conflict.

4) Where would this feature take the typical D&D campaign or D&D group (going evil, going social/intrigue, going dungeon delving)?

I would think it could favor nearly any D&D group based on how you did it. If they just revived at no consequence (with your suggested perma death on certain element), they probably would do whatever they wanted and do a lot of evil acts after a while. With some restrictions, you could easily tailor it for the type of group you wanted.

5) How manageable/unmanageable would this mechanic be in a typical D&D game? In a typical D&D group?

Pretty manageable if everyone that wants it has it. Your the DM after all

2016-01-16, 10:27 PM
Thanks for the replies. These are very good points about how true immortality isn't as mechanically broken as other abilities being as a) in the game you roll new characters when you die anyway, b) you still lose all your gear when you die, c) you still more than likely suffer a setback if you die.

I changed it to a background.

2016-01-17, 02:15 AM
Thanks for the replies. These are very good points about how true immortality isn't as mechanically broken as other abilities being as a) in the game you roll new characters when you die anyway, b) you still lose all your gear when you die, c) you still more than likely suffer a setback if you die.

I changed it to a background.

I like this as a background much better. The explanation on why you are immortal and the associated flaws/traits is super awesome for the DM and player to roleplay out stuff. In particular, the "They say I was on the "wrong side" of history, but so long as I live, I will never concede defeat" flaw sounds hilarious as someone who wants to play what I akin to a modern day American rebel (essentially, still claiming the current realm should have been in the hands of some other ruler whose war went on hundreds of years ago). I guess I keep looking over it, and see a lot of potential funny characters who certainly could have "a unique outlook" on things.

Anyway, cool fluff and nice work ^+^

2016-01-17, 12:46 PM
You know, I wonder if it would be simpler to just have the character automatically succeed at Death Saves.

Like, they stabilize 3 rounds after being knocked to 0 HP. Might as well not split the party.

That being said... I'd say piety, especially if the god you're worshipping isn't very popular or powerful anymore.

"Yeah, I worship the great Gorellik (http://www.canonfire.com/wiki/index.php?title=Gorellik), master of the Gnoll race! Yeenoghu? Who's that?"

2016-01-18, 07:56 AM
The first thing I thought of was, "What if the ground isn't made of dirt such that a mud cyst makes sense? What if there is no ground? How will the clone gestate?" If this is not fixed, some ******* DM's going to start the adventure with, "Suddenly you are thrown through a portal to the Elemental Plane of Air!" Or the party intentionally splits themselves, killing the Immortal guy to send him outside the dungeon made entirely of polished diamond without having to fight their way back out.

I think you should specify when the 'choosing' of the 'safe place' takes place (e.g. before death maybe at a certain time each day, moment of death, moment of rebirth, sometime in between, next short- or long-rest...).
This would matter in a case where (moment of rebirth) the player said something like, "Now that the party is resting at this point that we had previously been, with all of my equipment, and it's been 24 hours, it turns out that I have been maturing there all along!"
(before death) the player telling his friends in the morning after they rest, "If I die, come back to this place with my stuff and wait 24 hours, and I shall emerge from [the mud]!" and then the do or not, and there are consequences to their choice.

How is 'safe place' defined?

A level of exhaustion on rebirth might be flavorful, but this doesn't really need a nerf.

Immortality doesn't necessarily mean you aren't super senile! You talk about memory as if an Immortal has about as much capacity as a normal person, plus some for long-long-term storage of ancient highs and lows, which works pretty well. But while Don Quixote the Immortal would be interesting, hopefully there is protection from the ravages of time and illness upon the mind as well as the body.

The Fated idea explains why "there can only be one" and "The One" starring Jet Li :smallbiggrin:

It also raises some issues for me. First of all, there needs to be a different term for the clone of you that's coming after you, because you've already used the term clone earlier in the write-up, and we don't need another level. Perhaps nemesis?

If the nemesis kills you, does it gain the Immortality feature?

Can your nemesis gain levels, like you do, on their own, of the same or different classes? Maybe they gain levels whenever you do, and vice versa (I just realized the huge potential for abuse in that case, if either the DM holds off on sending the nemesis after the PC in order to allow the nemesis to piggyback off the leveling of the PC, or if the PC convinces the DM to level his nemesis along the nemesis' path to kill him, such that the PC gets free levels).

I like the evil opposites thing you're going for, but it's tricky. If you are Mordo McMurder, a CE spree killer of the Bad Guys Gang, I get why your LG nemesis would want to kill you (maybe we're going with some kind of compulsion or "highest order imperative" explanation so wanting or not wanting to kill you wouldn't matter), but why, having fulfilled their "only purpose", would they then want to take your spree killer place in the world? Also, if they take your place in the world, player says, "Hey presto, my new character is Odrom McRedrum, LG spree killer of the Bad Guys Gang! Cool, she's got the same stats and abilities as my old gal!"

Alignment is super tricky and poorly defined, but generally speaking its kind of all about what you aspire to or what you think is right or what your guiding principles are. If the nemeses have what they aspire to (killing you and taking your place) and what they think is right (killing you and taking your place) and what their guiding principle is (killing you and taking your place) precoded when they emerge, what's the point of an alignment? I guess methodology in pursuing their goal and principles to follow, post-"killing you and taking your place"?

The idea that a True Neutral Fated PC could spawn any of the four extremes is extremely fun, even if or especially if randomly determined. However, unlike the LG vs. CE question above, it's kinda weird that a LG or CG nemesis would come after you to kill. I know, I know, they can't help it, but it's kinda weird. (They come after you because you won't commit to their side! :small tongue:) The DM could get some great anti-villain monologuing out of the LG nemesis's internal angst at having to follow their drive to straight up murder your [not blameless, but not irredeemable] PC self.

Fated also gave me a great idea for a high-level campaign seed!

You awaken in an enclosed space, surrounded by mud. As you stretch, investigate, or struggle for air, something bursts and you feel cool air against your skin. You emerge from a pool of mud large enough to contain your cradled body, naked as a newborn. As you look around, you see a number of other creatures in a similar state as yourself, and you realize you recognize them. They are the worst people you can think of, and you yourself...are worse. Suddenly aware of your incredible abilities and memories of vile schemes and astounding misadventures with these disgusting people, you realize that the only thing you want, other than killing yourself (that is, your other self) is to eliminate the scum the other you calls companions. You are a Nemesis, and you know what you have to do...

Free to decide on a new appearance is great fluff and roleplaying fun. "It be me, Ah tell y', just b'cause Ah'm a ginger noo dint mean nothin'!" "It's him, that accent is unmistakable."

Why does the Nature's Blessing option not allow for race changes as well as appearance changes? That would be so cool! The soul of a mountain dwarf barbarian, reincarnated into a high elf is great roleplaying fodder and an interesting mechanical challenge! I'd restrict it to sentient humanoids, sure, but why only the one race? Up to the DM if it's roll on a table of races random, or if the player decides what race they become. I don't think the DM should decide that for the player, but if the player knows it will be random ahead of time, they can make the informed decision to choose this Immortality type and it will have to be acceptable to them if the Random Number God gives them something sub-optimal.

On a similar point to the last bit above, I'd be concerned as a player how the Piety one would work. I wouldn't want my DM declaring my Immortality was suddenly void because I stepped on that dog's tail (unless my Immortal Piety was toward the God of Dogs), and I had to go do a task and do penance. How to determine what constitutes a violation of a tenet of faith or what atonement is necessary are pretty fuzzy. Maybe include a recommendation that DM and player work out some tenets of faith to follow, like those that make up a paladin Oath (synergy, yeah! :small tongue: ) and how they can be violated, and what penance might constitute (depending on level and severity of violation, probably).

1) They all seem pretty cool, and though Arcane Secret and Mysterious Magical Event seem blander than the others, I think that they could be played with and fun. Obviously I'm most interested in the Fated and Piety ideas, I think because they involve relationships, and seem more challenging and interesting for the player and the character than avoiding being thrown into Mt. Doom, or permadeath from a damage type. I would like the idea of Nature's Blessing a lot more if there were a random sentient humanoid table involved, but I like it middling well anyway.

2) I think the idea of immortality is corrupting to the human mind and integral to the functioning of the human psyche. Even though, as Steampunkette and Flashy pointed out, this feature does not really functionally change the way life and death work for the players, just the characters, I think it might encourage greater 'evil' in the players, as thinking of themselves as controlling immortal characters could increase their real-life human propensity to do 'wrong'.
If immortality is wide-spread in the game, it would require some really interesting world-building about population geography and politics, perhaps tipping the game toward courtly intrigue in the halls of the palace of the undying that plays out over the course of millennia.
If one or more of your players are immortal does it eliminate the need for tons of lore checks? Does it make things too easy? "I built this dungeon! The password is Open Sesame, you always turn right twice and then left, and there is a secret door in the second room." Later: "I swear I didn't leave that manticore in here, I wonder how it got there..."

3) As the others have said, very manageable.

I like ji6's endorsement idea, especially because it would be so easy to fluff as an ultra version of a warlock pact. "You thought you could get out of my service by dying did you? Nice try, but I've foreseen every loophole you can think of! Your soul is be mine and your service will be mine FOREVER! MWA HA HA HA!" It also reminds me of investiture from AD&D's Birthright.

Amechra's idea for the feature's function solves a lot of my quibbles and questions, but potentially shorts out my favorite flavor, the Fated, so I don't know if I like it...

Another pretty cool gimmicky use of this whole idea is if the players got the Immortality feature at the beginning of the game without knowing it, and then the DM made an effort to kill a couple of them in the early levels so they would find out about it and how it worked. The superhero origin story of the Uncanny Avengers Immortal Adventurers!

I love the Personality Traits, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws you've come up with, though the last 3 Flaws seem pretty type-specific.

2016-01-18, 01:28 PM
I like this. It's might even balanced if it isn't true immortality but more like "can't die of old age, doesn't have to eat/drink/sleep" or something

2016-01-18, 02:26 PM
Looking over more of the suggestions, I have tried to move away from mechanics (such as the clone and reincarnate spells) and move more towards a bond or "relationship" that can be used to grow and motivate a character. I like this approach a bit more because it doesn't feel as heavy handed and makes for some great roleplaying opportunities. Since that is one of the primary reasons for backgrounds in the first place, I think this is on the right track.

ji6, I am glad you like the fluff and, yes, I agree that there is a lot of material that could be used to create some pretty fun characters.

Amercha, I had briefly looked at alternatives to coming back from the dead. However, with so many issues stemming from a TPK to what happens if the body is completely destroyed to what happens if the person is trapped in a location where they have no chance of escaping, I decided a "complete reset" would be the most mechanically sound way of bringing someone back from the dead via the Immortality feature. I stated a "safe location" to keep it open and vague enough to provide a reasonable DM and player the opportunity to return the character relatively quickly back to the party, baring a TPK or other extenuating circumstances.

Also, I do agree being the last follower of a "dead god" would be a pretty cool way to bring in the incarnation of immortality background.

WMO? Lots of feedback and your insights helped me maneuver the reasons for being immortal away from heavy mechanics and closer towards what a background is really meant to be. I tried to work with some of the working of the Immortality feature to reflect the fact you choose where you come back WHEN you return to life. The mechanics are purposefully left vague not so a **** DM can exploit it to needlessly punish the player (which, if your DM is doing something like this to you, it says more about them as a DM than it does about the mechanics of this ability) but so the DM and player can work together to help bring the character back with the least number of complications to rejoin the party.

As for the memory of the immortal character, the reason I used that fluff description is to avoid perfect recall of everything they have ever done, ever. This is to avoid the "I was there so I don't have to make a check" loophole some players of immortal characters may choose to exploit. Also, if you have ever watched Man from Earth (which I recommend you do), the protagonist—a 14,000 year old ageless man—basically makes the statement of 'Do you remember where you were and what you were doing, on this date, one year ago? Then how should I remember a hundred years ago or even a thousand? Just like you, I remember the highs and the lows, those events that impacted me the greatest.' Also, you can't be everywhere at once and when you are living your life you have no idea when and where a historical event is going to take place. In certain situations the character might get advantage on a check that deals with their personal history. Otherwise, if you want to be a historical mover and shaker sort of immortal, pick History as one of your trained skills.

I did work on making the Fated reason for being immortal a little more mechanically sound and did away with any mention of alignment.

The Nature's Blessing reason for being immortal doesn't allow for returning as a different race because a) it no longer uses the reincarnate spell as a basis for the mechanic and b) coming back as a new race requires a lot of mechanical bookkeeping which can be a headache for DM and player alike. For these reasons, I kept the NB rebirth strictly cosmetic.

With Nature's Blessing and Piety, I took your advice and worked in setting up tenets to give not only the player and DM guidelines to determine when and if a character loses its Immortality feature, but also to help create plot hooks for DM and player. That was a very good suggestion.

The table of personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws were generated by looking at other backgrounds, having at least one personality trait, bond, and flaw tied to each of the five reasons for being immortal, and just sort of feeling it out. I tried to include at least one of each that could be vague or general enough to be used by anyone.