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Review of RISEN (Epic Edition) by Emerald Press

With all dead, well, with all dead there’s usually only one thing you can do. Go through his clothes and look for loose change.” ~ Miracle Max (The Princess Bride, 1987)

Death of a Character in a D&D game is pretty much an inevitability, given a long enough campaign. No matter how reasonable the encounter you create, or how smart the Players are, at some point you’re going to have to roll the damage dice, look down the table, and hear a Player reply, “Well, that’s it, I’m dead.”

It’s not much fun to kill a Character, but you’re the DM, and you’ve got the weight of the campaign world on your shoulders. Shake it off, move on and let it happen. The best you can hope for is that the Character went out in the proverbial “blaze of glory” and died like a Hero.

Of course, Death in a fantasy world need not be permanent, except under some very peculiar circumstances. So while Death is no fun, it need not be the end of a Character so long as the party can recover most of the body, and have access to the proper Ritual – or at least enough gold to pay for the proper Ritual.
RISEN
But Death can be an opportunity for Character Development, if the Player is willing to develop them. I’ve seen Players role-play some great personality quirks – after their Characters have died and come back, of course.

In one case, my Players were left with a moral quandary, after having discovered a pile of stolen items upon the corpse of their “trusted” companion, a dead Rogue. There was much talk of not to bring the rotten thief back at all, but in the end they did – after relieving him of all the pilfered loot and splitting it evenly amongst the group, as it would have been in the first place. But forever after, the Rogue thought twice – and maybe three times – before he “pre-looted” without telling the party what he found afterward.

But the new release from Emerald Press, called RISEN (The Guide to Resurrected Characters), takes Character death a step further than just a role-playing opportunity. RISEN offers new Paragon Paths available only to Characters who have “shuffled off the mortal coil” and have returned – but permanently altered by forces beyond the Mundane World.

RISEN – The Guide to Resurrected Characters

Product Summary

  • Designers: Todd Crapper & Shawn O’Leary
  • Illustrators: Todd Crapper (cover), Erisian Entertainment/Cereberus Stock Art (interior)
  • Publisher: Emerald Press
  • Year: 2009
  • Media: PDF (49 pages)
  • Cost: $4.99

RISEN (The Guide to Resurrected Characters) is a Player-Character supplement detailing seven new Paragon Paths usable with any D&D 4e Campaign Setting. The Paragon Paths in the supplement come complete with Path Features and Powers conforming to the standard set in Official WotC D&D products. In addition, each Path is given 5 to 12 new Paragon Feats based upon their Resurrected identities. There are also 4 new magic items that are used to exemplify the “relics” that might be attributed to a Resurrected Character as his legend grows.

The seven Paragon Paths detailed in this e-book are based upon the simple criteria that the Character died, and then the circumstances of how the Character died. The Author does provide rules that would allow a Heroic Tier adventurer to begin showing attributes of their eventual RISEN Paragon Path, which could provide some very good role-playing elements as strange signs began to manifest.

  • Chaostician – Dying in the Aberrant Realm, the Character returns tainted with horrific morphing powers.
  • Cuardach – A non-Fey Character returned from death by the power of their love for a Fey being.
  • Firebird – In sacrificing oneself for a nature (like a sacred grove), the Character becomes an avatar of a Pheonix Bird.
  • Harbinger – By dying in defense of some cause, such as their homeland, the Character returns to restore what was lost or avenge the fallen.
  • Haunt – Revived in rage at those who murdered them, the Character seeks out bloody retribution.
  • Primordial Ravager – Absorbing the remnants of a dead Primordial, the Character returns as its ally and agent.
  • Sword of Heaven – Returned to life to atone for their troubled past, the Character must make amends to attain paradise.

The seven Paragon Paths cover a wide variety of deaths that could occur in the course of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign, although a few would be fairly difficult to role-play out.

For instance, while I found the Chaostician to be a fascinating and creepy Path, I doubt many Heroic Tier Characters are going to be thrown into the Far Realms by their DMs. I am assuming here that the “Aberrant Realm” mentioned by the Author is “The Outside” or Far Realms, as mentioned in the Dungeon Master’s Guide and Manual of the Planes. But then again, you could argue that a Character horribly slain and partially devoured by some aberration might be a candidate for returning tainted and ready to embody the Chaostician Paragon Path.

Likewise, the Cuardach would take a lot of role-playing during game sessions to manage a love affair between a non-Fey and a Fey – and then have the Character slain while they were making cow-eyes at their beloved. To save time, and I imagine, a lot of eye-rolling around the game table by fellow Players, the Author does provide a stat block for a new magic item called “Love Potion”, which is made by an eladrin alchemist, and such an item could be used to induce the desired romantic attachment before death. Personally, as a DM, I’d recommend that if a Player really wanted to portray a Cuardach, to just conceive of the romance and even death as part of their background history, leaving the powers to slowly manifest over the course of their Heroic Tier.

And some of the other Paragon Paths evoked concepts of my favorite anti-heroes from novels, movies, and comics. The Haunt, for instance, could easily be interpreted as the character of “The Crow” (movie version), while the Sword of Heaven Paragon Path reminded me of the character of “John Constantine” – again, from the movie Constantine, by the way, and not the Hellblazer comic. And elements of characters like “Riddick” (The Chronicles of Riddick, 2004) and “Roland the Gunslinger” (The Gunslinger by Stephen King) could be seen in the Paragon Path of the Harbinger.

But looking beyond the death prerequisites and powers of the various Paragon Paths, the Author went to considerable effort to provide ample role-playing and related material to make sure that Players would feel that portraying a RISEN Character would be worth the effort. Each of the seven Paths is prefaced by a mini-short story, describing a Character that has died and returned as a transformed entity. And not surprisingly, due to their Death, Characters return on a mission or “life quest”, which varies based upon each of the Paths.

From the Firebird Paragon Path

Scourge of the Undead: Only one force of evil draws the ire of the firebird as much as abominations: the undead, not for the violation each undead creature brings to the world, but for the forced servitude inflicted on the deceased by the will of another. While life is precious, death is inevitable for all creatures not blessed with the ability of regeneration and subjugating another creature into unlife is a crime against all living creatures. The firebird seeks to release the undead from their prison and allow them to continue on their journey into the afterlife.

From the Primordial Ravager Paragon Path

Persecution: Churches are run by mortals and fall from their initial vision. When clerics twist their flock for personal gain, the primordial ravager sees an opportunity to bring the gods down a notch by exposing such frauds. They summon themselves to the aid of any culture persecuted by a church or kingdom and stand by their side when no one else will.

Subsequent sections for each Paragon Path discussing the Physical Appearance and Role-Playing tips really add the good “fluff” to make a RISEN Character come to life in a campaign.

From the Haunt Paragon Path

ROLEPLAYING A HAUNT

Though quick to embrace their fate and the responsibility of seeking out justice for their death, haunts are very traumatized by the ordeal. Many border on insanity and obsession, playing over and over again the visions of their demise in search of clues. They are reminded of their plight on a near constant basis either because of their appearance when dealing with others or the visions which plague them…

From the Harbinger Paragon Path

PHYSICAL APPEARANCE

A harbinger’s physical form never changes after her return to life, but her environment adapts to the harbinger’s actions to create an intimidating presence. The shadows of a dark hallway seem to cover the harbinger’s body save for the eyes and the glimmering blade in her hand; the fog conceals her body from detection, yet reveals the outline of a fierce warrior for a brief second before concealing the harbinger once more…

Most importantly, the Author showed some style and “forward thinking”, and spent the time to create a number of Feats for each Paragon Path. And I think all D&D gamers can agree that it is often the lack of content support that makes any Class less desirable to play.

Worthy Sacrifice
Prerequisites: Sword of Heaven
Benefit: When reduced to 0 hit points to save an ally or allies you may spend an action point as an immediate interrupt.
Special: This is the only time that an action point may be spent as an immediate interrupt. The action point cannot be used to expend healing surges except when utilized to save the life of others such as when a cleric heals or a paladin’s lay on hands class feature.

Inhuman Burst
Prerequisite: Chaostician, Immutable Form (Inhuman Reach) path feature
Benefit: You use one of your at-will powers as a daily power with a close burst 1.

So despite my misgivings over the somewhat schmaltzy nature of the Cuardach Paragon Path, what remains is 6 solid Paragon Paths that could spawn some really great play during the Paragon and Epic Tiers. And while the nature of the Paragon Paths offered by RISEN are somewhat dark, I think they could have a broad range of appeal to any number of Players who want to develop a bit of anti-hero in their role-playing. Given the amount of content and the price, I would say that RISEN: The Guide to Resurrected Characters is a good buy for Players and DMs that want to explore the far side of a Raise Dead Ritual.

And speaking of “spawn-ing some really great play”, perhaps the Author of RISEN might consider adding a Paragon Path involving a vengeance driven soul returned after making a pact with a representative of Hell or perhaps the Abyss – Infernal Legionnaire, anyone?

So until next blog… I wish you Happy Gaming!

Editor’s Note: This Blog’s Author received a complimentary copy of the product in PDF format from which the review was written.


About The Author

Editor-in-Chief
Michael is an Adept of a Secret Order of Dungeon Masters, and dwells in a hidden realm with his two evil cat-familiars, deep within the Vale of Wolverines, called by some "Michigan". He has been esoterically conjuring D&D Campaigns for nearly a Third of a Century, and has been known to cast ritual blogs concerning Dungeons & Dragons every few days with some regularity. Michael has freelanced for Wizards of the Coast, and writes reviews of D&D and other Role-Playing Game products on EN World News.

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