Character deaths are often inevitable in a fantasy roleplaying game. Maybe the Dungeon Master set up an encounter where the characters face certain death hoping the players will avoid it and it backfires. Possibly the players overestimate their own abilities and ignore strategy when encountering an enemy. Whatever the cause, the loss of a character is tough for a player. They invested time and imagination into bringing their fighter or cleric to life. They don’t want the character to be dead. Fortunately, in a fantasy RPG like D&D death is not a permanent condition. If a character has died within less than a minute, Revivify can be cast by a 5th level Cleric or a 9th level Paladin (hopefully they aren’t the character who died.) When time is less of a factor the Raise Dead spell can bring a character back to life provided that the party contains a Cleric or Paladin of 9th or 17th level respectively. Death can also be cured by the 5th level Druid spell Reincarnate, but that involves the character’s soul entering a new body which may be a completely different race. In cases where the party doesn’t have the appropriate level magic-user help must be sought elsewhere.
The quick solution is for the DM to stick a high enough level Cleric in whatever village the group is using as their home base. The PCs carry their dead comrade back to the village and bargain with the healer to cast Raise Dead. There are several problems with this method. First off most of the spells require a higher level of magic user than one would expect to find outside of a major city. Having a 9th level Cleric hanging around in a tiny village doesn’t really make sense and that is only what is required to cast Raise Dead. If the party is more than ten days out from any kind of settlement, maybe deep in a haunted forest or a network of caverns, a Raise Dead spell is not sufficient to bring the character back to life. A Resurrection spell is required to reanimate any character that has been dead for more than ten days. This spell requires a 13th level Cleric to cast it. This high level of Cleric is even less likely to be encountered in a town or village. The second problem with this solution is that it’s very boring. Fantasy RPGs are supposed to be about epic adventures. Walking back and forth to the village when a player dies does fit any known definition of epic. Here is where the DM can insert some proper adventure.
Turning the task of resurrecting a dead adventurer into an adventure builds off of a pretty basic premise; the party does not have the means to perform the take themselves and must seek out help. For lower level parties this help may be found by taking a short, but eventful trip through a dense forest to find a hidden temple or a similar setup. As the level of the party increases the challenge of finding the necessary help should increase. The DM could not only increase the difficulty of the challenge, but also add in different elements to the side quest. The party finds the necessary NPC to perform the task only to learn they have to seek out the correct spell ingredient in a different location. The Cleric may want a task performed in lieu of payment such as clearing out a pesky tribe of goblins or retrieving a religious artifact from ancient ruins. The difficulty and complexity of the side quest should also be tailored to how much time the DM wants the party to spend away from the main campaign.
When a DM is preparing a campaign, they probably already create side quests to the main adventure. These quests are good for when the group wanders off the path of the main story or for when the players need to buff up a little before continuing on in the story. Any of these unused side quests are perfect for tweaking into a resurrection quest, but the DM might want to build one from scratch from the beginning.
If a DM has an especially high level group that still doesn’t contain the appropriate magic-user there is another possibility for bringing back a dead character. Instead of seeking out a Cleric, Paladin or Druid to resurrect or reincarnate the PC, the party could journey to a different plane and retrieve the character themselves. This option is probably not something a DM wants to do on a whim since adventuring on the other planes requires quite a bit of preparation.
Finally, it is important to remember that resurrecting a character can not always be an adventure. Do not let it derail the campaign that is being run! If the party is ten days walk underground trying to stop mind flayers from taking over a dwarf kingdom in five days time, they don’t have time to go find a Cleric to resurrect a fallen character. In this case that character will just have to stay dead for a while. Afterwards the DM can insert a side quest for the resurrection or just throw the party a bone and use the “nearby Cleric” solution.