An old Chestnut tossed back in the fire for another roasting
Reincarnation, in the D&D sense, is a magical effect which creates a new body and puts a dead person’s soul or spirit into that body. The spell is, however, extremely poorly defined as to exactly what that means. If my elf is reincarnated as a human, do I keep an elf’s bonuses with swords? If my gnome is reincarnated as a dwarf, can I keep being an illusionist? If I can’t ADVANCE as an illusionist, can I learn a new class, or am I stuck as an X level illusionist until I roll better on reincarnation, or someone polymorphs me and I survive that? Do my attributes change? If I stop being a halfling, does my dexterity go down and my strength go up? If I become a dwarf, does my charisma drop? If I reincarnate as a human, does my level limit change?
Reincarnation in AD&D takes two basic forms: Magic-User and Druidic. The Magic-User table is largely filled with demi-humans, humanoids, and humans. The Druidic table is full of animals and sylvan creatures. However, these are arranged fairly randomly on the tables… there’s no real “good” range to roll in, save as defined by the individual (“I came back as a troll? AWESOME!”). Nothing about the character themselves influences what they come back as… a paladin is as likely to come back as an orc as a thief would be. In the game as written, the only thing that matters is who cast the spell, and how lucky their dice are.
In this, I hope to define reincarnation, and make it a somewhat less random effect… not under the target or caster’s strict control, but influenced by the character’s life before their death.
The Reincarnated Self
Reincarnation and Reincarnate (the Magic-user and Druid versions, respectively) construct a new body around the soul and spirit of a recently deceased individual. Because they encase an intact spirit in a body, reincarnation spells have a very limited window in which they can be cast; wait too long, and the soul or spirit will have already reached their final destination, and be irretrievable. The body created is somewhat random, but is influenced in its creation by the spirit which it contains.
The magic-user spell is heavily influenced by the strength of the spirit being encased. Stronger spirits… those belonging to higher-ego creatures… are more likely to mold their form into something that resembles their spiritual strength. Weaker spirits cannot muster the strength with which to do this, and so their forms are less powerful, and more random. These modifications are noted next to the table.
The druidic spell is influenced by ego, but is also influenced by balance; deviations from true neutrality make it harder for the druidic magic to function effectively. Those with powerful alignments, but relatively low egos, find themselves placed in “simpler” forms, to learn lessons of balance and neutrality. These modifications are noted with the table.
Certain situations exist in which Reincarnation can take place long after the original body has died. However, these require a disembodied spirit that is still bound to the Material Plane, be it through means such as Magic Jar or spectral undead. For someone confined to a Magic Jar to be reincarnated, it requires physical possession of the Magic Jar by the spellcaster, willingness on the part of the jarred spirit, and for the subject of the reincarnation to forever forsake their original body; if that body is possessed, then the reincarnated spirit no longer has any claim to it, and the possessor is no longer subject to exorcism by dispel magic. For spectral undead, the creature itself must be willing, and the caster must possess a portion of the creature’s original body.
Character Effects of Reincarnation
Regardless of the caster, reincarnated characters share certain aspects. The first is that all racial abilities are stripped from them; dwarves lose their resistance to magic, elves lose their bonus with swords and bows, and halflings lose a measure of their dexterity. Likewise, ability modifiers due to age and race are stripped from the character; the body created will not have the infirmities of age, nor does the spirit retain its accumulated wisdom. It will be considered to be on its first day as a Mature Adult. With regards to gender, roll 1d20, and subtract any Wisdom saving throw modifier. On a 14 or lower, the character's sex will match their gender; on a 15 or higher, they will physically be another gender.
After removing former abilities and debilities, the abilities and debilities of the new form take effect, including age modifications, attribute modifiers, minimums, and maximums. Attributes in excess of new maximums should be noted; should the character be subsequently polymorphed or reincarnated into a form that will allow those attributes, their “natural ability” will take effect. The 2nd edition Complete Humanoid’s Handbook can be very useful in creating newly monstrous characters, while animal forms (especially from the druid list) will need a large degree of DM input. Regardless of the form, however, the reincarnated character remains a sophont; a human reincarnated as a fox remains a thinking person, capable of understanding language, and possibly even scratching words into the dirt. However, the smaller brain does impact intellect; if the usual range for the animal is Low, there will be at least a -1 to Intelligence, increased to -2 if Semi, and -3 if Animal.
A reincarnated person maintains their same class and level of experience, even if it is largely incompatible with their new form. They may not be able to make use of these abilities (a badger magic-user cannot speak to cast spells, nor make the necessary hand gestures), but they will have those abilities. They likewise retain any proficiencies that they had, though this, too, might cause certain problems (“Why is that wolf holding a sword in its mouth? And why did it just kill Zeke?”). Note that those whose intelligence is impacted by their new form might gain or lose proficiencies due to this; the player should be allowed to choose which proficiencies are lost or gained. Clerics are somewhat advantaged over magic-users in this respect; their spells can be enacted through the dispensation of their deity, so they face difficulties only with spells that require understandable language (such as Command), or material components which may be difficult to manipulate. Druids of 7th level or higher have a further advantage, here; they are capable of returning to human form with their shapeshifting abilities (though whatever form they have been reincarnated to is their new base form).
If a character’s new form is incompatible with their previous class, or the player chooses, they may choose to retrain into a new class more suited to their new form. If they do so, they lose 1 level from their previous class, and gain it as the first level of their new class. Each time they gain a level in their new class, they will lose a level in their old class, until their old class dwindles to level 0 and disappears. Newly or formerly multi-class characters always track this based on their highest level; a former 4/8 half-orc cleric/thief turned human fighter would become a 1st level fighter, 4/7 cleric/thief; then a 2nd level fighter, 4/6; then a 3rd level fighter and 4/5, and so on. When they advanced to 5th level fighter, they would become a 3/3 thief/cleric. At 8th level, the last of their thief and cleric abilities would disappear. If the new class is a multiclass, then level debits for old classes track according to the highest of the new classes. If a newly minted human chooses to dual-class, then class abilities from a previous incarnation are counted as abilities of the first class, and restricted as such.
Hit points, saving throws, and combat are calculated off the most advantageous of a character’s available classes; the HP of the new class should be tracked separately, and it is used when it surpasses that of the old class. If someone with an 18 Strength enters into a fighter or warrior class, then they gain the advantage of Exceptional strength; if they leave all fighter or warrior classes behind, then their exceptional strength disappears in their new form. If someone with a 17 or higher Constitution enters a fighter or warrior class, then only the new class (or class combination) gains the benefit of higher hit points from each hit die. If a former fighter or warrior had a 17 or higher constitution, then their new HP gains are limited to a +2 per hit die gain, as with others who are not fighters or warriors.
Polymorph and Reincarnation
Reincarnation sets a new “base form” for the character, but there are many magics that allow one to change form. However, this does not change that a Reincarnated individual is now part of a new race... a former human polymorphed into a human is still a former human in an odd shape. Should they fail the check to "assume" a human persona upon being polymorphed, it will result in their reincarnated nature fading from their mind... perhaps only to be brought into stark reminder once they fail a dispel magic.
As mentioned above, Druids who are 7th level and above subject to reincarnation are able to return to their original form without problem, though it does cost them their mammal shape for the day, and their reincarnated form remains their base form.
Reincarnation and Psionic Powers
Unless reincarnated into a form that always has psionics, or a member of a class which provides psionic powers, reincarnated individuals lose any psionic powers they may have had before their reincarnation; while a function of the mind, the radically different brain makes any such ability at least temporarily inaccessible. If the character pursues psionic ability again, however, they receive an additional bonus of 1 per minor discipline, 2 per attack or defense mode, and 3 per major discipline they previously possessed. If the new form has psionics, then those same bonuses for previous psionic powers apply to rolls for number of psionic attack modes, defense modes, and number of disciplines.
Using the Reincarnation Table
The reincarnation table requires a d100 roll, plus the character’s special Personality score. The Personality score is the character’s (current highest level) + (Intelligence) + (Charisma); unlike the personality score used when resisting intelligent magic items, this score is not decreased due to a loss of hit points, since the subject of reincarnation typically has 0. If the subject’s alignment is identical to the caster’s, then the subject gains a +10 on the roll. If their alignment is 1 step removed from the caster’s (True neutral to Neutral Good or Neutral Evil, for example), then the roll is made without alignment modification. For each subsequent step removed from the caster’s alignment, there is a 10 point penalty on the roll.
Comparing this sum to the table, the character then receives a form based on their alignment; the caster chooses the form associated with either aspect of the subject’s alignment, or may choose to cede that choice to the subject.