The oldest conundrum in fantasy role-playing games is what to do about a player-character that’s just bit the dust. Is resurrection quick and easy, making death more of a speed bump than a major event? Or is death final and irrevocable, leading to a player who then has to spend the rest of the session sitting out (often while rolling up a new character)? There’s no good answer to these questions, and for decades different DMs, groups, and games have gone back and forth between the two extremes. Rite Publishing, however, says that you can have your cake and eat it too with their Restless Soul supplement for the Pathfinder RPG – a supplement that lets you keep playing your character after they die.
Notwithstanding the covers, Restless Souls is a book that’s entirely in black and white, with many shades of grey in between; very apropos for a book of this nature. The product page notes it as being seventeen pages, which is the length of the PDF file, but also lists thirteen – this is the pages that deal with actual content, and so doesn’t count the covers, the credits page, or the OGL. The pages are all surrounded with an opulent border on every side, giving the product a rather opulent look. Two full-page interior illustrations show what a typical restless soul looks like, and there are several smaller illustrations that show some very disturbing-looking monsters. There’s no printer-friendly version, but given not only the relative brevity of the product, and the caliber of these pictures, you probably won’t need one anyway.
In regards to the product itself, it opens with a first-person description of a restless soul; told by a restless soul herself, in fact. I was of two minds about this introduction. The character’s voice comes through very clearly, and does a great job of evoking a feel for her. Likewise, the actual descriptions are very nicely constructed, such as not giving too specific a reason for why some dead people come back as restless souls (was it a need to fulfill a quest? Would no afterlife have them? Or something else altogether?). The part I didn’t like was the continued references to the city of Questhaven.
For those who don’t know, Questhaven is the setting in which pretty much all of Rite Publishing’s Pathfinder material is set. The problem (at least for me) is that this means that all of their products refer to Questhaven in the flavor text. The narrator for the first part of Restless Souls talks about the history of her kind in Questhaven, how people there react to them, where they congregate, etc. While some people may appreciate the added background, particularly if you want to tie it in with other Rite Publishing products, I found it to be a bit of a burden, since it’s continually referring to things I don’t know about (and can’t know about, since there’s no campaign book as of yet). So personally, I could have done without that.
Beyond that is the actual mechanics of how you can play a dead person. For this, Rite Publishing wisely takes a “simple is best” attitude. “Restless soul” is a template that can be applied to pretty much any living creature, letting you come back as your own incarnate soul.
There’s surprisingly little to it. You’re an outsider, not an undead creature, though (despite not listing the extraplanar subtype as one you gain) you’re now native to the plane that’s the afterlife for you. I cringed a bit at this, since it means that smart villains will know to use a banishment or similar spell to send you back – that’s a pretty cheap but effective way of making a PC irrelevant for the rest of the session; I’d have made them native outsiders myself.
And that’s about it. There are a few other, minor adjustments, but by and large you’re pretty much playing the same character you were before you died. Of course, coming back to life isn’t quite a clean break, as you suffer the same penalties as if you’d been subject to a raise dead spell (that is, prepare for two permanent negative levels). While I heard some people grumble over this, I think it was the right decision, since coming back from the dead without any penalty is the province of very high-level magic, and coming back as your own returned soul should be somewhat traumatic.
Of course, being dead doesn’t have to mean that you’re still (almost) exactly the same as you were when you were alive. There are a number of new feats here, almost all of which can only be taken by a restless soul (the sole exception being one that guarantees that you will become a restless soul when you die). I liked most of these, but wondered if some were perhaps too powerful – you only need to be 3rd level to use a once-per-day ethereal jaunt, for example. Likewise, most require that you spend components on a special ritual to take the feat, but what this ritual is and why you need to take it isn’t expounded upon.
Ten new spells, levels 0-9, round out the book. While these aren’t directly tied to restless souls (and, in fact, I seemed to recognize them from other sourcebooks), they all had some thematic connection (even if that was thin sometimes).
Overall, this book is a terrific answer for what to do in the event of a character dying, and you want to keep playing them when resurrection isn’t available. The flavor and mechanics for playing a dead character are simple and innovative, while still colorful and evocative at the same time. I didn’t care for the Questhaven material, and the spells seemed like a bit of a stretch, but the former didn’t bother me too much, while the latter was a nice addition. Even so, together those make the product feel a bit less than fully focused, and that’s why I gave it four out of five stars. Beyond that, the next time your PC dies, have their soul be restless and keep them in the game.
[4 of 5 Stars!]