So, a player’s character has died. Now what? Most RPGs settings provide options for a GM to keep a character in the game, avoiding a player having to “start over” with a wholly new character. Before seeking out that cleric, here are some other ideas game masters could consider for their games.
Resurrection or reincarnation by others besides the slain PC’s allies. Usually other heroes or their powerful patron raises the dead character. What if some unknown cult, wizard, or magical being with a secret agenda decides the PC is too important to let fall too soon? What secret plans need the PC as a pawn played in an unseen game?
Ghost, revenant, or other undead – with a catch. This long-standing fantasy tradition works easily as either a “reborn” servant of justice or hell, serving the demands of an angelic or demonic patron who expects the boon of renewed existence to come with certain conditions to act out on earth.
Cyborg constructs. “We can rebuild him, better, stronger, faster” …and programmed to obey geas-like conditions in return for an extension on life. (Remember Robocop’s limitations against his corporate creators.)
Psychic transference to a new body. A simulacrum of the slain hero has been held in stasis for just this sort of crisis. The GM may or may not allow the character to keep some stats like Intelligence or class levels. If not magic, technology may allow for cybernetic braintaping into a mindless cloned body or android duplicate.
Alternate timeline crossover. A duplicate of the slain character which slightly or vastly difference memories is drawn into the PCs’ universe, perhaps in response to the cosmic trauma of another “eternal champion” biting the dust. Author Michael Moorcock pioneered this genre with Elric and related heroes.
Broken fate. The character “was not supposed to die now,” and miraculously survives no matter how severe the injuries. However, from that point forward the character is a magnet for horribly bad luck, “paradox demons” or some other curse reflecting the warped reality.
Elemental transference. The character’s spirit or soul animates a duplicate made or a pure element – earth, fire, water, a plant – changing in nature but otherwise functioning much as before. The element may involve new vulnerabilities, such as no longer being cured by mortal healing magic and taking damage from the appropriate opposing element.
Fraternal regeneration. The character dies, but his body begins to repair itself forming a body with the same memories but a new personality and abilities. (Examples include The Doctor from “Doctor Who” or Dax from ST:DS9.)
Android, clone or fetch is the one slain instead. Upon death, the PC’s body is discovered to be something artificial but programmed to believe it was the real thing, complete with false memories. Without the player knowing, the “actual” character was kidnapped during a previous adventure and switched with a duplicate designed to act as the “perfect spy” on the other PCs.
Finally, if the entire party of PCs are wiped out – ye olde TPK – the game master may opt to have them all seem to recover, only to have them exist unknowingly as ghosts. The PCs may find the living no longer recognize them or react in odd ways. (While spoiling a few plot points here, “The Sixth Sense” and “The Others” are typical examples of this popular story device.)