Welcome to our ghoulish October!
Most FRPGs have some way to bring the dead back to life. I think this is a vital part of most games, because nobody wants to lose a character they’ve been building for years. But clearly there are times when it just goes too far.
It has been a VERY long time since I played under other game rules, so I am going to focus mainly on Legend Quest. That doesn’t mean that what we’re discussing here doesn’t work for other games, in fact I think it works quite well for most of them!
Without getting into the metaphysics of the soul (that’s like a three page paper that I haven’t bothered to publish yet), raising the dead effectively places the soul of the deceased back into their own body, thus returning that body to life. Let’s talk first about the body. In LQ, you cannot return life to a body (resuscitate) if that body is incapable of life. For example, if the head was cut off, then the body is incapable of supporting life and you cannot resuscitate it. So if you want to prevent your enemies from being raised, you chop off their heads - right? Well, a restore spell (at Power level 6) can restore a head to a body and then you could resuscitate it, but these are pretty rare spells, so you should be OK.
So what stops the body from supporting life? Well, rotting. A rotted body cannot be resuscitated. Stop, actually it can, but then the newly revived character has a disease similar to leprosy, most commonly called “the rots”. So what does work? Well, acids or disintegrate spells quite often work. Even destroying a portion of the body should be enough to prevent life returning (we’re thinking chest or head), though powerful enough magics ought to work.
You know what method of body destruction seems to work and no magic I have thought of can reverse? Consumption. There is a character in one of my games who has a habit of dropping bodies (or parts of bodies) into pig pens in order to destroy the evidence as well as prevent returns. I haven’t come up with any way that a body that has been consumed can be restored. (I guess wishes in that other game would work.)
So does that make it too hard on the players? I don’t think so. None of us have the time to try and get into all the possible things you could do in hopes of preserving the body and then restoring life into it to avoid the rotting, but basically it means if you die and someone with you has a resuscitate spell, you’ll be OK. If they can get you back to civilization in a couple of days, probably fine, especially if it’s cold or they took some measures. Otherwise, you’re staying dead.
What else can work? Bodies that cannot be recovered. Falling happens a lot with these - especially into lava pits. But simply having the body fall into the ocean during a storm, and the others being prevented from going after it. Or off a bridge. Or dragged away by animals (though that probably leads to consumed). No body, no resuscitation.
What about the soul? This is trickier! Would there be characters who’s souls were so desired by the divine entities that they wouldn’t let them go? Yes! You sell your soul to the devil and then die, he might try to do something that would prevent your friends from dragging you back to life. In my game world, most people die and then they go to stand in line to be judged. Therefore, they haven’t been shuttled away to their final destination just yet, so typically they avoid the whole devil-holding-onto-their-ankles thing.
Would you want to come back? Some innocent kid might prefer heaven to life! Maybe some virtuous folks would too, though there are not many virtuous folks in my campaigns. Can you imagine how much it would suck if you were brought back to life as a kid, ripped out of heaven, then during your life you “were forced to” make choices that eventually damned you to somewhere else? Yeah, that would suck! Do they learn anything in heaven? Are they returning with any messages? Maybe a clue about the mission at hand? I mean, if you die, go to heaven, are greeted by angels and/or people you loved in life, wouldn’t they say, Hey there’s a huge dragon behind the next door!
Maybe it’s easier to not think about some of these things. Maybe the GM just follows the rule book and says the spell returns people to life, done. But knowing more about your game world, including its afterlife, can make things a whole lot more fun!