Back From the Dead! A Guide to the Reborn Lineage

Reborn: What We Know

Reborn are one of the gothic lineages that were introduced in Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft. These not quite alive, not quite dead characters come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes and are the perfect fit for campaigns rooted in horror and intrigue.

The official description for this race describes them as “individuals who have died yet, somehow, still live.” If that doesn’t scream horror rpg I don’t know what does. The variety starts to come in when we consider how these characters are still alive though.

You see, the reborn aren’t your average everyday undead. In fact, they don’t even have to be undead at all. The reborn could very well be constructs, possessed by spirits, or something else entirely.

You see, reborn is more of a blanket term for several different horror-themed character archetypes. Rather than focusing on a specific origin, reborn are characters whose spirits cling to a body despite their untimely ends.

So, yes, your reborn adventurer can be “undead” in the traditional sense, or it can be something much more unique.

Of course, lineages already open up the floodgates for a lot of variety. Since these aren’t races in the traditional sense, you have the opportunity to graft them onto any other 5e race and create the perfect character for you.

Lineages work in one of two ways. The first is to use a lineage at character creation. In doing this, you can still choose another race as a template, but the only things that will carry through are aesthetic details. 

The second method is to actually take on a lineage at a later point in a campaign, which means keeping your various speeds and skill proficiencies but none of the more exciting features.

With either of these options, you’ll end up with characters like a zombie orc, a possessed grung, or even something weirder like an adventurer stitched from the pieces of multiple races. While there are some examples given in VRGtR, the options are really limitless and come down to your motivations and desires.

Domains of Dread

While you can come up with any origin for your reborn adventurer, you could also tie it to a specific domain of dread for a bit of a stronger connection to the world you’re exploring. Domains of dread are smaller locations, or demiplanes, within the whole of Shadowfell. One of which you may know is Barovia, home to Strahd.

Ravenloft itself is another name for the collection of demiplanes, which is why there are so many different elements of horror that can be found in Van Richten’s guide. 

Now, not every domain of dread is going to have a specific theme that can easily be tied to a reborn character, but many will. So, here is a list of some important domains and how your reborn might have been formed there.

  • Har’Akir – Har’akir is a desert environment ruled over by a mummy darklord named Ankhtepot. It’s likely that a reborn from this area might be some sort of mummy themselves. Somehow, a soul has tied itself to perfectly preserved remains.
  • Lamordia – A domain based on the stories of Frankenstein’s monster is the perfect home for a character made from pieces of various bodies left to rot. Your reborn can be the result of a mad scientist’s experiment, whatever that means to you.
  • Mordent – This domain of dread is home to a machine known simply as the Apparatus. This machine has many incredible abilities, one of which is the ability to move souls to new bodies. Your mordentian reborn could very well be the result of one of these spiritual transmigrations.
  • Saragoss – A domain of dread compiled of shipwrecks, seaweed, and the sea itself, this is home to all sorts of aquatic horrors from weresharks to sahuagin. This could be the perfect place for a reborn that fits the theme of Davy Jones’ crew in the Pirates of the Caribbean. Of course, stories of all sorts of undead fill the minds of pirates and sailors, so many options would fit here.
  • Darkon – This realm is home to a legend known as the Hour of Ascension, when all the dead would rise and take hold of the region. There was such an event that happened, and it’s sure to happen again as this domain is closely linked to the realm of the dead. A zombie with some consciousness could definitely have risen here.

In reality, any form of reborn could come from anywhere, but domains of dread are often catalysts for all sorts of unnatural phenomena, particularly those concerned with undeath and… well, dread.

The Reborn in Detail

Reborn Traits

  • Ability Score Increase: Increase one ability score by 2, and increase a different one by 1, or increase three different ability scores by 1. If you are replacing your race with this lineage, replace any Ability Score Increase you previously had with this.
  • Languages: You can speak, read, and write Common and one other language that you and your DM agree is appropriate for the character. If you are replacing your race with this lineage, you retain any languages you had and gain no new languages.
  • Creature Type: You are a Humanoid.
  • Size: You are Medium or Small. You choose the size when you gain this lineage.
  • Speed: Your walking speed is 30 feet.

Ancestral Legacy. If you replace a race with this lineage, you can keep the following elements of that race: any skill proficiencies you gained from it and any climbing, flying, or swimming speed you gained from it.

If you don’t keep any of those elements or you choose this lineage at character creation, you gain proficiency in two skills of your choice.

Deathless Nature. You have escaped death, a fact represented by the following benefits:

  • You have advantage on saving throws against disease and being poisoned, and you have resistance to poison damage.
  • You have advantage on death saving throws.
  • You don’t need to eat, drink, or breathe.
  • You don’t need to sleep, and magic can’t put you to sleep. You can finish a long rest in 4 hours if you spend those hours in an inactive, motionless state, during which you retain consciousness.

Knowledge from a Past Life. You temporarily remember glimpses of the past, perhaps faded memories from ages ago or a previous life. When you make an ability check that uses a skill, you can roll a d6 immediately after seeing the number on the d20 and add the number on the d6 to the check. You can use this feature a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus, and you regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest.

While the reborn are an incredibly interesting idea for a lineage with some great potential for character design, they are really lacking when it comes to mechanics. The biggest draw is their semi-undead status, and even that doesn’t go quite far enough to be worth it.

Before we get into the deathless nature of these adventurers, let’s just cover the basics. You get custom Ability Score increases, something that is basically commonplace at this point in 5e. You also get to choose your size from medium and small, which is largely going to be based on the template you use for your character’s design.

The creature type is actually something we need to consider here. While creature types don’t have any innate mechanics, there can be quite a few things, such as spells and abilities, that reference a creature’s type. For our reborn, we’re locked in as humanoid, but this wasn’t always the case.

In the Unearthed Arcana, Gothic Lineages, where this was first playtested, you were actually humanoid as well as construct or undead. This has some really interesting implications, as certain spells just don’t work on constructs or the undead. There could be a few benefits to this, but mostly it means you’re cut off from healing spells.

This was a good choice for sure, and it echoes the decision made to keep warforged as humanoids as well.

Moving on, our base walking speed is 30. However, if we have a better set of speed from our template race, we can choose that instead. A reborn aarakocra still gets to fly, a reborn triton can still swim, etc. 

Of course, that comes from the ancestral legacy feature along with any skill proficiencies you gained from the race. Note that this does specify skill proficiencies, so weapons and armor are right out. 

You can choose to omit this and take on two new skill proficiencies though. This keeps things a bit balanced because otherwise every reborn would be templated on a creature with a massive speed boost and some nice proficiencies.

Now, onto the fun stuff. 

Deathless nature is a feature that is clearly intended to give our reborn adventurers the benefits of being constructs or undead without any of the repercussions. Clearly, this is meant to be the most exciting part, at least mechanically, of this lineage.

Advantage on saving throws against disease and poison is huge but not out of the ordinary. Advantage on Death Saving throws, however, now that is huge. Death Saving throws aren’t particularly hard to beat in 5e, but they’re a sure thing. With this, someone will pretty much have to actively attack you while you’re down in order for you to actually die.

Beyond that, we get some accounting benefits, like not needing to eat, drink, or breathe. This does mean you can hide in bags of holding and other similar extra-dimensional spaces, so keep that in mind. 

The last bit of this feature is essentially an elven trance, eliminating your need to sleep and instead allowing you to spend 4 hours conscious but unmoving to benefit from a long rest.

Then, we get the final feature here — knowledge from a past life. You get glimpses from your past that allow you to add a d6 to an ability check after rolling the d20. I have to say, I absolutely love this if only because of how extremely anime it is. There’s nothing like a short montage to allow a hero a better shot at success, and with this, you can slowly add to your mysterious backstory as time goes on.

All put together, this is by no means a bad lineage or race for that matter. There aren’t many exciting things or even abilities that you can get too creative with, but that doesn’t stop the abilities that are here from being effective. More than anything, this lineage makes it a lot harder to die, which makes sense seeing as you’ve already marked that off of your to-do list.

Reborn Roleplaying

With any race, there are some things that need to be taken into consideration to build up exciting roleplay opportunities. For a reborn adventurer, you’ll want to focus much less on your backstory and much more on your untimely origins. Instead of deciding upon the life that brought you to adventure, you get to build a story about the death that did so.

This is all dependent on when you are reborn though. If you’ve been playing an orc for 8 levels and end up dying, you’ll already have a fleshed-out backstory, death, and rebirth. Well, the rebirth part will probably be on your DM and the story you’re currently engaged in, but it certainly won’t be too difficult to figure out.

For players starting their character as a reborn though, we get to engage in so much more mystery than your normal adventurer would. You see, reborn creatures often lack large portions of their memory. Some awaken only knowing a single name, others fight with a collection of memories, and others still are like newborn babies with completely blank slates. 

Your flavor of reborn will greatly impact this bit of backstory roleplay. A body that was possessed by a spirit may deal with two consciousnesses vying for control. A long ago mummified warrior may have lost all of their mind to time. A soul placed within a mechanical body may struggle to reconcile their memories with their manufacturing, resulting in a nasty identity crisis.

There are truly as many ways to deal with memory as there are ways to create a reborn. I find this incredibly exciting and could probably write up 100 of these characters before I got bored. However, I understand that some of us may not have grown up on horror films from the 70s, so I’ve dropped a table below for you to get some inspiration.

Creation, resurrection, possession, or something else entirely; who you were is a story for another time. Who you are now is up to you to decide.

Reborn Names

Most reborn will take on the name of their former lives, but some may not know that name. Others may not identify that name. For whatever reason, if you want a name that is more appropriate to the gothic theme, I’ve decided to throw in some suggestions for coming up with one.

There tend to be two or three ways that a creature like this gets their name. 

The first is latching on to the first thing they see, hear, or say. An awakened zombie that can only say “Brains” may just get called Brains at some point. Or, they could hear a name, like Adam, and identify with it, taking it as their own. Seeing things is a bit sillier, but it’s a classic trope: “What’s your name?” *looks around the room* “Uhhh, Sword… Coat… Yeah, Swordcoat. The name’s Swordcoat.”

That’s a silly naming convention, but the more exciting one is to embrace the name given to you by locals. Simply referring to yourself as The Monster or The Thing is such a power move, and it gives your character such an air of authority and mystery all at the same time.

Of course, you do get to learn who you were, if that’s something that interests you. The main purpose of the knowledge from a past life feature is to do better on ability checks, but the roleplay value is that you get to create a backstory as you go.

Most adventurers have a backstory, a collection of memories that make up a life. For a reborn adventurer, those memories have either been scattered, lost, or hidden from you in some way. The upside here is that you don’t have to come up with a backstory before your campaign starts. 

For a reborn, a big part of your personal journey is discovering who you are, whether that means uncovering pieces of your past or deciding to leave it behind you. Either way, you get to learn things whenever you use your knowledge of the past feature. Of course, you could also use this as a way to explain leveling up or as import plot exposition whenever it’s appropriate.

Below is a table with some options of things you might remember at critical moments throughout your adventure. These options are meant to be prompts, so use them to come up with some answers as you go.

This lineage is an incredibly interesting template to begin building your next 5e character. While it may not be the best race out there as far as mechanics go, it definitely has more than enough to make it worth it, and that’s before you consider all the incredible roleplay potential that goes along with it.

If you enjoy horror, this just might be the start of your next adventurer. As always, happy adventuring.