The King is Dead! Long Live the King!

The Inheritance Rules

The King’s most fundamental concern during his reign is his Throne.  Removal from office is common via revolt, exile, coup, imprisonment, mis-adventure, and death by Murder Hobos in a story arc culmination.  The King faces threats internal and external throughout his entire reign.  Introducing clear lines of succession is a neat solution nullifying internal threats.

Medieval jurisprudence provides for various inheritance schemes under a Monarchy.   These include election, succession rotation among dynastic branches, the rota system (throne inheritance from brother to brother until exhausting all brothers and falling to eldest son), partible inheritance (all heirs split the realm and inherit equally), and the most popular, agnatic primogeniture, inheritance through the eldest male son. Introducing a stable and predictable line of inheritance-based succession keeps the King firmly ruling with an iron fist for two excellent reasons:

  • Primogeniture provides the current King with a clear, status quo path to power for political supporters who coalesce around the Crown Prince.  A King’s regime rests unsteadily on a power base of power-hungry, army-wielding Dukes and Earls built on a complex web of gifts, lies, political maneuvering and outright graft. Death of a King throws the web into question.  A Crown Prince soothes the regimes supporters’ succession anxiety and ensures noble privilege should the King suddenly die.  They were Dad’s friends and power base so they become the son’s friends and power base.
  • A baby Crown Prince, the King’s only true rival to the Throne, cannot build temporal power, coordinate gifts among supporters, and split the country on an internal military adventure to challenge the current sitting King. He’s a baby. Babies do not lead armies. And if the growing Crown Prince understands he will, one day, inherit the Kingdom if he is patient, the Crown Prince will stay loyal to his father.  Rival removed.  And Dad’s supporters have time to build their power base with the Crown Prince so, should the King die, the transition is smooth.

The point of Royalty is to generate more Royalty.

Those regimes who do not provide clear lines of succession, or who provide lines of succession between capable adults, set themselves up for civil war between the King’s various successors and their mercenary-wielding supporters once a King dies.  Loyalty to the former King does not guarantee the regime’s previous supporters will keep their promised gifts, lands, money, and power.  Clean succession keeps civil war away.  Succession wars are bad for business.

The Crown Prince may be evil, unsuitable, two years old, hindered by in-breeding, and/or just a jerk. None of it matters. His only job in life until crowned King is ensuring the Dynasty continues and the King’s supporters continue providing their political and military support.  He is the guarantee the new, future regime will be exactly the old regime.  Nobility loves clear continuity and political stasis.

But what happens to succession planning when the regime has resurrection spells standing by, assuming access to diamonds is not an issue?

The Upsides

With Raise Dead and Resurrection spells, the current sitting regime sees three immediate upsides.

First – No More Death from Misadventure!

The King suddenly dies on a hunt, thrown from a horse, by accident, or from a lance to the face during a joust. The Crown Prince is not yet the age of majority if he even exists at all.  The Kingdom tips into crisis!

Or it used to.  Now,the Kingdom is no longer in terrible danger with a threat of Civil War as factions tussle over a now-empty Throne.  The King’s body is intact and trivially recoverable.  The King withstands a quick Resurrection (if not a simpler Raise Dead) bringing him back, setting him on his Throne and getting him back to work.  Death from misadventure is drama for a day, tops.  Since the spell cures all natural poisons and diseases, the King returns healthier than before.  Bonus!

This principle extends to Kings who quickly succumb to extremely fast-moving diseases like dysentery. Wouldn’t the King’s Cleric cure the King immediately if he drank tainted water?  Maybe bandits or political issues diverted the Cleric and he arrived too late for the simpler Cure Disease.  Maybe the King’s entourage realized the King was ill too late.  Maybe the Cleric also died of dysentery.  Regardless, Kings who die of sudden disease will wake hours later to an exhausted now-found Cleric, a super unpleasant memory and a hell of a headache. If no pesky Bards are about (or fall to a supporter’s hand to ensure word doesn’t spread) no one is be the wiser.  How many times has the King died of dysentery? Only the King and his Cleric knows.

Sure, the King needs to sleep off his sojourn to the Planes and back to his mortal body but it sure beats a multi-year struggle over supremacy.  The Clerics wonder: casting cure poison and disease on the King periodically keeps him healthy but maybe killing the King once every few years to “refresh” him of all poisons, diseases and maladies isn’t such a bad idea.  If the Clerics promulgate a King death-and-resurrection holiday and festival into the Dynastic mystique to prove the current Throne is a God…

Well.  It’s a thought.

Second: No More Death in Battle!

Send the King into battle! Who doesn’t want their country lead by a heroic, legendary Warrior King who leads the charge against the foreign enemy and holds the Kingdom’s banner?  Think of the legends!  The tales!  The King getting skewered right in the chest!

Resurrection does not require the entire body.  It needs most of a body.  A big reasonably recognizable chunk of the body works for the Clerical purposes.  Someone, post-battle, must pick through the battlefield carnage, climb over the mountains of limbs and torsos, and locate enough bits of the Once and Future King.  This poor volentold simply packs the recognizable bits of the King in a bag, hauls them back, and dumps them at the feet of the Head Cleric.  The Cleric pops the diamond out of his ring, casts the spell, and goes have a real serious lie down.

Kingdom saved.

The King, his soul returned, lies in his post-battle glow for up to a week recovering from being hacked to pieces by the opposing army.  So does the opposing King.  They both reassess the remains of their armies, figure out how to land more money to pay for fresh mercenaries, and do it again.

This is the price of infinite incarnating glory.

In a more convenient scenario, instead of the pickers finding their King’s body, they find the other opposing King’s body.  A live King prisoner is worth more in ransoms and leverage than a dead King’s body.  A dead King simply creates a new live, angry ex-Crown Prince now King.   Why fight when one can recover a body, resurrect it from the dead, prevent the other Kingdom’s succession laws, and demand enormous sacks of cash?  And won’t that pay for the mercenaries?

Third: Death from Political Circumstance.

Who is going to murder a King in a coup when his supporters can raise him?  Post-coup, one loyal supporter smuggles out some part of the King – his hair, a finger, a big toe – for resurrection.  The King returns more powerful, and angrier, than before.

Yes, the opposition rose up, murdered the King, burned his body, and put their own upon the Throne.  Did they get everything?  The spell requires one part of the King from any time in the last century.  Did they find all the King’s hats?  Every clipped toe nail?  Did the Palace get a good scrubbing?  Did those who did the scrubbing get a good scrubbing?   How does one plug that level of leak?

They don’t.

A week later, the King appears. He spreads rumors the Gods themselves graced his return with a loyal Cleric in Their Name and some super expensive jewelry.  Damn the opposition!  Even if the opposition was right and the King was a really terrible King.  He pops back up like an unkillable end-game boss. The status quo rides in to put things back in their place.  The King is dead!  Long live the King!

The coup’s planners may lack convenient Clerical Raise Dead and Resurrection services later.

The Downsides

Now that the King lives a comfortably long time with death from war, misadventure, or politics a minor nuisance, how could things possibly go wrong?  After all, he has his heir.  All is right in the Kingdom, right?  Right?

First: The Unsuitable Crown Prince.

A Crown Prince succeeds his father in his (possibly quite late) majority. His father’s risk of permanent death from misadventure and war are zero due to handy Raise Dead spells.  He assures the Kingdom’s continuity.  The Throne, safe.

But what if the Crown Prince is unsuited to being a King?

What if the Crown Prince is an active threat to the realm?

What if there simply is no Crown Prince?

The Clerics keep the Old King alive.  Once the King’s body simply wears out and cannot sustain life, resurrection fails, but it’s unclear to the Clerics, and maybe even the Gods, where death from disease ends and where death from old age begins.  The King dies from disease, the Clerics raise him.  The King dies from a different disease, the Clerics raise him again.  Last time it was cancer. This time it’s pneumonia.  Next time, the king’s syphilis kills him.  A day later, he’s back and cured.   The Clerics wear out.  The King lives on, a drooling puppet, to prevent the Crown Prince from inheriting.

This game becomes dangerous as the King enters into extreme old age.  Eventually this fails.  The clock is ticking.

Two answers to the unsuitable Crown Prince problem present themselves:

  • Keep the King alive in any state possible, even if he’s senile and infirm, until the Crown Prince’s son comes of majority and hope for the best;
  • If the Crown Prince lacks his own heir, or his brother lacks and heir, try breeding the constantly Raised and Resurrected King with a new Queen to produce a more suitable heir to the Throne.

The Crown Prince is a complication.  He spent his entire life waiting for the Throne.  He wants that thing.  He will try to take it.

The noble power brokers must rid themselves of a Crown Prince with a propped up, politically ineffectual, mostly-dead King on the Throne to make way for an improved replacement.  Worse, the Crown Prince has Clerics with their own Raise Dead and Resurrection spells. No mere coup in the night will take the Crown Prince down.

The Crown Prince must die for the good of the Kingdom so the Old King may, too, pass and birth a new period of freedom and righteousness.

Hatch the elaborate scheme and call in the Murder Hobos.

Second: The Physically Infirm Crown Prince. 

Dynasties preserve themselves with inbreeding. When inheritance is only available through one male line of descent, adding more lines of descent through brothers and sisters provides new and interesting avenues for smart, armed rivals. Incest might be abhorrent before the eyes of the Gods, but it guarantees one heir from one generation of a current sitting King.

Inbreeding causes recessive genes to pile up.  The strong King with his sister Queen gives rise to a fine line of hemophiliacs who die with a scratch or a bruise.  Children inherent heart murmurs. Cognitive disorders. Disabling diseases.  After several generations, the result is a sadly young and dead Crown Prince.

Except when Clerics have Raise Dead and Resurrection spells.

In the minds of the Crown’s supporters, nothing is as important than the first-born son.  The mere existence of a Crown Prince ensures the Crown’s continued viability and, thus, theirs.  They don’t care that Clerics raise the Crown Prince every Tuesday (and later cleared of all diseases picked up in the interim week), or the constant resurrectionss both bleed the treasury dry and create a hollow shell of a Crown Prince and future King.  They happily shred of the future King’s soul through constant travels to the Planes and back for their own personal viability.  It’s for the good of the Kingdom.

The Crown Prince barely survives, lives to become King and gets it on with his first cousin over there. Another heir is born.  The Earls and Dukes of the King’s Court hide the disfigured, multiply-raised King from the public.  No one except the inner circle knows the Royal Line with Resurrection is crippled and mostly dead. They make it work.

The Dynasty limps on.  Circle the King with rings of supporters and sycophants.  Hide the truth. Long Live the King!

This ends with both the bankruptcy of the Royal treasury on expensive diamonds and the Dynastic Royal line’s extinction.  But the Crown supporters can keep the Kingdom going and milk it for their own personal benefit far longer than nature intended.

The Only Way to Go is Immortality

The only real way to absolutely ensure a Kingdom and a good, strong King on the Throne is immortality.  It gets around all these problems – death from misadventure, war, bankruptcy, needing an heir, civil and succession wars, coups, and political instability.  Simply never change Kings.

The only sure way to immortality is undeath.

The best kind of undeath is a Lichdom.

It’s a sexy sort of undeath.  Who wouldn’t want a Lich King?  Sure, after a while all his flesh rots from his bones and he consigns his soul to eternal torment. That’s part of his charm! It’s trivial to protect a phylactery with a dedicated military presence. Since almost no one sees the King in person anyway, nothing external changes except removing fear, anxiety and worry from the population.

In the long run, the King’s undeath is cheaper for the Kingdom, more predictable, and more efficient than resurrection spells.  It guarantees the Crown’s supporters continue in their power bases without worrying about the trauma of one King’s death and another’s ascension.  No one worries about changes in law.  No one worries about continuity or inheritance or some brother appearing with an army.  Everyone wins.

In return for his immortal soul, the King receives his eternal presence on his Throne without worry about Crown Princes or marriages or inbreeding or power struggles.

Maybe Kingdom’s nobility are thinking about this all wrong.  The answer to eternal stability isn’t Clerical help. It’s Necromancy.

Long Live the King!

Image Credit: Art by Jaydot Sloane of Vanity Games –


  1. Remember that resurrection is a voluntary process on the part of the deceased. An opposing king is a waste of a diamond, as said king would PROBABLY rather let his crown prince succeed him than to let himself be captured — especially if HIS OWN clerics have schemes of their own to get him resurrected.

    • Paladin Jack says:

      But all that the spells tell you is the alignment of the caster. Presuming that both kings have clerics of a Lawful Good god, there’s no way to know upon being resurrected if it’s your own clerics or the enemy’s who are doing the calling.

  2. Is Lichdom really the best sort of undeath? Mummies don’t need to eat souls to stay intact, lack that pesky fear aura and are traditionally made from kings. They can also appear perfectly human, if I’m still allowwd to reference the van Richten books.

    • Sorry about the late reply.

      So we took this back and hand a discussion on this question. The answer is: for this to work, the King must become an intelligent, free-willed undead under the current 5e Monster Manual rules. It was unclear if mummies as written were sufficiently intelligent. Only Liches and Vampires fell under that with any clarity and Vampires have obvious need-to-drink-blood drawbacks. So it looks like Lich is the best.

      But… I can see outside the 5e rule set that mummies would work in a weird, perverse sort of way.