Reincarnation: A spell to bring a dead character back to life in some other form. The form in which the character is Reincarnated is dependent upon his former alignment (Law, Neutrality or Chaos). Use a random determination on the Character Alignment table, and whatever the result is, the reincarnated character is that creature and must play as it. If he comes back as a man, determine which class, and roll a six-sided die to determine which level in that class,and similarly check level for reincarnation as an elf or dwarf.
This spell is brief because it gets to offload the various body-type possibilities to a table from the start of the book, a listing of OD&D monster types under three columns for "Law", "Neutrality", and "Chaos". In the interest of comprehensiveness, here it is (Vol-1, p. 9):
That's almost all of the monsters in OD&D Vol-2. It includes all the humanoids, including giants. Dragons, hydras, purple worms and sea monsters (HD 15+) are included. So are all the higher-level undead types, making those technically possible targets for the reincarnation spell. Some things that are not included appear to be -- totally mindless undead (skeletons, zombies), extraplanar types (elementals, djinn, efreet, invisible stalkers), cleanup crew (jellies, puddings, slimes, oozes, molds), a few beast-like monsters (cockatrice, basilisks), animals and insects (including horses), etc.
Note that in these rules if you come back as a human, dwarf, or elf, you get your class randomized and new level based on a 1d6 roll. That's probably better that having to start over at 1st level, but still a pretty bad beat if you used to be 11th+ level (the level required to cast reincarnation, for example), and there doesn't seem to be much visible connection between the old character and the new.
Expert D&D Rules
This spell brings a dead character back to life in a new body, which magically appears in front of the magic-user casting the spell. The DM should roll on the Reincarnation Table below to determine if the character returns as a character class or a monster. If the character is reincarnated as a character class (as opposed to a monster), the level is randomly rolled on a six-sided die. This level can never be higher than the character's level when slain. If the character returns as a monster, the kind of monster must be rolled on the table that matches the character's alignment. If the monster rolled has more hit dice than the character had at the time of death, then the monster type must be rolled again. A monster does not advance in experience: the character must play as reincarnated or retire from play.
The DM is free to add more monsters to the lists if desired. Such monsters should be 6 hit dice or less and should be at least semi-intelligent.
In the Expert D&D Rules, Dave Cook creates a new table for reincarnation, such that all the possibilities are encapsulated and available at a glance in the spell listing. One radical change is that by the OD&D rule, the chance of returning as a classed human/elf/dwarf was almost negligible (3 out of 12 options for Lawful characters), while here in Expert D&D it is almost unavoidable (9 out of 10 options on the main table). Class is still randomized (except in the #8-9 slots) and level is based on 1d6 just like in OD&D (with a restriction that level can't increase this way). The second major change is that the possible monster types are greatly reduced, with some foresight that they should be semi-intelligent, mostly humanoid/bipedal, and restricted to 6 HD or less (in line with the random level determination).
AD&D 1st Ed.
Area of Effect: Person touched
Explanation/Description: This spell is similar to the seventh level druid spell of the same name (q.v.). It does not require any saving throw for system shock or resurrection survival. The corpse is touched, and a new incarnation of the person will appear in the area in 1 to 6 turns, providing the person has not been dead for longer than 1 day per level of experience of the magic-user. The new incarnation will be:
Note: Very good or very evil persons will not be reincarnated as creatures whose general alignment is the opposite. The material components of the spell are a small drum and a drop of blood.
In AD&D, Gygax crafts his own custom table, and as you can see the entries are all entirely humanoid-types (topping out with the troll, at 6 HD, reminiscent of the previous returning level limits). There is no specific comment on class or level in any event (another case of leaving out the most important detail in the OD&D-to-AD&D matriculation?). Unlike previous versions, this table is not split up by alignment (although there is the "very good or very evil persons" guidance at the end).
The old corpse must be touchable (so I guess no reincarnation if the body is lost or disintegrated), and there's a detail that the "new incarnation of the person will appear in the area in 1 to 6 turns". I always interpreted this with the understanding that the new body would wander onstage from some outside location (much like the way monster summoning was written), although you could arrange some contrived example where that wouldn't be possible.
The other alteration in AD&D (as referenced in the first line of the spell above), is that a very similar spell is given to the new PC druid class, called reincarnate (note the slightly different spelling). This spell has entirely sylvan woodlands creatures on it, starting with -- badgers, bears, boars, centaurs, etc. Humans, elves, and gnomes are possibilities, as well as a 15% chance to be sent to the magic-user's table, above. The 1E DMG has this note for both (p. 44):
Reincarnation: Regardless of the form of the creature in which the character is reincarnated, allow the new form to progress as far as possible in characteristics and abilities. For example, a badger character could grow to giant size, have maximum hit points, plus bonus points for a high constitution, and the intelligence level of its former character. A centaur reincarnation might eventually gain hit dice up to 5, 6, 7, or even 8, and it would be eligible to wear armor, use magic items, etc.
So while that's very sketchy, there is at least some hope held out for any creature type to have the possibility of advancement.
AD&D 2nd Ed.
Area of Effect: Person touched
With this spell, the wizard can bring back to life a person who died no more than one day per level of experience of the wizard before the casting of the spell. The essence of the dead person is transferred to another body, possibly one very different from his former body. Reincarnation does not require any saving throw, system shock, or resurrection survival roll. The corpse is touched, and a new incarnation of the person will appear in the area in 1d6 turns. The person reincarnated recalls the majority of his former life and form, but the character class, if any, of the new incarnation might be different indeed. The new incarnation is determined on the following table. If a player character race is indicated, the character must be created.
Note: Very good or very evil persons will not be reincarnated as creatures whose general alignment is the opposite.
The material components of the spell are a small drum and a drop of blood.
This version of the spell looks pretty much the same as in 1E. The table is identical. So is the parallel listing of the druidic (priestly) reincarnate spell (although the 15% likelihood of going to the wizard's table has been replaced by "DM's choice"). The only real difference I can spot is Cook's addition at the end of the main paragraph, "If a player character race is indicated, the character must be created."; does this mean rolled up fresh at 1st level? If so, then it doesn't seem like this reincarnation spell actually buys you anything.
D&D 3rd Ed.
Level: Drd 4
Components: V, S, DF
Casting Time: 10 minutes
Target: Dead creature touched
Saving Throw: None (see text)
Spell Resistance: Yes (harmless)
With this spell, the character brings back a dead creature in another body, provided death occurred no more than 1 week before the casting of the spell and the subject’s soul is free and willing to return. If the subject’s soul is not willing to return, the spell does not work; therefore, subjects who want to return receive no saving throw. Since the dead creature is returning in a new body, all physical ills and afflictions are repaired. The magic of the spell creates an entirely new young adult body for the soul to inhabit from the natural elements at hand. This process requires 1 hour to complete. When the body is ready, the subject is reincarnated.
A character reincarnated recalls the majority of his former life and form. The character retains his or her Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma scores, as well as any class abilities or skills formerly possessed. The character’s class, base attack bonus, base save bonuses, and hit points are unchanged. Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution scores depend partly on the new body. First eliminate the character’s racial adjustments (since the character is no longer of his or her previous race) and then apply the adjustments found below. The character’s level is reduced by 1. (If the character was 1st level, his or her new Constitution score is reduced by 1.)
It’s quite possible for the change in the character’s ability scores to make it difficult for the character to pursue his or her previous character class.
The new incarnation is determined on the following table or by DM choice.
Some bodies may make it impossible for the reincarnated character to use some of his or her class abilities. The reincarnated character does gain any powers or abilities associated with his new form. A humanoid reincarnated into an animal body can speak the languages it formerly knew and is a magical beast.
A wish spell can restore a reincarnated character to his or her original form.
The biggest change that 3E makes is that reincarnation is entirely deleted from the wizard's spell list; all that's left is the druidic version, shown above. The table is very similar to the one for druids in 1E/2E, with just a small number of changes (deleted fox, raccoon, stag; replaced faun → satyr, lynx → leopard; reduced DM's choice, formerly the trigger to wizard's table, to just 1%).
A minor change is that the new body doesn't walk in from offstage; the spell "creates an entirely new young adult body for the soul to inhabit from the natural elements at hand", thereby dodging any complications of its arrival; the former up-to-6-turn arrival time is here changed into 1 hour of body-creation (growth?) time. A major change is the new paragraph that explicates mental abilities and class stay the same, and while physical abilities have the same basis, they are subject to new racial modifiers (very much like the language in the 3E polymorph; link). Level is reduced by just 1, in line with all the other 3E rules on returning from the dead -- enormously more generous than in prior versions of the game.
And that's where we'll end our story -- at the point where reincarnation itself escapes from the cycle of officially-published D&D wizard spell lists for all time (moksha, you might say).