Thursday, April 24, 2014

Dying is Easy, Role Playing Is Hard

In many (especially OSR) role playing campaigns death is a constant fact of life. The trend has been towards reduced character mortality in recent years, or at least sparing them when you can. I believe the trend started due to Classic Traveller where creating a character could take an hour or so. Who wants to hold up a game that long waiting for a replacement pilot to muster out (let alone the three or four Master Stewards you had to work up first)?

But characters have, are still, and will continue dying in games and you might want to give some thought to just what sort of afterlife your campaign has.

Possibilities
1) Afterlife is a belief. There is no direct contact between the living and the deceased. If there are gods or spirits that interact with mortals they may pass on some information or messages ('He said his squire didn't poison him but kill him anyway.') There may not be any post death survival and all such messages are lies by malevolent or malicious entities or phony psychics and prophets out to make a buck. The deceased could also simply be beyond communication or daily cares.

Another possibility is that the deceased do care and can intercede, their efforts are just not in a material way. If they can appear to people they won't show up in photos or to more than one person. If they lend assistance it's in the form changing the odds or little tweaks with a big pay off. No bolts from above or levitating pianos. Characters put in this position might find their best efforts go unnoticed. They might also find all their efforts going to combat other entities who want a different outcome.

2) Afterlife is a fact. This requires more thought than most people put into it. Imagine the spirits of the deceased make regular contact with the living. Maybe necromancers can summon them forth or maybe a powerful enough will allows you to hang around for a while. the pros are that death loses a lot of its sting ... unless they tell tales of a really crappy afterlife.

If that isn't the case people might value human life less than normal. Risk my life to save those people in the burning building? Why? They'll be fine and I have a hot date tonight. People might put up with far more disappointment depending on their beliefs or they might end it hoping the next life would be a little better.

Killing becomes riskier. For one thing you run the risk of being haunted by the person you offed unless they're tied to a location. If not all bets are off. Imagine a famous gunslinger with two or three spirits following him around whispering in his ear, tugging on his shooting iron. How many more shoot outs would he win? On a legal note, could a spirit testify in court and help convict his killer? If that is the case (ha ha) then necromancy becomes a part of the legal system and most murder victims get it in the back.

Many Golden Age comics approached death in this way. Some people who died (usually very heroic or villainous) came back. My favorite was the Duke of Darkness, a former policeman. The police chief didn't believe in ghosts thought he was a nutcase and kept trying to lock him up. The Duke usually put up with it to have a place to relax and did the walk through walls thing when he was needed. Your typical Golden Age spook could become invisible, non corporeal, fly or do all three at once. When materialized they could be beaten on the same as anyone else. It sounds kind of weird but it did make the character less invincible and kept the stories exciting. It makes you wonder how far some people would go to get super powers.

On a less facetious note ancestor worship in any form becomes a lot more lucrative. Do right by your ancestors and their spirits will watch over you. Of course if your ancestor was a terrorist psychopath doing right by him becomes a lot messier. What ancestral spirits would 'want' is also grounds for some originality. Maybe your great grandfather shows up one night, tells you to quit it with all the incense and to stick a flatscreen TV in his tomb if you want to continue to enjoy good luck and health.

Again just because there are deceased people who can talk to the living doesn't mean they're all on the up and up. They could be lying, manipulators, or impostors. If it's our world with an alternate history the dead couldn't have been speaking for long or on a regular basis, there's just too much potential for them to interfere.

Here are a couple of stats for Risus and my latest craze ROLF a truly fun and tasteless little series of 'rollplaying' games from Nuelow Games.

Risus
4 Color Ghost (Turning invisible, flying, turning noncorporeal, seeing the unseen)

ROLF  4 Color Ghost Sex can be male or female (anyone can die heroically/infamously)Brawn 20 Body 9 Brains 6 Combat Maneuvers are Basic Attack, and Dodge.  Dodge represents turning incorporeal. Traits are Ghost and usually Dour. May not take Irrepressible Good Cheer.

Ghosts have the Personal Flight Super Power.

The Ghost trait is my invention. Ghosts take 1 point less damage from all attacks. A Ghost can turn invisible and incorporeal as an action. Invisible ghosts can't make attacks but may get the first action the next turn if they turn visible and material. They pop up and yell boo! Then strike. Certain items can stop ghosts like cold iron or salt sprinkled over windows.

Many ghosts have the Spelling Talent and are quite formidable. A ghost may carry only one medium weapon and no armor.

Check out Nuelow Games on RPGNow. This is in no way an attempt to steal any of their materials, intellectual properties, kudos or thunder.