Monday, April 24, 2017

How To Survive Death

Adventure is infinite in all directions, eternal through all timelines, and utterly inescapable.  There is no room where Adventure cannot find you; no door that can keep it out.  You cannot shrink below its attentions; you cannot grow beyond its reach.

Death is no exception to this philosophy.

So here are rules to fight off Death when he comes for you.

What Happens When A PC Dies
  1. They get some last words.  Time to read that death poem your knight wrote.
  2. They get a bonus action.  Make it count.
  3. They play Psychopomp Roulette to see who comes to collect your soul.  Depending on how this goes down, you may end up dragged to Hell, guided to judgement (where you may earn entrance into Heaven), or even end up as a ghost.
by Josep Segrelles

Psychopomp Roulette

This is a minigame that involves putting cards into a hat and then drawing one out randomly.

EXCEPT WARLOCKS: Warlocks don't get to play this game.  Their afterlife is already decided by the terms of the deep soul-bond they made with their patron.  For most of them, death is just the beginning of their servitude.

Here's how to play:

First, put the following three names into the hat: Weary Penitent, Very Specific Death, Demon.

Second, if they have been member of the Church in good standing (paying their 10% tithe, haven't committed any mortal sins since their last confession), remove the Demon from the hat.  This won't apply to many PCs.

Third, check the list below to see what other psychopomps they qualify for.  Add all qualifying psychopomps to the hat.

Fourth, roll a d10 on this table.
1 = Double booked.  Two psychopomps show up to claim your soul.  Draw twice from the hat (in the next step).
2 = Delay.  You died seconds earlier than predicted, and as a result, there is no psychopomp present at the moment of your death to greet you.  If you flee immediately, you'll probably get away.
3-10 = Nothing special.

Fifth, pick a name from the hat to see which psychopomp shows up, and then follow those instructions.

I'm pretty sure I remember this level from Super Ghouls and Ghosts
by Josep Segrelles
Psychopomps

Weary Penitent

HD 3
Qualification: Default

Some poor soul still serving in purgatory.  Leaden sandals, wings bound with wire.  Lantern and appointment book (contains schedule of deaths).  The light from the lantern makes all other paths impossible to take.

Weary penitents have no power over life and death.  They're just here to show you the way to your Final Judgement.

Very Specific Death
HD 4
Qualification: Default

Skeleton in a black robe with a scythe.  Will grab you and drag you away.  This small Death will be collecting souls of a very particular type.  For example, the Death of Blond Women Crushed by Bronze Gears will show up to collect all of the souls of blond women who were crushed to death by bronze gears.

If you rolled "Double Booked" in step 4 and the first name pulled was a Very Specific Death, assume that there was a collision between categories, and two very specific deaths showed up.  Expect them to play a game of chess to settle the question of who gets to collect your soul.  Expect them to keep a very close eye on you while they do so.

Unlike the other psychopomps, deaths are capable of stopping time for themselves and the people they collect.  They use this time to chat, play games, etc.  You are free to negotiate with them, but under no circumstances will they ever return you to life.

Demon
HD 1d6+2
Qualifiation: Default (unless in good standing with the Church)

It'll probably have at least one or more of the following traits: horns, red skin, barbed tail, bat wings, lion's mane, horrible gargoyle face.  It intends to devour you and carry you off to the Underworld.  Souls are useful things: they cannot be destroyed and they are infinitely transmutable.  Whatever it has in store for you is probably going to be horrible, though.

Devil
HD 1d6+2
Qualification: Harmed the Church in a significant way.

Devils are just demons that have taken the Oaths.  They'll wear symbolic shackles to indicate their status, and they'll explain their actions as they devour you, but they'll devour you just the same.  Expect no judgement from the courts of hell.  If you weren't already pre-judged, they wouldn't have sent a devil to collect you.

If that PC was guilty of a particular sin, this will be represented by the Devil.  For example, a greedy PC might be collected by a golden demon who spews molten gold and chains.

Asmodeus
HD 12
Qualification: Majorly pissed of the Church.

Asmodeus is prime among the Satans, and is a loyal servant of the Church Below.  He/she/it gets tapped for chores like this, sometimes.  Collection is a joy, a breath of fresh air.  Expect him/her/it to relish it.  Probably a much more pleasant experience than being collected by a demon (unless you draw attention to the shackles Asmodeus wears in his/her/its sleeves).  Asmodeus never rushes anything.

If Asmodeus is busy, they'll just send one of the lesser Satans (balors), as the Church Below has several among the ranks of the faithful.

by Josep Segrelles

Dead Family Member

HD 3
Qualification: Helped the church in a significant way.

Grampa is overjoyed to see you again, of course.  He looks forward to showing you to your mansion in the Immortal Mountains (provided that you pass your judgement, of course).  How are your cousins doing?  And the twins?

A Saint
HD 8
Qualification: Helped the church in a major way.

There are a lot of saints.  Expect them to be serene and beatific.  Friendly and unshakable.  They still bear the marks of their martyrdom (all Hesayan saints are martyrs) and are missing the body parts that have gone on to become holy relics.

For example: Saint Dorbaine is a tall, thin man with broad limbs.  Like all saints, his hair has been turned by his transfiguration.  He lacks a tongue (it's a relic now) but can speak with the voice of a tolling bell, which is miraculously understandable to all creatures.

Somewhat Specific Death
HD 8
Qualification: Has escaped death at once before OR character is at least level 5.  Put two of these guys in the hat and remove the Very Specific Death.

These are deaths that are one step higher on the totem pole.  Ten feet tall and bulletproof.  While the Very Specific Deaths are sort of sweaty and perfunctory, the Somewhat Specific Deaths are specialists.  Expect lectures, accusations, and name dropping all the famous people they killed.

Somewhat Specific Deaths have names like The Death of Wizards Trapped In A Maze or Death of Those Driven To Autocannibalism By Sorcery.

Death
HD 12
Qualification: Has escaped death more than once before OR character is at least level 10.  Remove all of the other deaths in the hat and replace them all with Death.

This is it.  The big guy.  If you impress him he'll petition Heaven to let you become one of his Reapers (see below).  He's polite and educated and knows all about you.  He actually has an amazing sense of humor.  Unlike those who serve him, he's quite reasonable.

Reapers (Special Collection Team)
HD: 1d4+2 dead heroes of HD 1d4+4
Qualification: Killed a death OR violated the sanctity of death via necromancy or resurrection.

These are dead heroes that Death keeps on hand to troubleshoot special problems.  Basically another adventuring party, except they are all undead and armed with scythes (part of the uniform, unfortunately).

When they aren't out kicking the spleens out of rebellious souls, they fight on the eternal battlefield of Balora (conveniently located next to the eternal mead hall), which they share with a bunch of other dead heroes (Saint Ferragun's faithful, etc).  They're the goth dudes in the viking bar.

Spirits
HD 1d12
Qualification: Had a significant interaction with the spirit world.  Put as many cards in the hat as appropriate.

This is sort of a catch-all for characters that helped/harmed druids or river spirits.  If you were helpful, expect them to resurrect you as a badass bear or something.  If you were a dick to them, expect them to put you into a snail or something, forever and ever a million lifetimes of snail.

Dead Death God
HD 12
Qualification: Had a significant interaction with Zala Vacha.  Put as many cards in the hat as appropriate.

Zala Vacha is collective of gods who have been killed or displaced by the Hesayan Church, who they are dedicated to destroying.  Have I blogged about them before?  I know I wrote about the Lavei family at one point.

Summary: They're a doomsday cult of anarcho-gods and iconoclasts.  They're evil, they want to sacrifice millions, but they have a valid point to make, too.

Anyway, the Church steamrolled hundreds of religions during its unification of the continent.  Many of those religions had death gods of their own.  Many of those death gods went on to join Zala Vacha.  So it stands to reason that Zala Vacha is glutted with dozens of death gods, war gods, harvest gods, and the like.

Expect a very old-fashioned god.  The gods that were originally just and forthright have been twisted by the long years of culthood and pseudo-oblivion.  A Sumerian death god reimagined by H. R. Giger and Clive Barker.

GHOST TIME!!!
HD Not Applicable
Qualification: Had some unfinished business that you were very dedicated to.  "The king sent me to find the grail" doesn't count unless you are all about finding that grail.  Put as many cards in the hat as appropriate.

You do not reach the afterlife.  Instead you become a ghost, bound to this location.  The list of things you can do as a ghost (disembodied soul) deserves its own post, but you can basically continue to help out your friends at the cost of going insane and becoming an NPC.

by Josep Segrelles
What Happens After You Are Collected?

If you were taken by a Church-affiliated Psychopomp (penitent, saint, a death, Death) then you go on to your Final Judgement.  The path goes along the River of Souls, which exists in both the Material and Ethereal planes (albeit in different forms).

If you were taken by a demon or devil, you're going straight to hell (since you've already been pre-Judged as unclean).

What's The Final Judgement?

Your (ethereal) heart is cut out and weighed against a sparrow's egg containing all the souls that weren't born so that you could be born.  If your heart is heavy with sin, you are found to be too impure for Heaven, and are sent to Hell.

Here's how you do it:

Characters have a base Goodness of 10.

The DM and the players recount all of the morally significant things that the character has done.  +1 Goodness for giving your last ration to the starving child.  -4 Goodness for literally throwing a baby into a manticore's mouth.  +6 Goodness for saving the city of Trystero.  -1 Goodness for each instance of blasphemy.  -1 Goodness for sex outside of wedlock.

Add them all up, and then roll a d20.  If you get at less than your Goodness, you go to Heaven.  Yay.  Here's the address to your new mansion in the sky.  Don't worry about the streets of gold--penitents keep them clean.

If you roll your Goodness exactly on the d20, you are destined for 1d6 * 100 years of Purgatory.  You're going to go to Heaven eventually, but you need to purify yourself more (via honest labor).  Welcome to the life of a penitent.

If you roll above your Goodness, you fry like a pork sausage.

Can I Fight These Psychopomp Assholes?

Hell yes!  That's why they have stats and hit points and things.

Just remember that fighting saints and deaths counts against your Goodness.  It's like resisting arrest.


What Stats And Equipment Do I Have When I'm Dead?

You use the same character sheet, except you can fly.  The Ethereal plane overlaps with the Material plane, and you can't really interact with the Material plane in anyway.  So you're an invisible ghost that can fly through walls (but so is everyone else on the ethereal plane, really).

You own everything that hasn't been claimed by someone else.  You still have your sword as long as no one else has plucked the sword from your cold, dead fingers.

In Centerra, ownership is not just a human-made condition, it's an obdurate state, like mass or conductivity.

When you die, you get to keep all of the things on your body, and all of the things that you were buried with.  This lasts as long as those items stay with your body (nobody plucks the sword from your hands) and no one loots your tomb.

So if your teammate dies, don't be so quick to pry the magic sword out of her hands--she might be fighting Death on the ethereal plane with that sword at the moment.

Slaves do not remain your property after you are dead.  How can the laws of nature judge competing claims and degrees of slavery?

However, servants do continue to serve you after you are dead.  After all, contracts are part of the natural laws of the cosmos, just like ownership.

Most servants are going to have contracts that end each New Year and must then be renewed.  But a few very foolish people might be willing to write contracts that extend into the afterlife, perhaps in perpetuity.

So yes, one of the things you can hire in cities are suicidal mercenaries.  They take your money, do an incredible amount of fabulously expensive drugs for a few days, and then die.  In return, they promise to help you fight off any psychopomp that comes to collect your soul.  (But remember that their soul might be collected before it can help yours out.)


by Josep Segrelles

Friday, April 21, 2017

Death, Trauma, and Retirement: I'm Gettin' Too Old For This Shit

So, with my current group, I'm trying something new.
Let me tell you why I'm doing these things.

by Jose Segrelles
click it

Trauma

PC retirement is a replacement for PC death, not an additional risk.  I'm making death less likely in order to make retirement more likely.  Retired characters are more interesting and more useful than dead ones.  (And a lot less demoralizing.)

For example, ". . . and then he bought a turnip farm and swore never to leave it" is more satisfying end to a character's story than ". . . and then he died in a filthy hole, and the rats nibbled his eyes until he was quite dead".

And of course, forcibly retiring a character still accomplishes the primary punitive aspect of dying: you lose the opportunity to play your character.

So here's my first draft:

Whenever you have a near-death experience (roll higher than a 10 on the Death and Dismemberment Table) and survive, you gain a point of Trauma and put a question mark next to it (if a question mark isn't there already).

Whenever you return to place where your character could conceivably retire, erase the question mark and roll a d20.  If you roll equal-or-less than your Trauma score, your character decides to retire.  You cannot stop them.

The player can dictate the conditions of the retirement.  They are free to give away their magic items if they wish; they will have no need of them in their new life as a turnip farmer.  They are also free to retire penniless if they desire; surely a beggar will have a longer life than those fools venturing back down into the maw of the earth.  (But see Retirement, below.)

Give them a bonus to this roll if they are on an Epic Quest and are deeply invested in it.  They're more than just a mere murderhobo.

Give them a penalty to this roll if the retirement is especially tempting.  If a grateful king offers the hobbit a bucolic tobacco plantation, for example.

Retirement

I started writing up a big set of rules for how to adjudicate this, but now I think it's probably just best for the DM to rule on an ad-hoc basis.  

So here's my first draft:

Retirement is just retirement from adventuring.  It can be literally anything they way, as long as it's not adventuring and they do not continue on as a player character.  They become a friendly NPC instead.  If they retire with enough loot, they can become a friendly and powerful NPC.  You can retire at any time, not just when Trauma forces them.

Inform the players about everything in the last paragraph.  This rule needs to be mostly transparent.

1. When a player retires, ask them what sort of retirement they intend, and how much wealth they are retiring with.

2. Multiply the wealth by the character's level, and look up the result on the table below.  Adjudicate the details of the new NPC using your vast prowess, using the numbers below as a guide.

Level x Wealth = Retirement Points (RP)

Less than 100 RP
Probably going to die in a nearby gutter.

100 RP
A chance at a normal life.  Apartment, job, loans, loyal dog, relationship problems, taxes.  Just a citizen.

1000 RP
Comfortable retirement in position where they can give modest assistance.  A bartender who gives you free drinks and rumors.  A rancher who gives away horses and rations.

10,000 RP
Excellent retirement in position where they can give major assistance.  A tavern keeper who can give you secure lodging and introductions all over the city.  A master assassin who will do a couple of jobs for free.  The captain of the guard who lies under oath in order to get your case dismissed.

100,000 RP
Go wild, bro.

A Softer Death Table

My most recent groups have been getting less hardcore and more casual.  More beer and cheese, less blood and grit.  Which is fine--we have a lot of fun.  But I'm getting the impression that they don't like how easily their characters die.  It's true; I put death on a low shelf.

Luckily, death rules are very easy to tweak, since they usually don't interact with the rest of the game at all.  So I'm rewriting my Death and Dismemberment Table (for the fifth fucking time lolololololol).  I'll probably post it once it's been playtested a bit maybe?

From a game design standpoint, the purpose of a Death and Dismemberment Table is two-fold.  
  • When players start Losing The Game, the Death Table delivers the most final punishment the game offers: death and all its lesser cousins.  It answers the question of "what happens if we lose?"
  • It introduces complications and that should drive the type of gameplay that you want.  This is a complicated question, and I've spent a lot of time thinking about best tweak it so it can drive the game towards its intended gameplay.
But here are some design goals for the rewrite:

1. Lingering injuries aren't that much fun.  They're fun to give out, but they're a pain in the ass to track, and it creates a need for a lot of downtime, which doesn't always mesh with the player's goals.  Also, it requires a lot of mandatory downtime in town while player's rest, and although my Downtime Event tables produce interesting results/plots, they usually aren't as much fun as the rest of the well-prepped dungeon shit.

Plus, players never keep track of negative conditions (they only remember bonuses) and so it's up to me to remember that their skin is all burned off and they can't wear armor for 9 more days.

So no more "Broken Leg: half speed for 75 days", despite that injury being both accurate and metal.

Injuries will last for minutes, 1 day, or 1 week.  I think I'm going to try to do away with permanent mutilations, because I think the 

2. Less instant death.  It's still going to be on the table (because dragons need to be able to bite people in half), but I no longer think it should be something that has a chance of happening when I goblin bites your hand.

And anyway, it's more tactically interesting to have to choose between stabilizing a dying friend or stabbing the owlbear that just spit him out.

3. No permanent mutilations.  In my Willows game, I'm pretty sure we had 3 players lose a leg across 6 months of gameplay.  That's a lot.

And anyway, I think the forced retirement thing (see below) will help drive them away from adventuring without gimping them towards the end.

Because one of the reasons why I liked the idea of players losing arms and legs, is because it would (a) motivate them to go find a cool new hand, or (b) encourage them to retire their character and roll up a new one.  In practice however, I find that players tend to just drive their characters until they fall apart like an unlubricated Corolla.

So why not create a mechanic that takes a straight path route to that goal, and forces characters to retire directly?