Wednesday, April 20, 2016

How I Made Death Matter Again

This little remembrance came up in one of the sessions of an online game I'm involved in on weekends.  Nowadays, in my GURPS game world, death is almost always permanent.  The standard GURPS Magic spells exist, including Resurrection, so just based on the supernatural abilities that are available it shouldn't be.  There are social restraints in place  that keep it rare: any legal use of raising the dead has to be licensed by a jury of three Bishops of the Goddess of Death, and such licenses are rare and precious.  There are a couple of ways around this, including a Quest (capital Q intended) to find the Resurrection Crypt from one of the 3rd Edition GURPS Magic Items books (1) (2) (3) (I don't remember which one.)  Since I implemented these restrictions, a dozen campaigns ago and probably twenty actual years,  I think maybe three PCs have come back from the dead.  This was the result of one PC with too much money.

Lareth and the Purse With No End

Lareth was a character in the first GURPS campaign I ever ran for my Tuscaloosa group.  He had 75 points of Wealth, the best and most enchanted armor money could buy, and Health 10.  The HT 10 is important, because, in GURPS, armor helps when you get hit, but Critical Hits are a thing, and a strong enough enemy can hurt you through your Maximum Plate.

So Lareth died.  A lot.  He was already rich, the party did things that made them richer, and as a result death never stuck.  This made me wonder: why aren't the wealthy and powerful in my gameworld just immortal?  Accident, old age, or murder are no threat to someone with the resources to take care of the issue, and that's not what I was going for.

So, I implemented religious and social restrictions on Resurrection.  An unlicensed resurrectee gained Social Stigma (Excommunicated) and was in danger of being outlawed by the secular authorities, at which point the Church sent its religious warriors out to send you back to the land of the dead.  I came up with this around the time GURPS Religion came out, if I remember right, and so I was already thinking seriously about religion and society in worldbuilding anyway.  Having it be a social taboo with real consequences helped make death hurt again, and ultimately the players wanted that.  Steve had already stopped playing Lareth precisely because he was sick of being able to buy his way out of anything, including death.

Other Endpoints

Death doesn't have to be the only potential endgame for a PC, and I think for some it's not even the worst potential hazard.  I feel like my players would be more bothered by getting their PC's stuff taken away, or their characters slandered and forgotten in the in-game histories of the world than just by dying.  Plus, about half the players I currently have already have a backup PC or two ready to go because they enjoy making characters.  That faction is better served by giving them a chance for a meaningful PC death or a good retirement.


  1. I would kinda like for us to have the opertunity to bring back a PC without a 10+session mission, maybe 5???