I have published a new thing. Well, not exactly a new thing. AFTERLIVES is a reworking of a supplement that I wrote for John Kovalic’s comic Dork Tower almost ten years ago. Depending on your attitudes it’s either a systemless fantasy adventure or an RPG metagame, set in any fantasy game where the player-characters follow one or more patron deities. And it deals with what happens when they die. Not the deities, the characters.
See, there’s this gaping hole in the belief-structures in most games. You’ve got a patron deity, you can pray to them, they can grant boons and occasionally even manifest to save you. Their priests have actual miraculous power and it follows that most of their myths are empirically true. That would include all the stuff about celestial paradises, elysian fields, epic mead-halls, pits of fiery torment and all the other theories you’ve heard about the places souls may go when their vessels finally die. And yet what happens when a loved and long-standing PC dies? Their player rolls up a new one and the game continues.
There would seem to be a trick missing from that. A hole shaped like we-don’t-want-to-think-about-this-too-hard-it-might-get-uncomfortable.
So AFTERLIVES is a one-session adventure in which the soul of a deceased player-character finds themselves in a posthumous court where they are forced to stand trial and account for their deeds while alive. They must justify their most heinous acts and explain how they fit within the bounds of the religion that they supposedly followed. At their side, helping to make their case, are the rest of the adventuring party. At their disposal, they can all any witness who was present while these deeds were committed, whether they’re alive or dead now. Presiding over it all: an omnipotent Judge who may or may not be the patron deity him/her/it/themselves. And on the other side of the celestial court, facing them down as Officer for the Persecution, is the one person who is guaranteed to know all a character’s most devious secrets, most cunning plans, most backward back-stabs and treacherous treacheries… is the Games Master.
I’m not going to explain how that works here. Buy the book.
At the heart of it all is the idea of being allowed to grieve for a dead PC. PCs aren’t tools or avatars, they are simultaneously extensions of ourselves and friends as well. There are PCs from tabletop RPGs who I’ve known as virtual living personalities for decades. When one dies I don’t want to bundle them into a shallow grave and bicker over who gets their magic sword. I want to give them a hero’s send-off, including being able to help them find their way to a fitting afterlife. If that involves a couple of manly tears, so be it. Grief is good, and the emotional catharsis that games provide should not be constrained to taking down bosses. I hope you agree.
AFTERLIVES is a $3.95 download from DriveThruRPG and I’m in talks to turn it into a limited-edition chapbook as well.