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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    Rising Phoenix's Avatar

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    Default How to instill the fear of death when you are already dead- Campaign building questio

    Greetings,

    I have started revisiting one of my previous home brew worlds and have decided to give it a purgatory twist.

    First some background:
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    "Welcome to the Bubble, a pocket of air, adorned with floating islands deep within an endless, dark expanse of water. It is here, one place of many really, that souls of the departed come to rest before eventually moving through the Everdoor. A kind of purgatory if you will. Most arrive here unknowingly, unaware that they have passed on. Many have regrets and unfulfilled desires. Most will spend time in vain trying to return to their homes, their loved ones, their dreams. They believe that they still draw breath and eat, drink, feel and fall in love. They will build homes, help or hurt each other and try to leave their mark on history. In the process they may fulfill some, perhaps all, of their desires. But eventually all realise the truth of their circumstance and may choose to move on.

    But there is no hurry or pressure to go through the Everdoor, one can take all the time they need before moving on. No one knows what’s beyond the door. In fact most people refer to it to as the Sun for it is at the centre of the bubble and is the only major source of light...."


    Now the obvious house rule that comes from this is

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    There is no death- at least not in the traditional sense: You are already dead. You still have hit points and your character can be knocked unconscious. But if something would normally kill you, you will probably come back. (Sometimes you won’t). The process is still extremely painful and creatures that recover remember very well what they’ve gone through.


    I am thinking that I will not be advising the players when the campaign starts that they are dead. I would like it to be a gradual reveal via flashbacks, memory recovery etc. And when they're finally satisfied they can go through to the great beyond.

    The problem I think I will run into is that once characters figure this out they will start behaving well...more reckless than normal and may metagame their decisions. "Oh I cannot die, let's go for a swim in the lava pit". So how should I punish this?

    Stat penalties seem an obvious answer: "Welp that dip in the lava cost you both your legs. You take -6 to dex and your speed is reduced to 10 ft/round until you fix yourself up"
    But I was thinking of what fluff risks there might be?

    Best I've come up so far is you lose parts of your 'humanity' every time you undergo such a traumatic experience, eventually converting you to a dribbling vegetable, but that feels a bit boring to me.

    If it matters I am thinking of running this campaign in PF 1ED.

    Thanking you for your suggestions ahead of time.
    Awesome FE sprites done by Penguinator

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  2. - Top - End - #2
    Orc in the Playground
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    Default Re: How to instill the fear of death when you are already dead- Campaign building que

    They're already dead. So the question would be : "what do they have to lose?"

    Like, maybe, their identity? If they "take damage", they risk losing their connections with the world (loved ones, earthly ambitions and desires, memories...) and those are the things that allow them to maintain their shape and keep their mind. Lose some connexions, and you won't remember stuff that you knew before, lose parts of your former life, knowledge. Your name? Your appearance become less distinct, more anonymous, your sensations become dull. People around you have trouble remembering you when you stop talking to them, or even noticing you in the first place. Lose enough of them, and you risk reverting to mindless, formless energy. You still exist as a soul, but there is no "you" anymore.
    I find the idea more scary than simply dying in an universe where life after death is warranted.
    Last edited by Kardwill; 2020-09-03 at 07:43 AM.

  3. - Top - End - #3
    Troll in the Playground
     
    OldWizardGuy

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    Default Re: How to instill the fear of death when you are already dead- Campaign building que

    I get a little trepidation when I hear "punish".

    The trick is really stakes. And a lot of gamers are bad at that, since death is a passable stake and is pretty much enabled by default.

    So the question then is - what do the characters what, and what do they have to lose? You create tension by creating questions that the players want answers to. Not mysteries (what's in the box?) but story questions (will they defeat the BBEG?). This then goes down further and further and further.

    So, escaping isn't the stakes - you've already said that's trivial. So what is? What's the Thing That They Can't Stand For that's happening?

    And each scene should also have a similar question. And you fight (or do whatever) to resolve it.

    So if they randomly swim in lava I don't care so much. But when they're in a fight, I want it to be about something. And I want the loss to mean something, and that depends on the situation.

    (As overall, personal stakes go Kardwill's is pretty interesting, but I think there's a lot more to be done on the "story" side of things as well).

    I recommend this article: https://io9.gizmodo.com/why-you-shou...tent-511712234
    "Gosh 2D8HP, you are so very correct (and also good looking)"

  4. - Top - End - #4
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    AssassinGuy

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    Default Re: How to instill the fear of death when you are already dead- Campaign building que

    I think kuoryu has it right. The consequence of “death” in this setting is that the PCs will fail you accomplish whatever they were trying to do. If your players are invested in the setting and the story, that’s plenty of incentive.

    Some players may decide to take insane risks in this game, and that’s okay. Under the circumstances, adopting a high-risk, high-reward strategy and/or being willing to “sacrifice” yourself to accomplish a goal are completely valid in-character choices.

    One possible consequence here, especially if recovering from “death” is quick, is that your players will consider anything other than a TPK a victory. That may tend towards a “rocket tag” approach, where any meaningful combat has to threaten a TPK and you have a very narrow margin of error in designing encounters.

    Also, intelligent enemies, after defeating the PCs, will probably take their gear. Truly, a fate worse than death. And something you should think about while designing the campaign - if the party got wiped with all their gear, what are they going to do after they wake up without it?

    Another interesting consequence is that every opponent is, by default, a recurring villain. Which is probably fine, and you could have some fun with it. But be prepared for some creative murderhobo ideas along the lines of, “we can’t permanently kill this guy, but let’s chop his unconscious body into ten pieces and bury them in separate locked boxes.” Which is also something that enemies aware of the setting might consider if the PCs get to be a nuisance.

  5. - Top - End - #5
    Troll in the Playground
     
    OldWizardGuy

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    Default Re: How to instill the fear of death when you are already dead- Campaign building que

    Let's give an example. The PCs are trying to get into some keep or something. For.... reasons. Let's say that they need to get the Key of W'hinn to open up the Vault of Ultimate Ultimatity.

    With death as an option, it's easy.... the PCs win, or they die. But, if we don't think about death, then it's kind of unsatisfying because the PCs can just keep trying and trying and trying and will eventually win. That's kind of boring and sucks the tension right out.

    So.... let's look at this as a story question. Story questions usually shouldn't be "what" or "why" questions, they should generally be "will" questions. "What is the vault holding" is a bad story question (it might be interesting, but it's not a "story question" in this sense). "Will the adventurers open the vault?" is a more interesting story question. It's something that depends heavily on the actions of hte players (putting control and drama in their hands) vs. being a trivia question about the world.

    Which gives us "will the adventurers get the Key of W'Hinn?" Which is still... flat. If they fail, they'll just try again, so that feels just kind of bad.

    Because.... the BEST story questions have an "or" clause. "Will the protagonists accomplish their, goal, or will this other thing that we don't want to happen actually occur?" That's the ideal situation, right there. We've got tension, we've got something the party should care about going both ways.

    So.... "Will the adventurers get the key of W'Hinn, or will the Duke of Evilness take the Key to the Vault himself?" becomes a much more interesting story question (for instance). Now, if the adventurers don't get the Key, the death recovery time will be enough that the DoE can get the key and take it to the vault himself, and get what's inside of it/perform the ritual/destroy the vault/whatever other story thing we've established that is a Bad Thing.

    The cool part of this is that these kinds of stakes work perfectly well even in situations where death is a possible outcome, and by including these things you can realistically threaten the players every encounter without having to worry about TPK in case of failure.
    "Gosh 2D8HP, you are so very correct (and also good looking)"

  6. - Top - End - #6
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    SwashbucklerGuy

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    Default Re: How to instill the fear of death when you are already dead- Campaign building que

    Perhaps, after learning they are already dead, they begin to learn that their actions here decide which afterlife they pass on to. In life they weren't good, evil, or devout enough to pass on to a specific afterlife, here you cannot truly die again, but what do you do with this gift? Do you put yourself in harms way to save others from the pain of their own inpermanent death? Seek out glory, treasure, or new sights with narry a care for the pain it may bring? Slaughter indiscriminately to fuel your own bloodlust? When you eventually pass through that gate all of your decisions in this purgatory will matter.

  7. - Top - End - #7
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    WolfInSheepsClothing

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    Default Re: How to instill the fear of death when you are already dead- Campaign building que

    have you considered that from the villain angle? villains are also coming back.

    imo, you don't have to make your characters afraid of death, but you have to worldbuild around the concept that death is cheap.
    In memory of Evisceratus: he dreamed of a better world, but he lacked the class levels to make the dream come true.

    Ridiculous monsters you won't take seriously even as they disembowel you

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  8. - Top - End - #8
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    Rising Phoenix's Avatar

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    Default Re: How to instill the fear of death when you are already dead- Campaign building que

    Thank you all for your responses,

    As most of you summarised I don’t want to punish reckless behaviour, I want to avoid over the top foolish behaviour.

    @Kyoryu, The stranger. Yes, that’s what I want. It’s up to me the story teller to keep the stakes high so that the pcs behave in reasonable and appropriate manners. I will need to ask for reasonably complex backstories and ambitions and work with the players to mesh the whole thing together (and butloads of energy and creativity to ensure that I live up the expectations set in such a setting). If I falter on this the whole thing will probably flop to the ground, more so than a ‘normal’ campaign.
    Quote Originally Posted by Kardwill View Post
    They're already dead. So the question would be : "what do they have to lose?"
    SNIP
    I find the idea more scary than simply dying in an universe where life after death is warranted.
    I plan on including a splash of Lovecraftian madness to initiate this. You don’t die but as you realise your predicament you may crack a bit, repeated traumatic experience- e.g. experiencing periods of starvation that would normally kill you, dismemberment etc- all slowly hack away at you. There won’t be undead in the setting I’ve decided (everything’s already dead) but there will be creatures that I think I will call ‘crawlers’ and ‘the bleached’ that fill a similar niche. Crawlers are horrors generated by a breaking mind and soul, the bleached are souls that have fallen so far down depravity that basically attack everything else on sight.

    Spells may help you recover, but what I really want to be the solution is human(oid) connection.
    Quote Originally Posted by TheStranger View Post
    I think kuoryu has it right. The consequence of “death” in this setting is that the PCs will fail you accomplish whatever they were trying to do. If your players are invested in the setting and the story, that’s plenty of incentive.
    Some players may decide to take insane risks in this game, and that’s okay. -snip-
    Also, intelligent enemies, after defeating the PCs, will probably take their gear. Truly, a fate worse than death. And something you should think about while designing the campaign - if the party got wiped with all their gear, what are they going to do after they wake up without it?
    Another interesting consequence is that every opponent is, by default, a recurring villain. Which is probably fine, and you could have some fun with it. But be prepared for some creative murderhobo ideas along the lines of, “we can’t permanently kill this guy, but let’s chop his unconscious body into ten pieces and bury them in separate locked boxes.” Which is also something that enemies aware of the setting might consider if the PCs get to be a nuisance.
    Quote Originally Posted by King of Nowhere View Post
    have you considered that from the villain angle? villains are also coming back.
    imo, you don't have to make your characters afraid of death, but you have to worldbuild around the concept that death is cheap.
    Agree with both you. Cutting people up to ‘trap’ them is a ‘great’ idea…in fact I think that a certain faction will employ this to punish criminals…The moaning wall- a series of spikes upon which the living heads of criminals are impaled…yikes…
    Quote Originally Posted by Mr.Sandman View Post
    after life
    I didn’t mention it earlier, but no one knows what’s beyond the Everdoor-not even me. Sure your god of goodness advised you that there is a heaven waiting for you. But what if they were mistaken? Why is it that everyone good or bad passes through the door with the same fanfare? What if there’s nothing once your through? Do your actions even matter? Do you still retain your virtue then or do you give in to your most deprived desires?
    There will be dead gods and outsider here too-including a god of death and a powerful phoenix- and everyone who’s here must eventually pass on. The pcs will very much be able to interact with them either directly or indirectly. I hope that this will raise a few existential questions.
    If anyone has any further ideas or discussion points please keep them coming. They are helping me flesh out the setting and cover more ground. Thank you.

    edit: and for my sanity I've decided that only named NPCs and PCs can come back. Everything else passes through the door when it dies unless the pcs/some other circumstance decide otherwise. Need to keep the number of NPCs in existence in check.
    Last edited by Rising Phoenix; 2020-09-04 at 03:14 AM.
    Awesome FE sprites done by Penguinator

    My Homebrew:
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    My characters

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  9. - Top - End - #9
    Pixie in the Playground
     
    MindFlayer

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    Oct 2018

    Default Re: How to instill the fear of death when you are already dead- Campaign building que

    Have you read any Wraith: The Oblivion stuff? There's probably plenty of stuff from there that you can use for ideas.

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