Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Adventures in the Afterlife

Over on the Dungeon Crawl Classics Google Plus community, there's been discussion about Total Party Kills.  Quite often they're a drain on player enthusiasm and more often than not lead to the end of a campaign. James Spahn (the original poster) mentioned that he found that this wasn't the case when playing Dungeon Crawl Classics, and wanted to see if this sentiment was common among other players as well. Although I have yet to play it, I have read the RPG and believe that one of its advantages is the player buy-in of the game's lethality. Not only do PCs start as ordinary level 0 folk, but each player has multiple PCs to control during the first session. Those who manage to survive the "Level 0 Funnel" gain their 1st level in one of the classes and become bonafide adventurers! But beyond that, as I mentioned in the G+ thread, the game designers discussed a rather pertinent piece of information for a more simplified experience point system to ease the burden of book-keeping. The more likely an RPG is to be rules-heavy, or the more thought and detail required in character creation and advancement, the more emotionally draining it will be when the entire party is wiped out.

On that note, I think that there's some massive potential to be had not just in DCC, but in many D&D settings which have extraplanar realms. Greyhawk and Planescape's Great Wheel*, Golarion's Great Beyond, and Forgotten Realm's World Tree among others have a diverse assortment of planes housing the dearly departed souls of former mortals. Many of these realms, especially the Lower Planes, are dangerous places full of adventure and intrigue. In this case, death is not the final frontier, but one step along a much greater journey.  Below are a series of plot hooks to generate in the case of a total party kill, as the final moments of life escape the party's last survivor.

Your PCs might be dead, but the adventure lives on!

Afterlife Plot Hooks: War World

As the PCs come to after their last defeat, they find themselves on a jutting cliff face looking over a foreign land.  It is a bleak, barren realm of red sky and black earth; figures in the distance down in the lowlands make war, crashing against each other in waves of man and monster, steel and spell.

Behind the PCs sits a massive armored entity sitting on a diamond throne, his shadow casting a long and powerful slice of darkness across the land.  He is the God of War, and has been watching their progress in the mortal world for some time now.  Unwilling to let such talented souls go to waste, he wishes to enlist their help in infiltrating the mobile fortress of Balisphor the Burning.  The war-god's most talented devotees have yet to make progress against the keep's seemingly impenetrable defenses.  To sweeten the deal, he not only offers to allow the PCs a portion of the spoils attained during the assault, but will offer them the chance either to work for him long-term, grant them the ability to return to life once more, or release them to their proper afterlife dependent on their true patron deity and/or alignment.

Afterlife Plot Hooks: The Prison Plane

The plane of Carceri is ruled by the demodands, its entire purpose to hold the most dangerous souls of the Multiverse.  Whatever powerful entity the PCs were up against uses magic to transfer their souls to this hellish realm.  The party wake up in a forlorn town surrounded by scorching hot badlands, acidic seas, impossibly high mountains, or other suitably supernatural prison environment.  Demodands act as the wardens and keep the populace desperate, starving, and at each other's throats so as to better control them.  However, there is a subtle underground movement of resistance by anarchists plotting an uprising as part of a larger plot to overthrow the entire planar hierarchy.  The PCs might be able to use the rebels' schemes to gain equipment and access to the few hidden areas the demodands cannot find by scrying.

Afterlife Plot Hooks: The Call of Sorcery

The party dies, their souls venturing to the realms beyond the world of flesh and blood.  They remain there for an unknown period of time, serving their deities as spiritual heralds or remaining behind in the waking world as ghostly apparitions.  A great evil threatens the land, and a spirit-medium concocts a ritual to summon the spirits of the honored dead.  From planes far and wide the PCs come to this focal point, reunited for the first time in years. They are back on the Material Plane, but as revenants neither living nor dead.

The spiritualist is happy to see them and informs them of dire news, and how he needs their help in thwarting a foul plot.  They are free to accept or decline, but the spiritualist mentions that in order for a revenant to stay on a long-term basis they'll need the aid of people skilled in spirit-calling.  Not just spells, but esoteric material components and even proper rituals are required to keep their souls bound to this world beyond a few months.  Perfect opportunity for further plot hooks and quest rewards!

Afterlife Plot Hooks: Reincarnation

Sometimes spirits do not leave this world, even those who do not become undead.  Some have their essences melded with the surrounding land or even sent back to the Material Plane by their patron deities in a new form.  The PCs come back to life around the same time, but things are...different.  They might find themselves among the ranks of the goblins or orcs who killed them in the caverns, treated as though they lived there their whole lives among them.  Those with a connection to the land might have their souls inhabit a body made of wood and rock, a walking nature elemental.  Or perhaps their spirit comes to inhabit their next of kin, sibling, or parent, those whose blood connection calls out the strongest of all; now two souls inhabit one body, as both of them struggle to either accept this predicament or find a way for the PC to get their old body back.

*PS: For those who are fans of Planescape, I wrote a mostly system-neutral Planar Revision Project about three years ago to add more conflict and adventuring opportunities among the planes.