R.I.P. Brother Caleb Abernathy. (Absentee) father, (former) husband, Watchdog, and a real bastard.
In our Dogs game last night, my character Caleb Abernathy bit the dust in a most spectacular way. It’s hard to die in that game and I made a pretty unlucky roll to achieve such a fate.
Caleb might be one of my favorite characters I’ve ever created. He’s sort of a combination of El Topo, The Man With No Name, and Nathan Fillion’s creepy priest (also named Caleb) from the last season of BtVS. He’s actually a revamp of my character from APoWo cultist character who intentionally had his hand shot off and whom I never felt I got to fully explore. Caleb was more fully explored, but with his death it becomes quite apparent that the gaming gods don’t want me to explore zealotry as much as I want myself to.
I have mixed feelings about Caleb’s death. It sucks that he died because I really liked the character and I was looking forward to more fully exploring his zealotry, as well as seeing how his relationship with Rob and Reek’s characters unfolded. Rob’s character Brother Joshua an infinitely more gentle soul and I was interested in seeing where their relationship led.
Having said that, he sure went out in a cool way. After dispelling the two demons left in the town the Dogs were in, Caleb, with his last bit of will, burned the home where Brother Joshua’s sinful sister Ruth and her slothful husband Josea lived, something that Joshua would have never been able to do himself. All three died in the blaze. Brother Joshua tried to rescue Ruth, but had to give up to save his own life. After that, he could only watch as the house burned down.
How often do you get an ending like that, right?
Which leads me to my point: I’m a big fan of games in which the death and dying mechanics allow the characters to frame their own deaths. Dust Devils has a similar mechanic, in which a character isn’t forced to “die,” but is removed from the game, at their own discretion, and allowed to narrate how they leave, given the circumstances. This certainly can be a dramatic death scene, or it can be something quiet and thoughtful, or, if the circumstances allow, it can be some mega-happy ending. Just as long as the character is retired, somehow.
I feel this mechanic can also be brought into games where it’s not intended. Who’s to say that when you hit 0 hit points in D&D (or negative 10, or whatever) you don’t get to decide how your character goes out? As a GM I would be quite sympathetic to a player saying they take some villain, or something, with them if they could think of a super-cool way to do it.
Either way, we’ll all be seeing Caleb in RPG character hell. He’ll be the one preaching about sin to a room full of powergame barbarians looking confused.