Character Death

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.

9 thoughts on “Character Death

  1. It was a hell of an ending for a hell of a man. I’m pretty impressed in that I didn’t have any idea that the town was going to end that way. I agree that it’s great when the player is mechanically empowered to set up the scene of his own death, it allowed you to take your death scene as far as you wanted, and no farther, rather than me or someone else trying to bring things to a satisfying conclusion.

  2. My new character for RPGA died on Monday after unceremoniously getting shot twice by some gnomes with crossbows wielded by a DM with a lucky streak. I did not go out in a blaze of glory and I am jealous of your character’s death.

  3. Hell, I’M jealous of my character’s death. When I die I probably won’t be taking any sinners with me.

  4. I disagree! just make sure to set it up so that when you die it triggers a nuclear explosion, a la Raven from Snow Crash.

    That’s sure to net you some sinners.

  5. Back in the 80’s, I somewhere got my hands on some copies of a “death certificate” for PC’s, suitable for framing. You just filled in the name and a few other details and the rest of the certificate sang the character’s praises. Maybe you should print something up like that for Brother Caleb and hang it somewhere appropriate.

    On the down side, now I’ll never be able to do up a character to hunt Caleb down and put a bullet in his head, lucky bastard. 😉

  6. So much knowledge that Brother Samson lost with the death of Brother Caleb. I promise you this Brother Samson will attempt to live like Caleb would have wanted him to…..never forget the apples.

  7. @Dave – yep, I know. I’m coming around on them myself. D&D was my first love, so even it’s latest iteration is close to my heart. But I’m totally seeing other games now. Just don’t tell the dungeons and the dragons about it. They’ll pout.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *