Saturday, November 20, 2004

Dead Like Me: The RPG (a short diceless RPG in exactly 2100 words)

I got bored last night while watching Dead Like Me and started thinking what a wonderful little diceless game it would make. Much like my idea for a Ginger Snaps game, this one is mainly psychological roleplaying, but with a bit more humor.

The basic premise of the game is that you're a grim reaper. You died, and just before you did another reaper pulled your soul out of your body to save you the pain of death. But you filled his quota of souls, so he got to go to Heaven and you got stuck with his job. Ain't death a bitch?

Now you're a grim reaper, harvesting the souls of the soon-to-be-deceased so that they can go to the pearly gates and you can eat waffles. You presumably work with other reapers, most of whom are probably more experienced and way cooler than you. And you probably have a big boss reaper who's job it is to give everyone their assignments.

The game would probably start with a group of relativly new reapers, learning about death, undeath, and the consequences of fucking with both. They take souls, hold down shitty day jobs to pay for their places of residence (reaping pays nothing, except in theoretical good will), and interact with other people to keep themselves sane.

Character Generation
To start, make up a normal person's name. Jim Carson, Kate Berger, whatever, these are normal names. Darkclaw Ravenshadow, Mortis the Avenger, and Gorlog Kills-His-Enemies-Swiftly-With-Sticks are not.

Next, figure out what your life was like before you died. Put some thought into this. What were your parents like? Did you have any siblings? Did you go to school? Etc. His profession prior to death will decide what sort of stuff he can do(a plumber can fix drains) and can't do (a plumber cannot fly a military jet plane). Most reapers seem to be from relativly mundane professions, because its normal life (and unlife) that's more interesting to live in.

Next, think up how you died. This can be tragic, funny, weird, or just plane mundane. Maybe you jumped off a cliff and didn't realize the water below was a tad shallow. Maybe you got a piano dropped on you. Maybe you were shot in a holdup. Whatever. If you had a particularly funny, ironic, or stupid death, you might want to think up a funny nickname that other reapers might give you (unless you want to get named by the which case expect to hear things like "Hey, aren't you the Toad Licker?"). How you died also affects who you can reap. "You reap what you sow", as Rube said. If it was an external cause, congradulations, that's an easy quota to fill. If you died from the Typhus plague in Athens in 429BC, you may have a problem. Generally most reapers seem to be divided between External and Internal (diseases, cancer, poison, etc.) causes.

Figure out who you are now that you're dead. Your alternate identity...though don't bother making up facts for it. Its fun to lie like a rug as you go along, especially if it means you can create the family you always wanted on demand.

Lastly, figure out what your day job is (you may not have one yet, you may have to go find one...which can be hard when you have no resume), and where you live. Most reapers squat in the appartments (or houses...the best appartments and houses they can find) of people they reap. Generally this means you've got a few months rent payed, all the furniture you need, and hopefully some food in the fridge and a decent CD collection. This generally means that most new reapers live in dumps and have to fend off cockroaches, mould, and the desperate relatives of their former residents, at least until they can find a better place owned by a richer person. Additionally, since many don't HAVE jobs per se, many reapers steal money, jewlery, and other objects of monetary value off the people they reap. Its just good financial sense (hey, THEY'RE not using it anymore).

The Rules (As Such)
The rules are very simple: the GM acts as your boss reaper, gives out assignments to the different PCs, and expects them to muddle their way through whatever other life situations he heaps on them. Every time a character collects a soul, he gets a point. The GM sets an arbitrary, secret number. Each time a PC reaches this number of souls, he goes to Heaven, and the player makes a new character.

Reapers have two main powers. Neither of these have any sort of systems attached. Often, their effects should be decided on a case-by-case basis. They are:

Taking Souls. A reaper can take someone's soul just before the moment of their death, though its possible to take it beforehand (which would be a bad things if that person wasn't slated to die for a while yet, like they suddenly drop dead, or go pscyho, or die inside, its up to the GM for any given situation). All this requires is a moment's touch. NOT taking a soul is a VERY bad thing, as it means that the soul is trapped in the body until a reaper comes along and takes it out again (which can be horribly tramatic in these days of buzz-saw autopsies).

Immortality. Reapers are undead. They can't die again. You can shoot them, stab them, poison them, run them down, blow them up, cut them up, throw them away, and just like cockroaches they come back again. There's no specific healing time given, but generally assume that unless a wound would seriously incapacitate a reaper (their arm was ripped off), it has no effect on them beyond some whining and moaning. Blunt force trama, similarly, has very, very little effect, and it shouldn't be too much of a problem to walk away from low-speed car accidents and falling out of third story windows onto the lawn below. Poisons and drugs CAN effect reapers, but they get over it once they've suffered the symptoms that should have caused them to die. Depending on the substance, this can take minutes, hours, or days. Also, if a reaper is suitably damaged, they may be mistaken for dead and locked in the morgue. This is just plain unpleasent, but opens much amusing RP possibilities.

The Rules of Death
The rules of death are pretty simple. The main one is that reapers take a person's soul before that person dies, so the soul is unecumbered by grief, pain, or regrets and can safely pass into Heaven (which appears as a glowing blue version of that person's favourite place or thing or desire [ranging from glowing circuses to climbing back into the womb (don't ask)]). This is the natural order of things. Of course...everyone's gonna want to fuck things up sooner or later.

Cheating Death. If a reaper deliberatly acts to keep someone from dying, bad things happen.
-If they save that person from dying at the moment when that person SHOULD die, and leave the soul in, that person will wither and die inside. They may become serial killers, they may lose all emotions and become drones, they may go stark raving nuts. Whatever it is, it ain't pretty.
-If a reaper intervenes to make sure that someone never arrives at the location of their death, generally the effects are bad...really bad. Because the world has a plan, and when you cheat the plan to do one good, you may realize that it opens the path to a whole lot of bad (save one person, and the car crash he was supposed to die in instead occurs with a bus load of school children, none of whom were wearing seatbelts). The universe abhors a vaccuum, and wants things to balance out. Also, generally, on a more personal note this leads to the Gravelings declaring open war (breaking stuff, tossing furniture at them, running cars into them, etc.) on the reaper until they feel that the undead guy or girl has suitably learned their lesson. It should be noted that sometimes, through no fault of a reaper's own, someone misses their appointment with death. That's fine...just so long as no reaper intervened.
-If the reaper doesn't take a soul before the person dies, their soul, when removed, is damaged with all the crap that happened to them before they were reaped (so autopsy scars, death wounds, etc.). If you leave a soul inside a body for too long, they can quite easily go insane from the isolation and sensory deprivation. Its best to get their souls before all that happens.

Going Home. Reapers can never go home. They no longer look like they did when they were alive (at least to non-reapers). Their family wouldn't recognize them. Attempting to contact their family, however, is bad for everyone involved. It causes the family pain...and it removes some of the reaper's memories of their life. Trying to get your mom to believe its you by telling her about the time you were ten and you spilled Uncle Frank's beer all over the cat will just end up with you staring at her and stuttering...and then completly foregetting, permanently, what you were trying to tell her (that is, you forget that part of your life, its just a blank).

The Note. The boss reaper gives out notes from envelopes he receives from a mysterious shadow. The notes give the name, location, and Estimated Time of Death (ETD). No descriptin of the individual is given, and the nightmare if every reaper is to have to find a soul at a family reunion ("I'm looking for a B.J. Herzog!" "Aye, well, this' a Herzog Ho-Down! We got ev'ry Herzog from here t'Athens, Georgia here t'day!"). Some detective work may be required. A note generally looks like this:

B.J. Herzog
65 Jane Ave.
ETD 9:31 AM

The GM sets the world for the players. He plays all the various and sundry NPCs, the most important of which is the boss reaper that the PCs work under. The boss reaper is delivered an envelope on a regular basis by a mysterious shadow who slips it under his door. The envelope contains the names, adresses, and times of those who are going to die. The boss then writes it down (or who knows, he could email it out if he's saddled with some techno-saavy reapers, or phone message it...whatever) and hands it out to his reapers. He also takes jobs himself. Generally, if everyone's getting together, this will be at some sort of restaraunt, store, shop, park gazebo, or whatever where the group regularly meets (this an excellent chance to have the PCs touch base on a daily basis).

The GM also portrays the actions of the Gravelings, who cause accidents. Generally very focused on their job, Gravelings can become the PCs' worst nightmares if they fuck with them too often. Cheat death, and expect a Graveling to hound you till you set it right. Gravelings look kind of like whispy undead monkies, can climb vertical services with the same skill as horizontal ones, and are generally too fast for most reapers to catch or hit (however much they might want to). They don't talk, but they are fantastically annoying if you get on their bad side.

Also, the GM should feel free to portray a toad. There are always toads around, often big, fat yellow and orange ones. The reasons for this are steeped in mythology, and the nuances are generally lost on people that have never heard the story. Suffice to say, toads herald death, so stay away from Amazonian pygmies bearing narcotic gifts.

Group Play
One option to make the game more interesting while the PCs go out and reap souls on their own is the Group Play method. In this game, the GM focuses scenes on each PC doing their job, and puts the other players into the role of NPC co-workers or bystanders. THis is done by giving each player a typed paragraph or two on the character they will be portraying, with some history and personality notes. The players then take on these NPC roles while the central reaper PC goes about his or her job. When the scene shifts to another PC and player, the GM hands out different NPCs to the other players. This continues and thus ensures that everyone gets to play someone, and every character gets equal spotlight without forcing people to sit around on their asses and do nothing.

And That's A Wrap
That's pretty much all the stuff you need to play. Its a game of psychology and social interaction, not beating people with lamp posts. It's a game about life, death, undeath, and all the stuff that comes in-between. Enjoy!


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