The Death Gift

Your character is overwhelmed by a swarm of unimportant thugs. By the rules, they’re about to die, and it’s a total anticlimax. It is, as it sits, a lame way to go out.  But instead of finding a way to help you live - which might be cheap and unsatisfying unto itself - the GM looks at you and tells you that this is where you make a death gift, to choose a legacy that will live on beyond their death. Your character is still going to die - and their death itself is going to remain ugly. But something of the character will go on; the end of their life will not be the end of their effect.

Sometimes, in some settings and genres, life is supposed to be cheap. Yet, at the same time, it’s not a lot of fun to create a character and see them go out like this, totally pointlessly, even if it does fit. The often - created compromise is to shift rules so that the player characters aren’t really part of the genre; they’re much tougher.  Sometimes, that isn’t the ideal compromise. Here are a few compromises that may be more ideal.

In games where resurrection is a viable option, choosing to give a death gift might mean that the character has “made peace” with death, and cannot return.  Alternatively, the ‘gift’ might simply fade if the character is returned to life.

The falling feral-minded warrior throws their sword to the fair and perfect knight as they fall; they are dead before they hit the ground. Upon catching the weapon, the knight vibrates with rage, and explodes into a frenzy of feral wrath. This kind of ‘passing the torch’ might be a one-time transfer, a “have my abilities on top of your own for the encounter”, or it might be lasting in some way, such as causing that weapon to become permanently magical - or a little of each, creating a weak item but a strong ‘for the fight’ effect. One caveat here: If this creates a lasting item, care should be taken that the item won’t become defunct shortly; discarding the ‘last gift’ of a dying ally because the next sword on is better? That cheapens the effect - it’s better to make the ongoing power weaker, and attach it in some other way; maybe the power passes into the ‘lucky charm’ the feral warrior hung from the hilt of the blade, rather than the blade itself.

A dying character, instead of giving a gift, might be allowed to level a terrible curse.  If the rules system already includes curses, the GM will likely want to pick a fairly potent effect, and let the player choose the target and specific details, if any. If not, details will need to be invented or handled on the fly.

If this option is used, nothing special happens at the time of death. Instead, their character sheet (or whatever) is set to the side, and a “legacy pool” of points is created in their honor; the starting value of this pool is (2 points, plus 1 per session of play the character appeared in). Legacy points are not recovered naturally; once the pool is empty, that’s typically it. Legacy can be spent by any player whose character was familiar with the dead one, with group permission, in the following ways:
  • A trick they knew: By spending a legacy point, a character may make use of a single (generally only non-combat) skill that was possessed by the character that died; if this would generally require a dice roll, the roll should automatically be maximized. When using a legacy point in this way, the character should explain (inventing details as required) how the dead character ‘showed them this trick’.
  • A helping hand: If there are ‘helping rules’, a character might spend a legacy point when performing a task or a deed that the dead character would have approved of. If so, they receive ‘help’, as if the dead character was present and assisting, that takes the form of minor happenstance, sudden inspiration, or the like. The character will feel as if their dead ally was ‘lending them a hand’ in this task.
  • A story they told me: A character might spend a legacy point to ‘recall’ information that was known by the dead character (or reasonably could have been), in the form of something the dead character once said to them while alive. They should relate or describe the information in this fashion - as ‘something that so-and-so told them once’. If a knowledge roll of some kind would be needed by the dead character for that character to have known the information (but they did have the skill), maximize the roll.

A dying character might well have ‘things not done’ that the characters might choose to take up as their own cause. In such a case, the ‘death gift’ of the character might be something stored, held, or left behind, which they will be given or can claim as part of ‘wrapping up’ that business. Alternatively, taking care of the business of a dead comrade might add points to the legacy pool.

As a plug-in concept, the idea of a legacy pool can be employed in a number of other ways. It would be entirely possible to start a campaign about a group of young students of a single mentor, with the mentor dead before the campaign even begins, and a significant legacy pool to unify the group. In such a case, the character sheet for the mentor might be already filled in, or the players might create it as they use legacy points, giving that mentor the abilities the character wishes to draw upon.