AMTGARD'S OPINION CODEX • ALL OPINIONS, ALL THE TIME • MARCH 26, 2019
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PEOPLE WITHOUT A CLUE
Handling Death
[02/20/2007] [Glen]

Unlike so many other systems, death is a common and expected occurrence in Amtgard. Most battle games don't end until a sizeable fraction of the players has died multiple times, and a common variant, Mutual Annihilation, only ends when one team has died as many times as possible. Additionally, while every player is allotted more than one life for their class, it is not uncommon for a player to run completely out of lives in the course of one game, reaching the state we refer to as "shattered."

This presents a fairly serious obstacle to role-play. Death is usually considered the ultimate solution to a problem, and in Amtgard it is a trifling inconvenience. Additionally, a person can run out of lives entirely, but somehow they're still around, hale and hearty, for the next game. This presents a jarring inconsistency to any sort of continuous storyline. Various mechanisms have been presented to handle this, but none have been satisfactory.

The idea that each life is a new person makes for any sort of consistent role-play impossible. You can't carry on effective role-play if you're a new person every ten minutes. This also presents too great a divide between the in-character penalty for death, utter extinction, and the player's penalty for death, a five minute rest break.

The idea that you're not really dead, just badly injured, and that you "get better" also fails. Why is your opponent so incompetent he can never finish the job? How did you get better so fast all on your own? There is too much suspension of disbelief, as we are required to accept things that not only are fantastic, which we could deal with as part of a fantasy genre, but that also defy common sense, logic, and simple consistency.

The best solution I've come across for handling death is to treat it as much as possible like real world death. If you die, you're dead. This is an awful fate most people want to avoid. However, some people, those who are destined to be heroes (or, if you prefer table-top analogies, those who are PCs and name-worthy NPCs) have a stronger link to this mortal world and re-manifest in locations of power (Nirvana, a team base, or wherever you have designated that people "come alive" when their death count is up.) after a period of time. Enough deaths in a set timeframe (I.E. A quest or battle game) prevent them from re-manifesting for an extended period. A healer, with his powers, can return a dead person to life before they re-manifest (resurrection), or he can sever the connection with the mortal world (sever spirit), as can a few other classes.

This system allows most people who die to just be dead. When someone kills the bartender, the local tax-collector, and your dog, the dead stay dead. This solves a tremendous amount of consistency and logistics problems that make a world of people who keep coming back to life practically unworkable.

In order for this system to interact well with the idea of a persistent persona, the mechanics of sever spirit need to be explained. When a person has lives left, a sever spirit is not enough to keep them from returning and does not "kill" a persona. It simply prevents them from being resurrected. It is only when the connection is already weakened (the person is shattered) that a Sever Spirit can actually prevent a person from re-manifesting, and it is then that a persona can be "killed."

The next issue to resolve is where all these weapons come from. In the case of normal weapons, shields, and armor, this can simply be explained as common items being commonly available, and not bothering to go into any more detail than that. Special items, such as artifacts, can be handled one of two ways: they either return to the person when they come back to life, (soul-bonded, to borrow a term from tabletop and on-line gaming) or they are left on the field as loot when the person dies. How the artifact behaves should be specified when the artifact is given out. This also gives an interesting variant rule for quests and battle games: when you die, you leave your shield and weapons where you die and must recover them each new life (either yourself or by having some surviving comrade bring it back to you). Leaving behind armor just isn't practical due to the time it takes to put it on and take it off, so it can be assumed that, like clothing, armor is already on you when you re-manifest.

Corpses also present a problem, though one easily dealt with. If people keep dying all the time, you end up with a stack of corpses. This also starts to throw off people's common reaction to a corpse. The normal reaction is surprise and concern, possibly shock, fear, or sadness as well. If you've already got twenty "Glen" corpses lying around, spotting another one is barely going to register. All those corpses also make a tremendous clutter. The solution here is to have the corpses fade away when (and if) a person re-manifests, or at least as much of the corpse has not already been consumed by monstrous creatures fades away. This prevents corpses from stacking up and means that if a corpse is found, the person is likely to be permanently dead. This solution also adds a bit of flavor, as a "death vigil" over a fallen comrade, friend, or family member becomes a normal ritual before burial. If the vigil passes and the corpse remains, your father really is dead and gone, and now you must go and avenge him.

Another problem with the way death is handled in Amtgard is that there is very little possibility of secrecy. If I am killed by Lord Icefire the Deadly Assassin, Icefire is going to have a very bad day in about five minutes. He is certainly not going to be able to keep his assassination secret, unless he manages to kill me with a shuriken thrown out of a shrubbery. I am likely to know who my killer was, and as soon as I re-manifest I can tell everyone all about it. A memory rule added to role-play solves this problem. The shock of death makes the victim hazy about their final moments of life. The more traumatic their demise and the longer they remain dead, the more time they lose. If a person is killed and then resurrected, they lose their memory of only the last minute of their life. If a person is killed and re-manifests normally, they lose their memory of the last two minutes of their life. If they are killed and severed, they lose the last ten minutes. If they are shattered but not severed, they lose twenty minutes of memory, which means they will probably not remember how the battle game or quest turned out. If the player is shattered and severed, their persona is potentially "killed." This memory loss does not come into play until the person comes back to life, so spells such as “Speak with Dead” become tremendously useful, allowing the caster to question the fallen before the shock of death has robbed them of their recollections.

Persona Death is another sticky issue. We have a mechanism where this is possible: severing someone after taking their last life in a battle game, quest, or some other scenario. First, it should be noted that having your persona die does not make you lose credits, take away your levels in a class, or remove titles or awards. All those things are given to the player, not the persona. If you are a fourth level healer and your persona dies forever, you may make a new persona who is a fourth level healer. You can start over if you want to, but you do not have to. Likewise, if you have been given the title of "Lord", you could choose to make your new persona a lord. Conversely, just because you, as a player, have a title, level, or award does not mean your persona has to. You could be Arch-Duke Kingsley, Knight of the Sword, and you could play a peasant healer who winces at the sight of a weapon. Player and Persona are separate, and it is only the character being played who dies.

There are two accepted methods of handling Persona Death. The less-drastic is that, when you are severed on your last life, you are unable to play that persona for six months, after which the tie to the mortal plane recovers enough that that character can return to life. The more drastic, and often the more satisfying, is for a dead persona to be gone forever. Which route you take is your choice and is something you should work out with your foe out-of-character so you both have a resolution that leaves you satisfied. Always keep in mind that, in a consent-based game like Amtgard, no one can force you to take a persona death. It may be considered poor form, but even if someone severs you after you are shattered, you can role-play that the sever spirit was not quite perfectly effective and although it prevented you from being resurrected it did not cut you off from the mortal plane. This is your final defense against undeserved abuse by other players.

Proper handling of death in Amtgard can do a great deal to facilitate role-play, just as ignoring the difficulties of rationalizing multiple character lives can impede role-play. Death is a final occurrence for most creatures in the Amtgard world, and it is only those special or lucky beings who can re-manifest after being dispatched. The loss of memory that accompanies death opens a whole world of trickery and intrigue and should not be neglected. Ultimately, death needs the potential to be permanent, which is what Persona Death provides for us, so that death is ultimately frightful and combat and conflict contain that ultimate element of risk. By establishing a proper framework for death in Amtgard and an understanding of how it should be played, we extend the depth and richness of our role-play.

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