A friend I once gamed with was awesome at celebrating gaming. He made sessions into special events. He had props. He talked about games in a special way, like a sports fan does about when their team won the championship that year. He celebrated the details and told stories about special session moments. It was infectious and made gaming special.
I need to do a better job at this. Today, I’m wiping the dust off my Book of Dead Characters (BoDC) and am adding to it once again. This little game prop had huge value back in the day for me, and helped PCs seem special, even after they’d fallen to never rise again.
I’m not going to use the same BoDC though, as my tastes have changed a bit. I think you need a BoDC for your gaming as well. In this blog post, I’m going reveal my original BoDC, and then show you what my new BoDC will entail. I hope you get inspired to create your own, and also I hope you add your ideas about what a BoDC should contain and could look like in the comments section at the end.
My original BoDC is filled with PCs fallen in the line of duty. I started it May 25, 1985. This was during my high school years, and characters were falling in huge numbers to my solo gaming via the random dungeon tables in the 1st Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide, and to the daily gaming my friend Chris and I got up to. (We sometimes played three times a day! Lunch, after school and in the evening.)
It has an index of dead PCs at the front. Each time I opened the binder to add another PC to the graveyard, I’d record his vital statistics like some crazy fantasy memorial. Name, class, level, hit points, armor class, ability scores, notable magic items and possessions, and cause of death.
On the first page of the index, I see nine PCs whacked by basilisk gaze. Names include Frashen Barake, Thundarr, Awry and Sly. I don’t remember these PCs, but likely I rolled up a basilisk encounter, the initial group of PCs got whacked, a survivor recruited new fellows and came back, and those PCs lost too. The first group was level one, and the second were levels 5-9. So it seems a group of experienced adventurers heard about the deadly monster killings and decided to try it on themselves. A third wave of level 1s perished after that to the foul beast. I imagine the lizard ate large that month.
Eventually I had so many entries in the BoDC I added tabs and sorted dead PCs by level, lol!
Dead PC ceremonies
Flipping through the binder, I see the process was the write dead in big letters across the character sheet. Kinda like a void cheque. Just in case I ever tried to cheat and un-deadify a character, I guess.
Then I’d enter his key features in the index and file the character under the correct tab.
Look at this poor bastard. Not only did he die, but when his friends tried to resurrect him, he rolled so poorly that he failed his resurrect saving throw. You know it’s a tough game when the afterlife can make an attack on you.
Before the BoDC, I remember we would have special BBQ ceremonies. We’d get a lighter, have three seconds of silence, and then torch the character sheet in my dad’s BBQ. It was probably more a fascination with fire than a ceremony of remembrance, but maybe a bit of both.
Other character death ceremonies I’ve witnessed:
- Crumpled paper ball
- Crumpled paper ball thrown at the GM
- Death of a thousand dice: character sheet pinned to a dart board and dice are thrown at it until it’s shredded
- Silently filed in the back of a player’s binder
- Fist slammed down on it and player storms away from the table
- Ripped up and tossed in the garbage
- Standing around a garbage can as a group and floating the sheet into it as we waved goodbye
- Erased and refilled
- Ye old paper airplane
Re-use and recycle
I used the BoDC for fast PC creation. I’d look at favourite dead PCs and copy their character sheet onto a new one for fast play. I’d roll new stats and give him a new name, but otherwise equipment, spells, and other things were the same.
In later years, before D&D 3E, I’d go back and crib dead PCs for fast NPC creation. A nice tool because I had a lot of dead PCs from levels 1-15 to choose from.
The New Book of Dead Characters
I’m going to create a new BoDC as a fun way to celebrate a unique part of RPG. When we lose at a board game, the game ends and a new one starts with a clean slate. Computer games churn away with new lives. Card games just get reshuffled. RPGs, though, are different. You likely spent a lot of hours in that character’s shoes, so the impact of his death is much greater than losing a life in another type of game.
If you are campaigning, then you will roll up a new PC, but the dead one can have lasting story impact. The new PC might be a relative of the old one. The dead PC might be used for evil purposes by a villain. The dead PC might have a legacy, such as bard songs sung about him, a string of great deeds performed, or a list of enemies disappointed they did not deliver the killing blow.
Characters do not fall often anymore in my campaigns. Certainly not enough to fill a binder. But for the PCs that have fallen in the past decade, I regret not having them stored in a book or binder. It would be great to leaf through them to recall old campaigns, players who have moved on, and even old encounters and plots for inspiration.
Hopefully I will not look back 10 years from now with the same regret. So, it’s time to craft a new Book of Dead Characters.
This time, I’m making some improvements over my old blue binder.
- Plastic sleeves. We don’t use 3 hole punched lined school paper anymore. Putting dead PCs in some cheap plastic sleeves keeps them intact.
- His story. I’ll ask the player of the dead PC to write a paragraph or two about the character. His best and worst moments in the game. A bit about his personality. His most prized possession, perhaps.
- Summary sheet. I’ll include a separate page to record the date of death, campaign name, player name, GM name, how the character died, and his legacy, if any. On this sheet is where the player-written story will go as well.
- Group condolences. I’ll pass around another sheet of paper and have players record a sentence or two of their thoughts about the PC. Jokes, fond memories, or just a quick goodbye – whatever each player wishes. I’ll ask players to sign with their name and their character’s name, and comments can be in character or out of character.
- Picture. I’ll take a digital pic and either print it out or save it to my Campaigns folder and make a reference note on the Summary sheet. The pics will be anything that helps recall the PC. It could be a picture of the battlemat that depicts the scene of his death, or just a snapshot of the group of us, perhaps holding the character sheet up.
This time it’s for NPCs too
The biggest difference this time around is my BoDC will include notable NPCs. These would be recurring NPCs who made an impact on the campaign, or NPCs who left a significant impression on the players or myself as DM.
The NPCs can be allies or enemies.
This will help NPCs live larger. As the players write their condolences for the NPC, the importance, uniqueness and presence of living NPCs will be valued more. In theory, at least.
It will also motivate me to bring my A game when playing NPCs. Player comments in the dead book will serve as a grade of sorts. Villains should hopefully get hateful and vengeful comments. Allies should be mourned. Ambivalence means I’ve failed to bring the non-player character to life through roleplaying or tactics.
Those are my plans for my new Book of Dead Characters. What do you think? Anything I can add to make it a treasured campaign and group enhancement?