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Last Breath is possibly the coolest game mechanic in Dungeon World, and a testament to the flexibility of Move based game systems. I suppose RQ has had this all the time in the from of Divine Intervention, but I thought I'd post this because I think it's a really interesting take on the problem of character death, or near-death experiences in RPGs.

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Last Breath
When you’re dying you catch a glimpse of what lies beyond the Black Gates of Death’s Kingdom (the GM will describe it). Then roll (just roll, +nothing—yeah, Death doesn’t care how tough or cool you are).

  • On a 10+, you’ve cheated Death—you’re in a bad spot but you’re still alive.
  • On a 7–9, Death himself will offer you a bargain. Take it and stabilize or refuse and pass beyond the Black Gates into whatever fate awaits you.
  • On 6-, your fate is sealed. You’re marked as Death’s own and you’ll cross the threshold soon. The GM will tell you when.

The Last Breath is that moment standing between life and death. Time stands still as Death appears to claim the living for his own. Even those who do not pass beyond the Black Gates catch a glimpse of the other side and what might await them—friends and enemies past, rewards or punishment for acts in life or other, stranger vistas. All are changed in some way by this moment—even those who escape.

There are three outcomes to this move. On a 10+, the Character has cheated Death in some meaningful way. He’s escaped with something that, by rights, isn’t his anymore. Death is powerless to stop this, but he remembers this slight. On a 7–9, the GM should offer a real choice with significant consequence. Think about the behaviors of the character and the things you’ve learned about him in play. Death knows and sees all and tailors his bargains accordingly. This is a trade, remember. Offer something that will be a challenge to play out but will lead the game in fun new direction. On a miss, death is inevitable. The most obvious approach is to say “Death takes you across the threshold, into his bleak kingdom.” and move on. However, sometimes Death comes slowly. You might say “you have a week to live” or “you can feel the cold hand of Death on you ” and leave it at that, for now. The player may want to give in and accept death at this point—that’s okay. Let them create a new character as normal. The key thing to remember is that a brush with death, succeed or fail, is a significant moment that should always lead to change.

 

I'm running Dungeon World at the moment and while this moves hasn't come up, it has given the the confidence that character death or even the dreaded TPK could actually be a really interesting event in the game. Even DI is more of a "stop this terrible thing happening at any cost" saving throw, but Last Breath shows how getting knocked down the 0 HP can still actually be an engaging part of play. I'd love to see how we can adapt this to HQ and RQ.

Edited by simonh
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