from Magnum Opus Press
(Afterlives is written by James Wallis, art by Gustave Dore)
Review by Kat @SunsStepchild
Afterlives is a diceless systemless game that can seamlessly stack atop pretty much any game where the PCs worship deities or god-like beings, be they Odin, Pelor, Lolth, or Sarenrae.
It’s designed for when PCs die and you want something more dramatic and meaningful than “roll a new PC and divide up the dead PC’s gear” or “I cast Raise Dead and we keep going” (not that there’s anything wrong with those, I’ve had my fair share of both in my games).
Originally published in Dork Tower #20, it’s written by James Wallis, author of The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen (which from what I can tell is a delightfully silly rules light game and I can’t wait to get my paws on it) and who also did work on multiple Paranoia titles (Red Clearance Edition, Guide to Alpha Complex) and Hillfolk. Wallis describes it as a role-playing metagame (RPMG) which I’ll be honest, is a phrase I’ve never encountered in my ttrpg travels.The tone of the book itself is fun and entertaining if you can forgive a few digressions (not that many though, the pdf is still only 22 pages).
Meat of It
It doesn’t offer any true game mechanics but does give a pretty solid, easy-to-follow outline for how to build a case for a PC’s eternal soul.
So how do I use it? Well when your ill fated PC finally kicks the bucket you… pretty much carry on as you would normally- at least until the end of the session. When it’s made clear the PC is not coming back via Revivify or a last moment Potion of Healing, ask the player of the deceased to roll up a new PC. Then, as set up for the use of this game, you make sure the party finds someplace calm and quiet to get a good night’s sleep. After that, you’ve got homework to do.
So first up, you gotta do some digging on both the PC and their deity’s backgrounds figuring out teachings and commandments as well as where they PC might’ve strayed from their god’s tenets.
Then comes the hard part. Afterlives is designed such that the normal GM operates as the Prosecutor and a guest player acts as the Judge.
The Judge is a representative or avatar of the PC’s chosen deity, ideally played by a guest player or perhaps the newest player that doesn’t have as much history with the deceased PC. The Judge’s only job is to
- read the rules (only 22 pages, won’t take too long)
- preside over the trial (there’s a script included!)
- listen to the arguments from the PCs who are arguing in defense (or against if the PC was an unpleasant person) of the deceased PC
- And use their GODLY powers to harmlessly but effectively keep any rowdy PCs from attacking members of the jury/witnesses or anything else sufficiently disruptive (Hold Person of DC 35, magical chains that are impossible to break, strike them mute for a few minutes)
Meaning that you, the Game Master will be playing as the Officer for the Persecution, a neutral servitor of the gods (whom Wallis suggests you describe similarly to Alan Rickman). You and the party (along with their dearly departed party member) spend some time preparing your cases. Just like any Courtroom drama, both the Persecution and Defense describe the PC’s actions and then call forth and cross examine witnesses (the number one witness being the deceased PC of course).
After both parties have had fun trying to redeem or damn the deceased PC’s soul, it’s up to the Judge to decide their final verdict. This is entirely dependent on the PC’s god, their actions, and the strength of the Persecution and Defense’s arguments.
The Judge’s answer need not only be a choice between Hell or Heaven. The PC could be sent to their god’s version of Purgatory or be reincarnated into a form decided by Judge. In rare occasions the PC might even be returned to life (although that should probably happen only rarely). I recommend talking this over with your Judge beforehand, because it’s definitely an important decision.
After the fact, the only PC that knows in character what truly happened to the deceased’s soul is the deceased character. All the other players awake in the morning, unaffected and completely unaware of what happened except for a vague memory of a dream.
A great read and definitely something I’ll consider using when I next find myself with a deceased PC. Word of warning though, if your groups are anything like mine, be prepared for a lot of Phoenix Wright memes throughout the session.