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Death and Bargaining

Source Horror Adventures pg. 203
Sometimes characters die. That’s not fun for anyone, though—especially if the GM has spent a considerable amount of time on a story that now might never take shape. While players should feel like doom looms around the next corner, the threat of death and the idea of defeat are far more useful than actually killing off the entire group. Few GMs are above fudging a die roll, having a foe die suddenly, or having villains start taking prisoners if bad rolls turn an encounter against the players. Total party kills should be reserved for when they make the best stories, like at the hands of a truly terrible foe.

Still, sometimes characters die, and it’s not always convenient or plausible to stop the adventure to find a cleric capable of restoring them. In such cases, a GM might take it on herself to make a deal with a player, trading a miraculous recovery (and thus, his continued role in the game) for a price she determines. Such a bargain might last for a set period: until the session’s end, until it’s convenient to make a new character, until the party comes up with a better solution, or—most menacingly—simply until the GM says so. The terms of the deal should be set outside the earshot of the other players, and the PC has the right to refuse. Regardless of the specifics, if the PC accepts, he works for the GM now, a factor that can lend new threats to several sorts of horror games. In all of these cases, the GM should take the blame for the PC’s treachery because she doesn’t want to cause hurt feelings between players.

The Doppelganger: Inform the PC that he barely survived—but only because he was replaced by a shapeshifting creature at some point in the past. He is now playing a monster with the exact same statistics as his character. When he sees an opportune moment, he should attack or otherwise betray the party to the villain. Once this occurs and the player’s monstrous nature is revealed, it raises the question of what happened to the real character— who might now be a prisoner somewhere, waiting to be saved by the others.

The Evil Spirit: Inform the PC that he died, but his corpse has been animated by an evil spirit. He can continue to play as normal, but when something in particular happens in the story (or simply when the GM says “now”), he should turn on the rest of the party or perform some other action prescribed—like attack the paladin. The GM might grant the character some fitting special ability or other monstrous power.

The Devil: Inform the PC that he died and now stands before a devil, a grim reaper, or something worse. This godlike entity offers to return the PC to life but will come to call later and demand a service. Whatever this service might be, the PC is compelled to comply and also to keep the terms of the bargain secret. Perhaps the GM knows what the entity wants at the bargain’s outset, but even if not, this kind of loose thread is perfect for future exploitation.