Thursday, December 8, 2011

Bring Your Dead To Life

No, I'm not talking about the Undead, nor am I referring to The Walking Dead. I'm talking about the dead dead, often used as window dressing in adventures, ranging from fantasy to horror to sci-fi and everything in between. To make your dead more then just window dressing, you have to make the occasional dead memorable.

See, I'm approaching this from over 15 years of law enforcement experience. I've seen more then my fair share of dead, or nearly dead, people. Very few stick out in my mind these days. To be honest, I've thankfully forgotten the vast majority. But those that still kick around in my head can make for decent templates to make the dead "more alive" for your players.

My first DOA (Dead On Arrival) that I encountered was about 2 weeks out of the academy. It was an execution in a South Bronx Housing Project - 2 shots to the head in the doorway of an apartment. What stuck out, and I still recall vividly, was the pool of blood and specks of brain matter. The blood looked like raspberry jam to me as it congealed, not that I ever had raspberry jam. It's just that my mind equated it to raspberry jam. Having to walk through it to get inside the apartment did not help the situation, but jam was better then blood in my mind. Describe the blood / remains as resembling a food and watch your players squirm.

The next of the dead that comes to mind was a DOA of natural cause in an apartment. He died of a heart attack, pleasuring himself. The blood flowed (internally) where you might expect it, which became larger then expected and took upon a bruised appearance. At times like this you have to search the room for valuables to be safeguarded as well as the body. My search ended when i found a shopping bag of dirty dildos (I almost expect to see an encounter like this in one of Raggi's adventures... heh). I refused to loot the body (he was wearing a gold ring) as we knew where his hands had been. I found a family member to remove the ring. Dying in an awkward manner will get your players thinking all types of things. I've used players' brainstorming as seeds for latter events. ;)

Then we have the "body doesn't know it's dead yet." We were flagged down by a family whose 20ish son had just shot himself in the right temple. Small hole, slow trickle of blood, steady breathing. My partner that nite was an EMT on the side and basically said the man was already dead, the body just didn't know it yet. You could play this straight up in an encounter, as the party decides what to do with the "not quite dead", or you could pull the Monty Python line of "It's only a flesh wound" before the individual abruptly succumbs to his wounds.

There are more - memorable smells, locations and the such - but these are enough to start. More memorable are those that were severely injured and yet ignored their wounds, due to drugs, adrenaline or something else, as they were actively engaged with. But that's for a follow up post.

Remember, to make your dead memorable, you don't need much, but you do need a hook, a highlight, something that keeps it from being just another body that your PCs see on a daily basis. They deserve something memorable on occasion. They need you to breathe some life into the dead.


  1. Thanks for those images, a frightening and fascinating look into your career and I'll certainly be drawing on these for my campaign ;)

  2. Wait for the Tales of Survival - where the victime is more concerned about the holes in his jacket then the 5 bullets in his back!

    When folks say Hit Points aren't realistic, I have stories that might just say otherwise...

  3. So smoking crack gives you 3d6 extra temporary hit points?

  4. Roger, that's my heroin addict that got struck by an 18 wheeler and was complaining that he couldn't find one of his boots.

    When I found it, his foot was still in it - no shit.

  5. What interesting stories... perhaps you should start a new blog ;)


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