Hidey Soul

Hidey Soul

Hidey Soul

[Includes SPOILERS for “Planets Collide” campaign]

The Bard missed his Last Breath roll and was “marked as Death’s own”. He spent most of Friday’s session getting his affairs in order. Seeing a golden opportunity here, the ghost of a witch came to him and promised to hide his heart at the roots of the world so that Death could not claim him. He took the witch’s deal. That was the end of the session.

I’m curious how you might handle this mechanically.

Obviously, he won’t roll Last Breath again, whether he hits zero HP or is disintegrated by death rays, blasted by dragon’s breath, or flattened by having ten boulders dropped on his head.

But other than that, there were no promises about what would happen if he loses all his HP or otherwise suffers physical annihilation.

I could give him some way to revive, provided someone can put his pieces back together. Or he could re-spawn somewhere, after a given interval. Or he could get stuck in a time loop like Groundhog Day. Or he could follow the party like a specter, maybe using a custom move to influence events.

There was also no specification in the deal about what losing his heart might cost him. Can a bard even perform Arcane Art without a heart?

What are your thoughts?

25 thoughts on “Hidey Soul”

  1. #1 I’ve never thought of someone interfering with death other than Death, so that is AWESOME!

    #2 I’d think the witch’s ghost might want something in return for keeping the bard “alive” every time he hit 0 HP. Maybe he’s not “alive” (like Sixth Sense not alive)

  2. His soul goes with the heart. Someone else finds the heart, or the heart develops a body. Either way, he changes playbooks and starts a new storyline with a different, though related, character. The old body has been sputtering along mechanically, like a wind up toy. It’s given control over to the MC and you narrate it’s final moments at the start of the next session. Fade in to the new character trying to figure out who he is: has the heart possessed someone who found it? Did the witch put the heart into a different body or creature?

  3. Since he took the deal he should just be immune to death now, since technically death can’t take him. But now the witch can have him do anything she want on threat of death.

    this is a good opportunity to start pushing his character, to see how far they’ll go. Maybe leading to a change in alignment, and maybe a change in class much later down the line.

  4. Fiction element: he cannot love without a heart. Or even get worked up over most anything.

    And that heart makes a great remote control. If the witch starts tickling it. Or gives it a good kick….

  5. Nobody’s going to ask why a witch (1) wants a pet bard badly enough to piss off death over it, or (2) what kind of “witch” is powerful or subtle enough to fuck over death?

    Maybe this is kind of a big deal. Maybe people getting hidden away from death is actually a really big warp in the tangle of fate; maybe Death can’t do anything else until he finds the bard’s heart. Maybe the witch doesn’t care about the bard at all, but she couldn’t hide her own heart (which she’d traded away long ago), and needed something to distract death from coming to collect her. Or anyone else who was in line after the bard.

    A completely distinct idea:

    The Bard can totally still do his arcane art. Better, even: the roots of the world have sunk into his heart. And it is still, after all, his heart. But what happens when the roots of the world start digesting his heart? what happens to him? To the world? I feel like this can actually be a really nice send-off. Give him a couple of game sessions to slowly fade away, but also paint huge, lasting marks on the game universe as his character get subsumed directly into the world tree.

    A completely distinct idea:

    Death has absolutely no trouble finding hidden hearts. What he does not do well, however, is escape from traps meant to cage him in the roots of the world. You know the roots of the world: that thing that sucks up the souls of the dead and lets them fruit in life anew? What happens when Death gets trapped there, and is now poisoning all the universe? Good going Bard; you managed to buy yourself a couple of years, and take the rest of us down the toilet with you. Guess we need to go free death now…

  6. I’d give the Bard some severe penalties on performance checks. You got to play from the heart, after all.

    As tempting as indestructibility is, that leads to Captain Scarlet levels of poor fiction where every issue is resolved by a suicidal character who knows no fear.

    On the other hand.. If he has no love, and no fear, no emotions at all.. That’s a possibility?

  7. Whenever his HP hits zero, he doesn’t bargain with Death — he now bargains with the Witch.

    The Witch has use of his magical arts: why? Is she a Siren whose powers are amplified by an accompanist?

    Is the Witch’s brother, a trickster god, imprisoned in the roots, and the bard’s heart is a component in freeing him?

    Does the bard benefit from some kind of scry-vision now that his heart is tangled up in the roots of the world?

    Without his heart, the Bard is now immune to the life draining touch of intelligent undead, and effectively invisible to mindless undead.

  8. Give him a custom harm clock that tracks the witch ghost slowly being able to possess him, every time he dies it fills in another segment.

  9. Oh, the possibilities! I don’t know if I can add anything to the above, but I definitely see this heart becoming quite popular. Maybe every time anybody in the game misses, we get a little cut scene in which all kinds of forces are advancing on this witch and the heart? After x amount of misses (clearly shown to the players?) the heart is taken? I’m also picturing the scenes from hellboy where baba yaga ends up at the Yggdrasil and is plotting for his demise.

  10. I’d just add though:

    Whichever route you take, don’t do the one where “now the Bard sucks at doing bard stuff, as a surprise follow up to a deal where that wasn’t in the up front terms.” That’s a really nasty bait and switch that’s more likely to alienate the player than enrich the game. That’s a legitimately bad move from the old school style of being a jerk DM, and contrary to the principles of DW.

    Complicate their life; don’t shit on it.

  11. Orrr… maybe the bard’s arcane art gets flipped somehow, so that it’s still cool and awesome and useful, but instead of inspiring and a “buff spell” it fills foes with despair and listlessness and ennui–songs of the heartless.

  12. Jeremy Strandberg that’s what I was thinking. Instead of upbeat and cheerful his attitude and songs become morose and somber (Hello Darkness My Old Friend…).

    On the topic of the witch, make her a long haul type of character. She could make the same offer to other party members who die. Little do they know that when she has all of their hearts she will come asking for a favor. Also, she is somehow behind the misfortunes that led to them dying in the first place. There are no coincidences.

  13. He just can’t heal, any damage he takes is permanent. Also he can’t sleep, he can’t breath technically if he dosen’t move around enough rigamortus sets in

  14. I’ve been so busy that I never got a chance to post an update. The game was canceled tonight, so let me start by saying Thank You again for sharing so freely from your imaginations! It helped a lot.

    Here is the custom compendium class I created for the character. You’ll see a lot of familiar ideas in it:


    If I were writing this up for any old Bard, I’d probably have to create a bunch of replacements for the Bard’s advanced moves, but in this case I only wrote replacements for moves this character already had, Arcane Art and Healing Song. He also had Metal Hurlant, but that move seemed suitable for a heartless Bard.

    My replacement for Arcane Art was a ripoff of the Awful Good Bard’s Magical Music move, by David Guyll and Melissa Fisher.

    Edit: Forgot to link to the Awful Good Bard. Check it out: http://daegames.blogspot.com/p/the-bard-dungeon-world-playbook.html

  15. As for the witch, the questions and suggestions above were perfect tinder for igniting the fiction already in play.

    The campaign is called “Planets Collide”. In the Bard’s very first session, he stumbled into a tower-top ritual intended to keep that from happening—but it wasn’t working. The seal was broken, and another planet appeared above the city!

    The Bard wound up drinking ancient blood, and gaining the memories of a song used to create the seal. He performed the song while hooked up to a magical amplifier, and the whole city fell asleep. The dreams of the city are holding the seal together, for now, and the Bard lost the ability to play the three notes from the sealing ritual.

    But before the rift closed, the other planet’s gravity shattered the tower and the top started whirling toward the other planet like a boomerang. It smashed into the other planet, the Bard rolled Last Breath, and failed. End of session!

    Since it was the player’s first time playing Dungeon World, I wanted to give him a chance to experience the End of Session move. So instead of simply sending the Bard off to Death’s domain, I told the player he was “marked for death” and doomed.

    They met a witch a few sessions later, and she made it clear that her goal was to care for her brood of Goatkin until the Planets Collide, and then they would sweep down into the lowlands slaking their thirst for chaos and terror. But that conversation went sideways and the witch was killed by our Ranger.

    Anyway, now it’s established that 1) the Bard’s notes are keeping twin planets from crashing into each other. And 2) the witch wants them to collide. So it’s pretty obvious what the witch wants with the Bard’s heart:

    Every time the Bard cheats Death, the witch gets one step closer on her Grim Portents: First she stretches his heart to make a drum (this happened last time); next she’ll begin a drumming to drown out the first note. If she can drown out all three notes, the city on the other side of the seal will wake, and the seal will be open again!

    Also, now that Death has gotten wind that the Bard can’t die, I’m stealing J. Stein’s idea about Death confronting the witch in the roots of the world.

    There is so much other ruckus on my campaign front and current adventure, though, that it feels like a perfect whirlpool of chaos right now. I’m pretty jazzed to get back at it!

  16. This question includes SPOILERS for “Planets Collide” campaign. Please don’t read if you’re playing. 😉

    I stole J. Stein’s idea about Death confronting the witch in the roots of the world. Death got trapped, and now the Black Gate is out of order. The players got a hint that something is wrong when a NPC received fatal injuries and just continued screaming in undying agony until one of the characters ate him—but they’re still not sure what it was about.

    Anyway, I expect that the situation will become more clear when we play tomorrow. There are likely to be more fatalities, and party kills are always on the table.

    I was thinking of replacing Last Breath with the following move if it comes up. What do you think?

    When you’re dying, you catch a glimpse of the Black Gate—but the gate is sealed, and there is no gatekeeper. Roll +nothing. ✴On a 10+, you grit your teeth and snap back to your senses. You have escaped death, for now. ✴On a 7–9, you come back stunned (p22) until you Make Camp or Recover. ✴On a miss, your mind is torn apart with undying agony.

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