Last Breath Questions and Revelations

Last Breath Questions and Revelations

Last Breath Questions and Revelations

A few weeks ago we had a character bite it, and when the player heard Death’s offer, he wanted to make a counter-offer.

In that moment, my judgment was that Last Breath doesn’t let you Parley with Death. And besides, making Death an offer on Last Breath is an advantage explicitly granted to the Barbarian class, and it would devalue that class a little to let anyone do it.

Have you ever had players bargain back with Death during the Last Breath move? What did you do?

The player rejected Death’s offer, but after the session I got to thinking that the offer I gave was kind of lame, on the verge of not being a fan of the character. We decided to “re-shoot” the scene with a more interesting offer. Mistakes can be corrected.

It taught me a lesson, though: No matter what has happened before in play, the 7–9 result on Last Breath has an unstated requirement: Death wants the character alive for some reason.

Maybe that’s obvious to everyone else who ever read the move, but events in play really pushed the boundaries this time.

That requirement was blurry to me in the moment, because this character had cheated Death repeatedly, gave his heart to a witch to further escape Death, and later even stood by idly while the witch “killed” Death. It has been an ongoing drama in throughout the campaign, and I couldn’t help seeing the 7–9 bargain in that perspective.

But looking at it from the perspective of “Death wants this character alive” immediately suggested a much more interesting bargain.

This reminds me of something else I notice in every Dungeon World game I’ve played for more than 1 session: Death’s “agenda” comes up a lot, because of the Last Breath move: Who makes it (by sheer chance)? Who doesn’t make it (by sheer chance)? What offers does Death make? What gets narrated about the Black Gate and the world beyond?

I’ve given Death a different persona in every campaign, sometimes more or less fleshed out through these encounters. But Death’s “agenda”, whatever it is, always tends to come into focus based on how the questions above shake out—through chance and through the offers—and even become a major theme of the campaign.

Is finding out Death’s interests an inevitable feature of the Last Breath move, in your experience?

Have you played Dungeon World in which the Last Breath move (as written) came up more than once without Death’s interests becoming focal, at least as a subtext of the campaign?

9 thoughts on “Last Breath Questions and Revelations”

  1. Deep Six Delver He’s mostly the best thing about the weaker, later books. The twain do steal his mask early on, but my favorite is The Sadness of the Executioner from Death and Ice Magic:

    “There was a sky that was always gray.

    There was a place that was always far away.

    There was a being who was always sad.

    Sitting on his dark-cushioned, modest throne in his low, rambling castle in the heart of the Shadowland, Death shook his pale head and pummeled a little his opalescent temples and slightly pursed his lips, which were the color of violet grapes with the silvery bloom still on, above his slender figure armored in chain mail and his black belt, studded with silver skulls tarnished almost as black, from which hung his naked, irresistible sword.

    He was a relatively minor death, only the Death of the World of Nehwon, but he had his problems. Tenscore flickering or flaring human lives to have their wicks pinched in the next twenty heartbeats. And although the heartbeats of Death resound like a leaden bell far underground and each has a little of eternity in it, yet they do finally pass. Only nineteen left now. And the Lords of Necessity, who outrank Death, still to be satisfied.

    Let’s see, thought Death with a vast coolness that yet had a tiny seething in it, one hundred sixty peasants and savages, twenty nomads, ten warriors, two beggars, a whore, a merchant, a priest, an aristocrat, a craftsman, a king, and two heroes. That would keep his books straight.”

  2. Deep Six Delver To answer your next question yes Death seems to have an agenda: to create great heroes. The reason seems unclear: maybe hero souls are more valuable or he really needs them at the end of the world. My current afterlife is Death is storing most of the dead in “soul gems” for his unknown masters and more powerful beings translate into more valuable gems. This also justifies raising the dead as you are simply kept in stasis. Powerful supernatural creatures use these gems as currency. What do you think?

  3. Terry Pratchett’s Death is also a really sweet guy. Despite being an actual skeleton in a robe, he’s probably the most human character in Discworld. And he definitely has an agenda!

    A central thing to define is probably whether Death is simply an usher leading you to your final afterlife, or if she is a God with her own domain. Do you get to deal directly with Death on every Last Breath, or with a psychopomp? (is that the right term?)

    Friends at the Table has a rather interesting twist as well: Death as a hereditary monarchy.

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