Let’s just call a spade a spade shall we? Someone in your RPG party is going to bite the bullet at some point. Maybe one of you, maybe all of you will die. But much like going to a casino, eventually, the dice will botch upon thee. In most game systems, including Dungeons & Dragons, death isn’t the end of the character. Resurrection spells, sleeving into new bodies, or using time travel to undo those last few rounds can (and will) come up as characters’ powers increase. So what do you do as a gamemaster when you have one or two PCs sidelined and waiting? You could have them take over NPC’s… or you could introduce them to Purgatory Poker.
Here’s the hook:
Waiting in the afterlife is a time-honored tradition. You die. Then you get to the afterlife, you sit around in a waiting room (or a really long line) behind the countless other people who’ve come before you. You aren’t fully dead and passed unto the afterlife yet. And your God surely hasn’t sent a cleric down to resurrect you. So, you have some time to kill. So do the other six billion other beings in front of you. Enter the game of Purgatory Poker. If you win, you get to cut your way in line to the next person until you eventually reach the God of Death, a.k.a. your gamemaster. Here’s how to run it.
Purgatory Poker for RPG Characters Who Are Dead
Purgatory Poker is a quick card game you as a storyteller can play with the recently deceased. Slap a stack of cards down on the table near the player along and pause the combat. Describe the horrible soul-rending journey a mind undergoes as it leaves behind the mortal coil, tumbling down into eternal oblivion (with appropriate music). Once they’ve arrived at their destination there will be a massive line trailing out of the gates. The line is a few hundred years long. Your players may be curious about this line, or this newly discovered between-world and may already have questions. Usher their characters into the world. Then, they will meet a flamboyant and exciting necromancer by the name of Vincent who happily thrusts some cards into their hands.
Resume the combat the rest of the table is involved in. When they finish a turn, zoom back in the dead members of the party. Vincent will explain that with over 100 years to wait before processing, they’ve invented a gamble to pass the time. Winning lets you cut in front and losing means you can’t challenge the person directly in front of you a second time. You’ll need a new dead person to beat you and the next one in front of you (after taking your spot of course). With absolutely nothing else to do, it shouldn’t be hard to convince your players to play Blackjack against you while the rest take their turn.
The cards are rigged, of course. The very first hand played, Vincent openly pulls the card the PC needs to win from the deck and just gives it to him. So Vincent loses. As does the next person and then as does the next person.
In between each, have some fun with the dead player’s encounter. Maybe some of them were put there by the PCs themselves. Everyone the player encounters is eager to cheat to lose and let the players cut ahead of them. Because of the rules for Purgatory Poker, this means that in turn, they could all finally challenge the one they’ve been stuck behind (or so they say).
The game is eternal with a massive stretching line. At the very end, souls just fall off a massive cliff into the River Styx and stay there for eternity. Nobody in Purgatory Poker wants this. All of them are just biding their time in hopes a resurrection spell comes along. Hopefully, your party members’ friends achieve that part before it’s too late!
Originally published on September 9, 2019.
Rick Heinz is the author of The Seventh Age Series, Dread Adventures, and a storyteller with a focus on D&D For Kids, Wraith: The Oblivion, Ravnica, and an overdose of LARPs. You can follow the game or urban fantasy related thingies on Twitter or Facebook or reach out for writing at RickHeinzWrites@gmail.com