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Bag o' Nifties: Tricks for GMs

Immortality Part Two - Fates Worse Than Death

by Dan Pond
October 4, 2001  

The Problem

Okay, so you've given your players access to immortality. Now you can't seem to put the fear of death in 'em. Like we didn't see this coming! When using non-lethal attacks and taking their loved ones hostage gets old, you'll have to dig a little deeper to keep your games tense and challenging. So, in Part Two of my hard-hitting immortality expose, we'll take a look at the dark underbelly of living forever: Immortality Countermeasures.

In general, there are two approaches to take when stickin' it to immortal characters. First, you can neutralize their immortality and render them mortal again. The second, and usually more entertaining, method is to exploit their immortality for torture, deceit, or other nefarious purposes. At least one example of both techniques is detailed for each of the body modifications presented in Part One.

Oh, and if you haven't read Part One yet, you really should. It's cool, I promise!

Solution 1: Liquid Flesh Countermeasures

The most obvious countermeasure for any rune magic is, "Vandalize the runes!" Liquid Flesh tattoos cover the entire body and are vulnerable to any form of damage they cannot "flow" around: fire, acid, ice, etc. Deface the runes and you're ready to shoot, slash, and bash! More sophisticated adversaries may attempt to alter the runes via nanites or magic, usually to strengthen the spell... and cause the target's flesh to flow right off their bones.

On the other hand, you can also make you enemy's immortality work against them. Liquid Flesh doesn't work on bone, for example, so you could pin someone down with a stake between their ulna and radius (the bones of the forearm). Technically, you can do this to anyone, but you can do it to someone with Liquid Flesh without killing them. And what self-respecting villain turns down a chance to torture a player character? There's also the possibility of attacking with a weapon that will cause the PC's flesh to splatter, then capturing it in a container or sucking up with a vacuum!

Solution 2: Regeneration Countermeasures

The best way to run down a regenerating character is to use wide-range, pervasive weapons rather than acute, focused ones. Good candidates include poison, acid, explosives, and the ever-popular meat grinder. The key is forcing the character's body to regenerate a lot of moss in a little time. The goal is to make them run out of tissue to cannibalize, neutralizing their regenerative abilities the same way armies are neutralized when their supply lines are cut. Using bullets or blades against a regenerating opponent is simply a waste of time.

Fighting fire with fire, it's also possible to exploit regenerating characters with biological weapons. The virulence of most diseases is kept in check by a simple fact: if they kill their host too quickly, they won't have any time to spread. Regenerating immortals have conveniently removed this barrier by refusing to die, but their supercharged immune systems kill plagues fast enough to prevent them from spreading epidemics. By exposing an immortal to a disease genetically modified to reproduce faster than a regen immune system can cure it, you can turn an unsuspecting immortal into a deadly Typhoid Mary... right before that big family reunion!

Solution 3: Undeath Countermeasures

You don't have to kill someone to disable them. Undead characters stay alive despite virtually any injury, but they still can't run if you chop off their legs. Even better, you could put each of those legs in a different box and bury them on opposite sides of the continent. Again, immortality offers a nigh-irresistable temptation for torturers. Sure, the PC can't die, but they can probably still feel pain. And when you don't have to worry about killing the subject, there's no reason to be gentle...

The magic needed to keep a complex organism animated is far from subtle. Such things are relatively easy to detect via divination and other scrying techniques. This can become a PC's Achilles heel; suddenly, his enemies know when he's coming and death squads can find him in even the most secure safe houses. If your game involves alternate realities, this may also limit a PC's freedom of movement; they cannot enter a world without sufficient magic to keep all their spells working.

The real weakness in Undeath is that, unlike most other modes of immortality, it replaces one's normal metabolic processes. A competent sorcerer can counterspell the web of magic that connects the immortal's soul to her body. Instead of simply making the character mortal, it makes them dead. The mechanism for breaking the Undeath spell can be just about anything, from an intricate ritual to a stake through the heart. Be creative.

Solution 4: Cybercell Countermeasures

Something often overlooked about medical nanites is that they must, by virtue of their need to coordinate, be computing networks. Like any other computer system, they can be hacked. This usually involves introducing a few new nanites to the host's body; these nanites are designed to mimic the host's cybercells, invade their network, and connect to a remote system. Once this link has been established, there's no end to the havoc a skilled hacker can wreak. (Treat these attacks as you would any hacking action.)

At the bare minimum, you can shut the cybercells down and render the host mortal again. A more gruesome option is to cause auto-immune disorders by reprogramming the cybercells to identify healthy cells as diseased. Virtually any bodily tissue can be targeted in this fashion, from muscle and bone to blood and nerves. It's a horrible way to die, but by turning it on and off as needed, it can also be a remarkably effective means of... persuasion.

More imaginatively, you could hack into a system of cybercells that have been upgraded to produce recreational drugs. The benefits of being able to pump an adversary's brain full of sedatives are obvious. Stimulants can make the host jumpy and paranoid at inconvenient times, like when she's trying to convince someone to believe in your massive, secret conspiracy. They can also deprive one of sleep, resulting in fatigue, irritability, and even hallucinations. Speaking of which, hallucinogens represent the ultimate prankster's bag o' tricks. With enough computing power, you can make a PC see, hear, feel, taste, or smell virtually anything!

A Note on Countermeasure Countermeasures

Depending on your setting, these tricks may be fairly well-known to the spellbinders, fleshworkers, and cyberdocs who hook immortals up with their body mods. If so, then your PCs may reasonably have countermeasures in place to foil them: spells that interfere with counterspells, security systems that prevent hacking, and so forth. Thwarting attempts to exploit immortality is usually more difficult, which is yet another reason to favor them over neutralization. In game terms these preventative measures should just impose a penalty of some kind on neutralization attempts.

Next Time: The psionicist's answer to body mods... Biofeedback!

All Worldz: A Game of Interdimensional Civilization by ImEG Games

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Bag o' Nifties by Dan Pond