Tuesday, July 20, 2010

NPC Gallery: The Funeral Director

You can pump him full of chemicals. You can put makeup on him. You can prop him up for a nap in the slumber room; but the fact remains, David, that the only father we're ever gonna have is gone! Forever …
- Nate Fisher, Six Feet Under 

I discovered Six Feet Under while enjoying some of the other works of Alan Ball, the series' creator.  I didn't find it a particularly engrossing series (far too slow for my tastes), but I found the subject matter, the running of a funeral home, fascinating.

I think people prefer not to think about death, and certainly not the fiddly details of what happens after death.  It's an unpleasant reality that happens, vaguely, at some point in the future, but in the meantime, we prefer to focus on less grim details of life.  Even so, many RPGs deal with death regularly.  Player characters die, player characters tend to slaughter NPCs in droves and, most importantly, death and its consequences are a major fixture of most horror games.  Funeral directors and undertakers feature in quite a few genres, like westerns, and I find it rather surprising that I've never seen one show up in a game.

A good funeral director understands death and he understands grief.  He eases the mourning for the family, helps them move on.  A wicked funeral director takes advantage of the families grief to strip them of their wealth and disrespects the dead.  While an evil, necromantic cemetery lord instantly springs to mind, imagine a horror game where a funeral director acts as a literal agent between death and life, listening to the concerns of ghosts and passing messages on to the living.  Or consider an undertaker working with vampires or against zombies, using his excellent knowledge of cadavers to help or hinder the undead.  Even in a more mundane game, he can represent death.  His presence can bring a grey pallor to the atmosphere or serve as an omen.  Conversely, a funeral director is a real person, rather than a symbol.  He may understand why people react to him the way they do, but that does not mean he doesn't still fall in love, need companionship, or grieve when those near him die.  By bringing a funeral director into a game, you can rivet the players' attention on the themes of death, and perhaps shape up some of their expectations.
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