Past Lives: The Gift that Keeps on Giving…

Continuing in the vein of James Introcaso’s RPG Blog Carnival topic for this month – “Homebrew Holiday Gifts” – I had another weird thought. (It happens a lot, I assure you.)

rebirthPast lives. It’s not one of those topics I see brought up much in RPGs, but one I think has an insane number of possibilities for your campaigns. Imagine if you will some of the philosophies and religions we explore in our gaming. Reincarnation comes up in many places in our own world including Hinduism and Buddhism, but they are not alone. Apparently the druids of old (in the British Isles) also believed in the indestructible nature of the human soul passing from one body to the next.

We even see it today in the story of Hawkman and Hawkgirl in the latest DC Comics TV universe. Reincarnated souls fighting a battle over and over through the ages. A love story as well a battle between good and evil. Similar stories appear in Norse mythology as well in the Edda.

So why not use a similar technique in our gaming to help tell stories that tie our PCs more closely to the worlds they inhabit?

Here are a few ideas on that front…

hawkman-hawkgirlDrop an item, image, story or location into your current adventure that one of the PCs just can’t shake. It might have had little to do with the adventure they just finished, but when it’s done that PC has dreams or flashes of memory of strange places that incorporate the motif of your earlier hook. Perhaps a symbol on the hilt of a sword ties back to an empire a thousand years ago and a rumored treasure trove lost to the ages. Or a holy artifact the PC has never seen causes flashbacks of a historic figure in their religion hinting that an ancient evil has reawakened. Maybe an astronomical event (comet, supernova, alignment of planets/moons) triggers a flood of memories of a war with a mythological race that only exists in those conditions and tries to take over the world to make it theirs…

Or maybe make it less about events or items and more about groups of people brought together for some reason. Bands of Brothers who somehow know they can trust one another and come together to locate a lost member they didn’t know previously. People haunted by strange visions from a past they don’t remember who come together to find the truth of their existence (alien abductees, government experiments, magical mishaps).

Even creepier, perhaps a PC was possessed by some magical, spiritual, or alien being and had no memory of that time. Maybe the PC comes to a part of the world he’s never been to before only to discover that he WAS here before and did despicable things. That might be better for an NPC of the group than a PC though…

You don’t have to beat your players over the head with any of these ideas. Subtle clues. Breadcrumbs. Hints. Anything you can muddy the water with to get them thinking about different connections to historical events.

Here are a couple of tables to help you tie these ideas together…

Sensory Trigger (d6)

  1. Sight
  2. Hearing
  3. Smell
  4. Touch
  5. Taste
  6. Re-roll

Triggering Idea, Item, or Event (d10)

  1. Painting
  2. Icon/symbol
  3. Sculpture
  4. Weapon
  5. Artifact
  6. Astronomical event
  7. Ceremony
  8. Food
  9. Location
  10. Individual


  • Hearing/Astronomical event – While in the wilderness a PC hears an enormous explosion as a meteor hits the ground. Though this is an isolated event and one that’s never happened to the PC before, he catches a glimpse of a similar event through someone else’s eyes. He sees himself rushing towards the impact site only to find something crawling from inside whatever is at its center…
  • nailbmb_map_symbols_mountain_clip_artTouch/Weapon – The party survives a particularly gruesome battle and is surveying the damage when one of the PCs drops to his knees clutching a wound in his side. A weapon wielded by their enemies cut deep, nicking ribs in the process. He scrambles to find the weapon and pulls an old curved blade from a corpse’s dead hands. He instantly recognizes it as one of the swords of an ancient warrior tribe thought long extinct. He’s never heard of them, yet knows their name… The Garappa. And if there is one weapon, there must be more…
  • Smell/Individual – As the party lands in a foreign land one of the PCs is assaulted by a particular scent of perfume. She knows it but can’t place it. And she is led by the scent to the shop of an old man selling a variety of scents and spices. He tells a story of other women over the preceding years who followed that scent to his shop and onward to find a lost temple in the jungle as if they were drawn there…
  • Sight/Location – The party is going through the loot from their most recent adventure when they come across a book decorated with an image of a mountain none of them have seen before… except for one PC. She has been at the summit of that mountain in her dreams and found the entrance to a dragon’s tomb…

Some things to think about anyway. Dreams, past lives, forgotten possessions… All sorts of ideas to play with!

What else can you come up with? Leave it in the comments!

Share this post

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.