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Basic Information

Felo-de-se is a Latin term meaning "evildoer upon himself" or ''felon of himself", a crime roughly similar to suicide. Prior to 1870, however, it was a separate crime in England, and punished quite harshly.

If a child or insane person killed themselves, it was ruled a suicide, and not punished.

But if an otherwise sane person killed themselves, it was the felony felo-de-se. As punishment for this terrible crime, your estate would be taken away by the crown, and (prior to 1823) your body would be staked through the heart and buried at a crossroads.

The concept of felo-de-se is preserved to this day in some jurisdictions to give more latitude to state employees in reacting to the process - for example, allowing police to force entry to a location where a person has made a suicide attempt, or giving authorities authority to detain suicidal persons.



Game and Story Use

  • In or prior to the 19th Century, if the PCs are investigating a death that might be a murder or a suicide, the family of the deceased might lie to them. The NPCs may depict the dead as crazy, mention how oddly he'd been behaving, etc, in hopes of not losing any inheritance to the crown. Inconsistencies is such tales might function as a Red Herring to make the PCs think the family murdered the dead relative.
    • Or: Everything points to felo-de-se, but the Crown is pressuring the PCs to rule the death a suicide. Is there something in this person's estate that the Crown doesn't want?
  • As a characterization idea - you're a member of a previously rich family, but your father killed himself (or was murdered and it was made to look like felo-de-se) and all the family money was confiscated by the crown. Now you're angry at the royalty, and at your father. Or, perhaps you want to clear your father's name.
  • (Stolen from an S. J. Parris plot) A major sponsor of your expedition appears to have killed themselves - if you fail to clear his name his estate will be liquidated which would include his investment in your project…
  • Burial at a crossroads is intended to separate the deceased from the community. A body of a felo-de-se "criminal" may have been buried at a crossroads, and now the ghost can't find its way home (or to the underworld) and is forced to wander the earth. Such a lost ghost could be encountered far from where it lived, died or was interred.
  • A suitably cynical fantasy civilisation might force suicides into bondage as undead servitors - no, killing yourself does not get you out of your debts, now you get to work them off as a zombie, plus the cost of your embalming and re-animation. Look on the bright side, at least you don't suffer deductions for food and shelter anymore. What happens to your dependents is anyone's guess.
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