The Man They Couldn't Hang
rating: 0+x

Basic Information

The Man They Couldn't Hang is a fairly rare Characterization Trope. It's mostly applied to Western Characters, and typically only once per setting.

This character has a scarred or deformed neck as a result of a failed hanging. This may just indicate that he is a real hard case and too tough to kill easily, or it may be used to show what a bad life he has led and to explain his hatred of the world.

This has happened to at least a few people in the real world. See Roy Bean and Margaret Dickson.

Obviously, this works better with short drop hanging, where there is a possibility of a rushed execution leading to someone being cut down whilst still alive. Surviving a long drop hanging would be another matter altogether. Repeated malfunctions of the gallows are always a possibility1.

There is a rumour - which probably varies in accuracy from place to place - that anyone who survives being hanged, or who survives a set number of attempts to hang him, is pardoned. This would probably be more of a medieval thing, where divine intervention might be suspected.

In more modern settings, this can be updated to The Man They Couldn't Fry. Many of the early criminals sentenced to the electric chair survived the process and had to be electrocuted repeatedly before they died.



Game and Story Use

  • Great way to demonstrate that a villain is a real Bad Ass.
    • Or that his loyal Henchmen cut him down / rescued him.
  • Flavorful back story for an anti-hero PC. Of course, there's all sorts of social stigma that goes with it.
  • The Atoner may have taken a failed hanging as divine intervention and decided to mend his ways.
  • Other villains - such as Obadiah Hakeswill (from Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe novels), may also adopt the idea of divine intervention but with a very different angle.
  • Transplanted to the fantasy genre or superhero genre, this might be a clue to a character's regeneration or other powers.
    • The Man They Couldn't Hang might turn out to be some sort of undead.
    • A revenant might be appropriate for a High Plains Drifter sort of theme.
    • Might also be a good background for something similar to Garth Ennis's Saint of Killers.
  • The Jaegermonsters from Girl Genius also appear to be resistant to hanging, although no explanation is actually given, other than that they are supernaturally tough.
  • The undead may inject a certain level of ambiguity into this.
  • More generally, anything that doesn't breath and circulate blood2 is likely to immune to short-drop hanging, and anything with an unbreakable (and undislocatable) spine (or the ability to recover from a broken and wrenched neck) should be immune to the long drop, up until the point of its head coming off. Unless that also isn't a problem…
  • The ability to feign death successfully could well lead to someone being cut down whilst still alive … especially if the gallows are busy that day.

Building This Character

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License