Relatives: The referee may allow players to designate one relative of his character to inherit his possessions if for any reason the participant unexpectedly disappears, with or without "death" being positively established, for a period of one game month, let us say. At this time the relative would inherit the estate of the character, paying a 10% tax on all goods and monies. The relative must start at the lowest level of the class he opts for, but he will have the advantage of the inheritance.It's an interesting passage for a couple of reasons, one of them being that it's a rare example of where any edition of D&D alludes to the existence of a civil society outside the dungeon or wilderness. The other, of course, is that it makes it quite clear that characters in OD&D will die. The inheritance rules are almost certainly intended to take a little bit of the sting out of such death.
If the character returns, he takes possession of his estate once more (referee's option as to willingness of the relative to give it up) but must pay an additional 10% tax in order to regain his own. Optionally the relative may be allowed to stay on as a non-player character in the service of the player-character. Loyalty of the relative in such a circumstance would be at a penalty of from 0 to -6, and he would possibly intrigue to regain control.
Characters without a relative will lose all their possessions should they disappear and not return before whatever period is designated as establishing death.
Equally interesting to me is that both Holmes and Moldvay include their own versions of the inheritance rule. Holmes says simply that "A character may designate a 'relative' who will inherit his wealth and possessions (after paying a 10% tax) on his death or disappearance." Moldvay adds some additional details:
If the DM wishes, a player may name an heir to inherit his or her worldly possessions upon the death of the character. The local authorities will, of course, take 10% in taxes before giving the inheritance to the heir. The heir must always be a newly rolled-up first level character. This "inheritance" should occur only once per player.There are a few significant tidbits there, starting with the explicit linkage between the tax and "local authorities." It's noted, too, that only newly-created characters can inherit wealth and goods, which in my opinion makes it even clearer that this is meant as a "consolation prize" for players whose characters die. Finally, the limit of once per player -- not character -- would imply either that Moldvay felt there ought to be limits placed on even consolation prizes or that a curb was needed to prevent enterprising players from abusing the rule to accumulate a lot of wealth.
Someone with better command of AD&D than I can correct me if I am mistaken, but I do not believe that there's an explicit inheritance rule in that version of the game. There is mention in the Players Handbook, in the "Establishing the Character" section, of "nam[ing] a next of kin as heir to the possessions of the character if he or she should meet an untimely death." At the same time, the official AD&D character sheets included a section for a character's last will and testament, so, even if the game had moved away from an explicit discussion of inheritance, such things were still very much a part of the "culture" surrounding the game. I am pretty sure that neither 2e nor the 1983 Basic Rules included inheritance rules and I believe the same is true of 3e. (Of the retro-clones, the only ones I am certain include inheritance rules are Labyrinth Lord and Mutant Future)
One can draw a lot of different conclusions from the slow disappearance of the inheritance rules in D&D, but I think the clear implication is that, as time went on, gaming culture had changed in such a way as to downplay the looming inevitability of character death. Inheritance rules were a reminder of "the bad old days" and so were banished to the outer darkness, never to be seen again.