Official Rules For Deathhack

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Now, you might wonder why in the world this is posted on this blog. It’d be fair to wonder at such a thing. Deathhack is worthy of wonder. This game means more to me than I can express with any degree of brevity, which is why I’ve written about it elsewhere. Simply know that this game deserves to be well-known and demands to be played correctly (most importantly, without self-serves).

Read, share, and enjoy.



Version 1.2.0


  1. Additional clarification on team play
  2. “Optional rules for kills” section added
  3. “Rona” rules added to allow for social distancing
  4. Updates to deathhack etiquette, including description of “the List”


Set Up:

All players (three or more) gather in a circle with the designated deathhack ball. Ideal balls used for deathhack are volleyballs, although traditional kickballs are also acceptable and soccer balls, while heavy and very painful, get the job done. Under no circumstances should a basketball ever be used. It is suggested that deathhack is played on a wide open, flat surface to decrease time wasted in ball recovery.


The goal of deathhack is to obtain possession of the deathhack ball and eliminate other players through ‘kills,’ in attempt to be the last one or two players standing or to earn the agreed upon number of points.


The game starts when the player holding the deathhack ball serves the ball to another player. While it is customary for the server to declare “This is deathhack,” upon serving the ball, it is by no means necessary. *SELF SERVES ARE NOT ALLOWED* This serve ought to be gentle, underhand, and directly to one other player. Serving next to oneself is not encouraged when playing with more than six people. Before serving, the player with the ball must ensure the group is in a shape at least resembling a circle. Adjust the space between players as needed. Under no circumstances should the ball be served from outside the circle.

Once served, the ball is considered ‘live’, or in play. The ball remains in this state until it hits the ground or is hit illegitimately. For rules on legitimate or illegitimate hits, look to soccer rules. Generally, any body part excluding hands or arms below t-shirt sleeve line are considered legitimate areas to receive a live ball. As long as the ball does not hit the ground, it is still live. This means that if a ball bounces of a wall, hits a person who is not playing the game, gets caught in a bush or tree, or other such scenarios, it is still playable. Such surfaces are considered “inert”—they do not progress play, but they do not end play either.

The goal of the players is to legitimately hit the ball to one another three consecutive times, in attempt to gain possession of the ball. In order for the ball to be free for possession, the ball must change hands at least three times. Consider Players A, B, and C. A ball would be free to possess if players hit it in the order A, B, A, or A, B, C. While the ball can change hands more than three times, and be hit by more than three players, the minimum number of players needed to lead to possession is two. Any player may hit the ball to themselves as many times as they want; however, this does not count as a changing of hands (example: A, A, A, B, B only counts as two changing of hands). After hitting the ball once and initiating a change of hands, that player who continues to hit the ball to him/herself is considered an inert surface.

Remember, while this portion of gameplay is referred to as changing of hands, hands are not allowed to be used until possession is possible. A successful serve which is properly received by another player counts as the first changing of hands. It is customary to count aloud each time a changing of hands occurs. SELF SERVES ARE NOT ALLOWED. If a player self serves, their hit does not count as a changing of hands. The play is dead and the ball must be served correctly.

Once possession is possible, after three changing of hands, players must fight each other to get the ball. Possession is defined as one player having control over the ball. After possession is gained, deathhack operates by similar rules to tournament dodgeball. The player who gains possession of the deathhack ball then tries to ‘kill’ other players. A kill is executed by throwing the ball and hitting another player. While other players are allowed to run, the player with possession of the ball must not move his/her feet more than a pivot. Jumping is acceptable, but only to throw the ball. In this way, having possession of the deathhack ball is similar to having possession of a basketball after dribbling.

What is considered a Kill:

— If a player ‘A’ with possession throws the ball and misses any other player, no one is out.

— If a player ‘A’ with possession throws the ball and hits another player, the hit player is out.

— If a player ‘A’ with possession throws a ball at another player ‘B’, and the target ‘B’ catches the ball, the thrower ‘A’ is out and the ball is still live. Note: The target ‘B’ that caught the ball is in a position to execute an ‘overkill.’ And overkill is executed by the player ‘B’ that caught the ball throwing the ball and hitting the initial player ‘A’. See “Playing With/Without Outs” to see implications of an executed overkill.

— If a player ‘B’ is in position to and attempts to execute an overkill, and the initial player ‘A’ catches the ball, player ‘B’ is now out and player ‘A’ again has possession; play continues. This scenario is only possible when playing either for points or with multiple lives. See “Playing With/Without Outs” to see implications of an executed overkill.

— If the player ‘A’ with possession throws the ball and hits two or more players by ricochet without having the ball hit the ground, all the hit players are out.

— If the player ‘A’ with possession throws the ball and hits another player ‘B’, but the hit player ‘B’ catches the ball before it hits the ground or any other player,  player ‘B’ is still in, the thrower ‘A’ is out, and the ball is still live.

— If the player ‘A’ with possession throws the ball, hits one or more players, and another player ‘D’ catches the ball by ricochet before it hits the ground, the thrower ‘A’ is out along with all players hit before the ball was caught, and the ball is still live.

— If the player ‘A’ with possession throws the ball at another player ‘B’, and the ball hits the thrower ‘A’ by ricochet, the player ‘B’ is out and the thrower ‘A’ is still in (no self-ricochets).

— If the player ‘A’ with possession throws the ball at another player ‘B’, the ball hits player ‘B’, and the thrower ‘A’ catches the ball again, the hit player ‘B’ is out, the thrower ‘A’ is still in, and the ball is still live.

— If the player ‘A’ with possession throws the ball at another player ‘B’, the ball flies up into the air, and other players run in trying to catch the ball with multiple people touching it before one player has possession, whoever catches the ball is still in and all other players who have touched the ball are out with the original thrower ‘A’. In this scenario, all players that got out before the catch are counted as player ‘A’s kills, and the player that caught the ball in the end executed the one kill on player ‘A’.

Optional rules for kills:

— Some circles choose to say that any player who loses possession without scoring a kill is out. Though this in theory makes games faster, in practice it discourages aggressive play and often results in most players avoiding possession altogether.

— When playing with teams, some circles choose to nullify friendly-fire kills. This means that players on the same team cannot get their teammates out by any means, including ricochet kills or catching their teammates’ thrown ball. This rule allows for insane team plays where teammates pass each other a live ball to have better angles on opponents.

— When playing with teams, an additional rule can be added to allow for players to save their teammates by catching ricochets off of members of their own team. This redefines the ricochet rule to the following: If the player ‘A’ with possession throws the ball, hits one or more players on the opposing team, and another opposing player ‘D’ catches the ball by ricochet before it hits the ground, the thrower ‘A’ is out, all of player ‘D’s teammates who were hit by ‘A’ are back in, and the ball is still live. This allows for insane plays where players attempt to bounce balls thrown at them high into the air so a teammate might save the player. Note: according to this rule, if a player “A” hits one or more opposing players and then the ball is caught by anyone on player “A”s team, all hit opposing players are out, those kills count to player “A” and the ball is still live.

Defining Possession:

Possession is a somewhat subjective status in deathhack. Generally, a player is considered to have possession of the ball when he/she has enough control over the ball to intentionally throw the ball at a target. Sole possession of the ball is necessary to execute a ‘kill’. This means that if any other player has a hand on the ball while one tries to throw the ball, the ball’s possession was not secure and cannot get anyone out.

Again, if two players’ hands are in contact with the ball while it is being thrown, the ball is still live and without possession. This means that the ball should be treated no differently than directly after it has changed hands three times.

Two hands are not required for a player to gain possession of a ball. A player may fully catch and have control of the ball by catching it with one hand, or in between their legs, or in their shirt. If a player catches a ball with one hand and promptly throws the ball for a ‘kill’, any opposing player who gets hit is out. However, a player is not allowed to simply smack the deathhack ball like a volleyball spike. A player must have indisputable control over the ball and a throw must be executed to get anyone out.

Rules of Engagement for Fighting for Possession:

For possession to be in question, two or more players must be in contact with the ball. If the ball’s possession is in question a kill cannot be executed. If a player has clear possession of the ball, other players may interact with that player in different ways.

What players without possession can do:

— run from the player with possession

— dodge a thrown ball

— attempt to catch a thrown ball

— taunt the player with possession

— use other players as shields

— push other players away from oneself

— smack the ball from the player’s hands, making the player lose possession

— strip the ball from the player’s hands, which changes possession and continues the play (a player from whom the ball has been stripped is not out yet; a kill must be executed)

— tackle or wrestle the player with possession to force a dead ball by contact* (If a player forces the player with possession to the ground and the ball touches the ground at all, the ball is dead and the play is over)

* if a player makes clear that they do not want to be or cannot be tackled for a legitimate reason, that decision must be respected

What players without possession cannot do:

— punch, kick, scratch, bite, choke, pull hair, throw elbows, or commit any other unnecessarily violent act on the player with possession

— if clarified before play commences, the circle can choose to play by “Rona” rules, which forbids any kind of grappling for the ball; deathhack by “Rona” rules is essentially a no-contact sport insofar as that is possible

Playing With/Without Outs:

When playing deathhack, there are several ways to handle outs. The first way is to ignore any outs, and continue playing with everyone still able to play. This is typically referred to as ‘playing for fun,’ or more aptly named, ‘slaughter rules’ since there is no stop to the killing.

Next, players could play on a life system. This is the typical way deathhack is played. All players start the game with a predetermined number of lives. Most games start with everyone at one life, though the circle can decide to start with as many lives as the players see fit. When playing for lives, there is no way to regain lost lives. When all of a player’s lives are extinguished, that player is out.

In the event a deathhack circle decides to play with lives, or “for outs”, the possibility arises to win the game. The “final round” of deathhack begins when only three players remain. A player wins deathhack when he/she is either the last player standing or the last of two players to remain. Playing with only two people provides an unfair advantage for the player who does not serve the ball; they must be the player to receive the third changing-of-hands and can set themselves up for easy possession and a quick kill. Therefore, if only two players remain standing at the end, both earn a win. If a single player manages to eliminate all other players and remains the last player alive, that player’s win is called a “triumph.”

When playing with outs, there are certain ways to deal with players that have been removed from the circle. If two deathhack balls are present, one possibility is the establishment of a losers’ circle that plays for points or simply with slaughter rules. Another option is to let eliminated players rejoin the game after the circle fails to execute a ‘kill’ after a certain number of turns (typically five). This method forces the circle to play carefully and execute kills regularly to have winners. Finally, the entire circle can decide before a new game is started that any eliminated player cannot rejoin at any point.

One final way for eliminated players to rejoin the circle is the rule of ‘joinsies’ (also spelled ‘joinzees’). If an eliminated player manages to bring a new player into the game, all eliminated players are allowed to rejoin the game with the newcomer. Joinsies are always in play unless otherwise verbally agreed upon by the circle by saying “no joinsies”. Joinsies do not apply to game in which the circle has agreed to not let anyone join after they are out. Games that prohibit joinsies are referred to as ‘closed circle’.

Any game of deathhack that includes outs and does not provide any way for killed player to return to the game is referred to as a ‘locked’ game. In some games that allow killed players to return to the game, the entire circle can agree to ‘locked finals’. This means that in the event a deathhack game reaches its final round (contains only three players), no players are allowed to return to the game. The circle can also decide to lock games when the circle has been reduced to other sizes—like five or seven players—but this is not encouraged.

Another way to play deathhack is by using a point system. When playing for points, the circle agrees upon a necessary number of points one must reach to win. Each time a player executes a kill, that player receives a point. Each time a player is killed, they lose a point. All players start at 0 points. No player can drop beneath 0 points. Players can gain and/or lose multiple points in one round. Playing for points is more appropriate if the circle wants to have one clear winner. Playing for points has the additional benefit of never eliminating any players, to the circle size does not have to shrink.

When playing with multiple lives or for points, overkills can be compounded; in other words, a player can be overkilled multiple times. For example, if Player A gains possession of the ball, throws the ball at Player B, Player B catches the ball, throws the ball back at Player A, the ball bounces off Player A, Player B catches the ball again, and then hits Player A again with the ball bouncing away and hitting the ground, Player A would be killed three times. A player can take off as many lives as possible through ricochets. Remember, when playing for points, each executed kill earns a player points. Overkills can be a quick way to stack points or steal lives.

Deathhack Etiquette:

When playing deathhack, there are many examples of proper etiquette. While not rules, they still deserve recognition and should be followed when possible.

Typically, it is bad etiquette to hit the player that ‘sets you up’ (i.e., the player to change the hand before the possession). When going for a kill, listen to the player’s pleas that they set you up and kill someone else.

When someone declares “Tommy rules,” males establish a pact with one another to eliminate all females before turning on each other. In retaliation, girls created “Tina rules,” which turn all female players against males. High school boys particularly love this style of play.

Always aim for Nico.

It is customary for players to establish their own “List” over the course of the game. “The List” is an individual player’s hit-list of opponents they’re determined to get out. Players can be placed on one’s “List” for any reason, though most often it is in response to repeated disregard for proper deathhack etiquette. When a player is added to one’s List, it is customary to inform the player by saying “You’re on the List.” If one chooses, he/she can use a warning of “If you [x], I’m going to put you on the List” in an attempt to dissuade continued undesirable behavior. One removes an opponent’s name from the List when one properly executes a kill against the player. Nico is always on the List.

Headshots are not only allowed; they are encouraged (unless specifically requested by individual players who do not want their head to be targeted)

Injuries are an integral part of deathhack. When they occur, do not react negatively to the player who inflicted the injury. Though it is tradition to never apologize in deathhack, there are certainly times when apologies are appropriate.

It is completely inappropriate, unnecessary, and interruptive to throw the ball at other players when the ball has not changed hands three times. Players that throw the ball out of spite or immaturity are subject to be placed on ‘the list.’

If, by inaccuracy, stupidity, or general tomfoolery, a player knocks the ball a great distance from the circle, that player is responsible for retrieving the ball. If the ball somehow manages to escape from the circle due to no player’s fault in particular, it is customary that the closest player retrieves the ball. Yelling for help from passersby is also appropriate. Be as obnoxious as possible.

Never attempt to kick the ball back to the circle, even if you’re a soccer player. Deathhack is played with a volleyball and you will not kick it accurately. Kicking the ball only delays the game.

Come out of every game better friends than you were when you started.

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