Home Guest Article The Dead Ringer: an exhaustive experiment in testing

In December, ParanoidDrone contacted me about a project on which he was working. This project set out to test the boundaries and operating conditions of the Spy’s Dead Ringer watch in exhausting detail. While I could sit here and make excuses for putting off posting it for so long, I’d rather take a step toward mending my ways by making it available today. My gratitude and apologies to ParanoidDrone for this great article and its repeated delay.


Close enough.

The Dead Ringer is possibly the most controversial of the Spy‘s unlocks.  The reason is fairly simple: after years of learning that Spies are supposed to be invisible, stealthy creatures that are as good as dead if caught, the Dead Ringer turned the established paradigm on its head in more ways than one.

Suddenly, a visible Spy was no longer a dead Spy.  A dead Spy was an invincible phantom, planning to inflict unspeakable horrors on you and everything you hold dear.  And people raged. This ignores the unique difficulties that a Spy must overcome if he is to use the Dead Ringer effectively, such as the inability to cloak at will and the rather distinctive sound made whenever he decloaks.  But the core of the issue was that people were simply not used to the fact that a Spy could survive literally anything you threw at him.*

That is not the subject of this dissertation. Instead, this article features a comprehensive list of in-game effects and how they interact with the Dead Ringer’s feign death mechanic…

In theory, the Dead Ringer is supposed to perfectly mimic every aspect of a Spy’s death, except for the annoying death aspect.  And for the most part, it does an admirable job of it, except when it doesn’t.  I’m sure that cartwheels feature in some list of “Top 10 Funniest Displays of Ragdoll Physics,” but they hardly make for a convincing death, especially when triggered by a pistol shot from across the map.**  But with the veritable menagerie of weapons available and the myriad effects they can inflict, it stands to reason that at least a few of them act up when used to trigger a feigned death.

Status effects and the jerks who inflict them

  • Jarate will ruin the Dead Ringer’s cloak whether it’s thrown before or after you feign death.†
    • This applies to both Jarate itself and the Sydney Sleeper’s effect.
  • Mad Milk will also show through regardless of when it was used, but it does not cause your cloak to shimmer.
  • The Sandman continues to be annoying by leaving the “BONK!” effect visible over your head as you try vainly to flee, but thankfully it fades after a short time, leaving you free to run somewhere else.
  • Afterburn and bleed both vanish when you feign death, but the Dead Ringer offers no protection against being set on fire or bleeding after it’s used.
    • This is why using the Dead Ringer when you’re on fire will extinguish you, but trying to feign death to a flamethrower tends to end in disaster.
    • It’s worth noting that the removal of afterburn and bleed extends to the initial hit that triggered the Dead Ringer in the first place, which means that feigning death to the Flare Gun, Southern Hospitality, and Tribalman’s Shiv is still plausible.††

Triggered by an extremely timely demise

From here on out, it is more efficient to list the items that act properly when used against a Dead Ringer than the ones that don’t.‡

  • The Eyelander, and by extension its taunt kill, both give the Demoman a head when a Spy feigns death.
    • This is approximately the only weapon with an on-kill effect that properly manifests when the Spy is not really dead.
  • The Holy Mackerel does not show a “FISH KILL!” message when applying the haddock directly to the forehead.
  • The Powerjack does not give the Pyro +75 HP.
  • The Killing Gloves of Boxing do not grant a 5 second critboost.
  • Sentry Guns do not increment their kill counters, even if they’re Wrangled.
  • A backstab from Your Eternal Reward does not give the Spy a disguise.

Hit me with your best shot; fire away

Beyond the weapons that grant effects specifically when used to kill, there are weapons that have special effects when they hit a target, even if the target doesn’t actually die.  Such weapons occupy a unique space in TF2 gameplay, as their effect does not take place when they hit a disguised Spy.  Examples of these weapons include the Black Box (+15 HP), the Ubersaw (+25% Ubercharge), and L’Etranger (+15% Cloak).  As a rule, when these weapons are used to trigger the Dead Ringer, their effects will not occur if the Spy is disguised. If the Spy is undisguised, the effects occur as normal, and continue to occur if you hit the Spy after he has feigned death, assuming he has not redisguised yet.

Other facts espionage agents may find of interest

In addition to these findings, I have discovered a series of anomalies associated with the appearance of a Spy’s disguise. Some of these effects are related to the Dead Ringer; others are assumed to be native to the Spy’s disguise kit.

  • If a Spy disguises as a player wearing a hat, his disguise will properly mimic the hat.  However, this only applies if the player is actually of the class the Spy disguised as.  In the event a Spy disguises as a class that the enemy team does not have, he will not appear to wear a hat if the player is not currently wearing one.  This is presumably due to how the disguise system samples the disguise target’s loadout.
  • A Spy disguised as a Demoman with a nonzero number of heads will not have a glowing eye.
  • A Spy disguised as a slower class with some means of increasing their speed (GRU, Eyelander, etc.) will continue to walk at the class’s default speed.

A most eloquent and concise summary

To conclude this dissertation, I present a concise list of my findings:

  • The Dead Ringer will remove afterburn and bleed, but not Jarate or Mad Milk.
  • When used to feign death to a weapon that inflicts a status effect, the Dead Ringer will simultaneously remove the effect if it can.
  • This does not protect against being inflicted with the effect again if hit after feigning death.
  • Except for the Eyelander, no weapon with an on kill effect will demonstrate said effect when used to trigger the Dead Ringer.
  • On hit effects that care about the Spy’s disguise will not manifest if the Spy is disguised when he feigns death.

*Except sawblades and the Horseless Headless Horsemann.
**Or headshots.
†The ingame tip lies, just like the Scout’s mom does.
††Just don’t get hit a second time.
‡Despite this, I list the ones that don’t work anyway.  What is wrong with me?

11 replies to this post
  1. Pfft no one uses the DR to actually “fool” people. Sure, it is a valid tactic in some situations, but it’s mostly an escape mechanic. It lets you do stupid shit and get away with it.

    I agree – spies are no longer treated the same way they used to be. I feel the DR is a homage to the spy stealth in TFC. You would basically turn into a corpse, and you can lie there in wait for an unsuspecting victim to waltz by. I guess that’s also where the CnD originated from.

    • This is separate from my other response because I herp derped and didn’t read it first.

      I agree Spies are treated much differently now, but the TF2 playerbase as a whole is also a lot more Spy savvy. You can only get backstabbed so many times before you start to figure out the tricks used to do so.

      As far as the watches go, I believe that they were specifically designed to fill niches where the vanilla watch faltered. The DR excels as an escape tool and the C&D is tailor made for patient camping. Both get misused somewhat by new Spies, but I don’t think any class is exempt from this.

      I think there was supposed to be a point I was trying to make, but I completely lost it.

      • I’ve been using the CnD with the Conniver’s Kunai lately, and I must say it’s not as boring as you’d think. Use it as a regular IW with a slightly louder decloak, a shorter ‘range’, and no ability to recharge through picking up ammo.

        After executing a proper escape, you can actually stalk your opponent constantly until he’s vulnerable. Say you spot a heavy/medic pair, and the heavy is one paranoid mofo – you can just follow them until he gets distracted by your teammates, then you strike them both.

        Granted, this is probably also possible with the IW, but it’s still a ‘less-boring’ method of use.

        So no. The C&D is not only for patient camping.

      • I never said that was its only use, merely that its stats enable it to excel at that particular area. I use all 3, although I’ll admit I use the C&D the least because I don’t like how I start acting with it equipped.

  2. And now with the Conniver’s Kunai and the Half-Zatoichi, there are even more weapons that may or may not work properly against fake deaths. I need to find a willing test participant.

    Many thanks to Wing for posting this, complete with my footnotes.

  3. Yes, this new Shogun update left me with some questions, but namely with the Fan-O-War. Does the mini-crit effect, along with the skull and crossbones image, persist after feigning death?

    • It figures a new batch of weapons was released the same week this was published, rendering it immediately out of date.

      I’ll need to do some testing once I get the relevant items, although I’ve heard secondhand that the Fan-O-War’s effect does not show through cloak.

      • I’m pretty sure also that if you “kill” a DR Spy with the half Zatoichi, it doesn’t count. I killed one, and although I was already at full health, I couldn’t re-sheathe my sword, so I knew it was a DR.

  4. The icon of the fan of war actually stays after you activate a spy’s DR. This is very bad and it got me killed numerous times – I eventually looked up and saw a big, glowing white skull over my head (FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF-)

    I hope that was not intentional – and if so, I hope valve doesn’t consider leaving it that way.

  5. Bout time someone made this!

    My brain is mushy at the moment, but I’ll try to think if there’s anything to add to the lists…this would make a nice link for the perpetual questions about DR mechanics.

    • Here’s one. I know this is kinda late to add but it is really important. If someone has the on-hit ding on, they won’t hear the ding that “kills” you. As far as I can tell, most people don’t know about this, but it’s a lot easier to locate DR’s with this. Especially the friendly disguise ones. As a spy player, I think they should patch this, but it’s not that big of a deal.

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