Death in MUDs
Death, one of the most feared aspects of any game, or is it? It seems more and more the trend in MUDs is towards a lenient death, so players can continuously die in an attempt to slay that legendary beast, or retrieve some fabled treasure. I would contend that this is doing a great disservice to players and in the following, hopefully explain why.
Heroes have always been a central point in most all games and works of literature. But what makes a hero? In a recent poll most people asserted that a hero is one that risked his/her life, with no covetous intentions, for the advancement of the world or others. In my opinion Huma from the Dragonlance series would be the best example of a fictional hero. Although this is certainly not an all encompassing answer, it will acutely serve the purpose in which I intend it.
My question is this, how can someone become forever remembered in a world's annals if they can never really risk something? People don't look at you in quite the same light after slaying the Dragon when you had been attempting so the entire past week. And they shouldn't, who really cares if you mastered a strategy to defeat a few lines of code?
On the other side of the spectrum we have something called permadeath. This setup is far from perfect, as it makes many things completely unreasonable. You have to be extremely careful with PvP, and quite frankly it adds a negative feel to combat. I view the absence of permadeath as something like a play, where soliloquies and other unrealistic events happen and the audience is simply supposed to accept it.
So you may wonder exactly how I would handle this situation. Right now, I have only the preliminary ideas figured out, which are being designed for my new MUD Saereth(tm) (www.saereth.com). When setting out to create this death system I realize two things are needed. One, it needs to generate fear and make certain deaths are kept to a minimal level (no continuously attacking a creature, death after death). And two, it needs to be lax enough so that players do not lose all of their work when dying. I realize that there are systems out there that fulfill this, but I am looking for more.
One of the unique parts of Saereth is that we are a fantasy world, but will have no Gods. This, in terms of roleplay perspective, puts an interesting twist upon death within the game. The way I believe I will handle this is by using the NPC that first helps a player when they begin anew in the world. When a player dies, they will be moved to where the NPC currently is (we intend to have NPCs travel as well), where they are informed that they are very lucky, and only because the NPC (who will most likely be a mage or monk, or I may create quite a few, and randomize them for different characters) was watching their soul, and that they still have great things to do in their life, so they were spared. They would then be taken to the closest settlement. Now, they lose all experience towards the next level, and any physical possessions they were carrying.
Now, here is where I intend to add in the stipulations. In the next twenty minutes if a player is killed outside the area city they are returned to, or from an attack in which they initiate, they die permanently. I'm thinking about allowing characters to somehow gain back their equipment, perhaps losing exactly one level of experience or a chunk of skill proficiency. Another thing is that in kingdom (read staff) sanctioned duels, the loser dies permanently. This will allow players to work out major disputes, and both would be in acceptance of these terms before entering into such an important event. The "danger zone" of when you can permanently die would be easily changeable, and during major wars would go up, etc. I conclude that this "danger zone" where you can permanently die represents the time it takes the soul to secure itself back into the world. Roleplay can then be woven about this so that it is logically represented.
I realize that the above has a multitude of holes and factual problems that can be derived from it, however it is a solid mix between permadeath and infinite leniency in my opinion. While it does not allow for true heroes to be crowned, it does indeed leave some room for it. And for the conservative/intelligent player, permadeath will not be a problem because they will wait out their time, most likely using it to regain energy and buying new equipment for themselves at higher levels. Also take note that many of the details of this system cannot be released due to the lucrative nature of the game market these days. Lastly, as we are a MUD being completed from scratch it is quite possible that the above system will not be in place when we open. It is simply the best we have come up with so far. I look forward to writing about other systems for Saereth that are currently being designed.
Don Powell has been MUDding for seven years and is a veteran to roleplay in general. Over the past year he has become more interested in the developing side of MUDs versus just playing them. After staffing on a few MUDs he decided to begin a new MUD himself. Although literate in several programming languages, he is currently expanding his repertoire so as to be better equipped for this project. He hopes that Saereth will one day be a land that will not be forgotten. You can contact him personally with questions, comments, or criticism at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can learn more about his current undertaking by visiting www.saereth.com.