Everquest Next Roundtable: Death Penalties

Posted by on November 12, 2013 - 1 Comment »

Death Penalties: I love them. The harsher, the better, so far as I’m concerned. I want a tough, challenging game, and death penalties are what encourage people to actually learn how to play their characters and the game. With greater risk comes greater reward, and death penalties are a key part of what entails risk in MMOs. In all the recent games I’ve played, death penalties have been such a joke that I always end up using death as a transportation system – and from my point of view, once you’re at that point, why even bother having them?

In this week’s EQN Round Table, Michael Mann discusses death penalties in EQN, and opens the door for feedback. Sadly, he’s put in provisos that deny my general want for what the penalties for dying should be, but it’s still an interesting question even so! I think I can ponder with his guidelines – the big one being a lack of character losing power – in mind.

First I’ll ponder the standard penalties; XP loss or debt, gear breakage, stat loss, and travel.

My personal favorite is XP loss. I’ll admit it – I miss the old days when leveling was actually an accomplishment. The first time I encountered XP debt was back in City of Heroes, where the dev team stated that they were using XP debt rather than loss so that everyone could level, even after death. Perhaps this is personal bias, but it seems like each subsequent “generation” of games since has gradually reduced the effect of death upon XP and increased the speed of XP gains to the point that I’m wondering why even have leveling at all? If the penalty is so light that one or two kills wipes it out, a la Everquest 2, then why bother having it? What does it accomplish? It doesn’t deter me at all, I barely even notice it.

From what I’ve read about Everquest Next, however, I doubt this will even be an issue as I don’t believe there will be leveling in the classical sense. I recall seeing something about leveling being things like warriors collecting full sets of armor, rather than tallying an arbitrary score. But I can’t recall exactly where I saw that, so unfortunately I can’t go into much detail on it, other than I recall it sounding interesting.

Michael Mann stated that they want to avoid the death spiral that comes from becoming weaker from death. So… I think stat loss being out goes without saying.

Gear Breakage – generally speaking, when considering the economy of a game, gear loss is necessary. When gear sits around forever, passed along from one character to the next, the economy is destroyed, massive inflation ensues, and only the rarest gear winds up with any value. In a game that’s all about building, you especially need to have gear loss, as new crafters need to have the means to participate in an economy as well as old experienced ones. In so many games, crafters simply can’t make a living until they hit max level, largely due to item overflow in the economy.  But that’s not what gear breakage upon death is about in most games – it can’t be, when you can just run to the repair NPC once you’ve revived and fix it all up for a fee. So what is it then? A cash sink? If we’re avoiding the loss of power, then we’re avoiding gear breakage, so if gear breakage is simply a cash sink, we could apply some sort of a cash loss upon death. Although that begs the question of what happens if you have no cash at the time…

The trickiest one of these to ponder for me is respawning. If you have a death respawn point, it oftens winds up being used to travel. Fight into a dungeon, fill your bags with loot, kill yourself, respawn outside the dungeon, run to the vendor and broker. That very much trivializes death – but not having a respawn results in zergs. The tank goes down! But he’s back instantly! Fight continues! I kind of like The Secret World’s take on this, actually – when you die, you zone into the spirit realm, and run as a ghost back to your body. I don’t think being a spirit is as fully utilized as it could be, but it’s still an interesting spin on the naked corpse run.

“Has anybody here seen my corpse?” is unfortunately a refrain that won’t likely be heard again. Farewell, naked corpse runs.

So.. on to the pondering! What can we do to death to make it sting, but not reduce character power?

… I like XP loss? :)

The first thing that comes to mind is some sort of fate or luck mechanic. Each death causes it to drop a certain amount, and it slowly refreshes over time (or perhaps raised via kills, harvest, or crafts). Without knowing the systems of Everquest Next, it’s difficult to brainstorm how a Fate mechanic might interact with the game, but I did come up with a few ideas. It could effect drops — the higher the score, the more coin or harvest materials you obtain. It could effect the way NPCs interact with you – perhaps some will only speak with players whose Fate score is over a certain level, or merchants might add a special “tax” to those who have touched death a few too many times. Monsters might more readily attack people with lower Fate scores, as they seem like “easy pickings” when compared to someone who has had fewer recent deaths.  I can’t recall which game it was where the NPCs would randomly make comments about nearby players and the feats they’ve accomplished, but wouldn’t it be funny if you could trigger NPC ridicule by dying? I’d probably laugh myself silly if I walked into town and an NPC pointed at me, laughed, and offered me walking lessons because he’d heard I’d fallen to my death from a nearby cliff.

Another interesting possibility might be the option of a stat debuff. When dying, you choose whether to return to the world immediately with a debuff of some kind, or to complete tasks for whichever god your character worships. I’ll be the first one to stand up and say that with something like this, I might very well kill myself intentionally depending on the tasks just for a change of pace! So perhaps that’s not a very good death penalty after all… :) Further reflection makes me think this is even less of an option – unless the tasks can be completed in the future, there really isn’t a choice when grouping. No one wants to wait while the tank completes a chore for his god before he can return to finish storming MistMoore.

Ultimately, I really want death to hurt. I want it to be something that is feared, and avoided. I want challenge to return to games. I want people to think about how best to meet challenges. I miss the group sessions after a failed dungeon run, as we all talk about what we can do next time to improve our odds of survival – and these things come from stiff penalties that encourage the active avoidance of death. If you remove the loss of player power from the equation, then all that I see being left is loss of status, wealth or time. Time penalizes a group more than a player, so I’d rather see a loss of status or wealth over a loss of time. The loss of wealth happens via reduced drops, harvests, crafts – I like the idea of merchant fees, although that’s an easily avoidable mechanic so it’s hardly a sting.

The loss of status strikes me as possibly the most interesting, although beyond what I’ve already conjectured, I’m not sure there’s much more I can ponder given the lack of real details about NPC interactions.

What do you think?