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For Whom the Bell Tolls: Death in DDO

Updated Fri, Feb 13, 2009 by Shayalyn

For Whom the Bell Tolls: Death in DDO


By Zed

When the dungeons and dragons 3.0  rule set was still in its infancy, I gathered a small group of players at a “LFGS” and sent them on their first mission together.  At the time Wizards of the Coast had released their adventure series beginning with the Sunless Citadel.

The group, led by a fearless Paladin, found the early parts of the quest easy to handle.  Their courage was bolstered by opening negotiations with a Dragon and succeeding in securing a peaceful end to a battle that raged in the upper ruins.  All that was left for them was to descend to the lower ruins.

Whether it was players' forgetfulness, boldness, stupidity, or who knows what… the result was a five man ‘total wipe' as we know them in MMOG's. What killed them: A huge dragon; an army of trolls; a legion of undead; a mad necromancer? No, a gardener; a solitary bugbear gardener armed with a scythe.

Actually, it was probably the 5 concurrent 20's witnessed by the group--which included one DM reroll, because killing that party was no fun--and the subsequent conversion of every single threat, that killed the party.  Trust me, scythes hurt. The result: total new campaign, new characters but same players, and, interestingly, a plot hook to be revisited, and a tale still talked about in game preamble.

ClericIn any MMOG death is a harsh reality. Party wipes are all too common. Death is as much a fact of MMOG gaming as the billing cycle.  How will Dungeons and Dragons Online (DDO) handle it? Permanent death, perhaps?

Looking at the source of the game, the pen-and-paper (PnP) Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), you could understand why, in the early days of the game's development, community members advocated the dreaded perma-death.  

When a player loses a character in any PnP campaign their options are really dependent on a number of factors: the party level, the party wealth, the location of the nearest decent town or city or the generosity of the dungeon master (DM).  If the party level is high enough, it's possible that the cleric (assuming the group has one) could cast either Raise Dead or Resurrection, However, the logistics of these two spells bring us to our second point:

Wealth:  raise dead takes a diamond worth at least 5,000 gold pieces; resurrection 10,000 gold.  Assuming the group have these foci, and the cleric is prepared to use them, then welcome back “Fred”. If not, then the party needs to accept their fate--a trek to the nearest big city.

Clerics high enough in level to raise the dead are not easy to come by.  Looking at Eberron, the world where DDO will be set, the nearest civilized city to Stormreach is Sharn. Within Sharn there are definitely three clerics high enough to help your character return from the dead.  The problem is getting them to agree to do it.  If they did agree, could the group afford the fee? Or perhaps you could complete the quest the cleric may ask you to accomplish first: slaying a lich, Kill a Dragon, or reading bedtime stories to the Tarrasque.  And all of this assumes the DM is kind enough to actually let you find a Cleric high enough and willing enough to help you out. Then, once you do get raised, you'll lose a level for doing so. Death in D&D can be nasty.

Naturally the DDO community in the early days discussed the merits of perma-death ala PnP D&D.  Madness, I'd hear many of you say, especially given the nature of MMOGs and the incredibly hard-to-beat CR20 Lag Monster who likes to appear as a random encounter, normally when you least want it to appear (less than 10 hit points, no spell points left in the party, and you're facing a tribe of orcs).

It's easy to see perma-death wouldn't make it into DDO. So what did?

However, death is not, as you might expect, overtake you when you reach 0 hit points In fact, like the PnP game, you have an extra 10 hit points.  0 to -9 is considered dying.  During this time a chance should be given for you to stabilise.  If you succeed then you're on to a winner--all you'd need is a friendly cleric to cast a cure spell on you and you'll be almost as good as new.  The downside, though, is the chance of stabilisation--at 10% its not often you will find yourself stabilised.

“Okay I've hit -10; I'm dead.”   You now have three choices at this point.  Each choice confers an experience penalty which increases in size dependant one which option is chosen.

The first choice is the cleric. Raise Dead requires a level 9 cleric and is in the game.  However, the question has to be: how much will it cost the cleric to cast? Unfortunately, I have yet to have a level 9 cleric, or need the services of a level 9 cleric, and so I don't actually know the answer to that question.

But a level 9 cleric is a high end character, and we won't see any at release, so what's your next option?   That would be your soulstone.  When you die in an instance you drop a soulstone which can be collected by a member of your group and taken to a resurrection shrine.  This is the second best option in terms of experience penalty and, barring any kind of group wipe, it should be the one you use the most.

The third option is to release to town.  This is the most painful in terms of experience penalty andThe undead awaken should only be used if resurrecting at a shrine is not possible due to a group wipe or some other factor, such as using all the available shrines in the quest. Releasing your spirit adds another penalty relating to the experience gained for your quest. When you leave an instance and re-enter you take a further percentage hit on the experience, this begins at -10% and increases the more you leave and enter a dungeon.  This makes avoiding the need to resurrect at your bind point very important.

Another aspect of the death system in DDO can be tied to the item decay system.  When a player is hit by a creature or takes damage, there is a chance that an item is damaged.  Since death is generally caused by taking damage--a lot of damage--items are bound to be affected, which adds a cost element to death in DDO.

The final aspect of dying that can be easily overlooked is the intervention of a DM.  No, not a CSR representative at Turbine but the DM.  In a PnP game we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that the DM will tailor encounters to suit the party. Was something too easy? The next gets harder. Or was it too hard? Are the players almost out of spells or potions or resources? A DM would have an option to pull an encounter, make it easier, or drop in some extra healing potions.  None of this is possible in DDO--we are reliant on the quest as given…and our playing skill.

Skeletal warriorWhy skill?  We know we can block, tumble, generally make ourselves harder to hit.  The physics of the game dictate that a weapon must connect with you in order to begin the “to hit” process.  Master the combat system, lower your death chances somewhat.  

The death penalty in DDO, whilst not as harsh as that found in its pen and paper roots, is certainly an inconvenience.  Experience loss and item decay can be enough of a motivator to ensure we remain focused as we explore the reaches of Xen'drik.  At least, should the inevitable happen, you can come back, lick your wounds, and try a new strategy. But remember, it could be worse. In a PnP game you might be rolling a new character, and that can be quite disheartening. Or fun it can be fun, as it opens a whole new plot hook.


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