For Whom the Bell Tolls: Death in DDO
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
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.
In 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
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 and
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.
Why 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
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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