Some ideas about character death and curbing PVP in MMOs

What if character death is “permanent”, in the sense that you don’t respawn. Instead, when you die, you’re actually dead- a ghost or spirit. As a spirit, you have some options. First, you get to view the last several minutes before you died from a 3rd person perspective. You can probably watch this as many times as you like before deciding.

1. You can pass into the Beyond, the next life, and continue your adventures there. Is the Beyond a spiritual world or a physical one? Is there a way back from Beyond? Is there something else beyond the Beyond?

2. You can be reincarnated into a new body, with some kind of bonuses based on your level* at the time of death. (*assuming the game has levels, which is not a given). This is not a respawn of your old character, it’s a completely new and different character. How does the time frame work? Maybe PCs are all specially Chosen, and accept an Adventurer’s Spirit at the age of majority? Is that basically what the fiction of RIFT is? If so, it was boring and poorly handled.

3. You can haunt the area where you died as an invisible, intangible spirit. Maybe you and other spirits or spiritual entities there can interact, maybe not. Maybe PCs & NPCs with some kind of Sight or whatever can interact with spirits too. As a spirit, you can go anywhere within the area, pass through solid objects and creatures. You can maybe taunt or whisper in anyone’s ear once every ten minutes or something. Maybe what you can do as a spirit depends on what “level” you were, or maybe not. (Levels are a whole ‘nother discussion). Maybe you can possess monsters/NPCs. Maybe you can throw objects around like a poltergeist. Maybe you can curse an object. Or haunt/possess an object, and then be carried outside the area by anyone who takes it.

4. You can haunt your killer (if you didn’t die from some environmental effect or poison or something). You become tethered to that character and follow them everywhere. You can whisper in their ear, and all that same stuff from above. You can annoy nearby monsters and provoke them to attack the character, or even possess them and make them act outside their natures. Try to trigger traps or obscure clues/switches, distract them, basically anything to make them regret killing you. This is the first thing I thought of, basically a deterrent to PVP nonsense- if you kill someone, they are free to make your life difficult or annoying. If you kill a bunch of people, you are going to be pretty miserable. You’re still free to do it. There are just consequences.

I don’t play MMOs a lot because I find them annoying and badly designed. My ideas may not be any better, but nobody is offering me money for them, so it’s kind of a moot point.


~ by oberon the fool on September 4, 2011.

24 Responses to “Some ideas about character death and curbing PVP in MMOs”

  1. Hey Dave… I’ve thought about this one a lot. In fact it came up recently, so I figure this is a good time for me to get this all down.

    For me, when I look at a problem with an MMORPG, I always ask… “Why doesn’t this match real-life behavior?”

    Now… some will say, “Mike, it’s not real life, and we don’t want it to be,” and I understand that. But in answering the question, you can find the solution to the problem, even if you don’t want to make the game a perfect replica of real life.

    After all, the answer in this case is “people in the real world have morals.” But why do they have morals? Why don’t people playing characters in MMORPGs have those characters act morally? Well, there’s lots of answers to these questions. But primarily it comes down to the fact that a “game” can well be defined as a simulation of goal-based life activities, but ones in which there are no moral ramifications. American football can be seen as a wargame simulation, and yet despite there being no real moral reason to fight (and one can debate if these even exist in real wars), it is actually OK to some extent to harm the opposing team! At the very least giving them pain is fine.

    Now… take a RPG… there aren’t even any real people being given pain or otherwise harmed. It is not immoral to kill a fictitious character. At worst you might be doing a disservice to the player whose character is killed. Though one might argue that, like the football player who signs the waiver to play, the player is entering a social contract that says that it’s tough luck if somebody kills their character.

    Of course, some MMORPG servers have other social contracts in this regard. These are even mechanically enforced in some cases… in WOW, you can’t kill people on your own faction, barring strange circumstances (I once did it in a duel, by knocking somebody into lava). Being killed by somebody of the opposing faction is considered quite a normal hazard, and can be avoided by avoiding the PVP areas.

    But that’s tantamount, actually, to endorsing PVP killing sans morals. Capitulation to the idea that folks are going to do it anyway, so the only way to stop it is to make it mechanically impossible. That’s retardedly backass, if I may. Confucious tried this, too, taking away all weapons from his populace (down to butcher knives, and similar implements), and in doing so accidentally caused Kung Fu to be created. It’s not preventing people from killing each other that we want, it’s giving them a reason not to kill each other.

    Thing is, in a typical MMORPG, each character is a ravenning death-dealer, capable of taking out “Mobs” by the dozens or hundreds each day. The biggest disincentive to killing other PCs is taken away in many cases, which is the chance of the victim retaliating and killing you. They, at the very least, have all the incentive in the world to stop you from killing them, and a very good motive for killing you in return so you don’t try it again. In real life, any human you might be competing against for resources (i.e. not children or the elderly, who are cared for by the people you actually compete against), is probably competent enough to make the prospect of trying to kill them at least slightly dangerous.

    Not so in many a MMORPG. Often if you are just a few levels above your opponent, you can kill them with near zero chance of being defeated in return. As you say, this is another topic, but eliminating levels and the ability of some characters to become way more powerful than other characters is a start to solving the problem.

    But a worse problem is that being killed yourself is little disincentive. If my opponent kills me instead of me killing him, I just respawn, and come back. So actually, Dave, some of your solutions solve this problem from this angle in that if there’s a chance that the character will die, and can’t come back, then players will think twice. In fact, unless character death is really hurtful, there is very little way to dissuade players from this POV.

    On the other hand, however, if killing a character really hurts the player, then you’ve actually just made PKing MORE attractive. As it stands, with respawning being cheap, getting killed is just a bit of a PITA, at worst. In fact in WOW, all you get for killing somebody is an honor reward, without which reward, folks probably wouldn’t do it much at all.

    What’s the benefit? In RL, the benefit is probably taking the targets stuff. That incentive was in early MMORPGs, but was the first thing to go in disincentivizing PKing.

    In order to get folks to stop PKing entirely, and not simply remove all mechanical benefit for doing so (in which case you may as well simply just make PCs unable to attack each other)…. if you want to make the game at all “realistic” in terms of being able to take stuff from each other, too…. if you want death to have any of the impact it has in fiction or real life… you have to find in-game disincentives to killing people.

    And there are, generally, two categories of disincentive that come to mind, but the one is actually predicated on the other. First is, again, by making death hurt, so that players fear it, enough that they will think again about committing murder. You can do this by evening out character capabilities in combat (again perhaps by eliminating levels to start), but frankly I don’t like that solution much. Because in RL, you actually CAN kill somebody relatively surely if you plan it right. If I come across you unarmed, and I have a crossbow… better yet, me and five guys have crossbows… you’re pretty much doomed in RL. Most MMORPGs don’t handle combat this way, which helps solve the problem I suppose. But maybe they should handle combat more realistically. OTOH, even with a HP system, you’d probably be hard pressed to take down any assailants if ganged up on enough.

    The point is that simply making the prospect of killing somebody fearsome by making death hurt, and combat uncertain, as I’ve proposed is still not enough. You have to make it so that if somebody gets killed, that somebody else will avenge them. This is the real disincentive in RL, to pre-meditated murder. Sure, you might be able to kill me, but then you’ll likely get caught by the authorities, and bad things will happen. In a medieval world, actually, more likely you’ll be caught by my family and killed. Or any of a number of other scenarios.

    So… why doesn’t this happen in MMORPGs? Well, to some extent it DOES happen… guildies come to avenge their fallen (who miraculously fight alongside them just having been rezzed at the spirit healer). And this would work, if we assume that death means something harsh, again. In theory. The problem is that the player coming to avenge would now have to balance out the notion of his character getting killed potentially and all that entails.

    I could go on and on circularly arguing about what behavior would evolve, and we could test it. But to seal the deal on vengeful behavior, all I have to do is to institute the second principle. Make all characters valuable to other characters. THIS is what’s missing from most MMORPGs. Oh, sure, if you kill the guild’s best tank, that’s bad for them. But what about the level 15 on the way up, who’s easy to kill? And, worse, is easy to replace (I can get a replacement in about 4 hours of play in WOW to 15th). At that point the character being killed is just an annoyance.

    OK, again, this argues for eliminating levels. But, moreso, it argues for each character having real intrinsic value, like real humans do. Why do we fret that you might kill the town blacksmith? Because it took him years to get that skill, and we don’t have a backup. OK, he was “just” a farmer? Well, to the family who no longer has a father to feed them, and the extended family who now has to take the children in, killing that farmer is an unconscionable sin.

    Some MMORPGs simulate this in a way by having the “authorities” exist, and having them come for you when you behave this way. But either you can get powerful enough to make the authorities meaningless to you in these games, or they’re unbeatable, in which case it’s tantamount to again making killing somebody mechanically impossible (you’re making it so people can’t benefit from it).

    To have death have a meaningful in-game impact, there has to be decisions made by the PLAYERs to come down on those doing the murdering, or to not do so, based on the character in question being murdered having intrinsic in-game value to the other players’ characters. Until that happens, you won’t have anything like a moral code or social order of any realistic sort develop in your MMORPG.

    There are a number of ways to engineer character importance to other characters (other than the lame forms of “crafting” that currently exist, even in games as advanced as EVE online). For example, one of them is to make religious forces which have real power, or perceived power, dictate that killing for some reasons are wrong. If your buddy is a priest who will lose their ability to cast spells if their deity doesn’t want them to hang around rabid murderers (because the deity values character lives), said buddy will try to dissuade you from being a rabid murderer. Or disown you when you become one, in which case you’ve now lost whatever value their character had to yours.

    This is key… if characters are valuable to other characters, then not only does killing somebody mean that those who value the murdered character might come after you, but it also means that unless your friends share your reasons for performing the killing, they will cease giving you support, so as not to also become targets of those seeking revenge. So, yeah, fine, you’re in an army, and killing the enemy army. Dangerous, but you have your friends to back you up at least. If you decide to become random dickhead murderer, now you’re out on your own, and easy pickings for your well-supported new enemies.


  2. Hm. Interesting points. What I personally am taking away from this is something I think I would probably have come around to anyway, which is that players should be less likely to kill one another because the environment is so dangerous that they MUST work together to survive. Again, as you say, this is predicated on the idea of death being more than just an inconvenience.

    So, on that note, how do my ideas above fit in with your notions of making death meaningful? My aim was not just that, but also to add an interesting new dimension to the MMO concept that (as far as I know) hasn’t been done before. Obviously I haven’t played them all, so I can’t know, but all the ones I have played have been dreadfully similar, to the point that I’m usually bored before I’m even done with character generation.

    That, of course, is another topic =\

  3. That sounds pretty cool.

    I also imagine, with a system like this, if you were an dying of a status condition or whatever, you could ask a friend to kill you off so you could follow them around and help them/give them advice.

    Which seems awesome.

    What you have to watch out for here is people helping the environment kill each other so they aren’t technically ‘responsible’ for the other player’s death, particularly if you also want to make a very dangerous environment.

    But any kind of permadeath will make people take other people killing their friends/allies more seriously.

  4. Hm. I might be okay with strategizing combat around environmental hazards to avoid being haunted. That sounds at least interesting.

    Also, yeah, I dig the idea of strange player behaviors arising organically from the setting paradigms. Having a friend kill you so you could haunt them until they find a way to bring you back, or so you can scout ahead intangibly, or so you can go deliver a message to someone else in the area, etc. are all awesome.

    Oh, hey, so YOU’RE that Fractal Advocate person on G+. A whole bunch of people have added me whose names I don’t recognize, it’s kind of tripping me out. I’ll add you, anyway, now that I know who you are. I’m surprised G+ didn’t give you shit about the name, I’ve heard they’re being obnoxious about netonyms.

  5. Sorry if I didn’t address your content well, and just posted my ideas. Let me rectify that:

    Point 1: have an afterlife.

    OK, generally I love this idea. It actually exists in WoW, but in a really dumb way, as just the mechanic to make dying annoying… having to run back to your body. Imagine that you could interact with that world in its own meaningful ways. Yes, sign me up.

    I am inspired by the TTRPG Hero Quest, in which Greg Stafford gives us a model for how a lot of this stuff could operate. Though, interestingly, even that game seems to… not avoid… but doesn’t look too closely into the idea of what happens after death. Even that game seems to assume as a default that death means the end of the player being able to play the character. With a couple of exceptions.

    For instance, shamans of at least one cult I can think of can, in the game, come back from death if they are extremely steeped in their practice. Basically their ultimate power is that they can find their way back from the spirit world. There may be other practices that can do this, too, but it’s rare. Glorantha, the world in which HQ is set, has literally hundreds of “Cults” of which the example cult is just one, and only a handful of those who participate in the cult can obtain this particular power at all.

    Not to get off on yet another of my standard rants, but this touches on my least favorite part of RPG magic: resurrection. At least in D&D it was somewhat costly in terms of gold to get raised from the dead at the local temple, but this is where Herr Gygax started the slide. Basically as a simple game mechanic, it allows players a “do-over” when their character dies.

    This seems prudent, because after all, RPGs mean a huge investment in time in “developing” a character (whatever that means for the game in question), and players reasonably become quite attached to characters. I could (and will at times) go off on design rants that focusing on combat and character death as a negative result of that in-game activity are not well-thought out parts of design. But for the sake of this thread I’ll just say that what we ought to work for is character death being significant.

    And the first thing to making that true is making coming back to life difficult to impossible. MMORPGs like WoW have taken Gygax’s rule and made death a trivial thing. You lose some gold to repair your armor, and waste a little time coming back to your body (or basically pay more gold and time to rez at the spirit healer if you don’t want to run back). I can’t tell you how lame that is to me.

    Actually, if the in-game world actually dealt with these realities in a coherent way, I might buy into it. But they very much do not. I mean, even Gygax’s old world of Greyhawk seems just like a cross between Hyboria and Middle Earth. And in none of that fiction do folks come back from the dead.

    “Wait, what about Gandalf, Mike!” you say… and you’re right. For those unawares, Gandalf, AKA Mithrandir, is not a human being, but something akin to an angel. OK, I have a geeky enough level of knowledge to know that, in fact, it’s somewhat likely that the “Glorfindel” character living with Elrond has, in fact, also come back from the dead after dying fighting balrogs in the first age.

    OK, folks do come back from the dead in Middle Earth. A very, very few, however. Generally speaking this is true of all mythologies (outside of reincarnation, which we’ll get to presently). That is, “raising the dead” or “ressurection” is in fact, THE MOST POWERFUL magic in existence in most belief systems. In Christianity, only Christ can call on god to make this happen (maybe a Saint or two, as well, depending on your particular form of Christianity). In Greek Mythology, it takes Hercules to do it.

    Let’s look at that last example… Hercules doesn’t pray to Zeus to bring back the dead… that wouldn’t work. He’d have to pray to Hades. And Hades is having none of it, wanting jealously to keep his dead. So what does Hercules have to do? He has to go down to Hades’ realm, battle his way in through all sorts of trouble, and rescue folks. Even these myths are somewhat muddled:

    Even modern-day mythology gets this point more or less right. I took the kids to see the movie Tangled SPOILER ALERT…

    … in which Rapunzel brings somebody back to life by sacrificing 100% of her completely unique life-giving powers on doing so. Her power is amazing in the world in question, and to bring somebody back from the dead, she has to give it up forever. I could go on and on with examples.

    As opposed to the World of Greyhawk, where we have to suppose that everybody’s first goal in life is to save up the 500GP to get raised from the dead. Where Kings live to very old ages, because of this magic. Interestingly magic to reverse aging is pretty rare, even in D&D. Though this is more an artifact of the fact that aging will rarely be an issue in the course of play. Character death is commonplace in D&D.

    This is the problem in a nutshell. Magic in most RPGs centers around the main premise of these games, which is killing things and taking their stuff. Never in the real world was there a belief system that had so many names for magical ways to kill things than in that of WoW (and, yes, I’m aware that the Egyptians had zoggin lots and lots of em).

    If, instead, you make your MMORPG about life in a fantasy world, and make your magic around what that’s like, then you’ll solve most of these problems. Meaning that, yes, you’ll have the ability to come back to life available IN THEORY. But in practice you’ll have to be Hercules or Gandalf to qualify on your own, or have to garner the support of an army of NPCs to accomplish it. Oh, and everybody who is involved in the quest into the underworld to bring back whoever the lucky person is, might not make it back themselves. See how often it happens under these conditions.

    Optimally about as often as it does in the comparable literature. It’s the stuff legends are made of.

    Next Post: Reincarnation

  6. Oh, a PS to the above post… what do you do in the otherworld? What’s there? What’s beyond it? This all boils down to content, and is up to the designers to invent. Though obviously the amount of inspiration in the form of otherworlds is tremendous (start with Valhalla, of course).

    To me, the key to how it will affect play is the interaction between the worlds, and that’s what needs to be addressed from a design standpoint. Hence why the question of resurrection is so important. We all know the easy way to get to the otherworld… die. The hard part is getting back.

  7. Point 2: Reincarnation

    I love this idea, too. I’ve really never met a belief system I didn’t like, frankly. Other than the crappy not-at-all-thought-out ones from RPGs. The “spirit of an adventurer” idea isn’t bad. But I’d like something that was a tad less stilted towards “adventuring” where you can come back as a great jeweller or something. But that’s again, probably another subject.

    What I think would be good here, is to actually draw from real world beliefs and say that, in fact, re-incarnation means a chance to “level up” as it were. Or level down. That is, if the character accomplished some “good” by the definition of their belief system before they died, their new form should be POTENTIALLY more powerful. Not actually more powerful, you should go back to like level 1 in power. But the form you get means that once you get to level 10, you’re significantly more potent than at level 10 in the previous life. I’m using levels here just as a concept to discuss it, I don’t actually condone levels. But you get the idea.

    If you die having done lots of bad by the belief system, you come back in a lesser form, perhaps an animal or something.

    Yes, what you come back as is modified by what you were. Perhaps you don’t actually get that character’s skills, but maybe you can learn them relatively easily. Or, like you say, some sort of spiritual bonuses. Lots of possibilities there.

    And if you reach the pinnacle form, and die, and are eligible to go up again, the character reaches nirvana or something. Maybe that’s an otherworld, or maybe it’s time to make a new character. Or ascension of some sort. Again, lots of ways one could go.

    Next Post: Haunting

  8. Point 3: Haunting Places

    I’ll use this one as a chance to discuss a larger concept.

    Again, love the idea of haunting places. The potential issue is that it’s a relatively crappy existence to actual existence from a player perspective… one presumes. The normal world interaction is limited. And what if folks don’t come by? Ghosts that haunt places seem to iive a very lonely existence.

    Note that you’d probably have to make communication with the dead somehow common-place, or even natural, or you would probably get people who would circumvent any communications problems by using third party software. Yes, I’m thinking Vent. But even if players playing ghosts and players playing the living can communicate, there’s not a ton of fun to be had there from what I can see. I mean… OK, I can play a ghost as a scout for the group, or I can make up a new character and come along…

    That’s not to say you couldn’t invent something interesting out of this. Perhaps ghosts can be part of “parties” and help out in substantial ways that are linked to the site in question. There’s probably a lot you can do with this.

    But eventually you’re going to get bored with that one location, no? And what happens when more people die there, and decide to haunt it too? Now you have to compete to be the party’s ghost? Eventually places could get crowded with ghosts.

    From a mythological POV, what is haunting, and why does it happen? Well, stereotypically, it’s about the spirit of somebody who died there who either refuses to “move on” or cannot do so, because of the manner of their death. Er, to be crass, they didn’t finish the instance (and it occurs to me that instancing could fix the crowding problem, though I have problems with instancing in general). So they get to hang around until the instance is done. Or a quest is finished, or… some condition. Or maybe they just like the place.

    The key part is that potential ability to “move on” at some point. Sure, make it a player choice as to whether or not their character’s spirit “can” move on from a place in most cases. Might be fun to be trapped for a while, and have to get out, too. But as you mentioned with the idea of haunting an object, there should be ways to leave, too. One of which should maybe be haunting other players’ characters (see below).

    But very importantly, one of the ways to move on should be to go back to point 1 or 2. OK, you’ve decided to haunt a place for a while, you’ve gotten all the fun you want out of that. Now it’s time to move on to an otherworld to play there, or reincarnate or something.

    Yes, I’d have all of these options in one game. Yet, not all options would be available to all characters. A key to all of this is that belief systems will dictate what happens to a character once they die. And you can have “conflicting” systems in the same world. The question of what actually happens to the character should be based somewhat on how the character lived.

    Did they worship the Norse gods of war? Then on dying on the battlefield, Valkyries will swoop down and take their spirit to Valhalla to party on there. Did they die dishonorably somehow? Then they go somewhere else.

    Do they worship a wide pantheon of deities that are bound up in the cycle of reincarnation? Then they can reincarnate. Up if they were good, down if not.

    Did they worship spirits? Were they shamans of that one cult, and have become so wise in the ways of their cult that they can battle their way back in the spirit world to a door to their own body? Then they can rez themselves. Or, if not so wise, live out their days in that same spirit world with their ancestors.

    Does the belief system tell of a soul or spirit that sometimes gets caught in the world of the living? Then that’s an option too, before moving on.

    Basically your options at death depend on how you as a player had the character live their life.

    Want to prevent random PKing? Sure, you can worship the spirits of darkness while alive, and go about doing bad deeds. But then when you die, your character’s soul is rended apart by these dark spirits, and the character is gone, permanently. Or tortured endlessly in hell. Whatever. The point is that you can really incentivize certain behaviors this way. Just like real world religions do. Only better, because players will know that the otherworlds in question are “real” for their characters.

    Next Point: Haunting Folks

    • 1. You’re right about the communication thing- honestly I’m torn between the thought that “paging” in games completely destroys any sense of isolation/immersion… but some magical in-setting means of communication seems fine to me, and you’re right in that people will just circumvent it somehow anyway. So, yeah, I was originally thinking that spiritual communication should be a rare gift that only certain people/beings had… maybe something could still be done with that.

      2. You’re also correct in that being a ghost is not something that’s going to be fun forever- especially in haunting a place. I think you could probably choose to follow any mob, or item, or whatever, for added mobility… ghosts could probably go places they couldn’t in life, or even places no living thing could go.

      3. Hm. I hadn’t considered ghosts being party members, but that’s not necessarily a bad thought. The thing is, I want a balance between “death is interesting” and “death is something to avoid”. While it would be cool if once in a while it made sense to die to accomplish a goal, it should still be a major, major sacrifice to do so; and players should not be getting killed on purpose- “specter” should not be just another class to round out one’s party… although there are probably interesting places to go with that.

      4. Having multiple ghosts haunt a single location seemed like a positive to me. It’d give them all something to do. And also, you’d get that neat “haunted battlefield” effect- locations with lots of ghosts would be shunned, people passing through will hear strange whispers and feel a chill (status effect?). People with the Sight would stumble across a terrifying spiritual vista.

      5. Yes, definitely, spirits should have the choice to move on at any time- perhaps their options are more limited than when they initially died, or perhaps they can open more options by accomplishing certain spiritual tasks. Maybe as long as they stick around on the prime material plane, their karmic balance can still be shifted, whether by their own effort or by convincing someone else to take on the burden of their unfinished quest (and/or vengeance)? Which brings to mind the concept of exorcists and shamans who might be able to purge areas, whether by force or by offering spirits a better option. This ties in to my Classes discussion, one of my custom class concepts is “Spiritchaser”, basically a person with the ability to interact with spirits- depending on their bent they are either exorcists/ghostbusters who force spirits to flee areas or trap them or bind them into items or whatever; or they may be the sort who can help the spirit move on by achieving whatever goal they died in the attempt of, or avenging them, or whatever. In the meantime, they can at least coax the spirit to follow them- the character I based the concept on has a collection of ghosts she can call on for knowledge and abilities she herself lacks. On a side note, are you familiar with the Shaman King manga/anime series?

      6. I dig the idea of “evil” PCs having to pay for their “sins” in the afterlife. Maybe what sphere/circle of the afterlife you end up in depends on karmic balance. And yeah, we’ve covered some of the belief system stuff.

      I’ma post this one and then read the next one.

      • OK, interesting stuff…

        Point 1: Paging the Dead

        Ought to start up a new thread discussing this general problem, yeah. But you can still make it work as an in-game thing, in that you can have quests or such where the character must use their power to communicate with the dead on a dead PC, who must respond. That sort of thing. So there’s actually lots that can be done with that. You just can’t actually stop the players from communicating. Just the characters, if you will.

        Point 2: Haunting Fun

        Yeah, so far death being “God Mode” in terms of being able to move ethereally through stuff seems like the only thing we’ve come up with. Oh, perhaps you can play poltergeist and throw stuff about, but then again you can do that alive, too (would be really odd if the dead can do it in the game, but the living cannot).

        There actually is an example of another form of fun, however, from WoW of all places. In Blackrock Mountain, if you die, you rez in a location that, if you’re running back to Blackrock Depths, you come across a dead guy. He has a key that you need for the instance. In fact, somebody HAS to die to get it (pretty likely to occur at some point if you’re at the level of the instance). I thought this was one of the niftiest things in WoW, and is one of only a very few things one can do in the world of the dead (I think you can talk to a dead couple near Scholomance, but you can do that with an object, too). Other than talking to the Spirit Healers, that is.

        I always thought that this was a completely retarded waste of nearly half of the virtual space of WoW. Heck, you could have all sorts of “parallel dimensions” which look identical, but have slightly different contents. The ultimate way to recycle your level builds.

        One thing that really bugs me is that the undead show up only in the world of the living… and not in the world of the dead… Aren’t all the ethereal shades and banshees running around the world just projections of spirits from the world of the dead? Don’t they have full form there? What happens when you fight in the world of the dead? What happens if you “die” there? They missed huge heaps of opportunity there.

        Point 3: Dying to be a Ghost

        I completely agree… nobody should be getting killed to be a ghost just for a while, or to play an alternate form. I’m positing a lot of these ideas together, and being a ghostly party member would mean having to die first, which means probably NEVER getting to come back to life (or it being a huge project). Meaning the player is losing most of what they built up in terms of the character.

        And, while we’re looking to make it interesting, somewhat as a way to ameliorate it sucking to lose a character more or less permanently, it probably should be just a bit less interesting than playing a living character. Also there should be no “progress” while you’re a ghost. Whatever that means. At least not in the world of the living (and probably little to none in the world of the dead either).

        What I’m imagining is the PC ghost being something like a “pet” slot for a regular PC… like the Shaman who has bound the PC. So you can tag along and help in interesting ways, but you’re not on equal footing with the other PCs.

        OTOH, there is the “undead” race in WoW. If a player wants to play a ghost from the get-go, then maybe they can be full-fledged characters. But, again, we’re now delving into specifics of content, I think.

        Point 4: Haunted Battlefields

        Sure, that’s awesome from the POV of the living. Makes the site horrific for them. Makes it dull for the player playing the ghost, however. Unless you put in some interesting content there. For a haunted battlefield, the obvious thing is that the battle rages on in the world of the dead, and, yeah, the side winning in the world of the dead probably gives a buff or something to their side in the living world (this is a common effect in WoW, to promote some areas as PvP areas).

        Again, just so long as you can leave the area once you’re bored with the otherworldly content.

        What I was more worried about is like there being one thing for the ghosts to do, by interacting with the living for instance, and the ghosts having to wait their turn to do it or something. Like when you have too many gatherers in a location all waiting for the same three herbs to respawn. Not enough content for the number present.

        This may solve itself, however, in the game I’m envisioning altogether again… if death is telling, death will be far less common, and the dead may not be too numerous. It might take a real world of the living PvP battlefield to create a haunted battlefield.

        Point 5: Shaman Kings and Moving On

        I have no reply, other than this all sounds awesome, and, no, I have not read the Shaman King. I have, however played Hero Quest, which was written by a Shaman. A real one. So I think I have a good idea how these things work (or can work in his fictional world, at least). And it’s all amazing fun.

        So… you’re starting to mention design content… are you actually designing a MMORPG? Or is it just a thought experiment?

        Point 6: Life is Hell

        I would be tempted to even have a dark path or two, where you actually were able to function in the afterlife, after having been a bastard during the character’s life. To make this actually functional, IMO, what you’d have to do is to make belonging to this path detectable, even if perhaps only with great difficulty. The point is that you would be playing fair game enemies if you decide to go this rout.

        The only potential issue is that if too many people go over to the dark side, then the world of the living becomes a living hell. On the other hand, that might be interesting in and of itself. Presumably one can move to a more “good” server if things get too dark on the Sauron Server.

        Heck, one could even make it a tragedy of the commons sort of thing, where if the karmic balance of the server goes too evil, then Cthulhu awakens, eats the world, and reboots the server.


      • P.S.

        Bwahahahahaha! In WoW, when an undead eats a downed foe or even an ally, it’s just seen as a quick way to get back Health. That’s deep.

    • Alright, for whatever reason it won’t let me reply to the nested comments, so I’m posting a bit back up the thread.


      I like the idea of multiple parallel planes, there are a practically infinite number of interesting things that could be done with that concept.

      You make a great point about the undead not showing up in the spirit world… I mean, wtf is up with that? It’s not as if the example hasn’t been set- hello, Ringwraiths? The undead should be even more dangerous on their own plane.

      I’m not sure I like the idea of “undead” as a “race”… I mean, they aren’t a race in any sense. I know in many settings, only humans can become undead (presumably only humans have souls?), but why shouldn’t there be undead orcs, giants, elves, etc? That said, the undead are kind of overused and boring.

      Honestly I’m not sure I’m not bored with races in general. Or at least with the standard race/class combo model. As I said, that’s a whole other conversation (which I may start here sooner or later, when I have some time to organize my thoughts).

      The entire concept of people sitting around waiting for herbs, monsters, or any other game element/resource to respawn is anathema. Boring, boring, boring, boring, and also completely nonsensical.

      I am not designing an MMO, no. I would not have the first clue how to go about doing such a thing. This is purely theoretical. Basically I figured that discussing what I’d like to see was more interesting/productive than just bitching about what exists.

      Hm. What should the next topic be, d’yathink? I’ve been waiting for Clyde to chime in on this subject, he said he hasn’t had time to post, but he’s been thinking about it. I’ll pester him again.

  9. Point 4: Haunting Folks

    This is the one that got me thinking about the whole “ways to stop dickhead random killing” post above…

    On the one hand, the potential for poetic justice for dickhead random killers here is almost too much to pass up. I love the idea of being able to curse somebody by haunting them, and causing them no end of pain and suffering.

    On the other hand, the potential for random dickheads to abuse this is almost too much to contemplate it. I mean, let’s say I have my character kill another for a pretty legitimate in-game reason. But that player decides to be an asshat about it, and haunt me mercilessly. It is a general problem with MMORPGS that the social order is very lacking in play, and “griefing” is commonplace.

    So, without going into how to fix that problem overall (which I think you can to some extent), for this particular game play option, you can fix it by simply having to have other players condone the haunting. From an in-game perspective, it’s their characters getting asked something like “Did you hear that?” and if you get a few players to agree that their characters heard somebody haunting the character in question, then it can go on.

    I think my other ideas for preventing random PKing are more potent, but this is another fun post-death option. Players could also voluntarily (or perhaps involuntarily for short periods under the right circumstances) allow themselves to be “possessed” this way. So I can play somebody else’s character for a while, or for them while they’re offline?

    A spirit character becomes a very interesting asset in this case. Even more interesting, possession of this sort could have ramifications akin to the effects of previous lives on reincarnation… the spirit gives some bonuses. You could have your own dead inhabit your own living characters in significant ways.

    And all of this says nothing about what happens if you put the spirit of a mighty dead warrior into a sword or something. Spirits as extremely complex currency in the world of the living sounds fascinating to me. You could rent out your spirits to empower other characters. Or they might be able to capture them, and then have to have the living rescue them.

    Again, as in point 3, the question of whether or not these things can happen to your character’s spirit depends on the circumstances of their life and how they died. Can a necromancer capture your character’s soul? Perhaps. Now he’s waaay more scary than he was when he was just throwing zombies at you. Can he make you haunt somebody? Can a shaman of another practice bind your spirit into a fetish if you agree to have that happen?

  10. …can a mentalist hold an image of the character’s spirit in his head to imprint upon another, or to use their knowlege?

    Er… I could go on and on. But I hope I’ve made my point. Once you start looking at the in-game belief systems, and come up with coherent cosmological POVs, the way to engineer the a lot of “post-character-death” solutions become a lot more evident. I think that this would be great fun, and not just add depth to MMORPGs, but entire dimensions (if you’ll excuse the play on words) to play.


    • 1. Oh shit, I totally hadn’t thought about ghost-griefing. That would actually compound the very problem I’m trying to address. Fuck me >_<

      2. Having the hauntee have to condone the haunting defeats the purpose altogether, doesn't it? Or did you mean other players have to condone it? What if nobody else is around? What if the killer's guildmates are the only witnesses? Oh shit, what if the person you're haunting dies? I hadn't thought of that at all… Honestly I can't imagine any system that can't be abused. Which means there's no system that *won't* be abused, because people are asshats.

      3. That said, I don't know that haunting should be tied to whether a kill was "righteous" or not… the point is to make death a Big Deal… so even if you have a good reason to kill someone, is it good enough to make it worth being haunted? Just like in real life, the consequences of taking a life should be dire.

      4. Possession of PCs… hm. I'd considered possession of NPCs, monsters, and items, I hadn't really thought of PCs. Definitely interesting.

      5. But yeah, the spiritual currency concept is neat and has a lot of potential depth, that's why I feel it's a better solution than just having PVE only zones or servers.

      6. You mention your ideas seem more potent, but I never quite gleaned any mechanical concepts out of your original posts, that's part of why I asked for more comments on mine. What sort of in-game effects did you have in mind?

      on to the next post…

      • Your point that players in a MMORPG will act badly no matter what is true. What I’m proposing is a way to disincentivize this behavior to minimize it. My point with the ghost griefing is that it in and of itself sorta balances out in terms of giving players opportunities to grief. Unless you add a means to govern it.

        An in-game rationale for the whole sponsoring a haunting thing can be explained by some sort of guild magic or whathaveyou. There are probably better ways to do it. Just an example.

  11. Wait, there are people who don’t know the Istari were “angels”? Heh. I hang out with geeks so much sometimes I forget there are things mundanes aren’t familiar with.

    I like your ideas about having to be a big time hero and having to quest back from the dead (or quest to bring someone else back), ditto for major sacrifices. Those are the kind of interesting player choices that would give MMOs the kick in the nuts they need.

    I also dig the concept of reincarnation as you’ve presented it here- upgrading or downgrading depending on your behavior in life. Maybe the nature of your karmic balance in universal or maybe it depends on what belief system you chose for your character.

    Ooh, maybe in-game religion is player-created like real life religion! How cool would that be? Or how terrifying?

    The “pinnacle form” idea is super-awesome. Brings to mind the old Ultima cosmology (which ties in to the recent discussions on morality systems in games- how did we forget that Ultima covered this territory *extensively* decades ago?). The PC literally had to prove himself worthy in each virtue to ascend to Avatarhood- a state of physical and spiritual perfection on the material plane.

    You also reminded me of a concept from some version of Norse mythology that I really liked, which is the idea that the worlds are spheres within one another. Like Midgard is a sphere, and then within it is Aelfheim, and then within that is Hel; while one step outside Midgard, like a shell around it, is Skai. One function of this is that, as each spins on the Axis Mundi (Yggdrasl in this case) that pierces and connects them all (hm, does this parallel the “chakra ladder” w.r.t. levels of consciousness/enlightenment?) the time on each layer moves faster or slower relative to Midgard’s (because parallel points on a wider sphere have to move farther to stay parallel, obviously). Not sure if it’d even be possible to make this work in a game where, necessarily, everyone is on the same time frame IRL. But it’s a neat concept to think about.

    For reference, I’m not 100% against the concept of “levels” as long as they are done more interestingly and meaningfully than “here, have some extra build points and some skills and now you can wear better armor”. The idea that you can’t wear certain armor or wield certain weapons due to level restrictions has never been sensibly presented in the setting-fiction, it’s purely a game-mechanic conceit that never gets questioned. It makes some sense for magic spells, although I’m more inclined to think that casting more potent spells should just take longer and have a higher mishap chance if you’re less skilled. I don’t know that levels are a necessary thing, but they’d need to be replaced with some other progress measurement. What that might be is open to conjecture.

    Future topics that I’d like to cover include, of course, Levels; Classes (the warrior/wizard/thief paradigm must die), Character Creation (a certain amount of randomness- not just in stats, but in potentials/talents and “gifts”, just like IRL… perhaps weighted to the needs of the World?), aaand… I forget what else off the top of my head. Looks like you’ve posted a few more times, so I’ll go read those.

  12. Yeah, those are all great topics that I’d love to get in on discussing. Thanks in general for starting this whole thing.

    As for specifics for game mechanics to cover how to make characters valuable to other characters, I didn’t include many specifics, because it would really depend a lot on the game in question. I hate specific design ideas that are created sans context. But I’ll go ahead and post some anyhow. Hopefully people will understand that they shouldn’t use these directly without altering them to fit their specific game.

    On one level, you could get very realistic with this sort of thing, and just make it all about division of labor. When it comes right down to it, in a medieval-ish or ancient-ish society (like most fantasy MMORPGs), this comes down to food, essentially. Food at that level of technology is pretty difficult to create in excess quantities. The labor of a single individual can only go so far. In such a society, everyone has to pitch in just to avoid starvation or malnutrition. Sure, half the people can produce all of the bread needed to live, but what about fruit? And then what about shoes to keep that level of productivity from falling lower (the percentage of cobblers in medieval society is rather high, which is interesting). Basically it’s all cogs in an engine that can fall apart fast and hard if pieces fall out.

    I mentioned this to a buddy in just this way, and he pointed out that playing the “medieval village” MMORPG might not be all that fun. In fact it might be horrid drudgery. I could debate that, but I don’t really have to, as it’s just an example that illustrates how one can create inter-dependencies. In the case of basic economics of food you just need other people around to just survive, much less to have time to “adventure.” But apart from the economics there’s also the field of “Transactional Analysis” ( Or, put another way, it’s one thing to have the wherewithal to perform an action, but entirely another to have the psychological will to do it. And you can create interesting inter-dependencies from this.

    Interestingly all of the myriad Facebook games seem to work on a very rudimentary model of this. That is, you get “Energy” to perform so many actions in a day, and friends can often give you a hand getting a little more. Now, like I say these are quite rudimentary, so let’s take that a lot further. Lets say that “energy” is less a linear metric, and more complex for one. Like you can operate at a basic survival level of energy expenditure, even if stranded on a desert island. But if you want to accomplish more than this sort of thing, you have to burn more, quantities that can only be obtained through interacting with others.

    To me this is great fun, because it actually gives folks a reason to have their characters fall in love, and get married and such (outside of kids, which is another discussion). It gives reasons for characters to join groups with agendas. And those reasons are that the characters would have something called something like, oh, say, Passions that do not give them energy themselves, but which are intake valves for energy, that fill them with energy when they’re interacting with other characters who have the ability to provide that stimulus.

    I tend to come back to religion, but you’ll find that belief systems are one big way in which folks get the energy that they need to do things. So we have your new character, who you decide is part of our hypothetical Norse-esque religion world view culture, and who is pretty invested in honoring the gods. The character has a Passion for hearing about myths of the gods. My character is a priest who knows these myths, and what’s more, is good at telling them. So we mechanically link your character to mine, saying that they spend time regularly together, where my character tells yours stories. This takes up some time resource of mine, and ends up with your character having more energy.

    Why do I have my character do this? Because my character speaks to the gods, and has a Passion for hearing their words, and gets energy from that source, perhaps. And he also has a Passion for growing his herd of faithful followers, and gets energy from your character when he tells that he vows to spread the religion far and wide with his mighty warhammer.

    Basically you come up with ways that our characters interact that are meaningful to each other, and enrich each other in transactional fashion. Each character would then have a network of folks that the player would develop that would increase their energy level influx state. Making it possible to spend more energy at once, or more over longer times, making more possible than would otherwise be the case if they were at lower energy levels.

    Now, if we’ve developed these relationships between all of our characters, and then somebody comes along and takes down an element of my network, suddenly I’m very concerned, and will want to see justice done. And, again, if your character goes off and kills folks not in the righeous way that you and I had agreed that will please my god, but in a random dickheaded way, well then I have to break off of your network, so that I am not negatively impacted. To say nothing of having to worry about retribution against me if I do continue to support you.

    Meaning the asshats get left out in the cold, and have a worse game than if they played along like we’d like. Mission accomplished.

    Again, this is just one sort of vague mechanic that would have to be heavily modified to work with the overall design of the specific MMORPG into which it was inserted. There’s a myriad of ways to accomplish this sort of thing.


    • Hm. I don’t think “Peasant, the MMORPG” would get a lot of play. Also, didn’t Ultima Online try for a fairly labor intensive, limited resource high concept? I didn’t have the wherewithal to play that when it was up, sadly, so I don’t know that much about it.

      Hm. Interlocking social drives as a means of encouraging *actual* in-fiction social networking… interesting. There are definitely some ideas worth developing there.

      I am suddenly thinking about HotB’s dual layered play and how that might work in an MMO setting… having to organize and maintain your holdings and vassals and such to support your lifestyle.. or maybe there just needs to be room in MMOs for people at different levels of society doing DIFFERENT THINGS. Some players might be more interested in a social/intrigue based game, or a resource management game, or a dungeon crawly game… why isn’t there room for all these things operating on different but interdependent layers? Probably because it’d be hell to program and administrate…

      • I think “Peasant” would be interesting if you did it right. But, again, I’m not advocating any particular content.

        The epitome of an economy-based game has to be EVE Online. I wonder what the response to a character being permanently eliminated in that game would be like. Would the character’s suppilers and customers get up in arms?

        Note that EVE has a pretty good in-game way around death (clones in various flavors).


  13. … posting again right after the other above, at the risk of confusing the readers…

    Here’s another general example. In a game that’s more political (why haven’t we seen this game yet?), everyone plays citizens in, say, a galactic empire or something. Think something Dune-ish, where there’s warefare between factions. I came up with this example, actually, in order to solve another age-old problem, that of the “late start” in play, but you’ll see the point. Basically players create “Pyramids of power” by swearing oaths of fealty to each other. Your political sway depends on how many of the hoi-polloi you have at your back. The more people you recruit, the harder you’ll be recruited by higher ups, and so on.

    However, as the game progresses, and you get more political power, you lose another power… say economic for argument’s sake. The game mechanics make this necessary, let’s say (you have to spend more time at court, which means less time to conduct business maybe). When you start, however, you’re very potentially powerful in this arena. Which makes you, as a contributor to somebody’s power-structure, relatively important. Whereas, later, you’re value only decreases as an individual, increasing only in terms of those who’ve sworn fealty to you.

    Anyhow, in this model, even the lowliest… heck, especially the lowliest… of characters are worth protecting from your political enemies. You have no power in the senate if you don’t have your people.

    Note that this doesn’t stop warfare between factions occurring, but that’s the nature of the game in question. What we want to stop is somebody in your own faction from killing you at random. The simple threat of expulsion should be enough.


    • Ooh, I have a whole post somewhere about Oaths/Vows as a game mechanic, but hell if I remember where it is… hm… it might be here:

      Anyway, maybe players in the above example would start out as merchants, with a lot of economic sway but not much political clout. There’s often much overlap between the two, but all we have to do is posit a setting where they are divided on purpose. So you can either spend more time overseeing your financial empire, or spend more time petitioning in the senate, but there’s only so much time to go around.

      Factional warfare is fun, so no reason to discourage that, especially in a space-opera style setting.

  14. Oh, just re-read something from earlier on…

    “…players should be less likely to kill one another because the environment is so dangerous that they MUST work together to survive. ”

    Sorry, but I have to disagree. In fact, I refer to this as the “Rolemaster Realism” argument. Which goes like…

    “Hey, RM is the game where rugged barbarian warriors get killed accidentally by backhand slaps from peeved barmaids… that’ll stop players from frivolously getting into fights…”

    And then you proceed to play RM, and find out that you have to fudge to keep the players alive, because the theoretically horrifically dangerous system that emulates the “real-life” tendency for one hit kills in combat (which, actually, are a fiction for the most part perpetuated by movies), does exactly zero to prevent them from charging into every fight that you throw in front of them.

    Because what else are they going to do?

    You want a MMORPG where characters don’t die all the time? Well simply make something other than fighting the primary arena of play. Once again, EVE Online does this better than most. Most importantly, do NOT make fighting the only way to “advance” a character. In fact, don’t have it “advance” a character one whit. Make characters only fight if the player determines that there’s something special worth fighting for.

    I”m thinking The Riddle of Steel here…


  15. I quite like this idea. As long as the option to respawn would still be available I can see it being a good thing.

    After all, some people might want to explore the spirit world/haunt other players, but other may want to continue playing as a living character, and in PvP, the number of times you can die in some BG’s is insane…respawn should always be an option, but I like your idea. :)

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