Defeat Not Death

There is a really great post over on the Tattered Page that I want to post about, but my head isn’t very clear today and I have too many meetings to attend, so I’m going to put that off and return to a subject I have hit before…

I want to touch again on “the Death Mechanic”. No, that is not a new horror film, nor is it a job title. It is the unfortunate moniker given to the question “How does your game handle player defeat?” Sadly, too many games have, possibly due to the moniker, limited this to player death. And so, as I’ve said before, I feel games need to feature alot more variety in player defeat so that not everything equates to death. One specific thing I would like to see in games, especially in PvP, is player defeat resulting in a temporarily unconscious/immobile player who then returns to full health but with a penalty, like a limp (slower movement) or an injured arm (slower attacks) or even a head injury (lower accuracy). In this way, defeat stings, but since the defeated player would “catch a second wind” and put him up to full health, they’d also be given a temporary boon to attempt to avoid repeated ass kickings (since, logically, if a player lost a fight, he would have done some kind of damage to his opponent before going down).

The main reason I want to see this type of change is to throw a wrench into the current game dynamic. How would PvP and even PvE be affected if a player had to be defeated (reduced to zero hit points), say, three times before they were more permanently removed from the action (knocked out for 3 minutes instead of 10 seconds)? What if players couldn’t actually kill other players, only knock them out and loot them, unless both players (attacker and target) were both flagged to allow death, but experience or other rewards for PvP were greater when flagged? Then throw possible permanent death into the mix… Perhaps not every outcome would be desirable, but it certainly would be different from the bulk of current games.

I really think that many games have boxed themselves into a corner with their death mechanics. Think about it… if a player dies as part of normal activity of the game, what must you do? First, you have to create, both in function and in lore, a way for players to return from the dead. Sure, you could just go the first person shooter route and just have people respawn *bam* with no reason, but this isn’t an FPS, this is an MMORPG. Role Playing Game. In addition to that, since you have defined defeated as dead, hit points are really life points (or blood points). The character is being hit and bleeding to death, so now you need magical healing (or at least, people have come to expect it).

So, lets take hit points back, all the way to the beginning, back when they were not intended to mean your life literally, but were meant to be the character’s ability to move and avoid death by rolling with blows, taking a punch. Now, only critical hits are actual bleeding hits (and they’ll carry with them a damage over time component unless bandaged), and the rest just means you are taking blows or ducking out of the way tiring yourself out. Now, instead of magical healing, players can hit you with toughness, invigoration, agility… and these things will increase your hit points because they are extending the amount of ducking and taking blows you can do.

Yes, in the actual function of “healing” in the game not much will change, but once you disassociate the combat from bleeding and death, it opens up many other possibilities for how to handle defeat in the game and the directions your story can take. As I’ve mentioned before, wouldn’t it be cool if when you are attacking an enemy city and your group wiped out, they captured you instead of you being dead and resurrecting/respawning? I think it would…

One comment

  1. Chas says:

    Been working that thought, too. We can take a cue from Hollywood and allow our heroes exceptional luck, even in defeat, rather than complex, universe-bending respawn points.

    Which would have seemed more akin to the “star wars” universe? An instantly-generated clone that would assume my identity, or waking in a med-center, told that someone found me unconscious on the battlefield?

    Same mechanic, but the “death” reality-bender is replaced with incapacitated-and-found.

    In a fantasy setting:
    If the team isn’t “wiped,” we treat the fallen as incapacitated in battle (revived without the needs of a rez).

    – If you’re in a relatively “friendly” zone (or haven’t been defeated recently), at the moment the group is wiped and the foe stands victorious on the battlefield, you get something of a “random encounter” that aids you. (Arrows from the woodline chase the wounded foe off, and ranger comes to your aid, the sound of something else approaching scares them off, etc).

    – In a higher-risk zone, you come to in a merchant’s caravan camp. Some gear is missing, and the merchant explains they found you left for dead. You can usually buy common gear replacements from the merchant or run a mini-quest for him to get what you need. The losses here can be worse depending on the frequency of the death. (it could also be a hermit’s lodge, a druid’s circle, a farmer’s cottage, etc.

    – In a much higher-risk zone, you wake, imprisoned by the foe, much more gear gone. You must complete an “escape” quest that might or might not let you recover your gear (the quest difficulty will be weighted for the lack of gear).

    Yes, it would take longer to develop, but the benefits – to the story and to the enriched experience- make the effort worthwhile.

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