Computer games reviews and ramblings on games and gaming, from a gamer, roleplayer and LARPer.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011


Recent events have got me thinking about character death.

Generally, in any computer game, CRPGs included, the player character losing a fight and dying doesn't really happen. Sure, the blood splattered corpse drops to rhe floor, everything fades to black and the game ends (unless, of course, another party memeber survived, in which case everyone's fine), but then, it's five minutes earlier and the fight goes differently, or the decision to get into the fight doesn't get made.

There are exceptions. One that springs immmediately to mind is the Mount and Blade series, in which named characters -including the player- never die at all, but, in a 'lucky characters from Game of Thrones' kind of way find themselves either imprisoned in a castle or dragged around the map by their captors until, by game engine randomiser fiat, they are either ransomed or manage to escape, at which point they find themselves stripped of their finest gear, most of their gold, and with no army at their backs but the memory of the pile of corpses they spent so long gathering and training up.

What I'm not aware of is any CRPG where death is permanent, as in, gen up a new character and start again. And I can see why, being forced to plough through the whole plot again from start to finish because of a miss-click or slightly off decision in the final boss fight would be a massively offputting experience, especially after a couple of runs through on a game with enough content to be worth buying.

I think I might be more interested in a well balanced MMO if it included such a mechanic (though I'm told that doesn't sell), but it would have to be a one with persistant world plot, as opposed to the general run of lazily built single player game with roughly the same sequence of quests for every character but you can only play online.

Another approach might be something along the lines of the standard party based get-out and the Mount and Blade approach that makes death final, but unlikely. It would certainly make more cautious play advisable, but it might add real intensity to the game, especially if the roleplaying experience is solid enough that you care about the character, not only their stats and kit, but who you're playing, and their relationships with NPCs. Loath as I am to quote metal all over this blog, perhaps Marilyn Manson has something to say about roleplaying when he sings "without the threat of death, there's no reason to live at all."


  1. Several of the rogue-likes (such as ADOM) had very much this mentality. But as they were substantially procedure generated you weren't playing through the same game everytime.

  2. I think your last bit hits it on the head - the only situation in which I personally would be comfortable with permanent death is one in which there is actual roleplaying going on, so the death forms part of the narrative, and a new character can be created to play a new narrative.

  3. @Jonathan Hogg
    I've not played any of them, but the reason is that I've always been put off them as CRPGs by the impression that they are nothing but dungeon crawling lewtshoarders with no character interaction or roleplay, so there's not really a character as such to get attached to, just a score.

  4. I guess Dungeons of Dredmor doesn't really count as it is more of a Rogue-like than a CRPG. But... yeah, I would be interested to see what can be done with it as you've described.

    In a related thinky-thought - I think one of the good things that games can do that significantly improve them is to make death fun or constructive in some way. E.g. (a little Valve and MP-heavy here) Team Fortress 2 where you die but get a freeze-frame of your killer in a funny composition and usually with bits of you flying about (with labels) and you're not out for too long, or Left 4 Dead where yes, you've failed, but if it's not a total wipe your friends can get you back in the game and if it is then what has lead up to it is usually entertaining, or Prince of Persia Sands of Time trilogy where you can usually rewind and try again, or the aforementioned Dungeons of Dredmor where dying will happen but it's a learning experience, or Magicka where you've probably been accidentally killed by a team mate because they crossed the streams or made things explode over-zealously.

    More playing about with death please, developers!

  5. @mejoff

    They more or less are, but there are a few that make the concept quite fun. It's challenging, you're going to die, but there is a random and always-different experience to be had. And some are incredibly charming and reference-filled (e.g. Dungeons of Dredmor).

    But no RP. (Well, I guess no formal RP as such, but plenty of imagination-based stuff)

    So it's really one of those things for an acquired taste.

  6. I think there ws an option to select hardcore dificulty in Diablo where if you were killed your realy were dead and it was new character time.

  7. Nomad Soul let you "reincarnate" as another character in the same world when your current character died; I think it was even necessary to progress some of the plot.

  8. Some roguelikes have more story than others; Angband and derivatives tend to be straight dungeon-hacks, but Nethack, ADOM and the like actually have NPCs with friendly / talky interactions, and even ongoing relationships with the character; some of which are 'just there for flavour' rather than being some kind of game mechanic.

  9. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  10. Veritas, your post was removed for pointlessly triggering content, feel free to try again, with perhaps a little more consideration.

  11. Have you seen "A Valley Without Wind", the new project by the people that did AI Wars?

    It looks like it's going to include permadeath, and be more heavily like an crpg that a roguelike.

  12. @Eldrichreality - that looks rather interesting actually. I found AI War decent and engaging enough - looks like the guys have plenty of ideas...