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MMORPG Design Challenge: Death System

SirAgravaineSirAgravaine Member RarePosts: 520
edited February 2017 in The Pub at MMORPG.COM
In the spirit of a true "armchair" game designer, I want to start a series of discussions about MMORPG design, focusing in on specific topics/systems and then casually voting for our favorite submissions (using some basic guidelines, below).


To make a submission, post a comment following the template below.
To vote on a submission, click the "Awesome" or "Agree" Reactions at the bottom of a comment.

Topic: Death System

Seemingly every roleplaying game from pen and paper to the latest AAA RPG has a death mechanic/system. Most single-player games work upon the assumption that when the character dies, they are dead, and you must restart the "story" from a save point. Online games unfortunately don't have the convenient implementation of "save states" as the worlds are shared and often 'persistent'.

In the spirit of a casual or hobbyist game designer, I want everyone to take the time to write up a brief version of their ideal Death Mechanic/System, focusing on creativity and how the system seamlessly integrates into the game world. Without further ado, here is the template, with my own submission (as an example):

1.  Death Mechanic Story Tie-in (Magic, Technology, etc.)? Why would players like this tie-in?

Player characters (PCs) are temporally-bound, with wearable technology, to a massive network of space-time manipulation engines known as pylons. The wearable tech allows the PCs to manipulate space and time in a variety of specialized ways, at a cost.

Players would like this as it integrates the death mechanic into a variety of other game systems, allowing for a cohesive design that ties in several elements that are woven throughout the game's story arc and the player's drive for exploring/unraveling the lore of the world, and the various implications of this advanced technology.

2.  What happens to my character (Spirit Form, Cloning Facility, etc.)? What is new/different about this feature?

When the PC nears death (read: dies) they will be 'teleported' to the nearest Pylon, and provided with necessary provisions to carry on (basic equipment, clothing, etc.)

Respawning at designated regional points and losing equipment/skill effectiveness are not a new features, but familiar ones. The innovation comes from how these features integrate into the space-time technology and weave together with the fabric of the game world and storyline.

3.  How does death impact gameplay (Penalty, corpse run, etc.)? What player demographics does this system attract or repulse?

The 'teleportation' through space-time causes temporary amnesia that affects the PCs skills, abilities, and other interactive elements to gameplay. The only equipment retained is the wearable time-tech, but basic equipment is provided by personnel staffing the pylons. All other equipment is lost upon death, which ties into the equipment/crafting system.

Death penalties are not always integrated into MMORPGs, but are fairly common amongst the more popular games. I believe this death system would attract traditional MMORPG players (skill penalty) as well as players that like games with robust crafting professions. Players that get attached to equipment or are used to having no death penalty would not take to this system.

4.  How is death avoided (Potions, healing, etc.)? How does this avoidance method interact with the combat system?

Through injury mitigation and healing mechanics that rely on both quick reactions and more advanced restoration of injured limbs etc.

Different from traditional MMORPG combat systems, the damage system would replace health/hit points with a dynamic injury system. Injuries would be representative of the location of injury and type of damage being dealt (fire, acid, piercing, etc.) and would be mitigated by corresponding protective qualities (fire retardant material, corrosion-preventative material, anti-piercing etc.) and healed using specific short-term and long-term treatment based on the type of injury. This system would implement injuries with exponential (rather than linear) growth that puts injury mitigation (read: armor) at the forefront of death-prevention, and makes fast-reaction triage the modus operandi of injury-management.

Have Fun & Discuss


  • carotidcarotid Member UncommonPosts: 425
    You're way over-thinking this.

    EQ 1 death system was perfect. Yeah, after few deaths, I learned to be a better player.
  • SirAgravaineSirAgravaine Member RarePosts: 520
    carotid said:
    You're way over-thinking this.

    EQ 1 death system was perfect. Yeah, after few deaths, I learned to be a better player.
    What was the EQ 1 death system? I played Asheron's Call during that era, we were sort of the EQ1 rivals.
  • sunandshadowsunandshadow Member RarePosts: 1,985
    edited February 2017
    The death system really depends on the rest of the game, like how healing, hp regen, mana regen, and leveling up work.  It's impossible to put forth a proposal with all the details in it if you don't know what the rest of the game is like.  But if we assume a standard Wow-like spellbar-cooldown type of game, I favor the light-penalty type where you lose some money and XP (but not below the minimum of your current level, so you can never go down a level.  No looting or corpse runs, but you have to switch your character into meditating mode if you want to regen instead of using consumable items.  In meditate mode monsters can't attack you, so this is a good time for players to take a bathroom break or snack break, or to let their temper cool off if the death made them angry.

    Story-wise, well, I've seen a lot of games that use the same 2 or 3 explanations for why the player or everyone is immortal.  The details I'd choose again depend on the rest of the game, but I'd probably go with the type where the game world isn't like ours, but instead is a giant simulation or the dream of a god or something like that.

    But, systems like Crowfall's where the player's character is actually a spirit that can posses a new body each time are also fun.  Or similarly, the player might be the overmind of an alien hive that can choose to drive around one worker or warrior at a time, and get a new one from the hive if theirs dies.  That kind of system could go especially well with a game that doesn't have gear at all.

    Or, I love tactical combat MMOs, though they are sadly rare.  A tactical combat system where the player's avatar doesn't fight (like pokemon) has a built-in explanation for why there's no real death, just the player hauling fainted and tired units back for healing.

    Oh yeah, injury mitigation.  Well if it's a gear-based game, that's the base resistance to injury, and then the DPS is what determines whether the character can kill a monster before running out of health.  Generally a character with appropriate but not perfect gear should be able to kill one monster a few levels above them before running out of health, and should be able to kill monsters a few levels below them almost continuously.  For same level monsters they should have to res every 2 or 3 monsters, and fighting 2 at the same time should be possible but dangerous.  One of the implications of this system is that if there's a healing class, and if it has low DPS, it should either have heavy armor or an ability that freezes monsters in place or slows them down, so they can't get in range to hit.
    I want to help design and develop a PvE-focused, solo-friendly, sandpark MMO which combines crafting, monster hunting, and story.  So PM me if you are starting one.
  • WizardryWizardry Member LegendaryPosts: 19,332
    carotid said:
    You're way over-thinking this.

    EQ 1 death system was perfect. Yeah, after few deaths, I learned to be a better player.
    Nah was far from perfect because it caused arguments and flaming when deaths started to happen.

    You could be the best player in the entire world ,it does not  mean you can't die in a group.As well some,times players like top push themselves and go for the ultimate challenge or of course just to brag they beat so and so Boss at level whatever.

    Point is we likely will never see a perfect scenario but i prefer to lose the whole DEATH idea altogether and just call it a KO status.The way Death is done reminds of the term END GAME,if it is over then it is over,yet seems we continue on,so terms are being misused.

    I want a KO status with statistic penalties to represent being injured.I want a system that determines the extent of your injury,so be it 5-15 minutes of stat penalties.

    I also believe some other form of penalty should be incurred so as to not represent players on an equal level when they are clearly not.Basically like saying,i don't want to give a losing team the same return as the winning team.However one bad player could cause an entire group to fail or even just some bad luck,however luck can often be controlled example  a spawn on top of a fight could have been avoided.

    Never forget 3 mile Island and never trust a government official or company spokesman.

  • 45074507 Member UncommonPosts: 351
    As @sunandshadow said, you cannot design a death system in a vacuum; several factors of the larger game influence what a fitting death system is. Therefore, I will be outlining the death system in the horizontal progression, FPS combat, Lineage 2-style flag-based factionless open world PvP, Wild West-themed MMORPG that I've been designing off and on for the past few months.

    1. Death mechanic story tie-in? Why would players like this tie-in?

    Based on the numerous belief systems, both ancient and modern, that utilize reincarnation, upon dying players would be resurrected as a young child that is their 'next of kin'. As a young child, the player has several disadvantages, such as reduced speed and strength, and must age their character until about age 16, after which aging happens about half as quickly and is only cosmetic (greying hair, wrinkles, etc) until death from old age at around age 70. Aging is accomplished by simply spending time in game without being flagged AFK (prolonged inactivity).

    Players would like this tie in initially for its novelty (how many games let you play as a pistol-wielding five year old?), and in the long-term for its easy penalty scalability based on type of death (start as a younger or older child for dying in different fashions).

    2. What happens to my character? What is new/different about this feature?

    You are reincarnated as the next of kin for your previous character, before which you are allowed to change gender, skin colour, facial features, etc, which is the only time you are able to do so. Once reincarnated in one of the NPC-controlled cities of your choosing, you are allowed access to your old bank, old property, etc as a consequence of being next of kin. The only thing you don't get back is what you were wearing when you died, which is lootable by other players on death (unless you are unflagged and killed by an outlaw, in which case you keep everything except one randomly selected item).

    It is more or less the same as many similar systems of after-death penalties and item loss found in many MMORPGs. The difference lies in the lore explanation and the cosmetic component of the after-death penalties.

    3. How does death impact gameplay? What player demographics does this attract/repulse?

    You must spend anywhere from 0.5-24 hours aging your character back up to adulthood following death, depending on the circumstances under which you died (very short if you were killed by an outlaw while unflagged, very long if you were an outlaw, for example). You also lose everything you had on you when dying, which can be looted by anyone.

    This may repulse gankers, 'hardcore' PvPers and PvE 'carebears', while attracting in particular people who enjoy both PvP and PvE, but not necessarily at the same time.

    4. How is death avoided? How does this avoidance method interact with the combat?

    Similar to your example, this system will also do away with hit points in favour of location based damage and several meters for different types of damage (disease, blood loss, internal bleeding, organ loss, etc). Because FPS combat is used, and the weaponry is mainly bolt, pump and lever action (meaning less projectiles per minute, so less collision tracking calculations), it is possible to track projectiles using realistic physics and ballistics to determine where and with what velocity a projectile hits. Because of this, wounds appear in realistic locations with realistic severities on your avatar, requiring the surgery expertise of another player who plays a minigame that determines quality of disinfecting and bandaging. Players can die not only from normal 'primary' causes, but also from disease and blood loss from an improperly bandaged wound. A properly bandaged wound takes between 15 and 60 minutes to heal, depending on location, severity and bandaging quality.

    Limbs can also be permanently amputed, either by surgeons to stop the spread of infection, or by players using heavy calibre weaponry (cannons, artillery) and/or blades, requiring the acquisition of a player crafted prosthetic to regain use of that limb (the extent of use regained dependent on quality of the crafted prosthetic). Heads can also be cut off, but that instakills the player.

    Thanks for posting this topic - articulating all the ideas that were until now solely in my mind was very helpful. Looking forward to more of these 'design challenges'.
  • nerovergilnerovergil Member UncommonPosts: 680
    no. just delete your character = perma death
  • EldurianEldurian Member EpicPosts: 2,736
    edited September 2017
    1. The game takes a bit of creative license to take well known mythological creatures and adapt them to work to the setting. In this case, the creature in question are phoenixes. Phoenixes are highly intelligent and shapeshifters, akin to dragons in many settings. However they retain the most iconic phoenix ability, the ability to be reborn when they die.

    Phoenixes were banished from the setting along with most other forms of magic centuries ago, however magic is making a resurgence and returning to the world. This resurgence has awoken the phoenix blood in those descended from them. 

    All player characters are descendants of phoenixes. This is what gives them their capability to respawn. It also gives them magic that explains most of their extraordinary abilities. It largely mimics the ability found in their ancestors.

    2. As a descendant of phoenix you are too weak to simply be reborn from your own ashes on the spot. Your character does burst into flames and disintegrate upon death however the ashes then seek out sites of magical significance where your soul and ashes can reform your being. Only through powerful magic can you respawn elsewhere.

    In other words I'm keeping respawn points because they are a very balancing mechanic. Resurrection spells are also possible but they are a bit more limited. They require a fairly expensive material component and consume a charge of the spell. Charges must be refreshed by the caster visiting a respawn point themselves. 

    3. Your gear stays with your body when you die. Depending on where you die this may enable another player to loot it, or you can specifically give players (Trusted guild members etc.) the ability to loot it anywhere so they can recover it for you in the case of your death.

    I'd say about 30% of the map will be fully disabled for PvP outside arenas with an additional 50% enabling in limited circumstances. This would give players looking to avoid PvP entirely free reign of about 60% of the map without having to fear banditry or murder so long as they do not get embroiled in the political happenings of the region they are traveling through, with an additional 20% where bandits can demand they turn over their goods but cannot kill them if they don't resist.

    On other other hand for players seeking PvP 20% of it will be full FFA Open World PvP while an additional 50% allows for PvP within certain conditions. Those conditions tend to be easy to meet of you specifically want PvP but will not enable you to kill just anyone. For instance by sabotaging a regime in a certain area you can open yourself up to combat with the enforcers or that regime, but not to the common folk on the street.

    The intent is to cater to many crowds with many different feelings toward PvP. The ability for full loot Open World PvP in most of the map offers a lot to that crowd, but the ability to avoid such instances of PvP in most of the map also offers something to those who are utterly uninterested in such an experience. The primary target audience are people who do not fall along either extreme but enjoy PvP sometimes, and not having to worry about it other times.

    4. As mentioned in point 2 there will be a limited resurrection mechanic that involves both expensive material components and charges which must be refreshed at respawn points.

    Another very important thing is that defeat in combat very infrequently leads to immediate death. Generally your character will fall to the ground disabled where you can either receive a coup de grâce or be resuscitated. At this stage you will be fairly easy to revive, it is an actual death that requires a resurrection spell.

    Hit loss will be the most common way to die but alternate win conditions are a very real possibility. Some of which may not even lead to death, but all of which should neutralize your target as a threat for at least a few minutes. I could go on at length about alternate win conditions but honestly most of them would see intensive review if I ever were to build an MMO, so it's not overly worth going into their details at length.
  • CryomatrixCryomatrix Member EpicPosts: 3,223
    Death System:

    Every time you die, your "halo" or special effect gets worse. So the more times you die, the duller your character looks. Those that don't die, get special rewards at certain levels that show everyone they haven't died. 

    For example, if two players are lvl 50 and one has died 10x and the other twice, people will know who has died the most based on size of cosmetic aura or cosmetic footsteps or if they will shine or not. 

    Essentially, death becomes a negative score like levels are a positive score. 

    Also, there are easier ways to not die, ability to run away, better potions, escape spells, etc. I hated that in some MMO's if you happen to aggro more than you can chew, you'll die. 

    Catch me streaming at
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