I’ve wanted to write an article on that old hoary chestnut of MMO discussions, permadeath, for quite some time, but I didn’t want to bog down in same-old, same-old coverage. I don’t really care about the heated arguments that people get in over this subject — face it: some like it, some hate it (Richard Bartle oddly put it at IMGDC in 2007, “Do you want permadeath or pedophilia? Both seem equally attractive to most players.”), and nobody’s going to budge from either position.
But it’s a fascinating topic to me, because I’ve always viewed permadeath as the antithesis of how I play MMOs. Even though I know the game itself or my interest in it will end at some point, I operate under the illusion that it will continue on indefinitely, and that my characters will never die. Permadeath takes the opposing view as it says, “Your characters are going to die. The only question is, when.”
My negative reaction to it as a MMORPG gamer has grown a knee-jerk reaction against exploring the dark underbelly of permadeath, at least until I became gradually aware that DDO has a small but strong subcommunity of gamers that have not only embraced the permadeath spirit from the pen-and-paper game, but altered their gaming experience to replicate the “one character, one life” motto.
It takes a special breed of player to look at a game as complex and challenging as DDO and go, “You know what? This needs to be harder.” But with slow content additions from Turbine and a love of the PnP permadeath system, DDOers have taken it upon themselves to create a subculture in the game based around permadeath — and the crazy thing is, it’s thrived in that environment.
It’s all an “honor system” type of thing — you create a character in a permadeath guild, and if that character ever dies and is not resurrected by another character, then the player is honor-bound to delete that character (after, presumably, mailing that character’s items and gold to the next one). Permadeath characters quest together, keeping each other honest, and carefully crawling through dungeons while using tactics and teamwork.
“DDO is uniquely suited to Permadeath play for several reasons. All adventure areas are instanced, isolating PD players from those that are not. In DDO, there are practically infinite character progression possibilities. That makes rolling a new character interesting even if that character does the same quests as the last. Most importantly, many DDO players are ex or current Dungeons and Dragons players. Those players are familiar with the challenge of potential character loss.”
The rules were pretty straight-forward: you join the guild with a newly-created level 1 character, and if that character dies at any point, you have to delete it, or else leave the guild. The only exception is that if one of your current co-dungeoneers can resurrect you with a spell. One item may be passed down to your next character, and any current groupmates may select an item from what’s left on your corpse. You only party within the guild, and refrain from using the auction house and brokers to upgrade your character beyond what you find in dungeons.
It was while reading these rules that a crazy idea popped into my head: what if I embraced the dark side, if only for a month or so, and tried the permadeath lifestyle? After all, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone by partaking in Warhammer’s PvP, even though I’m far more of a PvE guy at heart. Could I commit to playing within this ruleset?
In other words, could I make a character that I knew was going to die?
I wrestled with a lot of common sense issues — I have only a limited amount of gaming time these days, and I wasn’t sure if this was the best way to spend it. I worried that I’d lose interest in a character that I saw had no hope for any significant future. And I knew that the longer the character survived, it would be that much more agonizing when he bit the dust.
I haven’t quite made the leap, but the idea continues to tickle the back of my mind. Maybe. Someday.