There are many strange design differences between Dungeons and Dragons Online and most “regular” MMORPGs — so many, in fact, that it would make for a long article if I were to list them. It’s what makes it such a fascinating and underrated game, in my opinion.
But perhaps one of the most innocuous and most personally fascinating details is the way the game deals with your hit and spell points. DDO isn’t just old school with a much, much slower rate of regeneration — it’s absolutely archaic with a complete lack of regen while players are in instances. You lose hit points, they don’t come back (well, automatically at least). They’re a limited resource, as are spell points (which is especially worrisome for magic-based characters).
Now, there are plenty of exceptions to this format. There are healing spells and items, as well as items that grant back SP. Rest shrines in dungeons refill meters back to full — but once per shrine per instance run only (they’re also a limited resource). And SP does trickle back to about 12 or 13 points if you dip under them. That’s usually good enough for a medium-level spell every 20 or 30 seconds.
Then, on top of this, there’s the decision to institute what I like to think of as “instance permadeath.” It’s not, really, but the idea here is that if you die during a dungeon run, well, that’s it for this run — unless someone else rezzes you, or you can dash to a rez shrine within 10 seconds distance of your body, or you pay using premium currency for a rez. I don’t usually feel that it’s worth paying to rez (that really rankles on principle), so a death while solo usually means a do-over. It’s a bit different in a party, where you have options to run back from a tavern or be rezzed by a teammate.
All of these design choices, for better or for worse, create a much different atmosphere for an MMO. For starters, it adds a greater feeling of danger to dungeon runs, especially the more difficult they are and the longer that you’re in one. Nobody wants to have to repeat an hour’s worth of progress, especially if you die on the last boss. And DDO is notorious for tossing in some really nasty traps and hard-hitting encounters that can often result in near-one-shot deaths.
Another way that this alters the run is that hit point loss isn’t automatic upon attacks and traps. There are a lot of stats running under the hood here — a lot of dice being rolled — and so it’s entirely possible to be in a fight for a good amount of time and only lose a few hit points here and there due to avoidance and resistance and shields and dodge and the like. So losing health actually feels more significant here when it happens.
I won’t lie, I really dislike the crappy position that the game puts you in — especially as a solo player — when you die far into a dungeon. None of the choices feel fair, which is why I always make sure to run with a Cleric henchman (it’s my own portable death insurance machine). But I do appreciate how my own stats turn into limited resources that have more worth and weight. It makes for interesting moment-to-moment choices: How cautious should I be going down this hall? Do I spend SP to throw on a bunch of protection spells or save the SP and risk more HP loss? Do I use the rest shrine now or later? How should I pull this next group of bad guys? How much should I invest in trap detection and disarming?
Those aren’t questions or choices that I normally have to concern myself with in MMOs, and I enjoy having them here. DDO’s adventures may play out a whole heck of a lot faster than in a pen-and-paper setting, but it still retains a lot of the PnP feel because of these design decisions. It’s a good example of how the structure and limits of an IP helped to create a much more interesting MMO than it would be otherwise.