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Til Death do us Part

by Andrew Richie

A commentary on current death systems in muds, by Andrew Ritchie.


Death in muds is a concept that is often given little thought to by implementers, which leads to a system that is either too lenient, too harsh and/or too out of context for the game. The purpose of this document is to enlighten the mudding community regarding the current death systems implemented, and to stimulate thought on how we can enhance this pivotal element of every online game.

Almost all MUD players have had their experiences with in-game death, and I know for one that as a player I have never stumbled upon a MUD that has implemented what I believe is a fair, believable and original system. Assuming death accompanies some sort of punishment (the author has never come across a MUD in which you are rewarded for dying), obviously you will hardly ever have players saying, "I just died, and it was really neat!" The somewhat dismal nature of death means that you probably wonít ever please everyone with your MUDís death system, but steps should be taken to increase the uniqueness and fairness of this morbid element of every game.

The Grim Reaper

I am death.
Monty Python, The Meaning of Life.

Permadeath vs. Non-Permadeath

Of course, most muds have their own unique death system that in some way differs from others, however almost all of them can be placed into broad categories. Death systems are generally either 'Permadeath' or 'Non-Permadeath'. The difference? Permadeath is a term given to a system whereby each character has a certain number of times that they can die before the character is permanently dead. Non-Permadeath is the opposite - there is no restriction on how many times a character can die. In general, a Permadeath system would be found on a more role-playing-orientated MUD, as it is considered more 'believable', whereas a Hack n' Slash MUD would generally employ a Non-Permadeath system (as death would be a more common event).

It is worth noting that not many muds have implemented a "die once and it is all over" Permadeath system. This is mainly because such a system is very unattractive to players, as they feel that it would be unfair to invest so much time and effort into a character, for it all to be lost due to one death. As a result, most Permadeath games implement a system whereby the total number of allowable deaths before Permadeath is either:

    1. Static, set upon character creation (for instance, 10 is a popular choice) or
    2. Variable, and can be increased by performing specific tasks (for example, completing a quest)

Consequences of Death

Apart from categorizing death systems into Permadeath and Non-Permadeath, we can further group them in terms of what the consequences of dying are. Below is a list of some common consequences (some games adopt a hybrid of the following):

    1. The character is transported to a different location (for instance, a temple or to some sort of portal);
    2. The character is deprived of a certain amount of experience/skill points and/or levels;
    3. The character loses a certain amount of equipment worn at the time of death;
    4. The character cannot perform specific tasks for a set period of time;
    5. The character is taken to the 'Afterlife' or somewhere similar and must perform a specific activity, remain there for a set period of time or be resurrected by another character (usually by magical means);
    6. The character is unable to be 'played' for a specific amount of time, or until a specific event as taken place (a resurrection or something similar);
    7. The character loses a 'Death Point' (Permadeath based games);
    8. The character dies permanently, and is no longer playable (Permadeath based games).

Hack n' Slash based muds tend to implement one of the first four consequences, or a combination of them. Combat is emphasized in these games and thus death is generally considered a simple nuisance with little, if any, major handicaps as a result. On the whole, Hack n' Slash muds have a death system that fits in with context of the game, however there is always room for improvement.

Over the past few years, we have seen some Hack n' Slash based muds evolve into role-playing environments. Unfortunately, as these role-playing games generally use code bases that were originally developed for Hack n' Slash games, some elements of these role-playing muds are still predominantly based around a Hack n' Slash system. Death is one of them. Dying is not only unrealistic in the majority of role-playing muds; it is also generally unfair.

As a side note, I as the author realize that playing a MUD will never be a completely realistic experience, as they are after all simply games and a certain amount of suspension of disbelief will always be required. However, when I talk about believability I am really talking about believability within the context of the game - or continuity, if you prefer.


So what is the perfect death system for muds? The truth is, there is no one perfect system. Every MUD should be unique, and thus requires a unique death system. As implementers and coders, we should aim for a death system which is both fair and believable, unique and exciting. I personally believe that death in today's muds is too common and too lenient in terms of punishment. If you attacked a shopkeeper he/she would not fight you to the death, let alone a rabbit! In role-playing muds, I believe some form of Permadeath is required, in order for death to mean something. However, this is simply a personal point of view, and I understand others have different views. Whatever the case, dying in any game should be a unique, educating and hopefully rare event. Happy mudding!

Andrew Ritchie is currently designing his own MUD, which so far is 99% concept and 1% functional.