Ask the Druid - O Death, Where is Thy Sting?

Ask the Druid - O Death, Where is Thy Sting?

The death penalty can be a thorny issue for any MMO--some like to die gently, while others like to feel the pain. Is there a happy medium? The Wise Druid found a great potential solution within the EverQuest Next fan community.

Dear Wise Druid,

So, last week’s Round Table topic was about the death penalty. Where do druids stand on that? Are they old school or wussy? EQ-tough or WoW-wimpy?


Corpse Runner

My Dear Runner,

I can’t speak for all druids, but I can speak for this one--I’m somewhere in between. Lewis B. covered different types of death penalties quite well in his EQHammer article, Death and Consequences, so I won’t reiterate all of that. Let’s jump right to the meat of things.

Dying in EverQuest used to suck. It meant you’d be, at a minimum, running back--sans your cool gear-- from your bind point to wherever your broken corpse decorated the landscape. Looting up and reclaiming your stuff meant that you lost a healthy chunk of the experienced you’d worked hours to gain, unless you were able to find a cleric to resurrect you, in which case you’d not only get a free ride to your corpse, but you’d regain some (though not all) of that lost XP. At its worst, dying in a Bad Place in EQ could mean that you’d have to run all but naked through an incredibly dangerous and hostile zone, where you were likely to die again... and again...and again unless you had help. You could even lose a level as a result of XP loss. Left for a long enough time, your corpse would rot...and all your gear with it. Aside from perma-death, there really aren’t many harsher death mechanics.

 As harsh as it was, the death penalty in EverQuest had benefits, although they were definitely subtle and hard to recognize when you were struggling to reclaim a corpse.

  1. You feared dying. And while that may not seem like a good thing on the surface, it had a positive effect--you actually cared about playing well. Not only that, but the fear of dying brought with it this rush of adrenaline that’s impossible to replicate in games with weaker death penalties, where death is nothing more than a minor inconvenience.
  2. You had to make (and keep) friends. In other words, you couldn’t be a jackhole, because if you were you’d find it difficult to get people to help you when you were truly in a bind. You had to stay on good terms with clerics (for resurrections), necros (for their corpse-calling abilities), and others who’d be willing to fight by your side to keep you from losing hours of hard-fought experience or, in extreme cases, all your stuff.

So, in my druidly opinion, the trick is to figure out a way to combine both the adrenaline rush and the community-centered approach to death without making it such a pain in the backside that it becomes burdensome for casual players and those who don’t have time to fritter away hunting down their broken body and retrieving their stuff, nor the energy to make up a huge chunk of lost experience. I’d been pondering exactly how this could be done when I came across a great post on the EQN subreddit that seemed like the perfect solution.

jake032978 suggested that the one-size-fits-all death penalty seems like an antiquated notion. He wrote:

I was thinking that having one type of death penalty is an old concept. With something like EQN they could do something very different. We know orcs like gold, so maybe when an orc kills you he steals all your gold. Maybe if a wolf kills you, you respawn with an injury that slows your movement. If a lich kills you, a corpse run might be needed. By having multiple penalties they can scale difficulty or risk/reward more, as well. It would also let people choose the kind of penalty they receive, in a way, by letting them choose what areas and mobs they fight. I just think the whole one size fits all penalty for death is outdated and could be another thing they change with a next gen title.

Um...that’s a seriously cool idea, Jake. (And a great many other folks on Reddit seem to agree.) Let’s take a closer look at what he’s proposing:

  • Your death experience changes based on the mob that killed you. An orc might jack your gold, while a wolf or other wild animal might leave you with a temporary limp. Now, that’s immersive and guaranteed to keep the game interesting!
  • The difficulty of your death recovery process would scale based on the difficulty of the encounter. Don’t have time for a lengthy corpse recovery? Then don’t get in over your head--its risk versus reward. If you want to kill the bigger bad guys with better stuff, then you’d better be prepared to work a bit to recover should one of those bad guys get the best of you.

LuciferousLeo had another great thought to add to the risk-versus-reward death conversation:

Obviously if someone was killed by weaker things, they're probably still getting into the game. So why would you want to slap them in the face? But if someone delves deep into the depths, they know they're being reckless and if they fail, should have to pay for it.

On a side note, I would really like it [if] somehow I [could] always retrieve most of my items, either by hunting down those orcs; defeating my reincarnated body controlled by the lich; or spending 20 years in the service of the dragon I tried to steal from.

Yes! Questing to recover from your untimely in-game demise? Perfect. In fact, that’s the name of the game, isn’t it? EverQuest!

To me, this is a fantastic solution that keeps the danger and excitement alive, but lets the player decide just how deeply down the rabbit hole (er... spider cave?) he wants to go. It bids us to think not in terms of death so much as defeat, and what happens when mobs of different types and different strengths defeat us. If I’m short on playing time, I’ll stick with those overland mobs that might inconvenience me a little, leave me with a limp for a while, or maybe break some of my gear. If I have more time, I’m feeling gutsy, and I’ve brought some friends, I might delve into that cavern full of gnolls where my defeat might mean stolen gear that I have to recover via quest. On a raid level, my raid might have to work together by completing some task to resurrect our fallen comrades before continuing to the next encounter.

If EverQuest Next is poised to revolutionize the MMO genre, then SOE is going to have to get serious about making the death mechanic anything but the same old same. I want death to have consequences so that I honestly don’t want to die, which keeps the rush of excitement in the heat of battle fully alive. And yet, I want the game to remain fun, and without drudgery. Creating a mechanic where defeat has teeth (and how big those teeth are depends on how much risk I’ve decided to take on), and yet recovering from defeat is meaningful and part of the adventure, seems like a way to offer the best of both worlds. I can honestly say I hope SOE is listening to what the community is putting forward on this one, because it’s golden.

Yours very truly,


About the Author

shayalyn's picture

Karen became hopelessly hooked on EverQuest when she wandered into Norrath for the first time, immediately fell off one of the Kelethin platforms, and had to ask a Bard to find her mangled corpse. She's gained a few skills since, and logged more hours than she cares to count playing all kinds of MMOs. The EverQuest franchise remains her favorite. Relying on her druidic wisdom, she pens a weekly column, Ask the Druid, every Thursday. Send your questions to her at shayalyn [at]

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