The other day, in Immortality, we discussed whether death was necessary in RPGs. Now Gareth Fouche has gotten into the act, but he dances around the issue somewhat.

In his post, Gareth affirms that death isn’t necessary, then goes on to give some examples. However, what he comes up with is more in the area of RTS, or maybe RTS/Adventure hybrids. One might, by stretching things, call them RPGs, but they certainly aren’t “traditional”.

When we consider the usual role-playing game, we see that, regardless of story, the focus is on combat and loot. As we pretty much agreed in Loving Loot, finding Neat Items is one of the activities we enjoy and that keeps us going.

However, if our characters are immortal, much of the pleasure in finding “good stuff” diminishes. After all, if we can take out almost any monster with our “trusty rusty dagger”, does that “+50 Sword Of Instant Death” matter as much? It might make combats faster, but that’s about all.

And we still have the problem of combat itself. There’s no edge to it when we know our characters can’t be killed. Of course, as Gareth mentions, death is really a synonym for “failure.”.

That’s something we looked at in Learned Your Lesson?, where I pointed out that dying usually means you were careless, unprepared, in over your head, or used the wrong tactics. So death is the consequence of some mistake. There can be other consequences, as mentioned in my original post above.

The question still comes down to whether we would be happy with a mechanism other than death for our mistakes. We could lose gold, but most games don’t handle that well to begin with; usually we have more than we can spend anyway.

We could lose experience points; that’s certainly more painful than dying (or dying and losing experience). We could lose items, temporarily or permanently. We could be captured and have to escape.

But…if we can’t die, how can we lose the fight in the first place? I suppose we could be overpowered and taken prisoner. Still, that wouldn’t work for every combat, and there is a lot of fighting in these games, most of it with cannon fodder to provide experience.

If every combat is made “special” is some way, then there can’t be so many of them. That would mean less fighting and less loot, two of the activities we look forward to most.

So yeah, unless some designer or development team comes up with a brilliantly creative way to handle this situation, I stick to my initial belief: that death is going to be our “mark of failure” for quite awhile yet.

Who Wants To Live Forever? on Gareth’s blog