Dying Is A Drag
For players who invest time and energy into building a PC, the worst thing that can happen to them is to see their PC suddenly come to an untimely death. Whether it comes during battle, from a trap, or simply attrition, there is always that sinking feeling when you see your PC's HPs plummet to zero and they keel over dead. In NWN2, a system was introduced that meant a PC was not actually dead if someone in the party survived a battle. At the end of the battle, if there was a survivor in the party, all the PCs who had "fallen" would get back up as if they had only been knocked unconscious. While I have a degree of respect for this system, I do feel it robs the game of the impact of death, which became a lot harder to meet. For Better The Demon, I wanted to introduce an idea I had in mind since my early pen and paper days that helped in this sort of situation. This idea, however, could not be introduced until after the heroes had finished the Soul Shaker module, which is where this module begins.
Part of the complexity with the Death System for my campaign is that I have introduced a couple of gaming elements that replace the standard system. The first and most complex element I have added is something I call the Life Essence. The second element is because, unlike SoZ, when a PC dies in my campaign they remain dead! Add to this that it also has to cope with a MP game (and overland maps) and the system becomes quite involved.
The Life Essence (Soul Protection)
I have written about this item even before this blog began, and have continued to write about it on and off over the course of this blog. (I first mentioned it three years ago in an old forum post on 30th August 2007, which I reposted in this blog here.) It is probably one of the most distinguishing elements introduced in the campaign that helps mark the new era. To begin with, the PCs will not know what this item is, but not too long after they begin their adventure, they will be introduced to an "understanding of life" and the Life Essence. I won't go into any more details about this in particular (I don't want to spoil the story), but will, instead, explain a little more how this new element helps alter the way the game plays. If, however, you would like to read a little more about the Life Essence, then also read this blog.
The bottom line is that one use of the Life Essence is that it can be used to help protect a PC from untimely death, by offering Soul Protection. It also has some other very useful applications and so a player must decide on how they want to use this item in the game. As they collect more of the Life Essence, so they may be more flexible with its use, but there is always a balance to keep. By default, Soul Protection is activated from the moment the PC understands its concept. From that moment on, when a PC dies, if they have enough Life Essence on them, they will immediately be reborn with full hit points and without any ailments. In combat, a PC will not even fall to the floor as the Life Essence sustains their life and keeps them from death. In game terms, one Life Essence is required for each level the PC has acquired. E.g. A first level fighter who dies carrying three Life Essences, will have one of them used up to enable rebirth, leaving them with two. Once the PC has run out of Life Essence, they will die in the normal way. NB: The term "rebirth" is used when a PC is respawned using Life Essences, as opposed to being "respawned" using the Main Death GUI.
Resisting The Rebirth
Because the Life Essence is valuable in other ways, the player has the option to determine if their PC resists the power of the Life Essence to have them be reborn or not. Resisting is more likely to be the case if somebody in the party has the ability to raise the PC from the dead in other ways, or can pay somebody else to do it. As the PC increases in level, the Life Essence may be better saved for uses other than Soul Protection.
A Party In Action
Here is an example of how a combat might unfurl in a single player game with a party of three PCs. Hopefully, it helps to explain how the system works. A MP game plays the same way as described for the SP game except when a player's Main PC dies (and who carries insufficient Life Essences for a rebirth) then they may only continue to control another companion (not possessed by any other player) or wait until a fellow party player comes along and revives them. If all the players eventually die through lack of Life Essences, then the assigned leader for the group of players will be offered the chance to reload only. There is no respawn option available in a MP game. (UPDATE: There are some circumstances where a respawn option will be given in a MP game, such as when changing modules, or when leaving an encounter area.)
Some of the following pictures have been edited for ease of demonstration.
Clicking on the tombstone reveals Brent's body (that can be carried) and any items he was carrying(none in this example). It would not show "plot items" he carried, as these would have automatically have been transferred to the Main PC upon his death (in case the player had chosen to abandon the companion).
When Adaur dies carrying Life Essence, there is no tombstone - and because the player chose to have auto-rebirth turned off for this PC, the player must now stand next to the corpse to be offered a choice of Life Essence rebirth or to leave him for the time being. Notice, Adaur is also removed from the party member side bar when not using auto-rebirth. He will also have had any "plot items" he carried moved to the player's Main PC upon his death.
When the Main PC dies (Adarkin in this case), he will automatically be offered to be reborn if he carried sufficient Life Essences. The player can choose to either rebirth using some of the Life Essences Adarkin carries or reload a game. If the player had had auto-rebirth enabled for Adarkin, then the PC would have kept automatically respawning until he had run out of Life Essences.
If the Main PC had died without any remaining companions to take control of or Life Essences to be reborn with, then the player is offered the Main Game Death menu and have the option to Respawn the Main PC, but with an XP penalty.
Above are some examples of the feedback during combat, including the turn counter. In the first window, it shows the combat being initiated (the establishing round, which may not be a complete round of actions), followed shortly after by Brent dying. (He had no Life Essences on him at all and so just died leaving a tombstone.) The second window shows a combat where Adaur did have auto-rebirth enabled and lost a Life Essence on a rebirth situation. The last window shows Adarkin "apologising" to stop all further combat that had been initiated. The "Sorry" option can only be used with "good" aligned NPCs who have been attacked "by mistake". The facility can only be used after a 30 second cool down period and there are also consequences for killing innocents "by mistake" or otherwise.
Overland Travel (Death By Attrition)
In Better The Demon, an unprepared party can also die through attrition, especially in the early days when they do not have spells to support them. Even then, death by attrition is most likely to occur when the player decides to take his party on a long distance journey. There are circumstances when a party member will refuse to travel in the first place (when there is no means to supply food/water for the journey), but if travel is started, then the leader of the party (or the chosen leader for a group of players in a MP game) has the sole responsibility for all the PCs in the party.
When a party enters overland travel, it is the leader who controls where the party travel, and it is only the leader of the party that the player directly controls. (In a MP game, only the lead player controls the direction of travel for all the players, just like SoZ.) It is possible for companions to die along the way through lack of food/water, and in such circumstances if they do not have Life Essence to revive them for a short while longer (and before they die again from lack of food and water), then they will die just as if they had in battle and leave a tombstone on the map that contains their body and items. The leader must then decide for the group if they intend to take the fallen companion with them or not.
If the leader themselves dies, and they carry Life Essence, they will be revived automatically if set to do so or given the option to be reborn using Life Essences or reload a game. If they do not carry Life Essences, then they will only be given the option to reload a game at the official Death GUI. Basically, on an overland map, if the leader dies and does not have sufficient Life Essences to be reborn, then the party is considered "lost" and if there are any surviving companions at the time, then they are also considered dead. On an overland map, it makes sense to ensure the leader stays alive the longest for the sake of the party!