Toon death is quite the popular topic recently (and probably always has been).
KillTenRats wrote on the topic, posing the problem of toon death, and favouring power modifiers over xp loss (or debt). I’m not so sure on the power modifier approach, personally.
But I definitely agree on xp loss / debt. XP loss doesn’t advance the story (“Uberon OrcSlayer succumed to the throng that assailed him: one final sword thrust and Uberon had met his end. But fear not, moments later he was back on his feet, although, strangely, somewhat dumber for having died.”). The only emotion it elicits (for me) is annoyance.
One point in the post that I really appreciated was the suggestion, “How about, if you die more than 20 times after reaching some level or another, your chance of being dragged to hades increases?”
I’ll add to that idea! Why does death occur so frequently? Dieing nightly is weird. I know it’s fantasy … I know the rules of reality needn’t apply … but that’s no excuse to overuse a metaphor.
Want death to mean something? Don’t kill the players so often.
For those that played, I refer you back to PnP RPG times and the concept of DM Grace. Maybe some of you had a DM that delighted in killing your characters. Maybe some of you played in such a borked world that rezzes were common place. In the sessions I played, the DM didn’t let us die very often. He found ways to save us: to keep the story going (and perhaps even build the story).
So what about a MMO where death is rare. Sure, you get incapped. But once down, Grlphagh the Orc doesn’t deal the death blow: he binds you up and drags you off to some nether section of the cave. As KillTenRats said, “Boom! Side Quest!”.
Town guards don’t kill you, they incap and drag you off to jail. Great chance for a jail break mission! Think Lord of the Rings, Frodo and Shelob. Monsters don’t kill you. The bind you up and secret you in their lair, right ready for a rescue mission.
Perhaps even, once one toon in the group is down and bound, events transpire that encourage the remaining group to withdraw (thus properly setting the stage for the rescue).
Death should be reserved for special occasions. Perhaps a player opts to accept the risk of perma death in exchange for an enhanced power-set. Your group is on an ‘epic’ quest, you’re in the final stage, your group is losing … you opt to accept permadeath risk in exchange for beserker abilities.
Win or lose, it makes for good story and exciting times. Real risk (as real as it gets in a MMO)! Player accepted risk! Great story (does our hero save his party, or does he die trying?)!
Or, perhaps the game randomly assigns you a set of situations where you are susceptible to perma-death. Example: You meet a seer who tells you, “I forsee you shall die, alone in the deeps, defeated by an Orc!”. When ungrouped, in a cave, Orcs will attempt death-blows. Might give you cause to think (and fear?) on that odd occasion when you’re alone in the deep. Certainly, at least, you’ll take a friend along (but who’s to say the Orc’s don’t start trying to death-blow you the second your friend is out of range, or incapped). Scarey stuff!
My prescription: keep death rare; find other metaphors for defeat (especially where side quests can be spawned); make death something of concern (harsh); make it an opportunity for great story!