Permanent death

Permanent death

In computer role-playing games (CRPGs), permanent death (sometimes permadeath or PD) is a situation in which player characters (PCs) die permanently and are removed from the game. ["Never-to-return death is called permanent death or PD." (Bartle 2003, p416)] Less common terms with the same meaning are persona death and player death. [ "Some old-timers prefer the expansion persona death. Exceedingly old-timers might even use player death, but at least we're trying to break the habit." (Bartle 2003, p416)] This is in contrast to games in which characters who are killed (or incapacitated) can be restored to life (or full health), often at some minor cost to the character.

The term is most commonly used in discussions of roguelike CRPGs and massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), although it is sometimes used in discussions of the mechanics of non-electronic role-playing games.

The presence of permanent death increases the penalty for mistakes leading to the death of PC. Depending on the type of game and the player's involvement, the penalty can include loss of power in various forms in game, loss of in-game story progress, and loss of emotional investment in the PC. The primary impact of permadeath in a game is to increase the significance of player decisions concerning life-and-death matters for the PC. Those games without permanent death may or may not impose a penalty for a PC's death. In some games a PC can be restored from death for an in-game fee; the availability of such restoration, even if the PC cannot afford it, means such games are not typically labeled as having permanent death.

In multiplayer computer games

Permanent death in multiplayer computer games is very controversial. ["It's [permanent death is] the single most controversial subject in virtual worlds." (Bartle 2003, p415)] Due to player desires and the resulting market forces involved, MMORPGs (such as "World of Warcraft") and other multiplayer-focused RPGs rarely feature permanent death. Generally speaking, there is little support in multiplayer culture for permanent death. ["Existing virtual world culture is anti-PD." (Bartle 2003, p444)] Richard Bartle has compared player distaste for permadeath to player distaste for pedophilia. ["Dr. Bartle finally interrupted the conversation by trying to bring the conversation back to a player's perspective: 'Do you want permadeath or pedophilia? Both seem equally attractive to most players.'" cite web
url =
title = Slaughtering Sacred Cows
accessdate = 2007-05-26
last = Woleslagle
first = Jeff
language = English
(Quote is on [ second page] )
] For games which charge an ongoing fee to play, permanent death may drive players away, creating a financial disincentive to include permanent death. ["The most frequently cited reason against permadeath is, of course, player investment, which put succinctly says, 'We never want to give players a reason to stop paying us $10 bucks a month.' … Due to the intricate coding complexities and the… unique nature of sharing a space with other players, it’s hard enough to prevent these catastrophic events from occurring. Why on earth would we want to give you a choice as to whether or not to start a new character, or cancel your account altogether?" (Schubert 2005)] ["Not only will they [players] say they'll leave when it [permanent character death] happens, some of them actually will leave." (Bartle 2003, p424)]

"Diablo II" is a noteworthy, mainstream exception that includes support for an optional "hardcore" mode. "Hardcore mode" in "Diablo II" subjects characters to permanent death. "Star Wars Galaxies" had permadeath for Jedi characters for a short period, but later eliminated that functionality. ["For a few months, one type of "Star Wars" character, the rare and powerful Jedi, could be permanently killed. But when players began singling out Jedi characters for vicious attacks, Jedi players cried out for help, and last month LucasArts abandoned permadeath, a company spokeswoman said." (Glater 2004)]

Proponents attribute a number of reasons why others oppose permanent death. Some attribute tainted perceptions to poor early implementations. ["This is primarily due to imperfect early implementations and bad customers service decisions; nevertheless, the legacy is there." (Bartle 2003, p444)] They also believe that confusion exists between player killing and permanent death, when the two do not need to be used together. ["Many of the benefits that advocates of PKing cite are primarily due to PD; some of the strongest objections to PKing are due to its PvP element, rather than to PD." (Bartle 2003, p416)] Proponents also believe that players initially exposed to games without permanent death consider new games from that point of view. ["If they [players] began with a virtual world that had no PD, they'll judge your virtual world from that standpoint." (Bartle 2003, p424)] Those players are attributed as eventually "maturing," to a level of accepting permanent death, but only for other players' characters. ["Even if they are 'mature enough' for PD, they're [sic] attitude is analogous to the way that people in the real world view public transport. … So it is with PD: It's fine when it happens to you, but not so fine when it happens to me. (Bartle 2003, p424)]

The majority of MMORPG players are unwilling to accept the large penalty of losing their characters. Some MMORPGs experimented with permanent death in an attempt to simulate a more realistic world, but the majority of players preferred not to risk permanent death for their characters. As a result, while MMORPGs are occasionally announced that feature permanent death, most either never ship or remove permanent death so as to increase the game's mass appeal."Certain high level monsters would also have the ability to perma-kill a player character. […] In retrospect, though, that one just seems crazy." cite web
url =
title = Whatever Happened to Middle-Earth Online? (Part 2 - The Bellevue Months)
author = Ludwig, Joe
date = 2007-05-31

Proponents of permanent death want the risk of permadeath to give additional significance to their in-game actions. While games without permanent death often impose an in-game penalty for restoring a dead PC, the penalty is relatively minor compared to being forced to create a new PC. Therefore, the primary change in experience permanent death creates is that it makes a player's decisions more significant; without permanent death there is less incentive for the player to consider in-game actions seriously. ["Then, the fact that the whole experience [play without permanent death] is vacuous begins to nag at them." (Bartle 2003, p431)] Those players seeking to risk permanent death feel that the more severe consequences heighten the sense of involvement and achievement derived from their characters. ["By having a strong death penalty, such as permadeath based on life points, then one feels the thrill of battle and exuberance of a battle won." cite web
url =
title = A Case for a Permadeath Server
accessdate = 2007-05-26
author = "Drannog"
language = English
] ["Without PD (it can also mean "permadeath"), there's no sense of achievement in a game." (Bartle, "Column 2")] The increased risk renders acts of heroism and bravery within the gameworld significant; the player has risked a much larger investment of time. Without permanent death, such actions are "small actions." ["Without PD, 'small actions' are steps on a treadmill and 'done well' means you move slightly faster than people who have 'done badly.' Heroism is no such thing—it's just another example of a 'small action.'" (Bartle 2003, p431)] However, in an online game, permadeath generally means starting over from the beginning, isolating the player of the now-dead character from former comrades.

Richard Bartle called out as advantages of permanent death: restriction of early adopters from permanently held positions of power, ["In virtual worlds [without permanent death] , this is called "sandboxing" — the people who are first to positions of power keep them. There is no opportunity for change." (Bartle 2003, p426)] content reuse as players repeat early sections, ["In a virtual world with no PD, you only get to experience a body of content once." (Bartle 2003, p427)] its embodiment of the "default fiction of real life", improved player immersion from more frequent character changes, and reinforcement of high level achievement. [Bartle summarizes these points in Citation
last = Bartle
first = Richard
year = 2004
date = December 6-8 2004
title = Newbie Induction: How Poor Design Triumphs in Virtual Worlds
periodical = Other Players conference proceedings
url =
] Bartle also believes that in the absence of permanent death, game creators must continually create new content for top players, which discourages those not at the top from even bothering to advance. [Powerful PCs aren't retired because "That [retiring the PC] , however, is too much like PD for many players to stomach." To satisfy these players, additional high end content is continuously added. When this is done, "Newbies (and not-so-newbies) feel they can never catch up. The people in front will always be in front, and there's no way to overtake them. The horizon advances at the speed you approach it." (Bartle 2003, p426)]

Proponents of permanent death systems in MMORPGs are a relatively small sub-section of the hardcore gaming community. These players are often interested in additional challenges provided by games that attempt greater realism in their simulation. These players will often seek less restricted social and economic environments catering to a greater range of player versus player interaction and risk versus reward scenarios.

Those players who prefer not to play with permanent death are generally unwilling to accept the risk of the large penalties associated with it. Paying the penalty of permanent death often means a great deal of time spent to regain levels, power, influence, or emotional investment that the previous character possessed. This increased investment of time can dissuade casual players. ["It [permament death] leaves no room for error, and the tension of the game kills the enjoyment for casual gamers." Citation | last = Mortensen | first = Torill Elvira | year = 2006 | date = October 2006 | title = WoW is the New MUD: Social Gaming from Text to Video | periodical = Games and Culture | publication-date = October 2006 | volume = 1 | issue = 4 | pages = 397-413 | url = ] Depending on the design of the game, this may involve playing through content that the player has already experienced. Players no longer interested in those aspects of the game are often unwilling to spend time playing through them again, These players seek to have fun and are unwilling to play through sections they no longer enjoy in the hope of reaching others to which they previously had access. Some players dislike the way that permanent death causes players to be much more wary than they would in regular games; they argue that this cautiousness reduces the heroic atmosphere that games seek to provide. ["The more harsh your death penalties are, the less likely that your player base will take risks and interesting chances." (Schubert 2005)] Ultimately this can reduce play to slow, repetitive, low-risk play, commonly called "grinding". ["And just like that, your game is considered grindalicious, as your players bore themselves to death." (Schubert 2005)] Of course, the significance of heroism without the risk of permanent death is dramatically reduced. Most MMORPGs do not allow character creation at an arbitrary experience level, even if the player has already achieved that level with a now-dead character, providing a powerful disincentive for permanent death.

Multiplayer Games Currently Featuring Permanent Death

"DartMUD" was started in 1991 with permanent death as a specific design decision. Characters may obtain rare 'soul amulets' to enable later reincarnation, and characters dying without such an amulet may be resurrected if healed before their body rots away.

"Armageddon" has featured permanent death almost from its inception, circa 1991.

"BatMUD Hardcore" has featured permanent death using a separate copy of the 'normal' server which opened in 2000. This was heavily inspired by "Diablo II" hardcore.

"DragonRealms", a spinoff of "Gemstone IV", still features permanent death. To avoid it, the character must find favor with his or her god or goddess, rather than just the patron of death. The number of times the PC could die were counted as favors, and more could be obtained by placing "unabsorbed" experience points into an orb and then offering it to the character's god. If the character died and decayed without favors, the character would "walk the Starry Road"—"DragonRealms" worldwide messaging for permanently dying.

In "Wurm Online", high level priests can choose to become Champions of their gods. While this makes them much more powerful, if they die three times, the character will permanently die.

Multiplayer Games Not Currently Featuring Permanent Death

"Gemstone IV" featured a system in which permanent death happened if the character did not obtain favor in the form of "deeds" with the Goddess of death, Lorminstra, but this has been removed. If the character dies and is not resurrected by a cleric, the character will decay and meet Lorminstra after a period of time. Under the permanent death system, if the character had deeds, Lorminstra would guide the character back to life in a new body, with all of the character's equipment and free of wounds, but not of scars, and receive an experience penalty. If the character did not have deeds, Lorminstra would guide the character to his permanent resting place. Now, if the character does not have deeds, they will just receive a larger experience penalty than the one for characters with deeds.

"Face of Mankind", which is no longer online, also claimed to have permadeath, but it did provide automatic respawning for dead characters via 'clone insurance', which was available for a trivial in-game fee. Characters also started with three free clones, more of which could be purchased very cheaply, so permadeath only occurred when players made an effort to use it to delete their characters, as no other option for character deletion was provided.

Sierra's "Middle-earth Online" (in 1999) planned to include permanent character death as a risk posed in certain encounters. Development on this game halted and the rights later passed to Turbine, who released "" without permadeath in 2007.

In single-player computer games

Few single-player CRPGs exhibit death that is truly permanent, as most allow the player to load a previously saved game and continue from the stored position. Intrinsic implementations of permanent death can be seen within the roguelike games, such as "NetHack", most of which do not allow for restoring games upon making a fatal mistake. Another example of a single-player CRPG that has permanent death is "Wizardry 8" when playing in "Iron Man" mode. In an Iron Man game, it is not possible for the player to save the game manually; it only saves on completion of certain quests or when exiting the game. If the player's whole party dies in an Iron Man game, the save file is permanently deleted.

A variant of permanent death was used by some mid-1980s CRPGs, for example "Ultima III". On the death of any party member, the game would automatically be saved, preventing the player from restoring the game to a point before that death happened. If the last character alive died, it would be impossible to continue with that auto-saved game. However, a player could then assemble a party of new characters and heap up enough gold to have their old characters resurrected in-game, then continue with the old characters again; so there was no completely permanent death. Players usually circumvented the whole feature by pulling the floppy disk out of the drive when death of a character seemed to be imminent, thus preventing the auto-save feature from working. Another way of circumventing it was by making a copy of the floppy disk that stored the characters before going on a dangerous quest, so that the game could be restored from that copy if the characters died.

The Xbox game "Steel Battalion" offers an example of permanent death in a non-RPG context. The lengthy campaign mode must be started from scratch if the player fails to eject from a destroyed vehicle. This reinforces the simulation aspect of the game, and forces the player to think seriously about any risks taken on missions. The hacker game "Uplink" also features an example of permanent "death"; although the player cannot die in the game, the player can have his or her campaign end if caught hacking an important server, which results in the PC being disavowed by the "Uplink" corporation and forced to start from scratch. "Yoshi's Story" also demonstrates an example of permanent loss in a non-RPG context. If the player lost all of his Yoshis in Story Mode, then saved progress in story mode will be erased and the player will have to start from Page 1 again. However, stages obtained in Story Mode will still be unlocked in Trial Mode.

In other games

Few non-electronic role-playing games give players the opportunity to resurrect characters, although older combat-oriented games, including the most popular game, "Dungeons & Dragons", sometimes do. Most modern games emphasize plot and character development rather than hack-and-slash combat, and as such, player death is rarely part of the game, permanent or otherwise.Fact|date=May 2008

Even within those games in which death is possible, the frequency of permanent death varies greatly, based on the desires of the gamemaster and the play group as a whole. Similarly, because of the freedom of the gamemaster to modify rules, some gamemasters choose to add permanent death to the few games that normally lack it. Others may subtract it from games where it is normally present.

For most games with character resurrection, PCs typically must pay a price to be restored. The price is often an in-game fee paid to a non-player character with magic or technology capable of restoring the character. Such a fee might be paid by the PC in advance, or by other PCs. In many games, the effort required to create a character is decidedly non-trivial, giving players a significant incentive to avoid permanent death. Unlike MMORPGs, new player characters can be created at a power level equivalent to the remaining party, to allow the new character to meaningfully contribute to a game in progress.



* Citation
last = Bartle
first = Richard
year = 2003
date = July 2003
title = Designing Virtual Worlds
publisher = New Rides Publishing
isbn = 0-131-01816-7

* cite web
url =
title = Column 2
accessdate = 2007-05-26
last = Bartle
first = Richard A.
authorlink = Richard Bartle
language = English

* Citation
last = Glater
first = Jonathan D.
year = 2004
date = 2004-03-04
title = 50 First Deaths: A Chance to Play (and Pay) Again
periodical = New York Times
publication-date = 2004-03-04
url =

*cite web
url =
title = Please, Not the Permadeath Debate Again
accessdate = 2007-05-26
date = 2005-04-12
last = Schubert
first = Damion
language = English
Schubert is game designer whose massive multi-player game credits include Lead Designer on Meridian 59, work on Ultima Online, Lead Designer for the sequel to Ultima Online. [cite web
url =,41468/
title = Damion Schubert
accessdate = 2007-05-26
work = MobyGames
language = English

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