Death and all his friends
Never thought I’d be referencing a Coldplay album on this site, but seemed an apt title for the second part of my look at ‘fatal ends’ in DestinyQuest. As mentioned previously, I’m not a fan of killing off characters and forcing them to restart their adventures from the beginning. While computer games benefit from ‘save points’ to record progress (not something I think translates well to a paper and dice system), I considered how Book Three could offer something a bit different.
In Books One and Two, you can’t technically ‘die’. (Sorry if that was a spoiler!) If you lose a combat then your character is assumed to have survived to live another day – and can fight that annoying opponent again and again, until they triumph. Combats are not always designed to be easy and losing can have its benefits, allowing you to tackle the same opponent again but perhaps with a different strategy and approach, learning from your mistakes. And, of course, the luck of the dice is always going to play a part too. It’s a system that I like and I think, going on the majority of feedback, one that works with readers too.
But I also understand that immortality comes at a price – if you can essentially run into every combat with the knowledge that your hero is immortal, it does take away from some of the tension and the fear of losing. From a narrative perspective, my approach for Book One and Book Two made sense. The Nevarin is immortal and his powers allow him to resurrect and heal. In Book Two you are a prophet, so your death may have simply been a vision of one possible future – one you hope to set right by tackling that opponent again. In Book Three… well, again you play a very unique character. Their background and their story actually made the immortality part relevant. But it also made a penalty system for each ‘death’ you suffer tangible too. When all these things suddenly come together, bottled lightning as they say, then I knew I had to go for it!
So, Book Three has a death penalty system. Each defeat you suffer in combat is now recorded on your (new look!) hero sheet. Once you have tallied up five defeats then you must roll on a death penalty chart and immediately apply the penalty to your character. These penalties vary, from making certain abilities more difficult to use, to losing an ability entirely from an item slot. As you progress through your adventures, there are items that can be discovered which will remove either defeats or a death penalty from your sheet – so there are always opportunities to restore yourself back to full fighting fitness.
From my own play-testing, you would have to be very unlucky or punching above your weight to have more than two penalties on your hero at any one time. What the defeat system does, however, is make you more wary about challenge. Is it worth tackling that legendary monster now? Shall I wait until later? Some story choices can also lead to added defeats and even death penalty effects. Again, this may force your decision. Should I chance trying to make it past that obstacle in case I take a defeat? Or should I just head back? More choices, more consequences.
Whether the death penalty system will stay for Book Four is still up in the air, but knowing the character/hero of Book Four, it would also make sense and fit with the lore. I look forward to hearing players’ feedback on the system once the book is out and people have had chance to try it. I daresay there is room for it to be expanded and improved on as time goes by.