Death in Party Based RPGs

Death in party based RPGs

It’s clear that in RPGs, as well as in other genres, that when the player is represented by just one character and that character dies in the game, there is only one possible outcome, “GAME OVER”.

However, in RPGs where the player controls a group of characters, the outcome is not so obvious:

  • Can the characters die? How about the main character?
  • Is the game over when one character dies, they all die, or simply when the protagonist dies?
  • Can unconscious or dead characters be healed or resurrected? Are there consequences?

Personally, I have never been a fan of resurrection, not in games, or books. I think that, no matter how fantastic the setting might be, there are certain things that should be unalterable. Otherwise, the player is left with the feeling that “nothing matters and there is nothing to worry about, not even death”. For me, time travel can also have a similar effect of removing tension. If anything that happens can be easily undone or changed, then where is the danger? Where is the suspense?

In RPGs, the issue becomes even more absurd. Many times the main conflict in the story revolves around events like assassinated kings, revenge for the killing of a loved one or a quest to end the reign of some terrible sorcerer or monster. Do these things make sense in a world where anyone can simply be resurrected? How can a king, with all his power and wealth, be permanently dead when the characters in your party just need to stop by the local apothecary to pick up a potion or a spell to revive their fallen companions? This is too much of a discontinuity for my tastes.

Applying this principal to my own playing style in RPGs, I can proudly state that I never allowed a member of my party to die and be resurrected. If in combat, or through some accident, a member of my party died, I have always reloaded the game and re-played everything up to the point of the death (I have played like this from Might and Magic 1 all the way to Baldur’s Gate). The only exception to this rule for me has been in the final boss battles of the games. If I’m at the very end of the game and some of the characters have died, then there’s no problem, that’s simply the way their stories ended in the adventure for me.  They fought valiantly and in the end perished victoriously without ever being resurrected. Those who lived will always remember their loyal fallen comrades.

Another aspect of games that has never made a lot of sense is the allowance of dead party members to remain in the game. What happens when they are supposed to participate in dialog or story? Some games, like Baldur’s Gate, allow party members to contribute to the story from beyond the grave without it being a big problem. In other games, like Dragon Age Origins, all of the characters are healed or revived instantly after every combat encounter, so the problem with what to do if a character dies is completely avoided. In older classics like Wizardry and Might & Magic, most of the dialog is actually player driven rather than relying on characters, so it’s not too much of a problem if some of the characters end up being cadavers.

And in Lords of Xulima?

Lords of Xulima Fatal Wound

This is what happens when you refuse to pay the entrance fee in the village of Velegarn

The group DOES NOT automatically recover at the end of combat.

Every fight counts, every trap activated and every wound inflicted. Actions, of whatever type, should have consequences, good or bad. Every encounter should be engaging and meaningful and require strategy on the part of the player to obtain the best possible outcome.

If ALL characters die, the game is OVER!

This can happen in combat, through traps or if the party decided to try to walk through lava and didn’t make it…

There is no death and resurrection of individual characters

If a character loses all his hit points he remains in a state called “defeated” and his portrait will turn gray. This character can walk and talk, but cannot engage in combat or perform actions such as lock picking or spell casting, until their hit points have been restored to a positive number. The game is novel in this aspect; the characters can have negative hit points (up to their maximum value of hit points). So, it will be more costly to revive seriously damaged characters (it will require more spells, potions or rest).

Defeated characters will suffer penalties

When a character has lost all of their hit points they are then assigned the condition “Fatally Wounded”. Even when they recover their hit points through rest, magic or potions, they will suffer penalties to defense, combat speed, attacks and skill actions. The effects will last until the condition has been cured. To recover from this condition, characters need to rest for an entire day, drink a special potion or be cured by a grand cleric (the cleric may be part of the group or the party can use the services of a temple if they are able to provided sufficient donations)

The Player Decides…

In Lords of Xulima you will frequently have your characters fall defeated in combat or other dangerous situations, but that’s not the end of the game, far from it. The player has many options, like resting in the wilderness (a dangerous risk), seeking refuge in a town, curing party members with spells and potions, or continuing on with the survivors. Each player will be able to develop their own strategy. There may be many situations where characters being defeated is inevitable. You may decide to walk across lava to obtain an ancient artifact, or run through a poisonous cloud to escape a giant serpent, the choice is yours…the only thing truly fatal is losing all of your characters at once.

The next post will be about rest, curing and the necessity of food in RPGs…


  • Posted by Menorbriam [Numantian Games]
  • On March 7, 2013
Tags: lords of xulima, numantian games


I have no problems with death, provided you can reload and try again. I actually prefer a screen which says "your party is dead. Would you like to reload last game?" On the other hand if indivdual party members die, I think healing should be avialable with spells or at a temple or something, otherwise the player will simply reload and try to finish the battle again without losing a character,
This is an interesting compromise between the "permadeath" in hard-core Rogue-like games and the Dragon Age solution (present in many other RPGs), where if anyone survives the battle, everyone is fine after a few minutes. Personally I'm comfortable with the scheme you describe, although in fact I think this should be another player option.
The Velegarn screenshot, was this because the Party tried to fight the Guard and lost?
Mathieu Slm
One thing I'm really curious about with a negative Hit Point system; once your character falls in battle, will monsters still be able to hit the fallen character with area spells or abilities? I could see an especially cowardly creature (goblins, etc) with a skill like "attack fallen character". Since more negative hit points = higher healing cost, this could be interesting. Of course that's kind of evil, but no pain no fun in RPGs =D
Frank Flury
I'm all for this, I believe that all actions or decisions should have a cost or consequence. Games like this have a real feel and keep me interested, I love games that make me jump in my seat. I like to have to think about what I'm doing, if I just re-spawn at a point close to where I was defeated like some MMO's I would not play at all the same and wouldn't care if I lost every battle or tripped every trap and died.

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