In a previous post (Dealing with Character Death), I discussed my idea of Soul Binding as a means of avoiding a full party wipe. In essence, 24 hours after a character dies the character’s soul (if it hasn’t been resurrected by then) returns to a bind stone. The remains disappear from wherever they may be and magically reappear, fully intact, at the bindstone where the character is then automatically resurrected. All possessions are left where the character died. Furthermore, the character suffers a permanent lose of one point of constitution.
I am the first to admit that this solution is very “gamey”. All along I had a number of reservations about this technique. By offering a safety net I envisioned problems with players becoming reckless and careless, no longer bothering with more cautious strategies. Recently, I came to the realization that I no longer like the idea of Soul Binding . . .
Now I LOVE the idea!
No DM wants to see a full party wipe. At best, you are looking at a minimum of an hour waiting for everyone to reroll new characters. More likely, everyone’s pissed off and the evening is ruined. To avoid this, DMs have numerous techniques to employ. But each and every one involves “cheating” in order to “save” the party.
I’ve never minded killing characters but I do what I have to in order to keep an avenue of reprieve available. However, I had no idea how much this desire to save the party was subconsciously affecting how I ran my game.
My dungeons weren’t as dangerous as they could be, my monsters didn’t use the most effective strategies, I avoided using devious traps and even used simple traps sparingly. In short, I made sure it would be difficult for the entire party to die short of charging an obviously superior foe.
With Soul Binding, there is no chance of permanent character loss (short of having so many bindstone resurrections that someone runs out of constitution). Knowing this, I am free to be as bloodthirsty as I want. This doesn’t mean that I want to try to kill off characters. But when the characters are exploring a powerful wizard’s stronghold, I can now do my utmost to design the types of defenses that such a wizard would reasonably employ to protect his abode.
My biggest concern with Soul Binding was that if a character cannot permanently die then there is no risk and if there is no risk there is no thrill and the game ceases to be fun. I’ve come to the conclusion that this does not do away with risk. It merely changes the type of risk involved. If a single character dies, there is now no penalty so long as the party has the resources to raise them within 24 hours. Reducing single character death to a mere speed bump doesn’t bother me. If players have to be overly cautious about every action they take, the game slows to a crawl. I’m just concerned with full party wipes. If the entire party wipes now, they each lose a point of constitution and are resurrected for free in town. In Dark Age of Camelot, characters would regularly kill themselves off to take advantage of a similar system giving them a free ride to town. The difference here, and this is where the risk comes in, is that all of their possessions are now laying on the ground where they died. If they cannot get them back, that is an enormous loss!
Picking Up the Pieces
So what happens after the party has been ressed in town? Naturally, they all want to get their stuff back. They need to re-equip themselves and get back out there as quickly as possible. I’ve never been a fan of “Al’s Magic Emporium” so characters can’t just buy whatever they need. A smart player is going to have a 2nd (and 3rd and 4th) set of gear in the bank just for this situation. Suddenly, all magical items that the characters find are far more valuable, even if they aren’t as good as what people are already wearing. Everyone will always be looking to improve their backup sets. Furthermore, players are far less likely to want to carry around dozens of magical items, “just in case”, if there is a very real chance of losing everything.
My Other Concerns
None. Absolutely none. As I said earlier, this solution is extremely “gamey”. I have no problem whatsoever with that. It lets me get over my fear of decimating the party which allows me to run a much more challenging and exciting game. My only complaint is that I didn’t implement this idea 20 years ago.