Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

21 August, 2013

Interesting Mechanics: Reincarnation
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 12:59 PM

I hit a major milestone in with my main characters: I true reincarnated one of my characters. To those of you who haven’t played the game before, that might seem like an odd idea, but I think it’s actually a rather interesting and old idea.

Let’s take a closer look at it, shall we?

What is reincarnation?

In Dungeons & Dragons Online (DDO), reincarnation is a way to re-do your character. A lesser reincarnation is a way to fully respec your character from level 1: you can change appearance, redistribute your attributes, choose all new skills. Being a free-to-play game, the main way to qualify for reincarnation is to buy an item from the cash shop; the items (“hearts of wood”) can drop randomly as well, but they are rather rare and cost a lot on the auction house.

True reincarnation (abbreviated TR) is where you take a high level character and start over at level 1 with a few perks. The first thing you need to do is to have a level 20 (or higher) character; level 20 was at one time the highest level before expansions raised the level cap. After you reincarnate, you start over as a level 1 character, but you get 2 more build points to buy stats, you get a perk based on your dominant class from your “previous life”, you get a decoration around your name, and your character is ever so slightly taller than other characters. You can TR the same character multiple times, gaining some bonuses each time; although the stat buy points only increase your second and third lives. To do a true reincarnation, you need an item you can either find randomly (rarely), turn in tokens from doing high level (epic) quests, or buy it from the cash shop.

You also get to keep a lot of the equipment you gained. In DDO, many times the equipment you get from a quest will have a minimum level below the level of the quest. So, on your next life, you will have access to any gear you kept and be able to wear it sooner. There are some specific and powerful items (“green steel”) that have a surprisingly low minimum level and are highly prized for people who want to TR; you get these items from running a high end raid and collecting ingredients.

The downside of a TR is that you have to earn more experience to gain gain levels. It starts small at lower levels (5% more to get to 2nd level on your second life), but increases per level. So, you have to spend a lot more earning experience in subsequent lives. You also lose the “favor” you earned from doing quests your previous life, but you do keep the account-wide unlocks you had earned from before.

A reincarnation of an old mechanic

This mechanic might seem odd to MMO players, but it was found in some text MUDs. This was usually called “remort” where you could start over but gain some benefits. One benefit was access to races or classes not available before. Other games would let you keep some bonuses from your previous character. The goal was to allow a player who got to “max level” some options. Keep in mind that raiding wasn’t even available on most games, so there wasn’t an organized “elder game” like there is in MMOs. I suspect the original implementation was a neat way to reward a dedicated player who got a character to max level, but eventually became a mechanic that other games used from the start.

I never played on any text MUDs that had this system, actually, but I read a lot about it. It’s interesting that there are a few game mechanics like this that never made the jump to MMOs. Of course, if you know your MUD history then you know there are still a ton of space we could explore in modern MMOs that had already been established in MUDs and early MMOs.

Options for the next life

My “main” character, Sowilo, was an 18th level ranger, 1st level bard, and 1st level fighter. Since Ranger was his dominant class, I got +2 to ranged damage, and +2 to my elemental resists. In my new life, I’m going to be mostly a Ranger, but I’m focusing on melee weapons so the +2 to ranged damage is only going to be useful for those times when I can’t just run up to something and beat it to death with my axes.

I also reincarnated another character, the first one I got to level 20: a monk/rogue on another server named, surprisingly enough, Psychochild. I focused on damage (particularly with the Rogue’s sneak attacks) and was a capable trap finder. The monk gets a +1 to melee damage upon TR, which will be useful as I create the same type of character.

My two true reincarnated characters have very different backgrounds. While Sowilo is part of a regular group that plays about twice per week, Psychochild is a character that I started out solo, but later mostly played in pick-up groups. Sowilo is intended to fit within a static group, whereas Psychochild is intended to be a little more self-sufficient since pick-up groups may not be as well-rounded. Psychochild’s trap-finding and removing skills are valuable for a party.

In both cases, however, I’m playing mostly the same general type of character. As I mentioned above, Sowilo’s past life gives him a bonus to ranged attacks, so it might have made sense for me to focus on ranged attacks by choosing to focus on bows as a ranger, or even go with a completely different class like artificer that gets proficiency with repeating crossbows. I am changing the character slightly, where this life I’ll be the trap-finder for the party. I’m not sure how many non-ranger levels I’ll take, but I’ll probably end up with 2 levels of rogue and maybe 2 levels of Rogue. I might take 4 levels of rogue or some other class for more variety, depending on how the mood strikes me.

In addition, I’m playing largely the same character for Psychochild. Again, I really enjoyed the character and wanted to try a slight variation. My previous character didn’t focus much on Constitution, so I had rather low hit points; this new life I put my additional stat points into Con. :)

One motivation for playing the same character was that I really didn’t want to try a wholly new character and find out I just didn’t enjoy the gameplay. Since the experience requirement goes up, it’ll quickly become a slog to run all those quests again with a character that just isn’t fun. I’m not sure how many times I’ll TR these same characters; these are the first ones I’ve done after over 3 years of playing the game.

Another option is to play a completely different character. The person who played the Cleric in Sowilo’s group decided to roll a Druid instead. He was still going to be our healer, but he a change of pace. Although now he’s feeling a few pangs about how the other character could have developed if he tried the same build again.

Different types of gameplay

What’s interesting is that TR adds a new form of gameplay. In WoW, you had two major types of advanced/elder gameplay: group content like PvP or raiding, and creating alts. In group content you usually focused on improving a single character, collecting marginal improvements for things like gear. There’s something about focusing on a single character as your “avatar” in the world that appeals to certain people.

Others prefer the variety of having a rotating cast of characters that suit a mood instead of focusing on a single character. It seems this is more popular with people who solo a lot; although, I group almost exclusively in DDO but I mostly played a bunch of characters. I have about 9 different characters I have played regularly across different servers back in the peak when I played a lot of DDO.

But, reincarnation adds an interesting twist to the decision to focus on just a single character. Given the increases in character power, it’s reasonable to assume that these characters would be more capable of soloing content, especially with a well-tuned character. You also focus on building a character in a different way: you focus on getting stuff that will help you through multiple levels rather than focusing on getting incremental improvements at the highest levels. And, to be honest, raids were never a big focus in DDO in the time I’ve been playing.

TR aficionados tend to throw themselves into TRing. There’s a limitation where you can only TR once per week, and for some people that’s too restrictive. In other words, they work a character from level 1 to 20 in less than a week and have to wait before they can TR again. DDO even provides a long-term goal for people who like to TR in the form of a special feat called “Completionist” that requires you to have had a past life of each available character class; but, that feat at least tells you “You win DDO!” :)

A different mechanic

The newest expansion for DDO is going to offer more options for TRing. After the level cap increased, there was a system of “epic destinies” introduced for characters in the highest levels. People who are adept at grinding were able to work through those quickly, so the new expansion will introduce a new way to TR your epic destinies which previously persisted through TR. I know very little about that system, so I can’t really examine it.

One interesting side note is that your character name might need to be picked a bit more carefully. Your Cleric “Healerdude” or your scimitar-wielding Ranger “Ddrizzztt” might be a bit out of place if that character becomes a Sorcerer in a subsequent life.

As I said, I find this to be an interesting mechanic that comes from text MUDs but that was largely ignored by modern MMOs. I think it offers an alternative to people who don’t want to grind the few raids DDO had to offer.

What do you think? Do you think you’d be willing to give up a max level character for a little bit of extra power? What other types of elder games would be interesting?

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  1. TR sounds a lot like the way I’m alting in WoW. That is, level a toon to the cap (or some near-enough milestone), park it and re-roll a new character to level up in the same way. It’s less a rotating cast of characters and more a sequential series of leveling games. 28 alts leveled so far with very little end-game play. I’ve been happy to give up those level-capped characters and return to the start.

    Older toons empower younger ones with heirlooms, account-bound gear, crafted items, enchants, gold, etc., so not really the same as DDO’s perks but you definitely do feel the lack when rolling the first toon on a new server.

    Comment by Tonk — 21 August, 2013 @ 3:22 PM

  2. Elder game, endgame… the idea of the reincarnation is to do it again (the “leveling experience” of growing stronger) and try something new. With the very same char instead of rolling an alt char of another class.

    In Ultima Online you had 700 points to distribute among skills. 100 points was “Grandmaster” rank. All skills had to be trained by use, be it fighting, crafting, taming, casting spells etc..

    So you had to give up some skills that were trained over days or weeks to 100. But I did it nevertheless. My Swordsman became a Bard, but soon discovered that I prefer killing people directly and that the Lumberjacking skill is great for that as axe damage got massively boosted. But in the end he became a Fencer. Fencers used spears to paralyze and kill… yeah, well, strange but true. :)

    Some skills were so hard to train to Grandmastery that I rather made an alt than to retrain my character and lose a hard earned skill mastery. Animal Taming was such a skill for example. But the flexibility remained. I could change my character when I was no longer satisfied with it or wanted to try something new. This is rather a slow kind of change rather than a reincarnation from level 1 with some or no bonuses.

    Regardless if the character starts again at level 1 or changes some skills at max level, the beauty of the system is that the character can change. “Respecs” nowadays usually don’t have the slow retraining aspect or starting from scratch again, they are just reassigning points spent into something or chosen traits instantly.

    Flexibility of max level characters keeps me around for a long time. I liked Guild Wars 1 a lot, I changed attribute point assignments and skill selection/builds over and over. Maybe that’s one of many reasons why it kept me going longer than GW2 did with its predetermined skills based mostly on weapon choice.

    It is extremely important that respeccing or reincarnating a character gives the player many attractive choices how to tackle the very same content in a different manner. This was not quite given in GW2, my Ranger always played like a Ranger. The differences between classes were more pronounced, some also offered at least 2 distinct styles of gameplay. The core gameplay of avoiding red circles and dodging attacks and the player always using the same skills based on weapon choice didn’t change too much, as all changes in weapon choice and skill points spent into various trait lines didn’t change it much if at all.

    Comment by Longasc — 21 August, 2013 @ 4:19 PM

  3. @Longasc – I miss the old UO skill system. I think that’s still one of the best out there where in you improve by doing. Mabinogi has something similar for its skills which is probably why I like it so much.

    Odd when you then compare it to Guildwars 2 (which I also like :P) where you can become a master warrior, skilled in swords, rifles, axes and bows simply by baking a lot of cakes. :P

    UO2, which never came to be, was going to feature a sort of reincarnation option wherein after levelling your character along one of the paths of virtue you could opt to retire him/her and pass on some mastery to his/her prodigy (your next character) who would then follow another path of virtue, the idea being that your 8th character would ultimately be the best of the lot (since there are only 8 virtues).

    Instead we now get a simplified solo/coop Ultima Forever which I can’t even play since it’s not out on PC. :( Sorry this turned into a Ultima post. x_x

    Comment by Joseph Skyrim — 21 August, 2013 @ 5:02 PM

  4. Given that I tend to abandon max-level characters in favor of re-leveling, you’d think that DDO and TR’ing would really appeal to me, but… I don’t know. DDO’s just never quite grabbed me. I’ve got 1 character to level 8, 1 to level 7, and several to 6, but that’s not really much of an accomplishment since I bough the veteran perk and start at level 4 . . . .

    TBH, now that’s I’ve played a few other “active combat” style games, I may like it more if I go back to it. Assuming I ever do. Time will tell and all of that.

    With all that said, in other games that have “grabbed me” I think I would have adored a TR option. I would have re-leveled my EQ2 coercer a bajillion times.

    Comment by pkudude99 — 22 August, 2013 @ 10:00 AM

  5. While I was playing in the ff14 beta they have something fairly similar to the reincarnation where you can join all the other guilds in the game be it gathering, crafting or other classes and level them up to 50 from level 1 as well. The difference being that you can switch between them at will (with a minute’s global cooldown on the main abilities) but if you train up a black mage (thaumaturge) to a point where you get the Surecast ability (can’t be interrupted during a cast) then you can use that skill within the other classes. so suddenly you’re a Conjurer (white mage) with surecast. Or a lancer with the archer’s root ability. or so on.

    I’ve instantly fallen for that game’s mechanic and never really thought about why. I guess being rewarded for wanting to work on 1 character instead of rolling endless alts to experience the entire game’s offering appeals as a completionist. Even WoW now saves your craft levels that you’re worked up to so if you change you can pay to change back without having to redo it all again. Guild Wars 2 also offered this feature.

    there were many MUD things worth keeping for MMOs it makes you wonder why they didn’t make that jump at all.

    Comment by Qukatt — 22 August, 2013 @ 2:34 PM

  6. New Game Plus! jep, that’s what this olde JRPG lover is reminded of – Chrono Trigger! :) never actually encountered the reincarnation mechanic in MMOs myself, but I believe it was CT (my fav RPG of all time) that introduced “new game+” to RPGs (at least on console). it was a major feature that created incredible replay value, almost a new game really – which is wild for something as traditionally linear as a console RPGs. before I go into all the details of what this added to the gameplay experience, see this article:

    Considering all this, it’s a shame how the concept wasn’t taken up by the games that followed CT. I guess it was just way too much effort for most….not sure. maybe the general design idea of what console RPGs were at the time was just too different also.

    Comment by Syl — 23 August, 2013 @ 10:13 AM

  7. I think it’s a terrible idea. It’s incentive for replay ability of a very linear game, where you can start over at lvl 1 just with more stats. It’s hard to see how it offers anything of value to the experience itself, other than being able to grind through old content again faster, with more stats. An answer for lack of actual content for high end players in that game?

    I think it exposes inherent game flaws in the design and implementation of traditional style mmo’s. You hit level maximum and have nothing left to do, because all the content is linear and doesn’t have any real impact on anything other than your character. Would there be any reason for this sort of reincarnation mechanic if the playerbase was happy and engaged/occupied?

    Comment by Jerkjohnny — 24 August, 2013 @ 12:17 PM

  8. I’m Such a Piker

    [...] In the midst of an interesting post about True Reincarnation in DDO and other MMOs, Psychochild says this: TR aficionados tend to throw themselves into TRing. There’s a [...]

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  9. Great Moments in Exploits – The Ressurection

    [...] in TorilMUD history.  I was only reminded of it when I read Psychodhild’s post about the reincarnation game mechanic in Dungeons & Dragons Online.  That trigger the memory of somebody really attempting to [...]

    Pingback by The Ancient Gaming Noob — 20 September, 2013 @ 9:01 AM

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