Progression Through Perma-Death

Today, I want to expose a little bit of the research and thought process that the team of Untold Dawn goes through to decide on some of the features that we make, and at the same time spark discussion and seek the feedback of the community on one of the big, game-defining ideas that we’re working through.

First of all, I would invite those interested to take a look at this video for an introduction of some of the concepts that I will be discussing in this forum thread:

A Historical Background

Roguelikes, named after the 1980 game “Rogue,” were influential in the development of early MUDs and Interactive Fiction. Some MUDs, particularly those focusing on permadeath and challenging gameplay (such as hack & slashes), drew inspiration from roguelike elements. In turn, modern roguelites have been influenced by the concepts and mechanics found in both roguelikes and MUDs, creating a cyclical relationship between these genres.

While MUDs were groundbreaking in their early days and paved the way for many of the multiplayer gaming concepts we see today, they have largely remained niche and have not seen the same level of innovation and mainstream success as roguelikes and roguelites (with some exceptions).

Roguelikes and roguelites have continuously iterated on their core mechanics, introducing new gameplay elements, meta-progression systems, and other features that keep the genre fresh and engaging. MUDs, on the other hand, have often stuck to their original formulas and have been slower to adopt new ideas.

However, there’s many common threads and tropes found in both genres.

Both roguelikes/roguelites and RPI MUDs with permadeath feature the concept of permanent character death, where the player loses their character permanently upon death and must start over.

However, in roguelikes and roguelites, the game world is usually reset upon character death, while RPI MUDs typically feature persistent worlds that continue to exist and evolve even when individual characters die.

While one of the core elements of roguelikes and roguelites is the fact that the world is randomly generated (which in MUDs, save for a few exceptions such as some areas, is not), we want to focus today on perma-death and one of the most innovative features that have come to roguelites that we have not seen in RPI MUDs.


Perma-death is a trope that is important for RPI MUDs. It makes every action have a stake and a risk, and to make stories (and the characters that take part in them) not stagnate.

While we do not want death to unbearably difficult to avoid, we believe that having characters die is a part of the gameplay loop.

However, dying is scary and it can be a tough feeling; losing your character can be painful. You invested days, months or even years into them. The same applies for storing a character and moving on; many of us have experienced or seen people that have had characters for several years, probably are not having engaging stories anymore, and struggling to take the decision to store because they know starting means losing all their progress.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with sticking with a single character.

At the same time, it is not possible without parting with the very notion of perma-death to not have a character be gone and their progress to be mostly lost upon death.

In most games, you just move on and continue; you might get some vague consolation prize. In Sindome, you get UE carry-over. In games like Harshlands and Armageddon, you might’ve gained enough RPP or Karma for different notions. However, in neither of these is the concept of progression a planned feature core to the mechanic.

So, what do we think could happen?


Based on this rationale and the concepts of literature and videos such as the one I presented above, I have been considering a system of meta-progression.

A few key features of this system would entail:

  • Progression comes mainly through different ways to play the way (different ways to allocate attributes, skills, and gain story hooks). While I do think that players that have been playing enough time might unlock features that give them a shortcut to have more points allocated on attributes and skills (although up for debate), for the most part the novelty would come from having different ways to play characters.
  • The system should be focused on luck to unlock different ways to play the game. You never know what you might unlock next. This makes you have a consolation prize and also something thrilling to look forward to after the tough pill of losing a character.
  • The more you have played, the more elaborate the concepts might be, giving you tools to get story hooks. There’s no limit here. You could spawn with a wallet with money and a backstory, or the owner of a small, but bankrupted, company with some assets. It’s basically a storytelling avenue.
  • The system should not be your backstory; you should be the owner of your story, but give you different ways to tell it. There’s many games that implement such a system; think traits in CK3, or in Cataclysm DDA, or even traits and flaws in Project Zomboid. If you’ve seen someone go through a Let’s Play of them, the backstory they develop is theirs and these traits simply support them.

So, the concept:

Origin Stories

This is still in brainstorming stage (hence why I am posting it here for feedback), but the rough idea is:

Players do not get to allocate points on attributes or skills in chargen. They go through a choice OR series of choices which lead them to a character that fits their concept.

You start as someone with very average stats, no skills, and no defining coded backstory or things. This is the vanilla start, which is always going to be available to you. It’s a tabula rasa, letting you write what ever backstory you have.

The default options will let you have a spread of decent concepts where you have someone slightly strong, or slightly smart, or slightly fast, but in general you are a random person in the colony that got sent there.

After certain conditions are met, you will be able to unlock new options for your origin. These could be new childhood focuses, or traits that affect your gameplay. These will define your attributes, skills and starting condition for future runs.

For the most part, you will be unlocking a character that is roughly on the same power level as a new character. Although I do think at some point, you should be unlocking origin stories that let you short-cut some of the intial grind (which is a concept explored in the video above).

THis is not restricted exclusively to just attributes & skills. You might have items such as passports, currency wallets, or even groups at the start. You could begin the game with a security record.

For instance, you play your first character a couple of months, and you’ve unlocked Military Training, which makes you appear with a security record that shows that you finished military school. You begin with a barren wallet, unlike a vanilla character, but you have training in weapon and +2 constitution. This could likely work with a Pros & Cons system, where origin stories have a points system, so you basically combine these to end with your final result.

As you can see, this idea is still in the drawing board, but I personally see merit in it as long as we find a way to not limit stories and instead enhance them. I’d love to hear what the community thinks about this.

I also think that there should be a variety of conditions that need to be met to unlock these. You can’t just go and kill your characters to unlock new things. Maybe you need to have played them some time – or we could implement some commendation system where players get a vote per month on who they have enjoyed roleplaying with.

I’d love to hear thoughts on this!

I’ve really enjoyed playing games with coded backstories. I can recall a couple that worked very well, both of which introduced random events where your answer would help determine starting skills and stats – alongside the more basic questions of childhood hobbies, apprenticeship, and vocation. One game in particular (Accursed Lands) had an interesting feature where you could “recall history”, and it would draw up your chargen answers so you could refer to them in scenes. Taking down a home invader with a spear at age 12 was definitely an unexpected moment that helped shaped my character’s outlook.

While not MUDs, I can think of a few RPGs that would allow you to choose different backstories for your character that could give you different features. Mass Effect and Starfield come to mind. Being able to unlock different history beats as you play sounds really fun, and it would definitely make me eager to get back into chargen and see what comes out.

That said, it doesn’t appeal to everyone. Maybe allowing RNG to play a part in your character’s forming could give you just a few points of an edge? But you can still choose to opt into skipping the backstory portion of chargen and file your points and perks as desired.

I really dislike the idea of kudos having an impact on it though, as it could lend to abuse and popularity contests.

None of the MUDs I’ve played have given any bonuses for losing a character, so I’m interested to see how this would go.


Hey, thanks for your thoughts.

So there’s a few things to define on this system that your post has made me think about.

Obviously, one of the key requirements of such a system is that the questions or stages are able to represent in a meaningful way scenarios in a way that makes sense.

What do I mean by that? If you have a question that is your birth place, and you pick nation X, and then a question about your childhood says you are an astronaut, but said nation doesn’t even have a space program (silly example) – that would not be okay. So we need a way for the questions to be somehow exclusive to each other perhaps.

You mentioned Accursed Lands and others – can you tell me more about how it is done in these games? I think our implementation aims to take this a step further, but perhaps we can draw inspiration. The closest I can think of is games like Project Zomboid where if you pick the trait fit, you can’t pick a trait that says you’re overweight.

On the matter of RNG, I understand; at the same time, I am wary of coding two systems. Perhaps this can be counter-acted with having a way to add a few points to a specific stat so that you can finnick into the concept you want.

I’ve played many RPG type games where they give you the narrative start, similiar to like Mount and Blade where you get asked:

As a young child your father sent you to apprentice with:
a: The town warrior
b: The town herbalist
c: The town Merchant

blah blah.

And those are fine. Only word of caution I’ll give is to make them very descriptive about what they actually do. I recall for Mount and blade I had to tinker a bit till they finally added specific (This gives you plus 1 to swords) etc in the descriptions.

I am very much for a system of playing letting the character develop through play. I can’t tell you how many times I wrote an elaborate background aiming towards some aspect I think I want to play in other games, then find out that spot is filled or something happens that totally changes the trajectory and if any staff looked at my background, then where I actually was in game, they would be like WTF is going on?

The only roles I think should be cemented into a certain standard are sponsored role type roles where you’re playing to play a certain role and even those I think should be given enough rope to hang themselves if they want.

The issue with Sindome’s ue carry over was it was unregulated as to what you could do. So a very long lived character who dies and goes into another character would sometimes come out of chargen as an absolute beast at combat because they sunk that 2 years of UE carryover into fighting skills. It was unbalancing.

So I guess I’d recommend that it not be the whole, write me your background story before you’ve even spent a minute in this guys flesh system of Armageddon. It’s more organic and generic like Mount and Blade’s narrative chargen.

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I think the best way would ultimately be to unlock ‘quirks’ that would apply bonuses and maluses to your character accordingly. Your ‘default’ option allows you to basically go everywhere, experience everything, that sort of thing. You don’t have anything you’re pigeonholed into and it’s the way you can likely be the strongest you can be (or most versatile).

By ‘quirks’ I mean changes that would make your character lean towards a certain style. This doesn’t limit you as much as allow you to focus more on that. Such as someone who has much greater carry weight but higher oxygen consumption. The ability to not suffer drawbacks of drugs but have a much higher addiction rate, etc.

This is harder to implement, but it would make it more meaningful for people to get these and use them while not entirely defining the path you take.