Yes, I know. Everyone has an opinion about how "death" is handled in this game. Many people seem to think it's sufficiently balanced, and that the last thing we need is another suggestion about how to make death seem more consequential. I respect that, and I generally appreciate the ethos that Rare hews to of adding basic principles to the game and not meddling too much. That said, I've been playing this game for a while now, and there remains some persisting (if not minor) concerns.
As we all know, death in the Sea of Thieves seems to be a temporarily inconvenient phenomenon. We have doubtless all spent those few dismal seconds on the Ferry of the Damned before bouncing back into the action. Frankly, if this were never changed it's something I'd simply live with and there are far worse methods for arbitrating what essentially boils down to a time-out. But, if death comes for us all in time, an impartial afterlife with a little more oomph might benefit the game and make players more thoughtful about how they choose to interact with each other. As you know by the subject line, I'm talking about permadeath. You might rightly assume that this escalated quickly, and that such a terminal mode of gameplay would make Sea of Thieves too risky for the level of investment a player could conceivably put into it. While I might suggest that might enhance the enjoyment of a player's achievements, I'd also say that it doesn't have to be so severe as that.
The main reason I suggest this is that, as it stands, there is very little reason for any player to avoid a standard offensive temperament toward other players. Some of you might way "well, it IS a pirate game", but personally I think that ought to entail a little more than simply attacking literally anything you see. Granted, not all players are automatically aggressive, and I have had my fair share of pleasant encounters with people. But then there are the times, and I'm sure we've all had them, where you're chased clear across the map irrespective of whether you have any treasure, simply because someone wants to sink a ship. The reason for this is that there is no real inherent value in staying alive. Anyone who wants to grief the wold map simply has to wait a few moments upon death to roar back to belligerent life.
Now, I get it. Combat is part of the game. Looting others can be part of the game if a player decides to incprporate it- the Reaper's Bones would have pretty empty coffers otherwise. And I don't want to suggest those elements be removed. It IS a pirate game after all. But, assuming we can't automatically tell whether someone is carrying treasure, adding an extra level of calculation into whether you want to take on that other ship can only help engender a more inclusive protocol to player interactions. It would also potentially make outposts more relevant than simply a cash-in point for booty, and presumably allow some additional interaction between players in a town setting other than potential muggings: If, in a combat-centric game, I knew that losing might kill me dead it would certainly make me think a little harder about whether this time was worth the risk. Moreover, it might even make me more likely to consider partnerships with other players, share resources, or even perhaps kick back and shoot the breeze once in a while.
Ok, now you're either convinced, intrigued, or reviling the concept, but how would this play out in a fun and organic way? It's like this: Everyone dies at some point. When you do, you find yourself drawn through the mortal veil to... who knows? It's not particularly important where you're going. Maybe it's that giant dabloon heap in the sky, or maybe it's nothing. Either way, you're character's time in the game is over. But it doesn't have to be as final as that, not totally anyway. My suggestion would be that your particular instance of a character dies, but there are a few ways to preserve continuity with your progress. The most extreme method of play would be for that character to vanish, and the player be allowed to pick a new one as if it were a new game. That would certainly be a little hardcore, but it isn't without precedent in other games. However, there are a couple of ways that I think we could make that more enriching.
The first of these is inheritance. That is, you have the ability to preserve a fraction of your progress (commendations, wealth, etc) periodically which you could then pass on to the character which succeeds you. Perhaps with a "in the event of my death, here is my stuff" letter for continuity and the understanding being that they would need to "live up" to their benefactor's legacy. This would be nice as it would guarantee a specific amount of resources to begin play with and not require a player to start from scratch once more. The inheritance could be scaled, though the same fraction across the board might still be sufficient to provide a reasonable amount of wealth for the level of play.
An alternative to this would be a treasure hunt. That is, a player decides to stash ALL of their wealth with the understanding that the new character would need to go and find it. Naturally, this too would have an accompanying letter admonishing the player to sail forth to adventure and bounty. This would then guarantee the new character the player's full progress at the cost of a little time and challenge, which to me seems very appropriate to the theme of the game. However, as the player would conceivably know where exactly the had stashed their hoard, you may want to have the actual transfer of wealth arbitrated by an NPC or Faction. This could be similar to the gold hoarders, for instance, or even managed by them. That is, they have the wealth stored but you've got to go find the key which is hidden in a random location, perhaps with extra challenges or not thrown in for good food measure. This service could be offered at the Gold Hoarder tent, or whichever faction or NPC it was decided would offer it.
But wait! It doesn't end there!
There may also be ways to forestall death, without the need to rely on inheritance. The main one of these being a bargain with death. It may not literally be death, it could be some middle man character. In this case, upon their demise this character would offer the player the opportunity to delay dying at the cost of some agreed on price- whether that be wealth, agreeing to do a particular quest, or similar. If the player agrees, they now have an obligation to fulfill. In the case of wealth, it might be that they have to share a fraction of their loot up to a specific amount before the bargain is concluded. If it's a quest, they need to fulfill the terms of the task within a particular time frame. In either case, the player would be compelled to clear their ledger before they were free to do completely as they please once more. If the player chose to ignore their debt, they might then find that they have to saddle additional obligations to avoid death a second time. Maybe an increase in the amount of treasure they need to procure for the character, or an additional quest. In this way, players could play with the reality of a permanent death but generally operate in a way closer to the way they do now with the undertstanding that there could be some mild consequences. I think this would act seamlessly in a way that allows the general flow of the game to remain the same while adding a little more deliberation and reduce thoughless combat. It might also be feasible to tie the wealth this middle man garners to influence on the map. Say, for the amount of wealth they gain they have a proportional number of hostile agents in the field (think skeleton ships or similar) that make things that present an extra challenge. Or maybe a certain threshold of wealth would start a world event that would have global consequences in the form of hostiles or other effects.
If none of these things were implemented, there still might be ways for players to gain a temporary edge in a situation which exceeds what may be considered the limits of "good fun". One migth be mercenaries, with a player paying a fee to gain a little extra muscle. This wouldn't even have to be a persistent presence either. You could set up NPCs at outposts or other spots where a player could find them to purchase a flare. The flare could then be fired when needed and the mercenaries would send reinforcements in the form of a ship. Perhaps there would be a price scale, with more expensive flares providing heavier support. This would at least allow a player to try to leave a bad situation without resorting to hopping servers, which I personally think is something anyone should be expected to do to avoid poor behavior.