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What I'm thinking would be good for the average 3d mmorpg, given their atleast mildly gamist leanings? I think the computer generates a line on your health bar after you finish a fight. This line is X distance to the left of your current health - so if you recover health between fights, it'll slide over to the right. But if you take damage, it stays where it is.
Okay, if you can beat a monster before your health drops below this line, you get some bonus $$.
That's it! Except that for averge gear, it'd be set so you'd lose most of the time (the line is randomly generated, so it'd be generated a bit to close to full health alot of the time).
The thing about mmorpgs is that if were honest with ourselves, play cannot involve you five times out of six running back from the local respawn point. So really, unless you pick up two monsters by accident AND you were already damaged, your not going to die. Are we pretending to ourselves there's some risk to ourselves?
Hopefully also this doesn't rub some people the wrong way, as it's a reward for doing well, no punishment for not killing the monster in time. I've heard Tesh go on about how you don't need a punishment for there to be a game and I suspect what he means is he wants something for suceeding, not losing something for failing. Of course if you fail to suceed, you miss out on the bonus - that could still be construed by some as a punishment. You are missing out, so there is a sting in that. Really I think it shows that you do need a 'punishment' if only a very mild one and people who say they don't want any punishment actually do, just that kind. To me that makes sense. Whether that matters at all.
Anyway, I imagine it as you, with average gear, missing this bonus more often as not simply to give edge and sting to gameplay. So it ceases to be a walk in the themepark just a little bit.
Anyway ON TOP of this I think you have a mechanism which is kind of like the undying trait in lord of the rings online - ie, if you get defeated over a certain time span, you miss out on a bonus. In this case just have a recurring test - have to gain X amount of experience without being defeated. If so, you gain $$$! If your defeated, you can only try again after a day has passed. OH and what would be cool is if your character occasionally limps, moves slowly for a second or two - say in this hurt state they'd limp five seconds out of every minute of movement. I think it'd be cool!