Toldain Talks

Because reading me sure beats working!


Toldain started as an Everquest character. I've played him in EQ2, WoW, Vanguard, LOTRO, and Zork Online. And then EVE Online, where I'm 3 million years old, rather than my usual 3000. Currently I'm mostly playing DDO. But I still have fabulous red hair. In RL, I am a software developer who has worked on networked games, but not MMORPGS.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Fuel's Gold

This weekend many tradeskillers noticed an interesting thing. They could now use the cheapest fuel for all combines regardless of the tier level of the combine.

This is a puzzling development, and might possibly be a bug. A quick search through SOE's message boards showed very little discussion of it, and nothing mentioned in the patch announcements. However, I found these two items in the latests test server update announcement, dated February 25:

- Fuels used in tradeskill production will now display which tier they are best suited for in their examine text.
- Examining a recipe should now show exactly what type of fuel is required for that recipe.

This suggests another reason for the current fuel interchangeability. For those of us who read the patch notes assiduously, have a guild to disseminate this information, or even read blogs like this on the internet, we were able to figure out which kind of fuel was needed. Personally, it took me a while to remember which kind of coal was which, but I used the merchant window UI to sort by price and then was able to sort them out by their price. The cheapest form of coal was for tier 1 combines, second cheapest (at 14c) for tier 2, and so on.

But the recipes still all say "Generic Fuel" on them, even though they take quite a specific kind of fuel. Or at least they did until recently. So, it was very difficult to figure out what kind of fuel to use without going outside the game to special sources of information. The in-game information was misleading, and likely to create frustrated players and unhappy customers.

The update on the server addresses this problem directly. The fuel slots have been relabeled, and the fuel itself has information added. This is a big improvement, and helps clarify things to the more casual player, which is their intended audience. In the meantime, it may be that they have simply reverted to more or less the old system, with any kind of fuel working for any combine of any tier, avoiding the confusion.

Of course, I don't think that they changed the sellback prices, so the opportunity to generate coin through selling back combines is going to be around for a bit longer until the latest update goes live on the servers.

There's many more goodies in this latest update, more on that later.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Little Big Boy

Sometimes reality intrudes into EQ2 in undesirable ways. It doesn't help that there are people who, when hiding behind an online avatar, will behave in ways they would never dream of in real life. But then again, some folks are just jerks regardless of whether they are online or off, I guess.

Something like this happened a while back. My RL wife's half-elf monk and I were at the Steppes Station with a few other friends, trying to get organized for the evenings activities. Along comes a fellow who thinks its appropriate to tell my wife's toon to bend over for him. I sent him a tell asking him to back off, since that was my wife. He ignored it. He went on the ignore list. Really, an unpleasant scene.

To me, this individual has a really warped sense of what it means to be a man. He is a little boy acting how he thinks a man acts, but he's got it completely wrong. Is there a woman anywhere who actually likes behavior like that? Where do they get the idea that this is ok?

It's at times like this that I wish the game had PvP. There were 4 of us there, we could have kicked his butt. But of course, that would open a whole new can of worms. After that, we couldn't have gone out without our whole posse, or he'd come along looking for revenge with a whole new set of sexual and verbal abuse.

Maybe the thick-skinned response of just adding to the ignore list is the best we can do. But I'd like to build in some feedback, a message to the perpetrator that their behavior is not acceptable.

Thinking about this afterward, I came up with another possible response. What if I had said to this individual, "Hey, you're kinda cute! Why don't YOU bend over for ME?" A taste of their own medicine.

Now, I'm not gay in real life, but I have many friends and even relatives who are. I hope they wouldn't be offended by my borrowing of their sexual identity for in-game purposes. Most of the ones I know would be more amused than offended, so I think I'm ok there.

However, I don't think that's the best approach. The best response is for the woman in question to set a clear limit. How do I know this? I've seen and participated in several women's self defense classes in real life. The focus of the scenario training is to get the woman in question to confront the person in question and set a limit, saying things like

"I'm not interested."
"Take a step back."
"Get away from me."

These are direct and to the point, but they don't escalate the situation either. In the training sessions, we also cover what to do should the situation become physical, but that's unnecessary in EQ2. And besides most of the women toons I know can handle themselves in-game.

Here are some things to say that I wouldn't recommend.

"Please stop"
"F--- off"
"Run along, little boy", and
"Why don't YOU bend over for ME?"

These are going to escalate the situation. Using "please" sounds weak, in this context, like it's a request. It isn't. Every woman has the right to not be harrassed, to enjoy the game. You do not need someone else's forbearance. "Leave me alone," seems kind of weak and whiny, too.

Simply using /ignore will work, but I suggest that setting a limit first, then using /ignore will help everyone else in the game that is no more interested in this behavior than you are. That includes me and a lot of other men, not just other women.

But I'll bet there's a lot of you out there with different experiences, and a fair bit of wisdom. I'd love to hear about what happened to you in an online game, and how you dealt with it, success or failure. We can learn a lot from both. Let the comments begin.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Tradeskill Weekend

Most of my weekend was spent doing Tradeskills, in no small part because of the double experience offered on the English-language servers. With doubled experience on top of full vitality, a single rune (an upgrade for the scout archetype) was netting me 10 percent of a level.

The other reason to tradeskill was the unscheduled patches on Saturday. Our server came down twice, within an hour and a half of each other. There was precious little explanation, too.

My first thought was that the target was a plat-generating loop or exploit, since the only change was to buyback prices. Sitting behind the pretty screen on our local computers, and even behind the front-line servers is a giant database that tracks everything about each of the worlds, including how much of each item is in the world, how much money, how many upgrades, kills, and so on.

That's why we can see some basic stats for our characters on the web, and find out basic rankings. But this database allows SOE to manage the game using statistical tools. They don't really say what they do to manage the game, but any programmer worth his salt would be able to write monitoring scripts that would give the game managers (oddly, the GM's aren't the overall managers of the game.) up-to-the-minute data on what's going on, in a statistical sense.

So, I've got to wonder if they noticed money piling up at too rapid a rate, and jumped in with an emergency patch. But somehow, I think that this line in the update notes from 2/19 might be responsible, too.

Summoned items should no longer have any value to merchants.

Marr protect us! You could summon food and then sell it? Wow, this is an exploit, if ever there was. I can already envision the army of level 6 botted priests, summoning food and then selling it at a merchant. Yikes!

Between removing the achemist tradeskill monopoly, and making all items with stat increases attuneable, we should have seen some decline in prices. Yet we don't seem to have, at least not on my server. Maybe the effects of these changes is slow to take effect? After all, attunability doesn't affect me right now, the loss of wealth comes when I have to replace the item with a better one.

And as for the new tradeskills, in order to take advantage and make your own WORT, for example, you would have had to spend a fair amount of time training with Thaumaturgy. And if you are only making your own, there is less effect on the market price than if you were making it and selling it. Training on recipes that offer no experience. Which is my guess for why the double tradeskill experience was offered this weekend.

Friday, February 18, 2005

In My Recipe Book

Today, the day after the latest big patch, there is are 3 recipes for making iron bars in my recipe book. The first one is from the book scholar essentials 10, requires an ironcluster, eolith temper and a lump of brown coal, and uses the skill Artificing, which I happen to be quite good at, being a Jeweler. The second one is from craftsman essentials 10, which I purchased from another player, and has the same ingredients. It uses the skill Metalworking, which I'm not so good at, but I've been practicing it. The third one is from Geomancy Essentials 1, and has the same ingredients, and uses the skill Geomancy. After the patch, my Geomancy skill was 45.

Which one did I use? The Geomancy version. Why? Well, at tier 3 I have a Metalworking-based recipe for carbonite bars, but not an Artificing one. I have only one set of reaction arts for Metalworking, the ones you get when you first become an artisan. These arts give you no way to boost durability, only progress. But boosting durability is the key to making high-quality results.

In contrast, I currently have 3 tiers of Geomancy-based reaction arts, just as I do with Artificing. So, to fill in the gaps, I plan to skill up in Geomancy, and refine all my metal using it.

Also in my recipe books are two recipes for Carbonite Studs. One uses Artificing, and the other uses Geomancy. But the Geomancy-based one requires 2 units of fuel instead of the one unit required by the Artificing recipe. That means that a Jeweler is always going to have a competitive advantage price-wise on producing these items. As it turns out, several other tradeskills have need of these components and other subcombines that Jewelers can make.

With the introduction of the subcombine skills such as Geomancy (We'll get to Thaumaturgy in a second.) those tradeskillers now have the option of making their own subcombines, at an extra cost. They must buy the appropriate Geomancy books, and skill up in Geomancy. And they must absorb higher costs. But they can do it.

What this means is that the price of these subcomponents will drop, but remain profitable for jewelers. For players that have developed stable supplier relationships, probably little will change, though the price may drop some. Should market prices reflect a shortage of components, or perhaps a cartel of producers, it is possible for the consumers to develop their own sources, and continue to level up, perhaps after a detour into skilling up. And nobody will need to create and alt just to make WORT (Wash, Oil, Resin, Temper).

That's because Thaumaturgy works much the same. The base level recipes, including those for WORT, do not put the Thaumaturge at a disadvantage to the Chemist. But the intermediate recipes do. Of particular importance there are the combines for ink. Alchemists will always have a competitive advantage in producing ink. But it isn't absolute, higher prices will allow sages and jewelers to compete effectively.

But Alchemists have no competetive advantage at all in producing WORT, other than starting out with high skill. The high price and shortages of these basic components, which are needed, either directly or indirectly by every other tradeskill, should abate quickly. It's the end of the gravy train for alchemists, who were clearly hurt the most by this change. It's even more clear when you look at the price structure for a basic WORT refine.

At tier 2, fuel now costs 14 copper, and liquid can be had for 6 copper. Using a tuber which you gathered yourself, you can then make 4 doses of Stroma Wash, if you are good at it, at a cost of 5 copper each. They sell back to the vendor for, guess what, 5 copper each.

It gets worse when you look at tier 3, because the fuel costs increase, but the buyback price does not. I'm not sure whether this is a mistake or not. But even if the buyback price were equal to fuel plus liquid, the message would still be clear. There will be no profits without interaction with other players. I think an alchemist can still perhaps sell at 2 or 3 times cost, and have happy customers, though.

But all this trashing of the profitability of WORT will allow alchemists to actually think about producing potions and poisons. These have been seriously boosted. Now most potions have multiple doses, and say what they do, in detail. They also have their own category on the broker, so that they can be searched for effectively. None of them I've seen seems "killer" but that's in keeping with the spirit of the game design, which strives to eliminate any item or strategy that trivializes an encounter.

Instead the game puts a premium on using the right tool for the right job. I've read about groups that had a named raid mob deep into red when they ran out of power and then died horribly. Wouldn't those groups have liked a potion that gave a little extra kick to in-combat power regeneration?

Just last night I participated in a raid on Antonica's drakota. I died quickly to the dragon's breath weapon which has a dot component, and the raid ultimately failed with the dragon in red. Before I do that again, I'm going to get some potions to buff my poison resistance and which remove poison effects. If I had stayed alive and managed to dot the drake, that could have easily made the difference in the fight.

But that's a digression. The new tradeskill changes aren't quite as heavy a nerf to interdependence as it first seemed, specialists will still have some competetive advantages. But their monopolies are gone.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Top 5 Lists

Here's my list of the 5 biggest changes in todays update, Live Update #3:

  • Tradeskill interedependence removed. Unlike what was posted on the test server, the skills for making subcomponents, which are different than the current skills, improve with practice not with leveling. so there will still be an opportunity for specialization.

  • Strength damage bonus reduced. Fighters are not the best damage dealers. As it should be.

  • Warriors, especially Brawlers, have improved mitigation. Monks are tanks, make no mistake

  • Sorceror damage dealing boosted. They will be true glass cannons.

  • Travel speed for most mounts has been reduced. There are also vendors which will buy back mounts now available

  • Here's my top 5 favorite "little" changes:

  • Alacrity and Breeze now last 15 minutes. Enchanters all over Norrath rejoice at this one! All personal buffs are affected.

  • Pets inside residences can be named. That alley cat in my room can now get the respect he deserves.

  • Empty bags can be stored within other bags. It's much easier to buy and sell them this way. Does this apply to strongboxes, too?

  • Guild level ups now come with a "ding" an a message. Gives the patrons a few strokes, reinforces the guild identity. Good stuff!

  • Language quest items will now drop as corpse loot. I can learn Gnollish! and Orcish! and...

  • And my top 5 most intriguing changes:

  • City sabotage quests available. I don't know anything about these, but I have GOT to check this one out.

  • Solo versions of instanced zones available in Thundering Steppes, Enchanted Lands, Orcish Wastes. One's called a Pirate's Hidden Stash, need I say more?

  • New level 50 raids Someday I'll be able to do these.

  • Enemies using charm skills will temporarily use other skills while an issue with charm is worked out I wonder what issue that is?

  • Keys that allow deeper progress in Wailing Caves will now drop in corpses What IS behind that tapestry?

  • Attune Your Gear!

    Live Update #3 is on the servers this morning. There are many changes, some of which I've been blogging about. But here's something that requires your immediate attention. Many items have now become attuneable which were not attuneable before. A quick check this morning gives me the impression that any armor, weapon or jewelry item that gives a stat buff is now attuneable. This implies that crafted and quested items have all become attuneable.

    Before you start to hyperventilate about losing the resale value of these items, the patch notes also state that any NOTRADE item can now be sold to a vendor. So you can recover cash from the item, but you can't sell it to another player (or pass it on.) Twinking is dead.

    But for your immediate attention, be aware that some of the items you are wearing are not giving you any benefit. If they just became attuneable, they will be in the equipment slot, but do nothing for you until attuned. That should be the first order of business for all of your characters when they log in.


    I predict that this change to quest and crafted items will create a better market for them. One of the things that happened in Everquest 1 was that once the bazaar was implemented, the price of the lower level items dropped considerably. Since these items rarely leave the game, merchants were soon awash in them, and it was easy to equip a lower level character with very nice stuff. Too easy, probably, which meant that the low-level game became too easy, even ignoring the effect of powerleveling. An attuneable item will never be used by more than one player, eliminating this problem.

    This seems like a fairly radical solution, however. I earlier speculated that before SOE did this, they could increase repair costs, to encourage folks to vendor stuff that's green or gray rather than repairing it. But it may be that this would be too much of a penalty to folks who die a lot, making players a lot more risk-averse. This is a fantasy game, after all; the players are supposed to be heroes.

    It's also true that an attuneable item has less value than a non-attuneable item, because its resale potential is lower. Not zero, since they can be sold to vendors. So it's hard to say whether the price of crafted items will go down or up in the long run.

    Wednesday, February 16, 2005

    How About a Nice Antonica Punch?

    The hallmark of the fighter archetype in Everquest 2 is its ability to to take a punch. Nobody else can go toe-to-toe with a mob like a fighter can. At least, that's the way it was supposed to work.

    However, until recently, the game was not working that way. Any character that could acheive a high enough Agility score could become unhittable, and scouts were regularly managing to do this with stacked buffs. Here's what Moorgard, SOE community guy, said recently:

    For example, if a monk or bruiser could be buffed such that his agility was 200 points higher than the opponent's to-hit stats, they would avoid all but 4% of the enemy's damage output. A plate tank with a shield also had 96% avoidance, and a scout with no shield had 90% avoidance.

    Even an AGI advantage of 100 points allowed light and heavy armor tanks to avoid all but 14% and 15% of enemy damage output, while scouts avoided 77% of the damage. Since this stat advantage was easily reachable with typical buffs and debuffs, tanking was trivialized in many encounters.

    The change we implemented was to raise the stats of NPCs that are level 30 and higher while decreasing the bonus given by agility. Higher-level encounters were no longer as trivial to tank, especially for scouts (who are not meant to be tanking heroic and epic content anyway).

    As an aside, I think this implies that having a shield cut down the number of attacks that hit by more than half at this level. That's impressive.

    One of the questions that might be asked at this point is why not reduce the strength of the buffs in some way, instead of reducing the effect of Agility? It's a pretty good question, and wasn't addressed by Moorgard's remarks. We can only speculate, which is what I'm about to do.

    There are lots of ways that Agility can be increased besides the buffs in question. Items, potions, debuffs on mobs, and so on. I expect that in some future expansion will introduce higher levels for characters with bigger buffs and better gear. How often one entity hits another and how much damage it does is a core piece of the game, which I would want to get right if I were designing the game.

    Also, I would want to have rough parity in the value of each of the stats. For example, Strength isn't as valuable to a mage as Intelligence is. However I would like Strength to mean about as much with regard to the combat effectiveness of fighters as Intelligence does to mages. Likewise, I'd like a point of Strength increase be worth about as much to the party as a point of strength increase. This was not the case, since high-level buffs of other stats were being replaced with the low-level versions of AGI buffs.

    The changes to Agility produced another problem, though, which is being addressed soon. The problem in a nutshell is that brawlers and their subclasses, monk and bruiser, depend on avoidance to tank, but guardians and warriors do not. Instead, guardians and warriors wear heavy armor which mitigates or reduces the amount of damage done by a hit that finds its target. Which means that brawlers were somewhat compromised in their ability to tank by the recent Agility changes.

    After further parsing and analysis, we have decided that further delineation is needed between a fighter's ability to tank versus a scout's ability. As part of Live Update #3, we are improving heavy armor to mitigate 11% more damage and light armor to mitigate 35% more damage. In addition to making fighters tank better overall, this should address concerns raised by bruisers and monks. Light armor tanks still depend on deflection, but with increased mitigation their tanking ability should be less prone to streaks of damage.

    This is really good news for brawlers, who have been having a hard time. Most of these changes aren't going to be highly visible for characters in their low 20's or below, but are going to be pretty noticeable by level 30.


    As long as I'm talking about mitigation, I'd like to point out a few other things. Shaman wards prevent damage from occuring. A ward contains a certain number of points of damage absorption. This absorption is calculated before mitigation. Let me explain. Suppose the shaman's ward is worth 1000 points of damage. The tank gets hit by a mob for a nominal 600 points. A big hit. A guardian wearing plate without a ward would mitigate this damage, perhaps by half, to 300 points. But with a ward on him, the full 600 points is subtracted from the ward, with none left to be mitigated. That's kind of annoying, since the ward, in some sense, is only operating at 50 percent efficiency.

    Which means it doesn't interact well with heavy tanks, and the best tank to combine with a shaman is an avoidance-based tank. Clerics feature reactive healing, which heals with each hit, and regeneration, along with the best instant heals, and druids use regeneration, which heals at periodic intervals, as long as you are hurt. These don't match up with the other two fighter subclasses particularly well, they have more of a correspondence with different kinds of attackers.

    Encounters which land lots of hits for smallish amounts of damage are best dealt with by reactive healing, which heals on every hit. In contrast, encounters which land relatively few, but big, punches will do better with regeneration. But the form in which the damage comes doesn't matter to the shaman in the slightest.

    But don't worry, you can be effective in most situations regardless of your combination. The most effective part of any character is the fingers at the keyboard. Maybe your shaman/zerker/rogue trio can't take on a single orange++ the way a cleric/guardian/rogue could, but knowing that means you'll avoid the encounter, and handle the blues and whites just fine.

    Monday, February 14, 2005

    Doing some Damage

    Another upcoming change in the Next Big Patch will be a revision in the damage-doing potential. SOE has been extremely aggressive in addressing situations where their concept of the game has not matched reality. This is no exception.

    SOE's vision is that when it comes to dealing damage, the archetypes should rank, from highest potential to least, in the order mages, scouts, fighters, priests. This is not currently the case.

    Currently, beginning at perhaps level 30 and higher, fighters do the most damage. SOE's community guy Moorgard said this:

    The greatest imbalance currently in the game relates to fighters. Tanks are supposed to absorb damage, but they're also currently the best at dishing it out. This is due to the way our strength bonus works. Currently in the live game, a strength of 400 (achievable at the higher levels with buffs and gear) results in a 200% damage bonus. This results in fighters being the premier melee damage dealers, since they typically have the highest STR values.

    Here is a table showing the changes to STR damage bonus:

    STR Old Bonus New Bonus
    100 125% 125%
    200 150% 135%
    300 175% 145%
    400 200% 155%

    I don't know whether this table represents a threshold or not. Is there a big benefit for going from 199 STR to 200? I'd guess not, that doesn't seem consistent with the design philosophy. But I don't really know. Any commenters?

    Characters below level 25, and characters that play in small groups or solo can't really get their strength up to the level of 3-400, so they shouldn't see much change.

    In addition, damage output of mages in general and wizards and warlocks in particular has been poor. So the damage output for sorcerors has been increased, by as much as 300% for some spells. Not much along this line has been done for enchanters and conjurors, though a couple of changes have been introduced that are related.

    First, summoning a construct will not make all dots and debuffs on a target go away, like it did. Second, all single target buffs will have a duration of 15 minutes, instead of the 3 min grind that it currently is. That will allow Enchanters (such as yours truly) to keep the whole party Breezed and Hasted. This will result in increased damage potential for the group.

    But no other changes are in store for damage potential of conjurors and enchanters in the short term. I suspect that SOE feels the changes to STR and to sorceror damage are big enough that they want to look at the other classes in the new context before making further changes.

    The main focus of complaints so far has been, "Now groups will never want more than one tank in their group." This change will reduce the attractiveness of that second tank, make no mistake. But smart tanks (hmm, "military intelligence", anyone?) will figure out how to use combinations with another tank to be more effective. I group quite a lot with another enchanter. This is far from ideal, but she's a good player, and so am I. So we figure out how to coordinate, how to be successful. That's fun. Isn't that what playing a game is supposed to be?

    Friday, February 11, 2005

    Talk QWERTY to Me

    Fights in Everquest 2 are fast-paced. Things can happen very quickly, and the level of coordination of the group can make a big difference. But most people's skill with the
    computer keyboard (also known as the QWERTY keyboard, because those are the first 5 letters on one of the rows of keys) are not good enough to keep up with this pace.

    What to do? In a word, macros. In two words, custom hotkeys. Don't know how to use them? Read on.

    On the EQ2 menu is a selection called "Socials". The Socials window can be invoked by using the keyboard shortcut 'o', under the key bindings that the game comes with. There are two tabs under socials, one is for emotes, all the fun animations that can make your character dance, smile, and give thumbs up. The other tab is labeled "Macros"; that's the one we want.

    Initially, the Macro window will contain a bunch of empty boxes with a spot for a name next to them. Left click on the name area to begin editing the macro. We now get a device for choosing the icon for our macro, and three text boxes, where we will type commands. These commands can be any command that you might type directly into a chat box, such as /smile, /gsay, /say, /raidsay, or /dance.

    A lot can be done with just a /gsay. I recommend that any puller make a macro to alert his group that he is initiating a combat, and to alert them to what his target is. Even with EQ2's implied targeting this is still important, in the heat of battle, redundancy in communication is a very good thing. How to do it? In the text box, type the text

    gsay Prepare to battle %t!

    In the macro text box, the slash character is unnecessary. Leave it out. Now put the macro on your hotbar. When you left click or use a keystroke to use the macro, the %t will be replaced with the name of your target. A pretty cool enchantment, if you ask me. So everyone will know to get ready to fight, and versus whom.

    If you aren't the puller or main tank, you might very well want one like this, especially if you are a caster type, and don't do well if you have aggro.

    gsay Help, %t is attacking me!

    Of course, some players like to exercise their creativity in writing such messages, but the function remains the same.

    As an Illusionist, I often need to mesmerize mobs. When I do this the mob will stand there fascinated by the pretty lights. Any damage will wake it up, so it's important that the rest of my group know what I'm doing. I use the following commands, in the first and second text boxes:

    gsay You're feeling sleepy, >>%t<<
    useability Fascinate

    The useability command will invoke the ability named. In this case it's the 10th level Enchanter spell Fascinate. This is very handy, and easy to use. You have to copy down the name exactly, but there are no other requirements, like quotation marks and such.

    I would be tempted to replace all of the spell icons on my hotbar with macros like this, but there's a couple problems with that. If everyone did a gsay on every ability they used, it would be hard to track all of them. Macros which use abilities do not gray out and show recast time elapsing the way the ability icon does. I wish that they did, but it means that sometimes, I will have both the macro and the underlying skill on my hotbar, just to see the recast timer.

    There is a variety of icons that one can choose from for a macro, but there are fewer of them and they aren't the same as the ability icons. So that makes things a little more tricky, too.

    What I'd really like to see is an enhancement to the user interface where you could right click on an ability icon, and directly add a say command or two to that icon. This would allow good group communication, reduce clutter, and preserve the icon and recast timer for the ability.

    Thursday, February 10, 2005

    More on Tradeskill Changes

    It looks like the changes are more sweeping than I originally thought. For example, the Geomancy book from Tier 2, which everyone can buy and use, contains recipes not only for Stroma Wash, Stroma Oil, Stroma Resin and Eolith Temper, but also for Trinoid Reagent, Iron Gual Dye, and Iron Gual Ink. Wow.

    As a Jeweler, I can now buy the Geomancy book and make my own Iron Spike to use in making Runes. I am not dependent on any other class to make Runes. That's kind of a shame, I liked that aspect of it.

    Sages are now highly viable, since Timbercraft Essentials 1 contains recipes for Cailun Paper, and Maple Quills. Remember that all artisans have the Timbercraft skill and it increases automatically with level.

    Personally, I'd recommend giving all artisans the skills but not making them advance automatically. So you could allow specialization, but not require it. If they start gouging you too much for your supplies, then you'd do it yourself.

    Here's some screenshots of the books, and the new reaction arts that go with them, thanks to Anya Foodcrafter.

    Big Tradeskilling Changes

    Along with many other changes, these notes showed up on the test servers today:

  • Four new crafting abilities have been discovered: apothecary, weaving, timbercraft, and geomancy. These skills allow all artisans to refine the materials and components needed to make final products. New recipe books can be found on merchants or scattered throughout Norrath which teach you how to use these skills. Artisans automatically gain 5 points per level in these skills.

  • New events and reaction arts have been created for apothecary, weaving, timbercraft, and geomancy. Reaction arts for these skills are based on thaumaturgy, binding, woodcraft, and geocraft. These skills increase through use. The higher your skill level, the better your chances of creating higher-quality items.

  • All tradeskill recipes now require a new type of fuel at each tier. Fuel cost increases with level.

  • A bug causing certain artisan-related skills to be 5 points too high has been corrected.

  • The Advanced Scholar 15 book has been added to the appropriate loot drops.

  • The biggest and most controversial change is that washes, oils, resins, and tempers (WORT) will no longer be the exclusive province of the alchemist. All classes that need them will be able to make them, using new abilities and reaction arts. This implies that the are different recipes, as well.

    I haven't seen definitive data on this yet, but I'd like to know whether all tradeskillers can make WORTs in the same volumes that alchemists can. I can easily imagine a recipe that only produced in quantities of 2 or 3 at the highest quality tier. So while you can produce your own, the alchemist can do it more cheaply, which gives a reason for trade to occur. I hope that's what happens. If I find out more, I'll post about it. Word is that the changes to interdependence don't affect everything you expect to get from other tradeskillers, just the basic refines. So perhaps everyone who needs lumber can make it. And everyone who needs to refine carbonite can make it. Inks will still be exclusive to alchemists beyond tier 2. I'm not sure where this leaves sages. Will they be able to make paper? I hope so.

    This is fairly disappointing to those like me who recently decided not to become a sage based on the difficulty we saw the sage class would have in leveling. Of course, that also means it was probably a good idea to fix it. I'd love to see some statistics on the numbers of different classes. It seems that alchemists clearly had too much to do.

    Another major change has to do with the new fuel requirements. This seems aimed at a tradeskilling technique known we'll call cancellation. If a combine is stopped before the first progress bar is completed, only the fuel is lost, and no combine is produced. If you are attempting a difficult combine with expensive primary or secondary components, this is an invaluable technique. Whenever you get less than satisfactory results at the beginning of a combine, cancel it and try again. At the moment, this costs 6 copper. So you go for it. It might even make sense to hold out for a complete string of successes in the first tier, cancelling at the first -50 to durability.

    But now the cost of fuel is level dependent. Cancellation just became a lot more expensive. Whether you will do it or not depends on how valuable your primary components are in comparison, and how important it is to get to pristine. If you are making stuff for a secondary slot, where quality doesn't matter, then you probably won't bother. If you are making an item from a rare drop, you most certainly WILL bother, even when you are consuming 3 fuel per try.

    There are a few store-bought components for poisons and essences; the prices on these have been reduced, probably to rebalance the costs of poisons and essences. The message is clear, alchemists should be focusing on making potions, poisons, and essences, not WORT. If they aren't, it's a sign that game design goals are not being met, and adjustment is needed. But nobody likes being the ball being hit by the nerf bat.

    Wednesday, February 09, 2005

    No More Camping

    Deep in the bowels of Lower Guk stood a minotaur. A monk sits quietly, contemplating the minotaur. After many hours, the minotaur leaves and in his place is a human monk, Raster of Guk. Our hero quickly rises and challenges him, defeating him, and bringing back the fruit of his patience, Raster's headband. This item is essential to completing the monk's epic quest, a hallmark of player skill and accomplishment.

    Defeating Raster requires that you be there when he spawns, and be capable of defeating him. Since many monks report an accumulation of 30 or more hours spent waiting for Raster to spawn, that means that you either need to be able to defeat him in single combat, or be able to persuade a group to put up with that much boredom for your sake. Especially since as the game was expanded, few players ever ventured into Lower Guk, as better zones to gain loot and experience entered the game.

    Camping. What a pain.

    There were other types of camping. Since mana regeneration was faster sitting rather than standing, there was a big advantage to parking the group somewhere close to mobs, but out of the path of wanderers and having the casters stay seated. Except while casting.

    Under such conditions groups often became territorial. Most players followed a first-come, first-serve policy, and if they saw you parked by a Dervish Cuthroat camp, they would ask if you had space or move on. But some would set up in competition. The concept of a camp was never endorsed by the GM's, and was probably unenforceable anyway.

    In order to advance quests, certain drops from certain mobs were necessary, perhaps in number. Also certain good items dropped off of certain rare mobs.

    Camping is pretty much dead in Everquest 2. May it rest in peace.

    In the first place, sitting confers no advantage to standing in regenerating health or power. So there's no reason not to move.

    In the second place, power and health regenerate so fast after a battle that groups are ready to fight again long before the encounter they just killed will respawn. And since in-combat movement is never really any faster than the mob's movement speed, long pulls are much more of a problem. So there is a reason to move on.

    Finally, groups and raids share quest credit. With the quest system, if two players both need to kill Sabertooth oracles, and are grouped together when one drops, they both get credit for it. The quest system also has a notion of a quest drop, such as a note from a Bloodsaber. This item doesn't take up inventory space, and again, everyone who needs it in the group or raid that killed the Bloodsaber gets credit for the drop when it drops.

    This gives a huge incentive to cooperate. I recommend that when you find yourself in competition for a spawn, you tell the others, "Hey, if we group up (or form a raid) we'll both get credit for it on our quests when we kill the Sabertooth Captain. How about it?"

    I find this works a lot better than asking the other group if they need help. To some people this is an indirect method of asking to join. But others take the question at face value, and are miffed that there's somebody else there competing for the spawn I need for this quest, grrrr...

    But both groups can get credit for the quest drop. Problem solved. No standing in line.

    There are a few things that are actual drops that are needed to advance quests. And loot doesn't suddenly duplicate itself for every member of the group. However, I believe that chests drop more often as a group takes on harder mobs.

    Add to this the instancing of popular dungeons that alleviates crowding and camping is a thing of the past. And that makes us all happy campers.

    I've heard some complaints that some of the armor quests involve killing rare spawns, for which there is excessive demand. But I can't tell whether those who complained are aware of the raid option and its consequences for quest kills and drops. If someone knows better, please leave a comment.

    Monday, February 07, 2005

    Please and Thank You.

    Well, we high elves are the final arbiters of all things genteel, so I thought I'd spend a few minutes on a topic near and dear to my pansyboy elf heart -- ettiquette.

    This is my personal take on social situations that come up in the game. I'm not into telling other people what to do, regardless of what my real-life children might think.

    Joining Groups

    I don't ever invite someone to a group without sending a tell first. I dislike it when the invitation window pops up unnanounced, but I try not to get too excited by it. After all, the command is called "/invite". Isn't that an invitation? What are you, some kind of pansy elf boy? Ahem. Let's call these "ogre" invitations, rather than "ninja" invitations, shall we?

    However, if I get an "ogre" invitation from someone I don't know, I will have some questions for them: Where are you? What level are you? What are you planning on doing? These seem relevant.
    "What color is your armor?", while of great interest to those fashonistas among us, is not particularly relevant to grouping. Let's face it, when you're killing stuff you're gonna get dirty, so the fact that my outfit and the Iksar necromancer's pet clash is just not gonna be all that relevant. Let's hope nobody takes a screenshot, though.

    Next, I strive not to accept invitations to groups until I am on site with the rest of the group members. If I group with them and then generate aggro on my way to where they are, I risk giving them all some experience debt, without giving them the ability to try and keep me alive. It's also possible that they might give ME some debt. Given that I can't share in any experience or loot until I get there it seems a poor tradeoff.

    Mind you, I do it sometimes anyway, but mostly with guildies and friends and in places where I have little trouble with aggro. Furthermore, one can use a waypoint to find group members only when grouped, and you get the benefit of the group chat channel when grouped. But I'm very conservative in these uses of groups.

    Likewise, when a group has completed its goals and is breaking up, I leave the group. Sometimes if a buddy and I are both using call and going to tradeskill for a while, we will keep the group channel open. But especially if there are others who are going to do something else adventuresome, I disband immediately as a courtesy.

    There's kind of a potential awkward moment there when you are disbanding a group with folks you know, such as guildies. One thing you might do is disband, and then continue a conversation in tells or guild chat, where appropriate. There are times when keeping the group open is ok, but I'm naturally conservative (after all, I'm 742 years old!) on this line.

    If you are forming a group, try to have a specific purpose. "Who wants to go to TS with me to do guild writs?" is a fine way to form groups. "Who wants to do something with me?", seems a tad forlorn, really. It might be true, but it's not perhaps the most attractive.

    If I'm interested in joining up with someone or an existing group, I usually offer to help them. This plays a lot better than, "Hey Fred, let's group! You can come help me kill these mobs that are gray to you and for which you have no quest! It'll be fun!"

    On the other hand, I really have no problem with "I could really use some help with this." I've done it on occasion.


    Some folks have the belief that if they can use a drop, and you can't, then they should automatically get it, as a matter of custom. This is usually described as "Need before greed", or simply NBG.

    I'm all in favor of folks being generous and considerate. But value is value. Let's say I'm grouping with some friends and an Adept I skill upgrade drops. I can't use it, but another group member can. While I can't use it directly, chances are I can sell it for sufficient money to upgrade one of my skills to Adept I. As long as the distribution method is fair, why does your need take priority over my need?

    When you are in a pickup group, with people you don't really need, this goes double. There are a few bad apples out there who might say they can use something, but there's no way to verify it. In a group of guildies or friends there is more of an expectation that you will be grouped with these people again, so having them have better gear and skills will work in your favor. And they'd be less likely to try to deceive you about whether they "need" stuff.

    Even when I am in the context of a group of friends or guildies, I like to let the giver be a giver. If I get an upgrade or armor piece that isn't useful to me, I might ask, "Can anyone use this?" and offer it as a present. If someone wins a drop that I want, and such a question isn't forthcoming, I might offer to trade something for it. A gift is not a gift unless it is freely given. I am not entitled to something of yours simply by virtue of the fact that I need it.


    The same goes for stuff that other folks tradeskill. I have been the recipient of some VERY generous gifts, but I never ask for them. The leading tradeskiller in my guild, Imhotep, has set a very generous policy: Guild members may buy anything he has in stock at cost. I like this policy and will be adopting it for my own tradeskilling. I'm also more than happy to do swaps with other tradeskillers.

    One of the things that works great here is to hand a big stack of ingredients to a tradeskiller who is a friend. Usually you will get some finished product back. Whether it's raw foodstuffs to a provisioner, or washes, tempers, oils, and resins to a jeweler.

    Those are the main points I wanted to cover. I'm not the sort of elf who likes to go around telling other folks what to do; I just wanted to discuss my take on the whole manners thing.

    Sunday, February 06, 2005

    Adventure Camps

    There is a featured article on about something they call adventure camps. These come in many forms, but the most typical is the little group of tents that make up a gnoll camp. Each of these camps will spawn a number of encounters, and if those encounters are all cleared by a group of players, something "interesting" will happen.

    Typically, a group of more challenging gnolls spawns, and when they are defeated, the camp disappears, and something more appears. some other reward appears. In one case, we've seen this be a merchant who sold a book quest that I had not otherwise seen. Maybe this book appears elsewhere, who knows? The story he told was that he had been captured by the gnolls. The merchant would also let you sell. After a period of time, he disappeared, running off back to town.

    The article specifically mentions another sort of reward. A chest, that when opened, casts some sort of beneficial spell on those nearby. This happened to a couple of my guildies, Phritz and Imhotep, once. I was there, but not as close, and so I think I was unaffected. We are still stumped as to what this magic spell might have done.

    Adventure camps solve one of the problems of creating a large outdoor zone. Mobs which are placed with static spawn points and respawn timers produce play that tends to be repetitive. Camping, we call it. There's no story to it other than a grim relentless grind. No beginning, middle or end.

    Using probably similar mechanics to harvesting nodes, camps can spawn anywhere in designated areas. They in turn spawn their first-line encounters. Then they sit there waiting for someone to take them on. Even while you are fighting them, they will respawn first-line encounters, so you have to be able to defeat them rapidly enough to get the camp boss to spawn. This will only happen if you clear the camp, although I'm not sure that all camps have bosses.

    And when the camp boss is cleared, the camp despawns. You could think of it as an encouragement to move on and do something else, since the camp will definitely not respawn in exactly the same place. Your adventure had a beginning, a climax, and a reward. That's a big improvement over the way things used to be. You feel more like you're having an adventure than attempting genocide.

    Adventure camps might be a very good way to slyly introduce some interesting lore, or quests into the game. It might be wise to check into them more thoroughly.

    Friday, February 04, 2005

    Trappers, Totems and Guildies

    In the Feb 3 and Feb 4 updates were some changes to the way experience is calculated. First, from Feb 3:

  • We have increased the XP awarded to groups of 1 to 3 players for defeating advanced solo/small group encounters.

  • The amount of XP awarded to groups of 2 or more players for defeating normal solo encounters has been slightly reduced.

  • This allows soloers and small groups taking on challenging encounters to be rewarded with more XP than they would have previously earned.

  • There used to be a sort of hole in the experience/encounter system that made a group of 3 characters the worst possible experience group. At 3 characters experience from "Solo"-rated mobs was reduced. But the "Group"-rated mobs were often too difficult for a group of 3 to tackle at a level beyond green or perhaps blue. So SOE added the "Advanced Solo" category. Tougher mobs, and now more experience for up to 3 characters.

    Before this change, the "Solo"-rated mobs gave full experience to a duo, because there wasn't anything else that a duo could reliably tackle. The introduction of "Advanced Solo" mobs
    has allowed SOE to back off on the experience granted to 2 players fighting normal "Solo"-rated mobs, since they can now take on the new mobs for good experience. To continue getting good experience, you will have to change what you're fighting, though. Doing quests for the Trapper in Thundering Steppes with a duo isn't going to be as effective as it used to be, for example.

    So, if you are in a duo or a trio, the best experience ought to be found fighting the Advanced Solo mobs. Of course, if you can handle "Group"-rated encounters at blue, more power to you!

    And in today's update:

  • Higher level group members will no longer take a disproportionately large share of group experience splits. Previously, when one or two group members were higher level than the group's average, they gained a much larger share of the XP than they were supposed to.

  • The blue/green range has been expanded for groups whose members are not all the same level. Depending on your group's level range, even in groups as small as two, you now have more targets to choose from. Some encounters that were grey will now be green or even blue.

  • Since encounter con is based on the group's level, it is conceivable that an encounter may be grey to a player while solo, but turn green when they join a group with an average level that is lower than their own.

  • The blue/green range for players in their low 20s is now significantly larger, allowing them to hunt in some of their favorite spots for longer.

  • This is good news for guildies. I've often seen it happen that a level 22 can come into a group made of high teens and turn their entire zone gray. Folks want to group with their friends, but don't like it when they cost their friends experience and chest drops.

    EQ2 is designed to make the difference of a few levels mean a lot. This means that the content is somewhat compressed. The ability to gain loot and experience in one place fighting one set of mobs goes away pretty fast. I am of the opinion that this is purposeful, intended to get players to move around more, and experience more of the game.

    However, they may have overdone it. It's very common that a mob will gray out before a quest involving rare drops from that mob can be completed. So, the changes listed above will make it possible to group with your guildies with greater difference in levels, while still encouraging you to move on by reducing the experience gain for the higher level character.

    There's something to watch out for, though. Grouping with a lower-level character can turn gray mobs into green ones now, instead of vice-versa, as it used to do. This is probably a good thing as well. We've all seen that one higher-level character join a group, gray out a zone, and make everyone's quest to see the chessboard in Stormhold easy. That trick will not work so well now.
    Instead, there's a whole new trap for the unwary. That gray wolf standing next to you could turn green and start chewing when you accept an invitation, so be careful out there!

    Finally, what does this have to do with Totems? Well, the Chirranite Threat Totem is a chest drop in Blackburrow that is necessary to examine in order to learn the Gnollish language. A fair portion of Blackburrow just turned from gray to green for a level 20 character, and lower level characters will be able to turn even more of the zone green to a level 20.

    Thursday, February 03, 2005

    Tradeskill Writs Given Time Limit

    In the latest set of patches, a time limit of 30 minutes was placed on tradeskill writs. Now you can not obtain more than one tradeskill writ per 30 minutes; at least 30 minutes must have expired since an artisan obtained a previous writ.

    Anytime the game imposes an arbitrary limit on something like this, it chafes a bit, to be sure.

    However, there is a natural limit on the speed you can do adventure writs. Travel time and spawn rate. This mostly counteracts the benefit of questing together, since multiple people can get credit for the same kill. A well-organized guild can crank 6 patrons through 4 writs and be back ready to get another writ in maybe 3 hours, if the writ is in Thundering Steppes. It might be less. It will be more as they level up and have more travel time. That's 24 writs in 3 hours, or 8 per hour. If you can get it down to 2 hours, that's 12 writs per hour.

    Under the NEW rules, 6 crafters can produce 12 writs per hour, if they are well organized. Because the final combines will likely only take 10 of the 30 mins, there is time left over each half hour to produce the subcombines that were used up, and to walk over and get a new writ.

    If adventurers can get their writ cycle time down to 2 hours, they will be doing about 12 writs per hour, too. This really doesn't seem broken to me. But I think 2 hours is pretty optimistic.

    A single patron funnel can perhaps crank out final combines in 10 minutes, doing 6 per hour. That's not as good for the guild as the scheme described above. However, there's an issue with it. With only one patron doing the final combines for writs, the guild gets more benefit per writ than it would if there were 6 patrons. This is because the contribution to guild experience is divided by the total number of patrons. So each patron needs to be "pulling his weight".

    So, it may be that this is the reason for this fix. But similar structures can be created outside of a guild, by use of money. When I've done a guild writ, it took a long time, preparing subcomponents. But I realized that if I wanted to spend less time, I could apply money to the problem, and just buy up subcomponents. I could keep an inventory of likely needs, and reel off the writs in basically the time needed to make the final combine. I'm not sure that using money to buy status really breaks the concept of status. But perhaps that's an issue.

    In the end, I expect that the devs used statistical data that showed a few people cranking through tradeskills very fast, and they wanted to put a limit on it. However, most of the speed issues reported here are not an issue when the time spent preparing subcombines is amortized in. So a bit of reorganization of the work, and you will be able gain status at the same averaged rate.

    Tuesday, February 01, 2005

    Feb 1 update: Heroic Opportunities

    Many, many revisions were made to Heroic Opportunities in the latest update of Everquest 2. The updates are described in SOE's own words, with my comments in italics.

  • Using a spell or art other than one needed to advance a starter chain will no longer break it.

  • This is a major change. What this means is that the chain won't be broken by high-priority actions. It also means that 5 people don't have to stop what they are doing to allow the HO to go through. This is critical to making HO's useful, since 2/3rds of all damage done to mobs is done via specials, not normal melee.

  • Once a chain has begun, it can be purposefully broken by using one of the archetype abilities that initiates a chain (Lucky Break, Arcane Augur, Divine Providence, and Fighting Chance).

  • I've often been in a scout/priest group, and ended up with a chain that needed a mage to advance. Dead end. It wasn't a problem, because any other skill or spell would break the chain,
    and you could start again. But not with the new changes. A different way to break starter chains was needed.

  • You now have 10 seconds to complete the Heroic Opportunity wheel instead of 30 seconds.

  • They made it easier to complete starters, but raised the bar on completing the wheel very significantly. Since the HO does not advance if a spell is resisted, this makes things very tight. Smite has about a 5 second casting time. So, if the priest waits until the wheel is up, and the first Smite is resisted, you've used up all the time alloted. This puts the premium on thinking ahead. It also doesn't hurt to have two characters from the same archetype trying to advance a starter chain, in fact it will probably help. Still, 10 seconds may be challenging.

  • Starter chains now properly report who broke the chain. It had been reporting that the last person to advance the chain was the one who broke it.

  • This isn't that big of a deal, now that they are so much harder to break. But it was confusing and difficult before. Not sure how much this helps, given the other changes. Now if only they'd make a message about who or what broke mez...

  • Opportunity shift now has a much better chance of switching to a different opportunity.

  • Making HO's more intentional. This puts a big premium on scouts who know the HO chains and
    can think strategically.

  • Heroic Opportunities have been given enhanced visual and sound effects.

  • Players will receive a visual cue when an opportunity has been successfully completed.

  • It's always fun to see cool things happen on screen as a result of something you did. This will also encourage execution of HO's, since with more feedback comes more learning.

  • The duration of buff effects has increased from 3 minutes to 6 minutes.

  • If only they would do this for Breeze and Alacrity.

  • Heroic Opportunity effects now stack with class spell effects.

  • The last two items seem to address the relative power of Heroic Opportunity non-damage spells.
    Clearly many players felt that, overall, HO's weren't good enough to attempt, especially if it meant stopping anything else you are doing. Now, I don't see the downside to doing one. Stacking with other effects certainly makes sense, I'm not so sure about increased durations.

  • All Heroic Opportunities that hit more than one target now have an area of effect radius of 25 meters.

  • I don't know how this changes things. How was it before? Did we increase the range, or limit it? More research is needed.

  • Removed the display ranking from Heroic Opportunity starters (Lucky Break, Arcane Augur, and Fighting Chance) since you can't upgrade them.

  • In addition, a number of new starter chains and wheels have been added. I'll go into them in another post.

    Overall, there's been a big boost to Heroic Opportunities. In fact, even the casual pickup group will be pulling them off nearly nonstop. The only way to break a starter chain is to hit the starter again, and it's easy to either designate one player as the starter, or define a starter rotation.

    Players, especially scouts, who want to play a superior game will find it profitable to learn what the different HO's do, and think about which ones to go for. And how to complete wheels under significant time pressure.

    Weapon Choices

    Everquest 2 is a game designed to present interesting choices to players.

    There are three kinds of weapon damage in EQ2, crush, pierce, and slash. And there are three kinds of weapon configurations, one-handed, two-handed, and dual wield. Do they matter? What difference do they make?

    First of all, there are three types of damage mitigation in the game, crush mitigation, slash mitigation, and pierce mitigation. I expect that the different types of armor that characters can wear have different profiles with regard to these. But it isn't reported to us, so we can't be sure.

    Likewise, mobs will sometimes have differing levels of mitigation toward crushing, piercing and slashing. Some experimentation with weapons that are otherwise similar should reveal the difference. The difference could be large, but my expectation is that it will make a difference of about 10 percent to the DPS of a character. That's nothing dramatic, but nothing to sniff at, either.

    This should provide knowledgeable melee characters with an edge. "Aha, that looks like chain mail, I'll use my crushing weapons."

    The second choice presented is to weapon setup. If you want a defensive setup, one chooses a one-handed weapon, and equips a shield in the other hand. Sheilds are quite nice; they can provide some nice stat buffs to start, and they provide a chance to block incoming melee attacks. This provides a viable defensive option. But less damage overall.

    Two-handed and dual wield do pretty much the same amount of damage for the same quality of weapons. But there are some significant difference based on what mob you are facing and what buffs you have.

    Some buffs provide a chance to "do something" whenever you hit. Poison is like this; whenever you hit, there is a chance of poisoning the mob. Sorcerors have buffs like this also. This is known in the game as a proc. Whenever the "do something" kicks in, we say the effect has proced (pronounced "procked").

    Dual wielding results in more frequent procs. If you have a proc going, it's a good idea to dual wield. Your poison, or fire effect, or whatever will affect the mob more often, resulting in more damage. According to developer statements, the effect has been tuned so that it won't be twice as often however.

    On the other hand, there is another class of effects in the game known as damage shields. If a character has a damage shield up, then every time that character is hit by a mob, the mob takes some damage. Mobs can have damage shields, too. These are the bane of dual wielders.

    By hitting twice as often, the dual wielder takes twice as much damage from the damage shield. This is where a two-handed setup can shine.

    I love a game with interesting choices.