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.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Collection Drudge

In a post about the exploits of Nostalgia in Lavaspinner's Lair, Tipa has this to say about collection quests:

Our job was to kill those spiders and grab some of their webs — eight for each person who needs. And while we were there, maybe some blood from the higher-level Delve drakes guarding the nests in the northern part of the lair.

So, basically, an entire night spent getting uncommon drops from hundreds of mobs, because they are collection quests, the ABSOLUTE WORST kind of quests ever written in any MMO. The kind of quests that you don’t want to do in a group because it will take forever, but this being EverQuest, not the kind of thing you can do alone.

Yes, yes, by Marr! This is the worst. WoW is full of this kind of thing. Quests where you have to pick up 10 of something off a mob, and they aren't shared between group members. Worst is when they aren't tradeable either. So grouping generally makes things go slower. This is a bad mistake in an MMO, I feel. There should be as little friction to grouping as possible, and every reason to group up.

EQ2 does pretty well on this score. Most "collect X thingys" quests use virtual drops, and everyone in the group gets them at the same time. So grouping up helps you kill things faster, and otherwise doesn't slow things down at all.

LOTRO uses an inferior system. Virtual and real quest drops are rolled for individually on each kill. So one person can be done, while the other is still looking. There are other quests which are to be gathered directly from clickies, and players are in direct competition with each other for these. Often there aren't enough of them in a dungeon to complete the quest for everyone in a full group. I hate that.

Then there's sparklies. Most of them are in overland zones, which can be soloed, so no big issue there. But Runnyeye: The Gathering has a pickled eye collection with 16 or so different items. I think we gathered maybe 6 of them on the last run. Divide that by 6 group members, and then consider that one of them will be rare. That's a crazy amount of running through that dungeon. But it's a collection, that's sort of expected, I guess. Kind of why I don't obsess over collections, I guess.

One would have expected that the Everquest dev team would have figured this stuff out by the time DoN came around. But I guess not.

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Gathering Gadgets

I spent a late night with goblins in Runnyeye: The Gathering (commonly known as RE2) the other night. It was a unique experience, blending expertise and irritation. Let me sum up. I got a couple of very nice drops, made it farther than I have with any other group in Runnyeye. I also died about 15 times, and watched some of the sloppiest play I've ever seen.

Let me elaborate.

Close to my usual bedtime, I saw in level 70's chat a note from an old friend: "RE2 group needs mezzer, send a thoughtful tell". That's so like my friend, always the clever one, a good player, and fun to be around. So I sent him, "I think therefore I am, I mez, therefore I think you need me." My friend was glad to hear from me, as he'd been away from the game for a while. So I was in.

When I got there, I looked at the group list, trying to figure out where to put my buffs. I like to put Illusory Arm on the tank, it makes it easier for everyone else, who can dps that much harder. But I had a problem. There wasn't a tank class in the group.

"Who's tanking?" I asked. "Me," says the Swashbuckler. "MmmmmmmOooookay," think I. Well, these guys are all showing guild tags that mark them as very accomplished players. And they have good gear and are friends of my friend. So maybe they really are that good that they can do RE2 with a scout for a tank. I've done stranger things.

What followed was a curious mix of expertise and incompetence. We made fast progress through the zone, except for the times we wiped due to bad pulls. Pulls were incredibly fast, and sometimes even took place before the rest of the group had managed to follow into the new room. We took out several nameds, but we didn't ever clear the mobs in the very first room of the zone until way late in the run, and they managed to kill squishies several times after they revived. Mostly I followed someone else who was running back after dying, and sneaking through. Really, it seemed as though the others were not taking the zone very seriously at all.

Communication, a pet peeve of mine, was minimal. Nobody was using group voice chat. When I joined the group, I checked it, then asked, "No group voice chat?" I got the reply, "I seem to have gone mute." Typed messages were very sparse as well. But the group managed to smoothly bring in a two-boxed buffbot troubador when one of the members left without no warning that I could see or hear. I'm thinking they were on a Ventrilo channel. That doesn't exactly make a good impression.

We got hung up on Slamhammer, the minotaur named near the end. The swashie plus the mystic we had single healing couldn't quite hold him, though the group had plenty of AE potential that trashed the hammers when they came. So we juggled the group some and got a tank class to replace another DPSer who had gone to bed. That was sufficient to handle it.

Then the mystic left and we got a templar, a pretty good one, I've grouped with him before. We had some more pull mishaps, mostly due to too many "shortcuts" leaving mobs that probably should have been cleared, and the templar got killed in the first room. So it was cleared finally. Nevertheless, I got to see this, for the first time.

We couldn't handle this encounter, though it was close. My mezzes to pull went well, I could lock down all the adds well enough, and get a Doppleganger in to help keep the tank alive. We were able, several times to get all the side mobs killed and the boss down about half, at which point the healer lost the ability to keep up, even after I mixed some stuns and stifles in. Vohan is highly resistant to them, maybe immune, since they didn't seem to help much. Doppleganger helped, but it doesn't last that long.

I'm not mentioning any names because I still like my friend, and mostly he wasn't part of the problem. Furthermore, I don't really regret going, but I think I might ask who's tanking before I agree to go to RE2. Finally, it made me appreciate my guildies all that much more.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Adventures in Arbitrage

Everybody knows how to make money in the stock market: Buy low, sell high. There are certainly people who play the broker in EQ2 that way. The typical thing that's done is the corner. Last night, I found someone on our server that had 2400+ succulent roots for sale at 50s each, and nothing for sale below that price. I'm betting he or she didn't go out and gather them all.

I don't find it all that upsetting that people do this. Even if someone buys something I'm selling and marks it up for resale at a higher price, I figure that they bought it at a price I was willing to sell, so more power to them. I generally try for a fast turnaround of my cash, rather than waiting for the big score. And usually I stay away from the corner strategies, it seems kind of risky to me.

But Sunday, I broke my rule. Milia and I had been gathering sparklies in Kylong Plains, and I had 3 blue yeti fur drop. (She got good stuff, too, I just won those rolls).

I go to the broker and see a big break in price. Most of the blue fur is priced above 2p each and there are 3 of them for a bit more than 1p. As you might know, we are trying to raise funds for a guildhall, so I decided to be a bit more like our dark elf cousins and corner. So I bought up the 3 cheap furs, and put them all on the market at about 2p.

Monday night, I log in and check my sales. Not only have I not sold any, but now there are 5 blue yeti fur for sale at under 1p. This doesn't look good, I think. But maybe it's just that Monday is a slow day.

Tuesday night. I don't even check the fur, I'm thinking long-term at this point. But my dear friend and co-guild leader Phritz comes across with "TOLLY! You have 5 blue yeti fur for sale!"

"Yes, Phritz, but I don't really want to talk about it."

"Hey, there are ELEVEN furs priced under you, all of them for less than 1p"

"YES, Phritz. Remember that 'don't want to talk about it thing'"

"Yeah, but how did you get 5 blue yeti fur?"


"Oh, hey! Did you BUY some?"

(giggles from Milia)

(marvelously attractive High Elf frown from me, showing off my red hair to great advantage)

"Yes, Phritz. Now about that change in the use of Smoldering Dust...?"

Friday, September 19, 2008

Geeks Rule the World, part 2

Ok, not the usual grist for the mill, but I just ran across 10 Books Not To Read Before You Die, which is a major exercise in reverse snobbery.

Fair disclosure, I've read three of the books on the list: Pride and Prejudice, War and Peace, and Lord of the Rings. I have near misses with three others, having read The Sun Also Rises (Hemingway), The Odyssey (Homer), and How Proust Can Change Your Life (I highly recommend it, its (ahem) pleasantly short).

Now, I'm a live and let live kind of elf. My usual policy would be to just ignore this kind of stuff. After all, reading good books is reserved for people who can appreciate them. It's all about your connection with the book. But that's not what the writer of the article thinks. Here's what he writes about Lord of the Rings:

The best I can say about this book is that it was a very useful tool at school for helping to choose your friends. Carrying a copy of Tolkien’s monstrous tome was the equivalent of a leper’s bell: ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ I knew I would have nothing in common with anyone who had read it. Their taste in music, clothes, television, everything was predetermined by their devotion to Gandalf. Without a shadow of a doubt, in a few years, these people would be going to Peter Gabriel gigs and reading Dune.

I've read Dune, check. Never been to Peter Gabriel concert, nor bought any records.

This got me to wondering what would happen if all the people in the world who have read LOTR suddenly were carried away, rapture-like, to Valinor? You know, we diminish, and go into the East? What would the world be like? I mean, besides all the empty cubes at Google? I can guarantee that the Google logo would never have a funny cartoon ever again. We'd never get any new content for our MMO fix, but then, we'd be in Valinor, so we wouldn't care, would we? You know, this might make a good idea for a book, or even a series, don't you think?

Accountants, engineers, scientists, who needs 'em? We don't need experts to tell us how to run things, just smack it a few times, it'll run. Oh and those artsy-fartsy writers and artists? That's just sissy crap, too. The reality TV shows would still be running fine, I'll bet.

The military might be affected. The odd jarhead might be gone, but what will really hurt is when all of their computers stop working one by one, because there will be no one to tell people to try rebooting the system, and be sure to check if you plugged it in.

Oh, and there wouldn't be any more Vin Diesel movies either. But maybe that doesn't bother you so much.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Dust to Dust

Shards of Glory, my guild on Butcherblock (formerly Highkeep) continues to work hard on leveling and fundraising for our guildhall. We have about 10 active members at the moment, so raiding is out of the question for us.

One of the things we've been doing to raise funds involves dust. Since Phritz is an alchemist, we've handed over all our dust to him, and he's making potions and poisons, for a very nice profit, since raiders use these items pretty heavily.

So, it was quite disappointing to read in the Test Notes:

Rare cure potions have been removed and standard cure potions have been upgraded to cure the appropriate levels of effects. This in turn should help reduce some of the demand for dusts.

As Tipa pointed out:

Raiders are thanking you. Note to self: Put all rare dusts on the market TONIGHT.

This will put a serious dent in our fundraising efforts. I'm getting tired of raiders getting all the love. I pay the same amount per month as any of them.

It's not any one thing. It's the pattern that raiders get the best of everything and those of us who don't raid four nights a week aren't considered at all.

Mind you, I like raiding, and I've been on several. But I can't and won't do it as a new part-time job. Others in my guild feel the same, and have been sought-after by raiders to fill important slots, just as I have. So I laugh at any attempt to call me gimp.

So here's the thing, a single named in Protector's Realm drops about 19 plat. Given that there's five of them, plus trash, that's about 100p for the night. There are repair costs, to be sure, but as a guild gets better they can cruise this zone in about an hour with minimal deaths.

That translates to 10 passes through PR to finance the purchase of the top-tier guildhall. 240 person hours. Pulling in plat at about 4p/hour. Is there any other activity in the game that comes even close to that? And that's completely ignoring the Fabled gear that's being dropped and used or transmuted.

This could result in a situation that was win-win for everyone, provided we non-raiders could make something that the raiders wanted to buy. That something is certainly not going to be jewelry or armor, since they are now into stuff that is much better than we can make. Most of them have their adept 3's now and are into Masters, so making spells isn't all that profitable either. And we're about to hit a new expansion that doesn't raise the level cap, so that means there will be little opportunity for sales of crafted armor, jewelry and weapons, except to alts.

What we're left with is consumables. And now they are going to reduce the demand for dust. Which we are sitting on a stockpile of. Sigh. I can even see the point. I don't think that this particular tweak is the problem, the problem is that raiders get too much money.

Make 'em farm or craft for money, like the rest of us.

Update: I chatted with a friend in Lineage, who says that Protectors Realm drops 120p minimum, sometimes 130p. And they can run it twice a week. It's worse than I thought.

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Friday, September 05, 2008

Writ Dilution Dilation

My post Writ Dilution, much to my surprise, has inspired more comments than any other post on my blog. Welcome!

Commenter Stephanie points out that dilution occurs with coin rewards to ordinary quests, too. I didn't know that. I'll have to pay more attention in the future.

Commenters Stargrace and Stephanie point out that the specific problem I mentioned is likely due to the fact that quests normally degrade rewards as you level, and that this happens while you are working on the quest or writ is likely an oversight.

Which I think is more or less accurate. I have begun to wonder, though, about the entire scheme of reducing the status or gold reward as you level.

When I take a job in the real world, I don't get paid less because I'm more experienced. I might learn less while doing it, thus I don't mind reduced experience awards. I'm not explicitly promised a specific amount of experience by a quest anyway. I am promised a specific amount of gold and status. If I'm higher level, they will pay me less? It doesn't make sense.

Furthermore, it doesn't change my behavior in any obvious way. When I do Rush Orders, I do the hardest one available. Full stop. And I watch the rewards for cooking a rush order decrease as I become a better cook. Wha?

Ask yourself this question: Each Rush Order is available to me for a span of about 15 levels. If we were to take the average of the status awards over those levels and just fix the status to be that average over those entire 15 levels, what difference would it make? Would there be an exploit? I can't see one. Would I change my behavior and not do a harder Rush Order when it becomes available? No, because the harder one would still have a bigger reward.

Some programmer (and I'm a programmer, so it might have been me) had to write code that made coin and status rewards decline as the character levels. Maybe it reused code for experience rewards, so it wasn't too much trouble. But it was some effort. But I can't see the value add of that effort. How does this make the game more fun to play? How does it prevent exploits? How does it build community? I don't see the value in it.

Mind you, three years ago, I was probably all for it. But since then I've played other games that don't do it and realized it wasn't adding anything. It just seems like SOE is cracking the whip at me for no good reason.

Some commenters have suggested that I use /feedback. I've used it before, and I probably will on this issue. However, even though I don't think this blog is all that influential, I still think it has more visibility than a single /feedback. So I'll post about it here. And in some regards, there's a philosophical argument here for fewer mechanics. Which doesn't belong in a /feedback.

You know, when a mob I didn't see jumps out from around a corner, I think, "Well done, level designer". Well, actually first I think, "Oh ******! Time to mez". That's the kind of thing the game devs should be trying to torment you with. Or putting red sparklies in new zones and not telling anyone. Hurt me like that some more. But the dilution of writ and quest rewards isn't like that. I say, no thanks.

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Thursday, September 04, 2008


I've been playing a lot of LOTRO this summer. My main (named Toldain of course) is a nearly 40 elf loremaster. Here he is in Rivendell. I also have the full screenie with ui if you're interested.

I've been meaning to write a post about LOTRO and why I like it. The first, and foremost reason is that I love Tolkien. I read the books when I was about 15, and they captivated me. I stayed in my room in the evenings for maybe two weeks reading them.

And the game is clearly made by people who share my love of Middle Earth. They understand the story, and they dramatize the ideas in Tolkien via the game mechanics. First and foremost, you don't have health, you have morale. When your morale goes to zero, you don't die, you retreat. Which means that the Mistrel class, with it's cheerful songs, and the Captain class, with their ability to rally the troops, are among those best able to restore your Morale. This fits so well with the narrative in Tolkien. Aragorn's great strength is his ability to inspire people.

Personal characteristics are somewhat rethought. Might and Agility are mostly what you might think, but doing melee damage requires a balance of both, since your ability to hit in melee is affected by Agility, while the damage you do is determined by your Might.

Then there's Will and Fate. These determine regen of Morale and Power. I just like the notion of having a stat named Fate. Elves and Dwarves start with reduced Fate, it is not their time. Men start with enhanced Fate, it is the age of Men.

The next thing I like is how freely they use instances, and within them, unusual encounters. They have technology that allows them to make a part of any zone into an instance. Talking to an NPC might well pop you into an instance that is set some distance away. They are willing to play fast and loose with travel time in these cases, and it frees them to do interesting things, like take you on a night raid of a bandit camp with Strider, before he meets up with the hobbits in Bree.

I'm sorry, I just get a little weak-kneed about that.

In these instances, they put in a lot more narrative. At times, you will be paralyzed while stuff plays out in front of you, and at other times, the enemies will come at you from all sides. So there are definitely challenging fights to be had.

They also make extensive use of the escort quest, again making it more narrative, interesting, and often funny. An entire instance might well have you escorting an NPC, who interacts with the bad guys and advances the plot, or who sometimes asks you to go along ahead.

The writing is crisp, and characters are well portrayed.

Another kind of quest they've done a lot with is the "sneaking" quest. That is, the quest will consist of going from A to B without fighting and without being detected by certain kinds of people. In the Shire, there are quests to deliver the mail and to deliver pies without being intercepted by Nosy Hobbits or Hungry Hobbits, respectively.

I love sneaking. It's odd that I don't play thieves more. But I remember sneaking into the Third Gate of Neriak on some quest for a casting haste item. Get seen, and you die. What a rush. This isn't quite the same, but then there's the quest where you become a chicken. I'll say no more of them.

The game devs of LOTRO do not seem overly concerned with making things arbitrarily hard for you. Power questing is quite possible, as a low-level character can advance quests via kills or drops or locations while grouped with a level 50 toon. Kill exp is reduced, but quest exp is much more significant. It's the next best thing to mentoring. Remember that post I made showing how the status gained from a tradeskill writ decreased once you leveled? There is no such thing in LOTRO. I think this is due in part to budget, and part to design. Why make that effort to make things harder?

LOTRO had serious technical issues when it was released. It was buggy, and customer service was (and still is) nonexistent for all practical purposes. The game still has high performance requirements. Even after the example of WoW, game companies seem to love to push the performance envelope.

Most of their UI is quite primitive. There are a number of features that I wish it had. The selling to vendor mechanism is kind of klunky, though I understand it's better than it used to be.

I am not one who thinks LOTRO represents a new generation of MMORPG. It's more of a refinement, and a very suitable adaptation of the genre to a particular subject, which was already well developed. Nor do I think that they are destined to be more popular than WoW, except maybe when everyone stops playing WoW because they are bored of it. No, I'm pretty used to the fact that the stuff I love is never the most popular.

But it can easily be profitable, and sustain that over a number of years.


Do You Know This Man?


I just had to share this. Via my guildie Jioja!

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Too Much Money

Robin Williams used to say that cocaine was God's way of telling you you had too much money. I think that Guildhalls are SOE's way of telling raiding guilds that they have too much money. Or at least, of trying to fix the problem that they have created. The top tier guildhall kept its buy price at 1000p even as the lower levels had their price cut in half. And there's no doubt that the top raiding guilds can afford it.

Raiding in the RoK raid zones drops cash. Lots of it. I feel that this was a fundamental game-design blunder, and we see the effects of it everywhere. Raiders get loot from drops. The best stuff can't be bought on the broker, so they aren't spending money on that. Consumables don't cost all that much. Repair costs will be high at first, but as the raidforce improves, they will decline. So the only thing left to buy are adornments and master spells. And the prices of these are astronomical, even 10 months after the launch of RoK. To me, that says that the game is suffering from too much cash.

I don't raid much. It's not that I don't like it, I do. But I also can't and won't commit 20 hours a week to doing it. Which keeps me out of most raid forces.

My guild, Shards of Glory, is small, but dedicated. We have several players that are sought after for raid forces and instance groups. We have several level 80 tradeskillers, some with multiple toons at 80 both adventure and tradeskill. We've got several epics now. We've leveled the guild up. We've seen players go from complete newbs to guild leaders and raid tanks under our tutelage. We are not crappy players. We made and decorated our own "guildhall" in a Qeynos residence.

It's going to be much harder for us to buy and maintain that guildhall than a raid guild. And we will get the best guildhall. But I am really aggravated by how much SOE panders to the raid guild and the raid force. And one particular aggravation is how much money drops on raids.

The game has five categories of reward: Gear, plat, status, experience, and titles. The best gear goes to the raiders, it's always been that way. Adventure experience is minimal on a raid, but each new raid zone brings a lot of AA. But that's as it should be, I think. AA is about doing different things at least once. There are maybe a few titles to be gained from raiding, but I don't think that's a problem.

Status is now rewarded for raid kills. I don't have a good fix on it, but with 24 members all gaining some with a mob kill, that's a big gainer. At least now there is a status reward for killing instance bosses. So that helps.

And money too. It seems pretty clear that the financial rewards from a raid are hefty. There is probably no more effective way to spend time plat farming than to be a member of a skilled and successful raid force.

I'm all for skill, and it's clear that grouping and raiding need incentives. But I like a game where there are tradeoffs, not a game with a big broad highway with a sign that says, "This way to all the rewards you ever wanted!" I'm a child of the sixties, my counterculture self rebels at this. I want to be unorthodox, creative, free!!!

(Never call me a dirty hippie. Toldain is clean, thank you very much!)

The RoK gear is very good at presenting you with tradeoffs. I have to face choices such as, "is +50 spell damage better than +20 int?" all the time. I have a dps set of gear now, and a mezzing set. And I think that's a good thing.

I'm really hoping that SOE has realized its error and is working to fix it or mitigate it in the next expansion.

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Bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells

The rolling and the tolling of the bells:

  • Mariner bells have been added to the Thundering Steppes and Nektulos Forest docks to take players back to Antonica and Commonlands, respectively.

  • There is now a bell on the Nektulos Forest dock to take Neriak citizens to the docks in Neriak.

  • Mariner bell appearances have been added to the Neriak dock to help those who play on lower settings and couldn't see the portal glows.

  • There is now a carpet to Sinking Sands on the Neriak dock.

  • Neriak citizens can now use the carpet in Sinking Sands to fly to the docks in Neriak.

  • There is now a carpet to Sinking Sands in Kelethin near the Greater Faydark ramp.

  • A bell has been added to the left hand dock of Kylong Plains to take adventurers to Gorowyn.

  • A bell has been added to the Gorowyn dock to take adventurers to the Kylong Plains.

  • The level restriction on the Gorowyn portal to Kylong Plains has been removed.

I'm sure lots of folks will find these changes useful, but I'm still annoyed that the fastest way for me to get from Jarsath Wastes back to the docks in Kylong Plains is to call home to Qeynos or Freeport and take the boat again. And that's true even when you miss the boat.

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