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.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

How Dev0n's Tower Got Its Name

I logged on to Eve earlier than usual last night, and got a special treat. Dev0n was on, staying up late while putting up a POS in our null-sec space. The POS was intended for his personal use, researching blueprints and manufacturing ships.

Dev0n loves to sing on Teamspeak, and, I presume, just in life generally. Since I have been gone on my cruise for a while, and hadn't talked to him for a while before that, I was greeted with his rendition of "Celebrate". "Celebrate good times, come on!"

"Hi Dev0n, it's good to hear from you," I said.

"You're lucky, because I'm up late. I couldn't sleep, I'm having a problem with my pain meds," said Dev0n. Dev0n lives in Sweden, so even though it was about 5pm my time, it was 2am for Dev0n.

"Pain meds? What happened?" I said. It's the polite thing to do right? I swear on my mother's grave that the thought, "Hey, I bet there's an entertaining story here" never crossed my mind.

"Oh, I shot myself with a nail gun. In the hand," replied Dev0n. This is the point where "Hey, I bet there's an entertaining story here" crossed my mind, you see.

"Wow, that's gotta hurt! You know it's best to keep your hands behind the gun at all times," I say. If that sounds unsympathetic to you, this is what passes for sympathy with this crew.

He said, "Well, I had a smaller nail gun, so it didn't have all the safety stuff on it. I wasn't even nailing something, just walking with the gun and suddenly I felt a BAM! I wasn't even sure what had happened until I looked down and saw a nail in my hand, which had gone through the bone. I pulled the nail out and went to the emergency room where they yelled at me for pulling the nail out because I might have got bone marrow poisoning."

"Yeah, you should never pull something like that out, just go to the ER and let them do it," I said, benefiting from having a nurse and first responder as a spouse.

There were several other conversational threads that evening. In one, Dev0n and Riotmaker were teasing each other. Dev0n was teasing Riot about being an "emo kid" (Dev0n is an "old man" at 25. Hah!) and making disparaging comments about "lazy mexicans at the POS" or some such, knowing full well that Riot has some Mexican-American heritage. This was the first I'd heard of it, but Riot's ability with the Spanish language was to become important.

For his part, Riotmaker was threatening to leave our corp and join Morsus Mihi if Dev0n didn't treat him better. Most of this was going on in voice chat, but bits of it spilled into corp text chat, confusing poor gwnorth into thinking the whole thing was real. I'll confess that I wasn't sure at first, since both of them have a very good deadpan.

But soon, in between bitching about how long it takes to anchor and online everything in his POS, Dev0n is singing another favorite, "I Feel Pretty". It's always a favorite of his, And he sings the first line.

I feel pretty, oh so pretty, so pretty and witty and gay.

The man has no shame whatsoever, I think. But before the homophobic banter can kick in, Shawn breaks in to finish the verse in a clear, agile baritone:

And I pity any girl who isn't me today.

I feel charming, oh so charming

It's alarming how charming I feel.

And so pretty that I hardly can believe I'm real.

Very well done, Shawn, by the way.

By then Dev0n has anchored and onlined his tower and is soliciting opinions for what to call it.

"I think you should call it 'I feel pretty'," says I. Dev0n says he loves the idea, but wants to use Spanish.

"How would I say that in Spanish," he says.

My Spanish is very very rusty, so I grope, typing in text chat, "Yo se bonito?"

"Yo soy bonito," Riotmaker corrects me.

"Doh. Well, I know pretty, too." I'm slightly embarrassed, but we're rolling now.

"No, tell me how to say, 'you are pretty'," says Dev0n.

"Well, use 'que tan bonito'," says Riotmaker. Google translates this as "how nice", but I think there's some idiom at work.

UPDATE: Magson informs in comments that "Que tan, Bonito?" is idiomatic for "How goes it, hottie?" Or as some might say, "How are you doing?"

And so it was done. I went down there and took a peek when I finished doing my PI deliveries. This is what I saw.

Did you guys want some time alone?


Monday, September 27, 2010

PvP or PvE?

I've been on hiatus from blogging for a week or so, doing some other stuff. Of course, gaming is so engraved into my brain (which is covered by fabulous red hair, of course), that some of the stuff I've been doing, I've been seeing in gaming terms.

First of all, I took a cruise to Alaska. It was magnificent. I saw glaciers, sled dogs, spawning salmon, harbor seals, humpback whales, and ate baked Alaska for the first time in my 3000-year-long life.

When we were in Ketchikan, we took a walk along Creek Street, which is really a boardwalk along a creek. This creek has a fish ladder and a hatchery, and there were many, many salmon in it spawning. Watching them rest in an eddy before trying the next rapids, it seemed to me that the salmon seemed to live life mostly as a PvE sort of game. They didn't compete with one another directly, instead, they were all trying themselves against the current and against the predators. In short, for them life was a PvE game, like Everquest 2, or most of WOW, played solo.

Then, much to our surprise, along came a couple of harbor seals, who had swum up the creek about a quarter of a mile or more, and who feasted on the salmon schooling in the eddy behind three big rocks in the middle of the first major rapids. The salmon scattered, but not quickly enough. To the seals, life was predation. This is the PvP found in EVE Online, where it's often said that if you are in a fair fight, you're doing it wrong.

There were also humpback whales. For them, life is almost entirely PvE. These whales really don't ever compete with one another in any overt way, and they are known to exhibit complex team hunting behavior. Instance grouping or raiding. Or an EvE mining op.

It is far from clear how humpbacks select mates. Possibly the males compete by singing, or by seeing who can breach the biggest or longest. It is known that the males engage in stalking following a female candidate around during the southward migration. Whether this is PvP or PvE kind of depends on the viewpoint. But there's no dueling.

Dueling is the province of mountain goats and sheep. I saw a speck of white on one mountainside in the Tracy Arm Inlet that was reportedly a goat. Mountain goats are famous for the head-butting duels. This is like the PvP offered in special instances or by invitation in games such a EQ2, DDO, or WoW.


While I was on the cruise I did some reading on the Civil War. Specifically, I read The Battle Cry of Freedom. I highly recommend this single-volume treatment of the Civil War, by the way. I have seen Ken Burns' documentary, and I've read Bruce Catton's three-volume work on the Civil War, but McPherson's work tops them. There's so much there about the politics, the economics, and the social conditions at the time in America that I didn't get from that other stuff. He quotes lots of writing from the day, and I love how those guys wrote.

Reading it, particularly the earlier portions about the politics of the 1850's, I realized that, in gaming terms, the South was full of hardcore PvPers, while the North was much more a world of PvE players. Reading the quotes, you could just insert the word "carebear" into some of the Southern rhetoric, and it would not feel out of place in an Eve forum thread.

Lest you think I'm slamming PvP players let me assure you, I'm not. Eve Online is a game, not life. I have no problem with PvP players, but I have a big problem with a bigoted attitude that says that if you aren't a PvP player that plays in exactly the prescribed manner that I happen to play, you are worthless.

And that was the attitude of many Southern leaders, to be sure. Those who had to work for a living were lesser creatures, little better than the slaves on the plantation. The only virtue worth praising was the ability to conquer. This attitude led the South to ruin.

Development in the North had a different path. It saw the rise of factories and factory work. But it also saw the rise of the up-by-your-bootstraps Horatio Alger success story. Industrial projects only get built if there is a lot of cooperation between people. It requires a people who can compete in one area and cooperate in another. This is much more of a PvE attitude.

Anyway, that's what I did on my summer vacation. It seems that I'm stuck with gaming, and gaming is stuck with me.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I Married a Gamer Gurl, and She's a California Gurl Now.

Ok, this party started with Katy Perry's video for "California Gurls". Just for reference, in case you haven't seen it, it's here. I'd embed it, for your convenience, but embedding has been disabled on the request of KatyPerryMusic.

Tom Lehrer once said that he quit doing satire when it became impossible to tell the difference between satire and life. That's kind of how I feel about this video. The song has nothing especially going for it...insipid lyrics, a beat out of a drum machine, and a highly processed voice. You knew that they have machines that will fix your singing to be in tune now, didn't you?

It may well be that Katy Perry has talent, but how could I tell? She wears a swimsuit with cupcakes on her breasts, and later sports two aerosol tubes as sort of nipple prostheses, spewing frosting. You would think that when you are 3000 years old, you have seen it all before, but this is new. She looks like she's channeling Julie Brown, but doesn't realize that it was a joke.

Ok, so why am I even talking about it? Because of the following parody, Geek Gamer Gurls, featuring one of my favorites, Seth Green.

EMBED-Geek and Gamer Girls Song - Watch more free videos

I got this from Kotaku, in a post titled "Geek and Gamer Girls Will Likely Be Irritated By This Video" written by Michael Fahey.

Michael says this:

I'm no expert, but I suspect that girls who enjoy geeky things like playing video games would just rather be considered gamers or geeks than having the word girl thrown in front of everything they do as a qualifier.

I on the other hand love rolling around naked with toys flying in the air, covering up my naughty bits. Look for that video to appear on Kotaku sometime after hell freezes over.

In the first place, Michael, I'd rather hear about what the video makes you think and feel, rather than your prediction of how it will make someone else feel, male or female.

K. Fox, of Your Critic is in Another Castle went comment-diving on the Kotaku thread. She came up with some gems:

I didn't really take any offense to the video. If anything, I laughed quite a bit, because there was some clever bits that they snuck in there.

Does it make girl gamers seem anything more than sexed up woman who play video games in sexy outfits? Not so much.

As a gamer myself (yeah, I left out the girl prefix) I've always been slightly sensitive to the plight of female video gamers. We're like a lot of you guys, we like to chill around in comfy clothes and play long gaming sessions. And it isn't just RPGs or anime style games, considering I'm always up for a good round of headshotting. --FinerFrenzy

There's something here that I would like women to understand. There is no definitive interpretation of any work of art, and parody videos are no exception. All art is an inkblot, and what you see in it depends on your experiences.

My experiences show me something other than what FinerFrenzy sees in "Geek Gamer Gurls". First of all, the central visual metaphor of "California Gurls" was that girls are like candy, frosting and cupcakes. A delectable treat to be consumed. Well, I won't deny that female skin draws my attention, at least for a while, but there's a big difference between women and cupcakes. For one thing, I had a heart attack five years ago, and I don't eat cupcakes any more.

The parody, "Geek Gamer Gurls" riffs off of this, comparing girls to videogames. That works a little better for me, since I still play videogames. But here's something else I think about. Gaming makes a woman more attractive, at least to me it does.

Sexiness is not objective, not in the slightest. What we see in visual media is a symbolic representation of a mental state. When you are about to have sex, your partner is the most beautiful creature on earth for those moments. There's even research that shows that men are able to rate attractiveness of women in photographs in various stages of clothedness, but when the photographs begin to depict the sexual act itself, this ability goes to zero. Got that? Zero.

So, I think the willingness and ability of a women to play videogames is a big plus. Any woman who will sit on the couch with me and kick my butt, or laugh it off when I get the upper hand is a big plus. It's someone I want to be around. Power is sexy, and it always will be. Gaming isn't the only criterion, to be sure, but a lot of the guys I know would really like to have a partner with whom they can share their passions.

But is that what the video represents? There's an inteview with Team Unicorn over on Star Wars blog.

Team Unicorn [...] includes actresses Michele Boyd (The Guild, How I Met Your Mother, Cold Case, Sons of Anarchy), Clare Grant (Walk the Line, $5 Cover, Black Snake Moan, Saber), Milynn Sarley (EA, TheGamerChick, LTA, Street Fighter High School), Rileah Vanderbilt (Hatchet, Frozen, Saber), and actor Seth Green (Robot Chicken, Family Guy)

Those are very strange credits for Seth Green, by the way. Where's Buffy, or The Italian Job? But that's show biz. And that's what this is: Show biz.

The parody was done by professional actors and actresses, and produced by a professional production company. I'm guessing the song is up on iTunes, and that's the monetization angle. I'm not against someone making a buck, but it makes me somewhat suspicious of their motives. A good deal of the Star Wars blog article has the girls discussing their geek cred. Which, sadly, makes me more suspicious. It's kind of like someone telling you "You can trust me!" It has the opposite effect.

Well, why does geek cred matter? It's strange to me that entertainers would think to pander to geeks and video game players. It used to be that one got more social juice from kicking us than from flattering us. But we have jobs and money now, I guess that's the difference. However, rather than the girls portraying girls playing games, they are portraying characters in games and movies dear to the hearts of geeks. Clothing themselves in the wrappings which are attractive to gamer geeks.

And yes, a girl who would think to dress up as Han Solo would be more interesting to me than one who would dress up as a cupcake. That's the part I can relate to here. But it's still a very masculine camera in this video. The performers don't portray women who play games, the women portray characters in games, so they aren't actually playing the games. You might reference it as cosplay, but it's pretty abbreviated. If they were selling that, they failed.

This doesn't grab me the way, say, "White and Nerdy" did. Keep working.


Friday, September 10, 2010

No, That's the Royal "We"

I don't multibox. It's not a rational decision, by any stretch. I think it's kind of a purist streak, on my part. That, and it's an expression of my copper-pinching tendencies. (Did you hear that nickel squealing just now? That was me.)

In many of the games I play, it's no big deal that I don't do it, it isn't all that common. I've played with some very good multiboxers, too, who can multibox heal their way through an instance, though not one that's brand new in a new expansion. To each his or her own.

However, in EVE it's something of a requirement. I believe I saw a recruitment ad for Pandemic Legion that said flat-out that it was a requirement for anyone hoping to join them. Everyone and their clone has multiple alts, to drop cynos, to tank the belt for them, to do hauling, or salvaging, or maybe one for industry and one for pvp. Or more. Four accounts isn't that unusual, I know of at least 3 people in our corp who do this, there might be more.

Now I run multiple toons on one account in many games. And I will cross-twink them, and use them for different, synergistic activities. To some extent. At some point I will probably start an alt in EVE and park it in Empire, train it up just enough that it can place buy and sell orders, and be my market alt. That means shutting down Mr. Fabulous Redhead's training for a while, but the training urgency is getting less. And it would probably only take a couple of weeks to get the training I would like to have.

So, is it the cost issue? I could afford to pay for a second account, I just don't want to. I could also buy PLEX, and play for "free". My (somewhat pessimistic) estimate of my ISK-earning power is that it's 10-15M ISK per hour, so that would be 20-30 hours per month of earning, just to get the right to do it again next month.

It's not out of the question. That would take about one week per month, at the rate that I play. And maybe with an alt, I could make ISK faster.

But here's the thing. I think this isn't the right way to win EVE. EVE is a gigantic military/economic sim. Economic principles apply to EVE more than any MMO I've ever played. And the fundamental observation of economics, going back to Adam Smith, is that when we trade, we both get richer.

It seems that everyone in EVE strives for independence and vertical monopolies. The game is full of "do-it-yourselfers". And to be fair, there's an intrinsic appeal to this. Skyforger is working on building a station, made entirely out of components that we gathered and manufactured ourselves. It would be done much faster and cheaper if we just focused on making as much money as we could and bought the stuff. But it's cool to do things this way, so that's what we do.

But it's highly inefficient, economically speaking. Everyone who has an alt says it doesn't double their income, the gain is somewhere less than 2x. That's because it's still only one brain at work, and attention and time online has limits.

But the marketplace can tell you what other people are efficient at, and what you are efficient at. And if you want to do something that you aren't efficient at, you can figure out how to get more efficient.

The point being that the path I want to take through the game is one where I interact with others, a path that engages collaboration rather than isolation. This is space where group mining ops take place, and gang roams, too. So I'm not the only one who likes this aspect of the game.

I like doing this in the fantasy-based MMO's too. Long ago, Phritz's ranger, Cranston, and I would try to figure out ways to kill stuff in Everquest using just our skills. With Toldain, I would fear kite, and he would dps. And with Aquino, my monk, we ended up aggro kiting, using FD to wipe aggro. It was fun learning to do this, and fun learning how to leverage our skills. And when Toldain would duo with Lobilya's druid, Pakse, the fear kiting would take a slightly different form.

So, the most successful achievers I've run across in MMO's usually do multibox. And they will find something that works, and run it and run it and run it, night after night, whether it's ratting or mission running in EVE, or running instances in Everquest. I don't think I can do that, my attention span isn't quite up to it.

But I do want to play the game with other people. It's an MMO for Marr's sake!


Thursday, September 02, 2010

Medal of No Shame At All

Ta-Nehisi Coates is my favorite non-gaming blogger. Reading him, and commenting in his comment section challenges me to think harder and to see farther. And he's been known to play, and to write about video games and MMO's from time to time.

Today, the topic is Medal of Honor, which allows you to play a Taliban character during multiplayer mode. Politicians from Britain, New Zealand and Canada are unhappy about this.

Seth Seisal writes, in the NY Times, thinks this is due to a misunderstanding of the game:

If Medal of Honor let you play as the Taliban throughout an entire single-player campaign, then we would have a real controversy on our hands. Imagine the reaction to a game that included a mission where you were cooperating with Al Qaeda during the siege of Tora Bora and had to protect Osama bin Laden while spiriting him to safety.

That is not what is going on here.

I think it's probably accurate that the politicians in question aren't very familiar with videogames. And this doesn't seem all that different from steam-tunnel "D&D killed my baby" madness.

I'll take it as given that all my readers are familiar with video games, and multiplayer features of them. I've played many Bond villians during Goldeneye multiplay. However, as usual, TNC takes it a step farther:

[I]t must be said that the stories I love generally have a villain I can relate to, someone who I can almost ... see myself in. ...

As a maniacal "kill them all" villain, Magneto is, to my mind, just another foil. As a dude with a quasi-defensible, if ultimately amoral, perspective on mutants, he grabs me a little. When contemplating evil, I want to see some of myself. I need to feel the lure of evil, it's seduction. The devil must be luscious to grab me.


My sense is that video games will have to confront this, at some point. They probably already are. A video game told from the perspective of a Taliban insurgent isn't likely any time soon. Which is too bad. I think that's exactly the kind of video game that might help us get to some emotional truths about the past ten years.

And here we are again, at the videogames as art place.

First of all, I think videogames are doing this already. Not the Taliban specifically, mind you. But consider the story arc for Arthas in the Warcraft series. The fallen paladin is a familiar story to us, Darth Vader, anyone?

Then there's the quest line for Death Knights in World of Warcraft. That went to a very dark place, and people maybe didn't understand, but they felt it. Lest you think that only Blizzard does this, the quest lines in Ruins of Kunark had a great deal of moral ambivalence. You would tell one faction, "Ok, I'll go kill your enemies" and do so. Then you would go to the enemies, and offer to kill the people you were just helping. More than a few people felt dirty doing that, to which my response is: Good!

Still in the fantasy setting, DDO has some quests that have left me shaking my head. For one, The Silver Flame wants you to go to a place where there is gambling, smash the gambling tables and kill the guards. The games content people know what they are doing, since the loading screen for that instance has the message, "The Silver Flame is not afraid to enforce it's moral judgements by the sword." In other quests you are asked to steal and collect taxes.

I've actually begun to skip a few of these, for the sake of roleplay. That is, given the character I've created, and their situation, would they actually take this job if offered? I was talking last night with Boaz, an Eve corpmate (and reader! I have readers!!) who also plays DDO. Their group has mostly let go of the "must level faster" grind, and looks to just do something that's fun and interesting. Part of that fun is imagining what things your character would do, and what things they wouldn't.

My alt in DDO is Martyy, currently Figher 1/Rogue 1. Marty wears half-plate, but can bluff and sneak attack (and improved trip). As is typical for me, he started in another system in another (tabletop) campaign. So I have a good idea of his character. He's happy to be mob muscle, or muscle for the powers that be. But as he was smashing the gambling tables, he was thinking, "I'd rather be playing these tables, than smashing them. This job sucks!"

In Eve Online, players routinely commit acts of piracy, terrorism, and extortion. The game itself provides no moral compass. So, one of the joys I have is charting my own moral territory. Some of the missions in Eve have a decidedly dark side. In one series of five missions, you spend most of your time running around playing nanny for a rich heiress. Bringing her cash from Daddy, bailing her out of jail, etc. But then, in the final mission you find out that Daddy wants you to kill her, because he thinks her unworthy of his money. Outright, cold-blooded murder. As Milgram would have predicted, most people do so, with the thought, "It's just a game".

Let me be clear. It is a game. I'm very glad that there are pirates and miscreants in the game, as well as war opponents. I'm even kind of glad that there are scammers in the game. What I'm looking for is for someone to actually own their own black hat, to have the thought, yeah, I'm a bad guy, and here's why... Goonswarm, our allies and landlords, and notorious Eve bad guys, seem to really get this.

Because, you see, it's very easy to become a bad guy while still thinking that you are a good guy. That's how it works. Adolph Hitler was convinced that he was only doing what was needed to save the German people and the country he loved. German soldiers considered themselves honorable patriots, as Seth writes:

That thought has found expression in games for many decades. The Avalon Hill classic PanzerBlitz helped reshape the board game business when it was introduced in 1970 as an evenhanded simulation of the Eastern Front. When, as a child, I played as a German commander in that game or as a Japanese World War II admiral in the war game Flat Top, should my parents and teachers have been concerned that I was turning into a fascist?

In any case, my path, at least in Eve and DDO is to pick and choose my course, my quests, my missions, my code of honor. Not as I would choose, but as the character I'm playing would choose. Because it's more fun that way, and more interesting.

After all, it's just a game.


Wednesday, September 01, 2010

And the Hairstyle is Perfect!

I've taken up a new MMO - new for me, anyway - Dungeons and Dragons Online. Dungeons and Dragons isn't new to me. For some reason, my wife and younger child both started playing this a few weeks ago. It's free to download and start playing, and they just couldn't stop talking about it. So I thought I'd get some firsthand experience with the "free to play" model, and see how my old friend translated to a MMORPG.

I'm loving it.

The "free to play" model doesn't seem terribly intrusive. Especially on the newbie island, you get reminded a lot that there is stuff to buy, but that tails off in Stormreach. Since I'm a cheapskate and a purist, I resist buying things to make adventuring easier. About the only things I'd consider paying for are new adventure packs and races/classes. Except the only race you have to pay for are drow and well, gosh. That's not really my style. Why be a drow when you can be a high elf? Yes, yes, I know, Drizzt and all that. But tortured, angsty, complicated vampires dark elves yearning to be good? Not really my thing.

But classes, on the other hand...You need to pay extra to play monk or favored soul, a variant of cleric. These have my interest. As alts of course.

Toldain, in DDO, is a wizard (now 4th level) specializing in enchantment magics.

There are some things in DDO that I find highly refreshing, and counter to trends. There are traps, and locked doors and chests. There are secret doors. The skills that you have matter. The game brings back a whole category of gameplay that was a staple of tabletop D&D - traps and secret doors. First you have to have someone out there who can notice danger - the Spot skill. Then you need someone who can search to find exactly where the trap is, or where that secret door is. Finally, once you can see the trap, you have a question as to what to do about it.

Some traps can be jumped over, or timed. They might have the "dropping blade" variety, and so you can try and time it to run through without being hit. Or you can bring someone along who can disable the trap, provided they've brought thieves tools. Or maybe you just avoid the whole thing. Meaningful strategic options, yum!

Speaking of meaningful strategic options, the wizard gameplay definitely highlights strategy as well. But let's talk about how the wizard/sorceror split plays out in the online version first. In tabletop D&D, wizards had a big book of all the spells they knew, out of which a few were prepared for the day. Each prepared spell was cast exactly once, if you wanted to cast Magic Missle more than once, you had to prepare it more than once. And at first level, you were likely to have no more than three prepared spells. The rest of the time you threw darts at the monsters from behind the fighter. Sorcerors, on the other hand, had no spell book. They could cast maybe four spells a day, but each casting could be any of the limited number of spells that they had in their head. This differentiation was introduced in D&D's 3rd edition, and provided a neat solution for accommodating different playstyles. For players and campaigns with more of a "we don't know what's coming next" feel, sorcerors worked better, but if you had the sort of campaign where you had a rough idea of what might be coming, and liked planning ahead, wizard filled the bill.

In DDO, casting 3 spells before resting would be severely limiting. Combats go much faster than they do on the tabletop, so the game needs to be tweaked appropriately. Thus there are spell points, and old and familiar idea. Wizards prepare spells in taverns or at rest shrines, and may cast each prepared spell as many times as their spell points permit. Spell points, along with hit points are refreshed in town and in taverns, and at rest shrines in dungeons.

Sorcerors, on the other hand, may cast any spell they know, provided they have spell points. But they can't scribe new spells from scrolls, like wizards can. However, they have probably twice as many spell points. So, they tend to use the same tactics in every dungeon.

In experimenting, I first tried making Toldain as a sorceror. After all, they use Charisma as their best ability score, and charm is my middle name. Toldain Charm Darkwater, right there on the birth certificate. Really! However, the first village features battles with Sahuagin, who, as monstrous humanoids, are not subject to Charm Person. Oops, one of my two first-level spells just became useless. This has something to do with why the game calls this path for the sorceror "extremely difficult" to solo.

So I'm a wizard. I get to think about what the dungeon I'm about to run in might/does contain, and which spells to use, and which tactics. Actual strategic thinking!

Gameplay for other classes also features some strategic thinking, as to choice of gear and supplies. Clerics and Paladins must also prepare spells.

DDO seems to embrace the idea of tactics in a way that few MMO's do. For example, terrain. Once upon a time, in Everquest, there was path-kiting. Miniscule wrinkles in terrain would make mobs take strange detours, while you could plug them. Mobs would also walk through walls to come and eat you, which seems unfair, since we couldn't walk though the walls. Finally, in DDO, mobs will block players as well as other mobs. And the pathing is much better.

The typical thing that you would see in an MMO is that a mob that is at range with no path to you would teleport to you, or even be able to hit you despite a large difference in altitude. Not so in DDO. If you want to stand the fighter in the doorway, and throw daggers from behind him, go for it! But be warned, taunt mechanics are somewhat weaker, though not completely gone. Use terrain and movement more, and taunt less.

But the mobs are using terrain, too. They will place ranged attackers on high inaccessible points, and force you to engage them in ranged combat, or have someone climb up to them. Climbing and jumping seem to have increased value, and points spent on the Jump skill will make you jump higher and farther. The game has a bit of a Legends of Zelda feel in many dungeons, where you need to find the right lever to pull in order to open the next door. And it has a bit of the qualities of a platform rpg, a la Prince of Persia, with the jumping around.

And there's a very different attitude toward sneaking. Sneaking is not seen as bypassing content, but as part of the fun. In the first part of Stormreach, there's even one dungeon in which the point is to steal something without killing more than 6 of the lookouts. You do not get experience for killing random mobs, but for accomplishing objectives. Which makes sneaking past things make a whole lot of sense.

There are other dungeons with a focus on traps, and at least a few with some genuine puzzles to solve. They don't seem to worry about the fact that one can look online to solve them. (So far I haven't, why spoil the fun?)

As you can tell, I'm really liking the game. I like the art choices, and the gameplay choices. I think it's an evolutionary step forward, even as it tries to bring what's fun about D&D into the MMO sphere. But the best part of all, the thing that makes it precious to me above all others (at least for now) is that my youngest child will actually play D&D Online with me.

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