Monthly Archives: January 2007

Go away, or I shall taunt you a second time!

Aggro, hate, threat, whatever term you prefer to use for the unpleasant attention of monsters, is a fundamental part of MMOs. Let’s assume for a minute we’re stuck with the class system (as in character classes, not the struggle of the proletariat and bourgeoisie). At a basic level, you probably have a tank, healer and damage dealer. The tank holds the aggro, the healer heals the tank, the damage dealer… anyone want to take a guess? Award yourself ten points if you said “deals damage”, five points for “flounces around for a bit then turns up after the hard work is done to shout ‘MY KILL'”, and if you said “pulls the aggro off the tank, uses up all the healer’s manna in a futile attempt to keep him alive, causes a wipe, then insults the rest of the group for not doing their job and quits in a huff” then award yourself a stiff drink and a bit of a lie-down.

(Disclaimer: I invariably *play* damage dealing classes, I’m allowed to say stuff like that.)

Obviously there’s a lot of variation: other roles such as crowd control and buffing/debuffing might be performed by dedicated classes or combined in others; damage dealing often comes in ranged and melee flavours; hybrid classes perform multiple roles with varying degrees of efficiency; some classes may have pets to perform other roles, etc. etc., but at the end of the day, some classes are designed to be better at surviving the attention of monsters, and part of the game is to make sure they’re the ones being attacked, rather than the squishy types standing behind them.

This is where things get a bit tricky. Due to class balance, the better a class is at soaking up damage (or avoiding it), the worse they have to be at other things (typically dealing damage). This makes the typical MMO tank a peculiar beast without many parallels; the tank from whence they got their name, the armoured fighting vehicle, is heavily armoured, true, but it also has a socking great gun for shooting stuff (momentary diversion for tank grognards: granted, you can find some better examples if you really try, like the early WWII British Matilda II, with very heavy armour and comparatively poor firepower, but never mind).

Lack of damage means tanks need another way of getting and keeping the attention of mobs, often some form of “taunt” or “provoke” ability to gain extra aggro. Other classes may have specific abilities to reduce aggro caused by their own attacks/healing, or may just need to consider their own actions slightly more carefully (like waiting until the tank has stormed into combat before drawing too much attention to yourself). This works as a game mechanic, especially for giving the damage dealer a bit more to think about than how many buttons he can press to inflict indiscriminate havoc and devastation upon the surrounding area, but it can seem very artificial; how does aggro reduction work, are you pointing behind the mob shouting “Look! Behind you! A badger, with a gun!”? Is the tank’s taunt something like “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!” while tapping his helmet in a strange fashion? One of the best analogies I remember is someone from the City of Heroes boards, likening being a Tanker to sitting in an armoured dustbin getting beaten by mobs, occasionally popping your head up to shout “YO MAMA’S SO FAT!” at them to keep their attention. It’s even more of a problem trying to adapt this system to Player versus Player combat, where you can’t force players on one team to attack a certain player on the other without some fairly extreme intervention (like the tank’s taunt rendering the opposition unable to target anyone else).

As per usual, I’ve no real solution to the situation, though in writing this I have realised if any MMO includes a “French Taunting Knight” tank class who gets to shout “You don’t frighten us with your silly knees-bent running around advancing behavior!”, I’m playing it in a shot…

Gotta try and shake off this creeping malaise

I had one of those “meh” weekends in World of Warcraft. Nothing terrible, just a vague sense of dissatisfaction, really. Getting lured back to the auction house was a bad move to start with; while in Stormwind to visit a class trainer, might as well pop in and sell a few bits from the Outlands… and while there, well, it can’t do any harm to have a little look, can it? Of course it can, I’ve gone from smugly admiring my shiny collection of quest rewards to coveting my neighbour’s ox (well, not “ox” so much as “Blade Dancer’s Wristguards“, but it’s the same principle), and my pile of gold was somewhat depleted (“A mere 20 gold for that piece of armour? I make that much in ten minutes now, I’ll take it… and that sword… and the dagger, the throwing axe, a couple of pairs of trousers and that recipe for sauteed marsh wombat spleen (mmm, sounds delicious, just right for that dinner party I’m hosting)”)

Then, there was the questing. Four of us had a little wander around Hellfire Ramparts; I really didn’t think we’d be able to get very far at all, but maybe there was an outside chance of getting the first boss at least. As it was, we cleared through to the final boss with very little trouble, and had a fair crack at the dragon before he got a bit miffed and one-shotted the healer. For the rest of the weekend, though, we were on in dribs and drabs, precluding another instance run. That meant questing in the Outlands, which is a fine activity, but generally rather unsociable; you need to all travel to the same area (though thankfully this isn’t really a problem in the Outlands any more, unlike previously where you might find yourself in the Eastern Plaguelands, and your friend in Silithus, and a half hour journey from one to the other), find common quests you all have available, or run quests that some of you have done before, or run other quests that some of you don’t have yet (so they’ll have to do them again later). As the mobs don’t scale to group size or level, and the vast majority of quests are solo-able, having a group of three or four players tends to be overkill, rendering encounters largely trivial (until you get bored and play “see how many mobs the least armoured members of the party can pull”, and other fun party games), and while you blast through “kill (x)” quests where each kill counts for the whole group, it’s not much quicker than soloing for “collect (x) body parts of creature (y)” quests (indeed possibly slower, depending on spawn rates). All in all, things rather conspire to make playing with your friends (surely the point of an MMOG?) *less* rewarding in many ways than playing solo, other than for the occasional world elite/boss mob.

Forced grouping certainly isn’t the answer; although it solves the problem of solo encounters being trivial for a group, it makes it even more difficult for a group of friends to get together and run new and worthwhile quests for all of them when they happen to be on together, especially when quests are designed for fixed group sizes. It all makes me pine for City of Heroes again; in that, every mission you did was an instance, and the number and level of opponents scaled to take account of the size of your group. You even have a difficulty setting, and the “sidekick” system to allow players of disparate levels to team together. None of your friends around? No problem, off you go and fight crime. Someone else arrives, they can join mid-mission, and the spawn sizes increase to take account of that. You’re blasting through the missions? Turn up the difficulty setting a notch. A third person arrives, but they only started playing recently and are ten levels below the rest of you? Get them into the team, sidekick them to someone else, and off you go again.

Oh, and to cap everything off, London Irish put in a rather lacklustre performance against Saracens on Sunday. Ah well. Roll on next weekend…

No time for Vanguard

With Vanguard: Saga of Heroes about to launch, I’ve been taking a bit more interest in it. The timing is pretty bad from my perspective, though: a couple of months ago there was the pre-Burning Crusade lull in World of Warcraft, in three to six months time I might well be ready to move on again (or I might be a dedicated raider, you never know… well, you probably do actually, but still). Right now, though, I’m quite happy wandering around Hellfire Peninsula. There was a cheap Vanguard pre-order pack available with access to the final beta, which at any other time I would have jumped at, but during Burning Crusade launch week?

Maybe that’s for the best; while I’ve been keen in the past to get into open/final betas (or “free trials by any other name with a bit of server stress thrown into the deal”) as a way of getting a look at games without paying, this might not be the best idea. Open betas don’t usually last too long (one exception being Auto Assault, which I think managed about a year and a half… I still have a soft spot for that game, but sadly almost nobody else did). Being a comparatively casual player to start with, and then knowing that any progress will get wiped away for launch anyway, I usually don’t get too much further than the starting areas with a few different races/classes; unless the game is disastrously underdeveloped, these areas should be fairly well polished, and the combination of shiny new game smell, and rapid progression through levels/skills/items (shouts: “LOOK! I have upgraded my rusty blunt spoon to a rusty *sharpened* spoon!”) tend to give a positive experience. If the game’s called Captain Grind’s Grindcrusher: The Ultimate Earache (Extreme Grind Edition), and you start up the beta and the first NPC is Geoff the Assigner of Extremely Grindy Quests who gives you a quest to kill 100 identical Grindbeasts, followed by a second quest to kill 200 identical-except-very-slighly-differently-coloured Grindbeasts… you might just about figure out it’s not for you if you don’t like grinding. The more cunning designers might adopt the Melmoth’s First Circle approach to questing, showering you with plaudits (and indeed “phat lewt“) for accomplishing such arduous tasks as “walking to that person just over there, the one with the huge flashing arrow pointing to them, in case you get lost on the way”, so by the time beta finishes, you decide this is a really most splendid game and well worth buying.

Having actually gone and bought the game, and raced back through the initial content you got to know in the beta, you suddenly find yourself in a wilderness with not much to do, and a conspicuous lack of showers of rose petals from delighted NPCs. Some heavy crunch time got the starting areas finished, but unfortunately the development team were turned into shambling zombies in the process, and are now trying to eat the brains of the marketing department who *promised* users all sorts of features which would take another six months of unpaid overtime to actually put in. As Van Hemlock most appositely put it: “MMOs are a lot like fine wines – they’re best if they’ve been left to mature a bit, and then should be allowed to ‘breathe’ before drinking!”

So actually, maybe the “bad” timing is the best possible timing. Once I’m done with the Burning Crusade, if people are generally positive about Vanguard I’ll probably check it out. They’ll have worked the initial kinks out, be adding new content, the box will be £10 cheaper to buy, and there might be a few old guildmates playing from launch who can spare a couple of copper pieces! (And there’ll be world peace, and a solution to global warming, and I’ll have won the lottery and be free to play all day… hey, I can dream…)

A Pack Rat’s Tail

I’m a terrible pack rat, I just can’t throw anything away. Maybe it stems from Zork and similar adventure games, where you’d habitually pick up anything that wasn’t nailed down in case it was useful later (and if it was nailed down, you could use that crowbar you picked up earlier to fix that…) This carried over to computer RPGs, where my characters would stagger under the weight of their sword, a spare sword (in case the first one was lost or broken), a backup spare sword, an ornamental sword which wasn’t very good for actually fighting with but looked nice, a two handed sword for extra damage, a shield in case defence was the better option, a mace in case of opponents more susceptible to bludgeoning, a glaive, a guisarme, a glaiveguisarme, a glaiveglaiveglaiveguisarmeglaive etc. I’d amass enough of a collection of scrolls, potions, rings and amulets to set up a library with a particularly well stocked bar and jewellery shop in the foyer, but would be loathe to actually use them just in case they were needed more later.

The apogee of this has to be the Elder Scrolls series, particularly Morrowind and Oblivion, and their magnificent “sandbox” worlds, where you weren’t limited to the traditional weapons, armour and the like, but could also pick up cutlery, crockery, ornaments, housewares, furniture, small animals, shrubs, villages… Being limited in the amount you could carry (I’d always work on developing my Strength, if for nothing else than being able to carry a few extra plates and a nice vase) this necessitated a new place to store things: your own house, either within the regular game, or through a user-written add-on. Many’s the hour I could spend in Oblivion, just wandering around town purloining assorted items to furnish my house. A bit like Old Man Murray’s take on Deus Ex, in fact.

Anyway, for reasons I can’t quite fathom myself, I had a fun evening chucking items around between various characters in World of Warcraft last night, as the Burning Crusade opens up new crafting possibilities for some of the stacks of cloth, leather, metals and gems kicking around on various alts. Also, with all the new item drops, I had a fairly ruthless (by my standards) clearout of stuff; some old armour, now outclassed by Burning Crusade drops, a bunch of useless items like the Faded Photograph from some Un’goru Crater quests (you never know, they might add an NPC in a new patch who gives you a bundle of epic loot for this stuff!), so I wound up with nice, neat banks, with everything lined up in the correct order. Maybe it’s just obsessive-compulsive personality disorder…

I am the god of Hellfire (Ramparts)

Disclaimer: the post title is a Crazy World of Arthur Brown reference, not a suggestion that I defeated the Hellfire Ramparts single handed.

This weekend I got my first look at a Burning Crusade instance when a group of us decided to take a nice bracing stroll around the Hellfire Ramparts. According to the guidebook they offer a delightful view over the peninsula, and present several fascinating examples of Outlands architecture. The only drawback is a slight infestation of demonic Fel Orcs, but apparently a firm tap on the nose with a stout walking stick should see them off.

Our Sunday afternoon jaunt didn’t start too well, as a patrol rather unsportingly joined in an already furious encounter, but after a chance to see the area from a more ghostly perspective we were nicely warmed up, and didn’t have too many other problems, at least to the final boss. With myself as a Rogue, a Paladin, a Priest, a Mage and a non-feral-specced Druid, we were a bit too squishy, and the dragon baked us lightly at Gas Mark Death. Later that evening we had another try with a Warrior, and that worked rather better, so it was home and dragon-toasted crumpets all round.

For the first expansion instance, the Ramparts are a nice and compact, only taking a couple of hours for our modestly equipped group of level 60s (most of us seeing it for the first time). That’s probably the ideal instance size for me; having a more or less free Sunday, I could even fit two runs in either side of dinner, where a single five hour session wouldn’t have been possible without drawing heavy wife aggro. It got me thinking that the Deadmines (the first Alliance instance in the original game) would work *far* better as multiple wings rather than a single instance; maybe one for the mines themselves, another for the foundry, and then the final area. You still get the story (and I really like the story and layout of the Deadmines, revealing their purpose as you get further in), but without having to do the whole lot in one gruelling slog (the problem being compounded by the fact that, unless you have a really good group, being powerful enough to deal with the final boss makes the first half of the instance rather pointless). I gather most Outlands instances follow the multiple wing approach, so that gets the thumbs up from me.

The only thing I didn’t like was the loot. Or rather, the lack of it, as the curse of random loot struck again. It wasn’t the worst case ever, as most of the blue bind-on-pickup drops were useful to someone (lacking a Hunter or Shaman, I was expecting a load of Mail to turn up), but there wasn’t a single thing useful for me. I probably shouldn’t have done it, but curiousity made me look up the possible drops, which is like the bit on the gameshow where the host says “Come and have a look at what you could have won”, revealing a shiny new car to the crestfallen contestant who’s going away with a plastic figurine. Oh well. I never wanted that speedboat anyway…

Gentleness, sobriety are rare in this society.

And so I rolled a Draenei shaman in the World of Warcraft; I’ve always loved the shaman class, but most of my friends play Alliance characters – I like hybrids in general, I have a night elf druid and dwarf paladin currently poking their noses into the Outlands – therefore my experience of the class was limited to a level twenty Tauren shaman that I solo’d for fun one day when I was bored.

My shaman is coming along quite nicely. I would consider myself a softcore player: I like to make a bit of progress when I’m playing my characters, but I’m not fanatical and have no need to play ten hours a day, seven days a week. Recently then, my shaman has reached the level where he needs to make his way into the wider world outside of the Azuremyst Isles. This is hinted at by various NPCs around the land: ‘You have grown strong my child, there are few challenges here for one such as you any more’, and one not so subtle one ‘Take this letter down to the docks, get on the boat to Auberdine, and GET THE HELL OFF MY ISLAND!’.

So, tail between his legs, and vowing never to do any quests for that NPC again, my shaman headed off to the wider world. And this is where the game got a little weird for me. As I mentioned, I have a level sixty night elf druid and a level sixty dwarf paladin and so I’m not exactly unfamiliar with questing in Alliance lands, but when I left the boat and walked into Auberdine everything felt really weird. I was a stranger. The places were familiar, the NPCs I’d seen many a time before, but coming here as a Draenei, especially after having reached level twenty in ‘my own lands’, I felt completely out of place. The feeling only grew stronger as I made the run to Ironforge.

The Auberdine to Ironforge run (or The Grass is Greener Gauntlet, named so by me, because it’s usually run by low level characters that want to quest in foreign lands, because it’s ‘better’) is a well known trip: from Auberdine you take the boat to Menethil Harbour, grab the gryphon point there, and then run through the Wetlands trying to avoid being eaten by a train of the many angry high level reptiles, as you wave at people doing the run in the opposite direction with a bask of crocolisks hanging from their bum. Having been spat out by numerous venomous beasts (which you vow on your bank alt’s cash reserve you’ll be back to slaughter and turn into a variety of saleable items, just as soon as you work out which profession you’re going to take), you make your way in to the Loch Modan area. Grab the gryphon point at Thelsamar and then run through Dun Morogh until you reach, and go line-dead, at the mighty gates of Lagforge. Ironforge, sorry.

Thankfully my shaman was of a high enough level that, should any of the local wildlife try to instigate an ambush and chase (always listen for when the non-aggressive mobs start humming the Benny Hill theme tune, it’s such a giveaway) he could dispatch them in short order, and then whip-up a nice crocolisk pouch and matching belt – all the rage in Stormwind’s Mage Quarter, apparently. The feeling of being a stranger in familiar lands continued, though, and in fact grew stronger. I knew all the places, I’d been here before; I’d been here as a Night Elf and yet it didn’t feel strange then; but the culture of the draenei, the starter area, the lore that is expounded when you do quests there, and the lack of very many other races for much of your time there, really makes you feel… alien. Which is exactly what Blizzard were aiming for, I suppose. I was, however, quite surprised by how much it affected me, and having reached Ironforge I hearthstoned back to the familiar surroundings of the inn at Blood Watch on Azuremyst and felt immediately at home again.

Eventually my shaman will have to venture out to the foreign lands (that angry NPC is still on the lookout for any PCs on his island, and he seems to have a pitchfork and a west country accent now) and deal with all the strange creatures that dwell there: the drunken ones with the big beards, the aloof ones with the pointy ears, and the diminutive ones with the very disconcerting dance moves.

Until then, I think I’ll take a trip to the Seat of the Naaru, and wallow in the comforting delights of the prettiest city in all of Azeroth.

Isn’t it nice when things just… work?

So goes the tagline in Honda’s excellent Cog advert (well worth a look, if you’ve never seen it). It’s a shame so few things just… work.

World of Warcraft interface addons, for one. They’re a bit of a delicate ecosystem of their own; from using one compilation pack for patch 1.12, patch 2.00 required many addons to be re-written, so as a temporary measure I grabbed another compilation pack someone had produced for the beta client (and which Melmoth had the foresight to save the day before, as all the interface websites collapsed under the strain of a good chunk of the playerbase all trying to find updates of their favourite addons). And there were some new and shiny things in there, but some things missing I’d liked from the previous compilation, so I started adding a few bits here, taking off a few bits there… I’ve now got a bit of a sprawling assortment of addons, which mostly function, more or less, but a couple of things seem to have decided to just stop working entirely, and others pop up error messages here and there. This isn’t to take anything away from the addon authors, who in most cases produce really useful stuff, for free, spending much of their own time debugging and improving; it’s hardly their fault I’ve gone and installed their addon on top of 23 others all trying to interact with the same bits of the game. Just another little annoyance…

Then there’s monitors. You might recall, a little over a month ago, I got a nice new widescreen monitor. And after a few days, it started making a high pitched whining sound, almost painful to listen to. The nice people at Viewsonic said it sounded like a failing coil in the power supply, and said they’d arrange a replacement. Simple, right?

Or not. My wife and I work full time, which usually makes arranging deliveries a bit of a hassle, but over Christmas we had plenty of holiday, so it would have been a good time to sort out return and delivery of a replacement. Except Viewsonic didn’t have any replacement units in stock. And still didn’t have any replacement units in stock in early January when we were both back to work.

Last week, they did have a replacement unit in stock! I’ve got limited flexibility in my working hours, but I can get away early on a Friday if needs be, so delivery was arranged for Friday afternoon. Needless to say, no monitor turned up Friday afternoon… Turns out there may have been a mixup between “dispatch” and “delivery” (quite why we’d want to arrange when they dispatched the monitor, I don’t know, but hey). And the actual delivery work is subcontracted, but the person on the phone couldn’t tell us who would actually be delivering the parcel or supply a reference number, so we couldn’t get in touch with the delivery people direct.

Wednesday, a card turns up from the delivery service. “We tried to deliver a package, but nobody was in…” So we phone the delivery company; nice helpful people, they asked if there was somewhere they could leave the package if nobody was around? Strangely enough, we weren’t too keen on them dumping an expensive monitor in a garage or somewhere, so no. Anyway, weren’t they picking up the old monitor? They couldn’t see anything about a pickup… still. Arranged delivery for this Friday afternoon.

Yesterday, a card turns up from another courier service. “We tried to collect a package, but nobody was in…” OK, so that explains it, one company delivers, an entirely different company collects. Only this company are subcontracted to a repair service, themselves presumably subcontracted to Viewsonic, and the card says the courier service will rearrange collection with the repair service, and none of them have phone numbers or reference numbers. In the middle of trying to phone one of Viewsonic, the collecting courier service, the repair company, or anyone else vaguely connected with any of this (and failing, as everywhere was closed for the day), our neighbor pops around with a little gift. It’s a Viewsonic VX2235wm, which the delivery service had dropped off earlier today. Fortunately, our neighbors are lovely people (though we may now be in the wife’s bad books, as, prompted by the delivery, the husband was last seen investigating the possibility of buying a nice large widescreen monitor).

As is often the case, any time we’ve managed to get in touch with a human being, usually at Viewsonic, they’ve been nothing but polite and helpful, but there’s not usually much they can do in the face of byzantine multinational bureaucracy. Oh well. At least this new monitor (so far) hasn’t started making any strange noises (fingers crossed), and I’m back to larger, vibrantly coloured gaming. Sorry for the not particularly entertaining post, sometimes you just need to vent…

The nine circles of questing: The second circle.

We continue our plunge into the depths of the questing conflagration; beware adventurer for we leave the first circle and move into areas where such horrors that torment the soul abound!

Second Circle.

The second circle of questing is the one where many adventurers find themselves when starting a new character, especially if it is one that resides in an area of the game that has yet to be explored. Everything is new. Everything is easily achievable. Everything is new, achievable and progress is swift and satisfying.

The quests are still abundant, and the objectives for the quests are close by and can be carried out solo with relative ease. The item rewards are not epic, as one would expect, but the experience rewards are. At no other time does your character grow so quickly and painlessly (unless you’re in the first circle, when each quest provides enough XP for you to hit the level cap three times over, with enough left over to get each of your alternative characters to mid-level).

Not only are the experience rewards good, but the death penalties are minimal; it is therefore possible in the second circle to fling your un-armoured, naked-as-the-day-you-were-born self into the midst of a whole host of foes, swing your starter weapon – usually a bit of string with a knot tied in the end – and slaughter them all, but if not, never fret, it’s only a few seconds to get back to your corpse.

Life isn’t all golden in the second circle, otherwise it would be the first circle and then life wouldn’t have much meaning, because you’d already be an immortal deity who has merged with the game world and become one with it. Anyway, I digress. In the second circle the fresh-faced adventurer faces a new enemy: other fresh-faced adventurers. All those lovely, squeaky clean, easily achievable quests are now being undertaken by others. The nerve of some people! So even though the local wolf population is each entirely covered in ears (and yet somehow can’t manage to hear a bumbling adventurer’s approach, as he charges in swinging his mighty frayed-string flail of wolf filleting), finding an actual wolf to smite with extreme prejudice is somewhat of a challenge. Quite simply, new adventurers are like locusts; they’re like a plague of locusts on methamphetamine and they’ve had a dodgy stomach for a couple of days and they’ve been starving themselves; so they’re a little bit peckish.

‘Ravenous’ is to new adventurers as ‘a bit ambitious’ is to Ghengis Khan.

And so you leave the small hamlet that you started life in, and make your way out towards the Moderately Dank Forest of Not Much Challenge to start your quest for wolf ears. ‘An easy quest!’, you think. ‘Everyone knows that the wolves around here have hundreds of ears each, and although they are fierce fighters when confronted, they have a strange and yet convenient weakness to string with knots tied in it! I shall do well on this quest!’. On rounding the first corner out of your home village, you see… a wasteland. As you wander further on, you can identify where the Moderately Dank Forest used to be, but now there’s just nothing. No wolves; no conveniently placed aggressive mobs that always jump you when you think the area is clear to begin your attack on the wolves; no NPC’s with bottomless bags and infinite gold that you can sell all your leftover wolf parts to; no trees, in fact. Nothing.

Eventually, after an hour or so of wandering, you do stumble across an NPC, stripped naked and huddled behind a boulder against the cold. As you approach the NPC to ask what has happened, a fellow adventurer – we shall call him Norom the Confounding – appears as if by magic, grabs the boulder out from underneath the NPC, shoves it into his Backpack of Convenient Size and Depth, and dashes off. Just as you recover from your utter astonishment at such behaviour, Norom darts back into view, pulls out a pair of scissors and lops the NPC’s beard off in one fell ‘snip!’. And then, just as quickly, vanishes into the distance.

In the end, the Moderately Dank Forest of Not Much Challenge is renamed by the local populace to The Barren Wasteland of Not Much At All, and your quest for wolf ears continues for many hours more than it should have, were it not for Norom and company. You still get your fine reward at the end, and lots of experience, sure, but as Magistrate Von Lotsakasch sings your praises and explains the wonderful and myriad uses he has for a third of a ton of wolf ears, you can’t help but notice that he has a very fine beard; a very fine beard indeed. And there’s an NPC in the next village who will reward any adventurer who can bring her enough beards to thatch the roof of her house.


The nine circles of questing: The first circle.

On considering the varying success that players tend to have with questing, and the inevitable switch to instance or mob grinding by those who can’t stand to do quests, it became apparent that there must be a different experience of questing for different players (and indeed, a different questing experience from day to day for any one player). And lo! I have pondered on what those experiences must be in order to give such vastly differing opinions on whether questing is a Good Thing or not. And so I present to you my theory of the questing underworld: the nine circles of questing.

We begin our journey with the legendary first circle.

First Circle.

If you’re in the first circle of questing, consider yourself extremely lucky. Here in the first circle, the quests are plentiful, the objectives are close together and easy to attain, and Magistrate Von Lotsakasch is going to give you a pretty generous reward, even if you are only bringing him wolf ears. Again.

Your quest will have no pre-requisites at all, and the objectives are illuminated by continent-spanning rainbows; the local wild life actually fights any aggressive mobs in your way, and when they’ve finished clearing a path for you, some of them pick you up and carry you on their backs towards your goal. All the while, a choir of cherubs follows you along, singing songs of encouragement and praise which give you a few minor competency bonuses, but generally just make you feel good about yourself and the world around you.

When you reach the villainous bandits that you’ve been tasked with killing, there are no other adventurers nearby. They’re not even on the same continent, in fact. The bandits form a nice orderly queue (there are no unexpected respawns in the first circle, Adventurer!) and take turns in being stabbed to death, each one giving a complementary commentary on your deftness with a blade as they die.

Incidentally, in the first circle of questing, if you’re having to collect wolf ears, every wolf has enough ears to fill your entire quota in one go, they are literally roving mounds of ears on legs, and when killed, they fold-up into a handy wipe-clean carrying bag.

With the quest objective quickly completed, your escort of cherubs compose a new song in your honour, and the local wildlife sweeps you off your feet and carries you swiftly back to the NPC who gave you the quest; the NPC is so pleased to see you that he decides to double your reward, and invites you in for a nice cup of tea and bit of cake, and have you met his daughter… ?

I recant!

Despite my dire prophecies of doom, everything went pretty smoothly last night. Other than one server restart, fortunately before we’d grouped up to do anything, and a bit of instability in the Outlands, it was plain sailing. Not even a queue to get on the server to start with!

With one of our group not having The Burning Crusade yet, and my (mostly unfounded as it turned out) pessimism over the potential stability of the server, we headed up to the Plaguelands for a quick visit to Scholomance. I’ve not seen much of the late game instances; back in my first WoW run, Scholomance and Stratholme were tougher than they are now, so on first hitting 60 with a motley assortment of green gear, they tended to be run as raids of ten or more for the loot rather than for the quests, which was pretty dull. Now, with the mobs thinned out a bit, and gear boosted by PvP and some strategic raiding (of the auction house), a group of four of us made great headway last week, completing the first part of the “Krastinov, the Butcher” quest series. Last night we wrapped up the final two parts, so I finally got hold of Mirah’s Song, a nice off-hand sword I’ve had my eye on for quite a while. Wonder what the odds are of the first Outlands drop being a more impressive weapon…