I managed to get some time in Lord of the Rings Online over the weekend, in-between DIY adventures: accursed plumbing epic quest line! Although I think I gained a level in Avoiding Unexpected Jets of Water, which is nice.
The odometer on my dwarf minstrel ticked over to twenty two and I received a nice aura – Tale of Heroism – which buffs the Will and Fate stats for the fellowship. What’s more this is as handy for my minstrel as much as anyone, although Zoso’s captain with their not insignificant power problems will probably appreciate it too. I say ‘received’ the aura, but in Lord of the Rings Online what this of course means is that I crawl grovelling on my belly to the trainer and give them all of my worldly possessions. They then taunt me with the skill training manual by waving it just above head height, making me jump for it; occasionally they will throw it to another trainer and back, both of them laughing at me until finally one of them drops it, and then as I scrabble around on the floor trying to pick it up, they take turns hitting you with a big stick.
Ok, I’m clearly exaggerating there. They don’t have sticks, they just kick you a bit.
And pour honey over you.
And then cover you in feathers.
Having trained, I took my honey-glazed chicken dwarf to the Barrow Downs with the aim of trying to get a group into the Great Barrows; my dwarf has a whole plethora of quests to perform in this instance and I wanted to have a look in the place whilst trying to get my hands on some shiny quest rewards. I also wanted to make some money to replace my dwindling cash reserves post training extortion. This, as it turns out, was a Bad Plan. The Great Barrows is a fun instance, very atmospheric with some good dungeon-crawling events which I won’t spoil here, but I think it is fair to say that it warrants a group that is at the very least at the level of the quests there, the highest of which is level twenty four. After the usual pickup group shenanigans at the start, with everyone charging in with cries of “Baruk Khazad” and so on resounding in the cavern, I waited for all of five seconds inside the entrance before a train of party members, with an even bigger train of angry looking elite spiders chasing them, came charging back up the tunnel and dived out of the instance. Then, of course, the nature of the pickup group swings the other way, and crazy words like ‘tactics’ and ‘patience’ are bandied about, and it takes time for people to look these words up and understand their meaning, and then tactics are discussed. When I say ‘discussed’, I do of course mean the pickup group definition of ‘discuss’ which reads:
dis·cuss /d?'sk?s/ Pronunciation[di-skuhs]
verb (used with object)
1. to shout really loudly at other people until they are swayed to your point of view;
call people names until they either leave or ignore you, esp. with respect to them
learning to play, or being a noob.
2. to consider a particular topic in speaking or writing. Usually at volume, or in ALL CAPS.
3. Rare. To explore a problem with reasoned arguments.
See also: Bitching. Aggravating arse-wits. Humanity (doomed).
Approximately five hours later, the group had formulated the genius plan of the hunters laying traps, the guardian pulling aggro and everyone hitting things with sharp metal objects, and apparently my minstrel was tasked with the responsibility of healing. I know! A healing class. Healing. These were unique minds at work, that much was clear. We made fair progress after that, as most pickup groups do, until we encountered the first really tough part of the instance with a couple of really rather well health-endowed boss mobs. Try as we might – and we might have tried ‘as we might’ more than we might have. Or something. It was late and I was inebriated – we couldn’t defeat them, and with my character’s paper doll showing two items of equipment as being broken and the rest as severely damaged I decided to call it a night, much to the relief of everyone else who were obviously in the ‘We shall not be beaten!’ mode of instance running, where you know you can’t win, but you keep beating your head against the wall in some sort of strange noble ritual of fruitless endeavour, until someone decides to quit and then you can blame all your failure on them “We would have beaten it if we’d had just one more try”.
Yes, dear. Of course, dear.
At the end of that unsuccessful run, with little loot and no quests completed I returned to the town of Bree and found an NPC vendor who could repair my equipment. The bill: one hundred and forty four silver. Bear in mind that the most money I’ve had at any one time was about two hundred and thirty silver and you can see why going in to the Great Barrows, or any other instance in LotRO, is a Bad Thing if you’re below level, in a pickup group, or like me, both at the same time.
In other adventuring news, I decided to grab the quest line for the Bone Man in the Barrow Downs – the area outside of the Instance of Costly Repairs – which requires you to speak to a ghost who haunts Bree and is only available during the game’s night time. This meant I had a few hours to kill before the ghost would be available for interviews and requests to “do that walking through walls thing you do. Awwww, go on”, and I didn’t fancy adventuring on the minstrel in the mean time, at which point I remembered the Monster Play aspect of the game.
Monster play is a great way for someone like myself, with a hideous case of alt-itus, to play a different character without totally ruining my chances of ever getting a main character above level five. You find your local neighbourhood Fel Scrying Pool, there’s one near Mud Gate in Bree, and use it. On your first time, you are presented with a choice of five level fifty servants of Angmar to play, you pick one, name it and you’re flung headlong into the service of Sauron as part of a garrison in the Ettenmoors. In both normal and monster play your characters earn destiny points for performing certain feats of daring-do, and these are shared in a pool between all characters on both sides of the game. Once you’ve spent the points they’re removed from the pool and you’ll have to earn some more. In the normal game they can be used to buy temporary buffs, but in Monster Play they’re used to improve your character. I created an Orc Reaver, a melee machine who looks a bit like me after a bad days DIY, and I upgraded him with the numerous destiny points I had received from levelling my various characters in the normal game before I finally decided on the minstrel. This allowed me to purchase a trait which improved his appearance, giving him a bit more armour and some cool looking weapons – you don’t get items for your monster character like you do in the normal game, so this appearance trait changes just that, the appearance – and then I purchased a new skill and some other passive traits which boosted the character’s damage, armour and avoidance abilities.
Basically you then get a huge number of quests that require you to either go out and slaughter, well everything really, and collect items from dead NPCs such as hobbit toes, or to collect general items such as fragments of troll stone from sun-struck trolls (they really should put on a higher factor sun cream) that are dotted around the landscape. Many of these quests are repeatable and will earn you more destiny points among other things, which you can then use to improve your character and take on tougher quests. Interestingly, to ‘level-up’ you have to take part in the PvP that Monster Play is really all about; killing other player characters from the free people of Middle Earth will earn you points that will eventually lead to your character gaining a rank. Once you’ve gained a new rank, further traits and abilities become open to your character for you to purchase such as advanced appearance traits that make you look even more fearful, thus reflecting your improved power.
An interesting interaction between Monster Play and the normal game is that of the shared Destiny Points pool: it may well be that to go raiding the tougher instances in the game you’ll want to buy some buffs with Destiny Points. If you don’t have enough points, you can dive in to Monster Play questing for a bit where all quests generally give out Destiny Points, and then switch back to normal play and buy your buffs. Encouraging players to try different parts of the game like this is quite a nice idea and it will be interesting to see if the interaction makes a noticeable difference to player participation in PvP. Already on the server that I play on there is a strong community on the monster side of the game, with some people having undertaken nothing but Monster Play since their normal character reached level ten, which is required for a player to participate.
I found my Reaver to be a standard melee class, playing a bit like the champion class, with a basic attack, an AoE arc attack and a very nice finishing move which can only be used when the target is below fifty percent health and which uses all your remaining power, but it is a nice burst of damage nevertheless. There are also a couple of utility moves, I bought one which allowed my character to regain some health and at the same time gain a small boost to its damage at the expense of some of its damage mitigation when he kills an opponent, and the Reaver comes with another ability as standard which allows you to fling sand into the eyes of foes, reducing by a decent amount their chance to hit you. All-in-all it’s a nice change of pace compared to the minstrel and it should help to curb my alt-itus a bit, although the quests are quite repetitive and not too taxing. However, the PvP element requires enemy players, of which there are few of the appropriate level as of yet, so gaining ranks from PvP for the time being is either a matter of luck or waiting around endlessly, picking your sharpened teeth with your sword and twiddling the string of hobbit toes around your neck.