I realised that I did a most unusual thing for a player in an MMO today; whilst pootling around in Lord of the Rings Online I went to an NPC armour vendor and bought some items for my character to use. It’s a strange feeling. As a player you will often wander your character into a village somewhere among the Mountains of Many Malign Mobs, a village you haven’t visited before and, due to its remote location, very few other players have ever visited. Yet here there are NPC vendors, placed strategically around the village in such a way as to indicate that there was a thought process behind their arrangement, they were not generated by some automatic script reading CSV entries from a spreadsheet, no, some developer lovingly hand placed them, and arranged them just so. So why then, when you excitedly run up to the first vendor, like a hyperactive puppy let loose on a garden full of cats for the first time, does the vendor present you with a vast selection of items all of which were useless to your character the moment they left the character creation screen?
No wonder nobody visits the village. Perhaps, though, these NPC vendors aren’t meant for adventurers such as ourselves, perhaps they’re there for all those NPCs we see running around in the wilds desperately trying to kill a boar for its meat, or skin a bear to make warm winter clothing, before the mass wave of PCs washes through the area like a sweaty screaming tsunami and clears the land of everything that isn’t nailed down, leaving only destruction and empty ration wrappers in their wake.
It’s hard not to laugh when one of these NPC vendors offers you a set of equipment for your character’s current level, items that have no stats and only modest armour value, when for half the price you can buy a set of items on the auction house that have twice the armour value; enough stat boosts to turn your character into a fighting monstrosity, a transformation rivaled only by Drs Banner and Jekyll; and has varying other minor secondary effects, such as granting the power of flight, the ability to charge through the side of mountains, or the ability to shoot fire from beneath your eyelids. The NPC tentatively shows your their wares, consisting of a small used leather jockstrap with one strap missing and a skull cap that had seen better days before its last owner had their skull cleft in twain, all the while having to shield their eyes from the sun-like radiance that is cast forth by your armour as their ears are assaulted by the cries of a thousand vanquished enemies whose souls are trapped within the ancient runes and used to nourish the armour’s hunger for eternal power.
This is how it has been for me in MMOs to date. I’d visit a new vendor with hope in my heart that they might have some unique and undiscovered item whose name has been scribed in the texts of legend, only to have a bit of a giggle at their selection of crusty and moldy wares and then moving quickly on before my armour sucked the poor vendor’s soul from their body out of sheer indignation.
Not so today, because as we all know LotRO has cosmetic outfit slots which allow one to customise the look of their character into a less… how shall we say? Colourful aspect. Or, in another way, it allows you to stop your character looking like they have just come from setting off a paint bomb in a charity clothes shop. Arlecchino is relegated to the role of sullen spectator when cast against the kaleidoscopic acid trip that is your standard MMO character’s adventuring attire. And so the NPC vendor has the last laugh, because although their items may well be worthless for use in combat, or in fact any activity more strenuous than spring cleaning, they are worth ten, nay a hundred times their weight in gold for the fact that they provide a complete outfit: a matching, coherent, subtly coloured, and attractive suit of armour.
Just don’t tell the NPC vendors, because at the moment they’re still willing to sell such incredibly valuable items for nothing but a few silver coins; their armour may not be able to suck the living souls out of my enemies, but at least it isn’t sodding-well pink with tartan highlights.
That’s a really good point! Every MMO I have played has had some pointless merchants whose only purpose is to sell things that no one will ever want, and to buy useless tat from players that no one would ever want either.
Maybe the shopkeepers’ basic wares are added only to give an illusion of it being a place of business, a veneer of merchandise to disguise the fact that they are only used to dump meaningless items for currency, a token nod to maintain an immersive atmosphere.