Monthly Archives: November 2009

Verse is not written, it is bled; Out of the poet’s abstract head.

It’s a wonder, word-friend that I am, that I haven’t tried Lord of the Rings Online’s Runekeeper class in earnest before now. One of the first spells that they get, Fiery Ridicule, has a description which in part reads ‘The ridicule a Runekeeper writes hurts more than a mundane scribe’s ever could’. Blowing-up evil doers through the power of the written word? Sign me up! It’s not quite the realisation of my dream to create Shakespeare Man, the masked hero who fights crime using his supernatural ability to make things explode by quoting pithily at them, but it’s pretty close.

“Wastrel!” he’d shout, and the camera would pan to a low, wide-angle shot from behind Shakespeare Man, looking upwards as the top floor of a skyscraper explodes in the very best Die Hard fashion, erupting shattered glass and office supplies across several neighbouring buildings.

“Lasciviousness!” he cries through a low spinning crouch, finishing with his accusatory arm pointing to the head of a murderous pimp whose head promptly implodes.

“Fie!” he spits frothily in the grandest of thespian traditions, as a shockwave levels every building in a five mile radius.

It’s not a lot different to playing a Runekeeper, to be honest. If I were to choose a sentence to describe the Runekeeper it would be this:

“Listen, and understand! That Runekeeper is out there! It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.”

Honestly, all you need to imagine is that any Runekeeper player’s screen is tinged red and has a Terminator-esque targeting icon with small scrolling lines of text in the corner which identify any potential objects worthy of elimination, and you have a pretty good idea of what it’s like playing the class.

I’m saying, in a none-too-subtle way, that the class is overpowered; I don’t think this is a Bad Thing.

There’s a simple joy to playing a class which, compared to the classes that you’re used to playing – in my case the Champion and to a lesser extent the Warden – is utterly and ridiculously more powerful. I mean, laugh out loud, I think I just found God Mode, I hope I don’t get banned for exploiting, powerful. The reason for this is that the realisation of how powerful you are is dramatically affected by what you have to compare it to. In the grand tradition of Slashdot car analogies: hand the keys to an Aston Martin DBS to any teenager who loves cars but hasn’t driven before and let them loose on a racetrack and they will know that the car is powerful, they will feel the power through the g-forces that are experienced during acceleration, deceleration and cornering, but they will not truly appreciate the car in the same way that someone who has been forced to drive a small 1.1 litre hatchback for five years would. There’s nothing wrong with having an overpowered class, as long as you make sure that your players have experienced your 1.1 litre hatchbacks first.

The Runekeeper is pretty much your glass cannon hybrid mage class. Where the Warden (the other class released as part of the Mines of Moria expansion) experimented successfully with a very innovative combat system, the Runekeeper sticks to the more tried and tested seesaw balance method of game play where the player chooses to either do damage at the expense of healing or vice versa. Being restricted to light armour only, the Runekeeper is weak when confronted by multiple mobs in melee, but through careful play this hardly ever occurs and when it does the Runekeeper has various stuns and snares to enable them to get back to range and finish any aggressors off. Against a single target of even level the Runekeeper can dish out enough damage from range that by the time the mob has managed to get into melee range it will have time for one or two hits before it is defeated. I like the way this works, not just from the feeling of power that it instils in me, but because I’m always intensely annoyed by the design that has become common in MMOs whereby cloth/light armour classes are forced to tank mobs who are armed with great axes and swords and the like. It’s not an easy problem to solve because allowing ranged characters to keep melee mobs at range means that the caster will rarely take damage. You could balance this by making your caster classes need to stop and rest after combat to regain mana, but down-time is rapidly becoming an unacceptable means of prolonging game-play in the mind of the modern MMO player. Giving glass cannon classes low hit points and armour and then a whole bunch of tools that allow them to effectively tank mobs anyway seems a bit of a cop-out to me, though.

Another advantage to the Runekeeper being placed firmly in the ‘Can’t Tank Mobs’ school of magic and mayhem is that they aren’t called on to melee much, which is very good considering they fight by using two small stones held in their clenched fists to punch their enemies, a curious style that I’d expect to find being adopted by drunken oafs in the car park of my local pub on a Friday night than by intellectual word-wizards in Turbine’s carefully crafted fantasy world.

A benefit to the Runekeeper’s ability to make things transform very quickly into a fine red mist is that I quickly realised that I am now the bane of crap animals everywhere. Wherever I run in Middle Earth there’s always a bunch of conveniently placed crap animals ready to aggro at the slightest opportunity; with the Runekeeper it’s so much easier to turn around and, with a stern look, convert them into steaming piles of sausage meat, rather than run limping halfway across Middle Earth with them nipping at your heels, being generally ineffective, annoying and crap.

Having chosen dwarf for the race of my Runekeeper I’ve once again launched myself through the dwarven starter area and am happy to report that the bugs that I have mentioned previously seem to have been sorted out, and the experience is better than ever. Quests have been further streamlined to remove a lot of the travelling chores of yore, and further new features have been added, such as a travel point at Noglond, a mini quest hub between Thorin’s Gate and Gondamon which was always a bit tedious to have to run to repeatedly. The only negative to all of this is that because the process is so smooth and painless now I’ve found myself at level twenty in short order, not a problem in itself, but I find now that I tend to out-level the initial curve for the Apprentice tier of my gathering profession in most cases; it’s not a huge issue, but perhaps something that the developers might want to consider if they’re still in the habit of tweaking the starter areas. The reduced back-and-forth is a huge boon to a player levelling an alt, but it also means that you spend less time wandering around the wilds and tripping over gathering nodes for your chosen profession. However, it may be that anyone interested enough in crafting won’t mind going out on expeditions just to find these nodes, and it certainly rewards the player by having them explore and experience the game’s wondrous landscapes whilst at the same time fulfilling a purpose. As I said before: not a huge problem, and this is only based upon my experience of the dwarven starter area – other starter areas may well be fine – and the gathering curve quickly matches back up with the levelling curve once you get into the next tier of gatherables.

Finally a thank you: a huge THANK you to the Turbine developers for the two cosmetic outfits that they provide for players to customise the look of their characters without affecting their stats. It means the difference between a character that looks splendid, like this:

and looking like Brian Blessed’s beard became a face-hugging sentient alien life form and attacked the first Oompa-Loompa that it happened across, like this:
Ack, my eyesAck, my eyes

Call me picky, call me a Social player, call me Susan if you must, but I would not be playing this character if I’d had to spend more than a few seconds each session staring at that abomination of a so-called default costume, an outfit so bizarre that it makes my character look as though he was dressed by being forcibly shoved into a colour-blind clown’s rainbow-eating tumble dryer and seeing which random items of statically-charged clothing stuck to his hairy body.

Melmoth’s Fiery Ridicule crits the Default Costume for 3.5k points of damage.

Your mighty blow has defeated the Default Costume.

The Magnificent Four

The village elder looked weary; two nights of attacks had taken their toll. “How is morale?” I asked him.
“Aye, much better now, stranger, thanks to your efforts we have a chance. The weapons are ready, and those you persuaded to fight with us should make a difference.”
I nodded. “With my spells and the blades of my three companions, we’ll be a match for anything. Nothing for it now but to wait to nightfall and the inevitable onslaught.”
The elder hesitated a moment. “Aye, nothing for it… unless… well…”
“It’s just… you mentioned there were another three of you back at the camp outside town?”
“Oh, yes. A golem, big bugger that, dead handy in a fight, and a bard who’s pretty nifty with a bow, and a shape-shifting mage.”
“Right. Um. And they’re happy at the camp there, are they?”
“Blimey, no, they’re desperate to get into the action, raring to have a crack at the dark forces threatening this town.”
“But… they’re not actually going to come and help?”
“Oh, gotcha, I see what you mean. No, my hands are tied, it’s the Thedasian Working Time Directive, no party member is allowed to adventure for more than forty five hours over a rolling seven day period and that lot have done their quota, the Union would have my arse if I tried to get them down. Plus it’s night-time, see, they’d need to be on time and a half, and with the downturn in the economy caused by the fall in house prices what with all those demonic creatures stalking around the place, we just haven’t got the operating budget.”
“Oh. Still, never mind, I can’t imagine we’ll face wave after wave of relentless attackers in a situation where it would be really, really useful to have some extra bodies fighting on our side. Waiting for nightfall it is!”

(sometimes fixed party sizes in RPGs don’t make much sense…)

The Dark Night of Moria.

Looking for Bruce Wayne
Where better to hide his secret base of operations than in the impenetrable blackness of the dwarven mines?

And so begins the flood of comic book crossovers into our favourite MMOs.

Apparently you’ll be able to find the Fortress of Solitude in Star Trek Online, although the rumour that it may simply involve logging in and finding nobody else in the game is unfounded at this time.

Ooh, little bit of politics there

We’re not exactly firebrand activists here at KiaSA, not least because there’s usually little to get worked up over in UK politics as far as games go (unlike our Australian cousins, who I gather from the Van Hemlock News Podcast have been clandestine mavericks living outside the law for playing World of Warcraft until recently). Modern Warfare 2, though, reignited the violence in games debate (a subject that both Van Hemlock and Jon have been in reflective mood over), prompting Labour MP Tom Watson to start the Gamer’s Voice as a pro-game pressure group.

There are many issues around games that deserve more reasoned debate than “Ban this sick filth” vs “LAWL headshot I PWN”; as well as violence and morality, in piece on The Guardian Watson looks at other aspects such as the financial issues of not supporting a billion dollar industry, and lack of suitable graduates in games design now kids are taught how to use Office rather than programming.

Most importantly of all, though, he reveals “I know of at least three MPs who have a Guitar Hero habit. I know because they have tried to beat me (and failed). Two of them are ministers.” We’ve got a sweepstake going on the identities of the fake plastic ministers, and I’ve drawn the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Come on, Milliband, don’t let me down!

I never let schooling interfere with my education.

The first thing you notice when you enter the School at Tham Mirdain – a three-man instance in Lord of the Rings Online for characters around the level fifty two mark – is that on initial observation the place seems to consist entirely of just one room which you can see all the way across from your vantage point just inside the entrance. The single rectangular room consists of a simple peristyle with groups of mobs in both the courtyard and the surrounding corridor; at the far end of the room a pair of staircases running perpendicular to the entrance provide access to a small landing above the main room.

The second thing you notice is that there are groups of mobs patrolling around the outer corridor. It seemed somewhat curious to me that they should need to patrol around the edge of an area that you can see all the way across with relative ease: perhaps they were all in a rush that morning and forgot to put their contact lenses in before kissing Uruk-hai junior or Mrs Dunlending goodbye and heading off for another day at Ron and Sons. Ltd, or maybe they were the Middle Earth equivalent of those people at work who seem to spend their entire day simply walking around with a clipboard or important looking ring binder. I decided it was probably the latter, and that this being Lord of the Rings, ring binders were probably the in-thing with up and coming professionals in the employ of Ron; Old Sour Ron, that’s what they call the boss, and of course he’s big on ring-binders is ol’ Ron, loves binding himself a ring, yes he does.

Interspersed with all the ring-binder-carrying manager-types are several groups of mobs who, in the traditional manner of MMOs, stand around not doing much. These are the sort of people who hang around the water cooler at work and talk noisily about what was on TV last night, discussing who’s going to win the latest edition of I’m A Hobbit in A Great Barrow, Get Me Out of Here, or whether Silmarillion will get the Christmas number one with their elven rock ballad The Lay of Leithian. I suppose this explains all the manager types patrolling around the room: obviously they’re trying to chivvy these work-shy slackers along, evidently without much success.

The groups around the edge of the room are fairly easy to deal with if you’re around the correct level since they consist of a mixture of signature and standard mobs. The Uruk Leaders have a heal, so if you have anyone in the group who can interrupt have them watch out for that, and the Uruk Archers can be a bit of a pain because it’s difficult to convince them that they really should be fighting over here, out of the way of the other patrols; watch out for line-of-sight pulling them to a safe spot too, because they seem to have a tendency to run through the courtyard and pull other mobs along with them.

The courtyard itself consists of groups of mobs all milling around, some seated, some standing. This seems to be the canteen of the place, and the groups of mobs here are the same as you find in the surrounding corridor, but they’re slightly easier because they’re all full of ratatouille and suet pudding covered in that think snot-like custard that only work and school canteens seem to be able to create. At the head table of the canteen, or the base of the staircase mentioned earlier if you like, is the first boss of the instance. He’s a typical middle manager with lots of hangers-on, and is typically defensive of his turf when a group of people from a different department turn up; expect him to get aggressive the moment you get close enough for him to notice that you don’t have a TPS report or an appropriately colour-coded ring binder.

There’s a basic but fun trick mechanic to the first boss, I’m not going to spoil it here though, there are plenty of websites available already that are set up specifically to take all the adventure out of gaming and make it nothing more than an exercise in step-by-step line dancing. Those who know the encounter, however, will understand when I say that with two melee and one ranged character, there was quite a bit of Benny Hill-ing around the canteen and the outside corridor as we tried to deal with the situation.

The second boss waits for you on the landing at the top of the stairs. He has two underlings with him, and although you may think he is a manager, when you defeat him the door behind opens to reveal the ultimate in pointy-haired boss types, at which point you realise that the boss you just defeated was in fact merely a secretary whose overinflated sense of rank was probably derived from the fact that they kept the key to the photocopier and stationary cupboard.

The third boss has his own office; clearly he’s an important fellow. This becomes ever the more apparent when you see that his office is packed to the rafters with underlings all sat around on benches facing him and hanging off of his every word. Again the boss has a few surprises up his sleeve, and I’m not going to spoil them here (as much as one can spoil content that was out slightly earlier than the start of the industrial revolution), but it was an interesting enough fight, and a close shave. So close, in fact, that I died and had to run back quickly to help finish things off before the other two succumbed to the tedious power-briefing that the boss was delivering. So take that closeness and stuff it in your triple-bladed individually sprung metro-sexual face peelers, Gillette!

Overall I like the design of the instance. It probably lacks a little in the repeatability department (which is next to the publishing department on the third floor), but makes up for it in ease of access and its change of pace from the norm. The dynamic of a party of three characters is interesting, and although a tank/healer/DPS combination such as we had is probably still optimal, the boss mechanics make it so that it isn’t easy, and at the same time make other combinations of classes entirely viable with a little careful planning and tactical play. In addition, each player really has to be alert and adaptable to any given situation, there’s less room for mistakes than there is with a six person group, and the judicious use of abilities with long cool-downs along with those abilities that get tucked away on the ‘not going to use that very often’ button bar is vital to the success of the group. There are plenty of nice drops to be had from each of the three bosses, with the customary piece of armour that nobody can use being supplemented with a whole raft of runes to boost the experience of legendary weapons – always useful for any member of a group, and in my opinion a splendid way to implement dungeon rewards. Instead of items of gear that, by The Law of Loot Luck will either be useful for several party members and thus someone will miss out, or useful for nobody and therefore everybody is somewhat deflated, it makes sense to have rewards that upgrade those items. Where World of Warcraft has tokens that allow you to buy specific armour items, and LotRO has runes to boost the XP of a legendary weapon, there could be a middle path where you have an item that drops which will boost any one stat on any one piece of armour or weapon by a set amount. If you have enough of these items drop such that every member of the party can get at least one, then you’ve got a greater sense of reward for your players when they come away from your dungeon. Not only that, but if you make any base piece of equipment, from level one onwards, able to be boosted by these dungeons rewards all the way up to the level cap, players can choose their armour and weapons based on appearance and customise the stats to their liking as they level up, thus creating investments of both emotion and experience in said items.

At the conclusion of the adventure I came away feeling satisfied with our run through the instance: it didn’t take long, had some interesting fights, and some pretty reasonable rewards even for us, laden with the mudflating rewards of Moria as we are. I’m enthused about this content that Turbine have produced, and I’m looking forward to trying The Library – the other three man instance in the area – at some point in the near future, although if there isn’t an instance-wide spell of silence in effect, I’ll be most disappointed.

A Potted History of the Evolution of Bioware Games

The Baldur’s Gate series are Dungeons & Dragons
The Knights of the Old Republic series are Dungeons & Dragons in space with Jedi
Mass Effect is Dungeons & Dragons in space with Jedi without the Jedi
Dragon Age: Origins is Dungeons & Dragons in space with Jedi without the Jedi not in space and without the Dungeons & Dragons license

What shall we use to fill the empty spaces?

Some Twittering about Dragon Age: Origins caught my eye last night:

Shuttler: I doubt I’ll finish DA:O it feels old & environmental limitations just shouldn’t happen anymore.
Zonk: What do you mean by environmental limitations?
Shuttler: not being able to walk in water, swim, freely run down a hill. Invisible barriers, that sort of thing. Hope that makes sense?

The debate flows around many contributors with lots of interesting points and counterpoints within 140 characters, and I was going to chip in on Twitter but it didn’t seem happy about the idea of 1,400 characters, so…

I know where Shuttler’s coming from. For the first hour or two of Dragon Age I kept hitting space, expecting to jump, and getting a bit confused when the game paused. Back in the day (when it was all fields around here) the top-down party-RPG style of the Baldur’s Gate series looked and played quite differently to, say, Tomb Raider. Dragon Age, though, with third person view, right-click mouselook, WASD movement etc. is thematically consistent with many MMOGs, Grand Theft Auto III and IV, Mass Effect etc, so when I’m running around I expect to vault effortlessly into the air with a tap of the space key. It’s really more like Baldur’s Gate in gameplay, though, and it took a little while to get back into the groove of zooming out for a more tactical view, click-to-move as well as WASD, pausing to order the party around in combat etc., stuff that was second nature before I got ensconced in MMOGs.

It’s not the jumping in itself, that’s a symptom, like the swimming that Shuttler mentioned; Dragon Age wouldn’t be magically improved with a wider range of athletic activities, it’s just a little jarring the first time you stop dead at the edge of a lake rather than diving into it and merrily doggy paddling (which seldom makes sense when you’re wearing a couple of tonnes of cast iron, but still), or you’re stymied by a fallen tree that doesn’t look particularly difficult to scramble over or under. Having adjusted, it’s really not a problem now. I can see where fans of open worlds could find it restrictive, but for me it’s getting to the point; the Korcari Wilds could have been ten times bigger and allowed you to explore every inch of them, but with the same amount of content in there it would just mean a lot more, rather boring, running around. They could box everything in, sending you to dungeons all the time so the barriers are far more concrete (either figuratively or literally), but unless roleplaying an agoraphobe that might get a bit repetitive, so I’ll take the invisible walls. Gives a great opportunity for Marcel Marceau impressions too: next, walking against the wind…

Town to keep me movin’, keep me groovin’ with some energy.

Our valiant heroes hung the head of the troll on the wall of the kinship house and stood back to admire it.

“It looks as though the troll has crashed his head through the wall of our house” mused Van Hemlock.

“Ha ha! His body is probably in the air on the other side of the wall with his legs flailing around!” cried Teppo.

“This really has been a most splendid evening; this is what MMOs should be all about” I thought.

Over the Mumble channel I simply guffawed.

But what events had led up to this joyous conclusion to an evening’s gaming? Prepare to be astounded as, with a budget of a paltry half a million pounds and the power of ultimate blogging technology, I create for you an illusion of traversing time and space so real that Hollywood directors could only dream of such powerful mind altering effects.

[Four hours earlier…]

Observe how the bold font really makes you feel as though you’re actually there. Half a million pounds well spent, even if I do say so myself.

With a regular member of the Hobbington Crescent Massive away on holiday, and what with the trials and tribulations of last week, the general consensus was that it wouldn’t hurt to have a week off from saving Middle Earth from itself, because let’s face it, the Ring Bearer hardly seems to be in a hurry to get his pie-eating hobbit arse to Mordor any time soon anyway.

For those of you who may now be picturing the image of a hobbit bottom that munches on pastry-based foodstuffs, I apologise, it wasn’t what I had in mind, but once it was in my mind I felt compelled not to reword it, deciding instead to make you suffer the image as well.

The aforementioned Van Hemlock and myself, however, are gluttons for punishment or so it seems, as we both logged in to the game to see if anyone else was about, perhaps from a sense of duty, or perhaps because we wanted to make sure that we could, in fact, actually log back in after the trauma of the previous week. Either way, there we both were, and so we decided to have an adventure, the only requirement being that we attempted to avoid gaining XP as much as possible since we didn’t want to dramatically out-level the dearly absent members of our good kinship.

And so we cogitated over what activities we could undertake in the game, and inevitably our eyes drifted to our quest logs, and that’s when it happened:

“Y’know, the next part of Book 11 is in Goblin Town, it’s marked as suitable for a small fellowship and is also low level to us now. We could do that.”

“You can’t be serious?”

“We wouldn’t earn much XP, and I’ve been down to Goblin Town at a lower level than we are now and managed a large chunk of it solo, so we should be fine even without a healer.”

“Oh, God, we’re mad. We’re utterly mad, or masochists or something.”

“All of the above. If nothing else we’ve got to run all the way across from Rivendell to Goblin Town, so it’ll feel like a real Book for a while, until we get there and start, y’know, actually killing stuff.”

[laughing] “Let’s do it.”


Without further ado we made our way to Goblin Town and started killing the low level non-elite mobs there and found, much to our surprise, that these mobs dropped the quest items that we were seeking, and in the space of time that it takes a furious hobbit to swing a large two-handed hammer and a dwarf, with beard bristling, to swing a couple of axes around about his person, we had completed the quest.

It was somewhat of an anti-climax.

So we decided to continue on until we, uh, climaxed. Honestly, it wasn’t like that, just a hobbit and a dwarf out on a platonic date to slaughter all the orc-kind that they could find. So slaughter we did, and then twice around the block for another damn good slaughtering, and after the rambling adventure of running a half-marathon across Evendim last week, our latest self-assigned quest – to slaughter everything in Goblin Town that so much as moved – felt really rather refreshing. We slaughtered goblins, and we slaughtered orcs. We slaughtered wargs and their keepers. We pretended that the corpses of mobs had moved and slaughtered them again just to be sure. We slaughtered rocks and chests, camp fires and the darkness. We nearly slaughtered one another on several occasions. We laughed at that, and then slaughtered the echoes of our laughter as it reverberated around the empty cavernous scene of that which we had slaughtered.

It was pretty cathartic.

I posted to Twitter about the delights we were experiencing as The Smallest Fellowship, as we now dubbed ourselves, and shortly thereafter we were joined by a third. With Teppo’s Runekeeper at our backs the slaughtering process continued apace as we took down the Goblin King with ease and then proceeded to molest the troll-come-rancor-wannabe that lives in the pit in the Goblin King’s throne room. And I do mean molest. As the troll bellowed at our stalwart hobbit Guardian for the umpteenth time, our Runekeeper cried “jab your stick in his mouth” which, if it weren’t innuendo-laden enough, we promptly and entirely accidentally followed-up with a fellowship manoeuvre called “Three Pronged Attack”. Suffice it to say that the troll was not equipped to withstand this coordinated gang-bang: the Guardian shoving his stick in the creature’s mouth, the dwarf thrusting away with his purple weapon from behind as always, and the Runekeeper shooting his ‘white lightning’ at the troll’s face from all the way across the room; Runekeepers are such show-offs, and although I was tempted to dub our elven companion the Mirkwood Moneyshot, I decided against it.

After pretty much porning the poor troll into submission, we continued on down into the depths of Thundergrot where lesser trolls still provided a pleasantly invigorating and chaotic challenge as we over-pulled and subsequently attracted some re-spawns in what one can only describe as an AoE orgy; it looked unlikely that we would prevail. Actually, it looked like nothing more than a steaming great mound of angry trolls with a trio of barely observable smaller folk wriggling beneath it, but after a few well timed lengthy cool-downs were blown, we came through with our skins, as it were.

At some point along the way one of the trolls was kind enough to provide a suitable trophy head, which was tucked away in the hobbit’s really quite expansive backpack. It was later taken to a taxidermist in Bree who, improbably enough, was experienced with stuffing and mounting troll heads. He was particularly skilled I thought, as he chose the replacement eyes with such skill and care as to accurately represent the troll’s wide-eyed look of shock as it was unexpectedly taken by a three pronged attack.

Having sated our slaughtering needs we then headed back home to sell and repair, before journeying down to Echad Mirobel in Eregion for stage two of our evening’s entertainment, where the School at Tham Mirdain – which we had attempted to run as duos for fun a few weeks earlier – was awaiting our return.

This time though, there was a trio of us in the traditional tank/DPS/healer formation, against the forty or so Uruk-hai and Men of Dunland who currently held the school.

Three of us? Forty of them?

I make that Three Prong O’Clock.

Thought for the day.

The scary thing isn’t that Blizzard have opened a micro-transaction store for World of Warcraft; one should consider that event to be as the emotive theme tune is to the shark in Jaws, or a dissonant violin crescendo is to Jason Voorhees.

It’s a warning, but not a guarantee, of the actual horror waiting to strike.

The audience sits gripping the arms of their chairs and each other, or peering through fingers, all the while willing in vain that the innocent band of plucky wallets and purses turn back from the strange path that they are following lest they are caught by the monster that stalks them and have their innards sucked out.

Everyone holds their breath. And waits…

When once the forms of civility are violated, there remains little hope of return to kindness or decency.

“Well you could do that, but nobody will want to group with you.” A phrase wrapped in wilful condescension so thick that if you spread some patronization between a couple of slices of it you’d have the world’s most bitter doorstop sandwich. Welcome to DDO’s General chat channel, a land where the nose evolved only as an extension of the face to be looked down, and the horses are so very high. I try to picture meeting some of the more vocal personages who frequent this place and I can only really come up with a sort of hybrid creature formed from the unnatural union of Medusa and Charybdis – giant mouths that spit a whirling torrent of venomous snakes.

Let’s face it, DDO is hardly unique in having chat channels filled with bilious supremacist outpourings; whether it concerns how to spec. a character, how to make gold, or any other number of arbitrary numeral demarcations, where the supremacist can put data into a spreadsheet and show categorically that they are better than those who don’t do it their way, that they do 0.1% more DPS, that they make 5% more gold per hour, every MMO has their class of players who think that they are above and beyond the plebeians who don’t play the game the way that they do.

It’s just that DDO has had thirty five or so years and four editions of the pen and paper game to really hone their hive of supercilious bees, who swarm out and attack with stinging words anything that doesn’t belong to their colony. People who commit the heinous cardinal sin of attempting to multiclass a healer, for example.

Turbine have created templates for classes in DDO, initially I viewed these as a sensible aid to new players unfamiliar with the game’s D20 hybrid rule set, to prevent them creating a properly broken character while they get to grips with the game. What I then suspected was that these templates were actually an attempt to give new players at least a modicum of a sane character build in order to prevent DDO’s most special community members from driving away these potential customers, such that the new players would merely be looked down upon as pitiable peasants by the DDO Maxminati. My current theory, however, is that the templates actually act as a warning, they say “Look, even these templates, created by the developers of the game, are open to scorn and derision by our community. And don’t even bother to see what the forum dwellers think of them, lest you have to poke out your own eyes to stop the searing spite of their words from branding itself on your mind.” and so new players realise in short order that the prejudice, dullness, and spite is not directed solely at them, but at all beings who don’t fit with the supremacist’s ideals.

So, another MMO, another General channel quickly partitioned off into its own tab titled “Wrath”, along with the Trade channel under “Greed” and the LFG channel under “Sloth”. And yet people still ponder on the ‘mystery’ of the prevalence of the soloer in MMOs.

I do wonder if the community of Darkfall is any better; my natural instinct tells me that it would be at least as bad – it seems that only rarely can you have an MMO and not have a general community full of hate and spite, for they are formed of humans, and this is what humans do better than any other creature on Earth – yet there is the glimmer of hope in me that some level of formal politeness exists in a game where anyone you offend can join with his friends to hunt you down and put an axe through your skull.

It goes without saying that I’ve now created my experimental Cleric in DDO: with maxed Intellect and using Wisdom as the dump stat, they are armed with a crossbow and have the very best in the Search, Pick Lock and Disarm Trap cross-class skills. The experiment is not as to whether the character will work, but whether it is repellent enough to DDO’s master race to act much as a holy symbol acts upon a vampire; my theory is that I will hold up this symbol of singular silliness before them and they will shrink away at the horror that it represents and, if they fail their Will save, burst into flames and be purged.