I have to stop playing Lord of the Rings Online. Okay, more specifically I have to stop playing my current character, a Guardian that I’ve created in order to play with the crowd over on the Consoling Gamers forum. It’s a semi-static-group affair, with everyone trying to stay within a certain level band in order to progress through the epic storyline together at the appropriate level, or close thereto.
The problem I have is that I can’t stop levelling.
This isn’t some Altoholics Anonymous confession where I stand up hand-wringing and lip-biting amid a circle of my seated peers, and after some hesitation say “This past week I played four characters through a total of seventeen levels. My name is Melmoth and I have a problem.” And everyone claps and nods and offers hugs while a counsellor initiates a discussion on the side effects and social impact of heavy character levelling, and offers a leaflet detailing the health risks associated with sharing your characters with other users.
The problem is that I can’t stop my character levelling.
Having reached level sixteen and a half, with a very general but reasonable soft-cap of level twenty set on the group (so that we don’t have new players being blasted through the epic storyline by nigh-invulnerable super characters ten or more levels above the content), I decided to stop levelling and flesh out the parts that I tend to ignore on my solo characters, in this case crafting and virtues. I picked the Armourer crafting vocation, and as such I needed to mine ore to feed the Metalsmith profession and kill animals for their hides in order to progress the Tailor profession. Killing animals for their hides gave me XP, and every ore node seemed to be guarded by a crap mobstacle that needed to be killed first, also giving me XP. By the time I’d gathered enough materials to master the first tier of all my crafting professions I had, thanks in part to rested XP, gained the best part of another level. Ding.
Things went further downhill when I decided to work out which virtues would be best for my character, and complete the low level deeds that would give me ranks in those virtues. Unfortunately deeds come, in the main, in two flavours: the genocide of a species of animal or critter in a certain location, or the completion of a great many quests in a certain zone. For the deeds concerning the slaughtering of innocent animals, the Venn diagram intersection of Right Mobs, Right Location and Low Enough Level Not To Give XP was pretty hard to achieve, and seeing as the first two were non-negotiable in terms of getting the deed completed, it was often the last category that had to be sacrificed in order to get anything accomplished; I got plenty accomplished in the end, so much so that I gained another level. Ding.
I was now floating close to the weir of the soft level cap, and despite my frantic attempts at rowing in the opposite direction I seemed to be achieving nothing more than propelling myself into a faster current, thus threatening not to simply approach the barrier but launch myself past it at pace and on and down to deeper levels. I resolved to complete the final deed I wanted – completing low level quests in the Shire – and then, despite my current joy at playing the game, hang-up my character and wait until the group had progressed through the epic storyline somewhat. Of course those low level Shire quests still gave XP, and because they weren’t that low a level to me, that XP quickly began to add up. I tried, I really tried not to gain XP, but those damnable hobbits weren’t having any of it.
“‘ere you go lad, thanks for yer help!”
“Oh, uh no, I don’t want any XP thank you. I’m just doing it for fun, really. Just glad to help. A little coin is more than enough.”
“Oh it’s like that is it? ‘ere ‘arold, this ‘ere chap says ‘e doesn’t want XP.”
<peering around from behind a hedge> “Doesn’t want XP? What is ‘e, some sort of raving Lothlórien Elf? Doesn’t want XP… Pah! Too good for our XP are ya?”
“N-no, you misunderstand me, sir.”
“Oooo, get ‘im with ‘is ‘sirs’ and long fancy words. Now you listen ‘ere sonny, people ’round ‘ere like to give XP. It mightn’t be the fancy pants reputation and tokens that you city boys like to flash about, driving around on yer fast women with a glitzy horse on yer arm…”
“…BUT around ‘ere you get XP, and if you don’t like it, ye can just bugger off back to yer porcelain sheets and yer silk toilets.”
So I took the XP and ran away. And then ran back and quickly sold their quest rewards back to them. And then ran away again. I finally finished the quests I needed for the deed, seventy five in all, and in the process managed to gain a level and a half. Ding. That’s three and a half levels while avoiding at-level quests and trying not to level. My character now sat at level twenty, and as I returned to Bree I vowed to do nothing but train any new skills and hope that the trainer didn’t reward me with four levels for successfully paying him eighty copper for a new skill. As I ran through Bree I’d see people with quest rings hovering over their heads, and my character would scream and run in huge wide arcs around those NPCs as though they harboured the plague.
And that was that. Almost. I was just about to log out and leave my character for the week when I noticed I had a mail message waiting. I popped over to the mailbox and opened an invitation to visit the local skirmish camp ‘Four star facilities for slaughter. See all the wonderful opportunities for death and blood that skirmishing can offer you’, that sort of thing. And I looked at the letter, and I looked at my character’s XP bar, and I looked at the letter. Weeeellllllll, a little skirmish training before I log off couldn’t hurt, could it? I mean, skirmishes don’t give that much XP do they?