The Captain’s ‘buff sticks’ in Lord of the Rings Online are, for me, a perfect example of that general requirement to ‘be optimal’ in an MMO conflicting with the coherence of the game’s world, and thus creating inauthentic cultural norms. The Captain class has a range of buffs, many of which can be significantly improved by one of the limited number of ‘legacies’ available to their legendary weapon. These legacies were originally entirely random, and therefore what you’d expect to happen would be for a Captain to find a weapon with as many of these legacies that improved their all-important group buffs as possible, and for them to then cherish that item as though it were one of their own children. What actually happened, of course, was an approach which maximised the boost to the Captain’s buffs without sacrificing their combat capability. Therefore, most Captains would store a number of ‘legendary’ weapons in their backpack –three or four would not be unheard of– each of which having a number of the correct legacies to improve their various buffs, while the Captain reserved their primary legendary weapon (the most legendariest, if you will) to have those legacies which would improve their in-combat abilities. This heavily reflects the strange general juxtaposition within the game between legendary items as common-or-garden objects, and ordinary quest reward weapons as quite rare finds in the later levels.

“Buff sticks! Buff sticks for sale! Get yer buuuuuuuuff sticks! Don’t be a drain and a raiding bane! It’s never enough to bestow a basic buff! Get a buff stick, and they won’t think you’re a pri–Yes madam? Two buff sticks? Here you go. Thank you kindly madam and enjoy! Buff sticks! Get yer buuuuuuuuff sticks!”

If ever there were an unheroic, unlegendary, unwieldy image, it’s that of a Captain rummaging through their bags before a fight, rapidly switching weapons so that they have the correct legacy equipped to boost the appropriate buff before they cast it.

“Now hold on for a second because I know I’ve got the one-handed hammer that boosts my critical attack buff around here somewhere. And you, you need power, I think that’s on a sword… no, noooo, it’s the halberd that has the boost for regen buffs. Now we all need the morale buff, so that’s this giant pink 12″ vib… oh gosh, how did *that* get in there. Ha ha ha. Hum. Uh, no, it was the axe that buffed morale; although I suppose the vibrator could work…”

I mean, bless Turbine, but they took a fabulous idea in trying to give players a unique weapon which levelled and grew in power as they did –a real, honest-to-goodness, corker of an idea– and then created a character class which highlighted in bright white searing bolts of Istarian flame all the problems with the system.

“Legendary weapon? Why yes, I have six! But only one of them is really any use, the rest I just keep in my bags because they have a minor applicability once every five to fifteen minutes.” I mean, I have trouble with weapons providing improvements to buffs anyway. I can understand a buff that improves a player’s critical rating; I can imagine it as my Captain explaining the weakness of this particular enemy, giving tactical advice on how best to strike their weakest spot, but how does holding a mace in my hand improve this advice? The best I came up with was my Captain saying

“Now listen here Flannelian, striking at an orc’s weak point is very much like making love to a beautiful woman. Imagine my mace is a beautiful woman for a moment. Stay with me now. Okay, now take hold of it as though it were a beautiful woman. Go on, don’t be shy, take it in your arms. No, not like THAT! You FILTHY… grabbing the handle in that way! That’s the sort of person you are is it? A lust-filled deviant of the most deranged kind! Now apologise to my mace. Apologise to it at once! Apologiiiiiiiiiiise!”

Of course by this point the whole fellowship is slightly unnerved and explains that they’d really rather just get on with killing the two non-elite orcs who shouldn’t pose much of a problem to our party of six, and no really, buffs probably aren’t even necessary right now.

I sometimes wonder whether a badly designed system is simply one which can be abused, or is it the nature of all such systems that, as long as there is any level of flexibility inherent to it, there will also be a way to exploit it? I don’t think there’d be any major dissent if I said that LotRO’s legendary item system is one which is ripe for the abuse through optimisation of itemisation, moreover it positively encourages it. Whether one sees this as a good or bad thing is probably down to the needs of one’s inner being with respect to the MMO genre, needs which are as subjective, eclectic and cultural as any existential abstraction.

At the same time I imagine there is firm agreement that it’s a terribly appealing sentiment to own a named legendary weapon, one that has grown and battled along with its owner, and which, when coupled with the romantic samurai-like imagery of becoming one with a weapon and treating it as though it were family, is something that thrums deep hard blacksmith’s strokes on the blade of imagination within the forges of the soul.

Elrond: “Aragorn, son of Arathorn. I have thought for many long nights on that which you asked of me, and I have made my decision.”

Aragorn: “You mean?!”

Elrond: “Yes, Elessar.

We will strike fear into the heart of The Enemy.

We will once again forge a great bond between the houses of elves and men.

We will return to you that treasure of the ages thought lost.

We will take the shards of Narsil and craft the blade anew!

Henceforth you shall be known throughout the lands of this Middle Earth as Elendil’s heir.

And you will also provide a minor competency bonus to your fellowship’s parry rating.”

Posted by Melmoth at 3:06 am