He who is not everyday conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life.

Everything debuffs my character in Lord of the Rings Online or so it seems; I can’t so much as take afternoon tea without wounding myself when picking up a teacup, or poisoning myself on an egg and cress sandwich, and the less said about how one gets a disease from a length of Battenberg the better.

Of the various categories of debuff, however, ‘fear’ is the one that I find most curious. For a start it seems to be the most popular debuff among minions of the dark power, an understandable concept until you consider the fact that after my character has killed their three thousandth warg without loss of their own life, are they really, honestly, going to be intimidated by wargs any longer? Consider a circus lion tamer entering the cage every morning and yelling “HOLY CRAP, A LION! HELP! LIONNNNN! Ahhhhhhhhhhhohhhh wait… ah ha ha, ohhh I’m feeling foolish now”. I suppose it could be the case that my character isn’t afraid of the wargs per se, perhaps the wargs just have a really good propaganda department feeding them slogans to shout during a fight

Hero: “Have at you, wargs!”

Warg 1: “[Growls] Did you know that fluctuating aggregate demand is destabilising the economy?”

Warg 2: “[Barks] Food prices are set to rise exponentially!”

Warg 1: “[Tweets] Interest rates on Rivendell properties will double in the next financial quarter.”

Hero: “Tweets?”

Warg 1: “[Barks] Yeah, I’m broadcasting some of these to my warg friends on the Internet.”

Hero: “Ah.”

Warg 2: “[Howls] Unemployment among Middle Earth heroes is at 4.5%, its highest rate for two ages of man!”

Hero: “Noooooo!” [Bites fingernails]

I checked the fear debuff the other day and it said that my character was ‘unsettled’, which sounds less like a fear of the unknown and more the morning-after result of a dodgy takeaway. I suppose it could be trying to reflect the sudden panicked realisation that if you do suffer a catastrophic takeaway-induced toilet emergency, you’re securely strapped into a highly restrictive human-shaped tin can. Unless you’re a female warrior in plate armour of course, then you just need to drop your knickers, if you’re even allowed to wear knickers. Of course we all know they do wear knickers really, because the first time anyone puts on one of those full-plate schoolgirl skirt things that pass for female armour in an MMO, they always do the ‘are there really knickers up there?’ check. [Cough] I’d better just check the camera is working. Scroll in. Scroll in. Scroll down. Scroll down. Tilt my head a bit to the side… wait that won’t work. Scroll in some more. Ooop, too far, I’ve gone into first person view. Scroll out. Scroll down. Annnnnnnnnnd, I think those are knickers. Are they? It’s a bit dark. [Cough] I’d better test the gamma controls, just to make sure they’re working too…’

In my MMO, any time the player’s camera viewing angle intersected with the Up Skirt plane, an elite monster would jump out from up there and attack. Bonus experience, however, if it jumps out from your character’s skirt and attacks the person ‘innocently’ standing next to them.

Everything seems to debuff, as I mentioned earlier before I went slightly off track; ‘slightly’ as a rollercoaster would be slightly off track if it had left the theme park and was comfortably overtaking traffic in the outside lane of a nearby motorway. While soloing my way through Volume 2 I had stacked debuffs from a variety of mobs to the extent that my character had reduced Might and Agility, drastically reduced Armour and Morale, and close to zero Fate or Willpower. Sometimes I wonder if there wasn’t a miscommunication between development departments:

“What the hell is wrong with the Warden in this instance, it has half the effective power that it normally should have, how the heck is that heroic?!”

“Hey look, we did just what you asked, you said you wanted to see it tank like a pansy so…”



“I wanted it to tank… like a Panzer. As in the tank. Rugged. Robust. Powerful. Death dealing.”

“Ah. Not limp, yellow, slightly fragrant, but ultimately fragile, then?”

“Who on earth would want to play a game where their character spends most of the time like that?!”

“Well we did wonder.”

Debuffs are, of course, also linked to the exciting ‘Did you remember to buy potions?’ mini-game, where you venture fifty yards into an instance and then have a debuff of every colour instantly slapped on your character, at which point you realise that you forgot to stock up on potions; even better when you did stock up on potions but find you’re facing mobs of a slightly higher level than usual, for which you need slightly higher level potions. This leads on to the slightly more morally ambiguous ‘Oh, look, we happen to have potions on the LotRO Store’ mini-game, where the player balances the value of traipsing all the way back to a quest hub to buy potions against the real world cost of summoning a stack immediately and conveniently from out of the microtransactional aether.

Of course even if you win the ‘Did you remember to buy potions?’ mini-game, there’s often little point in using one during a fight:

“I fear you!”
“Hah! I use a potion!”
“Okay. I fear you again!”
“I… can’t use a potion because it’s on cooldown. Bugger.”
“I fear you again!”
“Alright, alright, no need to rub it in.”
“Sorry. [whispers] I fear you again.
“I heard that!”

Even if they don’t restack debuffs, most MMO sessions consist of fighting a succession of similar mobs, thus waiting for the fight to end and clearing the debuff does nothing, because the very next mob will pop it straight back onto your character again. So really the potions are only useful for the feariest of fear debuffs, where your character is in real danger of death, rather than the more minor risk of being intensely irritated at having to auto-attack everything to death: because one of the more annoying fear debuffs (for characters without a dedicated power regeneration ability) reduces Will and Fate –responsible for your character’s power regeneration in and out of combat– meaning that in any lengthy fight your character spends most of their time gasping for power, even when chugging power and fear potions as soon as they’re off cooldown. In addition, it induces downtime by forcing the character to wait while they regenerate power between fights. Papua New Guinea has a more reliable power supply than most of my characters.

Of course there’s a counter to this: the various food items in the game which can be crafted and will grant your character a boost to power regeneration great enough to overcome the worst of these anti-power fear debuffs. Of course I predict that this will simply lead to an arms race where mobs cast more powerful fear effects, and player characters counter this by cooking up richer foods and eating them in greater quantities. Daytime TV shows in Middle Earth will introduce regular cooking segments where Aragorn extols the virtues of cheese pudding and chips in combating a fear of wargs, and Gandalf shows us a cheeky little soufflé which can cancel the unwanted attentions of the undead. Soon we’ll have these comically giant roly poly heroes waddling around the countryside with their mouths full of toad in the hole and jacket spuds. New players, upon encountering a high level player, will suffer an immediate fear debuff as their minds try to comprehend these gargantuan amorphous near-spherical blobs who wave their swords wildly around from their little stump appendages, while biscuit crumbs spill down their fronts as they try to communicate in ‘munmph’s through a mouthful of custard creams. In response to the fact that the players now naturally cause fear and confusion in each other, the minions of The Enemy will be forced to drop their now redundant and petty debuff tactic, and instead focus on other ways to debilitate the players, such as building large flights of stairs and narrow doorways. Thus, in a curious twist of fate, the forces of evil create some of the most beautiful feats of architectural engineering that Middle Earth has ever seen.

Of course ‘stair lift’ tokens will be available on the LotRO Store shortly thereafter.

10 thoughts on “He who is not everyday conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life.

  1. darkeye

    Angmarims do the fear debuff that reduce fate/will by about 200, effectively giving my burglar and warden 0 in both stats. I do hate going up against them, even on my captain where I can remove 3 fear debuffs at once and get about 25% (?) immunity for 30s, yet the debuffs are back up in no time at all.

    I do like the new rep/cooked foods that last for 30 mins and give only moderate OOC regen but decent enough instead of eating every 5 mins. The debuff resist food is useless, can’t remember how much %resist it gives but it isn’t enough. I suppose if you add up resist food, traits, gear and buffs you might miss most of the debuffs (I’m not sure if there is a cap on how much resist you can have, I don’t think it is 15% unless the captain skill can push it above that), but I doubt most people would bother with going to all that trouble instead just to grin and bear it.

  2. Melmoth Post author

    Oh yes, the thirty minute food buff is definitely a blessing. It’s also probably the only reason why my character doesn’t weigh seven hundred pounds, thanks to not having to chain chow down whole racks of lamb any more.

  3. Brian 'Psychochild' Green

    Debuffs are an interesting design dilemma. LotRO makes them fairly common, but generally low-power. I found them mostly annoying, particularly the slowing wounds. But, as pointed out, there are a few really nasty debuffs that can restrict your character. It can be frustrating to remove a debuff, only to have it pop right back on and the proper potion or ability to remove it being on cooldown.

    Making the debuffs less common could help. If they’re still fairly weak in general, then they might not stand out. Making them more powerful makes it feel like you have to have potions or a class that can remove that effect.

    It seems that this makes for only a little increase in interesting gameplay. It does seem to make the world a bit more interesting, even if the gameplay elements are lacking. Not sure what a good solutions is here, from a design point of view.

  4. Melmoth Post author

    @Brian: I’m certainly not saying to get rid of debuffs, they make the world more interesting, as you so rightly put it. I think the fact that potions are on a cooldown, along with the fact that debuffs are stacked so quickly, makes the whole thing a bit frustrating. But then, I expect that constantly having to spam potion buttons all the time would also detract from the combat.

    There’s another, slightly more invidious side to it that I forgot to mention. A basic example being that the mobs always manage to set the debuff stack so that the -Will/-Fate debuff that drains all your power is at the bottom, usually by buffering a -FearResist or other such debuff above it. Therefore, even if you have a potion off cooldown and want to use it, and since you can only pop the topmost debuff off the stack, you can often never get at the one you need/want to remove. I was playing through an area of Volume 3 Book 1 last night, facing @darkeye’s Angarim there, and every single time that I had a massive -Will/-Fate debuff, there was a -FearResist or -ShadowResist above it in the debuff stack, blocking any opportunity to remove it. What I forgot to test was whether the mobs just cast them in the correct order each time so as to set the stack that way, or whether the -Will/-Fate sinks to the bottom of the stack whenever it is cast. If it’s the latter, then that’s really quite sad; either way, I can’t pick the debuff to remove, and the game takes advantage of that – abuses it, even.

    That’s the sort of deliberate f-you design that makes me write posts, even when I may otherwise enjoy a game. Debuffs in LotRO, like stuns, aren’t something tactical, they’re just an irritation to be put up with; the fact that the design seems to purposefully make sure there’s no tactical option, as per my example of debuff stack blocking above, seems to indicate that this is indeed what is intended.

    @BobTurkey: Glad you enjoyed it, thanks for the feedback!

  5. Brian 'Psychochild' Green

    Yeah, I’m not saying get rid of them, but how to change them to make them seem like interesting gameplay rather than great irritation is the trick. I’m not sure how to do so. As you point out, most of the obvious solutions (remove potion cooldowns, etc.) just lead to different frustrations.

    I mostly played a Champion in LotRO, and duoed with my GF’s Captain. Champs get crazy mana regen in their offensive stance, and the Captain can remove up to 3 fear debuffs. So, I rarely had to worry about most of those. Wonder if that was a subtle way to get people to like Captains more. :)

  6. Roq

    Maybe the potions should add a timed immunity/partial immunity to the debuff effect. After all if you’ve drunk something that makes you no longer afraid of wargs, then it should probably take some time to wear off.

  7. Melmoth Post author

    @Brian: At a very fundamental level I think I prefer those mechanics where I have a chance to avoid the effect, rather than have to counter it once it is active. LotRO already has debuffs that have a countdown timer, where the debuff will only take effect if you are still in combat when the timer expires. Unfortunately, this doesn’t quite work because it’s very hard to increase the pace of a fight in an MMO, outside of perhaps blowing a few long cooldown abilities, so your chances of ending the fight early to avoid the debuff are slim, and it therefore just falls to luck again most of the time.

    Still, I like the idea of having the debuff applied, but having the effect delayed such that the player has a chance to react. Also, making the thing into a mini-game might work: I’m generally all for trying to make small games-within-games.

    As a very basic idea: the player could have, say, four dedicated slots for debuffs, which fill (not in any order, i.e. not necessarily left to right) as debuffs are applied by mobs. When all the slots are filled, a countdown begins, maybe five seconds long, in which the player must repeat the order in which the debuffs were applied by pressing a set of keys which correspond to the debuffs. U=Fear, I=Wound, O=Disease, p=Poison, for example.

    So four slots fill

    _ _ O _
    _ I O _
    _ I O P
    P I O P

    At which point the player needs to press O, I, P, P, because O came in first, then I, etc.

    If they fail, then the first debuff is applied and cleared, and then the counter starts again, and they try with the remaining three debuffs, i.e. they would need to press I, P, O in the time limit.

    If they succeed at any point, then all the debuffs are cleared, and a new set of four will begin to stack shortly thereafter.

    The player then has the choice to ignore a countdown at any point if they need to do something important in combat, but knowing which debuff will be applied as a result of not trying to clear them. However, importantly, the decision is theirs as to which is the more pressing matter to deal with.

    Very rough outline, something off the top of my head, as an example.

    @Roq: I think that’s a simple and elegant solution. Instead of time-based though, which perhaps runs into complications with how it interacts with potion cooldowns, it could be that a potion grants a resist buff that consists of an icon with a count in it, and each time a debuff of that sort is cast, it is ignored and one is removed from the buff count. Even if it was just a count of two, then you’d get a brief respite from immediate recasts, which is a suitable reward for having used the potion correctly.

  8. Capn John

    I’m assuming the Fear mechanic is such that it’s not a spell, per se, in that it’s not being “cast” by the Mob, but that your character is supposed to be cowering in fear at the sight of the Mob, much like when your characters first encounter the Ringwraiths, only not to that extent, not to the point of incapacitation.

    As Roq said, if drinking a Potion of Courage stops you from being afraid of a particular Mob (i.e. removes the Fear debuff), then common sense dictates that you should remain unafraid of that same Mob for at least a short period of time. Just because you can’t drink “half a potion” doesn’t mean it should wear off immediately after consumption.

    Drinking a potion to remove a debuff only to have that exact same debuff reapplied immediately by the very same Mob is ridiculous, and arguably game breaking.

    On another tangent. Given that you’ve already slain countless Worgs/Goblins/Bats/Spiders, shouldn’t having a title akin to “Worg Widower”, “Goblin Grinder”, “Bat Basher”, or “Spider Stomper” have a demoralizing effect on your foe? “Oh no! It’s the Goblin Grinder! Run away! Run away! Flee!”

    Finally, the Fear mechanic begs the question of why a heroic slayer of countless Worgs, Goblins, Bats, and Spiders is cowering in fear at what is essentially just another Mob?

    “Ok, now be careful up here, because these Goblins are tricky.”
    “Tricky? HA! They’re just goblins. I’ve slain hundreds of Goblins. Thousands, even. One gobbos the same as the other.”
    “No, these ones are different. They’re wearing RED loincloths, and they’ve got TWO daggers!”
    “Red loincloths, you say? And…t-t-two daggers?! Aaaahhh! MOMMY!!!”

  9. Melmoth Post author

    “On another tangent. Given that you’ve already slain countless Worgs/Goblins/Bats/Spiders, shouldn’t having a title akin to “Worg Widower”, “Goblin Grinder”, “Bat Basher”, or “Spider Stomper” have a demoralizing effect on your foe?”

    I think that’s really a rather splendid point.

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