Friday 9 April 2010

Smile, breathe and go slowly.

If fighting your way through a dungeon armed with nothing more than a pair of light silk pyjamas and an ability to touch things with your quivering palm sounds like an exciting challenge, or an erotic adventure, then the Monk class in Dungeons and Dragons Online might be the career choice for you. One wonders how a person becomes a Monk in DDO, most likely through a careers fair at school where, based upon the feedback given – like to touch things with my quivering palm; prefer to wear light outfits that leave me exposed; spend a lot of time in a crouching position; able to move limbs rapidly back and forth in quick succession – they were offered the somewhat limited choice of either Monk or Adult Film Fluffer.

The Monk in DDO is an interesting class, I’ve spoken before about how the mechanics for the class are in some ways similar to those of the Warden in Lord of the Rings Online, and that, due to the hectic pace of the combat in DDO and the standard MMO UI, the class doesn’t quite hit the level of harmony that its Middle Earthian compatriot enjoys. It is strange, but for a class that is all about harmonious balance and oneness, the Monk as a class always seems slightly at odds with the rest of the game.

To start with, the Monk relies on Ki to power its special moves and its special special move, or finishing move to properly name it, and although the Monk can store some Ki in between fights, at the lower levels at least, it never seems to be enough. The combat in DDO is so fast paced and frantic that by the time the Monk has built enough Ki to activate three of their special attacks and thus open up the option of the special special ability, the fight is over and the Monk is left with a useful buff or heal that is all ready to go but for a lack of Ki to power it, which is deeply frustrating in itself and doubly so when combined with another element of the class that appears to be there purely to rankle the player.

First a little pondering on front-loaded versus slow-burn abilities. It’s an element of many MMOs: the Mage with their pool of spell points all ready and waiting to be used versus the Warrior or Rogue type who has to build up rage/fervour/combo points/Ki in order to activate their more damaging abilities. It was a frustration for me in LotRO with my Champion and, having played a Runekeeper for a while, was part of the reason that I decided to drop the class and change to something else. For me it’s more fun and of greater utility to be able to let rip with a number of abilities right from the beginning of a fight than have to wait for what seems like an eternity while being wailed on by a bunch of angry pixelated script routines. It also seems that, in a very general case, if you have to wait a while to build-up enough smite juice to perform your class’s abilities, it would probably be fair for those abilities to be of greater power than those of a class that can use them freely right from the onset of conflict; rarely do I see classes of the slow-burn sort with abilities that outstrip the front-loaded abilities of those classes with a fixed pool of power, often they’re lucky if the two are even on a par. Ah, but the classes with a fixed pool have a finite resource, whereas those classes that build-up their power over time technically have a limitless supply! Which is a fair point, but how often do we see concessions to front-loaded classes in an MMO, such that they’re given ways to refill their sapphire scrotums with spell sperm? And how often do fights in an MMO last long enough that these classes are in danger of blowing their load and thus risk standing limp and spent at the back of the battle? Raiding is generally where it balances out, but if you’re not a raider and just enjoy small group dungeons and questing with your friends, it’s hard not to be frustrated by the fellow who can remove two thirds of a mob’s health bar before you’ve had enough time to whip out your weapon, let alone fluff it up enough that you can get some decent penetration with it.

As well as being a slow-burn class in a game where fights are fast and frantic – DDO combat is to WoW as a Vin Diesel film about chess would be to a documentary about Kasparov versus Deep Blue, at least I’m pretty sure Kasparov never played the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit whilst hanging from the bonnet of a speeding car and firing a 9mm at his opponent – the Monk also has a curious phobia of interacting with objects. It’s not a phobia as such, but in my mind that’s how it would appear to others, because if a Monk has their special special move ready to use and they interact with any object before they’ve activated said special special move, the ‘charge’ of the move is removed, or wasted as some might look at it. There’s nothing more frustrating than being in a dungeon and having a much needed healing special special move all lined up, needing one or two Ki more in order to be able to use it, and finding yourself standing at the base of a ladder. Doors also become an enemy to revile, loot chests become bittersweet rewards, levers and switches are spiteful and venomous, anything, anything that requires you to interact with it is anathema. Playing in a group becomes positively embarrassing:

Fighter: “So we’re all set, the Rogue will stealth in to the room right after the Monk opens the door”

Monk: “NO!”

Fighter: “What’s wrong?!”


Fighter: “Why? OMG, TRAP? Rogue, why didn’t you spot the trap?!”

Rogue: “There isn’t a trap!”


Fighter: “Dischar…? Dude, that’s sick!”

Rogue: “What’s up? What did he say?”

Fighter: “Dude said he was going to ejaculate if he touched the door.”

Rogue: “Ewww, god, what sort of sick fu…”

Monk: “No, no, you’ve got it all wrong. My power will discharge. Yes? I will go karmically limp. My ability to buff you all will be removed until I furiously pound some more kobolds and regenerate my energy.”

Fighter: “Oh god, I think I’m gonna hurl”

Rogue: “What? What did he say now?”

Fighter: “He says he wants to get jiggy with some kobolds so that he can get up the energy to rub our co…”

Rogue: “ALRIGHT. Enough. I’ll open the damn door, sheesh. You could have just ASKED.”

Monk: “Nobody understands me. Let me place my quivering palm on you and buff your co…”

<Fighter has left the party>
<Rogue has left the party>

Monk: “…nstitution. Your constitution. Hello?”

Seriously, I’ve stood at a door having the “I can’t touch the door otherwise I’ll lose my special special power” conversation with my group, and I’m pretty sure it only served to further cement in their minds the impression that I am quite, quite mad. And possibly a pervert.

I’ve no idea why the Monk’s special special ability would need to be discharged like that, maybe there’s a facet of the game that I’m not understanding, but I can’t think of many exploits that would be possible by charging up a special move and having it remain until the Monk next needed it, especially seeing as many of the Monk’s special special moves are simple one-minute duration party buffs, hardly an overpowered thing to have ready at the start of a fight.

Which leads me onto the other curious disharmony of the Monk’s mechanics, the fact that most of their special special moves are one-minute duration party buffs. Most fights as part of a competent party last all of fifteen seconds and, if the Monk is lucky, will provide just enough Ki to power one special special move. Now, the time it takes for the party to find the next group of mobs can be much more than a minute, especially if they’re taking things slowly and not trying the Indiana Jones style of trap avoidance by running pell-mell through the dungeon with their eyes closed while holding on to their hats. So the Monk doesn’t want to fire-off the buff at the end of combat because it is highly likely that it will have expired before the next combat begins. So they hold on to it. Why waste it, they think, I’ll just hold on to it until the next fight. I’ll have it ready for the start of the fight and we’ll all have a nice little buff to get us through it. I’ve worked hard for this buff, it took me time and coordination to build up the combination required to activate it while I was in the middle of that hectic fight. Yes, I will hold on to it and use it later, and the group will be most pleased!

And the Monk, cheered by their sensible approach to the situation, breaks out of their personal reverie and rejoins the conversation just at the point when the Fighter says:

“So we’re all set, the Rogue will stealth in to the room right after the Monk opens the door”


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