Tuesday 17 August 2010

Luck is believing you're lucky.

I had always pictured Lady Luck as a noble elfin soul, draped in layers of white lace, blindfold across her eyes, skin of silken touch and marble pure. Her face forever formed a smile, and be it a sympathetic compression of commiseration or a joyous beam of bounty, it was always kind. Then, a few weeks ago, I decided to go back and get the last pages to drop for the last of my Warden’s legendary book traits in Lord of the Rings Online, at which point I realised that the story of Lady Luck is more akin to the loathly lady.

Some of your character’s legendary traits, which are more powerful versions of the standard traits and oftentimes class defining, are obtained by collecting a number of book pages that drop randomly from certain groups of mobs in certain zones. The long and the short of it being that I had far out-levelled those specific zones and was still missing three pages, two for one book and one for the other. Being that this was the third character I was running through this particular gauntlet, I knew where I could find the various pages, and happily it turned out that all three pages were to be found in the same zone. So I headed off to Forochel where all the mobs were twenty or so levels below my character, and I began to slaughter them wholesale. Within a few minutes I had the two pages from one book, and so knowing that I must be in a good place I continued to grind away.

And grind away. And grind away. After an hour I decided that Lady Luck might have taken her leave and was perhaps soaking her delicate frame in a steamy scented bath while the melancholic cantata of O Fortuna piped through her headphones. Regardless, she was not hearing my calling, so I logged-off for the night.

I logged-on the next day and after half an hour of grinding I began to plead with the Lady of the Luck, hoping that she might rise up out of her bath and present to me the item I desired. After ten minutes of unsuccessful wheedling to an imaginary being, I did what any sane rational person would do – I squeezed my eyes tight every time I went to loot a corpse, tried to picture the message popping up saying I’d found my magical missing page, then popped my eyes open and looted at the same time.

And do you know what?! It didn’t work, obviously.

I then resorted to the best and most infallible method: I struck up a conversation with my wife and, whilst in the midst of a fascinating debate on the merits of various fitness plans, I ‘accidentally’ looted a pre-slaughtered corpse that I just happened to have my mouse cursor poised over. Having concluded our merry discourse on Yoga vs. Pilates, I turned back to my screen and feigned shock that I had somehow looted a body in the meantime – “I wonder what loot dropped, which I happened not to see” I said loud enough to cause my wife to wonder if we were still talking about Pilates, and whether I was being quite rude.

And do you know what dropped?! Nothing, obviously.

I’d tried the three most sensible, normal options that any MMO player would consider when confronted with such a dilemma, so now it was time to get shamanistic on the situation, I had to bite the bullet, do something daft, something crazy: I went and checked the Wiki entry. Sure enough I was in the right zone for the page I required, and I was in one of the best known spots for grinding. I was buoyed by this, but not entirely convinced either, I mean, squinting my eyes closed and hoping really hard hadn’t worked after all, and ‘accidental looting’ almost always worked; unlike those trusted MMO techniques, the Wiki entry was fallible and could be wrong. I spent another half an hour grinding. And then I went mad.

The problem with randomness such as this is that you’re waiting on just one item that drops after an undetermined interval, and as evidenced by my grind thus far, sometimes that random interval is really bloody unreasonably long, all things considered. The other problem is – and this is the kicker that drives one mad – MMOs have bugs. I know, shocking revelation, but sometimes items that seem to be taking a really very long time to drop are actually bugged and are not going to drop at all. Ever. The problem is this: how does one know? HOW DOES ONE KNOW? At which point the mind goes snap ping tinkle.

So over the period of a few days of one hour sessions I went and tried a different area in the same zone. I tried different types of mobs in that zone. I went to the other major zone where the other pages usually drop – which was a bloody long trip – and spent time grinding there, just in case. Question: how long do you give yourself in these new areas though, before you give up and try somewhere else? That’s when you really go mad. I’d go to leave an area and my mind would say “Don’t stop now. What if it’s going to be the next mob here? What if?” and I’d turn around and kill the nearest mob and not get the drop. My mind would say “Perhaps that wasn’t the right mob. Perhaps you have to kill the ones that are walking around” and I’d go and kill a walking one and wouldn’t get my drop, and then I’d kill a couple more before my mind could say anything, just to shut it the hell up. So I’d finally manage to leave, and I’d go and find another place that I thought might qualify and my mind would be sulking in the background saying “That last place was better, bet you don’t get the drop this time. There, see.” and it would carry on like that until I tried to leave again, and then it’d whisper to me that maybe I should kill just one more…

Eventually I ended-up back where I started originally, having seemingly killed my way through half the forces of evil in Middle Earth, and still I didn’t have my page. My mind, obviously having an absolute blast, decided to play a new game now: “The mobs that dropped those other pages… maybe you killed those mobs at night? Wasn’t your character wearing a yellow hat when you got those other pages to drop? And a blue cloak? At the time you got those other pages the number of stacks of trash loot in your character’s bags added to the number of remaining health potions was a member of the Fibonacci sequence, that can’t be a coincidence, surely?!

And that’s when it happens in an MMO, that’s the point where your conscious mind looks across at your subconscious mind and says “Even I hate you now. Sod this, I’m going out“, and you become a grind zombie – you give up trying to second guess Lady Luck, give up trying to plead with her, give up all hope and expectation. You just resign yourself to sitting there and killing mobs until they have to peel your desiccated corpse out of the chair, your hands still involuntarily twitching out the four or so keystrokes required to rapidly kill low level mobs over and over again.

I turned to Lady Luck and handed unconditional control over to her, I was broken; I was subservient to Lady Luck – beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love her and despair! She is the one rand() to rule them all. I relaxed, I vowed to let her decide, when she was ready, when I would get my reward. A peace settled over me.

Two kills later, my page dropped.

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