I’m Such a Piker

In the midst of an interesting post about True Reincarnation in DDO and other MMOs, Psychochild says this:

TR aficionados tend to throw themselves into TRing. There’s a limitation where you can only TR once per week, and for some people that’s too restrictive. In other words, they work a character from level 1 to 20 in less than a week and have to wait before they can TR again.

[I'm really looking forward to playing a game with face-tracking, because I would totally insert a Toldain face with a WTF? look on it right here.]

I’m not sure I understand how you do that. I just don’t do anything too quickly, it seems. I never have. Well, when you have the lifespan of an elf, there’s no need to hurry, I guess.

Ok, instead of being jealous and resentful (too late!) let’s see if we can learn anything from people who do this.

I think that

  • Twinking is involved.
  • Characters with high dps work better.
  • They have a group to do things with, or don’t mind PUGs.
  • They are a lot better at dodging than I am to do this.
  • They possess a kind of metaphorical hammer which turns all dungeons into the same kind of nail.
  • They don’t spend a lot of time pondering “what shall I do next?” or negotiating with friends about what to do next.

Well, squeezing out the dead, unproductive time is a valuable life skill. But schmoozing with friends is priceless.

Fabulous Red Hair is not a Game Mechanic, Either

Raph Koster has a post up that seems to explain why I like DDO so much compared to other games. Provided you squint at it a little bit, and relabel some of the nodes. It’s called “Narrative is not a Game Mechanic”.

He develops a picture language that has yellow circles as user inputs, black boxes to represent the ‘black box’ of game mechanics, and blue squares to represent feedback. All of these are necessary to have a game:

Cut the input, and you have a screensaver.
Cut the problem inside the black box, and you have a slideshow.
Cut the feedback, and you have something ridiculously confusing that no one will tolerate.

You can diagram the structure of a game thusly, with the size of the boxes representing the complexity or weight of the components. Here’s a sample.

Feedback can take the form of narrative action: point the camera at a window and press A and you get a fast cutscene of Batman gliding off the rooftop just ahead of the explosion! That’s a small input, a small black box, and a big feedback.

Raph points out that this leads to a problem: The narrative cutscene gets old pretty fast. You’ve seen it before. Due to a well known process known as “hedonic adaptation” fun things lose some of their fun through repetition. (Or is that systematic desensitization?)

Ok, most of the MMO’s I’ve played don’t rely all that heavily on narrative feedback. Yeah, there’s some cutscenes, and a nice death animation, but the big feedback comes in the loot. And I think that has the same problem, if a bit slower. What turned me off of EQ2 was exactly this: Going into an instance with a group had absolutely zero focus on the black box. The inputs were well determined and done as quickly as possible to get the loot. But the loot was random, so mostly you didn’t get the loot that you wanted (How many times did I do Vault of Eternal Slumber, never to get Praetor’s Guard?)

The simple terminology for this is “I hate grinding”.

Ok, so most of the instances I run in DDO don’t drop anything I actually upgrade to. But they are interesting. One reason for this is that the game system itself is interesting. And that’s true because it’s D&D. It was developed to be interesting on the tabletop, where there is no cinematic cutscenes. Although there is, to be fair, loot. Well, at least sometimes. My daughter’s game is notoriously lean on the loot.

We get rewards: success. Sometimes its obvious what to do, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes (in DDO) we have to try again, or snatch things back from the Precipice of Wipe. That’s just darn fun when you can pull that off.

Granted there is also the more visceral, media-based feedback: Holding a dance contest in the middle of the dungeon to see which demon is the best dancer ranks right up there. It’s just fun to see them dancing when Karayasama uses Otto’s (Theoretically) Resistable Dance. It’s also fun to see which outfits show off the fabulous red hair to best advantage. But those sorts of things existed in EQ2, as well. They probably aren’t quite enough to drive continuing subscription on their own, and they aren’t game mechanics.

The striking thing to me is that as black boxes go, DDO isn’t very black at all, maybe 18% neutral gray. At least to me, the D&D mechanics are second nature and public. There is a die roll, but that’s the only element that is unpredictable. Everything else is based on mechanics from the tabletop RPG, where how everything works is spelled out.

Yet, it’s still fun. Interest comes from not knowing what the mobs will do, and not knowing whether your spells or swings will miss, hit, or crit. Reacting in the moment is the joy.

The past few Mondays, Karayasama, Johnson (the cleric) and Marty (my tank with thief tendencies), have been running instances in Sentinels of Stormreach. And we have been tearing them up on Normal difficulty. Maybe it’s time to move to Hard? Our ease surprises me a bit. Different groups have had more difficulty with these instances, particularly the Bazaar. (Remember how I mentioned the Precipice of Wipe?). We blasted through it. Not that it wasn’t complex, it was just that we handled it.

Does this mean we’re going to get bored with DDO and stop playing? Well, it might. We play a lot less. Karaya is playing SWTOR now, and I’m stuck on Skyrim. I’m not sure what Phritz is doing, and Lobilya is playing Skyrim, too.

Where Rage and Zen Coexist

Rita, aka Karaya, in a comment on my last post:

I definitely agree with your assessment that I work in that rage-to-master realm. Though I think there are two sides to that coin, and you and I each represent a side. This is really just an amusing brain-tangent; obviously the world isn’t so categorical as this mental construct:

When I used to play Soul Calibur games all night with my friends, two of us were clearly the best players: Foley and me. For those who don’t know, Soul Calibur is a console fighting game series, like Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat (Though far superior to either, imo). I was unequivocally regarded as the best player in the group – the one to beat. But once I got into my groove, Foley still had a chance of beating me in any given fight. He was the only one. And everyone else pretty much dreaded having to play either one of us.

There’s a huge psychological component to SC when you know your opponent as well as my friends know each other. You really get insight into the way that person thinks in a high-pressure, fast-paced contest over the course of milliseconds. You develop an instinct for anticipating her/his next move. Not to mention, we played so much of that game that our respective characters became extensions of our own limbs, really. So it was all about the mental game.

Now, as the night went on and we played battle after battle against each other, we’d get warmed up and start thinking and reacting faster. And faster still, to keep up with each other.

At our peaks – in our grooves, if you will – we each had a distinct method of mental processing.

Foley’s method we called “Synapses”, following a battle during which he commented that his “synapses [had] to fire faster to keep up!” His processing during our battles would take place consciously. He had to focus on my movements and keep his knowledge of my idiosyncrasies in mind, and make constant active decisions to counter my actions.

My method we called “Zen”. Once I got in my groove, my processing mostly seemed to take place subconsciously. In fact, at times I had to be careful not to actually focus on anything, as I’d risk “thinking too much”. I would tend to stare *through* the screen and watch both our characters in my peripheral vision. I would act and react instinctively.

Somehow I see a bit of a parallel when I compare you and me in the role of MMO enchanter. And I think it’s most visible in DDO, illustrated by our choices of Wizard and Sorcerer, respectively.

You tend to study the situation at hand and try to consciously choose your tools and strategies to match it. When you fail, your reaction tends to be “I brought the wrong tools” or “I had the wrong plan”, and you adjust accordingly.

I go into a situation with the same set of tools every time and no real plan. Because my tools (spells) are always the same, they’re practically extensions of my body. I don’t do much planning ’cause I hold myself to the standard that my skill should be sharp enough to handle any situation on the fly. When I fail, my reaction is “This is a worthy foe” or “My skill is lacking and must be honed further”.

So in our approach to the spider cave, I see you focusing on the spawn cycles, the wandering patterns, the placement of mobs in that particular situation. Then you consider your tools and draw up an over-arching strategy (subject to adjustment, of course).

I, on the other hand, focus on my reaction time, my awareness, my instinctive understanding of myself and the fundamental mechanics of the game. In my mind, if those items are sharp enough, I will be victorious.

Now regardless of where each of us *focuses*, obviously there is overlap in our experiences. And both of us failed many times and then eventually succeeded. It’s just interesting to consider the contrast of styles between the two high elf enchanters of Glory ;)

The difference she describes is real. I’ve played Soulcalibur a bit. Mostly I played Xiang Wa. I would never try to beat anyone with speed and reaction time, but rather with “timing” or what is called “meiei” in many martial arts. I would look for “gaps” or opportunities and hit them.

This involves some cognition. But it needs to go down into the “fast path” of the brain to execute. So I wouldn’t make too much of the differences, we’re more the same than different.

The graphic at the top is the Zen Mistress’ keyboard layout for DDO, which she shared with me a little while ago, as described for her cleric. It is wildly remapped from the “out of the box” layout. I adapted this for my DDO characters, and it’s starting to work, though it’s a strange position to have my hands in relative to the keyboard.

I Didn’t Start the Fire, But She Stood In It, Asking For Healing

Our Monday night group started Ruins of Threnal this week. The group we had rocked the first half hard. In attendance were Marty (Officially Martinier dePasolai) Fighter 5/Rogue 5 – Plate tank and backup sneaker. Lobilya, Rogue 8 (or 9, I forget). Karayasama, sorceress 12(?) and dance queen, and Worstof, Ranger 9ish, he with heavy repeating crossbow.

Anyway, the dps laid down was amazing to me. I had run this before with Toldain, Jonnson (a cleric 9), and Vironet (Ranger 9). Our only real dps was Vironet, except when Tolly steps in with a lightning bolt or something. The difference was startling. Karayasama did not bother charming anything, stuff died too quickly. She did however, infect many an outsider with disco fever.

Flesh reavers, by the way, look ridiculous when they dance. Gargoyles, on the other hand, are pretty decent dancers, the wings really add that extra something. I really want to see a beholder dancing now, though that would mean someone would have to get within melee range of one, which could be a problem. The best way we’ve found to kill beholders is to hide behind a rock while Vironet does the “pop up and shoot” thing.

But there are no beholders in the first half of Threnal. Lots of stuff that died really fast and hard. I’m not really sure why that is, but everything was working that night. I think our focus and coordination was better, and we were more patient. Lobilya would sneak in the vanguard, about 10 yards ahead of me (as Marty). She’s spot something, call it out, and we’d stop and let them come to us.

The first one in would typically try to rush past me at the “weak underbelly”. I’m guessing it didn’t like all those bolts that Worstof was throwing at it. (I think he probably used up 2000 bolts on the evening). I would trip it, and as often as not, it would fall on its face, at which point I (and sometimes Lobilya) would hack it to little bits. Sometimes it would start dancing. Either way, it was clumsy. Once in a while, it would fall down, and then immediately spring up dancing. Karayasama is apparently the equivalent of Gene Kelly singing “Gotta dance!”

We had two cleric hirelings along. Mine was Marissa, I think her name is. After fighting our way through some rough caves, there is a section that looks more like a dwelling place, with smooth walls and grates on the floor at intersections. Grates that shoot fire out of them every so often.

Now, most people have enough sense to stop doing something that hurts. Not Marissa. She would stand on the grate in the fire, taking damage, and she would say, “I’m going to need healing soon.”

Never mind that “you are the healer!” Get out of the fire, for Marr’s sake!

The issues with hirelings haven’t gone away, and honestly, this particular problem wasn’t recently introduced, it’s always been there. AI is hard. Once I attended a talk where Ed Feigenbaum, then the chairman of the Stanford Computer Science Department claimed that in five years, there would be no more need for programmers because AI would take care of anything.

That was in roughly 1982. AI is hard, harder than you think. Even if you think it’s hard.

I wish Psychochild all the luck in the world. We need better AIs in gaming. I would like hirelings with enough sense to get out of the fire that is killing them, and to heal themselves rather than asking for healing. It might well be that user-created AI’s are the way to go, and that’s what Storybricks is meant to support.

I’ve played one Final Fantasy game, I think it was 11 or maybe 12. Anyway, you could program AI’s for your group of characters. There was a prioritized list of “if-then” rules. All of the form “If is true then perform on

As you progressed in the game, you got the ability to get more interesting and useful conditions and targets. Actions were typically actions that you could do by hand, switching to that character and doing it by hand.

I like this. I haven’t seen much followup, but I haven’t played subsequent FF games (It was a bit too grindy for me). It suits the programmer that I am quite well. But most people aren’t programmers, so I don’t know if there’s much popular acceptance.

However, imagine if I could make a similar AI for my DDO healer hireling and share it with others, even sell it for in-game currency? It relieves the gamedevs of trying to do it, and gives me a source of ingame income. I’m all over that.

Just be sure to give me a “dance” action I can put into the AI.

I Came Here To Be Podkilled: Ataraxia’s Kingdom Edition

Ok, ok, there aren’t any pods in DDO. I didn’t get podkilled. I did get TPK’ed, though. Wiped, if you will. “PK” could stand for “player kill” or “pod kill”, after all.

This happened last week, in Ataraxia’s Kingdom. And in the spirit of ICHTBPK, I resolved to blog about failure, just so that you, dear reader, will get some fun out of my misery.

It happened last week. Yours truly, he of fabulous crimson follicles; Lobilya, trap-mechanic and general back-stabber, Cheeves, a Paladin 6/Rogue 3/Confused lots, and Vironet, Ranger 9.

It didn’t end well. It didn’t even start well. Our hirelings (level 9 clerics), were very aggressive and pulled too many mobs. And at other times, they would go inactive and do nothing until given a command, even though they were set to “guard” or so on. Summoned creatures were similar. This was the overland zone in Ataraxia’s Haven, before we ever got to the dungeon. We also had a kind of “scatter in many directions” issue, and a few deaths. I learned, much to my irritation that in spite of being called “Wildmen”, they aren’t, in fact Persons, and are not susceptible to Charm Person. Charm Monster wasn’t working all that great, either.

The Duergar also swarmed us, but at least they could be charmed. However, I was somewhat slow to target and cast, that didn’t help. But we struggled by, helped enormously by having cleric hirelings who could raise dead, and finally made it to the dungeon.

The first part consisted mostly of killing Scrags, a kind of sea troll. That wasn’t too bad, but I was running very low of spell points. We had decided to do the dungeon on hard. After all, someone (Vironet?) had done it before, and thought it wasn’t too bad. I ran very low of spell points. There was only one rest shrine in the zone, and it being Hard, I could only use it once.

But we managed the Scrags, and we managed to get the two keys that would get us into the lighthouse to where Ataraxia was being held prisoner. That’s when the truly horrible stuff happened. In the next room, we got swarmed by Duergar. Including a named. I charmed several of them, but had trouble picking out the enemies from the friends in the melee. It didn’t help that several of them both had very good sneaking ability, and a very good ability to see through our invisibilty/sneak/etc.

Vironet started backing off and kiting a Duergar Assassin, or so she thought. To me, she was kiting the named. Unfortunately, the named caught up to her and offed her, then went snuck. We had a discussion:

Me: “Did that named get you?”
Her: “I wasn’t kiting the named, it was an assassin.”
Me: “The named ran right past me after you.”
Her: “I never saw him.”

So, we were all dead, but some of us were close to the rez shrine. Like me. I rezzed my cleric hireling. I made myself invisible, then went to look for Vironet. Something like the following happened. I told the cleric to rez her, and an assassin materialized, saw through my invis, and one-shotted me with a backstab. I’m dead now, out of reach of the rez shrine. Vironet gets raised and the named appears in similar fashion and offs her, I don’t think it was a one-shot, nobody is quite as wimpy as Elf of Paper. Quoth she, “Oh, there’s the named.”

Now we’re all dead, and too far from the rez shrine. So we declare a wipe and recall. A short break and we want to try again. This time on Normal difficulty.

It isn’t quite a replay, we get a little farther. In fact, we wiped when we entered the final room, had the door close behind us, and get swarmed by Duergar, including many Flamestrikes.

Ok, the mood of the group is getting a little sour. So we look for something else. Cheeves says, “Hey there’s a quest we can do in the Harbor, something about outsiders invading. It’s way over our head. Beholders are everywhere. Ice Flensers and Blood Reavers, too.

There were some fun aspects to it. Opening the first door, a troop of Fiendish Kobolds comes running down the hall at us, turns and runs through the door and disappears. They had no concern for us, they were fleeing in terror. My reaction was, “Dangit I can’t target them, dang, dang, dang, HEY! Hahahahaha!”

The other fun bit is getting shot at repeatedly by Beholder eye-beams that had NO EFFECT ON ME WHATSOEVER! Muahahaha! I had my saves buffed, and my Deathblock robe on, and was bouncing around getting shot at repeatedly while others were actually shooting it. It all ended in tears, though, when I rolled a 1 or something on my save and was disintegrated. (By the way, I dinged 11 last night and can cast disintegrate now. And I’m just itching for some payback!) We mostly ended up dead and watching Vironet kite things around until one of the dungeon’s tricks spawned a crowd that she couldn’t manage on her own. Third wipe of the evening.

I won’t say we were undaunted, there was some serious daunting going on. But we wanted a win now, pretty bad. And we got it by doing The Church and the Cult in House Phiarlan. We investigated the Temple of Vol, and discovered a horror at the end, a vampire! Our battle with him was epic, he’d turn into bats and disappear for a while, and then reappear elsewhere. He also blinded me. But it didn’t matter, I could tab target him and shoot him anyway.

My biggest damage spell is Lightning Bolt. I have a hat that increases it’s damage by 40%, and it usually hits for about 70. Unfortunately, Adran ir’Karsmore (the vampire) has rogue levels and Improved Evasion, and even when he failed to evade, he has some giant damage resistance, so even when I hit him, I did maybe 10 points of damage. So I went with the tried and true standby – Magic Missile. That did a little better. But we got him, and our feelings were saved, if not our honor.

*************

This week we redid the Ataraxia quest and were successful. But the party composition changed. Cheeves swapped out for Jonnson, Cleric 9. And we added Special Guest Star Jaliera, red-headed high elf Paladin 8. (She looks so much like me, you’d almost think we’re related or something.) And we rocked it. I did much better targeting and charming, etc, because I’m using a new keyboard setup. More on that in a later post.

The main difference was control of engagement. We did much better at letting mobs come to us. With one fewer hireling and a person doing healing, we were much more solid on that front. So, we rocked the joint, freed Ataraxia, and then climbed to the top of the lighthouse to enjoy the spectacular view of the island, and do a little victory dance. Later, we did the other dungeon in Ataraxia’s Haven, with similar success. What a difference a week makes.

Haywire Disco!

This week our instance group took on Haywire Foundry, the last normal quest of Vault of Night.

The usual suspects were there again from last week – my fighter/thief Marty, the thief thief Lobilya Sackfill, Mr. “Have reapeating heavy crossbow, will travel” Worstof, and the incomparable Karayasama.

Karayasama’s usual sorcerous tricks had be modified this week since the Haywire foundry has almost nothing that qualifies as a “person”, being populated mostly by warforged, and mechanical dogs, in this mithril defenders. With the occasional ooze and elemental. So “charm person” and “dominate person” are out.

Instead, we had an attack of dance fever. More than once, we’d get 15-20 seconds into a combat and all the warforged attacking us would be dancing. I believe this is an application of Otto’s Resistable Dance, but it seemed pretty irresistable when Karayasama was playing the tune. Do you know how easy it is to beat the crap out of someone who is doing a fairly awkward version of “The Twist”.

But the warforged got their licks in. A couple of times, it seems that I felt tired, and just took a little nap, right there on the foundry floor. Mmmm, that felt good. Do you suppose those mutterings and gestures that warforged was making had anything to do it. I sure felt tired.

Nevertheless we got deep into the foundry without too much trouble. We defeated the three iron golems (with mithril defender companions) in the locked puzzle chamber by kiting them around and slowly eliminating them. Given that we are about level 9 now, there were a few deaths, but they weren’t really a problem.

But then there’s the destruct button.

Once you hit this sucker, it’s hell-for-leather to the exit. Well, the real problem is, it’s not actually to the exit, though it’s near the exit. So you can’t use Dimension Door to solve this problem. Such a pity…

No, you have to climb up pipes over lava, fend off maybe 20 Mithril Defenders, run down corridors, not fall into the collapsing pit and make it through the blast door before it closes. I did not make it. I was the first to climb up the pipes, but I waited there for the others, when I should have been tanking and killing a few mithril defenders to clear the way some. But I first waited, and then ran through them. Their damage plus the traps I hit did me in about 2/3rds of the way through.

Lobilya had a floor collapse into a pit of lava beneath her. She could perch on a rock, but the “Grease” spewed by the Mithril Defenders meant that she kept slipping off of it into the lava and taking damage. She died.

Worstof was slower than me, but made it through to the blast doors. Which had already closed. Either because of time, or because Karayasama had gone through them already. When the countdown expired, he died.

Karayasama made it through the blast doors, but got singed by all the fire elementals that spawn during the explosion. Her pet was able to eventually kill them all. But we were all dead, and with no rez shrine nearby. Cleric hirelings had succumbed, too.

Now as it turns out, the final chamber, where Karayasama had died was in the same large chamber that we entered through, after fighting an earth elemental and a couple of fire elementals. To finish the dungeon, you must cross this room on a high catwalk and grab an item in a small room.

So, this is what we did: Lobiliya recalled, and hired a level 9 cleric. Worstof dismissed his to make room. Lobilya re-enters and goes to the big chamber below where Karayasama’s ghost is. Karayasama drops down (in ghost form, you get feather fall for free, what’s going to happen? You might die?) and gets Raise Dead cast on her. But Karayasama does not confirm the rez until she is pulled back to her soulstone – up high above the chamber. Then the rez is in, the item is grabbed and the dungeon is completed.

Now that’s winning ugly.

We don’t really have enough people to do the raid that comes next, so this was probably the last we’ll see of Vault of Night for a while. Though Lobilya suggested that if we each bring a hireling that will be 8 characters … Maybe with a few more? (I have no idea what raid content is like in DDO).

Next we’ll probably start on Ataraxia’s Haven.

How Do You Spell Death? B-E-H-O-L-D-E-R

Monday we challenged the third adventure in the Vault of Night series in DDO. I was playing Martinier de Pasolai. Marty is a split fighter/thief who first started out as a character in the obscure tabletop system known as Throwing Stones. That game represented your character as dice. Each side had one of three colors – red, silver or gold. Each color was worth one point in a stat – Strength, Dexterity, and Intelligence. The idea behind Marty was that he was a melee fighter but his stats were balanced. I started with four dice, one each of a highly imbalanced and one balanced. So I had the same score in all my stats. Intelligence was used for initiative, so he had good initiative. After that, when I leveled up by gaining a new stone, I only added dice that had two sides of each color.

So he had a bit of rogue and even bard (mostly just persuasion) in him. I was surprised to find that, in that system, he was really good at counterattacking, and knocking people to the ground or disarming him. A typical fight would go thus: Marty would hold off three guys, Patrick (a caster) would befuddle, paralyze, or otherwise drop other opponents into a pit, and Lucy would charge around the battlefield, leaving grease spots behind her.

Often, when those three guys attacked Marty, they would all fall down. This was fun. But Marty’s personality was fun, too. He was a “gladiator” – think professional wrestling done with armor in an arena. Some of the fights were fixed and Marty was the guy to “make sure the public had a good time and didn’t cotton on to the idea that the outcome was, er, predetermined”

Anyway, this doesn’t translate to D&D or consequently DDO very well, but I have gone with – highish INT and CHA, split fighter/thief (5/5 after last nights ding!) . In DDO he is a trap mechanic with no spot whatsoever, and is good with Bluff (bluff pulling rocks!) He has Combat Expertise, which he loves, and Improved Trip, which he also loves, and Improved Feint, which seems less useful.

Also, he’s dabbling in Use Magic Device, and he has the Least Dragonmark of Finding. So he often picks up wands in dungeons that he can use.

All of this stuff is probably way off the “power curve”. He has very low hit points for a plate tank of his level, for example. If he was keeping and holding aggro, the sneak attack dice he gets wouldn’t be as useful. However, it is all to frequently the case in DDO that whatever target “cannot be influenced”. Say, all undead, for starters.

But Marty has multiple “attack modes”, and this came in useful last night, as we were doing The Jungle of Khyber, quest 3 in the Vault of Night series. With Marty were Karayasama (she who dominates), Lobilya, halfling thief, and Worstof, Phritz’ ranger (he of the repeating heavy crossbow).

The Jungle of Khyber isn’t a jungle at all, but a cave (the opening to it is in a jungle, though!). Our mission is to track down, and rescue Veil, a drow rogue who is being pursued by a construct from the plane of Law, an Inevitable. Last week, we wiped when we pulled too many of the drow at once. This is a problem the encounter intends to give you, as the drow wander around a lot, and the archers among them love to retreat back up the corridor, leaving you to chase them or be filled full of holes. Meanwhile their casters will drop Flamestrikes on you.

But we got through that stuff this week, with a little more care, a little more caution and some better firepower. Marty is very effective against casters, but he has to go into “caster mode”. He switches out his normal +2 adamantine plate for some studded leather with spell resistance. He sneaks up on said caster, trips him with a sneak attack, and proceeds to beat him mercilessly (sneak attack damage applies while they are prone!). This works pretty well. Also, I get my evasion, so some of their area attacks miss me altogether.

The next area brought us beholders. Ugh. We see a beholder up ahead, buff up and I charge. I engage it, but I’m dropped by a disintegrate thrown by the SECOND beholder who was down a side passage. Karayasama gets one of the beholders charmed, and it kills the other one. Since we have ninth level cleric hirelings along, I am rezzed and all’s right with the world. With the help of a minor globe of invulnerability, we circle the remaining beholder and drop it quickly when the charm comes off.

We manage the beholders in the next cavern pretty well, mostly by “popup” missile fire. My cleric hireling threw in a flame strike or two for good measure.

After that there were more drow, and those were pretty much ok as we avoided the worst of the swarming. Next is a giant chamber with a waterfall and a high cave with extra mobs and experience. I missed the jump to the extra stuff so stood below and watched as my comrades first killed one mob, then got slagged by the other. Fortunately they were able to get rezzes even as I had to take an paniced phone call from my daughter who is college regarding finances. It seems her first of the month deposit hadn’t showed up yet.

Five minutes later, we take a ride on a geyser and fight some more drow, and I get another phone call from said daughter to the effect of “never mind, the money just showed up.” Evidently, these things post at 11pm PDT.

The penultimate chamber (sadly, there’s really no way to score “penultimate” Words With Friends, is there?) is a killer. There’s a main chamber with a few drow guarding it. No problem, right? There’s a small room to the right with a rez/rest shrine. Onward, to the left is a door, behind which and around a corner lie three nameds: a drow caster, a troll, and a beholder.

The caster was easy. I bluff pulled him ran back around the corner to the main chamber. He chased me, fired a lighting bolt which seems to have missed everyone, and died to our combined fire.

The rest was not so easy. I attempted a bluff pull of the troll, but the beholder joined him. What ensued was 2-3 minutes of chaos as we battled the beholder and troll, died and rezzed at the shrine to do battle again. Sometimes the deaths were immediate. One time, I was hit for 200 points of damage, which I presume was from a Disintegrate. Under tabletop rules, we calculated that this meant that the caster level of that beholder was at least 17th. Or else there’s some kind of spell critical hit rule. This little intermezzo often resulted in the beholder sitting in the room with the rez shrine. Bad, but we managed to get him a little farther away.

The action hit a pause when we were mostly all dead and wondering what to do. Lobilya was back in the chamber where the nameds had started, at negative hit points. But the troll had followed her. We thought he might be camping her, but when she hit -10 and died for real, he didn’t move. So we had managed to split the two of them, after all.

Ok, we can get this now. We all rezzed and mobbed the beholder, who went down – after dealing out just a few more fingers of death, negative levels, and disintegrates. We then waited for all the death debuffs to expire. I had six, I think. For a minute after you rez at a rez shrine, you lose a “level” – hit points, and base attack bonus and saves, mostly. These don’t count concurrently, so I waited 6 minutes as each one expired and my hit point total slowly climbed back up to its normal, anemic (for a plate tank) level.

Then we fought the troll, who was also pretty easy by himself.

After that, The Inevitable was anti-climactic. Some of us had done it before, and knew enough to bring weapons that could actually damage him. I tried to hold him in his starting room with a shield wall, but after pausing briefly, he squeezed around me and started chasing … someone. Probably Karayasama. We kited him. Nobody died, I think. At one point he turned on my cleric hireling, who did not have the sense to run away and kite him. He hit her with some kind of area effect stun where he hit the ground. But she didn’t go down and he soon got bored and went back to chasing someone else. Meanwhile we are chipping away at him getting “glancing blows” often. Since he ignored me (Intimidate does not appear to influence him). I turned my Combat Expertise off, and just chased him like a wild man, poking him with my brand new +1 Anarchic Rapier.

Eventually he fell, and we gave a cheer, and logged off. It’s a long dungeon.

Martinier de Pasolai

Monday we challenged the third adventure in the Vault of Night series in DDO. I was playing Martinier de Pasolai. Marty is a split fighter/thief who first started out as a character in the obscure tabletop system known as Throwing Stones. That game represented your character as dice. Each side had one of three colors – red, silver or gold. Each color was worth one point in a stat – Strength, Dexterity, and Intelligence. The idea behind Marty was that he was a melee fighter but his stats were balanced. I started with four dice, one each of a highly imbalanced and one balanced. So I had the same score in all my stats. Intelligence was used for initiative, so he had good initiative. After that, when I leveled up by gaining a new stone, I only added dice that had two sides of each color.

So he had a bit of rogue and even bard (mostly just persuasion) in him. I was surprised to find that, in that system, he was really good at counterattacking, and knocking people to the ground or disarming him. A typical fight would go thus: Marty would hold off three guys, Patrick (a caster) would befuddle, paralyze, or otherwise drop other opponents into a pit, and Lucy would charge around the battlefield, leaving grease spots behind her.

Often, when those three guys attacked Marty, they would all fall down. This was fun. But Marty’s personality was fun, too. He was a “gladiator” – think professional wrestling done with armor in an arena. Some of the fights were fixed and Marty was the guy to “make sure the public had a good time and didn’t cotton on to the idea that the outcome was, er, predetermined”

Anyway, this doesn’t translate to D&D or consequently DDO very well, but I have gone with – highish INT and CHA, split fighter/thief (5/5 after last nights ding!) . In DDO he is a trap mechanic with no spot whatsoever, and is good with Bluff (bluff pulling rocks!) He has Combat Expertise, which he loves, and Improved Trip, which he also loves, and Improved Feint, which seems less useful.

Also, he’s dabbling in Use Magic Device, and he has the Least Dragonmark of Finding. So he often picks up wands in dungeons that he can use.

All of this stuff is probably way off the “power curve”. He has very low hit points for a plate tank of his level, for example. If he was keeping and holding aggro, the sneak attack dice he gets wouldn’t be as useful. However, it is all to frequently the case in DDO that whatever target “cannot be influenced”. Say, all undead, for starters.

But Marty has multiple “attack modes”, and this came in useful last night, as we were doing The Jungle of Khyber, quest 3 in the Vault of Night series. With Marty were Karayasama, she who dominates, Lobilya, halfling thief, and Worstof, Phritz’ ranger (he of the repeating heavy crossbow).

The Jungle of Khyber isn’t a jungle at all, but a cave (the opening to it is in a jungle, though!). Our mission is to track down, and rescue Veil, a drow rogue who is being pursued by a construct from the plane of Law, an Inevitable. Last week, we wiped when we pulled too many of the drow at once. This is a problem the encounter intends to give you, as the drow wander around a lot, and the archers among them love to retreat back up the corridor, leaving you to chase them or be filled full of holes. Meanwhile their casters will drop Flamestrikes on you.

But we got through that stuff this week, with a little more care, a little more caution and some better firepower. Marty is very effective against casters, but he has to go into “caster mode”. He switches out his normal +2 adamantine plate for some studded leather with spell resistance. He sneaks up on said caster, trips him with a sneak attack, and proceeds to beat him mercilessly (sneak attack damage applies while they are prone!). This works pretty well. Also, I get my evasion, so some of their area attacks miss me altogether.

The next area brought us beholders. Ugh. We see a beholder up ahead, buff up and I charge. I engage it, but I’m dropped by a disintegrate thrown by the SECOND beholder who was down a side passage. Karayasama gets one of the beholders charmed, and it kills the other one. Since we have ninth level cleric hirelings along, I am rezzed and all’s right with the world. With the help of a minor globe of invulnerability, we circle the remaining beholder and drop it quickly when the charm comes off.

Karaya Rocks – Team of One Edition

I got this message on Facebook from Karaya, detailing how she swapped out her three levels of Rogue for Sorceror levels. (We’re talking DDO here) She’s Sorceror 11 now:

So I lesser reincarnated Karaya today. She has Dominate Person now, along with a plethora of other new tricks.

We did the Ruined Halls in Kundarak as a test run of my new powers. And by “we”, I mean Anvil, Bearded Devil, Hobgoblin Cleric, Hobgoblin Infiltrator, Trogolodyte Warlock and me. Quite the pickup group, no?

Last night she described to us a bit of how she sets up her hotkeys. For example “Tab targeting” isn’t on the Tab key any more, but on the numeric keypad. I assume other powers are nearby as well, moved from the QWERTY number keys to the numeric keypad, so that one hand can drive and the other can target and cast.

The Xorian is Deciphered

Last night we tackled a DDO quest called The Xorian Cipher. It’s described as level 8, very long, and extreme challenge. We played it on Normal difficulty.

In attendance were Karayasama (Sorcerer 7, Thief 3), Profundo (Bard 9, played by Phritz), Thio (Fighter 6 or 7, played by Lobilya), and your favorite 3000-year old (Wizard level 10). I brought along Tower, a level 8 fighter hireling, and Profundo brought a level 9 cleric hireling to fill out the group. Tower is warforged, so I can heal him, and I’ve focused some enhancements and gear on doing that well. Profundo’s healer gave us the ability to raise dead during the heat of battle. This was quite useful.

I died a lot. In this dungeon there are maybe a dozen rifts, which spawn these strange black glowing energy globes. They wander around aimlessly, and if they touch you they cast a random spell on you. And I do mean random. We got Bull’s Strength, Enfeeblement, giant heals, Polar Rays for 100 hit points (that was one death for me), and Stone to Flesh (another one, after something else beat the crap out of me).

There are runes near each rift that allow you to close it, activated by either high Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma. We had all three available. But finding the runes and getting them turned off while there are cultists and undead chasing you isn’t the easiest.

The craziest fight came late in the dungeon where we were forced to split up, standing on each of four pedestals to proceed further. Karayasama and I went one way, and Profundo and Thio the other. Karayasama and I managed to clear through a couple of encounters without too much trouble – making a few opponents switch sides at the beginning of battle can do that – and found ourselves in a high arched opening overlooking a giant hall with skeletal archers, a rift, and four named undead who shot lightning bolts.

Profundo and Thio had made it to this hall and were having serious trouble. Thio dropped early. Profundo had survived, with the help of his healer. I summoned my teleporting devil, hoping he would jump down and join in. But he was reluctant. I stood in the doorway as close to the edge as I could, trying to get him to engage. The archers evidently had arrows that did a sonic with a stun, or one of the nameds could do that. I stood there like a fool while they drilled me. Well, I stood there like a fool before that, too, but never mind. I died and the demon did not engage. Quoth Karayasama, “Tolly, you have to dodge in and out, don’t just stand there!”

Now that I’m dead, I jump down into the chamber and order Tower to engage. He’s doing ok, but he can’t manage by himself and eventually he dies.

Ok, things are bad. I think at some point maybe Karayasama got tagged too, I’m not really sure. But it turns out that down a long hall leading from the big chamber is a rest shrine and a rez shrine. The first time I try it, I am tantalizingly close, the cursor even changes to the correct icon, but I’m recalled to my soul stone before I can click. The next two tries are not as close. The fourth time I make it, and my hair is once again red and fabulous. (Rezzing is great for split ends!) I rest and recharge all my mana, too. I call Tower back and he rezzes. I get another summoned creature (another devil, in fact). Profundo, I think has stayed alive, or rezzed himself. We push back down the hallway, killing skeletons, but avoiding the nameds. I grabbed someone’s stone, maybe Karayasama’s and run it back to the shrine. Profundo grabs the other one.

We’re all back in the game, and I start putting up electrical resistance and protection. Which is good because the nameds have decided to chase us into the shrine area. But the resistances are enough to turn the tide and we prevail. However, the orbs from the rift claim another victim – Thio – and we pause to turn off the rift before we recover Thio’s soulstone.

When the dungeon is cleared there is jubilation. That was sloppy, to be sure, but we pulled it out, turning what seemed to be disaster into success, though success with a high repair bill.

The last fight went easier, though I died due to stupidly throwing multiple lightning bolts at the named hellhound right from the start. Doh! Fortunately nobody else was so stupid, the hireling raised me, and we grabbed the loot and did a victory dance!

This is how I like to dungeon. I don’t demand that stuff be completely fresh – Karayasama had done part of the dungeon before, and helped us speed things along. But it’s the polar opposite of what running instances in EQ2 had become: Pull all the mobs in the room and burn them down. No real danger or risk. Any puzzles or lore are completed by someone else that had done the instance dozens of times before I can even read them.

I understand the mentality, and if I had ground through an instance a dozen times or more, I’d be in a hurry. Because I would be farming them for drops or points or whatever, and feeling impatient. But I don’t play D&D or RPG’s to farm, I play them for adventure. Running something for the fiftieth time and concentrating on efficiency is kind of the opposite of adventure.

Not that there isn’t a place for that. That’s more the realm of economic/strategy gameplay. Such as mission-running or ratting in EVE. Of course you’re repeating it, the mission itself isn’t the adventure.