Realms of Despair – Tricking you into learning for over 25 years …

Well, you think that all you’d need to do is open up Rodpedia and follow the blocks on the pictures along until you got where you were going. Who knew that you should stop at each one of those blocks and read that spam that has been scrolling past?

I think we’re all guilty of it at some point. The author aside, is anyone willing to confess that they’ve read every room in the Forgotten Woods? Ok, ok, well you’re exceptional, I on the other hand have been known the odd time to look at the pretty picture and move my butt from A to B with config +brief on.

Back at Christmas we held a quest in Ringbearers. 12 actually. The 12 Quests of Christmas. We picked items for people to go get that would help them build up their skills and maybe help take away some of the apprehension of trying something new. I really enjoyed it and I think it went over well, the feedback was pretty good.

For some of our guys it kindled a desire to get a new hat for their vampires. It turns out that scrapping black brimmed hats or barrik’s helmets wasn’t their idea of a great time. Sure, we could have gone after the Devil but instead we sought out the elusive Maniacal Tendencies. Which is what you need to earn one, so well named!

If you ever spent time talking with Sylphain about Lascivias’ areas at some point the conversation turns to Sesuad’ra Rift. I don’t know if anyone has ever completely solved that area or if Sylphain was over analyzing things but there is definitely an intricacy to the area and its relationship with other Lascivias areas, notably Abishai’s Morgue.

What do the two thoughts have to do with each other? If I’m recalling things correctly, around the time of the Shattering Lascivias was working on the overhaul of the Underworld. For reasons completely unknown she was unable to finish it and Selina and Kinux stepped up and worked on completing it.

There is a very intricate story tangled into the area with one seemingly glaring problem. While most of the area is the Greek underworld, Satan is the ruler of the area. To be fair while the area is called the underworld Satan’s domains are referred to as Upper and Lower Hell. Within the Realms of Despair things have been reimagined … I suppose using Tartarus might have worked but for whatever creative decision it was not. This isn’t a criticism, just an observation.

Satan is re-imagined as female and wears a Corselette of the Furies. The help file weaves together the story of this Underworld with Olympus, who sent the Furies to discover if Hell had been cut off from the Realms or not. Once reporting on the discovery of an entry way to the Lower reaches through Sesuad’ra Rift. Then they disappeared. The help file warns that Hell has no fury like a woman scorned. One question to ask is which woman has been scorned and by whom.

In playing through the area you will be confronted with many puzzles. In trying to find clues to the next steps you might, as I have done, read ancient plays about Athena and Apollo and the stories of Orestes. You might think about the Underworld in Olympus, more properly called Hades, and wonder about the stories of the gods presented there. You might spend hours with friends pouring over room descriptions, making lists of keywords to try “the next time we’re there”.

So far it’s been a blast. This difficult area is very well written and contains lots of intricacies and hidden surprises. Even if I knew the answers to the final puzzles I doubt that I would feel like I’d have understood everything within the area, something that would keep me coming back for more as the Tower of Despair still haunts my imagination so many years after the Shattering. Thank you to the builders who have worked on this area for the many hours of fun and frustration trying one zany idea after another. A top notch work of art.

Hey world traveller, don’t let that candy rot your teeth!

Ahh the summer vacation, a quick world tour with no cares except getting disarmed while teleporting or keeping fly running to avoid no-fly DT’s. I’m talking about Zistrosk’s RoD 2020 Summer Vacation of course, every other kind of world travel well … is on hold for the foreseeable future.

First off a tip of the hat to Quest Council, and to Zistrosk for this quest. Like the Silver Anniversary quest this was very straight forward and encouraged teamwork. 100 locations scattered about the Realms. A tour book that told you how many locations per area, and a block of text that could be picked at to provide clues.

Unlike some past quests I saw a great deal of camaraderie and support in the community. A few of the locations were difficult, but not impossible to reach and took us on a tour of the old school “hard” areas like Abattoir Asylum, nearby Dracula in Transylvania, front and center with Gaelcath, and a mandatory trip into Seth’s Fortress. It was nice to see some of the very old locations, though newer players wouldn’t know where the mobs had been removed for various reasons, us older folk noticed. Who knows, maybe a troll will return to the Abby at some point, fixed up and run worthy for the modern standards.

As the quest draws to a close the response has been quite positive among the players. On a personal note I was impressed with how the tourbook operated, it reminded me of a proposal I brought up at TS a while back to have an achievement system developed … without recoding in the system perhaps a first step would be a crystal ball or whatever that told you what you still had outstanding to do. As Zist points out adding too many variables to a character is not a great idea, but it got those wheels churning once again.

Kudos to Zistrosk and the Quest Council, and now back to our regularly scheduled distractions 🙂

We must be having fun wrong!

I’ve heard the phrase “we must have been having fun wrong” a ton of times over the last year or so, usually to describe a change made to an area or skill that disrupts the status quo.

I heard it when the experience formula changes were brought in preceding prestige characters being introduced. I heard it after gold farming was impacted by what I assume was changes to the economy code. I heard it loudly after Lord Seth’s Throne Room was changed.

Yet it’s really only in the last year where I’ve taken time to think about what that phrase means to me as an individual player. How do I have fun on Realms? I do enjoy having characters that I think reflect good abilities and that is useful in lots of places. Yet I know that other people can simply buy and sell the same gear that I’m going to run or quest for. To me grinding out gold is a low risk, low skill activity, but why would it bug me if someone puts their time in to doing it while I choose to go on a run? In a way, sometimes I’ve felt like it devalues the efforts I’ve made to learn runs and how to survive on them. That’s where I was having fun wrong and it took some thinking to recognize it.

Some recent players have more or less been trafficking for fully dressed characters and I had to stop myself and think about why that bugged me.

To many of you reading it’s obvious what the problem was. I was valuing the adventures I’d been having only as much as other people valued them. I bought into the text high score syndrome.

When I was away from the game for years it wasn’t the DR on my character that I remembered or the time I got a really good buy on auction. It was getting up at reboot and putting characters in the La Chute trans maze to go to Danbala with the Guild of Druids. Of popping our first Danbala skull unexpectedly after that change was made and brainstorming where else to look for pieces until we managed to get a Garland of Skulls. It was the thrill of being included in going against Orcus and Hastur as part of a team, not for the gear – the Spiral I have today is the only remnant of those runs I have, I never earned any of the Hastur equipment, but in the puzzle solving. The spitballing ideas around. Following the Black Monk and absolutely misinterpreting everything he had to say.

I also still possessed the skills that I had developed because I needed to work on them for playing Realms. No – not how to quaff fast, or learning to flee and reenter the room and attack. Learning to write triggers. Learning from there how to create databases and websites. Those were things I took away from the game. All I wanted to do was get rid of all the little bits of paper from my desk and lo and behold.

My success with getting big gear pieces or going on big runs has more to do with the people around me and the legacy of notes and experience that has been passed down by players long gone. When I think back though, I had more fun exploring Wendle’s Mansion than I had sitting through hours of S/O or Seth. I am exploring things and loving it. I don’t care if I get loot, really, I just want to be part of figuring out how the loot is got.

That fear of missing out I talked about before, it can come back easily if I let it. For now though it’s under control, especially if I just do things I consider to be fun. Being a reliable part of the team has been a big part of that.

To the golders, script levellers, traffic channellers, all the best in your goals. You’re having fun your way. God bless.

The portals to your adventure

When you journey to the Realms of Despair what portal transports you? Do you use the web based client at http://realmsofdespair.com? Do you log in through a piece of software like CMud, TinTin, or Mushclient? Maybe you’re using a mobile device and BlowTorch is more to your liking.

In 2014 I wrote a draft article called SMAUG HTTP. I never published it because I knew that the tremendous effort needed to convert the game engine that runs the Realms of Despair from a Telnet server to a HTTP based engine was unlikely to gain support. I speak only as an outside observer but I imagine that any of the handful of coders active on Realms would rather put their time into changes that will add more fun and adventure. Not at all an unreasonable point of view!

I abandoned that idea and looked at the Realms Web Client, which I think has been a phenomenal tool for allowing new players to experience Realms without undertaking the burden of installing and configuring a new client. It just doesn’t fit with today’s model of how software is delivered, does it?

When I started on Realms the idea of downloading software and spending an hour getting it set up before I played for 1 minute was absolutely standard. Now you log into a web portal and if you can’t have an account inside a few minutes, pfffft, next!

The problem we have in our community is that we are past the peak era when lots of people were actively contributing to projects. Not just SMAUG itself, but also the clients that are available. Zuggsoft hasn’t issued a new version of CMud since 2011 and seems very unlikely to do so. Mushclient was more recently updated in 2019 and is well supported on the forums. TinTin is in active development with the hopes of converting it to a commercial project.

The problem becomes that each has strengths and weaknesses and none of them hit it out of the park. CMud has a mapper that is hard to beat, and a relatively friendly window system, along with robust scripting capabilities. On the down side it is Windows only and full of very irritating memory/file corruption bugs. If you’re like me and able to work around those issues, it’s hard to beat. I may be biased, I started with Zmud more than 20 years ago, and the old dog likes to make maps.

Mushclient is, in my opinion, the most stable piece of Windows mud client software available with top notch scripting capabilities. Written by Nick Gammon the client makes it very easy to create a structure to share scripts between characters and suffers from no corruption issues I’ve ever encountered. I’ve used it for my bots and been very happy with it. Unlike CMud it’s much harder to see the active state of memory if your variables are involved, but like anything that is a trade off that can be worked around.

Most of its files are text based making for easy sharing and easy backups. The menus are not bad, once you get used to where everything is. I made a serious attempt to move to Mushclient full time but I just couldn’t live without the interactive automapper. Nick … if you’re listening, let’s talk about it 🙂

TinTin is an older product that has had new life breathed into it. Myrr reached out to me about getting involved with using it, and introduced me to it’s mapper. Like Mushclient its mapper is of limited interactivity. It records things that CMud’s does not, like terrain type, and attempts to auto generate a graphical map, which is very fun, but is ultimately more difficult to extract information out of than either of CMud or Mushclient. I think this is because this one is available on multiple operating systems and has a distinct linux feel to it. If you’ve been living in that command line world with no windows available then this one might be up your alley. It lacks new user friendliness, even setting it up for the first time is non-obvious. The names of files you need to edit aren’t documented and you find yourself on the Discord channel feeling like a fool trying to get the thing running at times, but I applaud the author’s determination to revive the software and make it not only useful, but progressive.

All of these products are computer based. I’ve used a couple of different mobile technologies which I’ve blogged about before. The biggest thing to say about playing Realms on mobile is that you better set up buttons for things. Where you can argue that fast typing can get you away from macros or triggers on a PC, even the finest Bluetooth keyboard is going to be a pain for mudding on a phone. Not introductory level, but absolutely cool once you’re ready for it.

Which brings us back to the Realms client. I’ve used it many times and though it suffers from some of the critiques I mentioned on the other clients it has the distinct advantage of being web based. Fire up a browser and go. It is developed and supported by the people who are working on Realms and so feature wise it can be tailored exactly to our game. I genuinely believe that it has the potential to be the client of choice for our player base.

To create an experimental development environment I asked some of my students to create a HTML5 Websocket client that could connect to Realms to try to play around with it and they did in just a couple of months time. Another project team chose to work on a web based mapping software for Realms that could read and render CMud’s map files. Another success. Bringing these ideas together and then expanding on them further could make the Realms client top notch.

I think that there are questions about this though, for example I have no idea how much server overhead administering the client creates. The client itself runs on your device, but it has to be back ended by a Realms server. Not only that but the original point I made about developer’s time … any time spent on reinventing the wheel with a client is time away from expanding the game itself.

I saw a recent TS vote pass that suggested multiple characters connected through the web client. This was part of my student’s project as well. We know that players need multi-character support. Whether it should be added to the Realms client comes down to the intention of that client: is it a vehicle to get people to try the game and then they will be vested to install a stand alone client, or is it an opportunity to demonstrate the full capabilities of a custom SMAUG installation on a 25+ year old adventure game?

Maybe there is a possibility of custom web clients in the same way people used to make stand alone executables. This one is problematic because you’d have to trust the person running the client not to steal your passwords or you’d have to have your own online database that you configure a connection to … we’ve done some stuff like this using DropBox or Google shared drives to sync our CMud profiles across computers, so it might not be that far fetched. Update (2020-08-05): One possible work around to the trusting someone with your passwords problem raised here has already been solved in industry. If the Realms server were willing to provide a third party login authentication service in a similar way that you can log in “using your Facebook account” to other sites, this could keep the control of your password between you and the Realms site while allowing a custom browser client to be built by third parties.

I still think the Realms client has great potential. If only the escape key would clear my input bar ala Z/CMud and not disconnect me routinely.

Have fun, stay safe!

Quarantine? Quest-antine!

Hi everyone, we might be stuck indoors but that doesn’t mean our imagination can’t wander through the Realms in search of fun and adventure!

I hope you and all the people around you are doing well. The pandemic has been a very challenging situation for most, we have been asked to voluntarily, and in some cases legislated, restrict our personal freedoms in the hope of serving the greater public good. I’ve watched this swirl around from the eye of the hurricane, I’m very fortunate that I’ve been able to work from home and that my income has not been disrupted. Starting from that position something like wearing a mask is a minor inconvenience. I realize that for others who are at their wits’ end that it’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Wherever you fall on this spectrum, I hope you are taking good care.

Some have suggested that the whole COVID-19 emergency is a hoax, including one of my former colleagues who counselled his students to reject all the restrictions put on our personal freedoms. All I can say is that the people I know from Realms, and elsewhere, who work in the health care front lines would most strongly disagree with you. To those workers – thank you for all the extraordinary measures you have gone through these last few months.

With people stuck at home I’ve noticed an influx of new faces in the Realms of Despair. Some are returning players visiting to see if the lights are still on. Others have heard about the game word of mouth. To all of you who have shown up lately, welcome! We’re glad you’re here. There’s a great community of people around doing all sorts of things, find one that fits with your idea of having fun and run with it 🙂

That’s all for the moment, in the coming weeks I want to share some of what I’ve been up to the last 10 months and share some ideas of what I might get up to in the coming year. Right now I am scripting videos for running courses online in the fall and the thoughts of an online newbie guide is in my head – not only the game itself but the tools around the game: Mushclient, CMud, writing triggers and scripts, Discord, and so on.

If you’d like to be involved in any of that or have any ideas, please reach out to me in game or at tharius@realmsofdespair.info

Until next time, stay well, have fun, and may all your RNG rolls be perfect.

Grüß Gott Adventurers! Happy Oktoberquest! The annual celebration of FOMO :)

Ah, the Realms has looked festive with avatars of all sorts prancing about in Dirndl and Lederhosen, looking all over to get their hands on some hot, steamy sausage.

In case you missed it, the two are linked…. (case … linked … waka waka!)  If you gather your sausages in your Oktoberquest themed Dragonhide Breastplate or Godskull Shinguards you only have to gather 6, which qualifies you for the secret bonus.  The super secret that Zist cooked up after people complained about HAVING to wear the quest themed gear … well, now you don’t HAVE to … but there’s 5 points a day if you do.  Incentivize the behaviour you want to see.

About a week into this quest we had a blow up, Zist and I.  I’m sharing this because in the aftermath, I realized that once again Zist has poured a ton of time into creating this quest and continued working on it when it was live so that it would be a fun experience and the reward for his hard work is a lot of complaints and gripes.  I think there’s something to be learned on both sides but I’m going to start the conversation on his side.

He told me he started working on the quest in late July.  In order to pull it off there are several thousands of lines of programs written in the SMAUG language.  Having worked in it a bit, I can tell you, the word fussy doesn’t start to do it justice.  Now … that’s normal programs, but things like trying to make a wall clock 10 second delay, as opposed to just saying “meh, 3 ticks whatever that works out to, about 9 seconds” to make Marius very predictable on timeouts … I’m not even sure where you start on that.

I’m looking at this year’s design and I see that Zist took the feedback from last year’s quest quite seriously.  Last year’s quest was insanely time consuming both for Zist and for questers.  The goal of making it very accessible to people in different time zones led to people trying to be available at EVERY point opportunity.  Simply saying you could only try 2 a day or something like that might have worked, but again, gripes if you do.  Lots of people scripted the entire thing.  Triggers were written to allow people to run their characters like bots.  Before the big reveal that the mobs could be shared with more than 5 people and that you could farm off everyone and share with everyone, the quest was getting quite nasty as different groups tried to maximize their team’s earnings – paying people gold to share was frowned on but at least you could see the logic in it, after all, you could always offer more … but some of the comments directed at people actually caused some people to just log off and not come back.

To avoid that there’s a fixed rotation of things to go do, once you’ve accomplished your bit for the day, you’re done.  There’s still things to figure out, but it’s very much an individual effort with some communication.  Big problem that Zist faces is … how to spread the points out in a way that people can “win” and yet have it so that people can potentially catch up/swap positions/have some “action”.  Well really, it comes down to the Keg smashing tapping that is pretty much RNG … getting 4 reliably is fairly doable, getting 6 is riskier, and Bill.  F@$%ing Bill.  Now I’ve been a fan of solo mob kills … Brutus, Jimmy Da Fence, the Falcon … I enjoy those challenges, but Bill is certainly not killable by all classes despite assertions to the contrary.  My shieldbash would need a large jump up (yes, a paladin this quest, as I continue the hunt for prestige) before the 20 or 25 point Bill would be doable.  Like others I have lost lots of points trying to kill the stronger Bills wondering if typing “kill bill” was the insane healing trigger, or if using quaff heal instead of q heal, or if it was the potion chest or or orrororororoorororor…. before learning that to weaken him depended on how many miniquests you’ve done that day, and then again trying to move up 1 level from 10 point Bill to 15.  1 attempt per day for a major chunk of the points has not left much room for error … and my error was choosing Paladin.  The winner of this round is apparently Infernalist in the great crap shoot.  Yes, there’s a guy on top of the points scale that might disagree, but I don’t think Incendi has to be involved with Operation Move-The-Potion-Store-To-Bill’s-Room every day.   Disappointing because lots of effort going in, and doing a lot of the right things and knee capped by the class choice.

Yet in the hopes that Zist will do tiers of prizes, as the 25th anniversary quest was done, just keep plugging away, do your best, and hope he calibrated his score system so that it doesn’t expect you to do damn-near-heal-to-full-every-round Bill.

So the blow up… Marius got new dance moves part way though a day.  Zist’s side: hey man it’s getting late, I held off and I’m tired.  My side: yeah but lots of people have already got points today on easy Marius and I get effed up because of this change.  Already falling behind because of Bill, eff this!  There was lots more to it like an arms race on how many triggers I could write and how annoying he could make the programs.  For the record, no one wins in an arms race.  Did I write one trigger for each social?  Nope.  I wrote 3 triggers to get my character to do every social, another to detect the output message and a third trigger to write the triggers for me.  I can see this as frustrating for Zist, he works on this stuff and we just script it because we view it as annoying, an obstacle to the points and prizes.  Guess what, that’s how we view levelling, golding, farming apples, brewing potions, buying and selling gear, fighting Seth … and we respond with scripts and it works because the scripting languages are more expressive than the mud’s language and our computer only has to deal with 1 person … where the mud has to be responsive to everyone online.

I asked then if Joe had already locked in his win… here 2 days from the end I see it’s not far from being a true prediction.  Good for Joe, no sour grapes, no gripes, but there was never a hope of “competing”.  Which takes me back to FOMO.  WHY does this stuff get under my skin?  I know I’m not alone but I’ll just talk from my own experience.  Well that fear of missing out.  In a lot of contexts around Realms FOMO is just part of it.  You’re not part of the right group to get into the right runs, so go gold and when someone feels the time is right to auction gear, you can get upgrades.  You know you’re missing out.  Oktoberquest, and other long quests, have presented an opportunity for people to complete the Guardian set, arguably better than the drow set or the glory for a month long quest.  I don’t even think about the aff flying ankles and stuff like that, I’ve been near the top but I know my life is too busy to pour the time into really mastering a quest to get there.  So those opportunities are things to look forward to.  When they feel like they’re disappearing it’s a kick in the ass where you hoped to improve your character.  Yet it really doesn’t matter.  It’s text on a screen that one day won’t matter at all.  Well … it’s nice to compete and to be thought of as being competitive.  To be held in esteem by your peers for playing well.  It might be virtual reputations but within the community that helps open some of those doors the year round.

For Zist, I’m sorry that I, and others, give you so much grief and not enough appreciation for the hard work you do designing and administering the quests.  We look forward to them and they do stimulate activity in our shared fantasy escape.  Thank you for taking the feedback into account, not just of this one ranger’s gripes, but of the entire community.  If we didn’t care we’d just log out and pull the plug and never look back – in some strange way our complaints show you we care, not just about the one line of text loot at the end of it but also for how we get there.

25 years of Realms of Despair

Happy silver anniversary Realms of Despair!

25 years is an amazing amount of time, especially to those of us not yet resigned to our actual ages. I was in my early 20’s when I started playing … and now I’m not, can you relate? No? Go to bed you whippersnapper!

I can remember this game in an era where I had just graduated from predominantly single line, turn based, multiplayer games on BBSes.  Coming online and seeing 300-500 characters online was amazing.  Today the numbers are a long way down, and there’s probably more people bidding on some of the auctions we look at in those last crucial 10 seconds, but the game is still alive and well.  By and large it’s stable and people continue to contribute to it regularly.

One of those contributions was the Silver Anniversary Quest hosted by Zistrosk that concluded with the end of August.  This post has been on the back burner for a while, but his gentle nudging has finally got me typing it tonight.

I enjoyed the quest.  Unlike Oktoberquest 2018 there was no sniping at one another.  There were definitely groups working together, groups that kept their lists quiet, but that’s normal competition.  I enjoyed working with the people I did both in and out of the Order of Ringbearers.  Lots of people were definitely hustling to do everything they could, Myrr, Joe, Incdeni and many others were spotted running around the Realms in the great hustle.  My very slow prestige leveling paid off when I was able to retrieve some items from Ezard’s Fields, Sentinel, Gauntlet, and elsewhere.  Aside from killing some mobs I’d never killed before I made a new character of each class and finally made a list of the Sunless Sea area items, explored every hometown, visited every single deity I could, no Grishnakh or Tempus upgraded sigils though and mapped my way though the Badlands getting my first gryphon lantern, a neat item that gets even cooler when you wear it on pk character.

For more information see the RodPedia entry for the Anniversary Quest

In closing a thank you to Zistrosk and Stoneheft for their work on this particular quest, but also to all the immortals, leaders, firsts, seconds, avatars, pre-avs who didn’t make it who have walked the Realms.  For 25 years the lights have been on.  Whatever our goals as players I think we feel some investment in this game and community.  It is a place like no other where you have so much input into the game.  If we want the lights to stay on find some way to chip in and help out.  Say thanks to your favourite hard worker.  And thank you for being there along with me on this journey against the random number generator.

edmond openly traffics: triggers anyone?

I saw this today while an auction was taking place for Realms’ hottest commodity, a multi-class ticket to ride.

The auction was being quickly bid up with strange numbers when edmond made his comment and I thought it rather ironic.

You see … the gold to buy the tickets is probably farmed with golding bots, the characters the tickets are being used on are probably being leveled by leveling scripts … but this is where a comment is worthy?

Scripts were designed to eliminate being bored to tears while doing the grindy parts of the game. Slowing the XP gain to a crawl has only clogged up the most popular leveling areas with prestige characters grinding away using their triggers to avoid feeling any more of the pain than necessary.

Spoof ips to vote for Realms multiple times, script golding and leveling but for heaven’s sake, bid on the tickets manually. :thumbsup:

Game of Despair, Realms of Thrones

If you haven’t started season 8 of HBO’s Game of Thrones, minor spoilers follow.

Jon Snow has at long last been reunited with his sister Arya, along with most of the other characters of the series who are alive, reuniting at Winterfell. The series has been structured around several strong, central locations like Winterfell, the Red Keep, and so on. As the series has progressed the locations have evolved and the nature of them changed. Right now you’re probably picturing the Starks at Winterfell, the last great fortress of the north, yet, just a short time ago it was the home of the Boltons. Same place, different feel.

At the same time there has been a surge of interest in fantasy games, material, fan literature, maps, and so on. Yet true new usership of the Realms seems elusive. It is undoubtedly only going to appeal to a fringe audience. In the era of readily available games with flashy graphics and sound, almost disposable in their nature – play for a while, win the game, chuck it and back to the app store, to state the obvious – Realms is a very different creature. Yet it does attract a certain type of user, and I would argue holds a great deal of entertainment value.

Persistent area building over the last 25 years has created a rich play environment with many different puzzles to be solved and despite the publishing of many tricks and walk throughs on RodPedia there are still many, many things to learn and a great deal of value in figuring it out yourself.
I wander the Realms mapping and trying to solve the Glass Menagarie puzzles, among other things. People like Sylphain dive deeply into a single area even trying to understand the connections in the way a builder crafts puzzles to discover yet unsolved mysteries in old areas. Some only care about getting new, more buff items and so their interest is in finding their way through the Southern Mountain Range Trade Route into the EisenCastle or fiddling with the altar in Winterlight beyond Bridgette for a daily trip into the abyss to grind for the elusive pop items.

Is this the end game? Waiting for glory quests for an incremental game or playing the RNG slot machine for increasingly rare gains? Chasing increasingly obscure esoteric knowledge?

Some time ago I talked with Belkira about the idea of expanding housing into user kingdoms. It was only a very rough idea, the broad strokes were that players would be allowed to add more vnums to their houses outside of the protected inner sanctum of the 5 rooms we currently enjoy. These public rooms could be invaded and played by others. The player could gain an income from their area but would need to spend some of it to hire guard mobs to protect it. Alternately the player’s area might simply be a place to ambush players, lots of thief mobs that steal from you, brigands, but then that might drive a bounty system where the players are motivated to come attack the mobs.

In this sort of system simply having everything cost gold would only increase the strain on golding areas but arming your soldiers by attracting blacksmiths and giving them thievesblades and shieldbreakers, doomgivers and kings crested swords … being careful to make the system support a very wide base of low-mid range gear to encourage people to revisit the old content… or maybe this just feeds grinding.

Watching people gold on PK chars lately in Coral Depths and seeing no one log in to attack them really demonstrates part of the problem, not only with golding but with PK. Sorry PKers, but it seems that PK is essentially a group of cheese tricks and buff gear to win instead of a real matching of wits between two players. I may be missing the nuance to it, I don’t PK, and no amount of cool skills or buff gear will ever attract me to it. Knowing that when I hit level 15 or so Joe is going to come kill me with his already prepared “level 15 killer” or that if I get to av the Arcanes crew will log to gang bang me doesn’t excite me. The pk-tag requirement on gear means you can’t be pk-casual. Yet at some level it is precisely the interpersonal competition that the PF “end game” seems to be trying to replicate. It’s not pk’s fault, the Realms combat system is inherently boring. Once you see the formulas, even in an interpreted, obscure way, you lose the fun.

As we have been drifting along missing the surge of interest in the fantasy genre during the promotion of Game of Thrones season 8 I ask, why? Lack of retention of new players and of the interest of older players. Older players can solo a lot of the stuff new players need and so there’s no incentive to be helpful yet if you make everything need 3 players people go back to the sitting at recall chatting “I’m bored, who wants to do stuff” days.

First and foremost is retention of new players. The Realms web client is a right minded step I believe. CMud is unsupported. Mush Client is a little too complex for the average user I think. None of them really integrate what a modern HTML5 web browser can do with ease. Unfortunately requests to access the appliance that goes between the Realms Website and the Telnet back end were denied. Anyone interested in doing development on features or creating their own client is shut out. So … no community building with diverse implementations to choose from. I can see some technical reasons for this based on how the Realms of Despair works, but we have reached the point where a person using a TOR browser could spoof IPs limitlessly. We need a better mechanism than IP checks to limit farming.

I had suggested account level tagging of gear. The motivation was to allow you to share your own gear among your own characters. Character tagging is a pain. If I level a new character I have to replay content solely for the “I need this item”, even if I’ve done it many times before. Why do I have to level new characters? It’s still the easiest way to improve stats, even in a post reroll 95 stat environment vs the old 102 based stat environment. Sect tags? Use the family name that is already available? Yes you want to allow players to add characters without this being totally abusable, what about 5 glory to add/remove someone from your family? Sure some might bite the bullet and pay it to exploit something, but at least we can start talking about it.

I had suggested we get away from the idea of strongly classed characters and instead move towards a holistic one character approach where people really deeply invest in developing the adventurer. No one wanted to even think about it yet I hear that edmond is putting some effort in that direction. For those wondering if we’ll lose the unique character classes Realms has, I’ll say we don’t have unique character classes or races in Realms. Everything is derivative of somewhere else whether it’s Vampire:The Masquerade or Dungeons and Dragons … it’s ongoing. Dragonborn are a 5th edition D&D race, variations of Draconians from DragonLance or even the basic idea of lizardmen. Nephandi? White wolf – Vampire the Masquerade people. The augurer and the fathomer might be fairly unique interpretations but they’re relegated to the sidelines. There’s been some other attempts at unique interpretations like the Kinux flavour of Barbarians or what I recall of the Julie and Moonbeam style witch class … but how do these things add flavour to our game? Everything is determined still by “what can I kill with this” and “what advantage does this give me”. Why are barbs half-orc? Olsen ears… why were thieves half-troll/ogre for so long? Froggy girth and res pierce. Big clumsy races as the basis for most of the highest dexterity characters.

Many organizations are so starved for activity that there is a feeding frenzy on a new player. I have witnessed this over the last few years, even to the point of chatting with new players who were quitting because they overheard organization leaders saying that they didn’t care about the n00bs as long as they could quaff and circle. Yet that org was vaacuming up every new player, dressing their characters in decent gear because of that heavy golding I was talking about, and moving someone only a few months into the game into the “end game” mentality .. this or that area isn’t worth looking at because there’s no big run mob there, or this or that isn’t worth doing because it’s hard, just gold and buy it. I commented on some of this during Oktoberquest where we had some groups that were forming and helping one another yet certain groups were more interested in promoting divisiveness in order to win the quest because the top 3 get the best prize.

If this continues we will have no one left to play with.

The second part is retention or re-attraction of old players. I think that removing autodelete for avatar characters is one thing that’s long overdue. Drive space is not at a premium and if certain Realms functions are horribly inefficient under large number of pfiles then they are long overdue for fixing. I was led to believe some of that had been moved to databases – in that case it shouldn’t be an issue at all. Modern computer science has long since solved these problems and even without moving to an object oriented C++ environment SMAUG should be able to handle these ideas in code. The evidence is on the Realms Facebook page – player after player modestly interested in returning but not excited about recreating their army.

Next is the idea of giving someone the ability to log in and do something other than grind a new character. At some point if you’ve played long enough you’ve got 4 of everything you want, or more, even people trying to trade Seth pops have a hard time – 25 years of farming the mob has taken its toll. Must be why some groups impose a no-public-trading rule on certain runs… break it and you get thrown off the run.

Orders and guilds are supposed to bring together people so they can get to know each other and work together. How many people would be logging into Inconnu or Dragonslayer daily if it wasn’t for the Vreesar run? What happens when everyone has their 9dr gloves? Do we need the next big thing? The efforts to go over current areas and add new content seems to fit with feeding this desire for new content. Whether it’s for actual gains or like the moldy pillow just for quality of life, this still has a shelf life, especially when the new items obsolete some other content. There was a renewed interest in La Chute with the new robes and rings, and what happened? Feeding frenzy then return to status quo.

Even with the unique recalls of these organizations we have failed to create a sense of uniqueness. Why can’t I have my character recall to Thul when I cast word of recall? Why isn’t that his “home”? I’m not suggesting everyone should just pick anywhere but the fixation with Darkhaven Square and Thoth’s rune suggests this tiny piece of the game is somehow key to everything and yet the content of the game does nothing to support it. After 20+ years of butchering the guards not a single thing has ever been remembered past a few repops.

I think user driven kingdoms that had persistence could change that. I think it’s a possible end game. I think that if a player doesn’t maintain it by playing regularly that it should deteriorate and become a ruin. A player returning can clean it up and resume – they pay a penalty for being away – but they don’t have to start anew. Think of Harrenhall – it’s a ruin but the Lannisters returned it to function and it still had value.

Perhaps nations and role play wanted to develop the rich stories of 25 years of game running. I think this has to be embraced not just as an exercise of the imagination and fan stories, but within the game itself. Regular areas can’t really do this – the idea of a dynamic, evolving story within an area is necessarily finite and though it can be quite possible it would be a massive undertaking. Would players respond well to an area where the actions of the last group through affected them? If you killed Dr. Frankenstein then the Frankenstein monster can never be spawned? What might the loot look like since right now we have the notion of repop so ingrained in us that we think everyone that goes on the run should eventually get a payout by grinding?

I don’t know, but what if the end game was more story and less grind? That you felt part of a world where your actions had impact instead of being continuously and consciously aware that a random number keeps you repeating the same farm over and over? I don’t know either, but it sounds like more fun.

This has been a diverse group of gripes that has been building for some time. It’s far rantier than I really set out to do. I think there are lots of creative ways to continue to enjoy the game for years to come, but I think it requires effort and openness. Some days it seems like it would be much easier to fire up the code environment and start from scratch but that’s giving up on 25 years of continuous game play and the rich history we have.

Trick or Treat! Happy November

Ahhh November 06 after reboot. For us pumpkin chasers and killers of Jerry it’s a calm, relaxing time. Not so much for Zistrosk and the quest to deliver the prizes.

I want to start today’s blog off by thanking him for his efforts on Oktoberquest 2018, as he put it, “it’s like a third job”. I know many of us felt like it was a part time job, constantly checking in on the pumpkins, coordinating our groups and on and on.

In the last blog I talked about some of the tricks people were using to get ahead, and I’d love to report that post-blogging things cleaned right up but alas, when the competitive spirit is in the air you can be sure that there will be people who will push every lever to try to get ahead.  I’m not here to talk about that right now, I’m here to talk about the Trick that Zistrosk pulled on us.  As the quest started to wind down some people figured out they could give away more than 5 helper points a day.  It’s believed that Inconnu figured this out first, but we know that Mossweaver tripped over it by accidentally sharing his Jerry mob with more than 1 group in a single day.  Do you know what that means?  All the gold, all the trash talk, all of it was a waste of time and effort.  It also made for a crazy last day where a room full of people banded together to swap points off each other.  Even if you didn’t want to really work with some people, you had to be there to make sure you didn’t fall behind.  After averaging 30-35 points a day to suddenly jump to 50 at a time when the next guy down is 60-80 points behind you?

Now certainly, if we had all just gotten along and all 67 questers had traded points evenly, then we’d all be bunched up in 1st place, so that wouldn’t work.  There would be groups that would decide only to trade internally, or to restrict some people so that they had an edge, but there would be less incentive.  Getting a good rapport with people and having them want to help you would mean more opportunities to trade points regularly.

Zistrosk … you bugger … you put a moral in the story!

He made good with the treats though.  Most questers got some glory, 20+ seeming to be very common and 2 immortality potions in a jack o’lantern container.  The next group up also received a piece of the drow equipment set, either the bracer or the earring.  The next group up also received a piece of the Guardian’s Exigency.  Finally, the very top tier people got a nifty anklet with 15 ac and aff protect on it.  The top 10 were all over 1,000 points.  To put that in perspective, 31 days of doing your 1-6 and taking your 21 points would be mean 651 points.  The rest were either 1 at a time, or in bursts of 10 for a kill blow.  My 14 pumpkin kills gave me 140 points which meant hundreds of helper points, 1 by 1.  The top 20 all managed to be above the 651 marker, with #20 coming in at 746.  Towards the bottom of the pack we do see people who game in for 1 or 2 days and then didn’t reappear.  Thanks for helping and visiting.  Come back soon 🙂

Let’s talk about some of the positive things I saw during this quest.

  • As the need for more bodies to share Jerry points grew I saw people in several organizations reaching out to older players and getting them to log in.  Getting people back and logged in is fantastic.  Some might have left because of a specific thing that was going on at a time, something that’s long gone, and they have a chance to check it back out.
  • I saw a real outreach to the solo questers to get them to be part of a team and band together.  Yes, in some cases this will prove superficial, but in many others we’ve broken the ice.  The newer players got to work with some experienced players and now feel comfortable asking for help or engaging in conversation.
  • I saw a ton of cross order co-operation between groups that aren’t traditionally working together.  That’s not to say one group locked to another – at one point Arcanes was working with Dragonslayer and other times with Ringbearers.  Baali’s active members were well represented and competitive, even spotted an Ascendere or two, though one looked like a Guild of Origin character (teasing Bri!!).

Personally I got to chat with a few people who I don’t know that we’d regularly chat.  People like Indious and Semiramia and Merit.

There were definitely caches of people who were playing hard but clean and I really appreciated that.  When I started using Quantum Spike scrolls on Pumpkin Day because the mob tank switching was nerfing circle at DYING some people’s initial reaction was “cheese” or “trying too hard”.  Fair enough.  I disagree, you’ve gotta hit hard at the end and it still takes luck, but ok.  A short time later many were doing it.  Cool.  To me though, the person who took that idea and innovated was Semiramia who switched to Quill mage so that she could recite spellbooks that cast 3 quantum spikes at a time.  She stepped up and proved mages can get kbs on quest mobs.  My hat is off.

I finished in the top 10, tied for the 2nd most kill blows on the pumpkins with 2 others.  Dang it Sartanis, you got the 15th one!  I’m pleased with that finish.  More important than the finish though is that I’m glad I was part of a group that coalesced almost out of nothing and managed to challenge an contend in this quest.  Good quest to Sartanis, Jethren, Morphina, Klaatu, Strador, Netherwood, Aisic, Brianey, Emrakuja, Ceir, and the many others we worked with.  Today some of that group went an chilled out at Corsterix for a while, got some Nasrs and helped a couple new players with gear.  That’s the big prize.  For those already in working teams, tend your garden.  It takes work to keep teams engaged, and lots of engaged teams fall apart.  I hope all of our groups stay busy over the next while, busy groups are good for the Realms as a whole.

I offered Zistrosk the final word on today’s blog, he earned it:

Zistrosk tells you ‘I loved how everyone came together and helped each other, and it was great to see so much activity.  More questors signed up for this quest and actively participated than any quest I’ve ever run before, which was totally awesome.  I hope next year’s quest is as popular, and not as exhausting!’