Epic Bunny Shot

I was excited by the email in my inbox last week proclaiming three free days of access to the original Everquest in celebration of their upcoming expansion (EQ2 – take note!).   I was excited because years ago, I bought the original EQ Trilogy for a penny at a GameStop that had it on the clearence rack.  It was marked $5 but when they scanned it it came up as a penny.  The look on the cashiers face was priceless.  I told the manager he called over I didn’t mind paying the five bucks, but he shrugged it off, and I handed over a penny.

You may wonder, outside of a great deal, why that was exciting?  Because it means that I have an actual EQ account – not a trial one – and so I was eligible for the free time.  And ever since last year, I’ve been wanting to try that famous 51/50 server that starts you at epic level.  I did a little of everything, but ultimately, I spent the three days with my two favorite classes, the original Magician and original Shadowknight – now much different (both of them) from their current EQ2 incarnations.

It was fun getting to play the epic versions of classes I’d really only played for any length of time in EQOA, which is in all reality a stripped down version of its big brother. So I was dying to play around with all of the summoning skills a Magician had access too.  And the first I just had to try was “Monster Summoning” – a sweet ability that calls a pet for you, but using the graphics load of the local surroundings rather than a set Elemental pet, which is the norm for the Mage.  In this way you can get all sorts of fun pets, without running around for hours unlocking stupid achievements and paying gold through the nose (WoW – take note!).

So I stepped out into the grove outside the recommended 51/50 starter city to take on some basic mobs, and I used Monster Summoning to call my pet – figuring I’d get one of flying lizards, snakes, or maybe even an undead fisherman.  But behold, I could not have imagined the awesomeness that awaited me, for I did not know that I was still in the same area as the peaceful gardens in the city.  Check it out:

Death awaits with....well, you know.

That, my friends, is pure win.  The Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog himself, under my control.  I even look a bit like Tim the Enchanter, don’t I?  Totally made my weekend people.  The urge to grab a Station Pass is getting much harder to resist.

I also found that I missed some things from EQ that don’t show up alot in games anymore – requiring components for particularly powerful spells, the possibility of spells “fizzling,” limits on number of available abilities at one time, the wide range of thrown weapons, freeform NPC interaction using keywords, food and drink requirements.

I also found a few things I’m glad we have (mostly) left behind – corpse recovery, claustrophic city models, dos-era overhead maps, non-WASD movement, etc.

But mostly this is another chance for me to push my own particular MMO Design carp – the graphic on the screen and the numbers crunching in the game engine can be two entirely seperate affairs.  There’s no reason other than lack of creativity on the part of devs that would keep someone from playing a tank that looked like a wizard, or having a tank whose weapon stats reflect a legendary sword, while on screen it looks like a simple quarterstaff.  We’ve already seen the reverse and similar ideas in other games (LotRO in particular had to bend their classes in original ways), but honest to god free character development is still lacking.  Someone step up to the plate please.  Thx.

And, as a postscript, as of this morning, I still have access to EQ, even though my three days is long gone.  Not sure if its an intentional error or not, but I’m loving it either way!  So if you have an EQ account, check your sub status, it might still be active.

Something Epic Part II

So I’m not giving up on this.  Not that easily!  After the last post on this topic, you might be a little interested, but might ask “How does this work, how do I even begin this thing?”  So let me give you an example of how that might work.

First of all, not everyone can just jump right up and dive into a creative tour de force that will be an interesting epic level empire chock full of drama and oozing coolness.  And even those who can may need a jump start.  So what help is out there for you?  Enter Chaotic Shiny Productions page o’ random generators.  In particular you want the Culture pack  of generators, and probably the Medieval Army generator.  Later on the Accesories, Color, and Plot series of gen’s will be useful.   Chaotic Shiny gets a full five stars from me – these are incredibly useful jump starters and cover alot of terrain.  But I offer them with a word of warning – you are the final authority on your creation, not a random table.  If you want to change something…change it.

So watch and see how easy it is.  First off lets do the general Civilization generator and see what that gives us.  I choose an ancient culture, wanting something with layers upon layers of intrigue within the borders, and the shaping force I pick as religion (always a good hook).  A few things stand out as I look at the page:

Type: animism
Focus: leader worship
Worship: solemn organized prayer in public temples
Associated Artform: songs
Prevalence: believed by all
Holidays: very often

Looks like classic Sunday church here in the USA, but with a focus on spirits in objects.  With a high prevalence, and this being the shaping force, we can assume that priests hold high sway, and that the spirits are probably an active rather than passive guiding force.   This fits with other things in the generator, like a prevalence of natural magic, a tropical climate, and a 95% rural rate.  Next up, military:

Strength: very strong
Focus: sea
Main Unit: small, stealthy ships
Soldiers: hired mercenaries
Main Use: quenching rebellion
Rank: granted by superiors

So perhaps sea spirits are the most prevalent, and priestly families on the coast are the most influential.  I would assume the capital is on the coast as well.  Apparently there are many rivers in the tropical nation, or its island based, if small ship units are the primary unit that has resulted from using the military to suppress rebellion.  Even better, perhaps its a series of islands, akin to Hawaii or the the Philippines. What about the economy:

Main Export: semi-precious stones
Main Import: raw ore
Main Resource: mining – gems
Trade: major surplus
Strength: stable, but declining
Wealth: in the hands of a very few

Makes sense.  A relaxed island where trade is abundent and well received.  Here I make my first change.  If religion is the focus of power, then wealth is probably a little more evenly distributed than this suggests.   Consider it so changed.    So what other generators might be helpful…how about the gemstone generator?  Sounds good:

The gem is vibrant mauve. It is uncommon. It is commonly cut in trapezoids. It is associated with grounding, and willpower. It is primarily found along the coast.
Excellent – this fits our new archipelago well!  These gems help with grounding and willpower – so the spirits can be more easily contacted and put the mortal mage on equal footing with the spirit.  The gem is uncommon – but not rare.  Not everyone has  them, but its probably not hard for the mage-priests to have one, perhaps as a badge of office, maybe a necklace.  I also tap the Faction and Character generator to pull out some power players.  I end up with the Iron Spiders, an established group of rangers who back the mage-priests rule publically, and Telel, an attractive, powerful foreigner(elf on the generator, but I generalized it) who wields arcane rather than religious magic, who finds the fauna and culture of the island interesting.
Finally, I decide that the leadership on the island is a council of five mage-priests.  I use the class mashup gen, name gen, and some free association to come up with the following:
Theo, who partners with an elder spirit of strength, backed by the military.
Poral, interested in maintaining freedom for and within the island, sourced by a powerful guardian spirit.
Infar, whose neutral status gives him power as the tie-breaking vote, close to the islands plant spirits.
Vice, a shadowy priest with the most ancient of spirits behind him, who has uncertain motives.
Arcba, who is most interested in the songs and story of the island, his spirit hails from the arhipelago’s dry center.
So, I have my country, along with its basic functioning.  I have some cultural hooks. I have some power players.  But what is the island currently facing?  If this is epic, there must be some work in progress from the past, a running starting point.  For giggles, I hit the ritual generator:
Druids desiring to affect the weather must consecrate their spirit with magic in a temple during the day .
Interesting.  Infar above, in his original form, was a druid.  So Infar wants to affect the weather (in what way?), and to do so, needs to perform a ritual to strengthen his personal spirit, in some temple.  Perhaps the temple is old and ruined and needs to be found.  Perhaps the Iron Spiders know the location but aren’t talking because old Infar already wields too much power and is too far beyond their influence.  With so much to lose, I doubt Infar is conjuring bad weather – but then again, nobody would expect that, would they?  We’ll leave that thought for later.   To round it out, I hit the random random generator:  I get a widespread but not dangerous disease sweeping the island, rampant crime in a midsize town, and something to do with bronze currency (maybe, since above they have to import ores, this is an unpopular change, or one being contemplated by the council).  All of which leaves me wondering what that powerful foreign wizard will be doing – maybe he has an itch to fight some crime!
Anyway, that’s pretty much it.  To round it all out, I pull a name from the fantasy generator for my archipelago kingdom and give it a suitable moniker:  The Jaev Protectorate.  Next post we will look at how I, as a player, will set up the game stats for this powerful nation, and what my first turn will look like.

I Spy Something….Epic

ETA:  Some helpful links at the bottom of the page.

I’ve been reading through Steven Erikson’s excellent Malazan Book of the Fallen series.  I know every fantasy reader prefers their fiction a little differently, so I won’t try to convince you of anything other than this:  I think he is an excellent writer, and the series has really hit home with me.  It makes me want to create something as…meaningful I guess.  Something as epic.

Hopefully, one day, I’ll get my act together and write – not to be an author professionally, but to satisfy that desire within me.  Until then though, I take some pride in having helped with something similar.  And I hope that, with the help of some of you, I might do the same again.  Ready for the pitch?  Here it comes…

Eight and a half years ago, while looking into some lesser known RPG’s, I visited the website of one of my then favorites, The Legend of Yore.  It was, in creator Brennan Taylor’s words, his own personal fantasy heartbreak (maybe I yearn for my own?).  You can find the story behind its inception here.  After its publishing, perhaps as a way to drum up sales, or just to share and enjoy his creation, or maybe to get help to flesh it out, or maybe all of the above, Brennan created The Interactive History of the Known World.  A narrative game, using simplified FUDGE rules, where each player took control of one nation in the LoY setting (“The Known World”).  Turns were once every two weeks, written in narrative style, with bonus actions given for extra in character narratives, with each turn equalling a season.  Brennan collected our turns, rolled the dice, and gave us a basic narration of the results, along with some random NPC events elswhere in the world.  We wrote stories around these and our new actions, and two weeks later, it happened again.

All told the game ran for 30 months.  I did two seperate stunts in the game that lasted perhaps two thirds of that.  And it was truly epic.  Since the dice controlled all in what was an essentially unweighted fashion, we could make our  characters as powerful or as weak as we wanted – it all balanced out in the end.  Child savant Archmages, reincarnated Witch-Kings, legendary Generals.  The narrative stood seperate from the mechanics – and the interplay between the two – the tension – helped shape the stories.  After awhile though, the stories bogged down because we discovered some flaws in the mechanics..and the players.  Brennan maintained that he was too busy to continue, but I always suspected it was for a different reason entirely.  Our shared narrative had become a never ending war.  Because we had no mechanics to actually “resolve” anything other than the actions we took, nobody ever died, nobody was ever truly defeated.  You could suffer legendary losses on the fields of battle…and devote all your actions to war the next season, with close too, if not the same, chance of victory as you had three months before without a scratch on your grand army.  Nobody took any cultural, or trade related actions.  Everything was war.  Players wanted to keep their actions secret.  In the belly of the shared story, we had birthed a monster of a deformed game.

As this  became more obvious, I hammered out a set of rules to deal with the problems that had cropped up.  The players looked over them, some things were adopted, some not.  But in the end, it was too little too late, and I knew it.  The doors on the game closed for good.   When I finished my most recent Erikson read (Memories of Ice, for the fans out there), all of this was playing through my head.  I dusted off the copy of the rules I had written, and began making changes from a half-decade’s worth of additional gaming experience, and reflection.

So if you’ve followed me this far down the dusty trail…you’ve probably guessed where this is headed.

I want…need…to do this again.  With some people who are willing to, together, write a story with me.  An epic story, with epic characters.  Where empires can rise and fall, players can come and go, but the story keeps churning.   Do you have the itch too?  The system is read, and kinks can always be worked out as we go.  We just need a place to put our stories, and some people to write them.  Is that you?  Let me know…

Link to the archives of the Interactive History game:  http://games.groups.yahoo.com/group/theknownworld/

Link to Brennan Taylor’s design company, Galileo Games:  http://galileogames.com/

Link  to Brennan’s Galileo Forum on IPR:  http://www.indiepressrevolution.com/forum/index.php?board=12.0

Email where you can let me know if you have interest in playing:  silver elf 4 at aol . com  (no spaces, and replace the “at”, obviously).