As many of you know, despite being a long-time DDO player with just under seven years under my Belt of Thoughtful Rememberance, it wasn’t until the last year or so that i was able to reach the upper echelons of adventuring. This was mostly due to serious alt-itis and a penchant for playing exclusively solo (or with a single RL friend or two). Two things occurred that changed the game for me. The first was the introduction of the Artificer, which i completely fell in love with immediately. The second was recruitment into Sacred Flame Guardians, a veteran guild on what is now the Sarlona server. Just prior to hooking up with SFG, my own guild-of-one – Adventurer of Adventure – relocated its headquarters to a teeny airship devoid of any accoutrements. So i was a tad reticent to abandon ship and join another guild, especially with the crippling case of an i’m-not-good-enough-to-group complex. However, when my RL and gaming pal Wrongside joined and sent me a ship invite, and then i saw what there was to see on the decked-out deck of their Stormglory Tempest, i was like “Adeventurer of Adventure who?”
Before switching allegiances though, i had to prove me mettle, or so Wrongside explained. Would i have to lead a raid? Perform Herculean tasks? Fork over some astral shards? Who were these Sacred Flame Guardians, and would i really want to associate with a guild whose name is reminiscent of the Silver Flame that i detest so much?
As it turns out, none of the above. For this all-adult guild, the requirements to join are pretty simple – run some quests with a few officers and see if we all get along. As Wrongside put it, they’re a bunch of dudes who like to have a good time, joke around, and run quests together. In this situation, bringing my A-game meant bringing a fun attitude. And i imagine that contributing in a meaningful way wouldn’t hurt my chances either.
So it was that i first met Wolfie, the erstwhile leader of SFG. i couldn’t tell you which iteration of Wolfie it was though. There are at least 10 Wolfie’s out there, designated by roman numerals, but they all have one thing in common. The man behind the toon. i’ve been running around Eberron with him and the SFG crew for about a year now. Recently, i had the opportunity to speak with Wolfie outside of the game and learn a bit more about the guy who helped me expand my enjoyment of the game we all love.
Wolfie, 45, will be the first to tell you that he has no creativity when it comes to naming his DDO toons. In fact, somewhere on the interwebs is a video wherein he is described as having the “most unimaginative name in DDO.” Research opportunity – if you can find it let me know! But lest you think the man has an unhealthy obsession with canis lupus, the moniker dates back much farther than DDO. All the way back to Wolfie’s college days, when he was bestowed the nickname in real life.
“I had a buddy that was drunk out of his mind,” Wolfie said. “Couldn’t say my last name. He kept calling me Wolfmiller. One night in a drunken tirade he’s like ‘screw it – your name is now Wolfie, and that’s it!’ It became my call sign in the army, in Iraq and other places I’ve been to. It’s been a nickname forever, so it’s always been a name I’ve had through different games. I tried different names, but I just game up and said ‘Wolfiei,’ ‘Wolfeii,’ and it just went from there.
“I do have Choppsuey. That’s my one toon in DDO that’s named something different. But everyone still says ‘hey Wolfie!’ So it just became my name.”
It’s interesting to note a phenomena of gaming that i’ve noticed myself, and that’s referring to players most often by their main toon’s name at all times. Even in SFG’s Steam group chat, we often call each other by our DDO main toon names. i will admit that this can be a tad unusual for me, since my main toon Schir Gold is a female sorcerer. There are times i cringe when my mates will greet me with a hearty “hey Schir!” It’s like, hey guys – my name is Doug! But if they insist on referring to me by a name derived from Phantasy Star II character, then so be it. Okay fine, I’m Schir. At least Wolfie can say that’s his RL nickname too.
O.G. Shir Gold
Wolfie’s introduction to video games came through the oft-nostalgically remembered Intellivision home console system. Dating myself, i can attest to the fun times provided by Mattel’s entry in the console market. My neighbor across the street growing up had one and we’d regular go from his house to ours, where we had the Atari 2600.
Gaming as a hobby stretches back over 16 years for Wolfie, who got into online gaming through the beginnings of Diablo, and Black Hawk Down – one of the earliest FPS games. In fact, the guild SFG can trace it’s origins back to that same era, when Wolfie co-founded Special Forces Group Allied with a core group of fellow soldiers and gamers. By the time DDO came about, SFG was a cross-game guild. When they expanded into DDO, they wanted to keep the spirit of SFG alive, and at the same time adapt their guild to this new venture with a thematic name. And so the Sacred Flame Guardians were born on the Aerenal server. Just think – if i’d known then what i know now and chosen the Xoriat server, i’d be running around Thelanis now and probably never met the SFG guys. Sliding doors, i tell ya…
SFG has been around pretty much since beta. And even though these days it’s confined to what i understand is considered both the “friendly server” and the “role-playing server” – Sarlona – that wasn’t always the case.
“I branched out to the other servers for a little bit,” Wolfie said. “And Jerry <Snook> did as well. But when Jerry took the position at Turbine, he obviously had to shut down his affiliation with the common gamers, and I believe our guild. So he shut down the Sacred Flame Guardians on the other servers, and I haven’t made them active again. So it’s strictly just Sarlona.
The core group of SFG, when I was in Iraq they would send me gifts and stuff, and care packages,” Wolfie said. “It’s been 15 years now, they’ve just been around. Some of the guys I was in the army with. We were in combat zones but different theatres at the same time. We never ran into each other. Now, I’ve hung out with some of them. Cody, and Charlene, and Leadsides – Glenn – I’ve hung out with them outside. I’ve gone out to dinner with them or just met up with them.”
Wolfie’s interest in Dungeons & Dragons extends beyond the virtual MMO world as well. Like it is for so many of us DDOer’s, his indoctrination into the world of swords and sorcery began with its progenitor – the classic tabletop game of thrown dice and depths delved. That’s right – Wolfie was a bonafide pencil-and-paper gamer too.
“I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s,” Wolfie said. “So I was in way back with the original set. The Player’s Handbook, and the DM’s Guide, and the couple of dice that came with it. Not a whole lot of options. I was an elf ranger. In fact, in moving, I was digging through some old boxes and I found all my old books. It was like finding a treasure trove. I was like ‘oh my god – it’s the original Player’s Handbook!’ It was pretty cool. I found my folder that had Ander Foracker – it was my ranger.”
Before all the splatbooks, there was just these two bad boys.
Isn’t it curious how so many of us look back at our PnP days and fondly remember that ranger character we played? What is it about these reclusive woodsmen that so entranced us? Perhaps it conjured images of Strider in our imaginations. Maybe it was the notion of a noble savage that stirred guided our choice to play the woodland warriors. It could have simply been the wide variety of options available to the subclass of fighters. Whatever it was, i’d be willing to bet that most dice-throwers have at least one former ranger in their menagerie of PCs. And yet, it’s an oft-maligned class in DDO, if the forums are to be believed. Nevertheless, not a login goes by that i don’t come across at least one ranger worthy of a place in any party. And more often than not when things go south, you’ll find the ranger is the ultimo hombre – the last man standing. Ramble on, rangers. Ramble on.
Bow? Check. Two swords? Check. Pointy ears? Check.
With a firm foundation in DDO and a history that spreads beyond that singular MMO, it certainly takes something special for a guild like SFG to have the kind of staying power it’s enjoyed. i can tell you from my own experience that, compared to gaming groups both online and in real life that i’ve been a part of, SFG certainly has something unique about it. It’s not about raiding. It’s not about power-gaming. It’s not about filling it’s ranks with the best of the best most elite players. Instead, at least to me, it’s about the fast friendships that are formed. This is a group of people who genuinely get along. And i might add, chatting through Steam certainly adds a fun new dimension as well. But online games are no strangers to drama. By their very nature, online games offer the same anonymity that affords people an avenue to express thoughts and feelings they might never do in real life. So what carries SFG through the years, when so many other guilds disband or fade away over time?
“It’s interesting, because I’ve seen that too,” Wolfie said. “And you see some of the core names, but I think back to when the big names were around – you had Diligence and a few other big name guilds. The only other guild I can think of that can really date back to the origins of DDO, or Stormreach, is probably Gravis. Those were a couple of guys who wanted to do just high end raiding, and that was it. We have a more “building toons” and what have you, so they broke off from SFG. And we played with them a lot, so there’s no bad blood or anything. But you look at some of the old guilds that aren’t around and the players are still there.
But SFG, we have our peaks and valleys just like any other guild. There’s times when there’s one person on for a week, and then another time there’s 20 people playing. But it just doesn’t go away. Also because it’s an all-adult guild. We understand there’s lives, and it’s about a game. You know, I have four kids, and a wife, and a house. And I just moved into the house. And we’re doing construction. I’ve got real life that hits me, and if I’m not playing for four days, it’s okay. No one gives me a hard time about it.”
With all the gaming going on in Wolfie’s life, and the composite family he’s formed with his own kids and those of his wife, you’d think they were a veritable clan of gamers, right?
“My son played for a little bit,” Wolfie said. “He’s 12 now, and he discovered soccer probably two years ago. And my love of soccer – I grew up as a goalie and my brother was a semi-pro goalie – and goalie is just in our blood. My son is at a tryout for a club team. And he’s being looked at by the L.A. Galaxy Academy. Which is huge. At 12-years-old he’s that good of a goalie. Just amazing. So when he discovered that, gaming just took second. He’s up at 5 o’clock on Saturday morning to watch all the games in England and Spain. I’ll catch him watching the Mexican channel – can’t understand a damn thing they’re saying but he’ll sit there and watch for hours just to watch soccer play. My stepson plays once in a while too, but he’s more Batman and superhero-type gaming. Other than that it’s just me.
“My wife loves video games if it’s like Pac-Man. If it has a joystick and a single button, she’s happy as a clam. But other than that, no. No wish whatsoever. I tried to show her DDO, and she saw my fingers flying all over the keyboard and mouse, and my head never stops moving, and she looked at that and she’s like ‘forget it, I don’t even want to try it.”
During an interview back in 2007, and again during my talk with Wolfie, he mentioned the care packages he received from fellow gamers while deployed as a soldier in the U.S. Army. Intrigued by the way the gamer community shows their support to our troops, i wondered if Wolfie had any involvement with that practice now that he is home in Southern California following a military career that spanned nearly half his life – 22-1/2 years as a soldier. Spent mostly in reserves, he did have three deployments and was injured a couple of times, but is quick to point out that the how’s and why’s aren’t important because that is not what defines him.
“It was the best time I’d ever hand in my life, and also the worst,” Wolfie said. “But I don’t send care packages now, only because when I was over there, it got to the point where people would send cookies and candies and stuff like that. The pantries are so well stocked that I could go get anything I wanted, really. So what I did was I used to take a lot of these things, and I did coalition support. So I trained special operations units from other countries. In a lot of those countries, their soldiers are so dirt poor, they couldn’t afford anything. A deodorant was an extravagance. I used to take the stuff that was sent over and I’d give it to those guys, as well as other Americans that were detached from the bases way out in the sticks.”
Instead, Wolfie remains involved with the military in a different way here at home, by helping soldiers who return from active duty with injuries.
“I do a lot of advising and helping people through the VA system, and soldiers with PTSD,” Wolfie said. “Trying to get them to take that first step and getting them to the VA. Getting help. I commanded a company of 313 soldiers and within a year-and-a-half I had nine of them commit suicide after deployments. I was trying to push my finger in a hole in a dam that was ten feet wide and trying to stop the flow. I got chaplains. I wolud go to the local colleges and find students studying forensic psychology and bring them in to just talk to the guys. To just come down on a weekend and hang out.
“I just kept pushing it, and have since taken a step beyond that by finding soldiers that are getting hosed by the military, or not taken care of, and help them through that. So that’s what I do. It’s not so much care packages. I’m helping the guys that come back.
“When a kid comes to me and says ‘my leg’s blown off, I’m getting no help from the military, and I don’t know how to file for assistance,’ I walk them through that. Because I had to figure it out on my own. I spent basically two years in a hospital after my deployment getting put back together. I had a major that was in charge of my case, and he could care less. He was like ‘you’re a captain, figure it out.’ So I did. And invariably, what he did was he started sending soldiers from Southern California to me because I was a senior-ranking officer down here. So he would send me all these broken soldiers that just got back from different warzones and say ‘can you help them?’ I had my own mini-command of broken soldiers that I helped to figure out their medical, get their doctor’s appointments taken care of, and stuff like that.”
For the final segment of my interview with Wolfie, i’d planned to fire off a series of rapid questions to him about DDO specifically. What i got instead were insightful perspectives on various aspects of the game.
What is your favorite thing about DDO?
“Hanging out with the guys. Being a father, I can sit down for an hour or two and play and hang out with my buddies. Have some fun in the game and detox from my civilian job, just kinda separate for a little bit and then come back. If I’ve had a bad day, I can hang out and play a game that I really enjoy – that’s probably the biggest thing. Another things it’s provided me though is, when I got back from Iraq, it was one of the things – and the military’s actually using that now as a support system for PTSD – it really helped me to funnel and focus the PTSD that I had. It gave me an avenue, and I really disappeared into it between all the surgeries. I’ve had my back rebuilt with titanium and all that, and between all those surgeries it gave me that avenue. And now it’s something that just became my hobby. I enjoy it.”
What is your favorite quest?
“VON 5 and 6. Hands down. When I first saw that dragon, and I stepped on that platform. She’s flying in the air and you see the world all around. You look down, and Stormreach is down there. I remember I was like…I had my girlfriend at the time over and I’m like ‘come here and look at this!’ That was the coolest thing. At the time, level 10 was the max. I remember the first time I did VON 3, we were all level 10 and it took us six-and-a-half hours. By the end I was sweating so bad, I was starving. Six-and-a-half hours of straight fighting to get through VON 3. Now we do it in 14 minutes.
You know what’s really exciting for me? I’ve been playing for seven years, and I still get excited when, you know like you guys when you stepped out and you’re like ‘look at all this, wow!’ And I’m sitting there thinking ‘I remember that feeling, too.’ That was cool. When I hear guys for the first time in a quest, I try to back off and not direct. I’ll give advice, but I want you to kind of figure it out, and look at it, and get excited about finding that trap for the first time or whatever. We all know it’s there, but sometimes it’s fun to say ‘oops! sorry, look what we found.’
What is your favorite class or build to play?
“That has varied through the years. I love my monk. But right now I am really digging the Juggy build. I also took my barbarian through three lives, and three lives of fighter, and I’m on the seventh life – as a barbarian. I enjoy that one because I hit like a you-know-what brickhouse. It’s fun to see that. But the Juggy build is just a lot of fun. And I love my ranger. Hands down, that is one of my favorites of all time. I have a lot of fun with that build.”
What is your favorite race?
“I like the half-elf especially, because of the dilletante system and some of the feat bonuses. Those are nice. I have a half-elf as my ranger. I’m really liking that. The human is just…it’s one of the classics because you get all of the feat bonuses, and it’s the utility race. You can do anything with it. I really like the half-orc. Both my barbarian and my monk are half-orcs. They’re both just straight strength, beat-your-way-through-stuff builds and those are fun. Favorite of all time though would be the half-elf.”
What is your favorite piece of loot?
“I’ll go with my alchemical longbow. Right now I have earth-earth on it, and I’m debating what I want to do on Tier 3. But it just looks wicked. It’s got the spikes, and the acid look. The way it oozes, the graphics on it just look pretty wicked. And when I shoot something with my ranger it’s just amazing the damage you do. Especially if you’re in your normal Epic Destiny. If you go Shiradi it’s insane the damage you get with an arrow.”
What are your thoughts on cosmetics? The expansion pack will introduce cosmetic slots…
“That is very cool. I’ve spent a minor fortune on cosmetics, and I swore I’d never do that. I’d say ‘I’m an old man – I don’t care about that stuff.’ But you get suckered in because you look at your toon, and you’ve got the baby blue IQ stuff on your warforged docent and it just looks…you look at that and go ‘I’m gonna go get a cosmetic for that.’ They really need to work on those.”
Why a level 18 adventurer still carries a rope is beyond me.
What is your favorite monster?
Suggestion to Turbine: random spawn mimics. You know you want it.
I dug the mimic. I thought the mimic was one of the cool ones and when they finally brought that into the game I was like ‘thank you!’ That was fun. But my favorite one – and this goes back to the pencil-and-paper days – is the minotaur. I see a minotaur and it’s just wicked looking. It’s bad ass looking. It’s a cool graphic. They’re cool to fight. There’s no magic to it – you’re just beating the heck out of each other. But they’re cool looking.”
My guess? Wolfie does ALL the optionals in Frame Work.
If you could change one thing about DDO, what would it be?
“The ladder bug! I said it seven years ago, and I’ll say it again. My name is Wolfie and I approve this message. Get. Rid. Of. The. Ladder. Bug. For god’s sakes – don’t do Neverwinter Nights, don’t come out with anything else, I don’t want to see an update. Fix the ladder bug. I beg of you.”
Do you have any words of wisdom for new players?
“Don’t take it so seriously. Someone will say ‘the sky is purple,’ and all of a sudden 20 people are yelling at them in chat saying ‘oh my god, not it’s not, it’s mauve.’ Dude, really? It’s a game. Who cares? It’s not a forum for politics. I’ve been in groups where we’ve gone down the road of heavy conversation about Iraq. And it’s four military guys, and we’re sitting talking military stuff, and the other two guys are like ‘shut up.’ We’ll sidetrack once in a while, because you just get there, and a couple of drinks in you go there. But really, like if you die – it’s okay. It’s still just a game. Just respawn, and it’s not that big of a deal to go get your buffs again. Sure, it sucks, and I’ve been there a million times. But if it happens, don’t turn around and dress down the guy. And I’ve dressed down a couple of players so I’m talking about myself in this as well. I’ve had to learn over the years to just back off and enjoy the game. I’ve been a jerk to people in the past, and I’ve gone back and said ‘hey, I’m sorry I came at you like that. I’m sorry I was a jerk.’ But really, the bottom line: just remember it’s a game. That’s it.”
Do you have any words of wisdom for jaded players?
“I can be one of those jaded players. When I get in a group, and you’re doing a raid, and you want to finish the raid. You’ve spent an hour putting the group together, and there’s that one person. Last week, we did Caught in the Web. And there was that one individual that kept running off to the side. And dragging all the aggro. We’re all sitting there, and people are bolding it saying PLEASE STOP GRABBING AGGRO. Only because I just spent two hours of my life getting to this point. I really don’t want to repeat it. So if someone gives you a piece of advice, and tells you in-game ‘don’t do something,’ try not to do it. I can understand the jaded players, because you’ll have that one guy that does it again. And again. And again. And you’re sitting there going ‘for the love of god, stop!’ And they turn around and do it again.
Still no Sireth or Twilight. Sad Schir.
“But in the same sense, if you get someone new in the game, I can’t tell you how many thousands of plat I’ve given away to people who tell me ‘I just got this game a week ago and thought I’d give it a try but it’s hard to get a start.’ It’s not like they beg for it. You just talk to them, and play a couple of missions with them, and he or she is a cool person, and you give them 10,000 play and tell them to go buy some heal pots, or whatever. Just have fun with it. I think this would be it. If I were to meet someone, like myself or another jaded player that can be a little callous, just stop and think of when you first started. You didn’t know where House D was. You didn’t know what House D was. Someone tells you to go to House D to buy arrows and you’re like ‘huh?’ Just stop and ask them ‘do you know where it is?’ Just help out players.”
What are your thoughts on the upcoming expansion pack?
“I’m looking forward to it. Every time there’s an expansion or an update, I jump on and dive into it. I grind like the best of them, and I turn around and respec my dudes just like everyone else does. You plan your toon for +3 tomes, because oh my god that’s the new latest and greatest and you’ll never see one but just wait for it. Now we’re all sitting around saying ‘well I’ve got +4 tomes – now what?’ You’re always respeccing, and I kind of dig that. I’m looking forward to the new loot, and new quests, and I’ll jump right on board with everyone else.”
What are your thoughts on the Iconic Heroes, like the Bladeforged Paladin?
“I haven’t looked too much into it, but I’m looking forward to that. The paladin is up and down. When the paladin was great, we had Zeal. Then they turn around and nerf Zeal. I’ve got a level 25 paladin that was a beast. I think with the new enhancement system, it will make that toon a little more worthwhile. I’ve got the Chimera set on him, and I understand that’s going to get a revamp. So all of a sudden, my paladin will be an awesome fighter again. It’s like I said – peaks and valleys.”
The character model the Bladeforged Paladin is different, have you seen it?
Please tell me our character models will all be amped up like this.
“Yeah! That will be cool. With the armors, there was a period there where I really had to question who they were hiring for design. I don’t know what they were thinking. When the IQ came out, it was great. There was great stuff, but really? Look at that one set of armor. You put it on and you’re like…I’m not going to make the stupid comments, but you can imagine, we all saw that for the first time and thought ‘this is sweet armor, but there’s no way in hell I’m going to wear this.’ I had a dwarf at the time, and on a dwarf there’s nothing you can do to make that look cool.
“I’m looking forward to something that’s a little more…you know, you’re a fighter. You’re a paladin. You’re supposed to be bad ass looking. You’re a warrior out on the battlefield. And you get out there and you’ve got this flamboyantly colored, slim cut, French runway model looking armor and you’re like, really? This isn’t bad ass. This is ‘I’m going to get my ass kicked in high school.’ If you could change the character model, that would be a tremendous boost to their client list and the amount of players in the game if they’d just improve the looks of the toons. It’s still one of the best out there, but still, it needs a huge revamp. Give me sliders so I can make them taller, or make their head squashed or beat up, give them more scars, cool looking mohawks, whatever.
“It’s a game about going into war, going into battle. They definitely don’t look like they’re doing that.”
* * * * *
So concluded my interview with Wolfie, leader of Sacred Flame Guardians on Sarlona server. Wolfie – both in and out of game – brings a real appreciation for the camaraderie of MMO gaming to his guild that i’ve been proud to be a member of for over a year now. It was really an honor to get to talk to him and learn more about his life outside of DDO as well, and i’ve certainly grateful for the opportunity. i hope that players both new and old can discover how much fun DDO is, and knowing people like Wolfie are out there shows me that all the cries of dooooooooom over the years basically amount to naught. You don’t have to be a hardcore zerger or grinder to find the fun in DDO. Just remember that it’s just a game, and there are real people on the other side of those colorful characters who have lives and experiences in game and out. But we all gather on our servers for the same purpose at the end of the day – to enjoy a game we love, with friends who make our adventures worth having.
Thanks to Wolfie for his time, and thanks for visiting!