Just a guy who played D&D

The best and most memorable of RPG campaigns and the rich tradition of fantasy behind them all start in the simplest of ways, with fledgling entrepreneurs who look at the world around them and feel an innate, sometimes imperceptible desire to help shape the kind of world they inhabit.

Whatever collection of skills and talents they are imbued with are recognized, and as they grow in competence through experience, form the core of their identity. Never put to the side and forgotten, the abilities they bring to the table are in fact celebrated. Through them, these folk engage with their world. Although their journeys do not often turn out the way they expected when they first began, they can nevertheless look backward and recall how they arrived, by remaining true to themselves to the best of their ability.

And maps.

Lots and lots of maps help ignite the memory and the imagination.

Hyboria map

An illustration of The Hyborian Age primarily based upon a map hand-drawn by Robert E. Howard in March 1932.

 

“I liked to read Tolkien and Robert E. Howard, and they all have maps,” Stefan Pokorny says of the road that lead him to Dungeons & Dragons in the late ’70s, when he was 12. (note: Paul O’Connor aka Longbox Graveyard considers 12 to be the ‘golden age’).

Middle Earth map

Map of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth

“When I started playing Dungeons & Dragons, I think it even said in the Dungeon Master’s Guide ‘you should be drawing a map of your world,’ so that’s what I did,” he explains. “I immediately thought that one of the most funnest parts of playing the game was to create all your own stuff.

“It’s the creative part that’s fun.”

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Stefan Pokorny, with some of Dwarven Forge’s terrain pieces

These days, when New York City native Stefan isn’t waiting for his Brooklyn building’s laundry maintenance person to arrive, he stays plenty busy with a career as an artist whose start, like the fantasy characters of RPGs and literature, lay in between the pages of a notebook.

Combining his devotion to medieval fantasy and D&D with a talent for sculpting, Stefan launched Dwarven Forge in 1996, offering pre-painted 3-D dungeon terrain to the gaming community, a business that endures today.

“It happened more out of desperation – I was trying to find a way to make money somehow, because I’d been a painter,” he discloses, dispelling the notion that this path was planned from the beginning. “I wasn’t really selling enough paintings to survive in New York City.”

He was working as a model painter for a company that would take his painted pieces, like small lighthouse figurines, and ship them overseas for mass production. At the same time, he was already beginning to build his own dungeon terrain for gaming, just for fun.

“I was thinking I could just take this to the next level (note: innocuous RPG reference there) and actually cast these things in resin and paint them. It dawned on me one day that I should do that – I should make dungeons.

“So that’s what I did.”

A friend from his neighborhood hobby store The Compleat Strategist suggested getting a booth at Gen Con, and with about 300 of his first dungeon terrain box sets, Stefan set up at a 10-by-10 booth at the world’s largest gaming convention.

When the convention doors opened, people ran to the booth and mobbed the place.

Four hours later, he was sold out.

Gathering contact info from would-be customers for the rest of that first convention trip (“there was still four days left!”), he headed home to prepare new stock.

“Now it’s been, what, 18 years? I dunno,” Stefan says humbly, happy if only for the fact that the same talent for art that drew him to fantasy in the first place continues to help him shape the world he lives in.

Stefan learned to sculpt while earning Master’s degree in painting from Hartford Art School, and on Dec. 19 will be celebrating the grand opening of his own, first art gallery, Zaltar’s Gallery of Fantastical Art in Brooklyn. Named after one of his oldest D&D characters, the gallery’s first show is titled ‘Transmutation.’

“It’s my transmutation from a classical artist to a sort of artist of the fantastical,” Stefan describes. “There will be a bit of both in the show.”

Drawing inspiration from classical artists like Michaelangelo and Bernini and contemporary artists, particularly Frank Frazetta, Stefan explains that the gallery is his dream come true – the full circle from fine to fantastical art.

 

frank_frazetta_afightingmanofmars

Frank Frazetta’s “A Fighting Man of Mars” from 1973.

“He was the man,” Stefan says of Frazetta, but he also notes that many of the artists who contributed work to those 1st Edition AD&D books captured his imagination as well.

“They were artists of the fantastic, and they stimulated your creativity,” he continues, noting that artists such as Donald A. Trampier and Clyde Caldwell had a big influence as well.

Trampier

Selection of art from Donald A. Trampier from the 1st Edition AD&D Monster Manual

“I’ve finally accepted myself as being not just a regular artist, but an artist of Dungeons & Dragons and these kinds of things, and seeing that as being art in itself,” he explains, describing not just his body of work but his vision for what Zaltar’s can represent.

“I really believe that Dungeons & Dragons is a kind of art. The way actors in theater are considered artists, and writers are considered artists. I think that dungeon masters are also artists, and should be seen as such.”

Initially featuring his work, Stefan considers calling for other artists’ entries in the future. Later shows may display maps that other dungeon masters have created, or painted miniatures.

Beyond the featured art show, the gallery will host other events throughout the week, like figure drawing classes and other traditional art programs, gaming nights and fantasy movie showings.

“It’s going to be a cauldron of creativity.”

Although Stefan doesn’t have a regular D&D group at this point, he still gets opportunities to game through the convention circuit, where he’s often invited to run game sessions. In addition, several of his ventures are funded through Kickstarters, and some of the rewards for contributing are a chance to go to NYC and play in a game run by Stefan – something a lot of groups chose to donate for.

“It’s a DM’s dream come true, to get paid to play D&D,” he points out. And those who play in Stefan’s games are in for a retro treat, since he still plays 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, having never felt the need to do anything else. Likewise, D&D video games don’t compare to what the pencil-and-paper style offer, “sitting around a table with actual people – taking the game wherever it might go, improvising. It’s ten times better than any kind of video game you could play.”

An upcoming Kickstarter scheduled for March will support Dwarven Forge’s World’s Greatest Modular Castle System. Past Dwarven Forge Kickstarters include things like Caverns and City sets. The latter of those projects made Dwarven Forge the 35th most-funded project of all time, surpassing Stefan’s earlier success with the caverns set (No. 41 or all time) and gaming tiles set (No. 48 of all time).

For the upcoming Kickstarter, Stefan teases that they may explore a new proprietary building material, similar in concept to the custom PVC variant ‘Dwarvenite’ used to make recent products. (note: he’s gonna have to go adamantine or something; Dwarvenite stands up to a lot of punishment without damage to the structure or color).

At the end of the day, it’s a simple thing that keeps Stefan motivated to continue following his passion, despite the lean times he’s experienced when Dwarven Forge’s future was in question (“At least we’re not losing money! So many years we were on the brink of going out of business.”).

“I enjoy it. I enjoy what I do, so everyday isn’t really like work. It’s just like playing, doing your thing. There’s times when it’s tedious, but it’s better than working in a coal mine – there’s lots of worse jobs I could have. There’s stressful times, for sure. But the greatest thing is that I own my own business, so I decide what I want to do and either sink or swim with whatever my decisions are. I’m the master of my own universe. There’s something to be said for that, and not following other people’s orders too much.”

Going back to his roots, Stefan will soon be publishing a book as well, in January 2016, that contains a collection of many of the meticulously drawn maps from his D&D games. Hundreds of his heretofore secret maps will be available for gamers to incorporate into their own campaigns, or just admire as works of art.

For Stefan, 2015 has been a crazy year (in a good way), notably because a camera crew has been following him around.

On top of his continued success with Dwarven Forge, Zaltar’s and the upcoming book, as well as being featured in several D&D-related documentaries, Stefan himself is the subject of a documentary called “Dwarvenaut,” directed by Josh Bishop.

“I was just a guy who played D&D with my friends,” Stefan reflects on the path that led him to where he is today, and bids farewell in classic D&D fashion. “Good gaming!”

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Personality goes a long way

An enjoyable, if grainy, documentary called The Dungeons & Dragons Experience led me down an Internet spiral the other night that included the woefully produced Dragons of Autumn Twilight animated film and settled eventually on a nostalgic blast from the past that is the 1980s Dungeons and Dragons cartoon.

This clip in particular, the intro from season 2 of the show, inspired a new alt creation for DDO as well as a question in my mind: what makes a character stick? Framed in the context of DDO, for me it all comes down to personality. New toons get rolled up all the time, and the vast majority wind up in the scrap heap. The most recent of these, however, carved out a niche for himself in my heart so i think he’ll stick around a while. We’ll get to that in a bit. As prologue, a peek into what makes a DDO character stick around in my stable.

As a rule of thumb, they must be ten times more charming than that Arnold on Green Acres.

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Thinking, feeling, behaving

In DDO, with its static storylines and essentially linear quests, there aren’t any opportunities in-game to shape a character’s personality. You either accept the quests presented by NPCs, or you don’t. And in the course of completing them, your only real option is to follow the path to the end and eliminate a boss monster to finish it out.

For a game based on the preeminent model that the entire genre stems from, this has always struck me as somewhat odd. But, it is what it is and nevertheless i’ve been enjoying it since 2006. Incorporating my ideas of how any of my characters think, feel or behave within the confines of the game system occurs only in my imagination – there’s no way to make any choices that affect the outcome of quests in a measurable way.

To illustrate this point, my two main characters are vastly different. Schir Gold, currently a capped warlock, has many past lives which are all some form of ranged combatant whether magical or mundane. She is always chaotic neutral, sports Free Agent Fuschia hair and loves engaging with the forces of Xoriat or any quests or stories involving madness.

At the other end of the spectrum is Experimenta, a disciplined soldier in any incarnation who cleaves to her sword-and-board roots, these days as a vanguard paladin. Ever-mohawked and adorned with Stormhorn Specs Cosmetic Goggles, she fights to keep some semblance or goodliness and order in her world.

Do either of these characters make any decisions that affect the outcome of their progression? Not really, no.

There are some quests either of them could avoid, based on my perceptions of their individual personalities. Purge the Heretics comes to mind, a longtime sticking point with many players that sees your characters doing some rather nasty work. But i would argue that, if you take the time to read and think about them, there’s an enormous number of quests that paint your characters as not so good and heroic – more like a greedy mercenary who will do anything for coin and loot.

Individual differences in characteristics

You’ve chosen your class and race, allocated ability and skill points, picked feats and selected starting spells, played around with the much-to-be-desired appearance options and finally, chosen an alignment (which has everything to do with gear choices later on and nothing to do with any sort of in-game paths).

Most of the time, players make these choices based on performance. There are some exceptions though, like building a Swim Cleric/Lifeguard or following a single weapon fighting path on a pure rogue assassin (more on this a bit later). And if you’re me, all of your characters feature a scar across one of their eyes. Even my own swimcleric, Jumponin Watersfine, whose facial detail came from an unfortunate incident at Siber Atoll – the best place for a high dive.

How any of this factors into a character’s personality lies, again, purely in the realm of imagination. As a non-min-maxer, i have no spreadsheets or analyses to reference to eke out every possible point of spell power or DPS. Multiclassing to achieve interesting syngeries is likewise not an activity i engage in, although i do try to build reasonably effective characters.

Whenever i am faced with a choice, which in DDO amounts to things you get to pick when you reach a new level, my first consideration is “what would this character do?”

For Experimenta, that always involves anything with the word “shield” in it, so feats, enhancements and the like are prioritized along those guidelines. At the other end of the spectrum, Schir Gold picks up anything that sounds otherworldly to me. That began way back in her first life, when she started the epic destiny of Magister solely because of the ability to “phase out from reality briefly.” And yes, i still twist that in to this day, every time.

Parts come together as a whole

Talking builds in DDO is probably the most frequent topic of conversation on our guild channel, at least in the odd hours i’m typically on there. Although i consider myself reasonably knowledgeable about game mechanics, i detect once in a while a note of bewilderment from my fellow conversationalists regarding the choices i make.

At the end of the day though, it usually gets mentioned that playstyle is paramount, and finding a build that’s right for you is of utmost importance. Something can make all the sense in the world on paper, but in practice it doesn’t work out the same for everyone.

In this way, DDO always reminds me a lot of Magic: The Gathering (i.e. the greatest game ever invented). The pilot makes the deck, and the right player with a starter deck could conceivably trump a novice playing a tournament-worthy deck because of this.

Likewise in DDO, knowing how to play the collection of pixel and points you’ve constructed is more vital than choosing what to play based on a net build.

A large portion of my playstyle boils down to the imagined character personalities. Experimenta likes to be able to charge to the front, protecting her teammates with a combination of tanking and mild crowd control. Schir Gold prefers to pelt enemies with a dizzying array of effects like DoTs and AOEs while madly jumping and tumbling around.

Sometimes there’s a half-orc

i won’t say a hero, ’cause what’s a hero? But sometimes there’s a half-orc.

And i’m talking about my new alt toon here.

Sometimes there’s a half-orc who, well, he’s the half-orc for his time and place – he fits right in there – and that’s Zzarak in Eberron.

zarak 1

Zzarak, as you may have guessed, is a half-orc. Inspired through several avenues, he’s been skulking around Stormreach lately, primarily making repeated forays into the Temple of Elemental Evil.

The seed of Zzarak was planted by Stefan Pokorny, a devoted D&D gamer featured prominently in the documentary mentioned at the start of this post. Pokorny, who incidentally parlayed his love of the tabletop game into a career by starting Dwarven Forge, a company that makes 3-D gaming terrain and accessories, mentioned anecdotally that he’s always liked half-orcs because of their nature as societal outliers.

Further down the Internet rabbit hole were the old D&D cartoon and the line of toys TSR put out. Many excursions were made to KB Toys for these (really dating myself here). The crown jewel of my collection back then was Warduke, one of the coolest and underutilized bad guy creations ever. If any DDO devs are reading this – give us some Warduke!

Another of these figures was, as you’ve probably guessed, this fella:

Zarak 2

Zarak, the evil half-orc assassin

Something about the hood, and the foundation of imagination that had already been built the other evening, plus an overflowing bank vault with rogue assassin-y stuff i might not otherwise use, led to the creation of Zzarak, neutral half-orc assassin of DDO.

ScreenShot00403

Like Experimenta’s first life, Zzarak is far from optimal. He’s doing single weapon fighting with a dagger – Assassin’s Kiss seen here – and the cosmetic indigo hood works nicely to complete the look.

So far, i’ve been enjoying playing this sneaky killer quite a bit. He (and by default, me) have been getting well-versed in the Temple of Elemental Evil. That quest is quite divisive in the DDO community, and personally i love it. Each time i play through parts 1 and 2, i enjoy it more and i hope to see more quests like this in the future.

As for Zzarak, i like to think of him as a fellow with a penchant for evil just like the monsters who keep attacking him, and in my imagination he’s desperately trying to communicate to them that he’s not there to ransack them – he only wants to help!

On a side note, the name “Zarak” was already taken, hence the extra “Z” in his name. Is there another half-orc assassin out there on Sarlona somewhere?

TL;DR

Despite a lack of real opportunities to make story choices in DDO, characters can still act and react to things differently, if you use your imagination.

Do your characters have their own personalities? Do they affect your mechanical choices or playstyle?

Giving your characters their own personalities and stories can make the game much more interesting. Give it a try sometime!

DDO New player advice

Observations for newer players

As a follow-up to a recent post that offered with any luck some food for thought on DDO play experience for veterans of the game, i would be remiss if there wasn’t a companion piece aimed at gamers new to this well-established MMO.

ddo_logo

If i’m honest, this one is a little trickier for me since i’ve been playing DDO since 2006, so it’s far from new to me. Back then, Smuggler’s Rest was the starting zone, you could only have four enhancements, the level cap was 10, Threnal was endgame and ransacking the Giants’ Lair for a vorpal sword was considered a worthwhile investment of time – especially if someone used diplomacy on the chest first.

Perhaps my favorite gameplay aspect from this era, though, was the “go kart bug.” In order to proc this bug, you had to equip a throwing weapon, enter stealth mode, toggle auto-run and then /sit. Doing so allowed characters to slide around in the sitting position so it looked, not surprisingly, like you were driving an invisible go kart.

Ahh, those were the days.

“But I just started playing last week,” a new player might think. “What does any of that have to do with me?”

Touche, new player. Let me counter with a couple of things to justify my admittedly indulgent nostalgia moment.

First, consider this: every veteran you see wearing a Founder’s Helm or sporting a forum join date in the aughts was once in your Sage’s Shoes. They didn’t create an account, roll a toon and log in with complete knowledge of game systems and all the quests and puzzles. So take it with a grain of salt if you find yourself in a PUG and get surprised comments directed your way about your lack of knowledge on any particular thing. There’s still vast swaths of DDO that i have yet to experience, too. Heck, there’s a guy in my guild who just started playing about a month ago and already accomplished a few things i never have.

Founder's Helm: missed it by a couple of months. Drat.

Founder’s Helm: missed it by a couple of months. Drat.

Be willing to PUG and group with others

This is perhaps the best piece of general advice i can offer to a new player. Or any player for that matter. For many years, i played DDO primarily solo, to the point of exclusivity almost. There’s several reasons why that came about but i’ve since cottoned to grouping more and the difference is extraordinary.

First and foremost, quests will generally go much smoother, easier and quicker in a group. While it’s true that dungeon scaling will increase the number of mobs and so forth, a group of up to six toons is going to roll ahead much more effectively than a lone adventurer.

Beyond that, whether it’s a group of vets, newbs or a mix of the two, the opportunities to learn something are increased by the number of people in a group. A new player might even have something to teach a vet, as a few of my guild mates discovered recently regarding the viability of the toughness feat that i mentioned in the veteran companion piece to this post.

Likewise, it’s not uncommon for veteran players to have a leveling plan so there are quests they might not have run in years, or optionals they always skip by in the xp/min grindfest. Unless you find yourself in a zerg-at-all-costs group, you very well may end up (re)introducing these folks to parts of the game they largely forgot. And everyone may wind up sidetracked by a little something called “fun.”

Grouping is a great way to meet other players, get (and give!) advice, and accomplish more together than you could on your own. Check the social panel next time you’re on by clicking “O” or using the menu and see what groups are doing. It’s also worth noting that the grouping panel has a bit of a glitch right now. In order to make the most of it, you need to click the “Who” panel, wait a moment until it refreshes (you’ll see the list of names refresh) then go back to “Grouping.”

If you don’t see any groups in your level range, try posting a LFM yourself, and don’t be shy about putting in descriptions like “first time running” or whatever – that not only lets people know where you’re coming from but also might make it more inviting to other new players, who sometimes feel intimidated by joining a group of experienced players.

And if all else fails, leave the group public when you enter a dungeon. If you’re comfortable playing solo, great. And if someone wants to jump in while you’re in-progress then you’ve got yourself a party.

Listening is different than obeying

When it comes to quest mechanics, like puzzle-solving and so forth, this piece of advice doesn’t exactly apply. Likewise, in raid situations for example that require more tactics and coordination, it’s wise to heed what experienced players have to say. This kind of advice comes not only from their personal desire to avoid quest failure, but also serves you well going forward, so in the future if you run a particular raid again for example, you’ll be more aware of how things are handled by the player population.

What i’m suggesting here is the myriad comments and banter regarding things like character builds, gear, what quests to run and things of that nature.

i’ve played a lot of MMOs, and almost all of them lend themselves to minutiae analysis. A stat point here, a gear bonus there can make a big difference and DDO is no different – perhaps even more so because of the deep customization options the game is known for.

My advice here is very similar to how one ought to approach reading and/or watching the news. If you take the first thing you hear as the absolute truth, you’re going to end up with a very one-sided viewpoint. Better to get your information from several sources and make your own informed decisions. The DDO Wiki is a fantastic resource, and the official forums can also provide invaluable information as well. An Internet search for “ddo (whatever you want to know about)” typically steers towards the forums and a wealth of answers. Watch the date on posts though – an older one may be outdated now because of updates or changes to the game.

Player advice, even that which is thought out and has been researched by the advice-giver, can’t help but be filtered through the lens of their individual experience. The mechanics and math might very well make perfect sense on paper and even in practice, but despite all of that it still comes down to a person’s playstyle and what works for them.

i like to use the example of my pure fighter, Experimenta, who perhaps could squeeze out more DPS or defenses by selecting different feats or enhancements, twisting in different destiny abilities, or splashing another class. But so far, i haven’t encountered any insurmountable obstacles and in fact have received quite a few compliments on her survivability, damage-dealing and utility in healing, buffing and raising from the dead other party members.

At the end of the day though, when confronted with strict advice, the best thing to ask yourself is “am i having fun?” If you find yourself performing competently in quests, surviving boss fights and getting ahead, then congratulations – whatever you’re doing is working for you. Is there room for improvement? Sure there is, there always is. Finding those ways through your own efforts though is going to be much more rewarding and will sync up better with your own playstyle.

Don’t get discouraged

Listen, i’ve been there. We all have. Total party wipes, bad PUGS and not-so-friendly players happen.

But for every player that gets mad at the player who dies in a quest, there’s countless more like me who feel more like it’s our failure as a party member when someone else dies. Say what you will about the xp loss, and believe me on a multi-TR every bit of xp is precious, to me it’s really not that big of a deal.

Of course, i want to get ahead, level up and all that jazz. But speaking for myself, i’ve never quite understood the extreme hurry. What i enjoy most about MMOs is that there’s a bunch of other real people logged in, running around the shared environment, chatting and forming groups to tackle game content. Sharing ideas and tips, as well as joking around and meeting new people, is what sets online games apart and with that, you’re going to have both positive and negative experiences.

The trick is to take away something useful from all of them.

Just the other night, i experienced a discouraging situation running some quests for the first time. At first, for a moment i’ll admit i was pretty ticked off by the turn of events. But only for a moment. The next night, we tried again with some different people and tactics and found success. It certainly wasn’t worth ragequitting, causing drama or giving up. i didn’t feel the need to reroll my toon or make sweeping changes to the build. We just approached it a bit differently and that made all the difference.

Really? Worst quest you ever ran. Well, my next one will be better. Hello.

Really? Worst quest you ever ran. Well, my next one will be better. Hello.

The right game for you

This one’s pretty simple. Is DDO the right game for you?

As i mentioned earlier, i’ve played a lot of MMOs over the years. Right now on my taskbar, there are shortcuts to Star Wars: The Old Republic, Guild Wars, Guild Wars 2, Star Trek Online, Marvel Heroes, The Secret World, The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot, Rift, Neverwinter Online, Final Fantasy XI, Final Fantasy XIV, World of Warcraft and Champions Online. Many others have come and gone from that taskbar over the years.

None of them i’ve invested as much time in, or enjoyed as much as, DDO. Maybe it’s just the D&D-ness of it, or the mechanics, or who knows what but i keep coming back to it because i enjoy it above all the others.

Even with that being said, i still take breaks from it here and there. A few weeks, a few months, but i always come back around. Which isn’t to say any of those other games aren’t great, too. At the same time, there’s more than a couple of those that i haven’t played in years, and some that i tried out for a few weeks and simply didn’t enjoy. Neverwinter is a prime example – i played that for about two days and just thought it was crap. In fact, i’m removing it from the taskbar right after i finish this sentence.

If you’ve delved into DDO, played for a bit and find yourself feeling unsatisfied consistently, there’s no shame in moving on. Any of these games will reward investments of time (and, often, money) and even some long-time DDO players seem to approach the game more as a chore or work than for what it is – a game meant to provide fun entertainment.

One of the coolest things about MMOs is that, even if you quit and uninstall the client, you could return years later and find your character still intact. If you’re reading this and played DDO many years ago, you will be happy to discover more than a few special items in your characters’ inventory were you to log back in today.

If you are a newer player, and wound up here after trying the game a bit and maybe having less-than-the-best experiences, i hope some of these observations might improve that.

TL;DR

For the DDO player who zergs through reading like they do through quests, here’s a few pointers to summarize what new players can do to make their play experience more positive, acclimate to the game, improve the community and with any luck have more fun.

  • Group up
    • Don’t be afraid to join PUGs
    • Post your own LFM
    • Leave quests open to public
  • Don’t feel obligated to obey
    • Listen to advice but make your own decisions
    • Find the playstyle that works for you
    • Learn to differentiate between mechanical advice and personal opinions
  • Don’t get discouraged
    • Character deaths happen
    • Quests and XP will always be there
    • Learn something new from every experience
  • Take a break
    • If you’re not having fun, don’t punish yourself
    • Try another game, maybe it’s not the right time and place for DDO and you
    • Been away? Log back in and see if changes make it better for you

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DDO Devilish new updates

Putting the follow-up my observations for veteran DDO players meant as a companion piece aimed towards newer players, i’m taking a moment as always to examine what’s coming up as shared in the most recent Producer’s Letter.

Current DDO Executive Producer Severlin posted on the forums today what the team at Turbine has been up to as well as what players can expect in the next few months.

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First up, and something that is perhaps the most frequent topic of discussion and concern for players, is tacking the chronic lag problems in DDO. For me personally, lag hasn’t been a major issue at the level throngs of others have experienced, which frankly sound exceedingly frustrating. Once in a while, i’ll lag out, freeze up or go through some jaggy movement, but not to the extent of 30 minute or more lockdowns and TPK situations.

Nevertheless, working to make improvements in stability and performance is never time wasted. Part of this work, which Severlin shared, is a project to transfer game servers and hardware to a new data center. Sounds scary – i have trouble keeping track of the cords coming out of my desktop now – but overall a genuine goal geared towards making the game run smoother for everyone, which is something i can stand behind.

There’s already a few comments portending DOOOOOooooooom! based on this announcement, and there’s certainly the possibility of a few snags during the process, but upgrading hardware is ultimately a good thing. More power to you, Turbine.

Last week, the forums got a new category that already shows a healthy amount of engagement: the Warlock forum. This new class has been talked about for quite some time, and the official news from today’s producer letter is that it will arrive in-game in June’s Update 26.

A new class to discover is always exciting. The monk, artificer, favored soul and druid were all post-launch added classes and remain popular so i’m sure the warlock will also find its place in players’ hearts. Another spellcaster class, the warlock brings a sixth class to that category, leaving four in each of the other two (melee and specialist). This is something i do find somewhat odd. Even though warlock is distinct enough in flavor and mix of abilities, it is in the end another spellcasting class. And still no psionics, something i’ve been advocating for years and years, often dismissed as just another spellcaster with different spell names. Perhaps the warlock will provide a new framework for approaching class design that will usher in the age of psions in the future. Fingers crossed.

A star pact warlock. Hey, maybe we're get tieflings as a playable race (if so, the cool-looking ones please, not the humans with weird horns)

A star pact warlock. Hey, maybe we’re get tieflings as a playable race (if so, the cool-looking ones please, not the humans with weird horns)

In the meantime, i will most certainly be creating a warlock myself, and there’s no question on which pact i’ll choose – the Great Old Ones. From what is already shared on the forums, these otherworldly warlocks will have a focus on acid spells and crowd control with a little insta-kill mixed in. i would like to have seen radiance as their focus instead of acid, since it represents the light of the stars from which they draw their power. Maybe that will be implemented by the time they release? If my own contribution to the official feedback thread had any impact (or this post right here – please forward to developer Vargouille!). As for that crowd control part, Evard’s Black Tentacles would be a much-appreciated new spell.

The standout news from the letter is that, following Update 26 in June is another one, Update 27 in July. Just one month apart! Severlin reveals much more about this update, which will include a new adventure pack that focuses on the very popular and well-liked Shavarath storyline. Eberron content ftw.

Ready to head back to the Plane of Battle?

Ready to head back to the Plane of Battle?

This time around, players will discover more about the Archon’s battle with the armies of Shavarath and take an active role in the drama. Mysterious Remnants are involved (maybe they’ll start dropping in greater numbers. Please!) and it turns out they come from the Plane of Battle, which is where the action from three new dungeons and a new raid takes place.

Aside from these two updates, Sev addresses player feedback about problems with the DDO Store, with an announcement that it’s getting an overhaul for an improved experience. Later this summer, players will find a streamlined DDO Store which i’m sure means among other things it would be unavailable as often. Although, if i’m honest, sometimes i like when the DDO Store is down because it saves me from impulse shopping.

Finally, there is more news about the long-awaited increase in level cap from 28 to 30. The plan has been to make 30 a hard cap, and i haven’t heard any different in this regard. That being said, it’s entirely possible that a year from now it’ll get raised to 40 for all i know. That’s pretty much what MMOs do. On the other hand…

…the other thing MMOs do at endgame is provide difficult crafting systems for top end gear. To that end, one of the things in the works is an epic and extended version of the ever popular Thirteenth Eclipse raid. Yes, that’s what it’s actually called but it’s more widely known and affectionately referred to as The Shroud. Along with it is an updated and epic version of green steel crafting, probably the most popular crafting system in the game. The stuff you can make from green steel is tremendous, and an epic version should keep players busy and happy for quite some time.

Along with the epic Shroud is another new adventure pack related to the Vale of Twilight, too. MOAR new content is never a bad thing.

Overall, a pretty tidy new producer’s letter that seems to include a little something across the board. Performance-enhancing maintenance benefits everyone, and a new class will give builders something to tinker with, and slapdash players like me something to fumble through life with, too. Quote a bit of new content is on the horizon, all of it taking place in Eberron which gets two thumbs up in my book.

One thing i am curious about is Update 26. Other than the warlock, what else is there to this upcoming update? Severlin doesn’t mention anything, so i wonder if it’s just the new class and maybe some tweaks to enhancement trees and stuff? Perhaps there will be a new general tree or a third tree for the classes who have only had two for an overly long time. Or maybe a refinement pass on Cannith Crafting?

At least we won’t have long to wait to find out – June is just around the corner!

DDO Please play responsibly

Observations for veteran players

My time spent having fun playing DDO lately has improved considerably since joining The Unrepentant guild, and not just because it’s a very active guild that regularly runs a variety of content at all hours of the day.

The best aspect of running with these folks has been the terrific guild chat through the Mumble app, and all the engaging conversations that arise both in and out of game. Frequent topics include character builds, gear, playstyles and approach to the game, as well as a vigorous amount of banter and humor.

Because of the active nature of the guild, both in terms of questing and recruitment, there’s a fairly steady flow of applicants both veteran and fresh to DDO, and i’ve made a few observations to share that with any luck will provide a nice takeaway for both ends of the player spectrum. And since brevity is not my strong suit, i’ll cover vets here and new players in another post.

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All we need is just a little patience

To an old timey forum dweller like me, the topic of veteran attitudes towards new players is nothing new. It’s not my intention to admonish any long time players if i inadvertently describe traits that apply to anyone in particular. Based on what i’ve read over the years and my in-game experience in PUGs and guilds, the two extremes of vet player attitudes towards new players is either one of helpfulness or disregard.

The fulcrum upon which those two extremes rest is patience.

A patient vet, grouped up with a new player or even through the /advice channel in-game, takes the time to answer questions and offer tips and suggestions, realizing that the knowledge they’ve acquired is valuable and takes time to accumulate.

The impatient vet may very well take new player questions with disdain, feeling that they ought to take the time to find out the answers on their own through trial-and-error, the forum of the critically important wiki.

Whatever the approach though – either of these extremes or somewhere in the middle – the most important thing to keep in mind is the perspective of the new player. There’s a few recruits in the guild who are new to DDO in general, and i get the sense sometimes that even helpful advice can be overwhelming.

For example, one of the people i tend to play a lot with is new to DDO, but not games or specifically MMOs in general. So for him, learning the ropes is primarily just understanding the finer points of the game. A couple of times, i’ve detected a hint of frustration in his voice from vet players’ comments and tips regarding things like gear.

You need this!

After so many tips on suggested gear item (utility things like particular purpose named items for instance) i sensed that he maybe felt a bit stymied, noting that he only has so much bank space and has no room for all the things he “needs.” What helped more was that, in addition to tossing out suggestions for chase items, explanations were provided as to what/why/how these things could help. Most vet players have at least one toon that we’ve made some investment in, for practical things like increased bank and vault space. Even despite that, item management can get frustrating at times with all the loot that accumulates.

i’m not alone in having thrown out or sold more named items that a new player probably has in random lootgen clogging up their inventory space. Unless some random treasure is exceptionally amazing, more than likely it’s destined for the vendor. When it comes to gear i’m a snob and almost completely disregard stuff with less than a dark blue item border color.

By comparison, and especially until a new player understands just how much gear affects character performance, they might rarely ever swap anything out (Korthos gear in Gianthold?!) or hoard things that seem really useful and maybe not realize they’re doubling up on things or stacking unstackable bonuses and the like.

To sum up, it goes a long way to offer new players advice on useful gear that will benefit them at every level, or makes for great TR twink gear or would increase their build effectiveness. A motivated player might take time out of game to read up on things or research ways to improve. What a vet can do in-game though is invaluable, by explaining the reasoning behind their advice so that the new player doesn’t get overwhelmed or frustrated.

For the vet player there’s an upside, too. Helping new players acquire some of that useful, must-have gear provides an opportunity to maybe run some quests you might skip over or haven’t played in a long time. A lot of people skip over Tangleroot, which can net you a useful Visor of the Flesh Render Guards in addition to some pretty nice XP for the chain. Running it slower with a new player might be tedious, true, and that leads into the next topic.

Repetition is the mother of all learning

Another area where patience is a virtue is quest content. What i always try to keep in mind is that someone may be experiencing a quest for the first time. More than once, i’ve shared a laugh about how something like Water Works or STK used to be a huge undertaking back when we were new. To get through the entire WW chain in one session was a triumph.

Now, i rush through there by myself, under level, in about 30 minutes. Same with STK, Tangleroot, The Catacombs (hate you Crypt of Gerald Dryden) and several others. These can be tricky to run with new players, at least for me, because i certainly hope they get that sense of wonder and danger. When i first started playing DDO, we crept so cautiously along corridors, unsure of what lay ahead.

These days, with past lives and ship buffs that didn’t even exist then, plus knowledge from having run through these quests countless times, the fun comes more from seeing how the build responds to the content. Also, getting the drop on static mobs is a blast, often literally. In PnP it’s not uncommon to open a door, see a bunch of hobgoblins, roll for initiative and let the wizard toss a fireball and then clean up the mess; when you already know about the ambush around the corner you can fireball those sneaky monsters before they even know you’re there.

Thanks to patient vets, Experimenta went from unrefined first-lifer to contributing member of EE parties

Thanks to patient vets, Experimenta went from unrefined first-lifer to contributing member of EE parties

But imagine you’re playing that quest with someone on their very first run. More than likely, keeping up is their challenge and learning the layout or solving puzzles is going right over their heads. There’s still a lot of content i’ve rarely or never touched, and when i get the opportunity to with a group, i often find myself wondering what the heck is going on. But i have been fortunate to play a lot lately with very helpful folks who take the time to explain things to me. A big part of DDO that’s different from other MMOs in my experience is repeating content. So i know, the next time i’m in a quest i’m not familiar with, i’ll be that much more on the ball. This is a potential hurdle for a new player, who might not yet have grasped that they’ll likely find themselves running a particular quest again. And again. And again…

Take it easy, man!

Grinding for XP and loot is the way of the MMO, and in DDO that translates into repeating quests. Some players have a plan they follow, and some (like me) play catch-as-catch-can and jump into anything without regard to bravery streaks, XP per minute, sagas or prepping wilderness areas. In the end, the results are the same: you reach the level cap and either hang out there or TR and start a new life…and do it all over again.

By that point your TR toon (or brand new first-lifer in some cases) has past lives, epic past lives, twink gear and most importantly quest knowledge that makes the trip that much easier.

Now, put yourself in the shoes of a new player who may not be aware of all those mechanics yet. They’re in your group, thinking that since everyone is the same level, they’re going to be about equally effective.

Next thing they know, they see characters one-shotting mobs, tanking toe-to-toe with bosses, watching a character with a wizard icon bust out a greatsword and dish out more DPS than their barbarian. What’s happening?

Statsinger is a first-life bard spellsinger in a static group. Neglible DPS but keeps the party buffed

Statsinger is a first-life bard spellsinger in a static group. Neglible DPS but keeps the party buffed. Several suggestions to go swashbuckler route but i’m sticking with support – you guys will thank me later!

Left standing there watching in awe or dismay, a new player might get discouraged and think they’re doing something wrong. This isn’t to say the vet player is to blame – after all, we’re playing our best just as they are. But here again, i think a little explanation goes a long way for a new player. Sometimes, all it takes is a simple tidbit that can make a huge difference. For example, i mentioned stacking bonuses earlier. Sometimes this gets overlooked or goes unnoticed by new players who probably turned off the hints feature and missed load screen tip #179

Between quests, they switch out a few items and all of a sudden performance increases dramatically. The same can be said of feats and enhancements, the bread and butter of any build. You thought Skill Focus: Swim would come in handy? Maybe if you’re a swim cleric but other than that…sorry mate. Better go talk to Lockania and then hit up Fred to change that out. Oh, you didn’t know about Lockania?

DDO, widely touted for its deep character customization, can yield some amazing creations as well as gimp builds, and a little constructive criticism can go a long way to help a newer player. Personally, i’m a bit more open-minded when it comes to builds as far as deeming something gimp or not, but regardless of the gulf of opinions, it is always more beneficial to explain your reasoning more than “that sucks” or “it’s a gimp build – reroll.” Character success in DDO boils down a lot to playstyle and finding what works for the individual, so offering build advice to a new player with the thought behind it not only helps them, it can help you too.

Here’s an example: in guild the other night we discussed the toughness feat, once considered auto-include for every character. It provides additional HP and unlocked the toughness enhancements for even MOAR HP. Since the enhancement revamp that introduced trees, it’s fallen off in popularity, but there’s still people who squeeze it in their build for various reasons. One of our newer members shared his perspective on it, pointing out that as a paladin he got more benefit from the feat. A couple of vets questioned how this was, themselves learning about Tenacious Defense that grants a 20% bonus to maximum hit points. As regards toughness, i think that’s only 6 extra HP at cap from the feat (very likely i could be wrong) so to me, not really worth it. The point is, people took the time to explain and discuss the pros and cons in a constructive way, and everyone learned something.

TL;DR

For the veteran DDO player who zergs through reading like they do through quests, here’s a few pointers to summarize what you can do to help new players acclimate to the game, improve the community and with any luck make your own experiences more fun.

  • Exercise patience
    • Respond to the /advice channel
    • Steer people to the forums and the wiki
    • Give reasoned responses to questions
  • Explain yourself
    • What your suggestions mean
    • Why is this or that piece of equipment useful/necessary
    • Be willing to run quests outside of your leveling plan to help players snag that loot
  • Let players experience a sense of wonder
    • Let them take the lead
    • Give advice through hints but let them participate in puzzle-solving, quest mechanics, etc.
    • Death isn’t the end of the quest (10% base XP loss isn’t the end of the world) and can make memorable stories
  • Maintain perspective
    • DDO grind is a somewhat different animal than other MMOs
    • Constructive criticism can lead to a little tweak that makes a big difference
    • Keep an open mind and remember what it was like when you were new

Play responsibly

If there’s any takeaway from these observations, it’s only that i hope players across the spectrum play DDO responsibly. It shouldn’t be a chore, or a frustrating task and that’s certainly not what i mean to say. Above all else, it’s a game and the primary purpose is to have fun. But being an MMO imparts a social aspect of real people interacting with each other. All of us who love the game hope it continues for years to come, and a big part of that is building and maintaining a healthy community and robust playerbase. If a new player repeatedly has negative experiences in-game, and therefore less fun, they’re just going to move on and the playerbase will dwindle.

That isn’t to say DDO’s future relies on the players alone. Marketing and advertising, and providing a great game experience, is the duty of Turbine and the development team. But what veteran players can do is leverage the experience and knowledge they’ve gained to help a newer player have a better game experience, too.

As a side bonus, patience and a willingness to guide new players means you’ll get to be a part of their characters’ milestones. Everyone remembers their first time facing Velah, or stepping inside epic quests or a raid and total party wipes. It happens. What you can do as a vet is be a positive part of new players’ stories that they’ll carry with them on their own journey to becoming a vet for someone else.

Check back soon for some observations aimed at a newer player, and what they can do to make for a more enjoyable and successful game experience.

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DDO Balancing Act

A look at the balance between multiclass and pure builds with a poll at the end!

DDO’s recent Update 25: Reign of Elemental Evil included not only a brand-new classic adventure in the form of Temple of Elemental Evil, but also an enhancement pass for the rogue class that reworked all three trees of the D&D staple class.

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Of course, this has resulted in some divisive discussions on the forums, with one thread in particular quickly racking up pages through a debate on the merits of backloading some powerful abilities. Specifically, some folks have taken issue with a trend in several updates that amps up the power of level 18 and 20 core abilities. The contention is that this trend is killing multiclass builds, and therefore one of DDO’s most touted aspects – the complex character building options – by providing greater incentive to remain “pure” (not multiclassing, or very little beyond a 1- or 2-level splash).

i’m not going to pretend i’m a master builder. Despite a join date of Dec. 2006, i’ve pretty much fumbled my way through the game, playing mostly solo or following behind guildmates playing characters built using spreadsheets to optimize their stats, feats, class splits, enhancements and so forth (or copying those shared on forums).

Nevertheless, i have been playing a long time as well as playing lots of other MMOs over the years, so i have a decent grasp of how these things work and how to at least build characters that aren’t completely gimp. RPG character building in general is a lot like CCG deckbuilding: You choose a method of defeating opponents and build to exploit it.

In the purest form, the goal of both CCGs and MMOs boils down to “dealing damage to defeat opponents and staying alive while doing it.” That being said, all considerations beyond that point are simply a matter of taste for the player piloting the deck, or character as it were. It’s a collection of numbers that affect the way the game is played, and the best vehicles have a lot more to do with the person behind the wheel.

Two guildmates and friends, one a MC staff fighter, the other a MC swashbuckler. Better than pure rogue or bard? i can't say for certain, but different playstyles for sure

Two guildmates and friends, one a MC staff fighter, the other a MC swashbuckler. Better than pure rogue or bard? i can’t say for certain, but different playstyles for sure

To illustrate this, i’ll use the DDO character i’ve been playing the most lately, Experimenta. Based on another, very long forum thread about how difficult DDO was for new players, i created this human fighter following the Stalwart Soldier premade path and leveled her all the way to 20 by letting the path choose feats, stat increases and where to allocate skill points. By the time i reached the epic levels, i enjoyed playing this character so much that she became my primary character, and i started looking for a guild to join. In all my time playing, i’ve never done much raiding or anything, and i wanted to change that and felt like this would be a good character to explore that with.

The Unrepentant is a great group of people who have a much wider community in gaming outside of DDO. Since joining this guild, i’ve not only run quests and raids for the first time – which is awesome – but i’ve also gotten to test my mettle on elite difficulty in higher-end quests as well as learn a lot from the members and engaged in friendly chats regularly. All of those things have given me a new insights into DDO, and if i’m honest it’s like a whole new game for me and a new level of fun, which is great.

One of those insights, which brings back around the idea of balance, regards building characters. The folks i’ve run with so far have some truly amazing characters that can dish out some serious DPS and stay alive while doing it through a combination of defenses, mitigation and healing options. One guy in particular that i play with a lot, who is from Florida but lives in Australia so he’s on in the wee hours i tend to play at, is an excellent builder who carefully crafts his characters. We’ve talked extensively about it and i like his perspective on how a player’s effectiveness has a lot to do with finding a playstyle that suits them, moreso than copying a forum build that is mathematically superior.

i think a lot of people would probably look at Experimenta on paper and think it’s a gimp character. As a pure fighter, there’s nothing in the way of self-healing, and there’s no interesting multiclass interactions going on with her. Nevertheless, my guildmates seem to appreciate my contributions to quests because of Experimenta’s survivability, and she can deal pretty good DPS.

Experimenta ran Rainbow in the Dark on elite, shown here after almost all her gear was eaten up by rust monsters...yet she held her own and completed the quest without dying once.

Experimenta ran Rainbow in the Dark on elite, shown here after almost all her gear was eaten up by rust monsters…yet she held her own and completed the quest without dying once

For some background, after playing to cap, i did an epic reincarnation followed by a TR that i messed up. i planned to try a pure paladin Vanguard build as a Purple Dragon Knight, thinking i’d LR to get rid of the fighter level they start with. Foolishly, i took all 15 levels as a fighter though. So, it looks like it’s another fighter life for Experimenta. But that’s okay, i’ll just have better tactical DC’s next time around.

i spent a majority of the AP in the Vanguard tree including the capstone and Tier 5 enhancements, with the rest in Stalwart Defender, and just a few in PDK for the healing amp. Through chatting with guildmates, i’ve learned that my usual self-deprecating approach to DDO isn’t quite as accurate as i’ve always thought. As it turns out, i know a fair share about what works and what doesn’t, and how to be effective. It’s also been cool to get complimented on my ability to tank and support the group with CC abilities like stuns. And everybody enjoys watching Experimenta’s shield charges, which is also my favorite ability by far.

One thing i’ve taken away from these experiences is a fresh perspective on a lot of forum discussions about character building. As it relates to balance, i read these threads and have to wonder – how are these people playing DDO? With my experience playing solo so much, i’m inclined to think the people who get upset must also be doing the same. Not so much with Experimenta, since i have run some things on elite by myself and handled them okay, but in the past i’ve played some pretty squishy toons and elite was out of my league. But in a group – even with said squishy characters – it’s a different ballgame altogether. Unless a toon is just straight-up build to not work on purpose, i honestly don’t get why people become so frustrated when changes come along that they feel nerf their characters.

To put it simply, a character like Experimenta would be viewed as suboptimal because if only because of being a pure fighter. But there i am, holding my own and contributing to quests – even epic elite – with the rest of a group.

This makes me think that a lot of the forum anger stems from theory rather than practice. Taking a look at the rogue’s Assassin and Thief Acrobat trees, which were the impetus for the thread that led to this post, shows that they have some powerful enhancements available at levels 18 and 20. The forum OP believes this is poor design, because it takes away the options to mix one or two other classes into a build due to what would be a loss of DC for the assassinate abilities, loss of double strike and so forth.

But isn’t that the entire basis of multiclassing to begin with? You are willingly giving up the top shelf abilities of a pure class to allow for variety with your options. That’s always been the case, most notably in the form of giving nonhealing classes the options to heal themselves and be more self-sufficient (so groups didn’t need to wait around for healers).

i’ve never played a rogue, so i can’t speak to the specifics of the argument that much, but the OP ends with something i DO know a bit about – shielders or sword & board builds. To quote:

For years I have been trying to play shield builds. Some of my builds are here in the forums, the majority lost. A shielder was a very non obvious build. You could build an evasion shielder with high hamp using a monk. Or later with DC and consecration, FVS where pretty nice. Wizard splashes, traditional paladin or even paladin fighter splashes. I saw a barbarian splash for shielders that worked nicely at some point. There were very many build possibilities. It was not a super powerful super obvious archetype like the centered kensei, which was basically already chewed for us. But you could somehow play it and still have a ton of options.

Now shielders are powerful again, but they are all the same: Vanguard with 20 levels of paladin. How many choices left there? Very few. It is boring and while the shielder holds its ground well enough in all difficulties, it is boring. Life after life you have to play very close builds, there is very minimal room for improvement. If you deviate from the optimal (pure paladin), you gimp yourself with amazingly little in return. Not cool, not fun, not enjoyable and not good for long-term retention. At least in my case.

At least it ends with a disclaimer that it’s a personal observation. As a shielder myself, i take issue with this claim that a pure paladin is the only way to go and everything else is both gimp and boring. i’ll admit, i’m interested in trying out that build, but at the same time i have to consider what i’m giving up even to follow another pure build.

As a paladin, i’d be getting of course the great saving throws of that class, plus Lay on Hands for healing, Smites and the highly-touted Holy Sword spell for a huge bump in DPS. But what am i giving up from fighter? With all the bonus feats a fighter provides, i’ve been able to max out three complete fighting styles – shield mastery, two-handed fighting (for bastard swords) and weapon specializations, plus improved crits and i was even able to throw in Skill Focus: UMD. That last one i think is much appreciated in groups when the S&B fighter can scroll heal and raise dead.

Now compare either of those to a multiclass build. Through various combinations, i could potentially increase DPS, or healing, or add more spellcasting or whatever. What does that mean? Essentially, it’s only changing the playstyle – not the effectiveness. Let’s say i took just 14 levels of paladin for the Holy Sword access, and the other 6 levels in ranger, which is a popular build that opens up a lot of ranged combat options, the manyshot feat and so forth. In doing so, i’m giving up the top end of Vanguard abilities that add a ton of DPS and defense. This is a change in playstyle only. Sure, i could deal out some serious damage at range, but as a capped Vanguard i could just run up and stand there beating on a monster, and surviving the encounter wouldn’t be a problem. That’s one thing my guildmates have made mention of, which i only marginally noticed since i went from playing mostly solo to grouping – it took me a while to realize how much more punishment i could take in comparison.

Here’s another example, using a popular build that mixes the druid’s wolf form with the barbarian and fighter classes. This build is amazing to watch, with incredible attack speed and damage the literally chews through monsters very quickly. By comparison, i ran a pure druid wolf build a while back that i also found very effective. True, it didn’t bring as much DPS, but it made up for that with the druid’s awesome CC spells, as well as healing and buffing, plus other great options like the Word of Balance spell and a wolf companion that if built well could contribute effectively, too – essentially adding to DPS (and CC with trips). Again, it comes down to playstyle – you’re trading off spells you need to click on for other things to click on like rage to increase damage. At the end of the day, the goal is the same: dead monsters and living adventurers.

What i’ve observed over the years, and which has been a great evolution of DDO, is that class or playstyle balance has become better. Pure classes have grown to where what used to require multiclassing now is only another option. A great example of this is perhaps one of the most difficult character builds in D&D history – the fighter/mage. A “gish” – skilled in both physical combat and magic – has long been a popular concept. In DDO, this was always considered gimp because deviating from the wizard class to take fighter levels for example meant that neither would be effective. Your spellcasting DC’s and simply access to higher level spells was gone, and your combat abilities would not translate into higher level competence either.

Over time, clever builders of course discovered ways to make it effective through out-of-the-box thinking that mixed class abilities and enhancements, for example the uber-popular “Juggernaut” builds of a few years ago. These days, there’s no shortage of spellcasting melee characters either, and they can certainly wreck quests with the best of them. But for purists, there’s also the option of the Eldritch Knight trees available to both wizards and sorcerers. I’ve played a pure sorcerer EK myself, and i found it to be quite capable. In fact, again in terms of playstyle, i enjoyed immensely that i could hang in there with melee combat while retaining full spellcasting abilities for not only buffing but some instakills, AOE damage and room for utility spells like DDoor.

Here’s another example – the ranger’s Deepwood Stalker tree. What i was happily surprised to discover here were that it gave the ranger some cool self-healing through the Tier 2 empathic healing and really made for an interesting character who, while not able to fire off an arcane archer’s array of specialty arrows simply traded off those clicky powers for ones that just did more pure damage. Is a monkcher a better build? i’d content that no, it isn’t – it’s just a different playstyle.

The point i am trying to make with all these examples is that all of the changes that have occurred in DDO since it launched in 2006 have really served to move the game forward. To say that multiclassing is nerfed, or pure classes are suboptimal, is just plain shortsighted. DDO is widely known for and considered to have one of the best, most complex character creation systems of any MMO, and that has only continued to broaden over the years. As my friend in Australia pointed out and that i’ve tried to illustrate here, is that the beauty of DDO lies in the variety of playstyles it supports.

If you are a clever builder who enjoys constructing complex characters who achieve effectiveness through a splash here, an enhancement there, you can come up with some unique, intriguing toons that you’ll have a blast playing and continuing to refine.

On the other hand, if you’re like me and enjoy exploring the potential of a single class in its purest form, you can absolutely hang in there with top-tier players and builds, not just as a piker but as a true party member that can contribute their share to quest completion. In fact, you might even surprise some MC builders with what you can do.

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Thanks as always for visiting The Long Shot. If you enjoyed this or any other content you find here please follow/like/share.

Please share your thoughts and comments on this topic in the comments section – there’s a lot of perspectives out there and i’d like to hear yours!

As always, i appreciate each and every person that visits The Long Shot. It’s a great joy to share not only my own thoughts but also stories of science, technology and pop culture from my hometown Cleveland and the surrounding area. If you have anything you’d like to write about, please feel free to contact me or Take a Shot yourself and write about topics that interest you.

Thanks for reading!

Week in Geek 4.9.15

Week in Geek – a roundup of science, technology and pop culture news with commentary each Friday (okay maybe not each and every Friday, but pretty close).

Yeah, yeah, yeah i know – last week 4.3.15 was another bye week. But you’re here now, so let’s move on shall we? You’re even getting Week in Geek a day early!

Video game developer log coming soon

The Long Shot’s Take a Shot saw its first return-on-investment the other day! Don Hileman, a video game developer, contacted me about writing an article about game design, how his studio was formed and a behind-the-scenes look at what creating games.

Don’s email could not have come at a better time. Earlier that same day, i’d been feeling thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread, to borrow an analogy. Already working two jobs, plus keeping up as best i can here, another opportunity came along from my editor at The News-Herald to write human interest features on area businesses. It’s a terrific chance for more experience – and bylines – but i felt stretched for sure, like something had to give. The Long Shot here was on the table as one of those things.

Enyx Studios

Then, behold! Don sends me an email to inquire about sharing an article. Enyx Studios is a game development studio located here in Ohio, which instantly gave Don that Buckeye cred i love. The game they’re currently working on is horror-themed and is designed for play on PCs as well as XBox and Playstation. More than that, however, is the game’s integration with virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Rift.

Don shared a link to the original prototype demo with me, so i had a chance to check out what they have in the works. The game world in the demo is essentially a first-person tour but without characters or triggered events.

“It is mainly environmental stuff,” Don said. “But it gives you an idea of what the final art direction will be for the episodes
we create.”

The graphics in the demo are clean and crisp. Movement around the environment was smooth, and i didn’t encounter any clipping or collision issues so i’d say they’re off to a great start. As they continue to develop their game, i’m excited to see how it evolves. There is some mood music in the demo as well, which was reminiscent of The Secret World, a supernatural-themed MMO set in the modern world.

i don’t want to give too much away about this project, though, because i’m very much looking forward to Don and his team have to share with you. We exchanged a few messages, and i’m thrilled about the prospects of perhaps a series of developer logs so you can follow this project.

In addition to Don, Enyx Studios other founder is Andrew Pavlick. The pair met at a meetup for game developers and the idea of forming their own studio emerged from their conversation. Both guys had been freelancing for several years, but shared a perspective and decided to form their own studio to do things their own way.

In developing their game, they are following a model of dividing the ambitious project into smaller, episodic chunks that they can release as different “seasons.” That way, their small team can offer better quality content over time in a more manageable way. The inclusion of VR is something they feel creates a unique platform for their game, but they are also designing it so that a VR headset is not required to play, for those who don’t have access to one.

A very special thanks needs to be given to Bob Sopko as well. Bob is the director of Blackstone LaunchPad, which helps students turn their ideas into viable businesses, at Case Western Reserve University. Tales of more than one terrific entrepreneur, innovator or technology advocate has crossed my desk thanks to Bob, who Don told me passed my name along to him.

While we await what Don has to share with you about Enyx Studios and their game in development, keep up with them on Facebook and follow @enyxstudios on Twitter.

Classic Adventures in DDO

A couple of weeks ago, the DDO team shared a preview on YouTube of the game’s latest release, Update 25. On April 6, U25 went live, giving players the opportunity to partake in the latest quest content modeled after the classic D&D adventure – The Temple of Elemental Evil!

U25  Reign of Elemental Evil   Dungeons and Dragons Online (3)

Since the release of this Update, i’ve stepped foot inside ToEE a couple of times now so i can share some first-hand experience of it.

The first thing to mention, which was a surprise for players that the DDO team kept under wraps and announced the day of the update, is the featured guest Dungeon Master for the quest – Wil Wheaton. Reactions to this news were, as expected, mixed. Game forums are chock full of complaints about aspects of games large and small, so it’s not surprising. It must be very difficult, i imagine, for developers to decipher community opinions about things since there will always be people who feel strongly about a thing to voice their feelings on the matter. In the case of Wil Wheaton’s contribution to the game, several people feel like the investment of time and money into his voice work could have been better spent elsewhere, fixing bugs or creating more content and the like.

Personally, i love it. The DM narration in DDO has long been one of my favorite parts of the game, one of the many details that speaks to the flavor of its origins as a tabletop social game – the pencil-and-paper or PnP days.

In addition to Wil’s DM narration, one of the optional objectives in ToEE is discovering the scattered audio clips sprinkled throughout the quest. Finding them all and clicking on them not only provides some bonus XP, but gives players some background information on Wil’s long connection to D&D. He speaks about his introduction to D&D, games he’s played over the years, what it means to him and so forth. Granted, in a full party with chat, i missed some of what he had to say but i’m sure i’ll get to listen to them all in time.

My first foray into the Temple was with my primarily solo main character Schir Gold, who recently TR’d into another pale master build. This time around, i’m trying something new by taking two artificer levels, instead of two rogue levels, to make a pale trapper. By skipping rogue, i’m giving up on evasion but taking advantage of what the artificer has to offer through frontloading the class. Medium armor proficiency gives me that sweet PRR, and like the rogue, the artificer uses intelligence for all those skill points including the coveted Open Lock and Disable Device. On top of that, i can squeeze out more spell points for that blue bar, get a free lever puller and have access to rune arms and repeating crossbows for backup. So far, so good.

Schir’s time in ToEE on Heroic Hard difficulty made it a level 8 quest (she’s currently level 9). Things proceeded fairly well as long as i took my time, but i will say this quest is absolutely enormous so it became apparent early on that completion was a daunting endeavor.

Nevertheless, i soldiered on. Spirits were dampened when, after close to an hour in the quest i came upon the entrance to Dungeon Level 2 and realized i was no where near finishing this beast. None of the objectives had been reached yet, which include obtaining keys from each of four elemental temples devoted to earth, air, fire and water. Even finding the entrances hadn’t even been accomplished yet!

Despite all that, i was still doing well, able to defeat the monstrous mobs and manage my resources okay. That was when i ran into the ballista.

Some temple guards have a room on lockdown, and the only way to reach it is across a narrow bridge over a pit of spikes. Except that the guards have a siege weapon aimed straight down the hallway that, on top of laying down some serious damage causes a slow effect. Pinned down like that, even the Mysterious Altar that granted me somewhere around 300 extra hit points only prolonged the inevitable destruction of Schir, and thus ended her adventure that day.

What is very cool about ToEE though, is that the design is a new direction for DDO that blends elements of the wilderness areas with an instanced quest. While in ToEE, players can rack up a slayer count for the mobs and earn significant amounts of XP while doing so, which offsets the quests overall length that requires a healthy investment of time.

Another aspect of ToEE that at first turned me off was that it includes a brand new crafting system that uses various types of mushrooms gathered in both Part 1 and Part 2 of the quest. i’m not going to lie – my initial reaction was not positive about this new system. But, to be fair, that was before i had much chance to explore the place, which i did throughout the week.

Recently, my secondary character – a pure fighter who followed the premade path – joined a new guild called The Unrepentant on Sarlona. This character, Experimenta, was created based on a very long forum discussion last year about how confusing DDO could be for a new player. My experiment showed me it is nothing of the sort, but that’s a topic for another day.

Experimenta has been having a heck of a great time in The Unrepentant, and we ran through ToEE on Epic Hard this week a couple of times. Through these playthroughs, i gained a much deeper appreciation for ToEE as a whole and also for the crafting system. Our party acquired several of the craftable weapons upgraded with the mushrooms on the Overgrown Workbench in the Part 1’s main chamber, and after completing Part 1 and 2, we headed back in a few times for exploration, material gathering and XP from the optionals. By the way, that end fight is amazing. Extremely difficult, yes, but for a nonraid quest it’s probably the most exciting end fight in the game right now.

Because of the unique design elements of ToEE, i think this takes DDO in a whole new direction. Because of the instanced nature of DDO quests, noncompletions are typically anathema to players. But ToEE, similar to the Shroud with it’s green steel crafting, gives players a reason to enter the quest without total completion being a make-or-break scenario. Although much of the ToEE crafting is unknown at this time, it looks fairly deep and i’m looking forward to seeing what sorts of gear we can wind up with. Since i’ve never been much into raiding (something i hope my time with The Unrepentant will change) this is one of the only opportunities i’ve had to explore a complex crafting system like this, and i’m pretty excited about that.

Although the forums are rife with threads right now about what people think is wrong about ToEE, i’m very optimistic and i hope it grows on the skeptical folks like a fungal infection. With versions of it both in the heroic levels and the high-end of epic, it should give players a lot to do.

The last thing i want to mention right now about ToEE is that it really offers something for all the different builds out there. Portions of the quest have random traps – which the monsters can trigger as well – so there’s opportunity for trapmonkeys as well as tactics. The variety of monsters could be a bit more diverse, and perhaps will evolve over time, but right now there’s a good mix of brutes, ranged enemies, and spellcasters. The types of monsters include humanoids as well as classic D&D critters like rust monsters and the undead.

And if you’re lucky (depending on how you look at it) you may even run into one of these titular beasts:

Experimenta and friends ran afoul of a red dragon in the bowels of the Temple of Elemental Evil

Experimenta and friends ran afoul of a red dragon in the bowels of the Temple of Elemental Evil

As i continue to explore this terrific new content in DDO, i’ll be sure to keep you up-to-date with how it goes. If you have any tales from the Temple of Elemental Evil, drop me a line and let me know what you think. Or better, yet, write up your own analysis of this quest or any others!

DDO developers have stated that the response in general to their Classic Adventures, which includes ToEE and the well-liked Haunted Halls of Eveningstar, has been great and gave them a lot to think about going forward with content creation.

ToEE  as the 4th greatest Dungeons & Dragons adventure of all time by Dungeon magazine, behind Queen of the Spiders, Ravenloft, and Tomb of Horrors. If the current Classic Adventures in DDO are any indication, i’m super stoked to see what they adapt next. Expedition to the Barrier peaks ranked 5th, which i would definitely love to see in DDO.

Overall, ToEE looks to be a success for DDO. Getting someone like Wil Wheaton, an avid gamer and huge D&D advocate, to lend his talents to the game will hopefully help propel it forward and get some attention that equals a broader playerbase and more recognition.

See you in game!

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Remember – if you would like to contribute to The Long Shot, i’d be happy to make that happen! One team of contributors will be going to Yuri’s Night Space Party at the Great Lakes Science Center, where they were asked to be judges for their official costume contest. So be sure to check back for coverage of that. If you are celebrating Yuri’s Night anywhere in the world (or off of it – looking at you International Space Station) please share your experiences and photos!

Stay alert for posts from a new contributor as well – Don Hileman from Enyx Studios plans to share some behind-the-scenes tales of video game development.

My Week in Geek column also appears alongside other great blogs at The News-Herald Blogs (click the logo at the top right of the page for the main site).

Check out the articles i’ve written for The News-Herald.

Thanks for reading!

If you have any news you’d like to share, drop me a line and let me know – i try to keep up with stuff but i can’t read everything!

If you would like some further reading, about some science, technology and pop culture stuff that happened this week, here’s a few links i hope you find as interesting as i did: