Playin’ by new Rules

Some people love creating additional rules for themselves to play a game. Sometimes it’s quite simple — playing in a hardcore or ‘one life’ mode in a game that doesn’t officially support it. Sometimes they’re remarkably complex like the ‘Nuzlocke’ Pokemon ruleset (or maybe just seem that way to me as a non-Pokemon player).

I’ll happily mod a game for a new ruleset. I might even choose a particular achievement or goal to chase that alters the way I play. But just layering new rules over the top of a game ‘just because’ isn’t really something I’ve done. Couldn’t tell you for sure why. I don’t have any particular aversion to the concept.

Possibly it’s just not something I’d find fun on my own without the shared experience component. That’s my operating theory at the moment in any case.

Backing that theory is my eagerness for a community Iron Man event running on the Levistras Asheron’s Call server at the moment, created by Joneseh, Spigot, Wolfenstein and a few others.

My Iron Man character preparing to commit (one way jump) to doing more of Halls of the Helm dungeon.

You can see the full set of rules and the character sheet here – but the basics? A certain degree of randomisation on the creation of your character. You roll a 1d6 for instance to select which stat you max out at 100 during creation. Every other stat balances out to 46. You then roll out your weapon (or offensive magic) type. Oh and also completely randomise the order in which your character will pickup skills.

Beyond that, characters playing in this event cannot receive help from any character not also participating. No transfers from your main characters. No buffs from non-Iron Man characters. No outside help of any kind.

Oh, did I mention every character participating is flagged for Player Killing too? xD

Now the intent behind that is not to make this a bloodbath free-for-all (although there are no rules against this), but rather to add to the sense of danger that comes from the potential for friendly fire. Especially if playing alongside (or as) a 2H-weapon character and the cleave attacks they do.

Making the old new…

And it is amazing to what extent!

Building a character for yourself, it is typical to go with what is known as 3-school, learning Life Magic, Item Enchantment and Creature Enchantment even on a non-offensive mage character. So commonplace that having these buffs available on demand is just a fact of life.

Take that away and you need to find new ways to compensate. You need to draw upon your wider understanding of the world to think about places to go, suited to the adjusted power level of your character. Places that previously may have been skipped on the early game ladder get to see the light of day again. Jewellery and clothing with imbued buffs become some of the best items you can possibly find.

The old strategies get thrown out the window, basically.

I’m level 17 in this challenge so far, and the character I’m playing is rouuuugh. But it could be worse. I do at least have shield and healing trained already.

But hooboy have I relearnt the terror of enemy spell casters. It’ll be a while yet before I can comfortably take on any case capable of casting level IV war spells. >.<

Teetertot Moments

Only a week ago, I was trying out Asheron’s Call again for the first time in what I estimate must be at least 10 years. Fourteen if you take it from when I last ‘seriously’ played. And I almost bounced off entirely. I was so close to just calling it a failed experiment and moving on.

A week later and that outcome is almost unimaginable.

Asheron's Call -- Glendon Wood Prison dungeon.
Inside Glendon Wood Prison

The loss that would have occurred with that outcome indescribable. And yet I never would have even known or truly appreciated it. I would have had no way to. Because truth be told, until now I didn’t really understand Isey or Quin’s desire — or even ability — to wrap themselves up so entirely with EverQuest again (in its Project 1999 iteration). I was happy for them that they so obviously found such joy in it. But I didn’t understand how or why.

It took diving back into WoW Classic to make me realise my earlier stance on nostalgia might not be right after all. Rather amusingly, I was right in my estimation of WoW Classics lifespan for me. It did only last a couple of weeks. But I was way off base about why that would be the case. I could have seen myself happily playing WoW Classic for some time to come. And I realised this quite early on. So it isn’t without some degree of irony then, that this realisation is what sealed the fate on not playing it for longer.

Because it drove me to try AC again.

Asheron's Call Screenshot -- High up on a plateau, overlooking the Gharu'ndim desert after having climbed Bellig Tower.
I got up here through working my way up Bellig’s Tower dungeon. I was after the Lightning Hammer possessed by a revenant who (un)lived near the top, but I noticed it carried on past this target so I followed it further up. Eventually, I came to a portal to take me outside again — and was met by an amazing vista from atop the plateau. More — the portal shown jumps across to the next plateau in the distance. Then the next, in a chain, until I eventually found a sister tower to the one I started at.

I’m not the most prolific taker of screenshots. Generally, I need to remind myself to take any at all. But I’ve taken over 40 so far, and flicking back through them — even only spanning a week so far — carries so much memory and sentiment already.

Now I know, a large part of that sentimental power is driven by compounding upon old memories. But the effect is no less real or meaningful now for that fact.

Asheron's Call screenshot -- Green Mire Grave dungeon.
Nearing the end of Green Mire Grave

I felt an almost silly degree of pride in successfully navigating through the key and lock puzzle elements of Green Mire Grave without resorting to the use of a map, as I had needed to with the Mite Maze.

I made it through the Mines of Colier, down to the (now undead) Baron. Back in the beta this place had a different set of monsters and a chest on a 10-15 minute timer that spawned amazing loo for the level you could get down there.

People would line up around the room, waiting their turn at the chest and just talk and laugh with one another. The recent talk of lining up for quest mobs in WoW Classic made me smile in memory of this. Of course, no-one is lining up for this chest now — but yet… It was nice to be back.

Or heading back to the Glendon Wood Prison. This was the first dungeon I ever did in Asheron’s Call that wasn’t located near my hometown of Holtburg. Being back here I was reminded that dungeons in Asheron’s Call weren’t tailor made for specific levels. They were places that made sense in the context of the world they resided in. Sure you could complete the quest objectives within the low level portions of the dungeon no problem. But push too deep and you could find things best left locked away. Things you may not be ready for yet.

Overall, I feel like I might be back with Asheron’s Call for a while. Enough so to wipe the slate (sidebar) clear of all else for the time being. I could always be wrong — but I hope not. Because it’s a very similar feeling to the one I have about the longevity of this blog, compared to my prior efforts.

I may not have understood Isey, Quin and the others that played Project ’99 to the exclusion of all else before. But I do now.

Ding!

Well alright, maybe more than just one ding. I very almost didn’t get a post out at all tonight on account of wanting to extract every moment possible of play until better sense took over and drove me to bed. I made a fair bit of progress — not just in raw levels (although that too), but also in social ties to the server and general preparedness for this character to go out into the world.

Not dead — just resting. Lying down speeds up your stamina and health regeneration. (Mountain Sewer, near Mayoi in the south of Dereth)

I was just sitting in town, sifting through my spells — getting ready to learn the level II variants for that tiny bit more oomf in my hunting — when in local I saw the announcement someone had made a successful 9th tinker on a weapon, followed up swiftly by a 10th.

If you’re unfamiliar — in Asheron’s Call you can tinker with your gear. Up to a maximum of 10 times per piece. You can do a range of things, from adding a rend effect (bypasses some degree of elemental protection) through to increasing a specific resistance on a piece of armor.

Each tinker attempt requires more skill than the last, and being unsuccessful blows the piece of gear in question to smithereens. Now — add to this the knowledge that a weapon rend only ever has a maximum chance of 33% (and so is typically done as the first tinker, to avoid wasting materials) — and you might understand why tinker attempts are broadcast and why it’s worthy of a trot over to where the action is happening (craftin’ action!) to give a hearty congratulations.

(And also jealously inspect the resulting weapon, of course.)

Long story short, we got to chatting and I ended up joining their allegiance (guild). This provides access to a general all allegiance chat channel, along with a chat for my patron (the person I swore personal allegiance to) and his other vassals which I remember being quite good fun in the past with the right mix of people. :)

It seems a lot of the old habits are falling back into place. I lamented in the past on feeling like I’d lost a lot of the social drive in the context of MMOs. I have been far, far more willing to play solo than to even attempt to find a good-fit guild. I just had no interest.

And it isn’t really about ‘need’ either — Asheron’s Call is an incredibly soloable game. I don’t wish for any boost in gear, I want to go through raising myself up off the ground again. So it isn’t access to ‘stuff’ either. My motivation pure and simple was to get access to chat while I play. Later on I expect to join them in higher level play — but that’s a way aways yet.

But that didn’t mean I was opposed to taking an offered round of buffs. Level II spells? Pft! Level VII please! This gives an hour of near Godlike ability. Case in point:

Contrast in this image between the black death horde of the Olthoi and the place they call home might make it a bit difficult to see just how deep in it I am without a click through for embiggening — but actually? Turns out it was fine. Despite the fact that there were still more busy running in at me (as seen in the minimap).

It’s worth noting that levels mean relatively little in AC. The fact these things are 8 levels over me has no direct bearing on my ability to hit them or them me. Rather what matters is the total XP the level represents, and how it is invested.

Since I’m specialised in both Missile Weapons and Melee Defense — buffed to the gills as I was — these Olthoi made for good pickings.

Although that’s not to say it still wasn’t worrisome to see quite that many beelining for my juicy bits. This was in a dungeon called Olthoi Arcade, and I’d already descended several full floors to get here. Death (which would have also resulted in loss of the buffs) would have made for a terrifying recovery run.

In any case — come the end of the buffs I scarpered my way back outside and realised I had a lot of XP to spend. I chose to invest it primarily in my magic abilities to skip over Level II self cast buffs entirely, and jump to IIIs. It is around this point that I typically feel much more comfortable and at home with a character — so even if it isn’t quite optimal to push for it so soon when I’m still having Strength issues (geez arrows be heavy), it was worth it to me. Rest can catch up later. :)

On the power of my own buffs — after spending a fair bit of time waltzing around the map trying to remember who would actually sell me the necessary knowledge for Level IIIs — I carried on my adventures in the frozen north, in a dungeon simply known as the Mite Maze.

At this site — the pyromancer Branith was hounded by Mite Sentries ever deeper into the lair. I’m unclear precisely what happened to him after he was lost, seperated from his party in the maze… But I don’t think anything good, as you can find his Shirt and Staff laying on the ground at certain points within.

I’d spent a small portion of my AC Youth in this dungeon in the past — so I thought it would be a nice place to revisit, perhaps see if some further sign of Branith could be found, but…

AAAHHH! AAAHHHHHHHH! AAAHHH!

Who the hell let Gold Phyntos Wasps in here? The screenshot above is right by the entrance, and I literally had to do an about face and run back outside the first time I popped in. There were TWO of the Golden buggers initially. Just… RIGHT THERE.

Their sting is like ‘Pfft’ even through my measily Level III buffs — but they cast lightning bolts and those hurt.

Still — I managed to plink them down, get my breathing back under control and enter the rest of the maze wherein the Mite’s themselves lived. An enemy I was much happier with.

On the other hand though… It is a well named dungeon. And I got lost. Several times. I used to know this place like the back of my hand — no more it seems.

Buffs running dry I had to call a retreat so I could recast. It was at this point my brain advised the rest of me it was time to sleep, so I agreed to take a quick look at the map and try again tomorrow. (Although tricked myself, didn’t I — cos here I am writing this thing!!)

Anywho, here’s the map. Looks so simple from this view. Ingame you need to track all the twists and turns by memory alone.

Asheron's Call Map - Mite Maze
Tomorrow! Tomorrow I’ll get to the end.

Oh, if you’re wondering though — I ended the night on level 34 still. It was a near thing to 35 and another skill point — but the next thing I’m purchasing will be Mana Conversion, and for that I need yet another skill point which arrives at level 40. Mana Conversion is a skill that reduces the amount of mana it takes to actually cast something as the primary reason I want it — but secondly it also reduces the rate at which your magically imbued gear sucks its own mana reserves dry.

Handing in one of the earlier dungeon rewards — didn’t quite manage another ding after this one tonight. But given I started at 12 I think this is OK. :D

Thrill of the Hunt

In EverQuest you camp. WoW has you questing. But in Asheron’s Call you go hunting.

Ranging out near the edge of the safe lands. The pillars mark the edge, although it is still a transition and riding the edge can reap some rewards if careful. The pillars themselves also have a backstory — one I hope to uncover again in my travels, as it is lost to me presently.

Hunting takes many, many shapes and forms and can serve a range of purposes. My favourite approach being to roam the terrain. Rather than locking yourself to a specific camp or even area — you strike out and explore.

When I was new to Asheron’s Call this was less ‘ranging’ and more ‘puttering about within eye sight of familiar things’. Staying within a familiar locale grew to patrolling the wilderness around my home — Holtburg — in ever increasing distances. Hugging the natural line of the river became wanting to see what the nearby mountain range was like.

The first time making that next step was terrifying. The unfamiliar terrain could easily render your body full of goodies lost should you die.

But it was also exhilarating in a way I don’t think EverQuest, WoW or perhaps any MMO since has truly captured. Now I admit — Asheron’s Call was my first MMO experience ever. There is an incredible amount of positive bias that goes along with that. But in terms of unconstrained freedom to explore — I think I’m still sticking to the realm of objectivity to sing its praises above the others.

Right — opening this in all its glory is probably a little more complex than it should be unfortunately. But if you right click this link and tell it to open in a new tab or window, you should then be able to zoom in and take a look around at the nooks and crannies of Dereth.

Holtburg is in the North Eastern area of Dereth — the main landmass — resting alongside the North Western end of the river, or almost directly South East of the Crater.

Still — like I said. This was just one form. Creatures do spawn in places that make sense to them. If you had something specific in mind — you could go seek them out. Armadillos for a spine to craft the Sifili of Crimson Stars? Look to water banks.

Great Mattekars1 to craft a set of armor? Head for the hills — riiiight up the hills to the snowy peaks, leaving the valleys far behind.

And then there were dungeons. Some 700+ of them. Many containing their own story to uncover. You can find letters, or whole journals telling a perspective of a larger story. Lore hunts were a thing — looking for additional clues and insights into the stories we thought we knew. Sometimes it was through as small a clue as an inscription on an object. Although some stories were much better known, and personal to the nearby residents.

What I want to do next — is to work my way around the land of Dereth, uncovering the lore I once knew and have since forgotten. Visiting the dungeons, and places, and quests necessary to start reforming the story of this world for myself.

Not everything you find in the wild is out to get you — I came across a Healer living off the land who could sell uncommonly good healing kits.

And hell — maybe in the process remind myself of the grand sense of ‘place’ Dereth offered. From an above ground that made sense, to a below ground that times could be truly oppressive in the feeling of depth created. Some of the Olthoi dungeons in particular I remember feeling miles under ground before I reached the area I felt comfortable with — and yet, I knew from runs where I had friends along for the ride — that there was still much further to go and bigger challenges if I just kept on going.

I’m excited by the prospect of seeing all this again. And I think that without WoW Classic showing me there is actual real value in revisiting these past experiences and that it’s not all just smoke and mirrors or nostalgia glasses? I never would have bothered.


PS: I’m no longer on Coldeve — I’m now on Levistras. Coldeve had a higher nominal population count true. But this was multiboxers and buff/trade bots at least as much as actual players. Levistras has a strict no macro policy, so anyone you run into is actually — you know, a player. :)