# Worldbuilding with Excel

Recently I showed off a work in progress, the world of Veleastra. (All names should be considered placeholders at this point.) Some expressed interest in my use of an unconventional mapping tool, Microsoft Excel, to design the world’s landmasses at the global level. I did use Excel for a lot of the background math as well, although I “drew” the map by hand, essentially pixel by pixel, with unfilled cells representing land and with water cells colored in blue.

The last version of the world map that I shared, with the Super-Regions, Regions and Subregions indicated.

As the venerable Paul Czege pointed out, it would have been relatively easy to do this fractally, by putting a formula in each cell and using conditional formatting to determine the cell’s color based on that value. This method could also have provided other useful data, such as elevation values. But I did it by hand, for reasons of aesthetics and personal preference, and because I could make the world fit neatly into the mapping system I devised for it. So I’d better talk about that.

I started by plugging in numbers for the mass and diameter of the planet, then computing a density and surface gravity based on those values. I wanted a world somewhat larger than Earth but still basically Earthlike, so by setting these parameters up in a spreadsheet I could play with the numbers until I got results I liked. But to do so I also needed to look at the other extreme, at the smallest scale, of individual hexes.

I’m a fan of the six-mile hex, because it’s geometrically elegant and because I think it works well for travel and exploration-based adventuring and nation-building. However, I’m just as happy to say that hexes are about six miles across and call it a day, since I plan to present distances in in-setting units anyway. So I made the hexes 10km across — a unit you would never see in a finished product. Ten kilometers is equal to 6.2 miles, and that’s close enough for me. Then I could figure out how many hexes I needed to span the world’s calculated circumference.

Where hexes get tricky, though, is that the distance from one hexside to the opposite hexside (with hexes stacked vertically, as is traditional,) is different from the distance between opposing vertices. So some irregular setup is necessary to get approximately square groupings of hexes, which I needed for my mapping system. I settled on 10km because an array 12 hexes wide and 10 hexes tall, with the horizontal distance between hexes measured from the centers, comes out to 103.9km wide and 100 km tall. So more or less square. I call this 10×12 hex grouping a block, for lack of a better term. Not only is it an area that’s manageable but containing plenty of space for interesting adventure, but it will also fit nicely on a standard 8.5″ x 11″ page. A larger subregion is 4 blocks high by 6 blocks wide, and the still-larger region is 3×3 subregions. The super-region is six regions wide by four regions high — but the polar regions (about 80-90° north and south latitude) are excluded, and they center nicely on the equator.

None of this would be presented as such in a finished product, of course, save that one block is what you’d see on a one-page map. But it’s a convenience that I’m using to structure the map and to provide approximate locations to place cultures, nations and other setting elements. So a given “region” might be more or less the Llythran Isles, while another might be mostly the timeworn remnants of once-mighty Imperial Attalos.

So back to Excel. I set this all up as a grid of square cells with the subregions, regions and super-regions marked at the appropriate cell boundaries (there was no need to denote blocks, since one block was a single cell,) painted the whole thing blue, then decided which super-regions contained land and which did not. I removed the cell color on those that did, leaving them white. Then I did the same thing at the regional level, again for subregions, and then one final time for the blocks/cells. It took substantial fiddling and several shifts of the grid until I was happy with the result — the map that you see in this post.

Now, Excel is obviously not an ideal endpoint tool for fantasy mapping. So while I now have a digital image of the world map with a 432×192 resolution, it needs to be punted into something I can produce a finished map in. I’m using Campaign Cartographer 3. Setting up the same Super-Region/Region/Subregion/Block grid — this time including hexes — at the appropriate scale in CC3, I “printed” the Excel sheet to a .png file, then dropped it into CC3 as a background graphic scaled to fit that grid. More or less, which is close enough. I can trace over the rough Excel graphic at increasing levels of detail until I have something that works printing one block per page.

There are many places here where I did fairly rough calculations: Earth is not a perfect sphere, for example, whereas my math assumed that Veleastra is. I figure that’s close enough, and my figures supply verisimilltude without me going bananas trying to calculate the surface area of an oblate sphereoid. And because my maps leave out the extreme polar regions, I have some room to clean things up a bit (There is a north polar archiapelago, so I’ll need to do a map of that.)

The current version of the world map, with the grid hidden.

For the curious, Veleastra is 8,879.67 miles in equatorial diameter, compared to Earth’s 7,296.33 miles. The former world is about 25% more massive: 7.388×10^24 compared to Earth’s 5.972×10^24 — but Veleastra is less dense (perhaps due to vacant pockets in its interior, unknown to the inhabitants of the surface) at 4.83g per cm^3 compared to Earth’s 5.49g/cm^3. Veleatra’s surface gravity is about 1% less than Earth’s (9.656m/s^2 versus 9.796m/s^2,) but her total surface area is about 26% greater. These numbers might seem organic — and they’re intended to appear so — but this is an illusion. They are in fact precisely calibrated to fit the mapping system but are obfuscated by the not-quite-square dimensions of the block and the inexact conversion between metric and Hillbilly units.

Now the work of massaging the rough map into a usable state has commenced. Thankfully I only intend to map one Super-Region, and then to zoom into a single region within it. So I don’t need to block out every single nook and cranny of the planet.

# The MMO Answer to Skyrim: DDO?

The idea that there ought to be an MMO that takes its cues from Skyrim is something that’s been talked about incessantly since 11/11/11. The modding community is giving it a try, but we’l see where that goes and in any event, making it work is going to take a while. And at best it’s not going to be an MMO version of Skyrim, but something more along the lines of a Minecraft multiplayer server, where a dozen or two people occasionally gather to axe stuff up. That’s worth keeping an eye on, but meanwhile back in the MMO realm, what have we got that’s close?

Well, not much. But there are a few games that have some of the pieces. Vanguard, for example, has a big immersive world, although it’s nowhere near as interactable as Skyrim. I might snidely argue that Vanguard replicates Skyrim‘s single player experience rather well, since the population is so low.

Too, there’s Darkfall, which is a lot like what Skyrim would look like as an MMO if the interface were somehow, amazingly, even worse than it is. And if it were about PvP and nothing else. I’d argue that the sort of unrestricted PvP that Darkfall embraces is not at all in keeping with the virtues of Skyrim, a game which is not remotely about “maximum challenge” but the novelty of exploring a living world. But down in the nuts-and-bolts of how the gameplay actually functions, Darkfall is closer than most.

From this perspective of the fundamental gameplay, though, it occurs to me that Dungeons & Dragons Online is actually a remarkably good match. You have the mostly targeted combat rather than hard targeting, a decent stealth game if you’re playing a Rogue type, and missile and spell combat that’s a decent implementation of the same ideas. DDO lacks Skyrim‘s exploration angle, which is a particular weakness of the game when you look at it through the lens of traditional MMO’s, but I think that wasn’t a design goal. Rather, what DDO set out to do was replicate the D&D tabletop experience as closely as possible within an MMO-like format, a paradigm in which the primary locus of play in is the dynamic of the party’s interactions among themselves and with the dungeon environment, in which widespread instancing of dungeons and outdoor zones isn’t as harmful.

Given the big fuss about DDO’s summer expansion Menace of the Underdark, I found myself playing a bit of it over the weekend, starting a new character on Khyber and farting around in the (very familiar) Korthos Village content. Having touched the game very little for the last year or more, I found myself playing it in a strikingly similar way to how I’d just spent weeks playing Skyrim. That the mob pathing is very problematic and much weaker was a detriment to this, but it basically worked. Stealth also doesn’t work as well, although there may be things at higher levels to mitigate this somewhat.

It’s not that Skyrim and D&D Online are especially similar games — in terms of core competencies I’d say they are about as far apart as two fantasy RPGs are going to ever get. But the actual button-pressing parts are remarkably similar. If DDO had a true first-person mode it would almost be uncanny.

# Class Selection in AoC

No politics here – Facebook has that covered.

I found myself, in returning to Age of Conan over the weekend, playing the same race and class I’d played before – the Cimmerian Barbarian. Partly this is due to my fondness for the source material, of course, but part of it is also that I think this is where AoC works best – on a PvP server, with a melee-focused, stealth-capable character. Oddly, it’d never really come into focus for me before that AoC’s Barbarian is indeed a Rogue archetype.

It’s interesting to contrast AoC’s combat with DDO’s. The two share broad similarities; both have targeting of foes, but in both cases you don’t really rely upon it. DDO has an actual targeting reticule; AOC does not, and relies on a tactile sense of positioning to direct attacks. For this reason I think AoC’s melee combat stands over DDO’s, as good as the latter is.

But as attractive as, say, a Stygian sorcerer (in the form of the Necromancer or Demonologist classes) or Hyrkanian archer (not yet in the game anyway,) would be, one of AoC’s flaws is that the same care and detail that went into melee combat didn’t get put into ranged combat or spellcasting. There’s some wrinkles there to make it more than just pure target-locking and wait-for-cooldown, but it lacks the viscerality of the melee.

In DDO you aim missiles just like you would melee attacks, and while some spells are indeed directed unerringly to your selected target, a lot of those are aimed as well. This makes DDO’s combat of a piece in a sense that AoC’s is not.

Then again, I’ve never played a spellcaster or ranged class in AoC above about level 10, and there are thus some features integral to spellcasting that I have simply not seen. I’m not aware that this is the case with, say, the Ranger, but I can’t be sure.

Too, the Tortage portion of the Destiny questline differs depending on your archetype, so I’ve only seen half of those (I played a Guardian into the low 20’s during one of Funcom’s winback periods some time back.) So one of my goals going forward will be to see the other two portions, on a Necromancer or Demonologist (I haven’t decided which yet – maybe I’ll do both,) and on a Tempest of Set on the cleric side.

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# DDO Drops Update 9

It’s live today; here’s the rundown.

It’s maybe not the most impressive Update we’ve seen in the post-freemium era… but a lot of that depends on how the new crafting systems works out, and I haven’t tried it yet. I’m planning on dropping in over the next week or so (as much as I’m able,) to hopefully check that out, as well as some of the content that’s gone up since I’ve been away. I’m also curious to see the new combat animations.

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# Ardwulf Presents: How to Play DDO

I have been meaning for ages to do more YouTube videos. But time blah blah blah… you know the drill. Anyway, I managed to hack together a couple of basic tutorial videos for DDO over the weekend, and today got them edited and posted.

The video quality’s not what I would like, and vid capture itself made my DDO framerate a bit sluggish, but I’ll be working on that, as well as eliminating a couple of sloppy bits (like the 1.5 minutes of dead air at the end of the second video.) Meanwhile, check out my channel HERE, and I encourage you to subscribe so you’ll catch newer vids as they come out.

And while we’re at it, you can follow me on Twitter HERE. Or support Ardwulf’s Lair by signing up for a free 14-day trial of EVE Online HERE.

UPDATE: Upon review, the quality of the vids is pretty awful. Episode 3 should be markedly better, as I’ve figured how to get my (high quality) vidcaps out of Windows Movie Maker in roughly equally good quality. I’d been planning to hold off on #3 until next week, but I’ll try to get it done in the next couple of days instead. It’s also probably time to clean up my YouTube channel in general.

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# Failing the Challenge

Tipa at West Karana reminded us last week of her MMO Challenge. Which is, in short, to pick one MMO, stick with it for a whole year, and ignore everything else. The idea being that you don’t really get the full MMO experience if you dabble in a bunch of different games.

I pointed out at the time that she was quite right, and waved a hand or three at limiting myself to just one game, but it’s never worked out. I’m just not the kind of player that can play just one thing, and this dates all the way back to my tabletop days. I think I stuck more or less exclusively to WoW for about five months, but that’s where I stopped. I have failed at Tipa’s challenge.

What I have managed to do, since the original challenge, is narrow my selection a bit. EVE, which I am currently playing, and Age of Conan, which I am not but plan to get back to, are my go-to subscription games. Titles like DDO, LotRO and EQ2X are too attractive as free-to-play games for me to ignore entirely. And I have a lifetime sub to Champions Online, so I’ll be checking in on that again later this month. That’s my roster. Other games of which I was fond or that I played for a while, like Vanguard, City of Heroes, Guild Wars and WAR, I’ve written off permanently.

And I don’t intend to partake immediately in any of this year’s offerings, including Rift and Star Wars: The Old Republic. I’ve even cooled off a lot on Guild Wars 2, which I was pretty hot for a few months back. But if there’ll be an exception, GW2 will be it.

That’s because of the free-to-play phenomenon. It used to be that the available F2P offerings were all junky Asian grinders with predatory cash shops and a design and visual aesthetic that I just can’t stand. That’s not true anymore – we now have high-quality F2P titles built to big-budget Western standards. Consequently, it takes a lot to get me to pay a subscription fee these days. EVE and AoC offer me what I’m willing to pay a subscription for, while other titles do not – and that emphatically includes World of Warcraft.

But that brings me back around to the challenge. If you only could play one MMO – call it your desert island game – which one would it be? I suspect that for most the answer will be the pallid but agreeable WoW. For me, today, it would be DDO. I might have a different answer tomorrow, but it would be one of the games on the roster above, regardless. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

# The MMOs of the Decade

Ten Ton Hammer has ranked the MMO’s of the Decade. Inevitably, I have things to say about their choices, although I think they are mostly on target. Ish.

Best Community: EVE Online
Runners-up: EverQuest II, The Lord of the Rings Online
It’d be almost impossible to argue against this choice, although LotRO’s community is certainly “nicer” than EVE’s. But nobody has CCP beat for community investment. EQ2’s community I’ve kind of soured on; there’s just too much incessant complaining for my comfort.

Best PvP: Dark Age of Camelot
No argument with Dark Age of Camelot, although the heyday of Shadowbane was before my time and Lineage is just a rotten piece of ass. One has to wonder what exactly happened during WAR’s development process that it ran so far off the rails, given Mythic’s proven track record with PvP. I still have no plausible hypothesis. I would love to see a DAoC updated for 2011… the game that WAR was supposed to have been.

Best Art & Animation: Age of Conan
Runners-up: Aion
I can’t quibble with AoC’s excellent art design, but how is EVE not here, even as a runner-up? Granted, ‘animations’ per se aren’t among the game’s graphical strengths, but it’s unquestionably one of the best-looking games out there, not just in raw graphics but in design. Maybe it’s the lack of avatars, which I think everybody acknowledges is a problem at this point – albeit one that’ll soon be addressed. Aion? Point to any of dozens or hundreds of Asian games with the exact same look, and then tell me again about how great Aion looks. With a straight face.

Best Sound & Score: Guild Wars
Runners-up: Age of Conan, The Lord of the Rings Online
For my money, Age of Conan has the best score in any MMO, and sound at least on par with anything else as well. However, there’s no question that Guild Wars’ soundtrack is very good. Personally, I think LotRO’s is pretty flat, imitative of the movie soundtracks in a lackluster way. Funcom went for the exact same thing when scoring AoC and hit the nail on the head. I wouldn’t say LotRO’s soundtrack is actually rotten, but it’s nothing special.

Most Innovative: D&D Online
Runners-up: Guild Wars, Warhammer Online, Anarchy Online
A not unreasonable choice, although it’s hard to say of two broadly similar games, DDO and Guild Wars, which is the more innovative. Personally I’d say DDO based on the depth of the mechanics, which is unmatched in anything except EVE, but I can see the opposite case, as GW has a broader appeal (i. e. it’s more approachable by the common jackwad on the street,) and it made innovations in the financial model before DDO did. But Warhammer Online? The greatest failure in the history of MMOs? Innovative? For fuck’s sake, how? Based on the one laudable feature that we hadn’t seen before in that exact form?

Best Expansion: The Planes of Power, for EverQuest
Runners-up: City of Villains, Wrath of the Lich King
I can’t honestly offer an opinion on Planes of Power – it was well before my time. I’m prepared to accept TTH’s judgment that the choice was made on the strength of the raid zones. But it’s hard to imagine a single expansion adding more to a game than City of Villains did. Lich King… Lich King was impressive and frustrating for me in about equal measure. On the one hand it was mostly well-executed, but on the other it limited WoW’s gameplay to preset paths (or – more correctly – it continued a trend that was already established.)

Editor’s Choice: EverQuest II
I can see it… I mean, it’s not a real stretch. Except for a couple of big holes, EQ2 is full-featured, and many of those features (housing and guild management in particular) are second to none in the hobby. But the lack of decent PvP really hurts it in a crowd of games all of which do that better than EQ2, and the heavily zoned and instanced world fragments what ought to be a more visibly contiguous environment. As TTH’s “Editor’s Choice” I can’t argue with it, but my Editor’s Choice would probably be Age of Conan, with EVE, DDO and LotRO the runners-up.

Best Game: World of Warcraft
Not a surprise by any means, but it’s kind of a cowardly choice. Sure, WoW is the most popular game, by a lot. But is it really the best? TTH seems to think it is, based solely on that criteria (the only one given.) But it’s a mistake to pay attention only to WoW overwhelming popularity – sweeping its many failures under the rug. Most importantly, it failed MMOs – by undercutting the potential of the genre. And its many imitators followed suit, setting MMO development back five years. Its very success has stifled both it and the rest of the hobby. Among major studios, only CCP ignored the WoW model and went and did their own thing. Only CCP stretched what an MMO could be, rather than contracting it, whether through progressively narrower and narrower development (WoW) or by truncating their MMO during the design process and giving us part of a finished game on release (WAR.) I say epic fail on Ten Ton Hammer’s part, and give the title of “MMO of the Decade” to the game that deserves it: EVE Online.

# Too Bad There’s No F2P AAA MMOs

I’ll warn you now that this post will contain some snark. So let me start with a disclaimer, which doubtless will not help: I like Keen’s blog, subscribe to it, and think he often posts good commentary and makes salient and insightful points. But unfortunately, on certain subjects his voice gets muffled by having to talk with his head in his own ass. One of those is the F2P revolution currently (slowly) sweeping through the MMO hobby.

This is the route games take to retire. AAA/High Quality/Highly Funded (you know what I mean so don’t nitpick) MMO’s are STILL not launching as F2P. F2P is the backup plan.

F2P is a seemingly successful business plan. It does, to my knowledge, often increase revenues for games that were doing poorly. However — and this is where things get a bit tricky — it’s still not good enough to be Plan A. Time and time again F2P is simply Plan B or the model for mass-produced shovelware titles. I think the trends really are starting to speak for themselves. We’re still without a AAA F2P game.

With the snark hopefully out of the way, let’s break the statement down a bit. There was indeed a time, in western perception, when variations on the free-to-play model were limited to, as Keen puts it, “mass-produced shovelware,” but that was a year or two ago. Then DDO proved that this model could work in our market, with some adaptations to make it palatable to western tastes. Those adaptations, developed by Turbine, have now been adopted, more or less, by the followers in the race to go F2P (EQ2X, PotBS and Champions Online.) With the success of this family of model, we all know we’re going to see more conversions in the future – and some entirely new games launched with the new model in mind, whether Keen believes it or not.

It’s really LotRO, the game Keen hopes will fail, that underlines the absurdity of his statement. LotRO was a “AAA” game when it launched and kept a large and loyal audience. It was one of the top handful of MMOs in the western market until the day it went to F2P, and then it moved up a place or two. Nowhere was there a whisper of LotRO doing badly. The game is good, the fans were devoted, and stats were high on every tracking service. Press releases out of Turbine emphasized the game’s continuing success. But by Keen’s logic it must have been failing, or it wouldn’t have gone free to play.

This notion can only be rooted in hidebound expectations of how one should pay for MMOs. It’s a trap I suspect we’ve all fallen into at one time or another. Change is scary, and we were mostly comfortable with the cover charge + subscription way to pay. I’m not sure why.

To be honest, Keen is in the same place I was on the subject a year or two ago, before seeing the Turbine model in action and finding that it actually does work in a non-intrusive way, lowering the entry barrier while encouraging players to choose to spend money, rather than locking them out for being reluctant to do so. And more importantly allowing players to spend money at their own pace, rather than on a schedule set by the publisher.

I get that there are reasons to be concerned about F2P, based on examples we’ve seen and heard about wherein players are hard-locked out of gameplay unless they spend money, or wherein the microtransactions themselves are priced too high, or wherein it’s possible to literally buy your way through the game. I get that the publisher needs to walk a fine line between trying to fish money out of the consumer and maintaining a fair playing field for that consumer, and that some games (Allods Online, I’m looking at you,) will choose to err on the side of profit. One could certainly make the case that not every converted title has done this successfully (witness the blunders made with EQ2X.) But we now have at least two examples of titles which, despite imperfect implementations, don’t suffer from these drawbacks.

Over the next couple of years, new subscription titles are going to get rarer and rarer. Titles which were in development when the trend became apparent in the west (maybe a year ago, when Turbine started talking about the huge surge F2P brought to DDO,) are of course still going with some variation on the traditional model; so-called “AAA” MMOs are huge projects with hundreds or thousands of people shoulders-deep in millions of lines of code. And they cost many millions of dollars of investors’ money. Those investors were told, in detail, where their capital was going before the checks got written, and how, in detail, they could expect it to be made back, along with some profit. One doesn’t turn a project like that around by suddenly deciding to use a different money model three or four years along, scrapping what’s probably tens of thousands of man-hours in coding and design work, to react to a trend that’s starting in games that the team considers of lesser stature than their own. Not to mention having to go back to your investors, hat in hand, and explain that you’d actually been wrong four years ago and this would be a much better idea, really.

In the first wave of this new paradigm it stands to reason that we’d be seeing more old titles converted to the new model than new titles launching with it; MMOs take a long while to develop. But there are big-budget titles, like Guild Wars 2, on the horizon that won’t carry a subscription fee. One might argue, as Keen does in the comments, that games like Guild Wars are not F2P, since they carry a cover change. Which is true as far as it goes, but at this point we’re splitting hairs, having painted ourselves into a corner by defining such terms solely to suit our argument, rather than by any basis they may have in reality. The genuine concerns over “F2P” lie with the nature of the microtransactions, not with whether one pays an up-front cost to play or not. I fail to see the downside, from a player perspective, of not paying a cover charge. At that point, what’s the problem? Real concerns over a microtransaction-based MMO economy or simple stodginess over a global shift to a new model we’re not comfortable with?

Even if, contrary to expectations, the F2P trend stops where it is today, with shoring up older games – even if Keen’s right, and that’s all this is good for – what’s the problem? That those older games might become more profitable and therefore survive longer? That those fans devoted to them might be able to enjoy their favorite virtual worlds for a few more years? Again, I can’t see where a rational person would have an issue, especially one who doesn’t even play any of the games in question. But then, I’m not the kind of guy who wants games I don’t approve of to go under.

Ultimately we have to ask ourselves the question: what is fair to us as consumers, and as gamers? Is the subscription option really the fairest solution? For everybody? Or most players? If your answer to that doesn’t contain a great deal of room for gray areas, positive and negative examples, and different folks’ varying playstyles, then you are viewing the issue in a stark and superficial light. The idea that Cover Charge + subscription = good and NCC + microtransactions = bad grossly oversimplifies the issue and ignores almost all of the many variables involved. It is ideology rather than opinion, and as such it’s not susceptible to the vicissitudes of reason or reality. It is, to put it bluntly, moronic.

# What to Call the New Breed of Payment Models/MMOs

I have posted many articles that were written in response to other blog articles or news items. This will be the first one written in response to a Twitter post, this one from Beau Turkey, he of Massively, MMOVoices, Voyages of Vanguard, et al. To wit:

So, what do we call the newer payment models (EQ2X, LotRO, DDO) — blended models? Tiered? My jury is still out how I feel about them.

I and others have been doing all kind of gyrations of nomenclature over this. In my response to Beau’s tweet, I suggested that they be called “Non-Subscription” or “Semi-Subscription” models (and therefore MMOs,) in contrast to traditional subscription-based models, partly because I’m really tired of typing out the word “microtransaction.” But to be honest, this is a bit clumsy, and not much less work. One could shorten it to “Nonsub” or “Semisub”, of course. But the former implies a complete lack of subscription, while the latter implies an exclusion of games which don’t have a sub option.

So I suggest we call them minipay games. It seems to fit, in that it lets you play while paying less than what a traditional subscription would cost. You can pay the sub, or pay more in microtransactions than what a sub would cost, but paying a lesser or “mini” amount doesn’t exclude you. Just as importantly, it’s a very convenient term to use in a discussion.

It’s not airtight terminology, of course. What about EVE Online, which in principle lets an advanced player pay for his or her account with in-game money rather than real-world cash? (Yeah, EVE has come up a lot lately and is likely to continue to, for reasons previously discussed. But it’s not like I don’t have a long history of writing about it.) But I submit this to be a borderline case. So I think I’m going to adopt this terminology from here on out.

Fun Latin Fact of the Day: “To wit” does not come from Latin. It comes down to us from Old English instead.

# The Disciples Against the Undead

Tonight the Disciples of Tharizdun ventured into Delera’s Tomb, a premium adventure pack with 9 adventures and a shared outdoor zone, which as far as I know doesn’t contain any encounters – although I’m told it did earlier in DDO’s history. I found this interesting, since I’ve been thinking about what it’ll take to make the long-promised Druid work in this game, and that list includes more outdoor encounter areas.

The main arc of the adventure pack consists of five quests, of which one is just a placeholder that makes you go talk to the questgiver. We finished all of these and are talking about running them again on Elite next week. The selection of final rewards is very good and the XP gain from the whole thing was excellent – I gained a full two ranks from running them, along with a bunch of favor.

Virtually all of the enemies over the whole sequence are undead, and many of them are incorporeal undead. Basically what this means is that you have a flat 50% chance to miss them using any ordinary weapon, even ordinary magical ones. Only so-called “Ghost Touch” weapons don’t suffer from this. Thankfully, during an off-night run at the Caverns of Korromar last week I picked up a +2 Ghost Touch mace which saw heavy use tonight.

Everything went smoothly except on the last run, where most of the group wiped when we all rushed down a trapped hallway. Traps on Hard hurt, but this was really just sloppy play on our part. The other quests in the sequence we’ll try to get to at some point. One of them is level 11, so that will no doubt wait a little while.

Caverns of Korromar, by the way, was tortuously difficult on Hard, but it was well worth it, firstly because of the end rewards, which are very good, but also because the final boss is a beholder. It was a very cool D&D moment, seeing one in-game for the first time.