Tranquility

winter monastery exterior winterI’ve been pretty stressed of late, so this week is quiet in the dojo as I try to emphasize the holy in this Christmas holiday weekend.

Outside the dojo, an elven figure studies the snowy structure, filled with the monastics and their acolytes in prayer and meditation.

More on this new adventurer later.

For now, to all of you real-folk, may the new Light of the World that comes this night shine out to warm you all, to illuminate both mind and soul. May the Light of the Christ Child help you to learn that the world and its ways are not all that there is, that truth is as much a constant as the speed of light and the formula of general relativity, for it is He who is Constant of Constants.

May you and your friends and family find joy and peace this Christmas, throughout the Twelve Days after and into the New Year, all of you on this good, good Earth.

And while you’re in the game, away to tend to the needs of the worlds of Eberron and Faerun and the lands about Xen’drik…

May your characters always have buffs, may your enemies retreat at your greatness, may the giant stumble and the dragon be deprived of snacks, and may your chests be always filled with shards and seals and scrolls and great prizes!

The Piker’s Holiday Song

While OurDDO’s Evennote is the Queen of DDO Filking, I had something scratching in my head this Christmas Eve and I had to get it out.

Imagine the tune of “Sleigh Bells” and sing along while you join that PUG,
won’t you? ūüôā

Just hear those slay bells jingling,
Ring-ting-tingling too,
Come on, it’s lovely joining
In a pike-ride together with you,
Inside the orcs are falling
And friends are calling, “woo hoo”,
Come on, it’s lovely joining
In a pike-ride together with you

Buff us up, buff us up, buff us up
Let’s go, let’s look at the show,
We’re piking while the others take a go,
Hurry up, hurry up, hurry up,
They say, get in there and play
We’re piking along with a song
As the others kill things ahead.

Our points are nice and rosy,
And comfy cozy are we,
We’re huddled up together
Like two birds of a feather would be,
They’ll take those spears before us,
And shout things coarse at you,
Come on, it’s lovely joining
In a pike-ride together with you.

There’s an Irestone party
Forming in the world today,
It’ll be the easy way to gain some loot today,
We’ll be looking important
While the other’s hit points start to drop,
And we hustle by them to hear
The loot chests pop; Pop! Pop! Pop!

There’s a happy feeling
Nothing in the Store can buy,
While we pass around the plat’num
While the others die,
It’ll nearly look like we tried to help
But worried we would fry,
These wonderful things are the things
We remember till our next life!

Just hear those slay bells jingling,
Ring-ting-tingling too,
Come on, it’s lovely joining
In a pike-ride together with you,
Inside the orcs are falling
And friends are calling, “woo hoo”,
Come on, it’s lovely joining
In a pike-ride together with you

Buff us up, buff us up, buff us up
Let’s go, let’s look at the show,
We’re piking while the others take a go,
Hurry up, hurry up, hurry up,
They say, get in there and play
We’re piking along with a song
As the others kill things ahead.

Our points are nice and rosy,
And comfy cozy are we,
We’re huddled up together
Like two birds of a feather would be,
They’ll take those spears before us,
And shout things coarse at you,
Come on, it’s lovely joining
In a pike-ride together with you.
Come on, it’s lovely joining
In a pike-ride together with you.

A blessed and peaceful Christmas to all of you.

Slay hungry, my friends.

Here’s Your Shrine: Bad Moments in Gaming

It's a clear sign. Let's see if others can read it.

It’s a clear sign.
Let’s see if
others can read it.

I’m a big fan of comedian Bill Engvall. He’s closer to to my own age, so I relate quite well to his jokes about family life and observations of people in general.

His signature joke is called, “Here’s your sign.” When people say or do remarkably stupid things, Bill imagines up a witty, often sarcastic answer to their obliviousness, on the premise that some people should have to wear a sign announcing to all that they have just been stupid.

Gaming has these great moments, too. In the case of DDO, the stupid illustrate their incompetence during the course of adventures in a myriad of blunders into traps, bad choices in fighting, bragging before they die, and other creative ways to kill themselves.

You’ve been there. You might be in a party in part 4 of the “Delera’s Tomb” quest chain. Experienced players know that the starting hallway is trapped. But we’ll sit back, grab our popcorn and wait for somebody to forget.

Ding.

“Did I just find a trap?” the hapless player asks.

“No, you just transformed yourself into a more invulnerable character,” another player says.

In these cases, other party members pick up their soulstone and carry it to a place of safe haven for the temporarily insane, mis-prepared and distracted.

“Here’s your shrine,” the rescuer says.

So I’ll recap a few great moments where great gaming is interrupted by great stupidity, often to other party members delight, by compiling some of them from the web and past DDO forum posts.

And once I put on my +5 Moronic Hat of Great Shaming, I shall relate a time or twenty-two where I, too, threw my own brain under the Stupid Bus.

Nominations from the OurDDO Contributors

I’d thought I’d start where the soil is fertile. ¬†Members of OurDDO and the late MyDDO have already documented and archived their Moments of Shame.

So out comes the clothesline, friends. I’m airing your own dirty laundry.

Newlywed. Former DDOCast host. Experienced gamer. We could use these titles to describe our own GamerGeoff. Today, however, we shall note his own recollections of when he and fellow party members rolled a 1 in gaming.

Of greatest note, read on about how Geoff made several critically bad assumptions about a “Group of Wrongness” he had joined in a run in “Taming the Flames.” Personally, it’s one of my favorite quests. But then, I play Monks. I have great saves, love freezing weapons and rarely have problems in that quest, even when soloing. But for the non-evasive, fire-prone players among us, life is always stimulating there.¬†Geoff began writing and carrying his own signs of shame throughout that one. He got lots and lots of assists from the zerging, inexperienced party members.

And Geoff recollects how his guild, the Halfling Commandos, redefined the word “chaos” in a “Tower of Despair” run when their tanker for Sulommades discovered that having no fortification gear can make his job harder.

Our lovely BonnieBew shared with us some selfies of silly last September in the form of a series of YouTube videos. I like the titles more than anything. “Tomb of the Gynecologist” just sounded like a disaster in the making. For Bonnie, that seemed to be true.

OurDDO administrator and Filker Extraordinaire Evennote has humbly shared many moments of involuntary shrineage on her blog. There are good moments in tough gaming where, eventually, everyone’s resorted to gaming in the buff.¬†She recants, in song, how hirelings are often the cause of many moments where they hand you your own soulstone, thanks to their recklessness. She’s a great player but has been saddled with a few party members who stretch her good gaming abilities to the limit to where something breaks. Often, it’s the player that tried to exceed Even’s infinite frikkin’ patience. I’ll say it for Even: She can’t fix stupid.

And as for me…

I’ll just make a short list of my shame.

  • I can’t recall how many times that I’ve killed one of my Monks, returning to the guild ship to repair, replenish and rebuff. I can, however, recall with regretful clarity how, while still with less than 10 HP, switched myself from Earth Stance to Fire Stance to improve my Wholeness of Body healing. I killed myself as my HP changed from 10 to -1o HP so many times that some guildies think my floating soulstone on the ship is a new ship buff item.
  • There was the time where Syncletica was using the training dummy, smacking it hither and yon. I gave it a solid Void Strike hit and…the training dummy disappeared. “What did you do!?” the guild leader asked, trying to figure out what happened to the poor thing and checking the anchor point for the dummy in disbelief. Turns out that I wasn’t alone and the game had to make an update because the Monks were sending dummies into the afterlife all over the place. (My guild leader suggests that I and other Monks had punched our dummies back in time, to the old Marketplace bazaar. Look around the grounds of the end-fight to “The Chronoscope.” It’s filled with training dummies.)
  • And there’s the recent blog post on how the devs seem to hate giving healing amplification to half-elves. I ranted and raved until a few forum posters handed me my sign. I was a victim of Turbine Doublespeak. Players were trying to gain Improved Recovery from the Half-Elf racial tree not only through the normal racial enhancements but by taking the Half-Elf Monk dilettante that has the same thing.
  • Any time I enter “Irestone Inlet” without any Lesser Restoration potions.
  • Hell, any time I enter the Inlet with a party. There’s just something about that quest that brings out the idiot in all of us.
    • Party member A and C go this way
    • Party member B and D go another way
    • Both realize they’ve died too far away to reach the shrine
    • Scartongue holds up a sign saying, “You’ve just been schooled by a kobold.”

Here’s Your Shrine: The Board Game

There are quite a few forum threads where players recount great moments in game fail. Surely you have some tales of your own.

For the holiday season, feel free to recount your moments of shame or, better, someone else’s great fail, in the comments section. It’s fun for levels 1 to 100–join us!

Game Events: Asking for Trouble or Triumph?

Not long ago I stumbled on an article regarding a remarkable event in “World of Warcraft” ¬†in September 2005.

Well, really, it wasn’t a planned world event, but their worlds were apparently quite shaken by it.

The backstory goes like this. A new raid was added to WoW at that time. The end boss of the raid had a special infectious attack called “Corrupted Blood,” which is similar to debuffing and disease spells or effects in DDO that damage your CON and lower your hit points. The closest counterpart is the dreaded “Mummy Rot.,” only, imagine a version of this that would hit your whole party if someone infected was close enough to you.

This boss debuff was meant only for the raid. But somehow, a handful of players managed to leave the raid with the effect still within their character. These players intentionally walked through public areas such as towns, spreading the infection. As this was a raid level infection that hit for several hundred or more points of damage and was persistent, many low-level characters were struck dead instantly.

Watch the video above. Imagine that’s the Marketplace. You’re just shopping when your HP meter drops nearly to zero, and others around you drop dead. Many, many players are just dropping. You got to get away, but from what?

The WoW servers, predictably, went chaotic. Interestingly, people behaved as people would behave in real life. Clerical characters began to aid others. Many ran for their virtual lives, into the virtual countryside and out of the plague-ridden towns. Many died. A few more  tried to use their infection to spread it to others.

Eventually the WoW developers managed to isolate and scrub the disease from all characters and summoned pets that players purposely infected so as to continue the assault. But by then the damage was done. Not enough to cause WoW to close up shop, but enough to bring a cautionary tale to the virtual world.

The Corrupted Blood incident became quite popular in the scientific community. These epidemiologists studied the sociology of the players, comparing it to what people do in actual pandemics. Not to be outdone, the anti-terrorism community also turned an eye to the incident as a model for how terrorists become opportunists, causing the most harm to the most people in the most time possible.

Despite the fact that this was an exploit, it did something that’s missing in DDO. It caused a human reaction that required you to act, now.

Are Game Events a Thing of the Past?

I’ve never played WoW and don’t plan to do so. That’s because it took years of Neverwinter Nights gameplay to shake me from years of my Diablo II¬†“crack habit,” so I knew that any other Blizzard game (yes, that includes Diablo III) would ruin my life. (Not that DDO is as light a habit for me as my obligations would want that to be, but that’s another tale.)

I wasn’t around as well for a DDO game event of 2008, where a game module update introduced a Shavarath invasion of Stormreach, the eventual destruction of the central Marketplace, and several quests for players to gather ingredients needed to beat back the invading hordes.

Sound familiar? It’s because the events seen in the Level 6 raid, “The Chronoscope,” allows players to relive that module, specifically a more wider invasion of the Marketplace as a whole, including the original Marketplace tent’s destruction.

Today, all we seem to have for game events in a more public sphere is a passive but quite prominent and repetitive drop-in of a white dragon near the Argonessen representatives (all dragons in human form) near the House Kundarak Marketplace bank. Occasionally, some special merchants appear and contests to gather coins or other items will activate in public spaces, such as the Risia Ice Games or Festivult. However, these are quite passive in that they don’t affect everybody and are totally optional to use.

So, why isn’t there a larger, more game-encompassing event going on in DDO? Something that would effect all players and (per their level or game account) strongly encourage them, perhaps require them, to marshal their efforts to the event’s goals?

Perhaps such events are dangerous to the game’s overall stability. Perhaps world events such as these would discourage general game play and turn away the free-to-play community and upset VIP subscriptions.

It’s not as if we players or the developers couldn’t think of possible storylines. I brought up a thread in the Suggestions & Ideas subforum on a Drow war, where Eberron Drow, tired of being butt monkeys to the Faerun Drow as they attempt a move on Xen’drik itself, decide to fight back. The replies generally didn’t meet with high praise. Most people seemed burned out by the Drow, with the new Menace of the Underdark expansion.

What world events we experience today are often challenges that haven’t one bit of urgency or need at all.

Some Suggestions

With the MoTU expansion, Eberron itself is being threatened with total destruction by the Demonweb. Not that anyone who just created a new character is aware of this.

And the Quori, the race that hides within the false religion of the Path of Inspiration and are known as the Dreaming Dark, have failed to invade Xen’drik long ago and are threatening to do so again, this time without the giants of old from stopping them as before. What? You didn’t know of this invasion?

And the land of Drooam has landed a massive invasion army on the outskirts, have burned down one Stormreach district, heavily damaged Lordsmarch Plaza and planned to take over Stormreach as well. Did you miss this news while you were reading the latest posts on Feydsbook on your DRUID smart-ansible by Cannith, Inc.?

I also think there’s some evil cleric that’s raising an undead horde in the Necropolis that wants to make all of Xen’drik part of his new empire, too.

I guess my point is that there are many, many world events already in play. What is lacking in the public instances is an urgency, an appearance of desperation, of fire raining down. Of some NPCs occasionally running in fear in the Marketplace while a small group of invaders slam through the city and a world event message calls out for heroes to quickly dispatch them. Of the city sky turning red and adventurers called to be alert for a Shavarath invasion–right now. Low-level players are guided to protect NPCs at their level and fight off appropriately low-level Shavarath invaders that sneak past the more fortified Epic adventurers.

And none of these events should be telegraphed or announced by Turbine. They should just show up.

These events could be tied into the quests they relate to in-game. They could form a motivation to play by leading the players to the new Sagas NPCs. I haven’t gotten into completing any of the sagas because nothing is compelling me to do so. Not loot, or experience, or even a requirement to save myself or others from harm.

The world of DDO should have a more “live” feel to it. There are limits to how much a live event can and should do, and careful attention is required to keep low level players from getting way, way over their heads and for high-level players from becoming virtual gods by giving them a serious challenge that requires more cooperation and team play. Live events should have a compulsory hold on players without fully requiring them to do them. They shouldn’t be isolated as Mabar or Crystal Cove.

World events could also be done with great subtlety and intrigue. I would love to just log in one day to find mail message that tells me to go to an NPC that wants you and others to do this and that, unlocking a chain of events that (amidst all the other work to do) requires me to save Stormreach and to guide others to do so or to safety.

C’mon. Do you think a week where a zombie plague threatens all of Stormreach wouldn’t put a spring in your step as you run to stock up on potions? In such an event there’s a chance of griefing if a live player were infected, so it would be better for NPCs to be running about doing the deed. That is, a zombiefied NPC version of you. You get infected, your character is logged out and you must log in to another character (or specially granted character given to all players) to do a specific quest to remove the affliction (with substantial rewards, of course). Players that don’t opt to play can watch the spectacle but aren’t infected.

A horde of Quori pouring out of House Cannith would make all that ghostbane weaponry useful.

The WoW Corrupted Blood event was a totally unplanned event that shook that game at its roots by its urgency. What if that Argonessen dragon suddenly started stomping down a ramp into the Bazaar? Would you call out to some guildies to try to head it off? What would or should the lower level players do? What if some evil Drow genius had weaponized Mummy Rot and was infecting the public instances? Would a world event ask others to seek out the cure? How would this Rot effect overall play? Should it?

I’m all for bringing the immediacy of adventure to DDO. It needn’t be as “oh crap” as the WoW plague. But something out of left field that all could enjoy wouldn’t be a bad thing if you just tie it in to existing adventures.

The Insane Tourist’s Guide to the Underdark

Underdark1In our first guide, we discussed the wonders inside the demon-infested catacombs of the Subterrane that tourists like some of you might enjoy.

The Insane Tourist might find the vistas of the Subterrane interesting, but not quite big enough.

Experienced tourists (that is, Epic characters) can take in the magnificent desolation of the Underdark, where not-so-happy dark elves plot to invade some towns of the surface world. It’s all drama down there. Yuan-Ti power grabs. Immense giant worms that try to eat you whole. A dragon. Zombies.

Sure, the Drow are rather ruthless and evil. But they also have style in doing it. And their digs (no pun intended) are pretty majestic for a massive underground canyon. You have to go see.

Preparations Before You Visit

The Drow aren’t standing about, asking for your tickets, passport or papers and ushering you inside the Underdark on a tram. As is their way, they’re out to kill or enslave you.

Therefore, you’ll need to be properly equipped for your trip. Weapons with Elf Bane are okay, but generally any good-aligned weapon will suffice to keep the crowds of natives at bay as they surround you in wonder and murderous intent. Remember that the Drow are more spell resistant than other enemies. They also tend to use more poison attacks that can be debilitating if you don’t pack some poison neutralization potions for the journey.

To reach the Underdark itself, customs require you to

  1. Be Level 20. You must be Level 20 or higher to enter the King’s Forest to find the sole portal into the area.
  2. Complete the “Lords of Dust” quest chain, and then complete “Beyond the Rift” to open a path for you from Eberron to the Forgotten Realms, if this is your character’s¬†first life¬†as an Insane Tourist.
  3. You may either venture through the King’s Forest to find the entrance on the barren hill, or complete the “Darkening” Eveningstar quest chain to gain access. Once you complete “The Battle for Eveningstar,” the portal to the Underdark activates inside Eveningstar Cavern. (Until you find another portal inside the Underdark or complete the chain, the other cavern’s portals may remain darkened.)

Once you’ve basked in the hospitality and quiet desperation of the villagers of Eveningstar, enter the King’s Forest from their town and head south. It may be easiest and safest to follow the path of the river to the east once you come to it, since it winds southward and just east of your destination.

As you travel, you’ll find many journals left for you to read by Elminster, known to be a powerful wizard and scholar of the area (as well as quite popular with the ladies and a goddess or two).

A Purple Dragon Knight outpost lies along the river’s edge just before the river ends at the southernmost reaches of the forest. You may want to stop there and speak to a mage inside, who can instantly teleport you from the outpost back to Eveningstar, and then vise versa for future tours once you speak to him while at the outpost.

Take some rest at the outpost, and then head westward until you find an easily identifiable barren hill with many Drow greeters. The entrance atop the hill allows you to find two sub-portals within the Underdark that make it easier later to reach a quest in the Underdark itself as well as the Drow city, Sschindylryn,  from the Eveningstar Cavern.

Update: One reader disagreed on the availability of accessing the Underdark. I am reasonably sure that any character that hasn’t entered the Underdark on their current life will find that the Eveningstar Cavern has only one of three portals active. You’ll only be able to use the single portal which (at that stage in your life) only returns you to Eberron (or, if you have one, a guild airship). The portals that activate once you visit the Underdark or¬†Sschindylryn are not active until you reach their respective entrances for the first time. You must complete the Eveningstar battle quest chain for the Underdark portal to activate inside Eveningstar cavern.

Your First Stop in the Underdark: Greet Some Slavers

The King’s Forest entrance rests above a caravan of Drow slavers from House Avithoul. Their charges are Eveningstar villagers and soldiers, each equipped with a magical collar that forces them to fight you, rather than sell you tschotskes and maps.

Underdark2-slaves

More slaves…and slaver’s loot…liberated!

The slavers are often shrouded in invisibility and accompanied by more visible Drow guards. A good Spot reveals their outline. Show them how hospitality is best offered by killing the slaver and his guards without harming their collared slaves.

You’re rewarded with XP if you can save enough of these less-prepared tourists you find here and elsewhere the Underdark by using your skills of disabling devices, your Concentration, or even brute strength to remove the controlling collars from the enslaved ones–without killing them. For Monks, you’ll likely need a Concentration at least 48 or better to have a fighting chance of removing the slave collars.

Next Stop: See a Real Drow Priestess and Open the Portal to Sschindylryn

After the slavers, you can make your way over a stone bridge to a small redoubt with a few Drow archers who are happy to show you what real arrows look like–points first and at high velocity. Be mindful that slowing and damaging Spell Wards are all over this area, making a quick exit harder to do. A Rogue in your tour group can disable these to make your trip less arduous.

Continuing southwest and up a path leads you to a welcoming party of more Drow slavers accompanying a Drow priestess. They’ll demonstrate their religious customs for surface dwellers by making you their sacrifice of the day.

If you want that selfie of you alone and not you with your soulstone, you might decline the Drow’s insistence to die horribly by slaying everyone else first, except the Priestess. She’s a special one. If you attempt to kill her, she’ll use her magics to leech the lives of anyone in her party to continue fighting you. Only when a Priestess has no more allies or slaves left alive to leech can you (easily) kill the Priestess herself.

Did I mention that the Underdark denizens love to use death spells? Be sure to pack something or bring someone that offers Death Ward throughout your tour, and at least be wearing a Deathblock item if you haven’t Death Ward options at hand.

With the twisted religious service over, head a little ways up the path to find a shrine and a portal to enter the Drow city of Sschindylryn. Once you enter this portal, you will have now activated sister portals to both the Underdark and the Drow city to make it easier to return to either destination, directly from Eveningstar Cavern.

Sschindylryn: City of Portals

See_Rock_CitySo that’s what all those “See Rock City” barn signs were talking about, right? You’ll never see them quite the same way again now.

As you might expect, there’s not a tour guide awaiting you to show you the fine eateries and museums inside the Drow city. It’s still quite scenic on the outside. Lots of waterfalls.

Scattered about the city and the southern parts around the city are missives from a Drow leader that discuss their desire to visit Eveningstar and Eberron and take what they want. Seems they’re also learning about things from your world, like guild airships.

You might want to pass on any requests from them for a ship invite.

Collect all the missives scattered about the city outskirts and inside the city and you’ll complete a full map of the area.

The Drow make you work for that map.¬†Watch your step!¬†Sschindylryn rests atop a wide canyon to an underground river so deep that the Drow aren’t daring enough to visit there. Fall off into the bottomless crevasse surrounding the city and your tourist days are temporarily over. Several of the missives rest along the edges of the canyon to give you sphincter-clenching sensations as you hop over gaps on the way to find them. It’s good reading, really.

Look up. THAT'S how you build a pyramid.

Look up. THAT’S how you build a pyramid.

The city is stunningly built. Ornately inscribed doors and spires, seemingly carved from the stone itself, form the many residences and halls there. Unfortunately, the Drow never offer open-house tours of city dwellings, so you will not be able to share that Eberron fruitcake you’ve been carrying.

If you want to get an idea of how to build a ziggurat (a stepped pyramidal building), stand at the city’s main entrance and look up.

Notice how the Drow built dwellings within stalactites above the city. Awe-inspiring. And don't even think how they get up there.

Notice how the Drow built dwellings within stalactites above the city. Awe-inspiring. And don’t even think how they get up there.

You’ll also find yet another portal inside the city. Taking this is a quick way to head elsewhere in the Underdark. But should you activate this portal, you may find yourself materializing on return trips to the Drow city at this portal and not the outskirts portal. There are one or two other city portals, but these are inactive (likely for a future adventure somewhere else in the Underdark).

Underdark-Scity3There are three areas based on the Drow houses to see as you slay the guards, commoners and driders that greet you on your tour. House Dun’Robar is a military house, specialized in training fighter legions. House¬†Avithoul, as you might guess from your first encounter as you initially entered the Underdark, specializes in the slave trade. House Szind offers to keep other Drow troops and slaves alive, even if you keep killing them, by using their necromancers to raise them as undead. Lastly, atop and inside the ziggurat of the city, is a Drow temple where you may get to meet the High Priestess and pay your respects.

Inside any of these houses you’ll find a magnificent living space. Tapestries adorn the walls. Sculptures and decorated altars abound. Racks of weaponry and military precision. The beautifully and tastefully decorated bedrooms of the Matron Mothers. Libraries filled with the knowledge of Drow over the milennia. Incredible furniture. The Drow blend form and function in a mesmerizing, captivating synergy.

Sadly, all of these areas are closed to deeper tours. Once you complete a battle to save Eveningstar from a Drow invasion, you can enter their Houses in the Drow city and get a closer look at mostly everything in House Dun’Robar without Drow complaint. But the illusion spell works only temporarily to allow you to contemplate the art inside House Avithoul, and the spell fails utterly in the necromantic spyworks of House Szind.

The city has at least one rare encounter in each house as well as two in the common area. These Drow and driders do not offer their wares willingly.

The Underdark Tour Continues

The wilds of the Underdark are contained on three levels. Being of natural formation, it’s not at all easy to find paths that lead where you want to sight-see. There’s also the matter of Drow and Yuan-Ti forces wanting to push you off these high ledges to your doom at your earliest inconvenience.

Key places to visit are noted in a copy of the full map. There is one additional portal that you can use to leave and return to the Underdark with greater ease than having to use the King’s Forest portal. Activating the Riz Malag portal makes it more convenient later to reach the quest, “In the Belly of the Beast.”

The ruins of Riz Malag.

The ruins of Riz Malag.

Ever seen a dragon up close? Any typical adventurer has done so, of course. Why stop now? In one of the harder paths to find, and a harder rare enemy to discover in his lair, is the red dragon Micahrastir. Now, dragons are rarely friendly. To them, you’re the snack on their version of a trip. You might be able to get a selfie of you next to his slumbering bulk, but if you’re that close, fighting him is probable.

Careful not to get knocked off of Micah’s lair by his wind buffeting if you’re trying to steal his loot (as is custom for adventurer tourists). Once a fight starts, the small path that leads up to him is destroyed and you cannot return to him in the same instance to continue your fight if you’re knocked off.

Overall, stealth is a wonderful and preferred way to enjoy your tour, especially if alone. You’ll certainly attract less attention if you are keen on reaching every encounter point. True to the name, however, it’s dark in there.

The Underdark with no goggles (enhanced a bit but still dark).

The Underdark with no goggles (enhanced a bit but still dark).

A vendor named Malchor is close by the Eveningstar portal into the Underdark. Now that you’ve activated a portal in Eveningstar Cavern, it’s easy to reach this vendor. Recall from anywhere in the Underdark, and then use the Underdark portal in Eveningstar Cavern and choose the option for the trader’s post.

Malchor’s having a promotion on his wares and will offer to give you a pair of his light-enhancing goggles at no charge.

The Underdark with goggles!

The Underdark with goggles!

These goggles better highlight the area, and they also mark hostiles in a red hue. Aside from changing your character’s gear setup, the goggles may cause contrasts in your sight that might annoy your appreciation of the aesthetics of the area.

Other notable encounters and sights:

  • The last priestess of House¬†Jegg’Dralnoc. A rare sight to find a priestess all alone in the wilds. Doesn’t look like Lolth is giving her any sympathy or alms. You’re not that type of “take pictures, leave only footprints” kind of tourist, however. Once she attacks you, you can take a certain pride in ending an entire Drow house all by yourself. Her altar is always in the same place, although sometimes she isn’t there, replaced by a Drow acolyte.
  • Nessaleesa, She Who Hunts Among Stones. A medusa has made a garden of stone–specifically, enemies she has turned to stone by her petrifying gaze. If you’re a Shintao Monk, it would be curiously fitting to turn her into jade stone, if possible, for a few moments before ending her.
  • Agathea, a night hag, has a little old place where she wants you to get together. It’s not a love shack, however. You’re to be part of our food supply, baby.
  • The Grand Waterfall. The Yuan-Ti like it, too. But they aren’t inclined to share it with you.
  • Tranquility Grove. Wow, man. Poppies poppies poppies…you shouldn’t rest here. At all. The flora will attempt to make you sleep here indefinitely. If you’re of elven heritage, you’re immune to sleep effects and should be able to traverse the area without problem.
  • Riz Malag: A rather striking set of ruins amidst the starkness of the Underdark stone. Do find this for your alternate portal out and back to get to “In the Belly of the Beast.” There’s many illitids and animated armors nearby.

Next time on Insane Tourism: The Storm Horns.

Where Angels Fear to Tread: The Insane Tourist’s Guide to The Subterrane

We all know of many great players in the game that do the seemingly impossible.

This post isn’t about them. It’s about us. The average player. We don’t spend ungodly days and weeks on one character to make them godly enough to go into an Epic Elite quest alone. We don’t necessarily tune our characters for maximum damage or defense with hard calculations, seeking out the finest gear and running and re-running quest after quest, raid after raid.

(I’m not disparaging these Godly gamers, by the way. If making virtual gods is their way to have fun, go for it! None of us play DDO for our health. )

That said, we average players aren’t inexperienced. We grind long enough to get good Challenges gear. We gather Green Steel ingredients and build very powerful weapons and items. We know our way around Epic quests and have learned through our personal networks (guilds, forums, the DDO Wiki) of good gear combinations. We use the DDO Character Planner and other fine tools. We maximize our Epic Destinies and tool about with enhancements to make solid, if not Godly, characters.

And once all that’s done, we “average players” go off to show our mettle.

But what places aren’t so often visited by many in the game? These areas might be spurned by the Godlys because they might hold no loot or challenge to them. The Godlys aren’t typically “flower sniffers” (players who enjoy the aesthetics of an adventure, complete some or all optionals, and/or collect ingredients).

And there are places that are outright tough. Perhaps the Godlys ignore them because, unlike adventures and raids, these areas have a certain unpredictability and diversity that their characters cannot withstand.

And if the Godlys don’t care to visit these places, why on earth would the Average care to go?

Be sure to catch that selfie before you die! That's SO awesome!

Be sure to catch that selfie before you die! That’s SO awesome! (Photo credit: Anton Zemlyansky.)

Maybe, just maybe, we Average go to such places Because It’s There. We want to see everything.

We become Tourists of the Damned, taking screenshots of the most dangerous and obscure locations, just to say that we managed to get there (if not return).

Often, the developers put small visual treats in these remote locations, just to see if crazy tourists like us would be so nuts to venture out to find and report our discoveries on the forums in appreciation (complete with a photo album).

The stern bumper stickers of your guild ships might say, “Let me show you pictures of my trip into the bowels of hell.”

And perhaps there is some loot that we might find while we make the trip.

Let’s begin this series of exploration, appreciation and interpretation of little-explored and dangerous areas in the game (from my perspective, anyway) with The Subterrane.

The Birth of the Subterrane

If you’ve played “The Chronoscope” raid or were around in early 2008 when the events of the Chronoscope occurred in real time, you know that a Shavarath invasion of Stormreach occurred some time ago that (among other things) destroyed the original Marketplace tent.

The devils invaded Stormreach through the use of massively expansive ancient giantish catacombs, deep under the Marketplace and spreading out under some Houses, known to us as the Subterrane.

The “Sub” is the game’s only raid-enabled wilderness area. (UPDATE: DDOMicki and FuzzyDuck81 reminded me that that portions of the Cannith Manufactury are also raid zones.) ¬†That alone should ring bells. You cannot take hirelings there, limiting many of us Average to maximizing our self-healing options or avoid travel there altogether.

The place is filled with some of the nastiest foes in the game. The moment you jump off from the entry point (you did wear your feather-fall item, right?) you’re greeted by several Living Spells that try to snuff you immediately. Think of the names of the nastier spells and put the word “Living” in front of it. Living Meteor Swarms. Living Disintegrates. Living Fingers of Death. Living Delayed Blast Fireballs.

As I said, that’s just the entrance.

Most players or groups have four and only four reasons to enter the Sub for any regular purpose:

  1. Gather players to Greater Teleport them to Meridia for a “Shroud” run. These players are already in a raid party, and you cannot enter Meridia or any other non-raid instance while in a raid party.
  2. Gather to venture as a raid party to the raid, “A Vision of Destruction.”
  3. Gather to venture as a raid party to “The Hound of Xoriat.”
  4. Enter to reach Garamol’s Lair in hopes of finding the Icy Raiment outfit or other gear.

To enter the Sub for any other reason seems suicidal, right?

But where Godlys don’t go, we Averages go, even to say that we went just to say we did.

We make up for our Averageness through our versatility. We use anything and everything we know to survive in places like this. We don’t necessarily relish the idea of going in alone but we might take time to study to see if it is possible. In our studies, we might find a secondary reason (and rationalization) to go.

In my case, I do like to explore. Now, exploration requires you to either (1) be able to kill anything that sees you or (2) avoid being seen. I use the second option, as many Averages do. Godlys don’t care if they’re seen. In fact, they expect to since they aren’t the types to add points to Hide and Move Silently, I fear.

The Insane Tourist’s Guide to Spectacles of the Subterrane

Game tourism is a little like this. Only the woman should really be stabbing the armored guys with the sword as she gets her photo taken.

Game tourism is a little like this. Only the woman should really be stabbing the armored guys with the sword  and looting their bodies as she gets her photo taken.

So, aside from the bragging rights of going, what obscure things might you find in the Sub that can be useful later?

Here’s one: Planar Shards.

Sure, we’re encouraged to pick up these “t-bags” often as our raid groups kill things as we make our way to “Hound.” But what are they for?

The DDO Wiki points out that these shards can be exchanged for some very useful emergency items. With the change of Rise of the Phoenix in the Shintao class tree to a self-only Resurrection effect, my dojo has become very interested in gathering Planar Shards to make emergency Raise Dead trinkets. It takes only 10 to make 1 single-use trinket, and 25 for a 2-use trinket. (UPDATE: Be warned: These are Exclusive bound-to-character items, so you can make one, store one in your personal bank, and then carry one and one only. Better make it the 2-charge version.)

That’s worth the price of entry alone. Where else, outside of a hireling or divine player, or running all the way back to a shrine, are you going to find a way to help a fallen player? The Ring of the Ancestors isn’t exactly easy to get, and not all of us are Clerics or Favored Souls. These items are certainly easier to farm.

The Next Stop: Garamol’s Lair.

I make it a point to periodically take Lynncletica the Tanker out to chat with Garamol to farm for the Icy Raiment outfit, especially now that they are no longer bound at all and have improved Dodge numbers after recent Updates.

The path to Garamol, through the Central area of the Sub, follows the same path to “Hound of Xoriat.” It’s comparatively safer, as well. Your primary enemies are (after avoiding two Living Spells) ancient giant skeletons. There are three opportunities to enter using portals. There’s a special glowing stylized “G” that indicates which of three portals will take you to the cylindrical lair.

The first portal (noted on the DDO Wiki map as “Portal B,”) always goes to the path to the Hound, never to Garamol, ¬†no matter what the “G” shows in the floating glyph there. The next three portals are “Portal C” opportunities where Garamol rests. You hope that the first portal C location, not far from B, shows the “G” for a quick entry. If not, your second opportunity is near the Halls of Lunacy. Standing guard there is a Elder Beholder that you cannot avoid easily. If there’s a G glyph, you can head to your right, off the bridge, down to the ground, defeat several Reavers and Mind Flayers to reach that portal.

If there is no G glyph at the second location of Portal C, you must continue forward, across the bridge, open the door to encounter very aggressive Tieflings and Bearded Devils.

A good stealth artist can open the door and sneak past most of the enemies here to the last portal. The good news is that Garamol’s Lair is always accessible. One of the Portal C locations must be active to reach Garamol. If your first two locations aren’t marked, this portal will send you to Garamol.

Note that Garamol’s portal is green in color. All other portals in the Sub are red in color. When in doubt, activate the portal using the nearby rune.

Fighting Garamol

A good tourist always packs for the trip.

Before you venture into the Sub, bring these items to freshen up, as well as stay alive.

  • Protection from Energy potions or spells, as well as your best healing potions and spells, resistance items, and anything else to avoid trap damage. Once you enter the portal to Garamol, you’ll fall from the top of the cylindrical lair to its bottom. In between are several layers of acid, electrical, fire and force traps. You need to survive these traps before you even hit the ground (alive, anyway). There is no shrine in Garamol’s Lair. (You can find a shrine near the 2nd and 3rd Portal Cs to recharge prior to entry.)
  • Your best undead giant beater. If you got this far, you likely have something that works well against them. Garamol¬†himself¬†is a 20,000 HP red-named giant that (like many other enemies in the Sub) resist banishing or disruption.
Garamol and Lynncletica in negotiations for his loot.

Garamol and Lynncletica. Hospitality isn’t his thing. Thank him by spanking him.

As you fall, look down and orient the throne of Garamol as the “12” on a clock face. You want to land you and your tourist friends on a rock outcropping at 3 o’clock. You do not want to land on the gold or venture much about the lair. To do so spawns additional giant skeletons and ghosts that will make your job harder. These guys don’t disappear when Garamol is slain. If your group of tourists have the moxy to end Garamol and his friends, you can loot the piles of gold there afterward.

You’ll find two chests after dispatching Garamol. One has the chance of giving you the Icys as well as several other unique named weapons.

You can leave the lair by recalling out, or use a rune nearby that activates a portal that will take you elsewhere in the Subterrane. Be sure to take a photo of the area, just to show you lived long enough to do so. Gather your friends around the throne and take a seat and some memorable photos of the halflings doing a jig. Always a hoot, that.

See the Lovely Altars and Fortresses in the Central area

The lesser-known areas require a bit more fortitude for you to reach. You’ll find several opportunities for rare bosses that might casually give you some history of their invasion of Xen’drik as they slay you.

After you thank them for the history lesson by slaying them back, some chests may appear with hopefully useful items. Remember to keep gathering the Planar Shard treasure bags throughout the area.

Again, photos of your trip, or it didn’t happen.

The Vistas of the East area

If you were to backtrack and take the first portal eastward, Portal B, you can see some Shavarath and Xoriat natives milling about, looking for tasty tourists like you. Be sure to greet them back with the ugliest, deadliest weapons you own. This area is generally one-way if you go so far as to unlock the final portal that leads you to a harmless zen beholder that chills near a shrine and the entrance to the “Hound of Xoriat” raid.

Next time on the Insane Tourist: The Underdark.

The Drow and Klingons: A Character Study

Fellow blogger Erdrique has recently posted a series of articles on backstory insights of races and alliances in various adventures that are often illuminating and sometimes puzzling.

A stray thought came to mind regarding the Drow. Erdrique has touched on the ones we find in the Searing Heights.

Hazai_HaathaEven the weakest of them exudes attitude and weaponized bitterness. They often back it up with numbers and skill.

The Xen’drik Drow, commonly aligned with the god Vulkoor, can sometimes be mild allies, as with the peaceful Raveneye Drow in the Red Fens, whose backstory (if you bother to speak with one NPC) tells of their self-isolation after giantish enslavement.

But when they or any other Drow have their Vulkoor cheerleader mode on, they are ferocious, as we see in the Demon Sands adventures, especially “An Offering of Blood” where it seems that every desert Drow on Xen’drik shows up to kill you.

And then, it gets worse–not for you yet, but for them. The Xen’drik Drow get one-upped by another better-known Drow race from another realm–the Faerun Drow, the dark elves of the Underdark of Abeir-Toril.

These Drow enter into the world of Xen’drik by manipulating the Xen’drik Drow to free a senior drider priestess, the Spinner of Shadows, who contacts the goddess¬†Lolth¬†(who makes Vulkoor seem like an orange-named boss). Lolth’s mere “Hello!” when her aspect appears in the plane of Khyber causes an inter-planar rift in Xen’drik¬†that threatens to destroy the planet. It’s a metaphysical attack so intense that it might be like being a grandson and getting slapped so hard by a bully that your grandfather feels it, decades before you were born.

Rather than Vulkoor’s scarrow (scorpion/drow fusions), we see the driders: Spider Drow borne from the stuff of nightmares. It’s not my first time handling driders, being a Neverwinter Nights player. (When I saw the scarrow for the first time, I laughed at their oddness.)

FaerunDrowPriestessOne of the most dreaded enemies in their ranks are the Drow Priestesses, powerful mages that will sustain themselves in a fight by sucking the life from anyone in her influence–even her own army.

Dun'Robar_BlademasterThe Drow of the Underdark are more sinister, more battle ready than the Xen’drik Drow. While the Underdark Drow have houses that often fight among themselves, the Xen’drik Drow are often seen in various alliances, most not with your interests and, interestingly, not with other Drow factions. As a result, they seem rather spread out in effectiveness, like the Sulatar Drow of the Searing Heights. The Vulkoor Drow in Menechtarun¬†are arguably the most potent of the Drow on Xen’drik up to level 16.

From there, the nastiest ones are found in Khyber. They appear to be Drow who have been influenced by the Spinner of Shadows to gather dragonshards for her. As a result of their alliance, these Drow spellcasters are superior in firepower than any other Xen’drik Drow, if¬†Sabriz Rinzyn Kho is any indication.

The contrasts between the Faerun and Xen’Drik Drow made me think of the Klingons, the warrior race in Star Trek lore. At first, these characters were written up as placeholders for Communist rulers of the Cold War, since the Original Series was produced during that time. They were humanoid in appearance then, resembling Asian/Slavic peoples you might find in the former Soviet Union, with a heavy “Fu Manchu” look.

By the early 1980’s, the Klingons took on a different appearance, still humanoid but with a more…crustacean appearance, for lack of a better term. These were first seen in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The Klingon commander at the start of the film was played by the late Mark Lenard, one of the first actors to play a role in ¬†all of the non-human major races in the series and films as well as appear in more Star Trek projects than most other actors (The unnamed Romulan commander in “Balance of Terror,” the unnamed Klingon commander in The Motion Picture, and, of course, Sarek of Vulcan, Spock’s father, in the Original Series, Next Generation, and the movies¬†Star Trek III and IV).

These “new” Klingons quickly gained a far grandiose warrior-race posture not unlike races we see in the Dungeons & Dragons universes. An artificial language was created for them for use with The Motion Picture by Marc Okrand. It’s now the most commonly spoken artificial language in the world. (Sheldon Cooper tries to use it at any opportunity.) SF conventions always have a contingent of attendees that are in full Klingon apparel–well, the armor from the Next Generation appearance, anyway. They speak of honor and war and battle. They aren’t necessarily evil, but are fearless, continually ready for battle to show their worth.

klingons

Klingons: Before…and now. For folks playing at home, this is the same character, Kor, played by the venerable actor John Colicos (also of original “Battlestar Galactica” fame as the original Baltar).

By their reappearance in Star Trek: The Next Generation, the Klingons had a love/hate alliance with the Federation. Like the Vulkoor Drow, when the Klingons are miffed at you, you’ll have to fight for your honor or be destroyed. If Star Fleet shared the Klingon’s distaste for a common enemy, a Klingon/Federation war party is an awesome force to be reckoned with. The race also gained a substantially greater historical backstory and ethics that showed how a dangerous Klingon isn’t particularly evil–just Klingon.

The writers of Star Trek lampshaded why the appearance of the Klingons changed from Kirk’s time to Picard’s time in the very humorous and technically-beautiful return to Kirk’s time of tribble trouble, using clever CGI to meld 24th Century characters into the Original Series episode “The Trouble with Tribbles” to interact with events in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode, “Trials and Tribble-ations.”

So, when “New Klingons” showed up, it seemed to me (an old guy that’s watched The Original Series when it first aired) that the Original Series Klingons have become jokes to viewers and fans, spoken of only in passing. So it may be also true for the Xen’drik Drow, threatened with perceiving itself as the “New Coke” of the Drow race.

It would interesting to have a new adventure in DDO where players get to explore the history of the Drow, specifically how the Xen’drik Drow are handling the revelation that other Drow in the universe not only exist, but are tougher, badder and have a MUCH bigger god than they do. I mean, Vulkoor isn’t quite up to planet-killing prowess, to my knowledge.

Where did these new dark elves come from?, the Xen’drik Drow would ask. Why are they more powerful? What is the fate of the Xen’drik Drow with this revelation of both religious, political and ontological import? What does Lolth have in mind? Is she going to sacrifice the Drow of Eberron to the Demonweb?

Given that some Xen’drik Drow aren’t so much evil as they boast superiority (a common Drow trait), it would fascinating to see a Xen’drik Drow show up their Faerun counterparts in some way. Imagine that the Drow of the Underdark have their eyes set on invading Stormreach.

Do you think our Eberron Drow would have any of that?

With this line of thinking, I’m surprised that the devs haven’t created an adventure where the Xen’drik Drow then ask, “How can we help your kind in¬†killing that overgrown false spider-god?”

Our Drow wouldn’t fight so much for Xen’drik, but just because they need to save face. They’d go out to prove that they are Drow too, dammit, not some knockoff copies that the Underdark used for slaves once upon a time.

The developer’s concentration in focusing on creating more Forgotten Realms adventures and less of Eberron quests make the probability of exploring this new plight to the Xen’drik Drow unlikely.

A Little Role-Play on My Part

My newest character, the star-thrower Szyncletica, is a House Dun’Robar Drow. So, with some practice, I’m going to play her as an outsider amidst outsiders with some inside understanding of her Xen’drik brethren. She’s going to get annoyed at the relative equality of Xen’Drik Drow men in the quests she’ll encounter (women are the leaders with the Faerun Drow), especially since her backstory is that she was a daughter of a Matron Mother and thus, heir to the throne–if she were able to kill off her sibling competition.

I plan to march Szyn into the Demon Sands shortly. I’ll likely choose dialog options that reflect her nature as a Drow. I’m hoping that the developers added a little NPC dialog changes that might make Drow-to-Drow talks a bit interesting. However, it’s not probable given the age of the modules, and my adventures in the Red Fens don’t show any change.

I do know one thing. I think Szyn has the cojones to take down the Demon Queen solo, at Heroic level. Her throwing attack can hit fast and hard, her reflexes will save easily against Queen Lailat’s blade-barrier like attacks, the gnolls will not survive and Szyn should be able to kite her way to victory.