Your Playstyle is not My Playstyle

You either attracted attention, or were left behind to attract more attention. Ow.

You either attracted attention, or were left behind to attract more attention. Ow.

As you might’ve gleaned from my last post, I’ve gotten a few more gripes about the lack of Improved Precise Shot on my Zen Archer that I was in the mood to handle.

But after speaking with some friends, I realized it was more of an opportunity for me to discuss why I play more conservatively than more players than I realized. 

Let me ask you several questions based on my observations over the years. Just make a mental note if you answered “yes” or “no” to each. The questions are in no particular order or emphasis.

  1. After your party buffs, do you surge ahead into a pile of enemies?
  2. Do you tend to attack first, no matter what your class?
  3. Do you tend to use builds that emphasize very high DPS?
  4. Are your builds primarily multiclassed?
  5. Do you tend to always just surge ahead and fight, and not worry about generating dungeon alert?
  6. Have you ever made a character that has a Move Silently or Hide score greater than 20?
  7. If you play a Monk, do you think the finishing moves are too complex or useless?
  8. If you play a mage, do you tend to use your spells without worrying about attracting attention?
  9. If you play a ranged character, do you use Improved Precise Shot at all times?
  10. If you play a Rogue Assassin, do you complain how your Assassinate doesn’t work?

If you answered “yes” to most of these, you really shouldn’t be reading my blog.

Aggro Means Aggression

DDO is designed to kill you. If you carelessly approach a group of enemies without a plan of attack, death is sure to come. Sure, you could be a veteran player of many years and even memorized the location and appearance of monsters. That doesn’t change the conditions of the quest, especially if you have party members that aren’t strong enough yet in experience (player or character) or have sufficient firepower or protections to survive.

There are two type of aggro-magnets I know. One kind is the player that simply isn’t watching the mechanics carefully enough. They may be new to the game or very experienced. They often try a special attack and, next thing you know, they forget a critical mechanic and cry out “Help!” moments before others hear a “ding!”

The second are the zerging, all-knowing, high-speed players that measure XP per hour. They know many quests by heart, set up quest and raids with “know it” in their description, and blast forward. They often can dish out the damage and maximize every single ability and have the best of the best gear. Sometimes they’re often completionist-lovers.

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with either situation–except when you claim that the way you play is the only way to play and become intolerant to any other ideas.

You Don’t Need to be Perfect at Everything

DDO’s D&D roots mean that some classes will be superior to others at a given thing. You can make a high-DPS fighter with UMD and good Search and Spot but you will eventually meet a challenge you cannot do alone. Many Epic quests now laugh at your True Seeing, requiring a fully functioning Rogue or Artificer to find that door. Your high DPS is useless in part 3 of The Shroud. You will get very, very bloody in many quests if you simply fight without thinking.

What’s “thinking?”

  1. Pulling enemies. You break up a large group and pick them off one by one. Even if you do this only a little, it makes your eventual charge less rigorous. This is the Zen Archer’s job. In a party, I remain stationary, targeting enemies that are being kited or that are targeting others in a party. 
  2. Turning off Improved Precise Shot. Unless you are certain that you can kill all eighteen of the orcs you just hit at once, you’re not only endangering the quest but party members. And even if you can kill off all of those orcs, you’re showing off and being a kill hog. No one wants “leet” players in party because they’re an assassin of joy of whatever you find likeable in a quest’s storyline, including party esprit de corps. The Zen Archer can’t do its job with IPS.
  3. Remembering that you’re in a freaking party. Share the fame. Let people read the story, speak to the NPCs, even grab a collectible. Do some optionals. Do something wacky like letting the Rogue scout, and not leaving the newbie Sorcerer behind as dungeon fodder.

I’m really digressing from my central point. Fighting is what DDO is about. I’m not arguing that. I question how some of you think that what others get out of DDO (or any game) must be the same as what you get out of the game, else, you’re patently convinced that others “aren’t doing it right.”

I am not advocating that any player should make a stealth character, or play only single-classed characters and love it. Nor am I suggesting that you should rip out feats and skills and enhancements that please you and work for your character.

I’m simply telling you to stop your proselytizing about how important you think a skill or feat or enhancement may be. Many players, me included, come to learn and realize what’s cool or useful by experience, not by somebody sauntering into a forum thread to drop in their sage knowledge in clipped, 3rd grade English. In that sense, my blog and the Monk and stealth guides might be filled with “Captain Obvious” information to you. That’s fine. There’s other places you can go to find what you need.

It’s clear I’m not tranquil here. It’s because players that become too godly in their minds just aggro me.

I only have two builds I’ve made. They aren’t necessarily original but they are effective for me and thought it would be nice to share them. My responsibility is to communicate how to play them. Strangely, seems that other builds are more self-explanatory.

I hope your builds work for you. But if you’re going to say that feat X is a must, I’m going to consider what I know about it–and then decide for myself.

Schrodinger’s DDO and You

What's inside Dungeons & Dragons Online? Only that which you take with you, I believe.

What’s inside Dungeons & Dragons Online?
Only that which you take with you, I believe.

“DDO is dying!” some forum member may exclaim in a poorly written thread that clearly shows that the forum has rolled a 1 in mastering their own mother tongue.

“DDO is alive!” retorts another forum member in reply.

“DoOOOOOoooom!” says another.

We’ve all seen these threads. The phrase has almost become a meme.

Some have tried to document the volume of players per server to prove their point, often pleading the devs to merge servers. This post isn’t going there. I’m going to talk more about the behavior of players, no matter how few or how many, on any server. Nor am I dealing with sexism in gaming that could foster such issues. I’ve written poorly enough on that before.

Too often, a look at the Group LFMs show “BYOH”, short for “bring your own healing”–that is, be self-sufficient in case you’re damaged. That’s different from “bring your own healer” as many PuGs don’t want a hireling to take up a player slot nor cause them to have to expend resources on keeping it alive, much less waiting for a player to keep up while tending to the hireling’s errant behavior.

And once invited into said group, most players just do what they want.  A scant few might go off on their own. Many may surge ahead–even if you’re not actually in the quest yet.

I feel this behaviors reflect my hypothesis that most players do not play DDO with a D&D game style. Either they aren’t aware of the game’s synergistic use of classes and have never played that tabletop or similar games before. Perhaps they also don’t care to know. Or, they’ve come from another game that fosters parties for convenience only, and less by tradition or necessity.

There’s also a psychological factor with the nature of the modern gamer.

There are occasional LFMs with “All optionals” in the comments. It may also still say, “BYOH.” That party leader is going to see everything in the quest. They still might not wait for you to see or read what they saw.

I’m not omniscient and cannot prove much of what I cite here, but only note what I’ve read and seen as anecdotal evidence. You can fill in your own to draw a conclusion.

I don’t see the game itself as the problem, but the manner in which many players tackle it. I break down the issue in two ways. These might seem familiar.

Too Many “Heroes”

D&D offers you to create a character, give it a class, and then have it join in with other characters on adventurers. If you win, great. You (and perhaps your party) are hero for the day. Tomorrow may be different.

But a live combat MMO such as DDO tries to combine this party role gaming system with the nature of modern MMO gaming, which allows and even encourages character builds that are more self-sufficient and more solitary. You can play most of DDO as if the world’s fate literally revolves around you, never grouping with anyone. As GamerGeoff opined earlier today, the fact that your sole character can face down a dragon–nay, dragonsleaving mounds of dead wyrms behind you, is a bit anticlimactic.

This isn’t necessarily the fault of the game itself. DDO offers raids and other adventures with mechanics or objectives that absolutely require a party, which infers a certain level of cooperation within it for the team to complete their goal.

However, the mindset of many typical gamers today seems to contradict a cooperative nature. In fact, it seems that many powerful players gravitate towards being the most heavily geared, the most lives lived, or the most powerful. Such achievements do not necessarily require a party. And if they do, it’s less a matter of having friends than of using your friends wisely. In short, players are less communal but still less akin to mercenaries, even if affiliated with a guild.

The tabletop camaraderie isn’t an etched-in-stone requirement. Such player characters might not want to be permanently affiliated with a party as part of their role-play shtick. Emphasis on the tactical use of the word “role” here, not the fantasy behavior.

So what happens when many, many players are “lone wolves?”

Too Little Role Play

As I said, I see most players in DDO have a very low RPG background. This may be by choice in that they may have played some tabletop games before but are here to slay, slay, slay. It may also be that they know nothing of D&D cooperative gaming but to kill for fortune and glory.

Some of DDO’s versions of the D&D character classes are better at going at things alone than not. All have a specific synchronicity for many quest types. None of them were meant to work completely alone. Why is this?

The answer is simple. D&D melds you (as your character) into a story, along with other players. You’re not only a character in a game, you’re a character in a story.

Be it a mystery or other quest, your personal interactions with the world–and even each other as player characters–are both non-combat and combat. DDO mimics a bit of the conversational. “A Study in Sable” comes close to this mechanic, where a bit of exploration yields a hidden secret that will prove helpful at the quest’s end. The start of “The Crucible” requires strong non-combat skills to make your combat (and XP) more rewarding.

So does it make sense that only you become the sole protagonist in a large story? No more so that seeing a movie where Luke Skywalker or Riddick or Indiana Jones are simply interacting with objects. A story is about people, not a person. D&D doesn’t try to portray adventurers as superheroes, but heroes. Heroes do the job despite limits. Their true power is bravery, not gear or brawn.

MMO gaming allows a solo player to emulate a party in some ways for convenience, of course. We can’t all find someone living to group up with at certain times. In DDO, hirelings can fill this out, but they are generally automated combat drones. They cannot interact with other NPCs and the dialogues they show the player character.

So, what’s up with the player psyche nowadays? Why is there a perception or reality that no one wants to group with others anymore? Are the quests a “one-and-done” thing where, once played, the story doesn’t matter to some? Does the story even matter to the modern online player? Does the fate and loot of other players matter to today’s typical player?

There’s some fact to my personal observations–and perhaps your own. Let’s give props to an early gamer that begin to study gamers before gaming was less cool than it is now.

The Bartle Test

Back in 1996, Richard Bartle, a scientist and creator of the very first multi-user dungeon, or MUD (the progenitor of today’s massive multiplayer online role-playing games such as DDO) wrote a paper that studied how a player tends to play inside a MUD/MMO.

Two other scientists built an online test based on this paper. The test’s questions were based on Bartle’s work on character theory. In the case of gaming, how does a player tend to play their character? Bartle broke it down into four categories.

  • Achievers (preferred to gain “points,” levels, equipment and other concrete measurements of succeeding in a game)
  • Explorers (preferred to be discovering areas, creating maps and learning about hidden places)
  • Socializers (preferred to be interacting with other players, and on some occasions, computer-controlled characters with personality)
  • Killers (preferred to depart from the norm of being “the good guy” who comes to save the day and play on the side of evil or conquest)

Now, while there are only four categories, this is actually a wider dichotomy that’s commonly classified by DDO players as “zergers” and “flower-sniffers.” To me, the Bartle character theory breaks down the gamer psyche to a finer nuance. The theory may still not satisfy for those who believe Bartle’s characterizations are still too narrow (creating a false dichotomy). For purposes of my discussion, however. this test is a good start to study the DDO player today.

What better way to examine the test, still available at GamingDNA, than to try it out?

Thus, I did. For long-time readers, the results shouldn’t surprise you.

Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology   Explorer

I tend to explore while gaming. That’s not to be confused with “flower sniffing” but to learn what in the world offers or opposes me. Since the DDO world is generally out to get you outside of public areas, knowledge is key to completing a quest without trial and error in the brutish “let’s kill stuff to see what happens” way that others do.

One subcategory in the text probably fits me perfectly. I’m the “Explorer Socializer.” It says: “Explorer Socializers are the glue of the online world. Not only do they like to delve in to find all the cool stuff, but they also enjoy sharing that knowledge with others. Explorer socializers power the wikis, maps, forums and theory craft sites of the gamer world.”

(You’re welcome.)

Now, what kind of gamer are you? I wonder if more people play DDO because there are more people who want cooperative play rather than individual play with very limited and self-serving cooperative means (“I’d rather play alone but we need a healer.”) Perhaps there’s also the breadth of versatility in the DDO game mechanics that allow full use of many D&D traits that other games may not offer that make cooperative play more fortuitous than burdensome.

I see nearly 40% of today’s DDO players as Achiever-types. About 35% are Explorer-types. But I feel Achievers as opportunistic. If some new update drops some complex loot, that percentage rises as some players feel more like an Achiever to get that new stuff.

Thankfully, there’s always a few people who enjoy exploring. They don’t say no to loot, either, but completion, even creatively doing so by stealth, unusual combat or other non-combat skills or abilities, is their priority.

I can’t really say if Explorers are necessarily the party-type, either. I know that I don’t tend to find groups willing to get on  sneaky runs into the Underdark or the Storm Horns. And perhaps the Achievers are moving too fast and with too strong a drive for some players to follow along.

Makes me wonder how good (or bad) does DDO have it in terms of cooperative play versus other MMOs?

Take the Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology at this link and share your results here or on the Fansite thread for this blog post. If enough people post their results, I’ll compile them for review later. Or, talk about your experiences. Do you notice some guilds favor one of the four Bartle characterizations? (Don’t name names, please). In what way do you foster a particular game style?

Epilogue

I did additional research with one presumption: That players are offered MMO worlds which deliver a poor RPG environment from the outset. How can you learn RPG synergy if the games you play don’t bother to try to illustrate the advantages? If everyone can pick a lock, who needs the Rogue? If everyone can help themselves, why add the Cleric to the party?

The recently released Neverwinter world by Cryptic always smelled funny to me for this reason. My guild has an affiliate presence there and it satisfied the young and curious in the guild with lots of shinies. But now, I hear very little talk about it.

Reviews from reputable gaming websites and magazine slam Neverwinter for a design that concentrates more on player power (often by monetization) and less on the storyline. With just a bare five D&D classes offered, none of them the Monk class, I’ve never bothered to try it.

If games such as these don’t encourage other facets of RPG gaming other than slaying (which is a valid component, but not the only one), how will RPG gaming endure, I wonder? Is the Millennial generation’s isolated individualism being reflected in RPG play? Since human interaction seems to be less direct than indirect (electronically), how can RPG as a whole survive?

Despite the individualistic challenges of society that are becoming more reflected in general gameplay as a more isolated entertainment form, there’s still hope. The nature of the guild forces introverted folks like me to work with others and be sociable. DDO itself, through its D&D roots, provides the framework.

Is DDO alive or dead? Look inside the box. The answer you’ll get depends on what you expect to see there.

As a wise man once said, “When we cease expecting, we receive all things.”

The Three-Minute “Frame Work”

So, I was feeling bored and wanted to continue pushing the stealth skills of Ryncletica, my dark Monk. After a fashion, I’ve learned to solo her (no hirelings) in a few quests (such as “Maraud the Mines” and “Blockade Buster“). So I did a Google search on DDO quests where stealth is useful and found this article on Frame Work, Elite difficulty.

There it tells of the story of “Mr. Cow,” a player on Khyber that completes that quest in about 3 minutes.

That’s right. Three frickin’ minutes.

After watching the Bovinemaster in action, I attempted to repeat it with Ryncletica.

It works.

Now, Mr. Cow’s toon was not purely a Monk. He had some spellcasting ability that helped him. Ryncletica is a Ninja Spy, so her options came down to using Shadow Fade (1 minute invisibility and partially insubstantial) with Hide/Move Silently to quickly get parts for the ballistas. Well, not so quickly. That added 4-5 minutes to scour the countryside.

Getting in was done just as the Cowster did it, over the Fisher’s Gate. Had to dispatch a few minotaurs that had good Spot or True Seeing before I found the one ballista that’s conveniently pointing towards the interior of the boss’s lair. Stoned a runt to complete the first goal.

That’s where things went more pair-shaped. I launched myself into the lair. The medusa’s dialogue can be interrupted if you’re detected. The Cowmeister’s invisibility was so strong that he meditated right next to the Chieftain (your last goal) as the NPC dialogue continued.  I settled on meditating outside before entering just in case. I wanted my master attack to be ready. The Touch of Death, a 500-point power strike that may likely kill the chieftain outright.

But there was also two or three target I wanted to consider, although the Bovine Master avoided them. There’s an ogre mage and an armored Droaam orc there that I hoped to keep at bay to open the chest there (which Mr. Cow did just for sport). Most people on the board knew the goal of speedy completion is just for the XP.

Ryn was able to dispatch the chieftain fast but, unlike Mr. Cow’s attempt, the secondary bosses were on top of me quickly. With no hireling and only my Vampiric Stonedust Wraps to help healing, I wouldn’t last too long. After somehow managing to open the chest, I bailed back to Dorris, the wise-cracking quest giver, to receive about 4,000 XP. Not bad.

Perhaps the use of paralyzers will give me just enough time. The best tactic I had was to smack about the growing mob to recharge my Touch of Death and pop it as often as possible. Same for another death strike (except for the red-named), the Quivering Palm.

Guess who’s farming that quest this weekend?

A Death in the Family

I’ve seen much of death. But when it comes to a close friend, death seems all the most closer to you.

A few weeks ago, the cleric that called herself Arcangela was found alone and lifeless in her quarters we gave her, here in my dojo. She never overcome the distress in what she believed was a futility of saving the ungrateful, the hostile, even those who were evil. Despite our talks, it appeared that the cleric simply appealed to her god to cease fighting. My physicians found no marks, no poisons, no traces of magic foul play. She simply surrendered her will to live.

The cleric was buried in a solemn service. Many of my acolytes and a few from the city come to bid their respects. I picked a quiet location under a large, sturdy oak, near a small stream with a pleasant trickling sound.

After the burial, one of my acolytes, a young halfling named Krena, remained standing  by Arcangela’s grave.

“I don’t understand. Why was it so hard for her?” the halfling asked.

I took a moment to consider before I spoke. “Clerics have much to manage. Few other adventures consider the innate stress of gathering and channeling divine magic.”

“Is it…painful…to heal people?”

I nodded. “In a sense. You sacrifice your ability to fight, sometimes, in order to ensure that your mission is a success. But some adventurers, ill-tempered, ill-trained and ill-equipped, often take advantage and abuse a cleric’s power. They see them as little more than a walking healing potion vendor.”

“I see,” the halfing said. I could see my answers had only generated more questions. I stood in the quiet and waited.

“You said that clerics sacrifice their ability to fight in order to heal. But could they improve on their fighting skills?”

“Yes,” I said. “An adventurer could train in multiple schools, one in fighting, and one in the divine arts. The downside to this is that the adventurer can ultimately not attain mastery in either school and thus be unable to perform the highest abilities that either class could attain.”

Krena’s face began to blush, her mouth opening slightly to show her clenched teeth.

“It wasn’t fair what those…pick-up groups did to her,” she said, her voice shaking.

“No. No, it wasn’t.”

“Master…I feel that…I feel I could learn the fighting essentials and begin study of the clerical arts.”

I knew this was coming. “What could you offer that Arcangela could not?” I asked bluntly.

Krena’s posture straightened in response to my challenge. “I know that even the basic unarmed attacks and evasive training will make me faster and more durable than some clerics I have read about. I won’t need heavy armor. I can heal myself through ki and perform more damage through ki. At the same time, the clerical arts will improve my skills in fighting as well as serving others in their healing.”

“But aren’t you worried that others will take advantage?”

She shook her head. “I think that Arcangela let herself become consumed.”

“How so?”

“As you have taught us, there is a difference between aiding during battle and contributing to an adventurer’s weakened state. It would be better, for both healer and adventurer, if mistakes in training or preparation are not disguised through temporary treatments.”

I smiled. “How would you say this in a less formal tone?”

Uh…stop healing the stupid?

“Better,” I said. “So what can the dojo do for you?”

“I need to complete my unarmed training. I need two more things: The name of a healer trainer in House Jorasco and permission to choose a name based on my new profession.”

I began walking back towards the compound. “I can help you in both. What name do you choose?”

“Gwencletica,” she said, after a beat.

The young halfling just became our first Cleric Monk. I plan to watch her progress with great interest.