LotRO: Wibbly-Wobbly, Timey-Wimey

One of the more interesting bits in the Lord of the Rings Online MMO is the fact that the events within the game are taking place roughly within the timeframe of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

I say “roughly”, because some of the stuff you experience happens well in the past. The ‘starter zone’ storyline for the elves occurs roughly 600 years prior to The Hobbit, for example, while in the Dwarf starting events you’re actually seeing Thorin & Co off on the very start of their journey to the Lonely Mountain. After the first couple scenes, both of those timelines advance to a few years prior to the beginning of the Lord of the Rings, and finally ‘catch up’ to the Man and Hobbit timelines at around level six.

In addition, there are flashback scenes throughout the game that take you back to scenes like…

  • Sauron’s time in Hollin as the “lord of gifts”.
  • The Fall of Moria.
  • The final stand of Balin’s habitation of Moria.
  • The years just after Numenor is broken and cast into the sea, and Ilsidur et al arrives in Middle Earth.

Finally there’s the simply fact that, because of the way the game is organized, moving (physically) along the path of the Fellowship effectively moves you forward (and, it you’re going the other way, backward) in time, if it’s not handled properly.

And all this is necessary. Some amount of the ‘epic story’ stuff you’re doing in the first part of the game has to do with either trying to figure out where the hell Frodo &c disappeared to when they left Crickhollow (then Bree), followed by trying to cover for them and mislead the Enemy. When, after doing this, you finally reach Rivendell yourself, you do (and should) feel entitled to introduce yourself to the Fellowship and receive some well-deserved pats on the back. After all, it’s not as though they wouldn’t be there at that point: after the Council of Elrond, the Nine Walkers were actually the Nine Sit Around and Planners for two months before they got moving again. (Crossing a mountain range in early January, Gandalf? Really?)

The problem is, what happens when the Fellowship finally leaves, and you come back to Rivendell for some reason? Obviously, you shouldn’t see them anymore, but at the same time some newer character who’s coming to The Last Homely House for the first time should.

Turbine has been solving this problem in various ways since they first started the game up.

Option 1: Instanced Areas
One of the things that really blew my mind when I first started playing LotRO was that I started in this quaint little village that a few days later gets basically burnt to the ground, and (wonder of wonders) actually stays that way. Turbine accomplished this by starting me out in an instanced version of the village, then loading me into the burnt-out version once I finished the intro. Simple to explain now, but damned near magical at the time. I still love the sense of a changing world this imparts.

They’ve used this kind of instanced access a lot — simply by putting a key character in a room with a door, they can control your access to that character and thus make them ‘not there’ when they shouldn’t be, according to your personal timeline. For example, early in the Epic storyline, you meet with Strider in the Prancing Pony, but when you come back a few days later, he’s not in his room anymore, there’s been a bit of a hullaballoo, and Gandalf is letting out the same room, and wants to know who the hell you are, how you know Strider, and what you know about this Mr. Underhill. Clever. There’s another memorable bit during what used to be the level 50 ‘end game’ epic storyline where three rooms in a secret camp in Angmar are used to conduct an elaborate shell game with about five NPCs who all take turns being available, missing, alive, dead, or in-between. Again, it works, but it’s a bit of a telltale: “Oh, he’s in a room — he’ll disappear at some point.”

Option 2: “If you’re here, this is when you’re here.”

I’ve only seen this solution used once, but it strikes me as elegant when used sparingly, at least in part because it involves no technical magic at all. There’s a point where you’re in Lorien, and you visit a particular hill where Legolas, Gimli, Sam, and Frodo all happen to be. They are not behind any doors. How do the developers address this?

Easy. When you get close enough to the location, you see the “location notification” come up on your screen, as it does pretty much everywhere in LotRO’s largely non-instanced, zoning-free game. However, in this case, you aren’t just told Where you are, you’re told WHEN you are: It’s not just “Cerin Amroth” but “Cerin Amroth, January 23rd”. Since that’s when you’re there, there’s no problem with seeing some of the Fellowship there as well.

Like I said, Simple and Elegant… unless you just got back from the Battle of Helm’s Deep.

Option 3: Now You See Me, Now You Don’t
Turbine was never entirely happy with these solutions, and ever since we started heading in the direction of Isengard and Rohan has been using what I like to think of as “Instanced People”.

Let’s say you have a quest to talk to Halbarad (the second-in-command of the Dunedain and Aragorn’s standard bearer, for those of you with less of a LotR obsession than me) as he’s traveling south with the Grey Company to meet up with his Liege. If that’s the case, when you get to the village where he’s stopped for the night, you will see him standing out in the center of town. If you do not have that quest, then he’s not there.

This, in a word, is excellent, because it opens a whole pile of opportunities for a variable world that is different for every player.

But it can result in a few… technical oddities.

Especially if (for example) you’re playing through the epic storyline on your fourth character and doing things a bit out of order.

For example…

Last night, I was on Radigwen, my loremaster. The Rise of Isengard expansion has been out for a week or so at this point, but I’ve haven’t yet ventured into the new areas because none of my characters felt like they were quite ready. Still, I’m getting fairly close, and on Radigwen I really just had the last few scenes in the previous Chapter of the epic’s “Book” to get through before I was ready to move on.

So, I’m up in this ancient library, doing a bit of poking around at the behest of one of the Rangers traveling south to meet up with Aragorn (they hope). Once the research is done, the Ranger tells me I should go back to Halbarad and tell him we’ve got the information he needs.

But he also has another quest for me. Specifically, this is also the guy who kicks off the “Lets get out of here and head off down to Dunland” questline that opens up The Rise of Isengard epic book.

Now, I know I’m close to the end of the Book I’m currently working on (because I’ve already done the damn thing a couple times), and I don’t want to backtrack up here, so I just get this other quest right now.

This other quest ALSO wants me to talk to Halbarad and tell him “Let’s get the hell out of here.” Perfect.

So I ride down to the town where Halbard is, walk up to him, and try to finish the Book I’m working on, but he doesn’t want to talk about that. He just wants to talk about Dunland.

“I’ve got your research,” I tell him.

“It is past time we leave for Dunland.”

“But, the research?”

“Dunland!”

“But -”

“Dunland Dunland Dunland!”

“I don’t even –”

“Dunlannnnnnnd.”

Then I look behind him.

Just over his shoulder.

About twenty feet away.

And I see this.

Crap. I ruptured the Space-Time Continuum, didn't I?

“Dude,” I say to Halbarad Prime. “Don’t turn around.”

“Dunland.”

“Whatever.”

I walk over to Halbarad Mark 2, remaining wary. He has a goatee, after all.

Actually, they both do. Crap.

“Hey there.”

“Greetings! Have you discovered anything about that rese–”

“Ohmygoshyestakethispleaseanddon’timplodetheuniverse.”

Then I ran. I ran as far and as fast as I could.

To Dunland.

Luckily, I didn't see anything else amiss.

Star Wars: The Old Republic — The Question of PvP

A few days ago, Fogsong wrote:

Star Wars: The Old Republic. My LoTRO guild is debating whether to go with a Player vs Player (PvP) server or Player vs Environment (PvE) server. We are caught on the horns of dilemma – we want to be able to quest and experience the story but also [want to] have a strong and active PvP experience. We have gleaned everything we can about Warzones, Huttball, open world PvP on the various planets (Alderaan, Illum and vague mention of others). I don’t have any experience with MMO’s beyond LoTRO so I find it hard to decipher what everyone is talking about regarding PvP or why the pluses/minuses are important.

So – question – have you decided how you are going to start out with SWTOR (Faction, class and server type)? And if you have, would you be willing to share your thoughts?

Would I be willing to share my thoughts?

I think we all know the answer to that


George Lucas enjoys a number of hobbies, one of which involves methodically excising joy from my childhood memories, and another of which centers on the practice of claiming that Star Wars was always essentially a series of stories aimed at five-year-olds.

Which even an actual five-year-old will tell you is complete bullshit.

In New Hope, a ship is boarded, gunfire exchanged, and rebel soldiers are left stacked in the hallway like cordwood. Guys get strangled to death. The protagonist’s family is executed, their charred bodies left to claw at Tatooine’s pitiless sky. A genial old man lops off a guy’s arm for starting a bar fight. HAN SHOOTS FIRST. A princess gets tortured by a droid specifically designed for that express purpose. A planet with billions of people on it is blown up. A kind old grandpa figure gets cut down after he lowers his weapon.

And a space station with tens of thousands of people on it is blown up… by the good guy.

Yes, George: Nick Jr. should pick this shit up for adaptation immediately.

The point I’m trying to make here is that Star Wars is a pretty violent story that pivots on a fulcrum built entirely on conflict between the Empire (nee Sith) and Republic. In my opinion, any game based on Star Wars needs to reflect that reality and, for an MMO, that means putting a lot of thought into Player Versus Player conflicts.

I haven’t looked too hard at all the (hours of) press on this subject, but let’s take care of that right now and take look at what Star Wars: The Old Republic is offering.

First off, it looks like there are three server types:

Player-vs-Environment (PvE) servers can be considered representative of the standard play style and rule set. The focus on PvE servers is on experiencing the story and working with friends against the non-player enemies in the game world.

Player-vs-Player (PvP) servers have a slightly different rule set as PvE servers. On a PvP server, players may be attacked by other players from the opposing faction in more areas of the game world.

Role-Playing (RP) servers use the standard PvE rule set, but are identified as great places for players who enjoy acting out their characters in the game world to congregate and find other like-minded players.

My immediate reactions:

  • That’s really just two server types.
  • It’s a damn shame (and kind of a headscratcher) why they didn’t make any PvP RP servers.

Okay, beyond that, I’ll say that this breakdown looks a lot like the way WoW does it (no surprise there: BioWare modeled a lot of WoW’s successful structures) — the PvE servers are going to restrict their PvP options to instanced mini-games (more on those in a minute) and (I would guess) 1 on 1 duels.

Conversely, the PvP servers will allow ‘open world’ PvP to occur, in addition to the instanced mini-games. The way they word the description is interesting: “players may be attacked by other players from the opposing faction in more areas of the game world.”  I can’t really find anything that definitively states what “more areas” means — some folks who really hate open-world PvP predict you’ll get ganked anywhere outside of the starting areas. Other folks seem to think that it’ll be “non-civilized” places. No one official has actually said, as near as I can tell, but I imagine it’ll be a lot like WoW: open PvP outside of the starter zones, with certain areas (Coruscant, most bars) made safe(r) by patrolling them with many dangerous NPC guards who shoot any rabble-rousers if they start trouble.

What do I think?
Well, let’s compare this set up to some of the games I’ve played, from least to most PvP-centric.

  • Wizard 101 only has arena duels, accessible from a single static location. The duels have no effect on the storyline in the game as a whole, and there is no threat of PvP anywhere in the actual game world. Winner: Star Wars. (Though the duels can be entertaining.)
  • City of Heroes has really pathetic arenas accessible in a few static locations and some interesting but cut-off zones that allow PvP, neither of which allow you to influence anything that’s going on anywhere else in the game world. Advantage: Star Wars. Barely.
  • WoW does basically what Star Wars does, so call it a wash… except WoW has RP-PvP servers for the guys who want to monologue when they turn you into a sheep.
  • Lord of the Rings Online allows impromptu 1 on 1 duels, and has a PvP-only zone where you fight players running “Monster” characters (orcs, shamans, wargs, giant spiders, et cetera). Successfully holding these lands gives the entire server’s “Hero” player population XP and damage boosts, or gives the monsters boosts if the Ettenmoors are held by Sauron’s forces, so while you’re not affecting the overall storyline, you are affecting the whole “world”. Advantage? I’m going with LotRO in regards to the way it lets you affect the world, but with Star Wars for making the PvP more accessible with the minigames.
  • EVE Online lets you attack people pretty much wherever you like, provided you’re prepared to deal with the consequences. PvP has huge impact on the game world both at micro- and macro-levels;  you can literally take another guy’s stuff away, permanently, or in fact take hundreds if not thousands of guys’ stuff away. IF (and that’s a big if) you’re into that, there is no comparable experience in MMOs: it makes your losses sting more and makes the stuff you manage to hold onto that much more precious. Near death experiences have that affect. Advantage: EVE, provided it’s not something you’d flat out hate.

What am I Doing?
Like Fogsong, I’m going where my LotRO kinship is going. In this case, that means that the players I know will be playing their Republic characters on a PvE RP server, and their Empire characters on a PvP server. I look forward to experiencing the differences first-hand.

Wait… What about those mini-games?

Right! What about them? What’s going on there?

War Zones
War Zones are specifically tailored for team versus team combat, and players will experience fierce battles between the Republic and Empire, evoking memories of the famous Star Wars ground conflicts. This week we announced that the first War Zone will be located in the majestic mountains of Alderaan. Players will join their allegiance’s fight for control of several important areas. Over time we’ll reveal more information about the Player versus Player experiences in The Old Republic.

Basically, that sounds like fun: sort of WoW’s Arathi Basin with controllable turrets; instances you can sign up for, get queued into, and then fight. The major pros are that it is quite convenient and keeps matches even.  The cons are that it’s basically a mini-game with (outside the ability to earn gear that’s good for PvP) no influence on the outside world. I want my victories (and losses) on Alderaan to resonate through the rest of the world – to have some kind of impact. Maybe that’s EVE spoiling me a bit, but it is what it is.

On the face of it, though, the Alderaan battlezone seems like fun and (unlike the capture-the-flag, Bloodbowl-with-lightsabers joke that is the Huttball “war zone”) is something I could see my guys participating in from a roleplay point of view.

(Seriously, though: why the hell would a jedi ever sign up to play Huttball? Anyway…)

I’ve also heard good things about one of the other war zones, and rumors of a ship combat one, which both makes me happy (ship fights in Star Wars!) and sad (how ephemeral must the premise be if you can just “hit space and respawn” when you get your whole frakking ship blown up?)

All in all, I think the warzones will add some fun stuff to do in the game — it’s nice to queue up for 20 minutes of quick violence whenever you want. With that said, I would like the PvP to have more bite than it does in most WoW regions (which is SW:TOR’s strongest model): at the very least, I’d like to see something like what LotRO does with the Ettenmoors, where you affect the ‘outside’ world when your side is winning; but my pie-in-the-sky dream on a PvP server would be able to take over “control points” on a given planet (or in a given system) and seriously bottleneck access for the opposite faction (see: the control points in LotRO’s Annuminas area).

What Are You Going to Be Playing?
In traditional MMOs, I tend to make a tank first, then ranged DPS, then support. On the Republic side, that looks like a Trooper, a Jedi Consular, and probably a Smuggler or Scoundrel or whatever they’re called. I’m not 100% sure what I’ll do on the Empire side, but since it’ll be on a PvP server, I suspect an Imperial Agent will be my first option (so I have stealth options for getting around the world), a bounty hunter, and one of the melee sith guys if I decide I hate myself that much.

But I reserve the right to change my mind based on which classes get the coolest companions, because this is a BioWare game, and ultimately that’s the part I’m really going to be into.

LotRO: Rise of Isengard Release Day

Also known as “Thank god I lagged out, or I might have never logged off.”

Okay, here are some thoughts, in no real order.

I had a busy night last night, so I didn’t even approach my computer or start the patch upgrade until about eight pm, which process was not helped by the fact that I was also in the middle of converting the Lasers are Magical video into the correct format to play on the big screen in my Captains Quarters on EVE.

Anyway, patch update: seemed to go fine, once I was actually able to get through the queue and connect to the servers.

I’ve never been around for the first day of a major content release on LotRO (or, in fact, any other MMO), because they usually happen in November, and I’m always busy. To be perfectly honest I wasn’t in a big hurry to get to the new content this time either. Don’t get me wrong: the new story arcs sound really cool, but I’d prefer to go through them for the first time when Kate does, so I’m waiting.

Also… there’s the tiny little problem where I have a whole bunch of level 65s, and none of them are actually “ready” to move on in the storyline, according to my own sad little set of criteria. In descending order of importance, I want any character going into the new content to:

  • Have the previous area (Enedwaith) basically complete, preferably with at least my reputation with the Grey Company maxed out.
  • Be all caught up on the Epic Storyline, so that I can move forward.
  • Be done with the “In Their Absense” mini-arc, which requires a handful of 3- and 6-man instance runs to complete.
  • Have any other outstanding ‘stuff’ wrapped up from the level-65 storylines.

All of my characters have a problem with this list at some point.

  • Tyelaf finished up Enedwaith, just finished up the Epic storyline, maxed out his rep with both the Grey Company and the Algraig, but hasn’t done In Their Absence. Also, while he’s the first guy I took through Enedwaith, he’s probably the worst one to use to explore new content, IMO, because pairing him up with Kate’s hunter (who will ALWAYS be the first one into a new zone), gets wonky. Also, he still isn’t done with the frakking end of Volume 2 of the Epic book, because I could never get a group to do Sammath Gul with him.
  • Radigwen is also done with Enedwaith content, and I believe she’s done with the Epic storyline and maybe with at least Grey Company rep. She hasn’t done In Their Absence, however, and I also want to get her through Mirkwood content. (Yeah yeah, I know… I skipped it and now I want to finish it. Sue me.)
  • Geiri isn’t done with Enedwaith… or the Epic storyline… or In Their Absence. Honestly, where do I get off calling this guy my main?
  • Finn is completely backwards. He’s not even started on the Epic, is only about halfway through Enedwaith, doesn’t have any rep with anyone… but he’s done with In Their Absence. 😛

So, suffice it to say that I didn’t head for Dunland straight off. Honestly, with my limited time last night, all I really did was log in everyone, rearrange their gear and traits to take advantage of the new changes, and then poke around on whatever quests I was already working on with them to get a feel for things.

(This was, incidentally, how the Mines of Moria expansion worked — several weeks of playing with the changes before the new zones and level cap went in. Personally, I prefer it. I’m in no rush to either gobble up all the content OR get to the level cap. I mean, it’s not like I won’t have a year or more at the new cap no matter how long I take to get there.)

They shortened up the animation for mounting your horse. That’s awesome, and not in the patch notes. Love it.

Tyelaf wants to know who came up with that bullshit line about having fewer skills on his bar: he has two more than he used to have, and they’re both skills that really need to go into his regular rotation.

Radigwen likes the space available on her skillbar, but finds the Master of Beasts traitline kind of hard to set up well for soloing. There are a lot of useful skills in the line if you’re in a group — I suspect it will be a good off-healer for a group or main-healer-for-a-three-man — but which aren’t that useful if you’re solo. (LOTS of healing skills that I just don’t need that much when solo.)

Geiri thinks he hits things very hard indeed. Nothing much really changed for him, except it seems he’s gotten better at the stuff he was already good at.

Finnras summoned up the oathbreaker bound to his service (ironic, that) and went out to kick the crap out of stuff in a traitline I rarely use… and had a great time. I’m enjoying the captain tweaks immensely.

All in all, I like the changes to the gameplay a lot, and I’m looking forward to the new content.

… now I just need to decide who’s going there first…

LotRO: Rise of Isengard Patch Notes – My thoughts.

My first thought: as a player with a lifetime subscription, the fact that the latest expansion abbreviates to “ROI” is just… amusing. Maybe you need to be exposed to marketing and management speak a lot to appreciate it, but yeah… funny.

Anyway. Here’s the stuff in the patch notes that caught my eye.

The caps on Primary characteristics — Might, Agility, Vitality, Will and Fate – have been
completely removed.

Geiri (guardian) and Tyelaf (hunter) like this change. No one else really gives a crap, because the no one else has any stat remotely close to the cap.

Stat Consolidation

  • Resistance– This stat will replace the various resistance ratings to specific types Fear, Disease, Poison and Wound.
  • Tactical Mitigation – This stat will replace the various mitigation types used for the tactical skills: Fire, Lightning, Frost, Acid and Shadow.
  • Critical Hit Rating – Will replace the separate Melee, Ranged and Tactical Critical Hit ratings previously appearing on items.

There are few-verging-on-no games in which simplifying such things doesn’t make the game more enjoyable and less of a pain in the ass for players both new and old. I’m looking at you, EVE Online.

My notes on individual class changes are inline…

Captain

  • Skill: Shield of the Dunedain: Now a ‘Fast’ skill.
    As the primary “oh crap my tank is dying” skill for captains, this is a great change.
  • Skill: In Defence of Middle-earth: The values of the buff now continue increasing past level 50.
    Considering the level cap went past 50 two years ago, allow me to say “About frelling time.”
  • Trait: Relentless Optimism: Potency of your “Healing Crits” increased from 10% to 50%.
    This is good. I never used this trait because it just wasn’t enough pay-off, given my mediocre chance to crit. This change, however, makes it quite worthwhile. Kate (as the Power of Optimism) will be thrilled.
  • Skill: In Defence of Middle-earth: This skill is now a toggle (no cost).
    Instead of a skill you have to renew every five goddamn minutes? Hurrah!
  • Trait: Strength from Within: No longer prevents the Captain from summoning Heralds or Archers.
    I had missed this change! This is great! I can have a self-heal without giving up my Herald – sweet!
  • Trait: Blood of Numenor has been moved to “Hands of Healing” trait line.
    Considering Blood of Numenor is a “rez” trait and Hand of Healing is the (duh) healing trait line, this just makes sense.
  • [A whole bunch of stuff that lets “Leader of Men” captains get and hold aggro better.]
    Nice.
  • Trait: Subtle Command has been moved to “Leader of Men” trait line.
    What? Subtle Command reduces the threat you generate form Healing… it’s a terrible trait that no Captain I know ever really used, but why would you put it into the Tanking trait line? Unless…
  • Trait: Subtle Command is now “Improved Routing Cry” which adds a force attack to “Routing Cry.”
    Which turns an AoE Attack into an AoE Attack + Taunt. Nice. I see what you did there, Turbine. Now if only we could use Routing Cry more often, or at the start of a fight, instead of only after we defeat someone…
  • Legendary Trait: Leader of Men: Now allows “Routing Cry” to be used without a Defeat
    Event.
    … fair enough.Still, it’s a pity that a tanking-traitline Captain won’t be able to use a nice big two-handed sword when they’re doing their job, the way Aragorn does…
  • Legendary Trait: Leader of Men: Captains are able to Block (as well as parry) when wielding a 2-handed weapon.
    Well-played, sir. Well. Played.
  • Legendary Trait: Defy Corruption: Changed to “Fellowship-brother.” This trait allows the various ‘Brother’ skills to affect your fellowship with lesser versions of their effects.
    Yes! You just got rid of the most rarely used Legendary Trait in the class, and replaced it with the most sought-after ability from the Leader of Men traitline! Well done! This is going to make my selection of Legendary traits much more difficult, and that is a Good Thing!

Am I using a lot of exclamation points? I feel like I am. These are good changes. I’m excited.

I don’t play a champion, but this patch note made me laugh:

Skill: Improved Feral Strikes: Once again uses the correct animation. The animation issue was an artifact of a bygone stage of development where the skill was going to merge with… are you actually still reading this?

Heh. Turbines knows their Champions… and knows what their attention span is like.

I will say this, though: there are a LOT of Champion changes. A lot. I hope it’s all good stuff, cuz… Wow. Four pages of notes.

Guardian

  • Guardians get a little more damage to their skills, especially those skills primarily used when a shield is equipped.
    Tanking buff is best buff.
  • Skill: Improved Charge: This skill is now overwritten by Falling Injuries.
    Aww, MAN… I used that thing all the time to ignore broken ankles! 
  • [A number of traits got swapped from one tanking traitline to the other tanking traitline, and vice versa.]
    Eh. I need to get into the game to grok what they actually did, but it looks like more consolidating the lines into “Use this one to tank lots of smaller dudes” and “Use this one to tank one big horrifying Thing.” Which is fine.
  • Skill: Protection: Now useable on escorted NPCs.
    WHAAAAAT?!? I can protect the NPCs I’ve been tasked to protect? Inconceivable. I wonder if I’ll be able to use it on “This guy that must live” NPCs in Skirmishes…
  • Skill: Bash and Shield-smash will now interrupt inductions when the monster is stun-immune.
    Wow. That’s two additional ways for a Guardian to interrupt casters. Nice.
  • New Skill: Protection: By the Sword: A new version of Protection available while in Overpower stance. This new toggle skill will increase the target’s melee damage by +2% and transfer any Parry events to the Guardian while nearby.
    What’s that, Turbine? You’ve realized that a dude with a two-handed weapon can ALSO protect someone? Good thinking.
  • New Skill: Improved Guardian’s Defence: This skill will now place an effect on anything that attacks the Guardian. This effect will lower the movement speed of the attacker if it does not continue to attack the Guardian.
    I love this. In PvE, this puts a slow effect on the Boss’s that go wandering off to kill your healer, giving you time to get them back on you. In PvP, there’s ACTUALLY SOMETHING FOR A TANKING GUARDIAN TO DO to protect his allies. I also like that it’s a slow, not some kind of actual root or something that interferes with the crowd-control classes.
  • New Skill: Improved Challenge: This skill will now place an effect on a monster that will lower the movement speed of the monster if it does not continue to attack the Guardian for the next 30 seconds.
    And this… Same deal. Brilliant.
  • Skill: Ignore the Pain: Now grants a Block event in addition to removing Wounds.
    Sweet.

Seriously? Even if there was no change to the level cap (there is), these changes would be huge.

I only wish Turbine had put these changes into effect a few weeks before they raised the level cap, the way they did when Mines of Moria came out. There’s so much here to get used to, and doing all that in addition to new levels and new content is going to be crazy.

Hunter

  • Skill: Quick Shot:  Increased the de-taunt amount while in Endurance Stance. Increased the critical chance of while in Precision Stance.
    This is good.
  • Stance: Strength: Removed the threat and Power use penalties.
    Aww… Strength-stance hunters won’t pull aggro like a magnet and die horribly all the time? Sheesh, what will I do for chuckles during raids?
  • Stance: Precision: Remove the penalty to target’s Block/Parry/Evade ratings.
    But…
  • This stance will now add 1 Focus every 5 seconds.
    Okay then.
  • Stance: Endurance: Added Increase Parry chance +5%.
    Sweet.
  • Skill: Set Snare: This bleed will now stack from multiple Hunters.
    /me high-fives other hunters.
  • Skill: Needful Haste: Reduced the duration of skill to 15 seconds.
    But…
  • … and reduced the Cooldown to 1m30s.
    Well… okay. Fine. Half duration. Half the cooldown. Stilll…
  • This skill is now usable while moving and is slightly faster.
    … Nevermind. We’re cool.
  • New Skill: Split Shot: 1.5 second induction skill. Grants 1 Focus. 10 second cooldown. This skill will attack the target plus one additional target nearby.
    Did… did you just… finally… give us the hunter skill we see in the very first game trailer? *wipes away tear* I love you guys.
  • Skill: Hunter’s Art: Costs 3 Focus. This skill applies a stackable buff to the Hunter dependent on what stance the Hunter is in as well as damaging the target.
    “We’re going to give you a skill that makes you more awesome at the things you like doing.” Yeah… I’m failing to see a downside here.
  • Trait: Strong Draw: Changed to increase the damage of “Penetrating Shot” and “Blood Arrow” by +10%.
    Sweet. This is my ‘every other shot’ skill, so I’m a BIG fan.
  • Trait: Graceful Draw: Removed from the game.
    *sarcastic goodbye wave*
  • Trait: Spring Loaded Traps: Replaces Graceful Draw. This trait adds an effect to “Set Trap” that will increase all damage done to the target for 10 seconds.
    Trap-traited hunters (and their friends) rejoice.
  • Trait: Enduring Precision – Removed from the game.
    BUT…
  • … and replaced with Earthborn.
    What…
  • Trait: Earthborn: This skill adds +20% to the morale and power restore of “Strength of the Earth.”
    But what about…
  • “Strength of the Earth” will also now generate 1 Focus per second.
    … Hmm.  I get a skill that gives me focus when I use it… which I can’t do while attacking… to replace the automatic generation of Focus that happens just… whenever. Constantly. Dunno if I like this one. Focus-churn is such a big deal with the way I play… 

    … except I just remembered that simply BEING IN PRECISION STANCE gives me 1 focus every 5 seconds, without a trait.

    Also…

  • New Skill: Improved Quick Shot: Gains a 30% chance to generate an additional point of Focus. Stacks with the Huntsman trait set bonus up to 50%
    OKAY FINE I LOVE YOU AGAIN.
  • Traits: Improved Fleetness: Removed the -10% attack speed bonus. Add +1 Focus every 5 seconds.
    Terrible skill and terrible trait were recently made less terrible. This makes them even more less-terrible, so that’s good. Still don’t think I’d ever use this trait, but still.
  • Trait Set: Huntsman 3 equipped traits – Added +1 “Split Shot” targets.
    Meaning I hit three guys. Nice. I’m going to like this skill.

What about…

Lore-master

  • The “Warding Knowledge” skills have been consolidated into one skill.
    I admit: fewer skills on my bars will make me happy. This is a trend in all class-notes, but very prevalent for Loremasters.
  • “Leechcraft” and “Tend the Sick” have been consolidate into one skill: “Knowledge of Cures.” In addition…
    Yeah. They changed a bunch of stuff here. Generally, I like it. It’s simpler, and it always works in Combat. I’m sure there are downsides, but they’re too nuanced for my little brain to handle without seeing it in play. Also: I mostly solo with my loremaster, so I kinda don’t care that much right now.
  •  Skill: Back from the Brink: Range increased from 5m to 25m. This skill no longer requires a material component and no longer debuffs the target.
    All good. It was also so silly how close the LM had to be to rez someone, and the material components requirement was just… damned odd, honestly.
  • [A whole bunch of Loremaster pet buffs.]
    I love that people think this traitline is underpowered, because (a) I play with this traitline and (b) it isn’t. So I just got a big buff. Woot. 

And aside from that, not much changed with Loremasters. Unlike…

Minstrels

Holy crap. Five pages of patch notes. I’ve been reading up on these changes for the last month and I still can’t quite parse everything that’s happening.

On one hand, it’s going to be like playing a whole different class.

On the other, it’s going to be like playing the same class, boiled down to its most relevant parts. Minstrel-gumbo, if you will.

I do not envy my minstrel friends their learning curve — I will just try hard not to make their job any harder.

All in All…

I’m excited, and not just about the stuff I’ve mentioned here. New zones, new levels, new code… it looks like a really good expansion.

The Play’s the Thing: A New Holiday Acting Event for LotRO Thespians

Turbine’s Lord of the Rings Online has popped to the top of MMO news many times, most recently due to its switch to a Free to Play model similar to the one that revitalized Dungeons and Dragons Online. That switch has been extremely profitable for Turbine, and the fans of the game (both newcomers as well as the game’s “lifers” and VIP account holders) have adopted a warily cautious attitude about the necessary changes that came with Free to Play.

“Money is nice,” say the masses, “but show us what you’re going to do with it. Are we going to see any of that new income going back into the game?”

This winter, LotRO’s developers are providing what might be the first real answer to that question, and it’s coming from a strange direction: the annual in-game Yule Festival will feature fairly predictable (if enjoyable) new seasonal content (snowball fights, new quests, eating contests, et cetera), and something that sounds altogether different: a one-act play in which the players can participate both as actors and audience. The play features flexible outcomes and a new rating system that meant the developers had to entirely abandon the standard MMO quest mechanics with which we are all so painfully familiar.

The Festival Theatre was built outside of the quest system in order to get past some of the limitations that would have restricted the event. While overall it was the right decision, it was most definitely a double-edged sword. The upside of going rogue was the freedom of choice and varied responses that make this event so unique; […] the downside being that all of the feedback the quest system provides had to be recreated.

To that end, players entering the Theatre will find helpful announcers and ushers willing to explain how the event operates. [They also] carry a full stock of Rotten Fruit and Flower Petals — two very important items for an audience member to keep on their person at all times.

The event is (mostly) controlled by a single, all-powerful NPC called “The Audience.” [Any readers with acting experience may have just cringed.] The Audience picks actors for the event, records what emotes have been chosen, tells NPC actors what lines to perform, and hands out rewards. It was a challenging project that took a significant time commitment from many members of Turbine’s staff, and that may be the first place where some of the new free-to-play revenue has been visibly reinvested in the game.

Behind the scenes, all of his logic is controlled through a script system. Because of its complex logic (and the fact that some of the features had never been attempted in LOTRO before) designers from across the company […] helped review, debug, and offer suggestions on its implementation.

The rating system for the play is noteworthy for rewarding both actors and audience members as well. Aside from the NPC “Audience”, the players who don’t get picked to play a part still have jobs to do — they’re the actual, critical audience, able to throw rotten fruit at bad actors (or a kinmate who needs a good tomato-to-the-face) and rose petals at the good ones. Turbine’s developers boast that the play will be highly repeatable content, thanks to the ‘choose your adventure’ style of the choices the actors get on stage that’s meant to ensure that no performance is ever exactly the same. True or not, this certainly sounds like a fresh new step in MMO content design, and we’re excited to see what Turbine (and others) are able to do with it in the future.

Tanking Vows (So You Want to Tank, Part 3)

So we’ve got to part where we decide if we’re going to cowboy up and do this tanking thing.

Below are the tanking vows, all of which we’ve already talked about.

We never really say them to anyone out loud, and no one really knows about them.

Except us.


I, the Tank:

  1. Will, before all other things, get myself and my shield between you and the bad guys.
  2. Will, once interposed, turn the enemy so that they face entirely away from my fellowship, thus protecting my friends from Area Attacks, and allowing my friends to freely smite the baddies.
  3. Will normally be the first to pull, but will not be too stubborn to use crowd control.
  4. Will learn how to use corners to lure in ranged enemies, to allow for a Good and Proper Mugging.
  5. Will (as much as possible) stand still (once the battle ground is established), so the melee can tear it up.
  6. Will make sure that I and my fellow melee friends are placed so that the healers can Do Their Thing, and will move myself, the enemy, and my melee friends out of the Burning Stuff On The Floor, knowing that these needs must overrule the whole Standing Still thing.
  7. Will watch the enemy, my melee friends, my ranged friends, my healers, and the area behind me, so that we don’t get surprised by Something Bad.
  8. Will remember that my job is to hold aggro and survive.
  9. Will learn the capabilities of the enemy, who are legion.
  10. Will remember that I am merely one member of a team, and that we all contribute to our success.
  11. Will know (privately) that if we succeed, it’s because the DPS and healers were excellent… and if someone dies, it was my fault.
  12. Will never bitch about repair bills, because I picked this class, and I can always reroll if it gets too hard, diddums.
  13. Will remember that I can’t learn all this at once — being a tank means getting knocked down seven times and standing up eight — I will keep trying til I get it.

I am the wall.


Okay, that came across as super serious, and it really isn’t — whatever the situation or the class or the MMO, this is a game.

Put crudely: If this tanking shit ain’t fun, don’t do it.

But if it is?

Welcome to the party. 🙂

So You Want to Tank (Part 2)

You came back. Okay then. Let’s talk about the real challenges of playing a tank class.

First thing: the challenge is not in the skills.
The actual mechanics of playing a tank aren’t any more difficult than any other class; you can easily grok the basics.

A successful tank, expressed in the most simple terms, holds the attention of all the mobs, and can get their attention back if they lose it. (Also, you try to be hard to kill, but that’s (almost) as much about gear as it is about using your skills.)

That’s the simple description. Let’s break that down a bit more.

You are the Wall.

This isn’t so much a skill as it is a calling. This is the default, from-the-factory setting: absent any other information about a fight, an enemy, or even which classes are in your group, you know that you must get between your friends and the bad guys, and get them hitting you and no one else.

Start from that. There are exceptions and yeah-buts and what-ifs, but this your baseline.

You are the bad guy’s dance partner.

In LotRO, facing matters; you only block and parry stuff that’s in front of you (and more importantly, the bad guys can only block and parry attacks that come from in front of them); if you have any ‘hit many targets’ melee attack, it usually only hits stuff in front of you (again, more importantly, the bad guys usually only hit multiple targets in front of them, so being behind them is safer).

So this is part of your job: when you engage the enemy, turn them away from your friends in such a way that (a) you keep your front to the enemy the whole time, (b) the enemy ends up with their back to your allies.

There are so many benefits to this it’s hardly worth listing them, but aside from the mechanical benefits of exposing the bad guy’s back to your damage dealers and keeping them from getting hit with his Great Cleave of Bloody Destruction, there’s the fact that this move leaves you looking back at the rest of your group, so you can easily see where everyone else is at and if anything bad is happening in your backfield.

You can practice this even when you’re not in a group. When you start a fight with a bad guy (assuming it’s safe(ish) to run in toward them instead of pulling), run in and turn them so that you’re facing back the way you came.

Do it every time. Build the muscle memory.

You are the puller, except when you aren’t.

Whenever you can, be the person who starts the fight; that’s what ‘puller’ means, however you accomplish it.

The main trick to pulling is knowing what is going happen with each of your enemies when the fight begins.

See, there’s basically just two types of mobs; melee and ranged guys — that’s it. If you want to get picky, you might break it down into melee, ranged, and ranged casters, but that difference is really only relevant at higher levels in specific instances, and in most cases the binary “range/melee” labels works just fine for predicting how a mob will behave when combat starts — if you taunt or shoot an arrow or whatever into the crowd, the ones that are melee will run to you, and the ranged guys will stand in place and shoot at you. It’s really that simple.

So what do you do about it?

Once you learn which mobs are melee and which ones are ranged, you’re going to be able to move confidently at the start of every pull. Knowing that the melee guys will move to you and the ranged guys won’t (regardless of what, specifically, they’re doing), the most basic manuever is to run into the group, target a ranged guy, and use some kind of Area Effect aggro/threat skill once the enemy melee guys run up to hit you — your goal is simply to get within melee range of as many mobs as possible, especially the ranged mobs. Build your threat on all the mobs, and burn them down.

(Casters get to die first, generally — especially if they do something annoying like rezzing their friends or summoning more bad guys.)

Congratulations, that’s how 90% of your pulls will work.

A word on your ranged pulling skills. Get really familiar with your ranged pull methods. I really suffered for awhile when leveling my guardian on LotRO because we don’t get a ranged attack until level 30, and we don’t get a ranged taunt until level 34 — that makes practicing ranged pulls REALLY difficult. See if you can find alternative options. In LotRO, for example, you can buy stacks of consumble throwing axe or throwing knives. The range isn’t great, but it’s a hell of a lot better than nothing at all. Barring that, you’ll need to get really good at peeling aggro off of your friend who’s doing all your pulling for you.

As soon as you can pull using your own skills, however, do so.

Also…

A word on mezzing and “CC Pulls”.
As you start grouping, more options for pulls will open up to you, one of which is the Crowd Control or “CC” pull. Basically what this means is that one of your group members will start the fight by mezzing one or several of the bad guys. The bonus to this is that whoever gets mezzed is utterly and totally out of the fight until the mezz wears off, which may be a huge benefit if their abilities are really annoying.

The downside is that you aren’t generating any threat on that guy while he’s mezzed and forty yards away, so when he does break free you’ll have to make an effort to grab em before they eat someone. Find out how long the mez is going to last so you know what to expect and can keep some taunts ready; most of the time, a single-target mez can be kept up much longer — sometimes indefinitely (assuming some skill on the part of the mezzing player) — while group mezzes are really only going to delay a large group for a little bit.

I generally don’t like to pull with group mezzes, simply because they really just delay my ultimate goal, which is to get as many baddies into melee range with me as fast as possible, but single-target mezzes can be invaluable: use them like the excellent tool they are.

Now, if you can’t get all the casters into your melee range in one shot, then you’ve got more decisions to make from there…

You are the lure.

In any fight that involves ranged-attack enemies, your first option is to take the fight to them; do that, if you can. If you can’t get at all the ranged guys right away, or if charging into melee with them would be a bad move tactically (you’d end up pulling in other nearby groups), you can get them to come to you with a line of sight pull.

See, most any mob will move to get their target within line of sight to continue attacking. Their line of sight can be blocked by things like walls and corners and pillars. A LOS pull just means you aggro the mob or mobs, then duck around a corner. The bad guys come running in until they can get you within their optimal/preferred attack range, which usually means the ranged guys can be safely mugged by the rest of your group, without any fear of pulling any other baddies.

(Unfortunately, many groups get too antsy to let you do this without their screwing it up somehow. There’s a good chance someone will either shoot the approaching group as they’re running in (which means they’ll probably switch targets, because you only had a little aggro), or the healer will stand in line of sight of the mobs and, inexplicably, heal you, thus pulling aggro and getting smacked like Leonidas at the end of 300. You will have to train them not to do that.)

You are the anchor.

The basic rule of damage-dealing is this: we do a lot more damage if we don’t have to move much. This is especially true for melee guys, so once you have yourself situated (aggro is focused on you, with the maximum number of bad guys in front of and in melee range with you), try to sit still. Pan you camera around as much as you like — I recommend it — but the less the fight moves, the sooner the fight is going to be over.

You are the Choreographer.

Location, Location, Location.

You need to keep the bad guys hitting you, and perferably hitting you from your front arc, so that parries and blocks are… parrying and blocking. You need to keep the bad guys’ backs to your friends.

But you also need to make sure you’re in range and line of sight of the healers.

And you also have to move yourself (and the enemy) out of any Burning Stuff On The Floor, and do it in such a way that the melee guys still have some safe place to stand, and the ranged guys and healers can still reach you.

(Game developers love Burning Stuff On the Floor, because it keeps the group moving, and moving groups do less damage, and less damage means longer fights, and longer fights mean More Challenge.)

All of these movement necessities TOTALLY TRUMP the rule about standing still. Stand still if you can, but move whenever you need to, and do it quickly.

You are the Spotter.

One of the first things I mention is turning the bad guys around. The best non-mechanical thing this does is give you a wide view of the rest of the fight. Watch the enemy. Watch the melee guys to see if any of them are getting hit by AoEs they can avoid. Watch the ranged guys and tell them to get out of the Burning Stuff on the Floor. Watch the healers to make sure they don’t get mugged. Once you’ve got all that down, start panning the camera around and watch the area BEHIND you so that you don’t get surprised by Something Bad.

You are the Tar Baby.

Your job, first and formost, is to hold aggro (which requires smart use of skills) and survive (which requires smart use of skills and diligent acquisition of decent gear).

You want to be a tank that other people will want to run with again. A good tank is one that can hold threat on all appropriate targets, can regain threat when it’s lost as soon as possible, and who can take a hit. Period. You can rise to higher aspirations than these — more advanced tricks — but that’s the core: aggro is the primary measure of success.

Again, you can practice this without being in a full group.

Take a friend who has some patience and is fine with experimenting and drag them out somewhere with packs of reasonably challenging mobs — most importantly, a place where there’s a mix of melee, ranged, and caster-types.

Then you tell your friend “I need you to make with the killing — go as hard as you can — I’ll work on holding aggro or getting it back from you. Cool?”

Once they stop giggling madly, they should be good to go.

Alternately, level your tank character with a DPS-class friend — that’s many many levels of practice.

You are the Encyclopedia.

Learn the capabilities of the enemy.

Okay, you don’t need to know what every mob in the game does, certainly not the first time you run into a new instance. That said, the more you do know, the more likely people will be to listen to you, do what you ask, and make your job easier. It’s hard to lead a group somewhere if you don’t know where you’re going.

If you can, try to run any completely unfamiliar instance as one of the DPS the first time. It’ll show you where things are and what to expect. Also, ask questions. If you can’t do that, go out to youtube and check out videos showing walkthroughs of the instance. Spoiler-warnings are not for tanks who want to know what’s coming. Reading about what the mobs in an instance can do in advance and what their attacks and abilities are is a huge help, also.

But maybe you can’t do any of that beforehand. That’s fine. In that situation, just break every fight down into the component parts — the melee, the ranged, the casters, placement — and apply your skills to those components. The Big Picture will either take care of itself, or the Special Features of the fight will become quickly and glaringly obvious.

You are (probably) going to be the leader.

In short, control the fight. This is the hardest thing you’ll learn to do.

Call targets. Mark one of the enemy with a skull over their head (if you don’t know how to do this, figure it out — make a hotkey for it) and tell the group to kill them first. Always.

People won’t always listen. Dunno why. Maybe they resent being told what to do. Maybe they’re dicks. Maybe they just don’t get it.

All you can do is try. If someone isn’t targeting the right guy, and they keep pulling aggro, and they get touchy when you tell them to focus fire… welllll…

First of all, suck it up and move on. Unless it’s causing wipes, leave it.

Second option: let em pull and let em die. Let their repair bill teach them some discipline.

You are Humble. (At least in public.)

It’s possible, standing there as The Wall Between the Enemy and Your Squishy Friends, knowledgably directing the flow of combat, to feel a little… pride.

Keep it to yourself.

I don’t care how good your armor is, or how high your block chance is tweaked; if the healer isn’t there, you’re going down, and it won’t be noble or pretty. Everyone is doing their bit, so either remove the pride entirely or at least lock it away — pride is not for us.

Remember the Tanking Rule: if we succeed, it’s because the DPS and healers were excellent; if someone dies, it was your fault.

Don’t point out the awesome stuff you did. The good players will notice without you saying anything, and count it far more highly than if you had.

You suffer in silence.

Final rule: never bitch about repair bills.

Never ever.

You picked this class, and you can always reroll a cloth-wearing DPS guy if it gets to be too much to bear.

The wall does not complain if the wind howls. It’s the wall.


Thanks for sticking with me on this mammoth post; I’ll wrap everything up tomorrow with a simple summary in the form of a Tank Pledge.

Cry of Vengeance can Bite Me (LotRO)

We interrupt our regularly scheduled Tanking Part 2 post to bitch about Cry of Vengeance. I’ve said this before in the CSTM Captain Roundtable, but it bears repeating: Cry of Vengeance is the #1 “looks great but is actually terrible” skill for Captains and, in my opinion, In the Game.[1]

Here’s what it does:

When one of your companions falls, your Cry will return a nearby fellow back to battle and inspire those around you to greater feats of skill.
Target revives with 20% Morale
Target revives with 15% Power

The key part — the part that makes it totally suck, is this:

When one of your companions falls…

Y’see, this skill only opens up when someone is defeated, and it only STAYS opened up for … I dunno exactly. It feels like three to five seconds, so let’s say ten.

And here’s why it sucks, in ascending level of BITE ME:

  • You get a TINY window of opportunity to use this skill.
  • You can’t AIM the thing, so if two people die at the same time, it’s random who you’re going to rez. A DPS and the Minstrel drop? Good luck getting the right one up, because you can’t pick.
  • You rez you’re target with a tiny portion of their health and virtually no useful amount of power.
  • You have to rez right away, so the odds are INCREDIBLY high that you’ll rez them right back into the situation that killed them in the first place.
  • Finally (and this is the worst point and yet most subtle), it teaches people that in combat rezzing must happen ZOMG RIGHT AWAY DO IT DO IT NOW!, because that’s how it works for the first in-combat rez anyone sees, in-game.

Let me expand on that last point. Everyone gets trained by the Captain’s first in-combat rez skill (we get two, and the second one sucks a lot less) — when someone drops, that rez comes RIGHT AWAY or NOT AT ALL.

Well, since that’s how we see it done, that’s what everyone else does, as soon as THEY get Rally or whatever.

That means that we see something like this.

Finnras: *defeated*
Minstrel: RALLYING FINN.
[Healing stops when Rally begins.]
[Damage that killed Finnras continues to hit the rest of the group.]
[Health drops across the board.]
[Minstrel’s Rally gets pushed back by the damage.]
[Health drops across the board.]
[Minstrel’s Rally gets pushed back by the damage.]
[Health drops across the board.]
[Minstrel’s Rally gets pushed back by the damage.]
[Health drops across the board.]
[Minstrel’s Rally gets pushed back by the damage.]
[Health drops across the board.]
[RALLY COMPLETES.]
Finnras: *Rallies.*
Everyone else: *Defeated.*
Boss: *High-fives Turbine Devs* Nice one.
Devs: I kno, rite?

You see what I’m saying? If someone in your group gets defeated, let him stay defeated until you have the situation totally in hand.

Then, and only then, use your in-combat rez.

And if it’s no longer available?

That’s fine — that one’s crap anyway.


[1] – The worst skill in the game is the Rune-keepers in-combat ‘anticipatory’ rez, tied with Fleet Stance, but those two LOOK as bad as they actually are.

So You Want to Tank (Part 1) (LotRO)

First off, let me dissuade you.

There are some necessities that come with taking on a tanking role, and they are not for the faint-hearted. Or sane. Or the responsibility-adverse.

“What’s that you say about responsibility?”

Let me explain. It started like this:

Back in the black-and-green days of text-based MUDs, people tried to figure out how to work together to kill monsters they couldn’t kill on their own. Everyone stood in the same imaginary space, staring at

Exits are: (N)orth, (E)ast, (W)est, and (D)ungeon

and wondering who was going to go in first.

So they turned to the character allowed to wear a big shield and heavy armor and said, “Umm… how about you go in first, and we’ll follow you?”

So the tank does a ‘look’ through the (D) entrance and says “Okay, count to three after I move, come in, and kill the Goblin Summoner first.”

“Why him?” someone in the group asks.

There’s a virtual shrug. “He sounds like a spellcaster,” says the guy in the armor, and (D)own he goes.

That’s where it started. That’s where tanks started being the guy who figured out who had to die first; which order to clear a dungeon in; where people needed to stand, and when people needed to move.

Sure, a group doesn’t have to be led by the tank. The weight of every successful trash push and every failed boss fight doesn’t have to land squarely on their shoulders. Every failure is the group’s failure, right? Yes, of course: we’re a team, and we succeed or fail together.

That’s what tanks learn to say, but when the night ends and the group disbands, this is the only real rule you’ll remember:

Success came because of great healing and great damage-dealers; failure came because you couldn’t do your job.

Harsh? Sure. Absolutely.

When a group gets wiped out, everyone experiences it and tosses out theories about what happened and why, but the tank is the one that feels guilty for letting the party die.

What’s that? The healer does too? It was the healer that let the DPS guy die when he pulled aggro? It was the healer that aggroed a patrolling mob and got squished? It was the healer that let the tank die, which let the bad guys run amok and kill everyone else?

No.

Before any of that, it was the tank that lost aggro to the DPS guy; who didn’t see the patrolling mob that came in after the fight started; who let the healer get hit AT ALL. It was the tank that wasn’t tough enough — that needed more healing than than the healer could provide.

True? Maybe, maybe not. But that’s what we think. Most of us.

Are there tanks out there who don’t think that way? Yeah, probably.

But I wouldn’t group with em.

The math is simple, and works out like this: the tank players that feel responsible are the ones that care.

The other guys? They just like being durable.

That’s not a tank — that’s a turtle.

A tank does homework. They don’t want their group to get annihilated, so they figure out ideas on how to approach it differently next time. Maybe if we start in the opposite corner. Maybe if we mez the adds. Maybe if I turn the guy a certain way…

Once they figure out a way that works, they remember it, so of course it’s the people like that that are calling the shots when things get rolling. To keep as far away from that gut-punch feeling when everyone bites it, you learn what the bad guys are gonna do; you figure out who to mez; you learn which wounds need to be removed immediately and which ones can be safely ignored.

You want to tank?

Think about it. Be damn sure.

There are a lot of other classes out there you could try. They kill stuff faster. They heal stuff better. They probably get sexier attack animations.

Tanking? It just may not be that much fun for you.



Still here?

Still interested?

You’re sure?

All that stuff sounded okay? Sounded like something you could handle, or even enjoy?

Alright.

All. Right.

Come back tomorrow — we’ll talk some more.

“So fast, the bowstring smokes”

The first character I ever created on Lord of the Rings was a hunter. I didn’t know much about the class other than the obvious things one could infer about the class based on the description an the LotR IP itself, but that didn’t slow me down — making up a ranged DPS class as my first character is really sort of a tradition for me: my first 50 in City of Heros was a blaster, my first 70 in WoW was a hunter. (That fact that he’s still 70 should tell you when I left WoW.)

ScreenShot00000

(In my LotRO Screenshot directory, this is “ScreenShot00000”.)

Tyelaf was not, however, the first character I got to level cap.

He wasn’t even the second.

In fact, he just hit level 65 last night.

Of course that means I’m qualified to write about that class, right? I’m at the level cap. I have all the Guide skills. I’ve earned all the class and legendary traits. I win at Hunter, right?!?

Yeah. Maybe not.

So this shouldn’t be considered a guide, so much as me documenting what I’ve been doing with the class and what I plan to be doing with him in the future (except for some LM-wannabe experimentation with Trapper at some point).

Anyway. Story Time:

My first main was a guardian (Geiri) that I leveled up with my wife’s hunter (so I was always more than peripherally aware of the class skills and abilities), and we’ve done a lot of grouping in six-man instances and raids. During the heyday of Moria, we encountered the black, soul-sucking monolith that is Dark Delving.

It didn’t go very well.

We struggled pretty mightily against Gurvand and his hellish adds, and tried a number of different things to handle the adds — champion with a captain healer, warden with captain, runekeeper with captain… nothing really worked. The adds all attacked from range, mercilessly rooted anyone who attacked them, stacked nasty poisons on their targets, and pushed back inductions. Also, the effects of the darkness in Dark Delving itself meant anyone chasing them was moving super slow, and any and all induction skills took twice as long to use.

Then we had an idea.

A hunter.

Specifically, a really FAST hunter — one whose inductions were sped up enough that the slowed-attacks effect wouldn’t mess them up too bad, who could largely ignore the induction pushback, clear their own poisons (obviously), fight the ranged adds from range as well, completely ignore being rooted and the slowed movement.

So my wife respecced to do that, and it worked like a charm.

Then she stayed in the build for ‘regular’ stuff, and she fell in love.

Fast forward to a few months ago, when I resumed regular play on my then-late-20s, dust-covered hunter.

I looked at my pre-MoM trait selections and winced. Then I headed to the Bard to see what could be done. As I reviewed my options, that super-fast hunter build came to mind, and I had myself a plan.

It was a pretty darn good plan.

Lots of folks will tell you that Bowmaster is Where It’s At for hunter DPS and… yeah, sure, they get a lot of nice damage bonuses, clearly stated in their Trait Line Bonuses.

But personally I think that Huntsman hides a lot of damage dealing capability in there — Bowmaster may be a howitzer, but frankly I like being the nimble little machine gun.

Here’s what it looks like.

Skills used pretty much constantly:

  • Precision Stance (The whole build is basically built around Precision Stance. I use Endurance only when I pull aggro, and while I haven’t taken Strength Stance off my bar, it’ll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes. I haven’t turned it on since level 18.)
  • Penetrating Shot (This skill is the bread and butter attack for this build, set up so that it fires every other shot.)
  • Swift Bow (An excellent attack, usually the opener and the closer for any non-elite.)
  • Barbed Arrow (I used to scorn this attack a bit, until I ran CStats for a few days and started to see how much damage the Bleed was bringing to the party. My current bow increases that damage by almost 50%.)
  • Quick Shot (In Precision Stance, this shot crits very reliably. Crits are nice for damage, of course, but in this build they’re almost as useful for generating more focus.)
  • Swift Stroke (raises parry/evade) – Eventually, a mob gets in your face. I greet them with Swift Stroke, which caps my Parry and Evade chance.)
  • (Beta-only) Blood Arrow – I can’t wait for this attack to get to Live servers. It’s an excellent addition to the attack chain, and often gets used in the [something] slot, below.

My attack chain looks like this:
Swift Bow -> Penetrating Shot -> Barbed Arrow -> Penetrating Shot -> [Something] -> Quick Shot -> Penetrating Shot -> [[REPEAT]]

[Something] indicates a situational skill. This is about where a melee mob will reach me, so I’ll typically use Swift Stroke there. However, if their first melee attack on me opened up Agile Rejoinder, I’ll use that instead. If I somehow got extra adds on me or want to finish things up quickly, [Something] will be Needful Haste.

Skills used situationally, in rough order of priority:

  • Bard’s Arrow – When dealing with two mobs, this is my pull shot. Fear one guy, switch to the other and kill him, then switch back to this guy while he’s still running around and burn him down. I have it traited so that the fear lasts 20 seconds instead of 30, and I love it.
  • Needful Haste – The way I’m traited, this skill not only speeds up my attacks, but prevents any induction set-back from damage. I tend to save it for when I get more than one guy attacking me.
  • Agile Rejoinder – Until you get Legendary items, this is kind of a lackluster skill. With the Legendary trait that gives this skill a chance to put a Heal Over Time on you, however, it’s really great.
  • Merciful Shot – I don’t use this as much as I used to when leveling, but it’s still an excellent finishing skill, and I almost always have enough focus available to use it. On boss fights, it’s often my [something] skill in the attack chain, once they’re below 50% health.
  • Blindside – I used to use this a lot more to generate Focus or to finish off mobs, but I’m trying to train myself to use it only in response to mob-inductions, because when the Beta changes go live, this skill is going to be an Interrupt. As such, it’s much more valuable if held back for the right time.
  • Beneath Notice/Beneath Care – At higher levels, this upgrades to give you a Power Over Time affect. I often use it for that purpose, since I don’t have to deal with getting aggro very often (no artificial boost to my threat, you see).
  • Distracting Shot – I don’t use this very often when soloing, but it’s an EXCELLENT bridge between two Bard’s Arrows. BdA’s fear lasts 20 seconds, and the cooldown is 30 seconds. Distracting Shot stuns them for 10 seconds — just long enough for BdA to come back and fear them again. Darn useful in six-mans.

Skills I rarely use (in descending order of likelihood):

  • Heart Seeker – I pretty much only use this as an opener — once the fight’s started, I can do more damage in the four seconds this takes to fire by just sticking to my attack chain, and I’ll get more crits/focus in the process.
  • Rain of Arrows – I used this in my attack chain while leveling, but that need will be met by  Blood Arrow pretty soon, and frankly I don’t have much use for the skill — it costs a lot of power, and it’s not very… precise. (Precision Stance, remember?) I like knowing exactly who I’m about to shoot. I use it a BIT more instance runs, but only if we’re not doing any CC.
  • Scourging Blow – I’ll work this into my [something] slot if we’re fighting something so resistant to bleed damage that Barbed Arrow is doing nothing useful.
  • Burn Hot – I just don’t use it. Frankly, shit happens, and I don’t ever want to be caught with no power and another fight to fight. I’m not even sure it’s on my toolbars.

CLASS TRAITS
ABSOLUTELY MUST HAVE:

  • (B) Deadly Precision (Ranged Critical Hits increase your Focus by one) – This build relies on having a LOT of focus, and while I don’t do BIG crits, I do get numerous crits. This trait is gold.
  • (H) Strong Draw (Penetrating Shot costs one less Focus) – This one is a no-brainer. I’m set up to fire Penetrating shot every other attack; that’s not possible if it isn’t Focus-cheap.

Very Very Good to Have

  • (B) True Shot (Penetrating Shot Bypasses More Mitigation) – As often as I fire Penetrating shot, this trait makes a HUGE difference in total damage dealt.
  • (H) Enduring Precision (Gain 1 Focus every 10 seconds while in Precision Stance) – I don’t notice this trait until I don’t have it. In the time it takes me to stop, pick a target, and drop a trap, I’ve already earned a focus point, and I haven’t fired a shot.
  • (H) Fast Draw (Reduced Induction Time for Barbed Arrow & Swift Arrow) – Speed is life. Induction pushback sucks and Needful Haste isn’t always available; the shorter the induction, the less chance it’ll get messed with.
  • (H) Resolute Aim (Prevents setback on BOW inductions while using needful haste.) – Love this. Makes Needful Haste even more useful when you’re trying to kill something in your face.
  • (T) Strong Intimidation (Your fear skills last longer.) – I just like this. CC is fun.

Fine until you get something better, or Situational

  • (B) Arrow Storm (Rain of Arrows costs one less Focus) – Eh. It makes it a lot easier to Rain of Arrows into your regular attack chain, and at lower levels you may need that.
  • (B) Swift and True (Increased Damage with Swift Bow) – It’s not as effective in terms of your DPS as True Shot, but it’s still pretty darn good.
  • (H) Swift Recovery (Reduced Recovery Time for Needful Haste and Intent Concentration) – There are times (Dark Delving, Turtle raids) where I’ll want both Resolute Aim and this reduced cooldown, so I can fight with Needful Haste up as much as possible. Finding room for it is sometimes hard. (In DD or Turtle I drop Strong Intimidation for it, because fears don’t work in there anyway.)

Something I need to Toy with a Bit

  • (B) Barbed Fury (Increased Magnitude of Barbed Arrow DOT) – My current LI gives me a very nice boost to bleed damage, which I didn’t care about until I ran CStats and saw how much the bleed was contributing to my damage. Given that, I MIGHT try to work this into my build somewhere but (a) I don’t know where and (b) the end game bosses frequently resist Common damage to the point where the Bleed damage basically vanishes.

TRAIT SET BONUSES
Usually, I run four deep in Huntsman, two deep in Bowmaster, so I have the following Trait Set Bonuses:

(Bowmaster)

  • +5% Bow Critical Multiplier

(Huntsman)

  • +2s before Focus loss from Movement
  • “Strength of Earth” give morale regen and increased power, eliminates starting induction.
  • A total of -20% to Bow inductions (Heartseeker is four seconds instead of five, for example.)
  • “Press Onward” legendary usable in combat with longer Cooldown

LEGENDARY TRAITS

  • Bard’s Arrow (Single target fear vs. evil enemies. 15-20 second duration.) – This is excellent for solo work (moreso than Rain of Arrows, in my opinion), and lets you do some pretty decent short-term CC in groups. It’s probably my favorite legendary.
  • Rain of Thorns – There are times I don’t slot this, but it’s not too often — when CC doesn’t matter, usually.
  • Bow of the Righteous (Returns power for each successful non-auto ranged attack) – I hate going without this — it’s just so nice. Effectively, this is +200 to +300 ICPR.
  • Press Onward (Restores your power and morale. With this build, it usually works in-combat, but with a longer cooldown.) – I love when I can use this, but it’s less useful soloing — in situations when I need it, I usually can’t get enough alone-time to use it — the induction’s too slow. Thank god for the Man heal.

USEFUL LEGENDARY ITEM TRAITS
Ranged Weapon (Pool A)

  • Focus Bow Critical Multiplier (Just because I don’t build for big crits doesn’t mean I’ll turn them down. As often as I hit Penetrating Shot, this is very valuable.)
  • Ranged Skill Evade Chance Modifier (I hate missing.)
  • Ranged Skill Block Chance Modifier (I **HATE** missing. Also, how the hell do mobs block with NO SHIELD?)
  • Focus Bow Power Cost (Penetrating Shot isn’t cheap on power, and I hit it a LOT. This LT is very useful.)

Ranged Weapon Pool B

  • Ranged Evade Rating
  • Induction Bow Threat
  • Focus Bow Threat
  • Barbed Arrow Bleed Damage (+50% to what’s already pretty significant damage is pretty tempting)

Melee Weapon Pool A (In order of awesome)

  • Precision Stance Critical Magnitude (This is basically mandatory. I’m a DPS class that lives in Precision Stance.)
  • Needful Haste Duration (Darn useful.)
  • Beneath Notice Cooldown (Semi-useful.)
  • Find the Path Movement Bonus (Just kinda fun.)

Melee Weapon Pool B

  • Swift Stroke Parry/Evade Rating Buff (Getting hit less is good, and it increases the chance to open up Agile Rejoinder, which means I can make use of…)
  • Agile Rejoinder Heal Chance (I have this maxed out to a 50% chance for the heal which, if it activates, will heal me for a little over 500 morale in about 10 to 12 seconds. It helps. It’s CERTAINLY the best heal that hunters get from any of their skills. 😉

And that’s it. The end result is a mobile build that almost always has some fuel ready and waiting in the Focus tank, and which throws out attacks at least 20% faster than normal (even faster for some skills).

Pew pew.