Tuesday, 4 November 2014


Alright, so my last post (despite being already super long) was shorter than I had originally intended it to be because my wife and I had to rush out the door to attend our church small group. But now that I've got some time, I want to revisit some topics that I think are important to this blog...mainly: what is the purpose of this blog to begin with?

The reason I created this blog is because I was inspired by Jessyl/Vilexur, the man who is currently the Number Two of the order (vilexur.blogspot.ca - give it a read!). I found his blog absolutely fascinating because it made me really appreciate the mind, the thought processes, and the sheer tenacity a veteran explorer possesses. I'm a bit jealous of how his brain works because he figures things out in places I would have been stumped ten paces back. It's a very methodical, rational approach to things, and while I think myself a somewhat analytical sort of person, I tend to get stuck in my own trains of thought and end up running mental circles. Like the character Bean says in Orson Scott Card's "Ender's Shadow": the brain rarely surprises itself. External stimulation can be really refreshing and helpful in helping you turn a corner...

So I decided to start a blog to record my own travels in my second sojourn into the Realms. I didn't want this to be a straight up diary, though. I wanted this to have purpose...so while this blog might have posts that simply describe what I did during one session (ie. my last post about running Ben for the visor), I want this also to be a place where I can reflect on aspects of RoD that I wasn't capable of seeing before. Taking a (admittedly long) step away and then coming back has helped me refocus on areas I think that Realms could have done, and could be doing, much better on. I'm pretty much a newbie once again, which in my opinion gives me a different perspective than the grizzled veterans who have become satisfied with the status quo because that's just what things have come to.

First on the docket: the travesty that is the traveling cloak.

The traveling cloak is a pretty good item for low level characters. They're found in The Sentinel, which can be found by heading in the following directions from Darkhaven Square:
9w, 2nw, n, w, nw, w, nw, w, 2s

Object 'a traveling cloak' is infused with your magic...
It is a level 2 armor, weight 10.
Locations it can be worn:  neck
Special properties:  organic
This armor has a gold value of 250.
Armor class is 3 of 3.
Affects constitution by 1.
Affects hp by 25.

They're carried by the mobile Finnock.

To put this into context, The Sentinel can only be entered by characters level 20 and under, so if you die in this area and aren't able to CR for yourself, all you can do is hope someone else has a low-level character and can help you, or that you have enough favour with your deity to supplicate. There are a fair amount of aggressive mobs in here, including the gang Finnock hangs out with (Lavinia, Redec, and Prakrit). Now, with all that said, back to the cloak.

It's a neckwear, so you can wear two of them for a total of 2 constitution and 50 hp. At a range of level 2-4ish, that's a pretty solid boost, and I use them as a staple item for my own new characters.

So what's the problem with traveling cloaks if they're so great? The problem is that obtaining the item is a newbie-trap. They're great for low level characters, but it's not safe for new players to get on their low level characters. They need to be prepared to obtain it, and even then, it can be risky. To get the traveling cloak requires knowledge and preparation that shouldn't be expected of a new player; the area itself, with all of its aggressive mobs, aren't kind to new players in general, despite seeming like a "new player" sort of area with its level cap.

In actuality, I think The Sentinel is an area that is designed for players with experience, but the reason it has a level cap is so that it doesn't get farmed out by high level characters. What this creates is a conflict between its presentation and its purpose/reality and, in my honest opinion, is pretty poor game design. You've got this item that is fantastic for low level characters, in an area that is capped for low level characters...to a new player, this seems like a good deal, right?

Wrong. If they manage to make their way past the aggressive bandits near the beginning of the area, and navigate their way through the hidden doors, they are then jumped by Finnock and co., who hit fairly hard for new players. What you're doing is punishing new players for trying to explore and get this item; it's not a rewarding experience because you've stashed away this great item, an item that is seemingly purposed towards lowbies and new players, behind all these walls that either require a ton of trial and error (and remember, when you die, you lose EXP), or previous knowledge/sufficient preparation. And let's face it, most new players don't walk around with a sack full of purple potions ready to quaff.

Granted, some of this is alleviated by the fact that dying below level 10 doesn't require a CR because you keep all of your equipment, but that doesn't not address the problem that the traveling cloak, and consequently The Sentinel as a whole, was designed poorly from a game design perspective. The idea behind it was noble, but its execution defies its concept.

So why does this matter?

It matters because the design philosophies behind a game really make it or break it. It's why some people like Dota2 and can't stand LoL. It's why some people love certain FPS games but can't get behind others. The design philosophies a company takes on when putting together a game create the backbone of its mechanics and principles. What makes LoL so enjoyable for the mass market is because Riot Games chooses to design their game for a wider audience; they're not interested in niche, extremely knowledge-specific cases. They chase intuitive principles and themes, arguably sometimes to their detriment, but it's something they strive for. Valve and dota, on the other hand, understand their own demographic and purposely design more intricate systems that aren't so obvious to newer players and require a base of knowledge to be able to deal with. Neither is incorrect, they're just different approaches.

What the traveling cloak symbolizes is a mishmash between the two at its worst: everything about the traveling cloak and how to get it screams intuitive and easy for new characters to pick up. "Hey, this item is extremely low level and is in an area capped for low level characters.....so I, as a new player, should be able to get it, right?" Cue probable death and imminent frustration, because the truth behind the cloak is far from what it seems to be.

Anyhow, I think I've hashed this one out to death. I plan to run some Icingdeath later today and will probably end up posting a log of it as well. But my next reflection post will likely be centered around the idea of lore, which is inspired by a conversation I had with Ashetaka, the current Number One of the Arcanes.


Note: I know that I've made a few assumptions in this post that people may gripe about. Mainly:
- Traveling cloaks are still relevant as a lowbie item - whether or not they are, however, is not the issue. Bad game design is bad game design. The cloaks are just the example I'm familiar with.
- The premise that low level character equates to a new player, which is pretty false in reality. If low level characters are hunting for cloaks, it's likely the character is just an alt and that the player knows what they're getting into/is capable of handling it. But going back to the purpose of this blog, I want to look at Realms with the eyes of a new player, so that is the basis of my premise.

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