Taking the tiniest taste of permadeath in DDO

While last week I was extoling the virtues of permadeath in Rimworld, I have to admit that this mechanic isn’t really suitable for a lot of games, especially ones in which you sink a whole lot of time, effort, and even money. You know, like MMORPGs. Permadeath has always remained a very fringe ruleset for this genre, popping up most often in online ARPGs more than proper MMOs.

However, from time to time a game experiments with it, and this month we saw Dungeons and Dragons Online actually launch a “hardcore league” server that revolved around permadeath as a core feature. This didn’t come out of nowhere; DDO’s community has long had a reputation for embracing permadeath voluntarily as a sort of roleplay feature, and so I can understand why the devs would want to try this out for realskies.

The question for me was, is it really up my alley? Am I too caring of a carebear to swallow the inevitable bitter pill of death when it comes? At least I thought I’d try.

While some players were theorycrafting all sorts of ultra-survival builds, I just went with a tough race (Warforged) and a class (Artificer) that I knew. I figured that a pet, self-healing, and ranged attacks — plus trap-finding — would help keep me out of trouble for a while. That lasted until my very first dungeon.

So what happens on this server is that when a character dies, there is no resurrection or return — at least not on this shard. A death message for that character is broadcast server-wide and that character remains in limbo until mid-November, when the devs will allow players to transfer those characters and any progress made to the regular servers. So at least there is that safety net keeping you from feeling as though your time is completely wasted. Plus, there are special rewards if you can make it up to certain levels or run a wide enough array of dungeons.

SSG added a truly creepy mascot for this server named Mortality. He’s like a ghost-ram thing? All I know is that if I saw this loom out at me in a dark basement, I’d poop my pantaloons.

I haven’t exactly been the virtue of bravery on this server. I’ve only logged in a couple of nights to play it, although truth be told I’m on a bit of a DDO hiatus right now anyway. The first dungeon I ran on elite and almost got smoked in the boss battle as my health got halved right away. Let me tell you, there’s that instant fear that arises when you realize that a death means forever here, and I backpedaled and tried to heal as if my life depended on it.

I probably won’t even make it off of Korthos, and the fact that this is a class I already have doesn’t make me that attached to him anyway. I might just die to see what it’s like and then proudly wear the t-shirt saying that I rolled on a permadeath server and survived to tell the tale.

DDO: Volcano spelunking and Slave Leia outfits

It’s been a while since I did a write-up on one of our Dungeons and Dragons Online group runs, so why not? For a recent run, we elected to do one of the game’s newer adventure packs — White Plume Mountain — even though the pen-and-paper module was published way back in 1979. Maybe it took us that long to forget that spelunking under an active volcano might not be the brightest of ideas…

What I like about these more recent adventures is that you can plainly see how the dev team has moved past the warehouse-and-sewer-and-dull cave phase that it was in for a while there. This cave system seemed a lot more interesting to me, with moody colors and often water underfoot. Pretty!

Early on, this particular room nearly triggered a full wipe for our group. Up above was a series of bridges that were super-slippery, and unless your character had an insanely high balance skill, you were going down into a trap-laden room. Four out of six of us got chopped to bits, and the recovery took a while. We need a term for when you have one or two group members hauling soul stones around looking for a rez shrine, like “ghost train” or something cool like that.

In one room, we descended down into a pit, fought some manticores, and then I figured that pulling the lever in the corner was a good idea. It was not a good idea. It was a bad idea, as evidenced by the wall of water that crashed down to drown us all… in about four inches of standing water by the end of it. Kind of a weird trap, is all I’m saying.

Every so often we encountered these talking wall tiles. They were strange. I could have done without them in my life.

You could see the older PnP design of this quest on the map, as it wasn’t quite as “tight” in its layout as SSG usually does. Basically, we had to make our way through three sections of this trident, beat a boss at the end, and then take a portal back to the middle of the next one. There were some pretty awesome setpieces, such as an NPC ambush, a hungry crab in a room full of scalding water, and an irate vampire.

For my money, this tunnel was the coolest. For the full dizzying effect, you have to see it in motion as it rotates while you crawl through it.

“Ha ha,” my group said. “Healer, go attack that crab boss!”

Then I did. I am amazing. Not smart, but I’ll accept “an inspirational hero to the masses.”

In other DDO character news, my Artificer lucked out with a 100 roll on her weekly gold dice. That got her this outfit, which I’m calling Slave Leia because… I mean, just look at it. She looks chilly. I’m going to have to buy her a long winter coat soon.

Guest Post: DDO Masterminds of Sharn review (part 2)

Today’s guest post is from DDOCentral’s Matt, who wanted to give Bio Break’s readership a deeper look into Dungeons and Dragons Online’s Masterminds of Sharn expansion. Thanks Matt!

Dungeons and Dragons Online (DDO) released its fourth paid expansion on May 14th, 2019 titled Masterminds of Sharn. The three previous paid expansions for DDO are Menace of the Underdark, released on June 25th, 2012, Shadowfell Conspiracy, released on August 19th, 2013, and Mists of Ravenloft, released on December 6th, 2017.

Masterminds of Sharn is the first paid expansion for DDO set in the Eberron universe, which was the original DDO campaign setting when the MMORPG launched in early 2006. After thirteen years, DDO finally leaves the small frontier settlement of Stormreach on the southern jungle continent of Xen’Drik where the adventure began for the great metropolis of Sharn, the City of Towers, located on the central continent of Khorvaire. Sharn is not only the most populous city in Khorvaire, but is also notable as the seat of power for the racially-affiliated Dragonmarked Houses. The Dragonmarked Houses enjoy a near-monopoly on many crucial business activities, both magical and mundane as well as legal and illegal.

This article is the second in a series of three articles on the Masterminds of Sharn expansion. The article will review the nine story quests that are divided in two parts, as well as the Favor and Saga achievement systems for the entire Sharn story-arc and its related explorer area in The Cogs. Eberron creator Keith Baker, and Ruty Rutenberg and Satine Phoenix of Maze Arcana, provide most of the Dungeon Master narration for the story quests. The third and final article will conclude the series with a review of Masterminds of Sharn’s two Legendary-level raids, both of which are accessed in The Cogs’ Alcorin’s Forge Staging Area.

Continue reading

DDO: Dance like no one’s watching

Dungeons and Dragons Online has a lot of bizarre and situational spells, but perhaps the most amusing of all these is Otto’s Irresistable Dance. Like the name implies, it makes the subject stop what they’re doing and boogie down, complete with a disco ball and little notes flitting around. Even though a boss was doing this to me in the final moments of a very long dungeon, I didn’t mind. I’m that easily amused.

Anyway, more House J quests for me today as I began with the super-lengthy The Enemy Within. On one hand, it was a tedious slog through an unmemorable crypt that took around 40 minutes to complete. On the other hand, it was straight-forward and nothing I couldn’t handle, even with some dancing thrown in to the mix. Fighting some mind flayers at the end proved to be a bit of an interesting challenge, even.

Continuing with the “dead things are bad, kill them again” theme, I went into an oversized tower that a wizard lich decided to conjure up in a graveyard. I do appreciate how the lich used backlit Roman numerals to mark off each of his floors.

Actually, most of And the Dead Shall Rise is a well done mission that checks a lot of buttons for me in the way that the previous mission didn’t. The tower boasts an interesting design with some unique elements and it keeps changing things up from floor to floor.

In fact, one encounter made me laugh out loud when a whole bunch of random ghosts and spectres rushed me — and then a giant gelatinous cube launched itself out of nowhere to absolutely dominate the hallway. Like, where were you staying, pal? Are you visiting socially or is this your home? I have so, so many questions.

I wrapped up this jaunt through the Haunted Library, which might have been haunted but was a library in the same way that a parking garage is a garden. I missed seeing the last chest I needed for a quest reward and spent an embarrassing amount of time trying to backtrack — which included using a precious jumping potion to try to jump back up broken stairs (which did not work) and then exiting and reentering to see if there were rooms I hadn’t explored. Thank goodness for DDO Wiki, which provides fairly helpful maps in situations like this.

DDO: The plague doctor is in!

As I continue through the Disciples of Rage adventure pack in House J, I’ve gone from bad news to worse. Not only has the entire city been infected by the rage plague, but so have I — which means that simply interacting with NPCs is difficult without getting into fights. It’s kind of interesting to have a personal interest in the quest chain, and with that in mind, I head out to the outskirts of town to find my old friend Brawnpits the giant and ask for his help in formulating a cure.

Brawnpits, you might recall, was a giant who wanted to become an actor, and I helped him with his aspirations:

He’s not that pleased to see me or with his thespian life, but oh well, he owes me. In The Madness of Crowds, Brawnpits and I work on a shamanistic cure, although it doesn’t really end up working so much as delaying the effects of the madness. At least the quest amused me with the frequent mentions of how bad the giants smelled — the DDO writers must have had a lot of fun trying to come up with new ways to convey odors through text.

At least I’m able to take the fight to the Disciples of Rage in the Age of Rage mission. With their headquarters exposed by a nameless informant, I slip inside a warehouse and start doing what I do best — mindlessly rampaging all over the place.

Seriously. That’s the mission. Because I’m “infected” by the rage, one of the mission objectives is to destroy something like 75 random objects around the place. I’m not normally one for smashing things up in DDO missions — even though you get a bonus at the end — but here it is mandatory. Also mandatory? Avoiding numerous bear traps (and associated bears) and destroying the Book of Madness and a beholder that was guarding it. Really neat and nice-sized mission, all the way through.

In the final mission of this pack, Toxic Treatment, a deus elf machina shows up in the form of a Drow with interesting information. Turns out that his tribe has a cure for the rage virus, and we could use it to cure everyone in the town suffering from nonstop anger.

Wow. I mean… wow. For the first time in my life, an ELF shows me what true compassion and mercy is. Does this mean… that I must abandon my prejudice and embrace these pointy-eared saviors who granted such relief out of the goodness of their…

Hahahaha no, it’s elves, which means that they couldn’t care less that everyone is suffering or dying, because they’re not going to give up their precious cure until I prove myself “worthy” by going through three trials, each more annoying than the last. Thanks, you jerks. I’ll think of you as I go through these mazes, play simon says for some reason, and battle umber hulks. Heck, even after I get to the temple and clear it out of invading Disciples and another beholder, the Drow has the nerve to lecture me that I led them to the temple and it’s all my fault they went murdery on the elves.

You know what, dude? You could’ve just given me the cure outright. If I had to do it all over again, I would have sent an e-vite to all of the Disciples to come visit your village and teach you a shred of humility.

Elves. Pah.

DDO: Looking at the game through an NPC’s eyes

One of my Dungeons and Dragons Online cohorts made this video a while back and asked if I would share it with you all. In his words, “It’s called ‘The Sister Contract’ and it tells the story of Rest For the Restless from the POV of a hireling. This audio play stars the voices of Lessah and Mythery of the ‘Damsels of DDO,’ plus the game’s community manger, Jerry Snook”

Give it a listen and consider adding a comment on YouTube to let him know what you think!

DDO: Shopping at the Night Market

Man, I should complain more about long quests in DDO, because as of late I’ve been on a streak of short-to-medium ones that have been a delight. Well, a delight to get done with minimal fuss, at least; most of them seem older and thus lacking in spectacle and story. For example, next up on my list was Dead Predators from House J, a fairly standard wipe-out-everything-in-a-crypt rampage.

The DM really tried to sell a sense of foreboding and terror, but I wasn’t having it with this wee cute dungeon that was brightly lit and contained nothing more than I’ve seen before. Some zombies, some skellies, some ghasts — the usual crew. Pew pew, you’re dead, where’s my reward?

I do want to say that the quest giver for Dead Predators has the most repellent expression on her face, even though I did her a huge favor:

“Ugh. Who farted. Did you fart? Was it me? Why does Game of Thrones have to be over? My Aunt Sally keeps sending me political ads on Facebook and I’ve had it. Also I’m pretty sure the art team copied my face from a turtle’s butt, so there’s that to complain about too.”

While I was in House J, I thought I’d stick around and work on some of the quests in the area. The Night Market was level 14, but hey, I’m 16 now and not afraid of a little normal mode adventure. Or so I hoped!

So DDO certainly has a lot of quests that are pretty much story-lite dungeon crawls, but every so often — especially with newer packs — you get more story-driven quests that involve a lot of unique settings and scripting. I would say that this is one of them, as I roamed around the eponymous market on the prowl for some sort of bad juju that was supposed to go down that night. There’s a lot of atmosphere and touring in this first section, and I really enjoyed the ambiance and lack of a dungeon roof.

Fred the Mind Flayer even makes an appearance, disguised as a regular bar patron. Fred’s kind of one of the unofficial mascots of DDO, a nice monster who’s trying to fit in with the normals. He’s awesome.

Long story short, an evil cult (is there any other kind?) unleashes monsters and a rage plague that turns normal people frothing mad. The whole Night Market erupts in pandemonium, and the remainder of the quest is a frantic run through packed streets trying to restore order and not die. I did die, true, but that’s what I pay my pocket Cleric to cure. Stupid one-shot deaths.

Anyway, it was a great quest that actually felt like going through a D&D encounter, and I really enjoyed it even though it was on the long side.

Once that quest was done, it apparently triggered like three or four new ones in House J that popped up all around me. Sure, I’m game to keep on going, especially if there’s a story arc to experience! Next up was… let’s see… Quarantine. Back into the dense city I went, this time to “subdue” (i.e. kill) citizens enraged by this anger plague while trying to find out a possible cure.

It felt a lot like the Culling of Strathome from World of Warcraft, what with killing innocent (if doomed) citizens in the name of saving the greater good. There were also rage bombs to be avoided, although for the most part this was a very straight-forward run through an urban landscape. I actually really liked the layout here and the tileset. I think I’ve spent far too much time underground in this game, it’s good to see the sky while questing.

In the end, I helped to retrieve some supplies and find out that scorpion venom might be a key in staving off the plague. Go me!