DDO: Roll 2d4 for breakdance skill

One weird thing that happened when our five- or six-person DDO group was forming is that half of us decided independently that they’d roll dragon characters. I did not get that memo; I went with the boring human. I don’t regret it, though.

Before we got going with our group session last week, we warmed up with some group breakdancing. I can only imagine the guards looking at us and thinking, “These are the future saviors of the world? We’re all doomed!”

I may have gotten carried away with barkskin. A little. A tad. But how can you not, when you have the ability to make everyone in the group look like living scabs?

I really didn’t have much else to do, since I have one whopping healing ability and no group buffs yet. We started running content on Reaper +2 difficulty, which was a first for me. That led us to a few close moments when some overeager frontrunners would take alpha strikes and watch 3/4ths of their health disappear almost immediately.

As I said in chat, that is one seriously scrawny dragon. I don’t feel fear and awe so much as light concern that it’s not getting a well-rounded diet. Then I realized that I was expressing care over a dragon and just walked out of there.

Gearing up has been weird, especially since I don’t know the Druid that well. I tried a longbow for a bit, but my character didn’t have that skill and thus couldn’t hit that much. Right now I’m going with a scimitar and shield, mostly for the bonuses and protection. It’s spell city for me otherwise.

I also had a facepalm moment when I got armor with healing bonuses and sold off my old one. When I put on the new and got into a dungeon, I saw that it “broke my druidic oath” and didn’t allow me to cast any spells at all. I didn’t know this was a thing, so it was either not casting spells or casting them naked. It was the breeziest dungeon I’ve ever run.

We powered our way through several Harbor quests, including the Butcher’s path. I’m still enjoying how easy and simple and straightforward these all are, but a little less thrilled about how dull they look. Can only stare at sewers and warehouses for so long, you know?

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DDO: Korthos, again

Wait, isn’t Syp in the middle of Ravenholt in DDO? Aren’t there vampires and werewolves scratching at the doors? Then why, for the love of every side of the dice, is he standing back in Korthos harbor?

The answer is pretty easy: I started up a new alt to run with an occasional static group. In fact, it’s my old, old guild, Onedawesome, and all of them were kind enough to create level 4s with me to run similar content. I don’t think that too many arms were twisted in this, as everyone had some fun with trying out different classes and races.

As for myself, I went with a Human Druid, which I almost instantly fell in love with. I guess I overlooked this class early on, because if I knew that there was a summoning class that also couls shapeshift and throw out healing and damage spells, then I’d be all over that. And I am! She vaguely looks Drowish, but the ears are quite rounded indeed.

Oh Turbine, I am so disappointed that I wasn’t able to shoot down the seagulls with a bow. This could have been the greatest development since Duck Hunt, but no, I guess they’re just for show.

I guess the thinking is that even with level 4s, we still want to go through all of the missions, so the whole group sailed back to Korthos to try to run through as many quests as we could in an hour. I actually found the change of scenery refreshing, mostly because Ravenholt is so dark and oppressive (in a good way, mind you), and I kind of missed the sun.

Plus, everything is SUPER easy at the start. I really, really miss quests that were like two rooms and could be over faster than a coughing fit. Nowadays, all of my quests are “long,” “very long,” or “you’ll never see your kids again long.”

The quests being both extremely familiar and easy, there wasn’t much in the way of surprises or challenge. What most of us were interested was the loot — especially since our characters were mostly sporting starter gear. I didn’t get anything that spectacular, but I have equipped a little more in the way of defense.

We also spent some time running around the Korthos wilderness area, hunting rares and doing slayer stuff. I have to say that one of the advantages of a group, especially an experience group, is that it takes a lot of the stress out of having to figure stuff out. Sometimes it’s just so relaxing to follow.

Really liked the shadows in this room. Looks downright modern and stylish, even.

My official role in the group is healer, but since nobody got hurt, I just fiddled about with summons and spells most of the time. I miss my repeating crossbow, yes, but I like the idea of experimenting more with spells and looking for utility.

I don’t think that this group will meet every week, but it’s going to be moving forward from what I hear. Doing DDO with a dedicated group is something that I’ve wanted almost ever since returning, so I am extremely happy at this development.

DDO: Sealed in Amber

Our adventures in Fantasy Transylvania continue with Sealed in Amber, a quest that seems to exist to confuse me as to the overarching storyline. I sort of get that everyone is against Strahd, but at this point I’ve rescued several people and ancient artifacts that were supposed to strike a blow against him, and all I’ve gotten for my troubles is more quests to rescue people and find ancient artifacts. Maybe I’m in the gameplay loop from hell.

Anyway, here’s another quest to find some doohickey. And it’s being given to me by a Dusk Elf, which you know is a good sign. Let’s count down the minutes until he messes things up well and good.

Oh hey, it’s Creepy Tarot Lady! She’s here to give me the randomized location of the sacred doohickey. I like how the statue in the background seems to be mimicking her (or vice-versa).

So today’s adventure takes place in the Amber Temple, which is a pretty big diversion from the whole Transylvania/old world feel of the expansion so far. It’s almost Persian in its looks and vastly irritating in execution. Probably one of my bigger video game pet peeves is when you have to go key hunting to open certain doors to find more keys to open more doors to find keys… etc. And that’s really what this quest is all about. There are four passwords hidden around, each opening certain doors. Add to that a few teleporters, several secret doors, and one room that’s filled with nothing but levers, and you get a one hour and fifteen minutes of my life trying to unlock this place fully.

There are also these amber sarcophaguses (sarcophagi?) lying around, and most will talk to you. Reading the flavor text and interacting with them was the only real joy I got from the quest, as there is some neat bits of writing. They all offer an hour-long buff, but that also comes with an enemy spawn, so I gave up doing that after a while.

LEVERS! YOU MUST PULL ALL THE LEEEEVERRRRRSSS

Bored NPCs have put together a to-scale model of Castle Ravenholt. Maybe they’re running their own D&D campaign in it. Ooh! Meta!

The Dusk Elf from the beginning ends up gaining the power to resurrect the dead, which he uses to bring back his long-lost sister. It’s all very sudden and done without thinking things through, which should probably have happened because…

The sister is (le gasp) evil — and the proposed bride that the expansion has been hinting at for a while now. This is my not-shocked-at-all-face at seeing an elf betray us all to the vampire tyrant. Also, I was scratching my head when she said this was all part of her plan — what, to get killed, rot away to bones, and hope your brother would resurrect you so you could make another pass at Strahd?

Strahd seems momentarily intrigued by her offer of ending the curse in exchange for an Elf + Vampire theme wedding, but then he gets paranoid and kills her (again). On a separate note, I do not want to work for Strahd. Dude is high maintenance.

Some developer obviously had a good laugh at putting a chest on the ceiling. I think it’s supposed to be a mimic that drops down on you, but I was fleeing from an immortal, unkillable ditzy lich at the time and couldn’t stick around to see that happen.

DDO: Mad Tea Party

Mad Tea Party is another fantastic Ravenloft quest that shows off much of Dungeons and Dragons Online’s strengths: its storytelling chops, quest choices, non-standard settings, humorous writing, cool places to explore, and devilish puzzles. It was another one of those evenings where I didn’t care that much that the quest was going long because I was totally involved in it.

This one has an odd setup: A local lady is throwing a tea party and has invited the town’s baron to attend. The twist is that the two are fundamentally enemies (she is pro-Stahd, he anti-Stahd) but both are pretty awful human beings. As the quest and party progresses, you get the choice to betray one, the other, or both. I’m the harbinger of chaos and doom, so I decided to bring down the whole shebang.

I think that objectively, the lady is the worse of the two. She’s a literal devil worshiper, for starters, and has a house of horrors if you are daring enough to poke through it. You know the type: well-preserved corpses lying in rooms for no reason, skulls in chests, secret underground cult clubhouses.

Oh and she’s squirreling away a girl who thinks that she’s an angry cat. That’s my daughter, most days.

I think that this is the first DDO quest where I actually fought devils. You don’t see devils in a lot of MMOs, come to think of it. Demons, yes, but devils? Not as much. They’re pretty creepy looking, especially their teeth.

The Baron is more of a raging jerk than anything else. He locks up anyone who mocks or protests him, and his main enforcer has an arm that’s covered by these purple tumors for some reason. Oh, and he has a wizard son who keeps exploding the help while allegedly trying to teleport them out of a teleport-locked country.

I cannot tell you how disappointed I was that I couldn’t do anything with this mirror. My Use Magical Device skill was too low. But man! I wanted to!

Pity for your FACE, you mean. In the end, it was a lot of killing back and forth. I do appreciate that the quest seemed to offer branching choices, but I suspect that most players are going to be like me and just wipe out everyone in both manors.

It was cool to see the peasants cheering the demise of the Baron, but the dungeon master introduced an ominous note by saying that with a power vacuum in the town, there’s an opening for a strong leader to swoop in. Gee, wonder who that might be?

DDO: A raven at the door

I had a hunch that a setpiece as big as Castle Ravenloft wasn’t going to be used for a grand total of one mission in this expansion pack. Lo and behold, I’m back for another trip into this twisty-turny gothic castle as I answer the call to save the son of Ms. People Magazine Most Beautiful NPCs of 2018.

Oof. Some of these models do NOT look that good when you see them frozen like this. This is the sort of visuals I’d expect with EverQuest, but no matter.

Anyway, while the initial goal of this quest is to rescue some idiot who decided to kip inside the castle to try to steal some valuable from Strahd, the interesting twist is that you don’t actually have to rescue him at all. It’s an optional goal, and since the quest was long enough as it is, I decided to leave him rotting in the dungeon. Probably for the best. His mom doesn’t need the distraction.

I keep bumping into really weird people in this castle. Not hostile people, just weird. Like this guy, who’s lounging on a sofa all alone, just waiting for Strahd to notice him. This has been going on for presumably a long time, and yet again do I get the sense that all of these characters are used to the fickle nature of their vampire host and are just trying to wait him out.

Up one tower I had yet to explore was a bunch of black cats (bad) and a couple of witches (worse). Their labels said that they were Strahd’s sisters, so I guess that was an interesting Thanksgiving dinner every year. One vampire, two witch hags, and a dozen black cats. Their mom must be so proud.

It was a brutal fight with the witches, let me tell you. Small room, lots of summons, little space to kite. My fighting style needs a lot of kiting room, because if I get cornered, I go down. I’m starting to worry as I get up in levels that I don’t have the gear or build needed to survive as the game gets tougher. DDO isn’t always clear on that.

While the ending of the quest was pretty dull (I fought two iron golems and got Strahd’s old diary or somesuch), I found a couple of details interesting. A few things had changed in the castle since I had visited last. For example, the wedding cake that I had replaced the groom on top was now smashed on the floor with an invisible monster stomping about it.

And the lady I killed/saved from the blood pool was replaced by two hags bemoaning that fact.

Does this game react to my decisions? I’m not entirely sure, but it kind of seems so. And that’s neat! I wish more MMOs would remember choices and play out the consequences later down the line.

DDO: An invitation to dinner

What do you do when you get an invitation to go to dinner with a vampire? You totally accept, of course!

Count/Baron/Mr. Strahd wants to rope me into whatever sick game he’s playing as master of this land. Sure, I’m game for a delicious feast with a guy who thinks that fine dining is eating blood.

It was probably a good sign that I was greeted at the door by a mysterious tarot card reader who talked a lot about death and necromancers and how the only hope I have of surviving is to find a treasure and an ally before the night is through. Maybe this is a theme dinner? I am so underdressed.

Baron Kissyface here fulfills his vampire union duties by greeting me while playing the organ, acting like an arrogant tool, and then vanishing while I’m left to survive with only my wits, a machine gun crossbow, a mechanical dog, a pocket healer, and a wiki guide to protect me.

The castle is — and I am not engaging in hyperbole here — absolutely huge. This is a “very long” mission, and it earns every minute of it. Probably took me an hour and a half to fully explore, although it was definitely an enjoyable hour and a half. I just loved this place. If you like classic gothic haunted houses, this is your dream vacation right here. Secret passages, dungeons, weird figures, an undead lady in a blood bath, the works.

There aren’t many NPCs hanging around, however. One of the very few is the Count’s accountant (cough), a poor guy who’s doing his job in chains because he got all asky one day. He seems rather fine with his situation and even hooks me up with a key to that treasure chest (hilariously, he then writes off its contents as I loot it) (seriously).

The castle is so dark and moody and full of odd environmental storytelling that doesn’t always deliver full explanations. Like this wedding cake… with the groom knocked off of it. I replaced him and the game told me I felt foreboding. WHAT DID I DOOOO.

Screenshots really do not do this place justice. Between the design of this castle and the really engrossing writing, I have to tip my hat to SSG for some incredibly well-done work on this module. I am absolutely hooked.

The toughest room in the castle was this one, where a portrait of Strahd comes to life and starts attacking you. He moves between them because he saw Harry Potter that one time and thought Hogwarts was the bomb. I was insta-killed a couple of times in this fight for reasons that are beyond me.

The coolest locale? The room of bones. Just a huge dining hall where everything is made out of bones. There are even bone paintings on the wall. Wonder if they eat bones?

Then there’s Cyrus, and we do not know what he is. Monkey-lizard-man cook? He tells a whole lot of puns involving skeletons, but if you humor him, he gladly gives you a key to a treasure chest. I wanted to adopt him.

While the castle really was a blast to explore and probably worthy of a repeat, it took soooo long because of the somewhat confusing layout. I finally found this vampire hunter who gave me some great career advice (“escape”) and I took it. I was sporting something like 7 negative levels thanks to wraiths, but I finally made my exit out of the top of the castle. Where, apparently, I rappelled down? The game wasn’t clear on that point.

DDO: The Old Bonegrinder

Time for another happy-go-lucky adventure in the sparkly rainbow fields of Bavaria or Barovia or Bermuda or whatever this is. Today’s exciting adventure will take place in and around THE BONEGRINDER, a windmill with not-at-all ominous connotations.

Apparently two more kids went missing in this area, and one does start to wonder how any kids manage to reach adulthood in this country.

When I first arrive, nobody is helping me, but there is a line queuing up for “dream pies” made by hags in disguise and… yeah, it’s totally cannibalism. The pies are people! People!

Probably was a bit of a dead giveaway on the part of the developers that all of the peasants standing in line had weapons drawn, because I knew it was only a matter of time before they would be sent to attack me. Oh hey. It happened. Pew pew, I just slaughtered half a village of cannibals. Well, I’m going to sleep easy tonight.

I kick down the door of the windmill and wade in, firing all willy-nilly. I was kind of impressed that the devs kept this space small instead of pulling a TARDIS or something on us. It’s a rather cramped area for a battle against a pair of hags, which change forms midway through the fight. Lots of weird area effect spells with visual components that made it hard to see, but as my companions that day were an elf and a dog made of metal, I wasn’t too concerned about shooting blindly.

“Burn it,” said the ghost, and so I did. I do pretty much anything a polite ghost commands.

Off for a final fight against the last of the three hags. It wasn’t difficult in and of itself, although there were so many hold and stun effects that I felt like the encounter was cheating.

Anyway, dead kids avenged, aunt and uncle told, rewards grabbed.

And then I realized that the quest dumped me out half a zone away from the village I needed to get back to. And there was a vampire castle between me and it. And hundreds of enemy mobs, as I soon found out. Oh well, anyone up for a road trip?

Speaking of mobs, I was really impressed with the design and animation of these shadow mobs. When they move about, they flatten into actual shadows on the ground and then pop back up as 3-D models. Neat.

Even the gargoyles are against me. I’m going to have to murder this whole place in the face just to get a good night’s sleep.