Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Memorial Day 2007

Try as I might, I couldn't create a worthy post for Memorial Day. I tended to get over-emotional or come across as a recruiting drive or basically screw the thing up any number of ways. In looking for inspiration on not-sucking-at-this, I ran across a post in Eating Bees which said what I have to say a lot better than I could, so I'm linking to Sanya's blog.

God bless those in uniform.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

LOTRO Journal: 5.24.2007 – Hobbits, Tanking, and Methadone

Last night I spent most of my time on my Hobbit hunter completing quests in the Shire for the “Honorary Sheriff” title. At level 23, there was little-to-no experience to be gained, but I had a lot of fun anyway. I even did some of the repeatable mail quests just for giggles. I finally got to see the inside of the goblin cave in the Northwest of the Greenfields. I revisited the Old Forest and slew enough brigands and goblins to get the traits / titles for the advanced deeds.

All of the hunter activity last night was to take a break from my guardian for a bit. I love the class, but it is slow-going to level him. Finally, at level 26, my guardian has “challenge”: his first actual taunt skill. Fights prior to level 26 are a lot like the Onyxia fight in WoW: you have to guess how much of your aggro skills you need to spam at a mob in order to keep them on you. The catch is: in LoTRO, if you overdo it, you can run out of power. While the guesswork involved in tanking from 1 – 25 does tend to get the player to think about their class and learn to use their existing skills effectively, it’s very hard (and often frustrating) trying to tank for a group that doesn’t know or appreciate what the guardian is up against. Add to the scenario above the fact that, prior to 26, the only taunt we have requires several maneuvers all of which require me to have the aggro in the first place. Well, now that I finally have a taunt ability with no strings attached (except a resistance possibility and a cool down), my hope is more effective tanking and better power conservation.

While getting the level 26 taunt ability was certainly important for my guardian, it was the only skill available for that level. Most levels are like this in LoTRO: odd levels, get a decent passive ability; even levels, get a decent active ability. There are no “amazing” new abilities, spells or what-have-you at any level. I believe this is why LoTRO seems less addictive to me than WoW. There are fewer times when leveling that you actually cared that you leveled. I mean, it’s great to have a new number over my head. It’s cool that I’ll have better stats against the mobs I’m facing and that I can explore further. The change in game play after leveling, however, is subtle and while it is certainly a progression, there is nothing spectacular marking the move from one level to the next. Leveling and training up is a lot more like stopping to get armor repairs or selling stuff to clear bag space. It’s something you do because it’s time to do it, not because you’ll necessarily get anything terrific from it. Don’t get me wrong, I have a blast playing LoTRO, but don’t come in expecting spectacular new abilities every other level or so. You’ll be able to make a great and functional character, but the differences between a level 19 and a level 20 aren’t as pronounced in LoTRO as they are in WoW (level 20 in WoW is when most classes get special travel powers or something else major for their class). Thus, while WoW leveling seems like crack, LoTRO leveling seems like methadone for WoW players.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

LOTRO Journal: 5.22.2007 - Zones

Last night, I wrapped up a couple quests on my guardian in the Lone Lands and then did a bunch of stuff on my Hobbit hunter in the North Downs. I liked the Lone Lands initially. The music there is very well done and there are some neat ruins in the area. The problem I have with the place is that once the feeling of newness wears off, you’re stuck in a really big zone without a lot of stuff to do there. My guardian’s quest log is jammed with group quests in the area, but no one I trust well enough to run them with (my gripes about the guardian class and the generally low play ability of the typical LOTRO player are topics for other posts). The remaining quests are soloable, but tend to be in different locations meaning lots of travel time between quest areas. And it’s not like there’s a lot of eye-candy in the zone while you’re in transit.

In contrast, the North Downs is just right as a zone. There are interesting ruins to explore. The quest mobs are generally available in the same location and in most cases overlap with other quest mobs (ie: boars to get boar hides and goblins for a “kill x number of goblins”). The topography changes depending on where you are on the map as well. There are tall hills, even mountains in some parts while other parts are plains or farmlands. A large portion of the map is wooded, which is always a plus in my book. There are mobs available which are slightly below me, slightly above me and those higher up that I can take on as I level. Right now, I’m loving the Downs. My only gripe is the length of the map. Fortunately, there are a couple horse paths available to cut down on travel time.

It got me to thinking about what makes a zone interesting / fun and what makes a zone dull. Geographical variation seems to be key. I like wandering into a different space from one I was just in. I also like ruins. Lots of them. And variation between them. Having mobs there I can kill and many quests that are soloable (or that can optionally be done in a group) are nice too. I really don’t like grouping outside my kinship. There are way too many noob know-it-alls out there. I have high hopes for future zones. The area between the Lone Lands and Rivendell is potentially interesting. I've only seen it while running past high-level mobs at level 15 (the Trollshaws?). Then there's the Misty Mountians! But I still need to poke around the North Downs first. And, in fairness, there are still some areas of the Lone Lands I haven't been in so it may turn out better once I've checked them out.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Advice for roleplayers

One thing that seems to happen a lot on roleplay servers is that there comes a time when new people or people not affiliated with an RP guild think that all the roleplay has disappeared. "Where has all the RP gone?" they wonder. Cursedblood, on the LoTRO forums, offers some sage advice for those seeking roleplay and how to go about it to get others to join in (I'm posting the whole thing here because stuff tends to vanish from the game forums):

[OP quote] ~~ My point is, am I doing something wrong here? I thought RP could mean meeting people and sometimes even developing stories together. ~~

[Cursedblood] You are doing nothing wrong. RP comes in waves, and after a while, tends to coalesce into cliques and groups. People interpret this to be "elitism", and in some cases this is true, but what tends to happen in my experience is, you get so immersed in a few storylines, its very difficult at times to extend olive branches to other players - you are literally just so busy juggling what you are already involved in.

Give it time, it will come. I wish I was on your server, we could pal around together, and I'd be more than happy to get involved in your story. If I may, some unsolicited advice, that I found has helped me in the past:

Talk out loud - often, but keep it light and easy. Make random comments in character from time to time, especially if you suspect you are close to other characters that roleplay. Make these comments off-hand, something as simple as:

"What splendid Marigolds in front of that burrow. I never knew the Proudfoots had such a flare for color"

...or even...

"My goodness, I never knew the nights could be so chilly in this part of Bree-land..."

Simple, off-hand comments, will signal to other people you are open to RP, but you are also not forcing them to pay attention to you. Simple statements make it easy for people to reply to you in character. Even if people do not respond right away, good roleplayers will appreciate to the fact you are adding to the ambience of the overall roleplay. Here's an example of what would be a bad thing to blurt out, to strangers who have not roleplayed with you yet:

"Oh my lord! My brother has been captured! I need people to help me save him".

This kind of statement, immediately says the following:

"I have a story I want everyone to pay immediate attention to. I am going to ask a lot of your time to get involved in it"

Saying something as simple this is better to start with:

"For all the chatter about the Prancing Pony, I found their fare to be average at best"

This is just an offhand comment, something anyone might say in an absent-minded way. And its easy to respond to, and it doesn't require immediate comittment of time or energy. Later, as friendships develop, you can develop the RP to become more detailed and involved.

Another small piece of advice (if I may) is this: listen. Listen, listen, listen.

Too many roleplays talk - talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, and almost always about themselves and their 'drama'. Skilled roleplayers LISTEN more than they talk and moreover they ask questions...they let other people talk and they just ask questions from time to time to stimulate the dialog. By passively roleplaying, you'll find people will gravitate to you like mice on a bag of grain. People WANT someone to listen to them, want people to ask them questions about themselves. Just like in real life, one of the best ways to get people to like you, is to let them talk about themselves. You'll find, its very entertaining.

In my experience, the best roleplayers aren't talking all the time, they are listening. They only talk when the conversation is lagging, or the topic needs ot be changed. They are not self-centered, they are community-centered, and enjoy listening to RP, as much as they do talking in-character. You probably know all these tricks, so my apologies if I am offering up advice you already know or don't need. These tricks help me out all the time though, so I thought I'd offer them up to you.

Good luck! And if you are really desperate, log in to Gladden with a newly-crafted alternate character and give old Gumgo Ciderbrew a \tell. I'll happily listen to any story you choose to tell me, I'm always happy to make a new friend.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

LOTRO Journal: 5.17.2007

Yesterday, my hobbit hunter hit level 22. I decided, after reviewing the level 22 skills for a hunter, that I wanted to get him to 22 before the weekend. As a result, I went to the Lone Lands with the sole intention of leveling him up. And I hated it. Leveling specifically to gain a level is dull. I picked up a quest, executed the quest. Turn-in and sell, get the next quest, etc. It's boring. Staying in an area to get the mobs I need is boring, doing the same thing for an extended period of time is boring and working through mobs with an eye on the xp bar is boring.

By way of contrast, I decided to change gears and head out to the North Downs with my hunter. I ran out and killed boars for a quest, stopped to gather wood, killed wolves because they were there and basically goofed off. I was having such a good time horsing around that I hadn't noticed that I had already dinged 22 and was a quarter of the way to 23.

I guess this goes back to the axiom: "a watched kettle never boils." Leveling to level is dull, Dull, DULL, while having fun and leveling as a result is way better.

Tonight, I've decided to start working on my guardian again. I haven't touched him in a while and he's the toon I most group with. I'll probably head to the North Downs again as Lone Lands is getting a bit routine. I'll be looking forward to the time when both my characters can head past the Last Bridge to the next zone. Forested and wild-looking, it should be neat to run around in there.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Tobold had another thought-provoking post on his blog today about a new vision for MMORPGs. Games like Everquest, WoW and more recently Lord of the Rings Online seem to be stuck in an "old vision" of leveling, forced grouping and other MMORPG staples. Unfortunately, there seem to be a lot of unintended consequences. Many people like leveling but hate "end game." Rather than guiding people towards social interactions and friendships, "end game" shoves people into guilds to get "phat lewtz," other players be damned. It doesn't need to be this way.

A while back, I posted the following ideas on creating a new MMORPG on the web site of my WoW guild. The ideas are worth posting again ... I think. :)

Let’s say you inherit a bajllion dollars and wanted to make the next WoW. Or someone puts you in charge of the MMORPG industry. Or Blizzard approaches you and says “based on your skills in farming peacebloom, you are obviously the one to tell us how to make our next MMORPG.” What would your game include? How would you make it fun? What would the “goal(s)” be? Would you still use levels? Would you allow PvP? Make it all PvP? What would your setting be? (You can use a total rip off of an existing game or make something up.)

What’s prompting the question, you ask? I’ve been playing a number of games lately (mainly WoW, but also Oblivion) and have also played Quake, Unreal Tournament and Heavy Gear II. There are aspects of all these games that make them fun, and other aspects where I’m not sure I like them.

My game ideas:
1 – A MMORPG. It would be a fantasy-type game with knights and dragons and its own Lore. There would be a massive on-line world with swamps and dungeons and forests for players to explore. The graphics would be WoW-esque. I’d want people to play the game on whatever machine they had (within reason, sorry, Commodore 64 fans).

2 – Limited number of players on a shard. A low limit. Like 500 or less. The reason for the limit is. The number may go up depending on the needs of the system devised below. On the other hand, it could also be cool to have a very open game with a massive land mass where any player in the game could interact with any other player.

3 – Players can develop land in-game to make their own houses and castles. A castle would cost a crap-ton of money whereas a house could be cheap. Castles would be more for guilds and houses for single players or a small group. If building in a town, the player would have to talk to the count / countess and get permission and pay taxes / fees etc to buy an existing house or build their own. Outside of towns, you can build where you want, but there is no protection from the guards and you’ll have to find a way to make sure wild animals or bad-guys don’t take your stuff. You could also construct your own places of business, such as inns or taverns, and charge other players for the stuff you’re selling. Wherever you build, there are costs associated with it. If building in a town, there are “zoning rules” which will ensure players cannot build too close together or on each other’s stuff.

4 – No levels. At character creation, you have all the base-stats you’ll ever have (with modifiers you select at creation). Stats can be changed via itemization, however, stats for itemization will be limited. While leveling gives a sense of progression, I think we can come up with some other neat things to do besides kill slugs for two hours just so you can move up to killing giant slugs.

5 – Crafting. The majority of the items in the game can be constructed by players. The best items in the game are also crafted items. New patterns can be introduced periodically to ensure that people will keep wanting stuff. Also, players that choose blacksmithing can repair other player’s gear. Repairing gear, however, will require reagents so there will be a cost associated with it. Additionally, blacksmiths with a skill subset will be better at repairing some items than others (armor smiths for armor).

6 – Changing the world. Player actions will have an outcome on world events. I was thinking of an invasion-type scenario (like Oblivion). If the players do nothing, that’s fine. But more and more baddies will crop up and pick fights all over the place until all the towns are under siege. Some towns will be targeted by the baddies anyway, giving players the chance to defend their lands and drive back invaders. If a town goes undefended for too long, it can fall to the enemy. Towns that are taken can be reclaimed by players and rebuilt. If the players do decide to fight, and fight early. They can keep the invasion forces at bay. The enemy forces will be tenacious indeed and will try to work their way around the defenders, including sneak attacks and raids.

7 – Players can give quests to other players. So you’re an armor smith that needs a certain type of ore for armor repairs at an outpost. You’re also a ranger trying to defend the frontier against a new invasion from the northlands. You don’t have time to do both and on your server, people have decided that stemming the invasion takes top priority. So what do you do? You find another player that doesn’t really care much about fighting the invasion and give them a quest to get the ore for you. The return for the work is whatever you’ve arranged. Money, free repairs, etc. They actually get an entry in their quest log for the quest. If you have talked to two players, however, and one completes the quest, you can make the other player’s quest invalid. You already got your ore.

Ideally, the interesting thing about the game is how players deal with the enemy AI and how they shape their world. Move to a different shard and they will not be in the same state as another one. You could have a shard where they let the invasion slide, and it’s total chaos. You could have another shard where they keep pushing back and it’s relatively peaceful. The benefits of a peaceful shard are that commerce can flourish. Players will have the best stuff available because they will have free access to materials and trade routes. Another fun thing players may want to do is create special groups and go to an area where the enemy is everywhere just to take back stuff. The enemy can also be set up so that there are lulls in the fighting where players can just roam and explore stuff.

The history of your shard is the history you created. You’ll remember the time when the “Rangers of the North” (a group of players) were created from town funds to prevent raids like the one that destroyed town “x.” You can be part of the efforts to rebuild and resettle town “x.” Move to a different shard and it will be a different history. Maybe there was no invasion from the north. Maybe there was, but it’s still underway. Maybe the players said “to hell with town x” and it’s now a ruin with monsters and things to explore for the adventurous.

So whaddaya think? Neat? Stupid? Needs more cowbell? What would you like to see if you were building a game world?

Monday, May 14, 2007

Together Alone

I was reading through some articles on MMORPGs recently and came across an interesting question. Something to the effect of “why don’t the people that like to solo in MMORPGs play a single-player game instead?” I did some searching around and found a blog entry on playing along in a MMORPG.

One commenter on the article writes:

I believe the reason people (including myself) like to play an MMO even though we spend most of our time ungrouped is simply that an MMO's world seems more "real" and alive. A solo game's world is very predictable and mechanical; a world full of other players, whether you're working with them and talking with them or not, is far more complex and interesting. It has an economy. It has rudimentary politics. It's just more immersive and fun.

I think the quote above sums up my interest in playing a MMORPG even if all I do is solo. It’s the impression that there ARE other people out there doing things. It isn’t just the connections that people can form with each other but the POSSIBILITY of connections.

There are the random encounters with other players that make the game interesting. I don’t have to get a superior axe as a drop in game. As long as someone has gotten one and they are posting it in the Auction House for a price I am willing to pay, I can get it. We could call this an association via a material means. There are also associations via proximity: if I’m questing in the same area as someone else, we may group together to help each other out. I’ve had a blast in some pickup groups and after leaving the group, I never saw those players again. Other associations could be via common goals (like group quests) even though I prefer to only run those with guild mates or not at all. Through the different ways of associating or connecting with people, MMORPGs are more dynamic and feel more alive than walking around in a single-player RPG.While the associations I mention are possible, it is also possible that I not engage in them. Rather than buy from the AH, I can craft the things I need. I can refuse group requests (and typically do if the request was spammed at me) and not get involved with any group quest at all. It’s still nice to know that those things are possible even if I choose not to do them.

The best single-player RPG, in my opinion, is Oblivion. Granted, I have not played all single-player games to know about how well or poorly their npc behaviors work, but Oblivion does an excellent job in simulating characters with lives and schedules and ways of interacting all their own; yet still it falls way, way short of the random and often bazaar behaviors of which actual humans are capable. Some of those behaviors are annoying (like incessant jumping) or stupid (like the infamous Barrens Chat in WoW) or mean-spirited (like stealing mineral nodes for which another player is fighting). MMORPHs also allow for the opposite kinds of behavior as well: sharing, helping one another, making someone else laugh and have a good time after a lousy day at work.

While the bad certainly exists there are many random acts of generosity and “togetherness” possible in a MMORPG that can make even solo play an enjoyable thing to do. I don’t always need to talk to people, but it’s nice to know that the option is there. I enjoy helping new players out. I like the fact that I could run into someone with trade skills different from my own and perhaps we could help each other out. I like knowing that the world around me is in some sense alive even though I’m off by myself.

LOTRO Journal: 5.14.2007

On Saturday, I took my level 20 Hobbit hunter on a little adventure north of the Bree fields. I ran around shooting various critters (boars and bears) and kill off wolves for the next racial skill. I mined a lot and picked up various food items on the ground for a friend of mine that cooks. This unstructured time was really enjoyable. I had no goals to attain. I just ran around and goofed off. I explored ruins, got a lot of crafting mats, killed stuff and was having a lot of fun being a Hobbit in Middle Earth.

Sunday was the opposite of Saturday in many ways. It started with me on my hunter doing the same stuff as Saturday, but that was over quickly since I had real life things to take care of. When I logged back in, I came back as my human Guardian (currently level 23). I got together with my guild mates and we figured out that most of us had quests in the Lone Lands to take care of. So myself, a Burglar (level 24) and a Lore-master (level 19) went and went to the Forsaken Inn.

Our first stop was the set of ruins northeast of the Inn to get a drop for a crafting quest for our Lore-master. Once we got that, we entered the ruins to kill off the boss. There we met another group of two and a third person who also needed the boss. So we all joined forces and killed the boss and his four goons. Several people noticed a chest in the area, so they went for it. Then the boss and his goons respawned and we killed them again. Another chest spawn (or perhaps the original hadn’t been looted yet) and we had to kill the boss and his goons a third time. In the end we all ran away (someone eventually did get the chest) so we wouldn’t have to keep killing him.

We fought our way into the goblin stronghold near the Forsaken Inn but we had some set-backs getting close to the boss, so we left the area. We ran into another player beside the npc for an escort quest and did the quest with him. We goofed around some more until our Lore-master decided to call it a night. The Burglar and I went to kill elite Dourhand Dwarves for axes.

The combination of structured and unstructured time in-game kept things enjoyable. Perhaps I could have gotten my Guardian up to level 25 this weekend had I not “wasted” so much time on Saturday goofing off with my hunter. But chances are, if I had done that, I would not likely return to my Guardian for a bit from being burned out playing him. The only time “wasted” in a game is time where you’re not having fun.

The grouping scenarios this weekend also got me thinking about ways grouping could be implemented to make it more flexible. I think it would be cool if they could put in a system where a group could get grouped with another group to complete a quest without one of the groups disbanding. Like if a group of two meets up with a group of three and they all want to run a quest. One group invites the other and they all become one group. When the quest is over, the invited group can leave and split back into their original group of two. Such a system would make grouping a tad more hassle-free for those of us that like hanging around with a couple of friends to complete quests and run into other people doing the same thing.

Friday, May 11, 2007

LOTRO Journal: 5.11.2007

Had a lot of fun last night. I logged into my guardian (level 21) and headed out to the Forsaken Inn. (I love the horse rides in the game!) From there, I ran east rather than take the next horse path to the next encampment. En route, I mined a bit and killed the random orc or wolf. About part way to the fort, I reached some ruins I recognized. I checked my quest log and I needed to take down halforcs and get some crates in there. So I ran around doing that until I had all my crates and most of the half-orcs. Then I started exploring around the ruins. I saw some pretty neat stuff and took some cool screenshots. I spotted a tower that I could stand on top of and look over the whole complex, so I ran along a ledge and jumped on top of the tower. Unfortunately, the wall of the tower was too high to see over to get good screenshots. Even more unfortunately, the wall is too high to jump over to get off of the tower. *sigh* So I mapped back to Bree and repeated my ride and run back to the ruins to kill off my remaining half-orcs.

I finished killing off half-orcs and made it to the next fort. Turned in the one quest and then another I didn't realize I had completed. Chatted with some kinship folks and then set out for some exploring. I ended up discovering a couple new sets of ruins, killed many an orc, killed a bunch of wargs and generally just wandered around goofing off. Thanks in large part to the graphics quality, the detail in each discovery was impressive: the moonlight shining off the waters of the swamp in the southern Lone Lands, the orcish campfires in the ruins, the rage effects of the lethal tarkips and my defensive manuvers.

I had a blast just running around and goofing off. And somewhere along the way I got 4000 xp from level 22, managed to get a decent amount of silver and enough mats to start crafting some more metalsmith items.

The Great Barrows

Earlier this week, at level 21, I brought my guardian to Tom Bombadill’s house in the Old Forest and, with my group, we ran Chapter 11 in Book One of the epic quest line. Our group consisted of myself, a human burgler and an elf lore master. The burgler was 21 and the lore master was 18, I think. We were all slightly above the level of the quest line but overall we were under-powered with regards to both healing and dps.

It was a good run. We each died three times, except myself who died twice (Tom B saved me from death number three). Thanks to the lore master heal (30 second cooldown) and burgler conjuctions, we managed to handle most of the encounters well enough. Both the burgler and the lore master could “mez” a target where there were large numbers so we had some decent crowd control available.

This was the first instance where I’ve been the main tank for the whole thing. There have been other times in LOTRO where I have tanked, but those situations tended to be average quests with the occasional elite mobs. For those times, the mobs didn’t do enough damage over time to worry too much about properly tanking or there was only on mob to worry about which I managed to hold well.

In the Great Barrows instance, there are many elites, sometimes two or three in a group accompanied by nonelite helper mobs. The ability to tank and multi-tank the mobs is imperative, especially if you’re low on dps and healing and need to do a proper job of taking them out as a group.

The interesting thing about the guardian class in LOTRO is that, at least at level 21, it has no taunt ability. The closest thing is vexing blow, which is sorta like mocking blow for a warrior in WoW. It’s not really a taunt, but a high-aggro attack. The lack of a snap aggro taunt ability means that every fight is basically like Onyxia in WoW: the tank needs to be given a bit of a head start and then the group needs to work at keeping that head start. Some people, in WoW and other games, think pulling aggro off the tank means they are a bad tank. An idiot can pull aggro off the main tank in just about every game I’ve played. The smart players know they can but still don’t try it. Aggro management is the group’s responsibility, not the tank’s responsibility.

Anyway, we had a good run, got some nice things and completed book one of the epic quest line. I’m still working on my tanking skills with the guardian class, but it’s coming along. I can reliably keep aggro the majority of the time. The main issue at this point is finding a happy medium between spamming aggro abilities and power conservation for long fights.

In other news, I’ve been playing around with a number of alts. I have a hobbit hunter which is level 20, a burgler and a minstrel. The burgler and minstrel are only level 8 or so. I’m not sure whether I’d like to continue with my hunter as alt number two or switch to one of the other classes. They all seem fun and different from my main. Hrm … decisions, decisions.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Playing the Game

With my switch to the Lord of the Rings Online, I’ve made a few decisions about the way I’m playing the game. Granted, there are different play styles for different folks so I’m not claiming that there’s a right way or a wrong way to play a game. You plunk down your money and, with the exception of grieving other players, what makes you happy is legit. If creating a level one toon and spinning in circles in the starting area makes you happy, then spin away.

One thing I’ve noticed in the MMORPGs I’ve played (City of Heroes, World of Warcraft and now Lord of the Rings Online) is that most of what I enjoy are the stories and game behind the game. Why did person x send me to place y to collect z? What does that quest tell me about the area? Would my character actually find that quest noble or think it a waste of his time and skills? Added to those questions are things like exploring new areas and seeing or doing stuff I haven’t seen or done before.

As much as possible, in the future:

- I will attempt to avoid getting trapped in game mechanics. Yes, I need a given amount of xp to get to the next level, just like everyone else. But I’m not going to obsess about it. When I level, I level. I won’t take quests without thinking about them and I will try to enjoy the story and the spirit behind the quest along with its actual execution.

- I will avoid referring to help sites. Sites like Thottbot are nice if you’re really stuck. However, when using those sites becomes a crutch to avoid having to explore an area or figure out something then it diminishes the game play for me. Explore. Figure stuff out. It’s fun and when I do finally get the thing I was after it will be that much more gratifying.

- Role-play. Not just when other folks are around, but make a constant effort to get inside my character’s head space. How does my hobbit hunter feel about being in Ered Luin? Happy? Sad? Misses the Shire? Feels at home in the woods? What does he think about the elves in the area? Is a given quest a waste of time? Something worth while? Constantly trying to view the world through a character’s eyes is what RP is all about. I will try to do it more often to enhance my gaming experience.

- Do things just because they’re there regardless of any tangible rewards. The most fun I’ve had recently was a guild run to the ruins north-west of Bree in the Weather Hills. To the best of my knowledge, there are no quests for any of the mobs there, no “phat loot” available and no boss there worth killing. But we went anyway and for a good hour we had a blast exploring and killing and basically poking around in a place none of us had seen before. I plan on doing more stuff like that. Raiding a place just because it’s there. Climbing mountains just because I can. Another thing I enjoyed was getting to know the Old Forest. Referring to no maps other than those available in the game, I can now navigate to most of the areas of interest just by dead reckoning, general directions and using landmarks. It’s neat that other players will appeal to me to tell them where things are or how to get to point A from point B. The Old Forest is a maze but it’s one I’m getting more and more familiar with. Such knowledge also fits in well with my role-play of my hobbit hunter: he’s a pathfinder and guide and the Old Forest is an area he knows well.

With my resolutions above, I hope to avoid a lot of the grinding and boredom and just sit back and enjoy the trip. Getting to the max level is nice but enjoying the ride is even better. It’s a ride I have to take whether I want to or not, so I may as well enjoy it.

Lord of the Rings Online

Made some changes to the template I've been using to go along with some other changes: namely my switch from the World of Warcraft to the Lord of the Rings Online. Don't get me wrong, WoW is a great game! I had a lot of fun in the World of Warcraft and if anyone is starting out with MMORPGs, I'd recommend it as a great introduction and a really fun hobby. The trouble I had with WoW is that I've pretty much done all I care to do in the game.

I've played WoW for about two years. I started my first character, a tauren warrior, on a PvP server and had some good times. I made it through the 1 - 60 content and joined up with a guild to do raiding and "end game." Then I rolled an Alliance character and did the same thing: got to 60, did a bunch of PvP and did the raiding thing into Molten Core and Black Wing Lair. Lots of fun. Then the expansion hits: The Burning Crusade. Had lots of fun there, back on my original warrior. Now he's 70, has a flying mount and is facing another "end game." And this time, I'm just not interested. Grinding rep to get a key for a slightly different version of an instance I've already been to does not appeal to me, nor does the constant wipe-fest for mediocre rewards that is the current end game. I had a lot of fun with WoW, but rather than deal with the frustrations of raiding and the struggle to keep up with the rest of my guild, I decided to end on a high note.

I have a friend where I work who was a closed beta tester for The Lord of the Rings Online. Once the restrictions were lifted, he gave me the low-down on the game. As a big Lord of the Rings fan (both the books and the movies), I decided I had to check it out. I preordered so I could get into the open beta. I've been playing ever since. The world Turbine built is an excellent rendering of Tolkien's Middle Earth complete with all the races and the places I've read about in the books. Like any MMORPG I've played to-date, it has a number of classes to choose from and you can choose a race (hobbit, dwarf, elf, human). Gameplay is very similar to WoW, so if you're a WoW player, you'll pick it up in no time.

One of the things I truely enjoy is the world itself. I can visit the Old Forest. I've been to Bag End. I've been to Rivendell. I've explored ruins, delved into caves and found places only the brave would go. In short: I am exploring stuff I haven't seen a million times and I'm loving it! Even places that I've been to a couple times can take my breath away with the game's graphics. The world also has a night/day cycle which changes the way things look and in-game sunrises and sunsets are very nicely done. The stars come out at night and actually move across the sky as do the clouds. If you're lucky, you can also see a rainbow in Hobbiton!

Other things that impressed me about the game are the subtle changes in gameplay that Turbine has introduced. Mob xp is small. Very small. Most of the xp you gain as a character will be from quests. The emphasis is on questing and thereby on the stories involved in the world. No more grinding boars to get to max level. You need to quest. Some of the more unique quests are in Hobbiton. Delivering mail, eggs and pies got my hobbit hunter from level 8 to 10. They are basically "FedEx" type quests with some additional pressures: you need to avoid certain npcs and you are on a timer. Delivering mail involves talking to the postmaster in a town. He will give you a sack of mail and tell you the town you need to deliver it to. Then you're off! As the timer counts down, you need to navigate to the next town's postmaster to give him the mail. You cannot fight while you're carrying the mail. You cannot swim or you'll drop the pouch and fail. You also need to steer clear of Nosey Hobbits! If a Nosey Hobbit spots you, you fail the quest. The result is players scurrying across roads, cutting through fields, leaping fences and diving behind buildings to get their mail to the postmaster before the timer expires. By the end of the questline, you'll also know the Shire like the back of your hand.

Other notes:
- The crafting system could use some tweaking, but it's fairly well done. You get a set of professions (ex: metalsmith, prospector, tailor) which can be used to support your class.
- Like in WoW, Auction Houses are available for player-to-player trades.
- There are no official roleplay servers (for the US, anyway). People are expected, however, to be able to roleplay on any server they choose. The game lends itself quite easily to roleplay given the depth and detail of the world.
- You can smoke pipeweed!
- Players gain skills in musical instruments and can create music. Some people use the instruments as little more than noisey party favors but other people are quite talented musically and can have little in-game concerts.