The Age of the Discriminating Vendor

Another one of those posts that starts with “back in the day…” and which recounts how things used to be during the stone age of online gaming.  Writing about it is not necessarily advocating for its return, but it certainly made things different.  Anyway, on to it…

Back in the day, back in TorilMUD, there were things that were very different than we see them now in modern MMORPGs, and there were things that were very much the same.

All text, all the time

It was all text, all the time back then

One thing that was the same was money.

Everybody needed it, the economy needed it, but nobody started out with any and the only real way to get any was to kill NPCs that spawned in the world for their loot.

There were also quests.  But quests were not very common, annoying to find, and could be frustratingly difficult to complete.  I have gone into the way questing used to be back in the day.  There was nobody standing around waiting to tell you to kill ten rats.  And the end result was more often an item than any money.

So that left murdering the residents of the world and looting their still warm corpses as the only real money making enterprise.

Wholesale slaughter would get you some coins.  But for the most part that was a pretty slow way to earn money, at least at lower levels.  Later, in a leveling group in place like the pirate ship, a good group could end up with a nice pile of cash.

But you, new adventurer, won’t be doing that or zones or anything of the sort for a long while.

And that went double for elves and half elves who started on the Island of Evermeet, in the elvish city of Leuthilspar and were stuck there for the first 20 levels of their career.  I will focus on the plight of the elves, since that is what I am most familiar with.

So to supplement the tiny trickle of coins, you would have to also grab whatever else your victims were carrying.  Swords, bits and pieces or armor and clothing, random items of junk, whatever you could pry from their cold, dead fingers.  You would collect all of this to sell to one of the many vendors in Abeir-Toril.

As a young citizen of Leuthilspar, you would head out to Kobold Village or the Faerie Forest in search of adventure, experience, and loot.  At least, once you figured out how to get there.  Eventually, if you were successful… by which I generally mean that you did not die and have to go find your corpse in the dark… you would have a pile of coins and some items to vendor.

In Kobold Village there was a couple of vendors, but as your became more seasoned you began to notice that those vendors paid very little for your items.   That was the way of the world.  The buy and sell prices from vendors were influence by your race, your class, your charisma stat, and the general level of wickedness of the person who created the zone.

The young elvish adventurer could make much more money, multiples of what the stingy vendors out in the world were offering, if said adventurer just dragged all of that loot back to a vendor in Leuthilspar.

The key was, which vendor.

Leuthilspar Locations

Leuthilspar Locations (click to embiggen)

The good part was that all the vendors were pretty close to the square at city center and near to the bank.

The down side was that the vendors were all pretty picky about what they would buy.  Your options were:

1 – Talidnal’s Goods and Supply Shop – Sold random supplies like rations and small bags, would buy miscellaneous items of the same sort.  You had to sell the red feather from the traveling faerie here.

2 – The Weapon Shop of Leuthilspar – Bought and sold weapons and only weapons.  Notable for being one of the vendors with special responses.  Would point out in all caps that this was weapon shop if you tried to sell something else and would claim that they could buy items flagged “no value” because they just bought a Doombringer earlier.

3 – The Scribe Shop of Leuthilspar – Sold scroll, including the scroll of identify.  These cost 2 platinum coins, which was more than any new player could afford, but which was the only way to see the full stats and information on any given item.  Except, of course, if the item was flagged as “no identify,” in which case you just wasted 2 plat.

4 – Silyonlanster’s Fine Gems and Jewels – Sold some gems that had no purpose I ever found, and would buy any gems you happened to have.

5 – Norlan’s Pet Shop – Bought nothing as far as I could tell, but would sell you a very expensive pet that would fight for you and which would be gone forever if it died… or if you logged off.  A lot of us bought one of these exactly once.

6 – The Armorer of Leuthilspar – Sold some very heavy bronze armor and would buy anything flagged as armor, which did not include leather armor from Kobold Village or the Cloak of Forest Shadows.

7 – The Leviathan Shipwright – Sold rafts and canoes for crossing water.  You just had to have one in your inventory (but not in a container) for them to work.  Would buy them back at a deep discount.

8 – The Green Griffon Pub – Sold alcoholic beverages.  Never bought anything I had to sell.

9 – Tilanthra’s Shop of Alchemy – Bought and sold potions.

10 – The Magic Shop of Leuthilspar – Sold a number of scrolls and wands, despite there already being a scroll shop.  Would only buy wands and the like.  This is where you would sell that Wand of Thunderous Rage that was in the garbage heap and which never worked for me over the last 15 years.

11 – Morlanthrtilan’s Fine Clothier – Had nothing for sale as I recall, but would buy that leather armor from Kobold Village that the armor shop turned its nose up at.

12 – The Blue Dragon Inn and Restaurant – Sold oddly specific and very expensive food at various times and would buy, for reasons I could never determine, arrows and quarrels.

13 – Qulazoral’s Barrels and More – Sold you a skin or a barrel of water after your first issued water skin evaporated after you emptied it (I think they finally fixed that) but before you finally got a flagon from Bandor.  Would buy liquid containers, if you ever found one.

There were some other vendors in town.  Each guild had a vendor that might give you a few more coins for specific items.  But in general, it was vendor row on main street that handled your needs.  You just needed to run around a lot until you figured out who bought what.  It helped that what vendors purchased ended up in their inventory for sale again, a feature I miss, and which was last seen in EverQuest as I recall.

And even then you would end up with a few items that no vendor would purchase, but which were not flagged “no value.”  There were a few items I would have to travel to Mithril Hall, way up in the north beyond Neverwinter, in order to vendor.  I think the dead rat was on that list.

Still, in some ways, the elves did not have it so bad.  The vendors gave decent prices and were all centrally located.  This was not necessarily the case in Waterdeep or Baldurs gate, and good luck selling things way down in Calimport.

And vendors in Leuthilspar never closed.  Elves don’t need sleep.  In other towns vendors would often close for some or all of the night cycle of a given day.  The time translation was one real world minute for one game hour, so you might end up sitting in a shop for 6 or 8 or 12 minutes waiting for the vendor to open up again.

And with all of that, you still ran the risk of selling something of value to other players… something you could sell or trade… to a vendor without knowing.  As I mentioned above, you needed a scroll of identify to see what an item did.  There were no stats on demand and equipment was not color coded by the now standard formula (gray, white, green, blue, purple) to indicate relative worth.  Of course, once you sold the item to a vendor, it cost you a lot more to buy it back.  It seemed that vendors were in the business of making money… or at least acting like they were there to make money as opposed to just being a place to dump your crap.

Today though, we can see it all.  Stats show up when we hover the cursor over and item, and it will even show what we have equipped in the relevant slot so we can instantly compare.  Items names are color coded, as noted above.  And not only will vendors buy just about anything you have (and sell it back to you at the same price if sold something by mistake) but we are at the point in games like Rift where there is a button that will automatically sell all of your “trash” grade loot to the vendor with a single press.

As I said at the top, I am not exactly hankering to go back to the way vendors used to be.  But it is interesting to see how much has changed, and one wonders if it was all for the better.

14 thoughts on “The Age of the Discriminating Vendor

  1. spinks

    I’m reminded of something I always found funny in MMOs, which is how vendors usually have a bark about ‘what do you want to buy’ when actually I mostly just want to sell my trash loot to them. These days they’re mostly just in for colour, does any game rely on players buying gear from NPC vendors any more?

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  2. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Spinks – Funny enough, I think things have gone the other way on that. Vendor gear was, at least on TorilMUD, just as bad as common gear is in MMORPGs today. It was better than nothing, but it was almost never as good as something you would pick up from a dead mob.

    I think the “equip yourself out of a vendor from day one” thing was a staple of single player RPGs that did not make the transition to MUDs and MMOs.

    However, in current MMORPGs there are all sorts of vendors that sell good gear. The don’t sell it for gold or plat or whatever coin happens to be the common currency. They usually sell it for badges or honor points or status points or planarite… or require you to have a certain level of status with a given faction… but those vendors are out there.

    So I supposed it depends on how you define “vendors” when you ask that question. But yes, most vendors out there seem to be around to buy your crap and repair your armor.

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  3. bhagpuss

    EQ’s vendor system is still my favorite of any MMO, or indeed any RPG, I’ve ever played. It has just the right mix of convenience, inconvenience, malice and weirdness.

    I love the way that not only do your prices change according to charisma, faction and race (at least) but also that the location or even the lore of the vendor is often relevant too. A nice convenient vendor standing right by the city gate is not to be trusted, and neither is a vendor who happens to be the girlfriend of one of the nastiest thugs in the area.

    Things I like in theory but actually disliked strongly when I came upon them in practice (in UO, for example) are vendors who close their shops at night or wander off. Weapons vendors who only buy weapons I can live with, although in a game you play regularly convenience tends to trump realism over time.

    One thing’s for sure, an awful lot more could be done with NPC vendors creatively. They have become an omnipresent but horribly under-explored mechanic.

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  4. Fnord

    Interestingly, I noticed that Skyrim still has discriminating vendors, although apparently not as discriminating as TorilMUD (general stores will buy everything). And that they’ll sell back anything you’ve sold to them (until their inventory resets in a day or two). And they close at night, though that’s obviously less of a big deal in a single player game where you can advance time at will.

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  5. SynCaine

    Playing some UO right now, it is interesting how far back the genre has regressed around things like vendors. The ‘sell all junk’ button in Rift is a good example of that. Next step: auto-convert junk to gold directly as soon as you loot it (GW2 might already do this…)

    Vendor ‘gear’ in UO is relevant. If you are going into a high-risk situation (PKing), you might settle for vendor armor/weaps rather than GM crafted or magic. If you are messing around with guild mates, you might all agree to only use vendor gear to spare in (much cheaper than wearing out magic stuff).

    Vendor prices changing based on demand is brilliant IMO, and not only because it enhances the ‘living world’ aspect.

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  6. Gorbag

    When I was a kid my house had a dirt driveway, dense with potholes, tire tracks, and channels cut by runoff. In the fall it would collect leaves and twigs. When it rained networks of lakes and streams formed interlocking patterns like a miniature continental watershed.

    I would devote hours to widening canals, creating new channels, and clearing dams of fallen leaves, intent on hastening the water’s journey to the ditch that separated our property from the gravel road at the end of our driveway. With each improvement the water drained faster, until every pool and runnel had been emptied.

    Mixed with the satisfaction of a task well executed was a powerful longing and sadness that I didn’t understand at the time, but now recognize; I’d taken a miniature world of fascinating complexity and detail, and through time and effort, turned it into a driveway.

    Are our games doing the same thing? Are the dams of twigs and leaves being removed to smooth our path also, and at the same time, making driveways out of magical worlds?

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  7. Knug

    … or go to a game where NPC vendors (buying and selling) are slowly, but surely being replaced by player driven markets.

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  8. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Knug – Sort of a yes and no on that. Are you referring to a specific game?

    I do not see any significant trend towards player driven markets that are more meaningful. Certainly with what I have read about GW2, player driven markets seem to be becoming more marginalized. Even as far back as WoW, nobody *had* to go to the auction house. You could muddle your way through entirely on drops and quest rewards.

    EVE is probably the most meaningful player driven market, but it took a while to get to that and there were some odd moments along the way. And replicating that in a fantasy environment has its own challenges.

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  9. wizardling

    I’ve also always been disappointed to find in newer MMOs that vendors won’t stock what other players have sold to them, and that faction is usually meaningless, beyond black and white will interact’/will not interact with my toon.

    Whenever EQ1’s servers went down I’d be sad as all the player stocked loot on vendors would be gone. I’d hoped that SoE might add a save for the last hundred items stocked by players on vendors, that would persist across server crashes and restarts.

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  10. Brian 'Psychochild' Green

    Vendors were important in some MUDs because they didn’t save your inventory. Logging off would drop your stuff (assuming you didn’t sell it for stray coin), so hitting up a vendor was often a good way to get some basic weapons to work your way back up the food chain to the best weapon you could obtain based on which monsters you could kill. (Although some people just knew a good place to pick up a weapon laying on the ground after a reset, or they knew something they could kill with hands/spells easily to get a basic weapon.) In one MUD I played, I had an “alias” that stored a bunch of key input directions to take me to one such weapon in that game. :)

    It may seem strange today, but this was common practice in MUDs to have your gear not be saved. The main reason was technical: hard drive space was super-limited, and storing a list of gear would take up precious drive space.

    In early MMOs, vendors were somewhat important because if you died, you’d drop your inventory. In UO and M59, most gear was commodity, and one longsword was as good as another, until you started dealing with rare magical-quality items. But, still, you were just a random murder away from losing even that prized magical weapon.

    There was a shift toward equipment becoming part of what made up your character. In MUDs, it there was a “rental” system in some early games where you could rent space to store equipment after you logged out; that happened as drives got larger. In MMOs, we see gear progression started by EQ (which still had you dropping your inventory in the bad old days), and refined to a science in WoW. Now we have the concept of gear as an integral part of the character, and losing it would be tantamount to having part of your character deleted. So, there’s almost no need for equipment sellers in MMOs, but they stick around like useless appendages as a remnant of past times.

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  11. kiantremayne

    Funnily enough, GW2 is one game where I do sometimes visit a vendor to buy weapons, at least when starting out a new alt – because you unlock weapon skills by using that weapon, if I want to starting training on (for example) a sword with my new ranger, I will go to the nearest weapon vendor straight after the tutorial and grab a basic sword to tode me over until one drops for me, as that’s often more convenient than using the trading post for a brand new character’s gear.

    Having fussy vendors with differing prices makes a MMO more ‘world like’ but at the end of the day the typical modern player would Google some web page that would tell him where to sell each item, and then all that’s left is the inconvenience of having to schlep his loot ot all of those locations instead of getting on with the fun stuff of killing monsters and having adventures. Trash Hauler Online is not really compelling gameplay.

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  12. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @kiantremayne – Yeah, I’ve been down that path with people before who want shop hours and variable prices and supply and demand pricing and closed shops during the night cycle and wandering shop keepers and lunch hours and the impact of currency policies implemented by the king’s minister of finance and so on.

    It just ends up, in MMOs especially, that such things aren’t part of the game that a lot of people want to play. It is like making people speak to every NPC to figure out who has a quests. It sounds interesting in theory, making people get to know your NPC population. In practice, people will either just ignore quests or go Google who has the best quests.

    There can be a fine line between what gives an MMO depth and life and such, and what makes it tedious.

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  13. Tyler Murphy

    Great article. I agree with most of what has been said here, I just wanted to throw my own two cents in.

    I don’t really think about vendors so much because most MMOs have moved so far away from trying to produce a living, breathing world. It is a shame really. I loved feeling like I was somewhere else, rather than feeling like I am in a glorified lobby between queues while I chat globally with everyone who plays the game that might matter to me.

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  14. Arcadius

    There was a vendor in Nigel’s point that sold page after page of boring white armor.

    I understand having a few token items on the first page, so he would look like a vendor, but he must have had 5 or 6 pages of gear, each piece more drab and uninteresting that the last, and none of them with any stats. Why set him up with multiple pages of items that no one would ever buy?

    I always thought he was originally for some much different purpose that was eventually stripped away. Yet I have found similar vendors elsewhere, well stocked with useless items.

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