Daily Archives: September 14, 2009

Hauling Bronze Through Forgotten Realms

“Can you summon?”

That was the question that started me off on one of the… erm… rule bending ventures that I alluded to in my post about the results of the poll on what is cheating.  It was probably 14 years ago when it happened, back on SojournMUD, long enough that I am sure the statute of limitations has run out on my transgression.  After all, the MUD in question has been through a few lives since then and is now TorilMUD.

But first, a bit of context.

There is an old joke about relative legality.

In country W, everything is legal, except where specifically prohibited
In country X, everything is illegal unless specifically allowed
In country Y, everything is illegal, even when specifically allowed
In country Z, everything is legal, even when specifically prohibited

When I first heard it, the countries were England, Germany, the Soviet Union, and Italy, but I have heard many variations since.

Sonjourn MUD was country X, though I am sure some would argue that it could be country Y if you were dealing with certain individuals who ran the institution.  So coloring outside of the lines was verboten, and the lines were described by a huge number of help files covering individual aspects of the game.  Many a petition was responded to with a direction along the lines of “go read “help obscure-text-string-zeta.”

In that environment you could pretty much guess that if you felt you were “getting away” with something, you were doing something that was not allowed.

So when the other player started laying out his plan, I knew we were crossing a line.  I didn’t know which line, I just knew it was out there somewhere.

This player had discovered that bronze armplates could be purchased at the The Cityguards Armory in Waterdeep for a couple gold and sold to another vendor for almost double the price.  Bronze armplates were an item of infinite supply at the armory.  All you had to do was bring them to the other vendor and there was a fortune to be had.

There were just two problems.

First, the armplates were heavy.  They were bronze after all.  You could only load up so many of them before you grew so heavy you couldn’t move.  Ah, remember having to account for weight in a game?  So you were limited by how many you could carry, unless you had a portable hole or some such.

Second, the vendor was out in the boonies.  You had to walk through Waterdeep, out along the eastern road, past the turning point, through the forest, past the huge buffalo, up by Lake Skeldrach, through a swamp to the Salt Road, then along to one end of the road where the vendor made his home.

The vendor was the same one that sold the elven eyeglasses.  Maybe two people who will ever read this will go, “Oh, that guy!”  Maybe.

There was actually a third problem, which I have mentioned, which involved getting caught.  There were three levels of punishment at the time.

  1. A warning, which was considered optional at times due to the fact that what you were doing no doubt violated something written in some help file somewhere
  2. Reduction to half your current level and/or removal of all your gear and cash (and don’t think you can hide it on alts)
  3. Deletion of your character or characters

Early application of the three strikes law.

So this other player approached me because he was looking for some way around the first two problems.  My character was a druid, probably around level 30 or so, and had the spell summon.  I happened to be in town when he was looking, so he chose me.

His plan was for me to run off to the vendor and then summon him all the way from the armory once he had filled up on bronze armplates.  He would then cut me in on the profit.

I don’t think I had ever used the spell summon up to that point in the game, so there was much to learn.  For starters, the spell did not work all the time.  Some times it failed and you summoned something bad that would attack you, a shade if I recall right.  And at level 30 that summoned shade was big enough to be a problem, big enough to kill you if you hung around.  And it didn’t despawn.  It sat there waiting for you to walk by again if you fled the room.

But more immediate to our cause was the fact that the spell only worked within a single zone.

Now EverQuest drilled the concept of zones into our collective brains back in 1999 by making it painful to pass from one zone to another.  In hindsight, one wonders how they got away with it.  After all, if you came from MUDs, you were used to the whole seamless world idea where zone lines were not obvious.

It quickly became apparent that my partner could not load himself up to max capacity and wait to be summoned to his destination.  He was going to have to be able to take a few steps just to cross over zone lines.  If we could figure out where they were.

The only key to telling if we were in the same zone or if I had crossed into the next was to shout.  Shouting was confined to a single zone.  So we started moving across the land playing a loud and long distance game of “Marco Polo.”  I’d shout, he’d shout.  If I shouted and he did not, I was in a different zone.  I’d move back and should again.  When he could hear me again, I would summon.

This did not work out well.

With summoned shades and random world monsters attacking us all along the way combined with the oddities of zone lines, it became obvious that this was not going to be a smooth operation.  We had to move to plan B.

As a druid I also had a set of vigorize spells that would restore movement points.

Movement points… yeah… back in the MUD days, movement points were used to restrict you from spamming movement commands and running across the world in no time at all.  You were allocated movement points based on your race and, oddly enough, the age of your character. (Older characters got more points, though I never figured out why.)  They were spent each time you entered a new room based on a formula that took into account the terrain, how much weight you were carrying, and any beneficial magic that might apply to you (fly spells or equipment that granted flying effects, for example).

Your average character had somewhere between 100 and 120 movement points.  On a road when lightly burdened, you spent a single movement point or less per room.  Heavily burdened, that might go up to 10 on road and could easily be 20 or 30 moving over rooms considered rough terrain.

Moving the armplates from vendor to vendor required moving through about 100 rooms, many of which were roads, but there were sections of rough terrain.  And even on roads, hauling as many bronze armplates as you could carry would wear down your movement in no time at all.

The next plan was for my druid to memorize as many vigorize spells as he could and then my partner and I would load up, move out, vigorize, mem up again, and repeat.

This worked out a little bit better.  We were able to make the trip in about 30-40 minutes and came out with about a third of a plat coin in profit each time.

That does not seem like a lot.  But at the time, not many months after a pwipe, it was actually good money.  Decent equipment upgrades could be had for 5 plat, excellent items were 20-ish, and only the very rare and exotic went beyond 100 plat.

So I made a regular effort to haul a few loads a day whenever I could.  Other people were let in on the secret over time, or figured it out for themselves.  There was a regular parade of people moving up the salt road some nights.

And, as I understood it, some people found more lucrative items to move between vendors.

Well, the gods could hardly fail to notice all this activity.  But enough people were doing it that they could not swoop down and start punishing people without going after a large percentage of the population.  So things were quiet for a while as we hauled our goods.

Then one day there was a reboot and an update.  Code changes were a daily occurrence.  But this time there was a note about normalizing the amount vendors would pay for items.

The meaning of this innocuous phrase became clear when people started hauling their post-boot loads.  Arriving at the end of the salt road, we all found that the vendor there was now purchasing our goods for much less than we paid for them.

The boom was over, the loophole had been closed.

But we had gotten away with it.  Nobody had been banned.  At least nobody I knew had been.

And the coins that I made from this little exploit staked me for gear upgrades that made it possible for me to actually earn cash more readily.  It was the seed of my fortune, and like most such seeds, it came from a dubious source.