Category Archives: TorilMUD

The Alleged Purity of Leveling

More carping about levels and the problems they bring.

Only, this time I think there is some question as to whether or not there is really a problem.  At least in my mind there is a question.

The problem, as laid out, is people leveling up the “wrong” way, be it favoring a specific form of game play or using an exploit in the game or finding special gear.  Sometimes called “twinking,” it makes some people very, very angry.

In this case, as mentioned over at Massively OP, Blizzard has decided to close a loophole in XP gain that allows player to turn off their XP to boost other players with whom they are grouped.  Brought up by Blizzard back in December, a change for this is now in the WoW 8.2 PTR, found by Warcraft Secrets, whose image I am going to use.

Loophole closed, go level up the right way!

Given that we now know that the WoW 8.2 pact drops this coming Tuesday we will probably see an upswing in this behavior over the weekend.  Blizzard Watch even put it on their list of things to get done before the patch drops.

Twinking is as old as online games.  Handing alts gear they couldn’t possibly obtain on their own in order to speed up the leveling process was well established when I stared playing TorilMUD (or Sojourn MUD as it was named at the time) back in 1993.

It carried on in EverQuest, where I can recall low level paladins wandering around with Ghoulbanes to smite undead to hasten their way forward, among other twinks.  It was also popular to get a friendly high level druid or cleric to buff your alt so they could run around and solo mobs that would otherwise be well beyond your capability.

This behavior has always made some people angry, with “fairness” being the general argument.  It isn’t fair that somebody has an advantage in leveling up faster than you.  I remember somebody being angry at me because I leveled up a warrior in TorilMUD from creation to level 40 in just over 8 hours of play time due to twinking him with gear I had collected over time.  They complained about it on the forums.

Over time some things were put in place to stop this sort of thing.  Gear got level requirements and was made bind on equip most places so you couldn’t dump things on your alt for power leveling.

Some games went a little too crazy.  EverQuest II at launch wouldn’t even let you buff people outside of your party and had strict rules about level differentials in a group lest you be trying to help somebody along.  I remember those calculations keeping people out of groups, especially at lower levels where the ratios made the level gaps allowed much smaller.

I have always assumed that this was very much a response to the free and easy twinking available in EverQuest, about which people would howl in the forums.

But should the developers be listening to this sort of thing?  People complain about literally everything in the forums.  Start a thread about people undercutting your sell price on the market and just watch how many people join in on complaining.

Does having some sort of advantage in leveling up hurt anybody else?  Is twinking a problem that needs to be solved?  Should developers be preventing players from leveling up the wrong way?

I am generally of the opinion that the answer to all of that is “no.”

In a game like World of Warcraft where, in the current expansion, the mobs scale with you all the way to level 120, so that one might question why there are levels at all, and where you have things like heirloom gear, it seems debatable that Blizzard should be worried about people leveling up faster than them.  And all the more so when they’re going on about a level squish, though that is another tale altogether.

Sure, there are situations where this might be bad.

I would probably agree that any path that took players out of the visible world is probably bad.  At least if you have something like a world in your game.  In EverQuest II they felt they had to remove exp from the player made dungeons feature largely because the most popular such dungeons were exp generating machines of no obvious merit otherwise.

And any time PvP is involved letting people boost up quickly, or lock levels and build a super-optimum gear set for battlegrounds, is going to end badly.

And, then there was the tale of Warhammer Online, where one theory of the failure of the game lays the blame on battlegrounds, which were the optimum method to level up.  Why would you spend time doing open world PvP content… which was what the game was supposed to be about, and was honestly a lot more fun when it happened… when instanced battleground were ready for you right now?

But that wasn’t really twinking so much as incentivizing the wrong path forward.  But PvP depends on the other side showing up when you’re ready to play, which is the main downfall of open world PvP in every game that hosts it.  Battlegrounds, with their jump in, fight, be done mechanics are not so hampered by that, so they will tend to draw people away from the open world in any case, and when they are replacing the PvP that is supposed to be the core of your game, you have at a minimum incentivized them badly.

However, short some specific situations where the path being used to level up is taking people out of the game, I am not sure that twinking is something to get all that worked up about.  I thought we’re long past the age of draconian responses to people not playing the game correctly.  But that Blizzard has now decreed that if you group with somebody who has XP turned off your own XP gain will now be “vastly reduced,” I guess I am wrong.

Welcome to Waterdeep, City of Splendors!

I might be done with Evermeet and the tribulations of the elves of Leuthilspar, but that just means I can wander farther afield in TorilMUD.  And what better place to start with that the city of Waterdeep.

As in the Forgotten Realms lore, in TorilMUD the city state of Waterdeep is at the center of things, socially and economically.  I’ve written before about how commerce used to work in the city and have mentioned repeatedly how elves, stuck on Evermeet until level 20, so longed to get there.  It has been the forming point for many an adventure, the resting place for many a corpse, and the idling location for many a hapless ranger.

Waterdeep, City of Spendors – Click on the map to make it bigger

The city itself is big enough that it is actually split up into two zones.  Theoretically, the split is between the north and south parts of the city, but there are some oddities in that, with rooms in either end that seem to belong to the other.

The city is surrounded by a high wall which my ZMud client will often send me scurrying along when traveling across the city.  As it turns out, the room count, and thus the distance traveled, can be shorter if you head up the nearest tower on the wall and run to a tower near your destination.

The wall has five gates.  Four of the gates, the north, east, west, and south gates, which are closed and locked during the night.  There are few moments of mild annoyance like arriving in the room before the north gate just as 8pm strikes and seeing it closed and locked before you.

You can always spot the new elf in town in these situations.  They’ve come out of the elf gate from Evermeet, run across the Great Northern Road, all the way down Tern Road, and up to the doorstep of Waterdeep only to find the gate closed and locked.  So they stand there saying the passwords they’ve learned on the island for such situations, only to find that the gate doesn’t work that way here.

When the north gate was closed, you were stuck.  Stuck unless somebody inside will cast “summon” to bring you inside or a friendly druid opens a moonwell into the city, or if a high enough level rogue is on hand to pick the lock on the gate and open it for you.  But for the last, be quick, because the guards will soon shut and lock the gate again.  You can shout for help to get past the gate, since most people in the game who are standing around doing nothing are probably doing that nothing in north Waterdeep.

At the south gate, if you’ve traveled up from Baldur’s Gate through the troll hills and across the plains, only to find night has fallen and the gate is locked, then you might have to wait.  There was often somebody at the south end of the city fighting mercenaries of stalking the cat burglars that hide on the roofs above the south end of the city, but those are low level options and the people involved are busy killing between spawns, so were unlikely to be able to help you and might not even notice that you needed help.

At the west gate… which I often forget is even there, since for ages it was a dead end… well, nobody came through the west gate most days as, by room count, it was closer to the north gate outside the city than going through the city, so you probably just went to the north gate.

And then there was the east gate.  Outside of town, on the southern side of the road leading to the east gate, there was the druid’s guild and, nearby, a tree stump that concealed a tunnel that led under the walls of the city.  You could move past the gate.  It was, as usual, a bunch of rooms out of your way, but the travel time was minimal if you knew the way and had enough movement points.

Yeah, movement points.

The terrain of a MUD is made up of rooms which can range in size from tiny to immense.  But traveling through a room just involved choosing one of the exits.  Done quickly… and programs like ZMud would chain together the commands for exits many rooms deep which the game would buffer and send you through… you could travel what might pass for dozens of miles in a minute.  Barriers removed, I could spam my way to Mithril Hall, well north Neverwinter, to Calimport, beyond the desert south of Baldur’s Gate, in a minute or two easily.  If you have a copy of the Forgotten Realms Atlas handy, you can probably tell me how far that is… but I assure you it is a ways.

So there are barriers along the way.  There are rivers where the only way to cross is to wait for a ferry that slowly moves from bank to bank.  There are movement points, which your character gets, and which must be expended in order to move from room to room.  Terrain, weather, and how encumbered you are dictates how many points are expended.  A strong headwind can burn your movement points pretty quickly.

And then there are things like the gates in Waterdeep, which bring traffic to a standstill during the night… unless you can find some help or are on the east side of the city.

But what is important about Waterdeep is its central location.  People congregate there because from Waterdeep the journey just about anywhere it possible.  It isn’t so much getting in the gates that matters as getting out through the gates and off to where you want to go.

And, of course, locked gates worth in both directions.

If you’re headed out of the east gate, then the tunnel can get you past the wall if it is after hours.

East side of Waterdeep

Eastbound traffic is pretty heavy, for many things lie east of the city.  The first stop is the Turning Point, marked with a sign and an announcement board.  This was a common meeting place for groups back in the day, especially if there were outcasts or others who could not enter the city, or necromancers, whose undead minions attract unwanted attention from the city guards.  Meeting at “TP” was as common as “3W” and “Fountain” for those in the city.

Back in the day eastward would take you to podville, Split Shield, the buffalo fields, the lava tubes, the southern shore of Lake Skeldrach (via which you could get to the north side of the city), and Bloodstone, before it was destroyed.

It is also the direction the game has grown the most over the years, which I guess makes sense if you’re starting from a city on the west coast.  The Black Griffon Road, the Swift Steel Company headquarters, the Inner Sea and the Pirate Isles, Zhentil Keep, Cormanthor and Myth Drannor, all of these and more lay east of Waterdeep.

North of the city are some notable locations, though expeditions north tapered off over time.  For that direction we used to meet at the crossroads, where Tern Road out of Waterdeep met the Great Northern Road.

North of Waterdeep

Every elf from Evermeet knows The Great Northern Road, since the elf gate in Leuthilspar drops you at its east end.

There are some local attractions, such as the Tower of High Sorcery, which has been there for as long as I have been playing TorilMUD.  The undead boatkeeper at the back door holds the skiff, the lightest boat in the game (at least back in the day), which was a handy thing to have if you needed to cross water.

Others are more recent, though recent is a relative term when referring to a game that is past the 25 year mark.  I think of Dragonfall Forest and the Swamps of Melich as new, but I was hunting gators in the later (at one point they were dropping platinum coins, and hides for which a nearby NPC would pay a few more platinum coins) in 2003 or so.

Heading further north brings you to the barbarian home town at Griffon’s Nest and the dwarven home town at Mithril Hall.  There is also Ice Crag Castle, which I also think of as “new” because I remember when it was added to the game.  But it was added at least 20 years ago, which shows how our brain distorts time.  But Ice Crag Castle is a place I want to revisit in another post.

For ages the road north was somewhat limited.  You passed through places marked as Neverwinter or Luskan, but there wasn’t anything really there.  Luskan was a stopping point only because there was a ferry there you had to wait for on the run to and from Waterdeep.  Those points have been fleshed out over the years though, so it might be worth my exploring the road north again at some point.

Out of the west gate of Waterdeep there isn’t much to speak of.  For years it was a dead end, a single room outside of the gate, and it could be embarrassing if you stepped out just as the gates got locked and were stuck there over night. (From 9pm to 6am, or nine minutes real time.)

Eventually a road was connected there.

West of Waterdeep

As you can see, it loops back so you can get to the north gate.  It also gets you to the dock where the pirate ship, a floating exp zone that we used to sail on for hours trying to level up, puts ashore.  But the north gate is nominally closer.  North of the pirate ship you end up in Menden on Deep, the Dragonfall Forest, and then the Great Northern Road yet again.  For a “great” road it doesn’t run very far.

Also on the west side of Waterdeep was the harbor.  It tended to be an easy place for small exp groups to go.  Farming the dockmasters was some good late 20s to mid 30s experience.  But it was also a place to catch a ship.  Tickets could be purchased to take you to the Moonshae Islands or down the coast to Baldur’s Gate and Calimport.

And with the mention of those two cities, the south gate must be mentioned.

Imediately south of Waterdeep

The road south used to be a bit of a disappointment to me.  The town crier in Waterdeep shouts out every so often that Lord Perignon wants adventurers to form up and head south to fight the trolls.

And there are indeed trolls south of Waterdeep in the troll hills.  Also two no exit tar pits and a giant skeleton with flaming eyes that would shadow step to you if you aggro’d him and harry you until you left the zone or died.  But there wasn’t a lot else.  There were the home towns for the trolls and the ogres, a few small zones, Jenna’s cottage, and placeholder locations for Baldur’s Gate and Calimport.

But over the years new zones began to appear to the south.  Calimport and Baldur’s gate were built out and are now sizable interesting towns on their own.  Havenport showed up near Jenna’s, and Viper’s Tongue Outpost was raised as a home for outcasts.  I used to live there.

And, finally, below Waterdeep is Undermountain, which I am embarrassed to say I have spent very little time exploring.

All of which has given me a long list of places I ought to write about when it comes to TorilMUD.  There are zones with history, regions to navigate, and whole towns to revisit.  So, as I said at the top, I am not done with writing about the place yet.

Players Will Optimize

I remember back to the early-ish days of TorilMUD, back when I was first getting into groups to do zones.  Doing a zone was akin to what we would call raiding now, where a max size group, sixteen characters total, would set out to fight their way through a series of rooms and bosses, culminating the in the main boss of the zone.

Specifically, I remember doing the City of Brass zone.  It was a popular zone to do for quite a while, one done almost every boot. (See an old post about how MUD crashes were a good thing back in the day.)  It was an older zone, it wasn’t too big, there were a couple of possible drops for class quest items so somebody was always keen to go, and the general loot was pretty decent if you were just starting off doing zones.  There were upgrades to be had and everybody wanted that flaming halberd for an alt.

Back then the approach to the zone was slow and plodding.  Once through the Plane of Fire (you needed flying gear or the spell plus a fire protection item to go on this run) , the group would assemble and prepare outside the first room.  Once spells were up the tanks would roll in, engage the mobs in the room, call everybody else to come in, and we would unload everything to clear the room.

We would then sit down, mem up our spells, then stand when we were done.  When the call “spell up” came again, we would hit all our targets… as a druid I would cast vitalize, a hit point boosting spell, on some of the non-melee characters and maybe barkskin on the tanks and anybody who requested it… then the tanks would move into the next room, call us to come in, and we would burn down the next room.

It was rinse and repeat, taking down every room as a set piece battle.  At boss mobs we would get special instructions.  When spell feedback was introduced, a mechanic that would damage players if two people cast the same area effect damage spell at the same time, there would be some coordinating of who would cast which spell first.  But otherwise it was the same thing every room, and it stretched out the time it took to run the City of Brass into a three hour event.

But as time went along the runs began to speed up.  First, the overall quality of people’s gear began to improve.  This made players more effective at slaying mobs as well as surviving fights.

Then there started to develop an ideal group composition.  For example, whoever was leading the zone would never take more than one druid unless there was an empty slot that they couldn’t fill.  They wanted a caster who could do the “dragon scales” spell on the tanks rather than the lesser spell “stone skin.”  There were classes with buffs that were deemed essential for a run.  Getting the right group comp made runs go more smoothly, especially at boss fights.

And the zone itself became a solved problem.  The efreeti never changed.  There were a couple of random spawns, but otherwise how to do the run was well understood.  There were no surprises, a well defined route existed, and the boss mechanics were old hat.

Finally, there was a big change in how zones were run.  Groups stopped doing each room as a set piece battle.  Clearing up the trash mobs on the way to the boss was now easier due to gear upgrades, so we would roll through all of that with the various casters just keeping critical buffs up, refreshing them at need.  To sustain this, the concept of “mem out” was introduced, where the raid leader would call “mem west” or the like to indicate where the casters could move to refresh their spells while the battle was still raging.

The latter kept everybody busy.  Rooms with trash mobs took marginally longer without everybody blowing their whole catalog of damage spells, but that was heavily outweighed by the reduction in pre and post battle activity.  Only boss fights got the big “spell up” treatment. The time to run the zone, from starting out in to returning home to Waterdeep, approached an hour if everything was going right, and it almost always did.

That is a pretty big speed up compared to three hours from the doorstep of the zone.  And the time improvement didn’t stop there.  TorilMUD, around for more than 25 years at this point, has never raised its level cap.  Instead, it has maintained some semblance of stability by adding in new, harder zones for those at the level cap while re-balancing equipment over time with an eye towards keeping most level 50 zones viable.  That generally means any gear that seems over powered, like the glowing crimson dagger or the haste enhanced grey suede boots, are likely to get a nerf sooner or later.

Still, even with that optimization happens.  Old hands who have run a thousand zones have a bag full of gear so can pull out a set perfect for each task.  I bet if I told long time zone leader Lilithelle I needed something from the City of Brass today, she’d throw together a group of eight to ten people and drag me along, finishing the zone in 30 minutes or less.

As the kids say, “Cool story bro.”  But what am I getting at here?

This is what happens to content over time.  Player optimization alone pretty much cut the run time for City of Brass by two thirds.  And that three hour number was after the “learn the zone and the bosses” part of the process.  Add it some of the usual gear inflation and that time is now down to one sixth the original time, and doable by half a raid group.

This is what happens to content over time, especially PvE content.  It becomes a solved problem.  Players learn how best to assault things and share that knowledge.

Sometimes that is okay.  In MMORPGs where expansions use levels and gear to gate content, it is pretty much expected that older content will be made obsolete.  Often, after enough time has passed, old raids become solo projects that people run to collect gear for cosmetic reasons or to fill out missed achievements.  That is certainly the accepted state of affairs in World of Warcraft.

In other games it can be problematic.  In EVE Online optimization is an ongoing battle for CCP.  Without levels as a gating mechanism any new PvE content is pretty much solved immediately.  So, despite there being something like four thousand NPC missions in the game, the PvE is generally considered boring and is subject to pretty extreme levels of optimization.  This goes especially for null sec anomaly running, where titans are the latest high yield ratting option.

Only the Abyssal deadspace content isn’t completely solved, and that is only because it has a random aspect to it.  Once you start one you are committed and cannot go back and refit if you have chosen poorly.  And even that is only an issue for the level five runs.  CCP last said that the percentage of Abyssal deadspace runs that ends in a PvE death is very, very low.  I cannot find the number at the moment, but 3% springs to my mind.

Then there is PvP content in New Eden, where The Meta constantly strives to find the optimum ship for given circumstances and CCP is constantly tweaking ships in order to try to bring balance to the force, only to find that suddenly every big alliance is now focused on a specific hull for its main doctrine while the small gang and low sec forces have a new favorite of their own.  And then there is suicide ganking in high sec.  That has become one of the few PvP solved problems at this point, something CCP needs to shake up somehow.

And so it goes.

The thing is, a game’s core player base will always optimize.   But outliers and new players tend to get left out of that.  If a studio focuses only on the core, a game can become impenetrable to new players.  But if you don’t focus on the needs of the core your most loyal fans may get bored and walk away.

25 Years of TorilMUD

About a decade back I wrote a short (by the standards of my current writing style) post celebrating the approximate fifteen year anniversary of TorilMUD.  The trigger event to get me to write that post was the 30th anniversary of MUD1 (which is now 40 I suppose).  MUD1 gets a lot of deserved credit for its position in the history of online games, but I felt that TorilMUD had been a bit overlooked.

So I wrote about how I ended up playing TorilMUD, called Sojourn MUD back in 1993, the little bit of the history and evolution of the game I could recall, its revival nearly fifteen years back, and the influence it had on EverQuest.

The influence on EverQuest is hard to overstate.  It is often said that EverQuest was the graphical translation of the DikuMUD model, but it was specifically a translation, often down to the level of item names and stats, of the mechanics of TorilMUD.  That was because a number of the key EverQuest developers, including Brad McQuaid, were TorilMUD players.

That post, a decade back, got me thinking about TorilMUD and led to a number of follow on posts.  I explored some of the EverQuest influencing things like how vendors worked (including how stuff you sold went back up for sale), how class roles evolved from TorilMUD through to WoW, how game information was treated, and how the inability of a commercial game to depend on crashes led to the epic mob camps of early EverQuest.

That post also led to a series of posts about TorilMUD itself, including how the in-game economy used to work, how questing was in the game, dealing with never raising the level cap, the idea of greater challenges, and my recently completed Leuthilspar Tales series of posts about the life and times of the Elves of Evermeet. (I wanted to get that last zone post done before I wrote this.)

By the time the twenty year anniversary rolled around I had a series of posts to which I could link, along with some tales about how people still play and a run through the zone credits.

So what do I write at the twenty-five year mark?

TorilMUD remains up and running and people are logged in and playing.  Again, that includes many of the same people I met along the way over the years, including at least one from twenty-five years back. (Mori, who rescued me back in the Faerie Forest.)  But development and change continues.  It one of my recent research explorations I ended up in over my head against a pair of very angry bugbears and died.

Back in the day, death was a chore.  The whole thing about having to go find your corpse to retrieve your gear in EverQuest, that was a mechanic lifted directly from TorilMUD.  Experience and possible level loss on death as well.

That was removed from EverQuest years ago as a mechanic too punishing on players.  TorilMUD has caught up, and now death does not have nearly the sting.  Text from the game as I died:

When you die, you are transported to Kelemvor’s realm on the Fugue Plane
with all of your equipment. As you are technically dead, you can’t do much
on the Fugue Plane. From there, you have two choices:

1) Wait for another player to resurrect you.
2) Enter a portal that allows you re-enter the game at your guild master.

However you choose to enter the game, there are two penalties for dying:

* Equipment damage. Your worn equipment will take damage that costs money
to repair. See “HELP REPAIR” for details.

* Death Fatigue. Your stats will be negatively impact for a short time after
death. See “HELP DEATH FATIGUE” for details.

You don’t lose any experience when you die, and your equipment always stays
with you. The manner in which you enter the game will determine how much damage
your equipment takes and how long you will be under the fatigue effects.
Typically, powerful spells such as resurrect will lower the penalties
significantly, while entering the game on your own will incur the highest cost,
but it the most convenient.

As with many modern MMOs, the penalty is now in the form of equipment damage and resurrection sickness.

They have also added in a maps function to the game.  It still isn’t a replacement for the world view of my aging collection of ZMud maps, but it can help you if you’re lost.

And even as I was preparing to write this piece, TorilMUD added yet more content.  The zone count went up again with the addition of Bahamut.

Bahamut, king of dragons

From the update post:

For many years, Tiamat, the Queen of Evil Dragons, has reigned supreme as the pinnacle of epic foes on TorilMUD. Today, a new challenger approaches.

The God of Dragons. The Justice Bringer. The Angel of the Seven Heavens. The Platinum Dragon. These are just some of Bahamut’s many titles.

Bahamut is the king of the good dragons, and the eternal rival of his sister, Tiamat. He can be found on Lunia, the first layer of Celestia, where he guards an enormous treasure trove. A mysterious dragonspawn has also been spotted lurking in the shadows of an old forest, with needs as dark as the most vile desires.

Bahamut is the second epic zone added to Toril and is intended for 20-30 players. It will present a challenge every bit as difficult as Tiamat, with rewards to match.

I went on a Tiamat run at one point years ago.  It took a lot of planning and coordination and whole day’s commitment and we never even got to her.  I spent most of the day dead.  But for the dedicated player, challenges still remain.

I think I am past those days myself.  When I drop in to do research and say hello… when ZMud is being cooperative… I sometimes get carried along for a zone run.  It is an interesting reminder of how things once were.  But my ability to mentally parse… or even read… so much scrolling text on screen has faded.

But while I have grown tired, the game still seems strong, with updates coming regularly, a dedicate development team tending to its needs, and a collection of regulars who still log in every day to hang out and run zones.

Wandering Castle Drulak

Back to TorilMUD and maybe the final chapter of my Leuthilspar Tales series.

Out on Evermeet, the island of the elves in TorilMUD, at the end of the long path that leads from Leuthilspar, maybe three score rooms away, one comes to a dead end, a clearing with a well.  The room description, like so many in the game, gives little away.

A Clearing
The path opens into a beautiful clearing. A well with blue, sparkling water, reflecting the sun’s light, is surrounded by a ring of young silverleaf trees. Mats of lush moss and grass grow around the well. Flowers, orchids and small bushes full with red berries add to this pleasant and peaceful scenery. A gentle wind breezes across the well and makes the trees whisper a silent song. The path ends at the well and it might be a good idea to fill your drinking containers at it. The only way back is the path leading south to the forest.

The well has water in it.  You can drink from it or, as the description suggests, fill you flagon or water skin from it.  Otherwise there isn’t much more to see.

But long trails that end many rooms in are suspicious by their very existence in a MUD.  So of course you search the room, and if your intelligence is high enough, or you persist long enough, eventually you will find something.

You find a secret exit north!

A secret exit.  Some bushes you can… um… open… MUD syntax, sorry… allowing you to pass north into the zone we called Castle Drulak.

On the list of zones in the credits it is just called “Drulak.”

Drulak ————————— levels 25-50

That is an odd level range for a zone on Evermeet.  As with the Sylvan Glades, it wasn’t a zone to solve the most immediate problems facing a young elf or half-elf.  It wasn’t a place to level up so you could get the hell off of Evermeet.  By level 25 most elves were long gone from island.  With a group of level 17 to 19 elves you might venture into the zone to hunt for experience, but you were better off in the Elder Forest or at Anna’s.

Leuthilspar and Vicinity

And despite its name, the zone isn’t just a castle like, say, the zone Ice Crag Castle is.  There is a castle in the zone, with the right name.

Outside of Castle Drulak
A large and dark looking castle towers before you. Its walls look very grim
and uncomfortable and sometimes dark figures walk on top of the castle’s walls.
What is truly amazing of the whole buidling is that it floats in the air. The
only way you see leads inside the castle through a large double stone door, of
course there is another way too, but then you had to fly through the clouds.
From where you stand you can look downwards and all you see are little houses
and a lake far below you. The wind is very cold outside the castle and seems
to blow from each direction. Surely it is much warmer inside the castle. One
or the other way.

And you can go in and explore it.  It has guards and towers and a cook and a librarian, but isn’t otherwise all that spectacular.  It seems like a side show in the zone.

Well, that isn’t really fair.  The castle is about as big a deal as most things in the zone.  But that is the issue, there are a lot of disparate things in the Drulak zone.  Let’s look at the zone.

Drulak Zone Map

You might need to click on the map to blow it up to full size in order to read everything on it.  The chaos of font sizes was going to have some meaning, but then I forgot about it half way through and now there is no meaning.  If I had done the text as its own layer, I could have fixed that easily, but I am old, from a time before layers, so I often forget to do that.

You can see Castle Drulak there in the upper left, with the distinctive castle shape, towers out at the corners.

Just south of it there is the gypsy camp.  There is a vendor there, but they carry no stock, so I imagine the camp is there to let you clear inventory.

To the east of the castle is Turtle Lake, infested with dragon turtles.  But they are not aggro, so you can move about on the lake freely if you have a boat or a spell of levitation or fly on you.  Boats are just something you carry in your inventory in TorilMUD and not a vessel you might actually sail about with.

On the lake there are two points that go down.  One leads to an old sorcerer whose purpose I have forgotten.  The other needs water breathing, which I lacked when I went to explore.  Something is down there.

Then there is the cave of Ferentybylynxaferix the dragon.  He was needed for a quest and I was occasionally asked to go scout to see if he had spawned.

In the middle of the zone there is the farm.  Out front there is the depressed elven farmer.

The way this elf is dressed and handles his weapons convinces you that
he has not been a farmer forever. An aura of strength seems to surround
him and as his eyes rest on you, you can feel it. But there is also some
kind of sadness in his eyes. His whole face is grimacing as if a great
pain would rest inside him. He is dressed with some soft leather cloths
and wears two longswords at his belt.
A farmer is a medium-sized level 41 Moon Elf.
He is in excellent condition.

<worn on body> a soft leather armor
<primary weapon> a silver longsword

He is down because his children are ill.  They are in the house behind him.  Though the fact that his description says he wears two longswords, yet hold only one might be getting him down as well.  His leather armor was worth some platinum, so I used to make a point of putting him out of his misery back in the day.

South of the farm is a hollow tree that contains a bee hive.  The guardian bees are aggro, defending their queen who wears a golden tiara.

South of that, and actually before the clearing that hides the entrance to the zone proper, is the bugbear caves.  Grumtar the bugbear chief and Markor the bugbear shaman are the bosses in the caves.

Then there is the chasm that leads down to a camp.  However, to get into the camp you need to have detect invisible cast on you as the key to get in is not only hidden, but invisible.  I had to pass on that during my tour.

But the key location I recall in the zone is the Temple of Labelas Enoreth.

It has been abandoned and is overrun by ghosts of the former caretakers and priests, cursed to haunt the grounds of the temple.  At the east end of the temple is a locked door.  To get through you must obtain the marble stone head from the hag who lives below the temple.  As in most thing, this means killing her.  You then hand the head to the headless statue who gives you the crimson key that unlocks the door.

Behind the door is a lifesized statue of Labelas Enoreth.  It lives, and when you speak to it, the statue gives you a quest.

The statue slowly turns to you and says “Have you come to redeem them?”

ask statue redeem

The statue says, “To redeem the people of this area in my eyes three things
must be done. A quest must be completed to banish the evil that this temple
has become.”

ask statue quest

The statue says, “Three items must be gained and brought to me. In return
an object of great value shall be given showing that you have redeemed
yourself and your people in my eyes.”

ask statue items

The statue says, “The three items shall come from varying parts of the world.
The first is that of a queen whose followers only duty is to her. The second
is the striped hide of a foul beast from far away. The third is an item worn
on the hands that has one of my beloved creatures worked into their make-up.”

And that is all you get.  Again, questing in the age of MUDs was a bit more cryptic.

The first item, as I recall, comes from the queen bee in the zone, while I think the second is a drop from the displacer beast, which is found in the lands east of Waterdeep, near the Lava Tubes.  I cannot think of what the third one might be, though I know our group did this quest more than a few times.

The reward was an elven blade which I had to query Katumi bot about several times until I got the right one:

Katumi tells you ‘a slender elven Moonblade (Wield) Dam:2 Hit:2 * (Weapon) Dice:2D6 * Procs: ‘labelas’ Protection of the Forest 1/week – Power Of The Stars * Magic !Dwarf !Evil !Halfling !Human !Neut * Wt:5 Val:0p * Zone: Drulak (Q) * Last ID: 2011-01-01′

Not a bad sword, though something I think we all went and collected for low level elven alts as opposed to using it on out mains.

And so it goes.  I think I have covered all the major zones on Evermeet.  I started this series back in 2009, so it has only taken me nine years to get there.

The whole series:

Solonor Saves the Elves with the Elder Forest

After all the news yesterday it might be time for a quiet Friday.  So I have finished up one of my TorilMUD drafts to continue on with the tale of the elves.

My Leuthilspar Tales series so far has been mostly about the hardships and disappointments faced by the elves and half-elves of Evermeet in TorilMUD. Isolated on the island, unable to take the elf gate to the mainland until level 20, the elves were left with the three zones I’ve written about before, Kobold Village, the Faerie Forest, and the Elemental Glades. The latter was more of a hazard to young elves than anything, the su-monsters killing many an unwary elf in their day.

Later we got the Sylvan Glades, a zone with much to recommend it… unless you were an ill-equiped elf under level 20. Then it wasn’t of very much use at all.

What a young elf needed was a place to accrue experience, get some gear, and maybe indulge in a bit of questing along the way.

Experience was they key of course. In the old school world of DikuMUD and its derivatives, of which TorilMUD was one, gaining experience and leveling up was a primary task, and slaying things was the main way to do this. Quests in TorilMUD were almost exclusively about equipment, and quest givers were rare, unmarked, and sometimes exasperating to deal with. And getting to level 20 was a prime goal. Not only could you get through the elf gate to Waterdeep, with its open air market selling gear you could only dream of back in Leuthilspar, but you also got to see your stats as numbers for the first time (Up until that point your stats were words like “good,” “excellent,” or “poor” that represented a range of values, “perfect” being the only one to map to a single number, and many a character was abandoned upon hitting 20 only to learn that the you were at the low end of the range for some key stat, so were screwed.) and you could petition a GM for a last name. (Something else EverQuest borrowed.)

But getting to level 20, something that probably takes an evening in World or Warcraft these days, could take a a couple of days of play time. I think my first TorilMUD character had five days of play time… that would be 120 hours logged in… before he hit level 20. (And his stats were bad. Also, he was a ranger. A ranger with bad stats is like a double curse.) That was in part because I was learning the game and the lay of the land. But it was also because I had crap equipment and the competition for mobs was pretty fierce. And when I say “fierce” I mean there might be a dozen other people sharing the whole island with me also trying to level up.

Eventually I found people to team up with. People other than Xyd. He was a freaking magic user when what we really needed was a healer. But if somebody was doing the mob rotation for groups… there was set of mobs you could run between in Kobold Village and the Faerie Forest and slay in a single spawn cycle for maximum experience… and wouldn’t let you in, it was hard times. Solo mobs were slow times. If they were worth any decent experience they beat the crap out of you and you had to rest between fights… oh, the Kobold miners… and if you could kill them without resting up they were probably not worth much experience at all. Not that you could tell. Back then you had to go back to your class guild leader to get a vague statement about how far along you were in your level. They key was if the message included a grin. That meant you were within 10% of leveling.

So much complaining, I know. The upside was that shared adversity builds bonds. I played video games with people I met on Evermeet for years after the fact. A few still show up here and leave comments now and then. Our WoW guild was originally founded in 2006 by a group of TorilMUD players after we moved from EverQuest II.

Anyway, the problems of Evermeet could have been born had they not been isolated to our island. But if you started anywhere else in the game, you could walk to Waterdeep and partake of its bounty. Tiny Silver rings were as common as water, a few spawning on every reboot at the south end of town, coming with 5AC and +2 hit stats, a huge item for a low level player. That was the first thing an elf would buy in Waterdeep, to replace that +4hp pearl ring and probably that piece of string that boosted your save versus paralysis… and there was nothing paralyzing on Evermeet. So we felt justified in our resentment against the rest of the Faerun. Why couldn’t we have nice things?

One of the players I met back in the early days was a elf ranger named Rylandir. I think he was a ranger. He might have been a warrior. I just recall his attempt to get a full set of gear all in ANSI green, which makes me think ranger. Anyway, I caught up with Xyd down in the Kobold mines on day and he was grouped up with Rylandir. Xyd introduced him as “speaking in the ways of our ancestors” or something like that, a sign which I immediately picked up. We had ourselves a role player.

Which was fine. I try to be role play compatible, even if I cannot carry it off myself. I fear I am much more a “roll player” at my core, a reformed munchkin who can’t quite let go of the mechanics side of thing.

So I joined the group and we slew kobolds together for quite a stretch and he became part of the league of shared adversity.

What made him different that Xyd or Meclin or myself is that he didn’t just bitch about the problem and then move on once he hit level 20. He actually did something about it. After playing for a while he started looking into what it took to design a zone. He was going to be part of the solution for the elves.

Meanwhile the TorilMUD staff tried to throw us, and the leveling population in general, a bone by planting some special XP Grid zones in the game. These were square zones populated by a semi-random set of mobs of various levels, the idea being that there would always be some mobs to grind if your favorite areas were being camped. The zones were generic, tacked onto various zones around the world, identical, forgettable, and, worst of all, not very good experience.

We got one of those zones on Evermeet. I remember when they made their appearance all over. And after some experimentation they were declared to be not very useful.

XP Grid next to the Elemental Glades on Evermeet

The xp was poor, there was no loot, the coin drops were minimal, and there was nothing compelling or even midly interesting about the locations once you had wandered through. One explanation I heard was that the mobs were all generic, not having been assigned a class, so they could be randomly generated or some such, at that classless mobs did not give much experience. And that might have been true. But in hindsight I suspect that the whole thing was set up that way on purpose so as not to pull people away from the real zones in the game. Because if the XP grids had been a worthwhile alternative, people whole have flocked there, and these grids were not what the game was about. So it was a deliberate “better than nothing” solution that didn’t even rise to that level of quality.

Rylandir’s efforts paid off however. He was now the immortal Solonor, the Forest Hunter. I seem to recall that he did a couple of small zones initially, but his first masterpiece was the Elder Forest on Evermeet.

It was, and remains, a magnificent zone, just the sort of area that the wee elves of Evermeet needed. The text of the zone was all done very nicely in ANSI colors. There were plenty of mobs in levels that rose the deeper into the zone you went.  There were only a few key aggressive mobs.  There were quests and the zone itself told a story in its room descriptions and through the behavior of its mobs.

It is also a multi-level zone with lots of hidden doors, mobs, and items that you have to search to find.  Without searching you would barely get into the zone.

Entry Level of Elder Forest

The theme is that of a musty, abandoned place, where the dead were laid to rest only to rise again.

First Level of Elder Forest

But it isn’t all undead.  There is an open area at the back and a hill around which a few different types of mobs reside.

The bottom level of the Elder Forest

And the levels interconnect, as you can see by the levels of the map (which go from top to bottom both in the post and in the game) and there is even a path over a hill that connects back to the same area, something that became part of the leveling loop later on.

It is hard to describe what a nice, well put together, tight zone is like in a MUD.  Things just work and flow nicely and you get a good sense of place.  There were also random atmospheric messages that varied with your location.  They might announce a blood curdling scream or a sense of being watched in the underground sections, or the sound of fighting or the ring or swords in the distance up on the hill.

It is also a bit difficult to describe the zone with the same emotion that I have done with others, like Kobold Village.  This is because the Elder Forest came along much later in my time in TorilMUD it doesn’t have quite the same attachment for me that the older zones do.  We ran through it many times during the current iteration of TorilMUD, which went live in early 2003, but I ran dozens of elves and half-elves through Kobold Village and the Faerie Forest during the 90s.

And the rework of the forest road outside of Leuthilspar did not help.  Once it was just eight rooms down the road and turn south.  After the change it was off in the distance.

Leuthilspar and Vicinity

And then, of course, there was the emancipation of the elves back in 2016.  The requirement to stay on Evermeet until level 20 was lifted and the elf gate at the east end of Leuthilspar was open to all elves.  They could leave the island and head to Waterdeep, which is where most of the population of the game tends to congregate.

Now the Elder Forest sits mostly silent.  Most low level zones are pretty quiet these days as the online population sits between 20 and 30 players and most of them are level 50.  But the Elder Forest is especially quiet.  It isn’t on the way to anywhere, unlike some of the mainland low level zones, and it is on Evermeet, where only those born there may freely tread.

The Elder Forest has become what it was designed to look like; a hidden tomb from a time past.  But for a short time it was a happy, active, and interesting zone to play in and explore.

Windows 10, ZMud, and Other Options

Having gotten the new system up and running and most everything transferred over, it was time to start looking into what was working and what was not.

Some things I opted to install over from scratch anyway.  The Zinstall transfer utility copied things to the matching drives on the new system, but since I had a small SSD there, meant really for Windows, the page file, and whatever absolutely HAD to go on the C drive, that meant some software I wanted on the new, 1TB SSD would need a fresh install.  World of Warcraft and EVE Online were the primary candidates for that.

WoW was, of course, easy.  It installed, found my settings, and got on with life.  EVE Online though… well, I got it going, but the profile options it gave me all seemed to be very old.  I was only really worried about my overview settings, and now I have something that is at least a year old, from the point when you could only have six overview tabs.  But at least the settings were basically there, I just have to remember to go in and check the box for ship types that were added since that time when I pull up a pre-set.

Other things could just live where they were placed, so long as they ran.  So, for example, Steam and all my games from that live on the 3TB D drive.  The same with an assortment of other MMOs that I do not play currently.  Most seemed to work, though the copy process seemed to have broken things from Daybreak.  EverQuest and EverQuest II won’t run, erroring out when the launcher comes up.  Such is life.

And then there were the oddball things.  I have dragged a lot of stuff forward from computer to computer over the years.  I’ve dug out stuff from the late 80s when sorting through archived directories.  Most of that is made up of documents.  I think there are a couple in there that I might have copied from my Apple //e to my MacSE way back in the day.

But there are some old apps that I have carried forward or acquired.  There is a copy of Civilization II – Gold Edition that I had to pick up on eBay when I moved to Win7 64-bit and found that support for 16-bit executables, like my original copy of Civ II, wasn’t a thing.

And then there is ZMud, which has been around for a while.

ZMud – Version 7.21 from October 2005

I have been running a copy of ZMud since the late 1990s.  Back when I was working on Macintosh products a friend at Apple got me the Windows compatibility card so I could run Windows in a window and ZMud in that.  It was such a giant leap ahead of the terminal emulator I was running on the Mac.

Later, when Apple looked to be dying and Michael Dell was suggesting that the company ought to liquidate and give the money to the investors and having Mac experience on your resume was just slightly better than McDonald’s, I managed to find a spot in a company that enterprise software on Windows NT based mostly on my experience with telephony, modems, and ISDN.

Since I prefer to have the same setup at home as the office, I too moved over to Windows, and have been there ever since.  And so I could run ZMud natively.  Since I was playing TorilMUD as my main game, I invested a lot of time in customizing ZMud with triggers and shortcuts and aliases and such.

But most of the value in the client was in the maps.  When I do posts about zones and such in TorilMUD you can see screen shots of the maps.

Kobold Village – Surface Map

In a MUD you cannot “see” the terrain, you can only see what is in the room with you and the exits.  It can be hard to keep your orientation, especially when a wily zone designer doesn’t stick to an absolute perfect grid.  And while long experience with some zones means I have some paths memorized, a lot of my ability to get around in the world of TorilMUD depends on those maps.

So you can imagine the sick feeling I had when ZMud wouldn’t run on the new system.

Okay, I knew it wouldn’t run straight out of the box.  It is from a different era of computing.  But I had fixed it up and gotten it running before, the last time being less than a year back.  All I had to do was set it to run as Administrator and set the compatibility profile for Windows XP SP2 and I ought to have been set.

But then it still wouldn’t run.  It was throwing MDAC, or Microsoft Data Access Components, errors.  That was a different problem altogether.

ZMud keeps its maps and its character database in what we used to call the Microsoft Jet Database format.  That, too, is some pretty ancient technology and has long since been superseded in the Microsoft lineup, but the backward compatibility used to always be there.

Database problems are not my area of expertise.  I am the person they make the GUI admin tool for.  But I figured somebody else must have had this problem before, so started the Google trek to find a solution.  A few hours and several utilities later however, things did not look good.  I went to bed thinking all that data was lost.

However, something I did seemed to have done the trick and the one final shut down and boot made it take effect, because when I resumed the next day the client launched and I was able to log in.

Still, I feel I am on borrowed time with ZMud.  While I managed to get the MDAC error solved by whatever means, it still doesn’t launch correctly every time.  I suspect there is some conflict that comes with another app loads a particular DLL, though I have to narrow that down.  It does seem to run if I do a reboot and launch it first.

Zugg came out with a replacement for ZMud called CMud, which itself is now more than a decade old.  I have tried to move over to it, as you’re supposed to be able to transition your data from ZMud, however I have not been successful with that on a few attempts over the years.

One client out there I want to take a look into is Mudlet.  It looks a little more modern, but more importantly it looks like there is a path that allows you to move your ZMud maps and such into it.

And, if nothing else, TorilMUD has actually added some level of in-game maps.

The new map in the Hive of the Manscorpions

For now though I am setup again with ZMud so I can finish off a few more posts about zones I want to remember.