Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

24 September, 2011

The story of a high level character
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 1:33 PM

After more than a year of playing, I finally got a level 20 character in Dungeons & Dragons Online. I thought it would be interesting to talk a bit about my perspectives as a player who is also a designer of these beasts.

Introducing, the character

My character is a Human Monk 15/Rogue 5. The concept was a character that I could solo with at lower levels, able to do traps easily. At higher levels, I’d focus on being able to use sneak attacks against enemies with the levels of rogue and the enhancement bonuses. But, the character tends to be weak against anything that can’t be sneak attacked (undead, constructs, etc.) I’m also not the most durable, without the piles of hit points that the theorycrafters expect everyone to have, although I generally do alright with a fair amount of evasion, decent armor class, and exceptional saves.

I could go into all the lovely stats and figures (6d6+6 sneak attack damage on each hit!), but that’s the focus on numbers I lamented previously. But, an MMO seems to engender that focus. I’ll talk about that a bit more later.

DDO in context

As I’ve said a few times before, I really like DDO’s business model. I’m a premium player (non-subscriber who has paid for points), and I’ve bought pretty much everything I want in DDO with only spending about $100 in the game and getting a few more points for free. Of course, this was when content was on sale for 50% on on occasional basis. Now it’s rare to see a sale for more than 20% off.

It’s also of note that this character is not on my “main” server. My Monk/Rogue is on the Argonnessen server, while regularly I play on the Cannith server with the last survivors of the Massively guild I joined back in the day. But, I have a lot of characters spread out over multiple servers, as the business model of DDO gives you bonus currency for building characters on different servers. This means that I have a few characters on almost every server to try to earn a few of these bonuses.

Also note that I pretty much only run with PUGs now on the monk/rogue. I’ve had a few frustrating experiences, notably when people tried to ridicule my character choice, but 90% of the time things go smooth. My character is relatively self-sufficient, so I can often get out of sticky situations myself. I’d probably look at joining a larger guild (I’m in a tiny guild with just my own characters right now) if I wanted to do high end content more regularly.

This is also not the first max-level character I’ve had in a game. I’ve gotten to the maximum level four times in WoW, and twice in LotRO. I actually never completely maxed out a character in Meridian 59, but the system didn’t require a maximum level character to play by design.

The good, the bad, the ugly

Let me say that I’ve enjoyed playing the character so far. The character has both strengths and weaknesses, and is fun to play. The unique blend of classes lets me stand out, even if I’m not the absolutely most powerful type of character.

DDO in general seems to work well with a blend of characters and allows for a lot of interesting character, so you generally don’t have to worry about characters fitting into specific roles. (Although someone to disable traps is pretty much a requirement for the harder difficulty levels.) You also don’t have to execute perfectly to complete a quest, with some flexibility allowed in each quest or raid I’ve experienced so far. My character fits in well as a trap monkey, able to do very good damage against many types of enemies.

That said, there are some frustrations. One of the advantage of the Ninja Spy prestige enhancement is the ability to use shortswords. This is kinda nice, but the bonuses are quickly lost. At 20th level, even though I’m not a full monk, my unarmed damage is 2d6 each hit and there’s a (undocumented) 12.5% haste bonus for unarmed monk characters. Plus, some special abilities are only usable with fists. The only an advantages a shortsword has are a different damage type (piercing instead of blunt) and an increased threat range so that it will score a critical strike about twice as often as fists will. Therefore, any effect that is triggered by a critical hit will happen more often with a short sword. But, as far as pure damage, the fists do better even before you consider an ability like touch of death that does incredible damage and can only be used unarmed. In general, it’s better to go unarmed thereby taking away a lot of the unique aspects of the character. It’d be nice to see some additional benefits for using weapons instead of fists if it’s presented as an option.

Further, there seemed to be a bug affecting my character the other night. When swapping from handwraps to a short sword, my attack bonus dropped 10 points. On the elite quests were were doing, I literally could not hit many of the enemies we were fighting with my short swords. I assume this is a bug, and not working as intended, as my attack bonus with my short swords seemed to reset if I “zoned”. Not seeing the breakdown of bonuses makes it hard to know what’s affecting the bonuses. Compare this with AC, which has a nice breakdown on your character sheet. The further problem is that with all the custom changes to the ruleset to make it conform to an MMO setting, I can’t just dig out my D&D books to figure out how things should work.

It’s also been interesting where a recent update added numeric values to hit point bars for your party members. Previously you just saw the bar and could tell roughly have damaged someone was. I’ve heard stories about some people getting cranky about other people having “too few” hit points. But, I’ve yet to run into that as I tend to not suck too badly in a group.

Okay, so what now?

So, now I have a max level character, what do I do? A few options are open to me.

Go get more favor. Completing quests gives you favor. You get more favor if you do it on a harder level. So, I could go through and complete quests on Elite to get favor. More favor gives more Turbine Points, as I linked above. The problem is that as a premium player, I can only open quest difficulties in order: first Normal, then Hard, then Elite. That means I’d have to find someone else to open quests for me unless I wanted to run them three times to get Elite favor. Given that for the lower level quests that means that someone would not be getting xp since I’m 20th level, that’s potentially limiting.

Raiding! The old standby for MMOs. I’ve run a few of the high end raids like The Shroud on my character, building up materials for Green Steel items. I’ve flagged myself for many of the raids, although I could get ready for a few more. But, ultimately, this is upgrading gear for a bit more power.

Epic Dungeons. Pretty much raiding in a different light. Epic difficulty is available on only some dungeons. Its harder, but there’s a chance to upgrade some of the unique items by getting some random drops. So, there’s still a focus on upgrading gear to get more power.

True Reincarnation. DDO has an interesting system where you can take a high level character and “reincarnate” to a low level character; this was called remorting in text MUDs. Your new form requires a lot more xp, but your our previous classes gives you some advantages to your new life. If I wanted to go completely psychotic, I could keep going for the ultimate prize by reincarnating a total of 12 times.

Retire, play an alt. I think I’d like to so something with this character to try things out to see how they work, but I could just focus on the other characters having attained the top level with this one. I have a fair number of other characters on other servers, as I said above.

I’m leading toward doing a bit of epic dungeons to see how they go, then perhaps doing a True Reincarnation (TR) to try that out. I’m hesitant to do too much, because I don’t want to be bored with the high level stuff by the time our characters on Cannith (my highest one is level 16) get to the “end game”. But, we’re currently doing quests in order on Elite difficulty, and we have a way to go yet. Kinda depends on what we do with those characters as to what I want to do with my monk/rogue. Even if I did TR the character, what new type of character would I play? The same thing? Or would I want to try a new character type while benefiting from the +1 bonus to damage?

It’s about having fun

Unlike some other developers, I find that I can have fun while playing an MMO. I’m able to play “as a player” then do analysis (like this post) after the fact. I do find that I grow bored with things a lot faster, though, probably because the Explorer in me is adept at breaking things apart faster.

As I said, however, I’ve definitely had fun with this character. I’m also having fun with a Warforged Wizard 10/Rogue 2, and my Dwarf Ranger 15/Bard 1, and a number of other characters. So, I see myself sticking with DDO a while longer, at least as long as I have good friend still playing. :)

If this has piqued your curiosity, feel free to sign up for an account (that’s a referral link for me, gives me a few bonuses if you sign up with a new account and later buy points.) If you’re interested in playing on Cannith send Sowilo a game mail. (Of all the servers, Cannith was the only server I couldn’t get the name “Psychochild” on.) Our guild, OnedAwesome is small, but we have a guild ship with a few benefits. We mostly play Wednesday and Saturday at around 6 PM Pacific. We have some higher level characters, but we’d be willing to play some of our lower level alts if people were interested in joining.

But, enough with the advertising, what do you think? Have you played DDO? Any experiences with high level characters? Any questions about DDO you’d like me to give my point of view on? (Keeping in mind that I don’t have any special insider information.)

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  1. Turbine had a point when they were angry with the lack of promotion for DDO. It never got popular in Europe. A pity, a very underrated game. But I doubt I will get anyone playing with me by now.

    Comment by Longasc — 24 September, 2011 @ 5:07 PM

  2. Yeah, they combined the servers together. It is interesting to read all the different languages posted in global chat while playing. Sarlona in particular seems to have a strong Chinese population during the late night U.S. time. There is also now a German language server that’s together with the rest of the servers.

    Comment by Psychochild — 24 September, 2011 @ 5:12 PM

  3. Wouldn’t true completion for DDO require 24 reincarnations? There’s tier 2 versions of all the reincarnation feats after all, don’t want to miss the upgraded versions :p

    Comment by SolidSquid — 24 September, 2011 @ 5:16 PM

  4. As I understand it, you get access to both feats when you reincarnate. The first tier is automatic, but the second tier requires you to take it as a feat. However, each of the tier 1 past life feats stacks 3 times…

    To get Completionist, you only to get max level with each class once. At least that’s how I understand it. I haven’t reincarnated yet. :)

    Comment by Psychochild — 24 September, 2011 @ 5:55 PM

  5. Well, I tried to get you a referral from me but i guess my extant DDO account prevents that from happening. I’ll log in and see what I’ve got.

    Comment by Rasputin — 24 September, 2011 @ 5:59 PM

  6. I don’t have much to add to the conversation but let’s say I can get past my … eh … boredom of the newbie area. What would be the “best” class to solo (with the help of NPCs). From the unlockable classes or races are there any I should go for if I want to make my experience a bit easier?

    If I can get past the “tutorial phase” I think I would enjoy doing a quest or two once in a while when it’s too late to do anything else but I’d enjoy not “messing up” my character if you know what I mean. Something that can get me through content without frustration (meaning I wouldn’t mind trying a 2nd time but probably not much than this). Of course with this kind of “requirements” I’m open to the idea of spending money to unlock some stuff. Just not sure which way to go as I don’t quite feel like experimenting myself.

    Comment by Dave Toulouse — 24 September, 2011 @ 11:28 PM

  7. I tried Dungeons and Dragons online once a very long time ago. I was given a free trial key by a friend back when it had a monthly subscription and never got past playing it for the first few days. It’s amusing because now that so many games have gone free to play I find myself considering them more. The only difficulty is time – something I wish I had much more of. If i get a chance I’ll download the client and give it another blast.

    Comment by Gazimoff — 25 September, 2011 @ 3:01 AM

  8. I started to reply on the topic of high level gameplay but it turned into a post on my own blog. Thanks for the idea!

    I like DDO to some degree. Mrs Bhagpuss never really got on with it, though. Much though I like repetition in general, I found the structure fatally flawed. I don’t think combining episodic, story-driven D&D module-based gameplay with a requirement to grind out the same content to progress makes a lot of sense. I can’t imagine tabletop D&Ders replaying the same module over and over at increasing difficulty levels just to level their characters up.

    Comment by bhagpuss — 25 September, 2011 @ 5:36 AM

  9. Ugh… it’s been a few years since I’ve tried DDO, back in the beta (before it’s rehaul and F2P rework).

    While I liked the general game play and the design of some of the Quests, it was generally to easy and had to less content. Back then, it was a matter of days to get max level and finish all Quest if you had a few friends. It took like 7-10 days, which was pretty “shabbily” for an MMO.

    So I never got to play it past the beta, since the box + subscription price didn’t justfiy it’s content. It would have been a good game if they did it like Guild Wars, pay ~30 EUR for the game and then no more charging and playing forever. Basically it only had singleplayer worht of content and once you hit 20 and did all the Quests, it was basically Game Over. This was the main reason why DDO never became really popular. It was just _too_ casual.

    When people sign up for an MMO, they expect to play it for months. But DDO back then really didn’t had _any kind_ of endgame content. Nothing. No PvP, no Raids (iirc during beta and the first few months) and even then there was no point in it. Other games, like Darkfall always have some metagame, may it be PvP (real PvP, not that instanced boring stuff you see in modern MMOs ;)), crafting, or building your own cities and forge alliances (politics!) etc.

    And since they rehauled it, I refused to try it out because I’m not a friend of this Fremium models, who try to rob out the players with Item Shops & Co :)

    Comment by Kosta — 25 September, 2011 @ 6:57 AM

  10. Dave Toulouse wrote:
    If I can get past the “tutorial phase” I think I would enjoy doing a quest or two once in a while when it’s too late to do anything else but I’d enjoy not “messing up” my character if you know what I mean.

    Try a character with 1 level of Rogue then the rest of the levels as Ranger. Focus mostly on Strength, some Dexterity, some Constitution, at least a 10 Wisdom, and 10 Intelligence. Keep your Disable Device, Search, and Spot skills as high as you can keep them. Race doesn’t particularly matter, although a Dwarf to wield Dwarven Axes might be really nice. Take a cleric hireling along and you should be able to handle a lot by yourself. (Drop me a message on chat if you want more guidance, Dave.)

    Also, don’t be afraid to get into a PUG on occasion. Especially around 10th level, the quests are much easier in a group. Also, I might be up for some late grouping. :)

    bhagpuss wrote:
    I don’t think combining episodic, story-driven D&D module-based gameplay with a requirement to grind out the same content to progress makes a lot of sense. I can’t imagine tabletop D&Ders replaying the same module over and over at increasing difficulty levels just to level their characters up.

    Things have changed a lot. A VIP (subscriber) can open elites immediately, so a good group only has to do a quest once. My regular group has been only doing elites, and we’re quickly outpacing content, having to do quests that are a bit below our level. Of course, this assumes you have access to most of the content.

    Kosta wrote:
    Basically it only had singleplayer worht of content and once you hit 20 and did all the Quests, it was basically Game Over. This was the main reason why DDO never became really popular. It was just _too_ casual.

    The original level limit was 10 and has since been increased to 20, so your memories might be misleading. As I said, things have changed quite a bit. It’s taken me a while to get up to max level, and there’s still quite a bit I haven’t done as far as quests go. The option to go get more favor would take me a while.

    And since they rehauled it, I refused to try it out because I’m not a friend of this Fremium models, who try to rob out the players with Item Shops & Co :)

    As I’ve said, I like the business model. But, DDO does it particularly right. If you subscribe, you get access to 99% of the content. Some stuff you have to “earn”, and some of it is relatively difficult (like getting enough favor for the Favored Soul). The cash shop items are completely optional, and if you play a fair number of characters you’ll have plenty of points (in addition to your 500 per month allotment) to buy stuff with if you want. Just note that if you stop subscribing, you’ll have to use some of those points to get access to content. Or, you could treat this like any other subscription game and just abandon it when you’re done.

    Seriously, give it a try and see how it works in practice. This is the minimum standard free-to-play games should be held to.

    Comment by Psychochild — 25 September, 2011 @ 12:10 PM

  11. Yea, right. It was Level 10 back then. It’s already been years since it launched and lacked on the content. I think this really hurted it’s image.

    After wasting to much time on WoW (quit 3 years ago), I’m actually looking for some goold old PvP games. I’ve played many MMOs in the past 13-14 years, but the only ones I really enjoyed were Meridian 59 (*poke*), Ultima Online, Lineage II and Darkfall. I got so tired and bored of WoW after like 6 months, just kept playing cause some friends played it and there was no viable PvP MMO alternative.

    It sucks to be PvP hardliner nowadays, there is a lack of such games ^^

    Comment by Kosta — 25 September, 2011 @ 6:22 PM

  12. MMO players are a strange bunch. They write things such as “It’s only 100$!” when those 100$ could instead be spent on games that last longer and are less full of boring grind. I’ve gotten more than 400 hours (and still going) out of the Orange Box, and rarely a moment of that was waiting or even boring. I’d just quit or switch servers.

    On the other hand, I have started DDO last week and am enjoying it quite a bit (playing a straight-up Wizard right now, because 3.5 is caster edition). The only thing that bothers me is how insanely expensive additional quests are. I could buy whole games for that kind of money!

    Comment by K — 26 September, 2011 @ 1:11 AM

  13. @Kosta: “And since they rehauled it, I refused to try it out because I’m not a friend of this Fremium models, who try to rob out the players with Item Shops & Co :)”

    Just addressing the issue of the business model – not trying to convince you to play :)

    I love this model as it’s so flexible. I came back to the game after it went F2P with the intention of not subscribing – only purchasing content. I bought points a couple of times and only purchased what I wanted: quest packs, character races, storage space, etc. Now those things are forever available to me whether I ever purchase more from the game or not.

    However, recently I decided to start subscribing as I started my 8th alt and didn’t want to repeat all the lower level quests multiple times. Subscribing allows you to open all the quests on Elite difficulty (giving you the highest Favor – or Rep – points). Favor is by no means required, but has many nice perks so this allows me to level my character faster. At some point I will stop subscribing (which also is giving me other perks like more points to spend) and will still have access to all the content that I already purchased.

    Also, while the DDO Store has many items that can make play easier, as Psychochild mentioned nothing from the store is required for any form of gameplay. I almost never purchase from the store.

    Comment by Djinn — 27 September, 2011 @ 10:31 AM

  14. I like to focus on tactics. Which makes DDO ideal for me. Different tactics apply to different situations. What worked in a dungeon on “Normal” might not work when it’s on “Hard”, because the casters will be using different spells, and the fighters will have more hit points (I’m talking about the mobs). Then there’s always the, “What if I prepare THIS spell set?” Or “I wonder if THAT character build will work?” There’s even more than one way to deal with a trap, not the least of which is “lots of hit points and good saves” – this is how my daughter’s paladin approaches traps. I love to tinker and try stuff, and DDO is ideal for that. Because of the business model

    Like Psychochild, I like the business model as well. I buy a module, or a character slot, and I have it. I got clear value. Many of the modules I buy are something like 5 bucks, it doesn’t seem exorbitant. But I get to play it with all characters on all servers. If a character isn’t working, or I want to try something different, I can.

    Comment by Toldain — 29 September, 2011 @ 9:04 AM

  15. DDO is the game I always wanted to love, because I’ve played the paper version for years on and off.

    I love the dungeon design in terms of real traps, puzzles and the real ’3D’ nature of them (different levels, jumping has a real purpose etc).

    The character system is pretty awesome, and the way it breaks out of the trinity at least in earlier levels I applaud.

    But as Bhagpuss mentioned above it has so much grind. There still isn’t anywhere near enough content to avoid repeating quests a lot. The favour system is built on that (even the elite opener thing – you still have to find someone who ground that out or if you play in a static grind it out yourselves). The first time I played as a subscriber back on the EU servers I gave up when I ran the Splinterskull quest chain a few times in a row. You repeat the same dungeon with minor layout tweaks something like 6 times in a row. Man did I get sick of that place fast.

    Oh and don’t get me started on reincarnation. Imagine telling a D&D group “yep so today you’re going to reset all your characters to level 1 and we’re repeating all the old adventures again from scratch!”, I mean seriously? Other games have multiple leveling ‘paths’ to avoid this problem but there still isn’t enough content in DDO to do that, especially if you aren’t a subscriber.

    Comment by Telwyn — 11 October, 2011 @ 3:12 AM

  16. So, here we are just about 2 years later… what did I do?

    I decided I wanted to TR my Monk/Rogue. One of my groups decided to TR our formerly maximum level characters, and so I decided to do the same for my solo character. I did get some favor first to earn the last global reward: Veteran Status level 7 (start new characters at level 7). I also spent some time getting a new Green Steel item for my next life; so I did The Shroud raid several more times.

    Anyway, I’ve been mostly playing with the static groups on Cannith, and have not given my alts on other servers much love. But, figured a little update might be of interest. :)

    Comment by Psychochild — 15 September, 2013 @ 10:49 PM

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