Tuesday, 21 October 2014

A Trip To The Islands : EQ2

A few weeks ago, in the comments following his post on "EverQuest II Lore in a Minute", Wilhelm drew my attention to the existence of a White Wolf tabletop RPG featuring EQ2. I've been slowly picking up the various White Wolf books for the original Everquest but I had no idea there had ever been an attempt to expand the franchise offline to include the second iteration of Norrath.

The original series must have performed well enough, off the back of the success of what was generally reckoned at the time to be the most successful western MMORPG.  Fifteen titles were published in all. By the time White Wolf got around to EQ2, however, Blizzard had snatched SOE's crown and no-one was interested any more, assuming they ever were.

Given that all this happened little more than a decade ago it's harder than you might imagine to dig up exact details of what was published. White Wolf merged with CCP Games (yes, that CCP) in 2006 and all mention of Everquest has since vanished from the official record. A search at White Wolf's Digital Publishing and Print on Demand partners DriveThruRPG comes up similarly blank. Even the White Wolf Wiki can offer no more than a stub that baldly acknowledges the series' existence and no more. It's left to the Dungeons&Dragons wiki, of all places, to offer a complete and definitive list.

I was vaguely aware of these books when they were new but back then I believed I already had all the EQ I could ever use, right there on my 15" CRT monitor, so I didn't pay much attention. Over the years my complacency began to erode as various MMOs slipped into comas or shuffled willingly or otherwise towards the sunset. It began to occur to me that, while I might be willing to play Everquest on and off for the rest of my life, eventually that might not be an option and not just because I would no longer have the strength to click a mouse.

The path to purchase was crooked. I'd been writing about the desecration of Freeport in Everquest and speculating on the prospect of a similar revamp in EQ2. While researching that piece I was reminded of the time-locked Mac version of Everquest, with its one server, Al`Kabor, where it was forever Planes of Power and never Gates of Discord (like the White Witch in reverse).

It occurred to me that the Mac players must still have the old version of Freeport, which led me to check the price of second-hand Apple Macs (prohibitive) and the feasibility of PC/Mac emulators (too fiddly). By the time I'd found something that looked like it might be manageable SOE announced they were finally closing the door on 2004 and sunsetting EQMac.

It wasn't time wasted, however, because along the way I noticed the White Wolf Sourcebook for Freeport on Amazon. I bought that and it turned out to be very good indeed. I learned more about Freeport, the disparate and disturbing people who lived there and the tangled skein of alliances and enmities that fill their every thought than I had ever suspected existed in all my years actually playing the damn video game.

From there I went on to buy half a dozen more of the White Wolf game books, scenarios and sourcebooks, picking up the odd copies that appear at reasonable prices among the overoptimistic dealers on Amazon Marketplace. In time I hope to complete the set, although my enthusiasm for individual titles varies. An entire book dedicated to examining The Temple of Solusek Ro in nit-picking detail is not an enticing prospect and of all the choices they could have made, Dagnor's Cauldron strikes me as idisosyncratic to say the least. especially when you consider all the places they didn't do.

I don't imagine I'll ever use the books to for their intended purpose. Y'know, to play an actual game. Although, given the tools available for playing on a virtual tabletop online, the bloggers that are already using them, and the endless complaints of ex-EQ players that they'd love nothing better than to play Classic EQ like in the good old days, maybe a session or two sometime's not entirely out of the question. Just so long as I don't have to GM or set up the table.


For now I'm just reading. Its very interesting how effectively that fires up the nostalgia factor. More so than playing the games themselves, which, since I have played them near enough continuously, seem far more like current affairs than history. Now I have the Freeport book I can even face that abomination on the coast of Antonica with something approaching equanimity, knowing I can go to the real town with White Wolf's time machine whenever I fancy.

The EQ2 Player's Guide is, as you might expect, light on lore and heavy on rules on how to Sense Motive (P172) or use a Magnifying Glass (P212). Even so, there are sixty pages on the history and culture of The Shattered Lands, The New Lands and The Isles Of Refuge.


The last of those three chapters is of particular interest because the Isles of Refuge, set in what we now must learn to call The Shabby Sea, feature heavily in the upcoming Altar of Malice expansion. To confuse matters thoroughly, the bizarrely-named Shabby Sea breaks down into two sub-seas, Tranquil and Phantom. The Tranquil islands so far announced are the Isle of Refuge itself, Deathweave Isle, and the Pygmie-and-dinosaur-inhabited Island of Dichen, at least two of which don't sound all that tranquil to me. The sea-next-door, The Phantom Sea, offers Kithicor, the Far Seas Trading Company’s home base Highhold, and Grimshales, an island made from a shard of Luclin.

If we take the White Wolf source as canon then that's just the tip of the iceberg. (Bad analogy). The map at the top of this post shows around thirty islands with almost a dozen of them named. All the named isles are examined in detail in the book. Six of them get entries several pages in length.

I confess to having being largely unaware of the existence of almost of all of these islands. I can't recall if they were mentioned in game back in the first or second iteration of the tutorial, both of which I played through several times. I only remember the later, streamlined version with any great clarity. It's evident, nonetheless, that whether we as players were aware of it or not at the time, the waters and islands we are now so close to discovering and exploring for ourselves were there all along, both in the imaginations of the designers and in the design documents they were using.

I was already invested in the upcoming expansion. For years I've wanted to find out what the Far Seas Traders were up to. I've never trusted them. Now I'm doubly intrigued. When the expansion launches on November 11th for All Access members and November 28th for the masses, I'll be out there with my telescope, scanning the horizon for signs of islands yet unknown.



 

3 comments:

  1. That's the book I was thinking of. The used bookstore near our old office had a couple of copies on the shelf that always half-tempted me. I eventually declined, mostly because I have enough RPG books on my shelf already. I stopped actually playing tabletop RPGs in the early 90s, but kept on buying books for a decade after, mostly just to read and imagine the campaigns that might result if I had the time and patience.

    I will be interested to hear about what islands may appear in the expansion.

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    1. The Freeport book really is worth getting if you happen across one. I like the Luclin one a lot too. I'm very curious to see what's in the Dagnor's Cauldron one. Unless it also includes Estate of Unrest it's hard to imagine how they can have stretched it out to fill a whole book.

      One of the main writers who worked on the EQ books for White Wolf was Angel Leigh McCoy, who then went to ArenaNet in 2007 and has been working on lore and storylines for GW2 ever since. What with CCP's involvement (and Smed's love affair with EVE) it makes me wonder if they shouldn't all the companies shouldn't just get together and form some giant RPG collective.

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  2. I loved the West End Games Star Wars books more for reference than the game itself (although we did have some good campaigns) and I ended up thoroughly involved in other universes that I didn't end up RPG'ing in much (Shadowrun, Rifts). I loved the opportunity to learn more about he game in a historical sort of perspective compared to a narrative.

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