Sunday, May 20, 2018

Read It In Books : EverQuest

Over the last few years I've managed to find reasonably cheap copies of most of the White Wolf gamebooks for the EverQuest Roleplaying Game. I think the only ones I don't have now are Al'Kabor's Arcana, Plane of Hate, Temple of Solusek Ro and Castle Mistmoore; of those four, the only one I really want is the last one.

It's just as well I decided to collect them when I did because as the supply dwindles the price increases. I don't think I'd ever have started buying them in the first place if the average cost then had been north of $50 per book, with some titles breaching the three figure barrier, like they are now.

As it is, at least I can rest easy, knowing that if (when) the final, official server goes dark, I'll be able to GM a tabletop EverQuest campaign with my pals in the old folks home. Or I guess I could just play P2002. Whatever.

When the affordable supply of White Wolf titles dried up, I did briefly consider scooping up the Prima Game Guides instead. There are still oodles of those up for grabs at exceedingly reasonable prices, many of them for no more than the cost of postage.

Pretty sure I knew a "Nugget" and a "Deena". I imagine everyone knew a "Lenore"
That's not surprising. In its day, EQ was a very successful game, with millions of players. Back then, I never felt the need (or desire) to buy a professionally produced hard copy of exactly the same kind of information I could get for free from Allakhazam or Caster's Realm. Clearly many did, though, because Prima pumped out guide after guide for years, eventually moving on to produce guides for EQ2 as well.

Out of curiosity I did put one of the Prima guides on my Christmas wishlist, just to see what they were like. I could have picked any of them but I plumped for the Ruins of Kunark. It duly arrived on Santa's sleigh and I've given it a good thumbing in idle moments since then.

It came well-thumbed already. "Pre-loved", as the marketeers like to say. Someone had obviously gotten a very great deal more use out of it than I ever will. I say that with confidence, not because it was battered or worn - on the contrary it was in excellent condition - but because it has been annotated throughout (very neatly,) in pencil.

Many of the spell lists have ticks or dots against them.  The previous owner seems to have been something of an altaholic, with a strong preference for casters and priests. Most of the notes are in the sections devoted to the Magician, Shaman, Wizard, Druid, and Enchanter classes. The Necromancer is a notable omission so I surmise the previous owner leaned towards the light.

As well as the pencil additions, which included a few extra notes about the Shadows of Luclin expansion (although nothing relating to Scars of Velious, which came before it), I found a few slips of paper tucked between the pages. One was a set of instructions printed from some unnamed website or forum detailing how to insert pauses in macros. Another, more poignantly, appears to be a list of the names of in-game friends or guild members - or possibly just some jotted ideas of names for characters.

As for the contents of the Guide itself, they're a curious mixture of the exceedingly obvious and the unutterably abstruse. There's a great deal here that's of historical (potentially academic) interest. For example, I found the lengthy diatribe by Gordon "Abashi" Wrinn on the notorious "Play Nice Policy" most instructive, especially  the paragraph that reads:

"For the first few months after EverQuest's release, we felt that a policy of non-interference in many of these matters was warranted. However, we continued to lose good players. This was not due to any deficiency or dissatisfaction in the game, but due to dissatisfaction with the treatment that they received from their fellow players, and the perceived inability of our Customer Service department to intervene."

A few pages later, under the heading of PvP Servers, we read that as far as Playing Nice is concerned "...we expect that the people on those servers will apply PvP combat in all situations where it is called for as a resolution to the problem. As such, the EverQuest Customer Service Staff will decline to intervene in cases where a PvP alternative exists..."

That certainly puts a different perspective on why Verant (later SOE) continued to place such an emphasis on PvP, despite the ever-dwindling interest among players, not to mention why Smed himself became such a fan of EVE Online.

Flicking through the pages, some arresting assertions leap out. Did you know that even by the time of the game's first expansion there were already 216 different types of player-made arrows? Or 63 different crafted bows? It also seems somewhat disengenous for an official guide to blandly confirm what all too many players already suspected - "Level 1 spells - Many casters find these spells worthless". True North, anyone?

Yes, I could have picked a less busy background.
And done something about the glare.
If only I was a photographer...
Reading the Prima Guide is a glimpse into a lost world. The sheer complexity of the game, even at this early stage of its as-then unimaginably lengthy life, is deeply intimidating. It's no wonder players felt they needed a helping hand. Not that Prima was having any truck with handholding. Item after item hammers home the unforgiving nature of the game and the world in which it's set.

The section on "Tactics" for Bards, for example, is succinct on playing solo: "Don't do it" . Bold type theirs, not mine.  The entry on experience is enough to bring on flashbacks : "After level 5, dying costs you experience. This XP loss gets bigger as you level up. Eventually you'll be losing about half a bubble of XP per death. In addition to that, it will look like you've lost less during a hell level (30, 35 etc.) but it actually hurts more." It's that casual "etc." that really twists the knife.

All in all, the Kunark Prima Guide was a worthwhile purchase (or would have been if I'd paid for it). It reminded me of a lot of things I'd forgotten and I may even have learned a few new ones. I'm not sure I'll be buying any more because I get the feeling there will be a great deal of repetition and a general sense of diminishing returns. On the other hand, at a penny a time plus postage it's not like I have a great deal to lose.

I'm rather glad, though, that I never bought one of these guides back in the day. Although whoever compiled the wealth of information it contains made a considerable effort to avoid pulling the curtain back too far, it still reveals more than I would have wanted to know when I was playing regularly.

One of EQ's - and the MMORPG genre's - biggest strengths for me was always its impenetrability. I loved not knowing exactly how things worked, having to try and deduce first principles by trial and error, preferably without getting myself killed in the process. I particularly loved the endless urban myths that surrounded the game's most arcane aspects - all those myriad theories on how to spawn the Ancient Cyclops or Quillmane, every one supported by anecdotal evidence from "a guildie" or "my brother".

As with the White Wolf books, it's very comforting to know that at least some sort of solid evidence of the fun we had will survive. Video games are slowly beginning to achieve historical and aesthetic recognition; an archival afterlife may yet exist for some. All the same, in my dotage I can't see myself toddling down to the gallery on my walker every time I feel in need of an EQ fix.

These books are the fragments I have shored against my ruin, as I suspect I may have said before. I might build the wall a little higher, yet.


  1. Impressive collection. Your post reminded me how I read World of Warcraft articles in game magazines before I had money to play it personally (or even Internet connection, but that's also under 'money' category). I've re-read them not so long ago and it was funny how serious author has taken the game, even spending small fortune on top-end enchantment for his level 36 or so axe. That's why I still yearn to play some game at launch while not every little thing is datamined and not every tricky thing has thorough guide about it.

    1. It gets harder all the time to play any MMORPG without spoilers, even wehn supposedly brand new. The endless alphas, betas and Early Access mean the wikis are all written before the games ever launch. Even so, plenty of people (most, probably) never look up anything until they absolutely have to, so there's still something of a shared learning curve when everyhone's playing a new game together. Not as strong an effect as it once was but still exciting.

  2. OK that's amazing.

    Only White Wolf game I played was Star Wars, and that was amazing (pretty sure that was White wolf - talking 30 years ago now....)

    What is the game play and rules for EQ PnP?

    (Downloading and re-installing EQ now. Again. Thank you. It comes and goes.)

    1. All the books in the picture (bar a stray EQ2 one that got in there somehow) are the ones White Wolf produced under license for the EverQuest Roleplaying Game System. There's a wikipedia entry that explains the history to a small degree - apparently the actual ruleset is the D20 one, which I never played but have at least heard of. The last product in the series came out in 2011 so it's dead now but the source materials remain in circulation, some as published books, some as PDFs. I would love to play it some day but I doubt that'll happen.

  3. Back when I worked in the small downtown of one of the satellite suburbs of Silicon Valley our office was across the street from a very large used bookstore. I used to wander over there at lunch to just look at titles. Over in the games section they had a number of copies of the EQ and EQII role playing games. I was tempted to pick up copies of what they had, but the price was always a bit too dear for something that was most likely going to just collect dust on my bookshelf.

    I did pick up a few Forgotten Realms supplements, but the Norrath stuff I left behind... and now I don't work at that location any more, not that it matters because the used bookstore is gone as well. I posted about going there a couple of times, and those posts are more than 10 years old now.

    1. Some of the White Wolf books are pretty solid reads in themselves, particularly the ones about specific locations, like Freeport or Dagnor's Cauldron. The pure rules books are obviously more practical. It's odd that there's a Freeport guide but no Qeynos version, though. You might have found one of those interesting, given your preference for that side of Antonica.

  4. Loved this version of d20. Only criticism I ever heard (which I believe) is that at high levels, there are too many proc rolls to easily keep track of with all the buffs and magic items working in tandem.

    For me, its been my only real shot at the original EQ, which I kinda missed the boat on.

    1. That problem is very appropriate because eventually the huge numbers of procs became a major problem for the online game too! They had to cull them and revamp the whole system to stop the whole thing grinding to a halt.

  5. That's kind of sweet, finding someone else's old notes in there!

    I know what you mean about Prima Guides and peeking behind the curtain. I had the one for Sims 2 and its first four expansion packs. A large part of the fun I derived from that game was in the seemingly random interactions that my Sims had at times... let's just say it was quite an eye opener that you could predict exactly how a Sim would react if you knew their personality traits and the exact relationship score! Still, there were so many moving parts in that game that it was still fun, and the guide mostly only came out when there was one specific thing I wanted to achieve and couldn't quite get to work.

    Seems less and less strange now that this was the game from which I "graduated" to MMOs!

    1. I think gamers tend to divide themselves by how much or how little randomness they enjoy in their games. I like a lot but I know some people would rather not have any. Of course, since it's all based on numbers and calculations and algorythms, most of the perceived randomness isn't random at all. I'm happier not knowing that, mostly, although there are times when having the key to the lock really helps.

  6. That is a nice collection! Even the game guides have a second use that I underestimated for a long time. When I started playing MMOs, I sneered at the idea of buying printed guide books. In the 90ies,it had become common for some games to almost be designed to be played with guide books, at least if you wanted to have a chance to find most secrets (Final Fantasy is a well-known offender.) So happy I was to let that guide book industry behind that often produced texts that read like they were written by students... of a foreign language, that is... and riddled with factual errors. Finally, free and online resources like allakhazam, thottbot and later wowhead, with all information at your fingertips, and almost always up to date! What's the point of buying a guide book that is already out-of-date at release?

    Documentation, that's why. I recently gave a private wow server a whirl that was running a very early patch. Finding information about how some quests worked, or which ones were even available, has been difficult at times, because online information has been updated with the game. Historic information is sometimes hard to find. It's a shame, really, and in retrospect, I wish I had some old guide books. If only to be remembered of "oh right, that's how things were". Or to laugh at the presented facts that I still recognize as errors today.

    1. I run into that a lot. I try to fact-check everything I post here and since I don't trust my memory I often have to try and look up old information when I'm writing about things that happened a decade - or two - ago. Really, really hard to do. MMORPGs are in a state of constant flux. Active websites purge out of date info while inactive ones just lock at whatever the status quo was when they lost interest. Allakhazam has a wonderful archive of original Patch Notes for EQ, which i use a lot, but yes, the printed guides will also come in useful for fact-checking.


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