Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Finding Immortality

Over a year ago, I was blogging about free games on the web. One of the games I still play (almost daily) is called Dragon Tavern, a constantly changing experience that is like a math-heavy (under the hood where the PC does all the work, of course), light-hearted (if you aren’t reading the weird names of loot as well as monsters/enemies, you’re missing half of the fun), and advancement-oriented (the game not only keeps track of your rank within the entire game multi-verse, but also within one’s character class and within a cohort of characters born under your (totally imaginary) “birth sign.”

Recently, the game added the capacity to train to ride a “mount” (not just horses, but steampunk engines and monsters) in order to reduce the cost of adventuring outward in APs (Action Points such that each action takes one point and you only get 25 points per day as your standard allotment.) and extend your actual time in the adventuring world. I thought that addition increased efficiency and was quite happy with it.

Then, the game opened the Immortals Hall. Now, any character at Level 55 or higher can “remort,” essentially be born again as Planeswalker, Demigod, Vampire, Ascended, Dragonsoul, Abyssal, Celestial, Timelord, as well as specialty immortals like Avatar and Chosen (Steel Empire only), Lich and Shadelord (Deadlands only), and Elemental and Primal (Mountain Kingdoms only). Within these new immortal character classes, one gains immortal powers, as well.

Such powers include: Berzerker Rage (wounds trigger anger which, in turn, increases your likelihood to hit in attack—counterintuitive, but effective), Stone Gaze (gives one a Medusa Glare to not only turn one’s enemies into stone, but sell them off as objets d’ art), and my favorite Animate Enemy (good chance of converting an enemy into an undead thrall to fight for you in upcoming battles where they take the first damage). Other powers include: Death Aura, Legendary Avenger, Force Field, Flaming Weapons, Immortal Knowledge, Proven Fate, Invisibility, Precognition, Legendary Hunter, Legendary Explorer, Reaper, Soul Stealer, Legendary Drinker, Legendary Luck, and Rapid Regeneration. There are so many that I can’t remember off-hand what they all do.

By now, you’re probably asking yourself a question. If there are so many cool, new things to do, why isn’t everybody at Level 55 or higher converting (“remorting”) over? The simple answer is that everyone who “remorts” starts all over again at Level 1. Now, admittedly, one is likely to advance faster since you get to keep all of your permanent artifacts and you’re gaining those great new immortal powers, but it does require a reset of experience points. Yet, it seems well worth it. One still has the feeling of being powerful, but gets the joy of new discoveries.

Personally, I opted to “remort” one of my characters and keep going with the other. My rationale was totally tied to the fact that one was in the top 11 of his character class and the other was somewhere in the teens in his respective character class. They had become so similar (in spite of being different character classes) that it was less interesting to play both of them, especially when they died an incurred an experience point debt.

However, now that I have one immortal character and one regular high-level character, I feel like there are truly new discoveries and new challenges for both characters. Of course, there are a lot of people who won’t like Dragon Tavern. It doesn’t have any animation, much less 3D. Over the long haul, you’ll make lots of interesting decisions with regard to skills, purchases of armor and weapons, strategies and tactics, and purchasing advantages. Yet, the actual play is mostly deciding when to explore ordinary venues and when to challenge extraordinary venues. An actual play session is primarily clicking on a hyperlink and watching print statements display the percentages of a d100 roll against the percentages needed to hit an opponent. If the player character rolls under the “to hit” percentage, the opponent is wounded. Conversely, if the player character rolls over the “to hit” percentage, the character himself is wounded.

At the conclusion of this long series of calculations (predicated, as I mentioned in an earlier blog, on such a long string of preliminary calculations that I use those algorithms with introductory game design students), one gets the experience point reward and treasure pay-offs. You don’t have any interactive conversations and there are no mini-quests. Gamers who played Traveller back in 1977 would probably think of Dragon Tavern as being an extended version of the Traveller character generation. Traveller, if you recall, required one to enlist in terms of military service (or later, civilian occupations) in order to advance one’s character’s skills and wealth. I can’t recall any other game where you risked having your character die in character generation. Yet, lots of people remember that original Traveller character generation as being lots more interesting than the character generation in Dungeons & Dragons, Boot Hill, or even Game Designers’ Workshop’s own En Garde!.

Since I liked the Traveller character generation, you can well imagine why I treat Dragon Tavern as my early morning Solitaire. It only takes about 10 minutes per character to use all 25 daily Action Points and compare my character’s current rank with the two lists mentioned earlier. But if you’re looking for real-time action and animation, it’s not for you.