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Notes from Achaea

I have played Achaea, Dreams of Divine Lands for more than ten years--an uncommonly long tenure in one MMO, I think. In this blog I will reflect on my experiences, current Achaean events, and the nature of virtual community.

Author: MhaldorMage

Letter from Achaea: How I Became a Grinder and Why I'm Not Ashamed

Posted by MhaldorMage Monday October 1 2012 at 9:11PM
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In Achaea, my relationship with the level system, and the activity we commonly call "bashing," has shifted a few times over the years. 

For the longest time, I wasn't into bashing at all. In fact, the aspects of Achaea that are "game-like"--the things that most games consist of entirely, like combat and puzzle-solving--didn't hold much appeal for me. I was more interested in the richly imagined world of roleplay, as a citizen of Shallam and later, as a leader of the now-defunct Holy Church. I would look for excuses not to participate in the group city raids which were the most frequent kind of multiplayer PvP, and I would avoid PvE bashing and questing like the plague. I was level 58 for over a hundred in-game years--a ludicrously low level, but one I stubbornly refused to surmount! To top it off, I was a Grook, at a time when Grooks had the lowest health of any race in the game, making it all the harder to stay alive long enough to make progress.

I was baffled, at the time, by the people that seemed content to go hunting for hours at a time, repeatedly clearing out villages, dungeons, and forests, piling up the corpses, offering them at shrines, every now and then reaping +30 health and +40 mana and 5 lessons. And even as I pushed forward to level 70 and then level 80 (a much more reasonable stopping place for a bashing non-enthusiast than level 58), my feelings didn't much change. 

It's only in the last year that things have changed, and recently I found myself bashing one day and realized: I had become a basher! One of "those people". I was even entertaining the thought of trying to become a dragon (the end-game prize in terms of hunting, representing the culmination of a huge amount of time spent on the activity). Partly this was because of a change in my temperament, but I'd like to list some other factors, what I feel are great improvements to the Achaean PvE environment compared to, say, 2004.

- More areas. Years ago, Achaea had an order of magnitude fewer areas than it does now. Shuttling back and forth between Azdun and Moghedu was dreary. Now there are at least a half dozen areas that are ideal for whatever experience level a character is at, and for most levels, far more than half a dozen. 

- Part and parcel with the "more areas," there are more areas that are appropriate for higher-level hunters. The Underworld, Annwyn, most of Meropis, the Lupine Hunting Grounds, etc. Of those I named, only the Lupine Hunting Grounds was available Back in the Day. The dearth of high level bashing early on was the reason that Achaea went for years without anyone reaching level 99 and getting the promised dragonform.

- More gold. Denizens drop gold now! When I started in Achaea, they did not, believe it or not. Practically the only way to generate gold was to kill rats and sell them to city ratcatchers. As a result you had people going as high as level 70 almost exclusively by killing copious numbers of the little vermin. 

- Availability of comprehensive curing systems. When I got my start, the technology surrounding Achaea was nothing like what it is today. I played on Gmud, with only a rudimentary auto-sipper, and then on Nexus, with a rudimentary autosipper, and then a rough but serviceable system called Vadi-m. Now I'm on Mudlet, with the popular system called Svo. 

- Svo also reduces the repetitive strain associated with bashing by mechanizing the actual "bashing" part. Where before I manually waited to recover balance and then entered my attack command again, now I enter a single command that will keep whacking away at a target until it's dead, I'm dead, or I tell it to stop. Omnipave is another fully modern curing system, and its creator recently released it as a free download, meaning that everybody can use a free top-of-the-line client (Mudlet) and a free system. This is a huge boon to accessibility for the less tech-savvy, the less inclined to script their own systems.

- Bound credits: additional bundles of credits every 5 to 10 levels. This is another thing that didn't exist when I was coming up.

- Butchering. Certain animals can now be butchered for cooking and tattoo ink-making ingredients. Breaks up the monotony, provides another positive reinforcement.

- Traits. The most recent addition to make leveling up more appealing. Every ten levels or so up to level 90, players get an additional beneficial trait; 3 "major" traits (stat boosts, eq or balance boosts) and a smattering of "minor" traits that range from the amusing (sound like you're drunk all the time!) to the small-bore but useful (whistle for your mount even if you've left it on an island). 

- Party tells. Make it much easier to chat amongst yourselves while bashing in a group. This combined with xp bonuses for bashing with your proteges, and for bashing with House-mates, makes bashing a more potentially social activity.

So all those are my excuses. Listing them all really brings home how vastly Achaea's PvE has improved over the years. But the real reason I've taken a shine to bashing, of late, is that I realized what those fanatics liked about it in the first place. It occupies my brain and my hands, but it usually isn't difficult enough to stress me out. I think a lot of people "grind" to relieve stress, veg out a little bit, yet still see that they are accomplishing something tangible and quantifiable. That's the last element: I got "Innersight" in Vision, which allows me to see each time I gain a thousandth part of a level--and that more frequent reinforcement is psychologically pretty important. 

Having said all that, thank the gods there are a million other things to do in the Iron Realms when I don't feel like working on the level treadmill. 

Happy Fifteenth Anniversary to Achaea and Iron Realms

Posted by MhaldorMage Friday September 14 2012 at 7:27AM
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Hello friends! Well, it's been a while, so I think the time is ripe for me to tell you more about my adventures in Achaea, one of the MUDs offered by Iron Realms, and my favorite game bar none. 

Achaea recently celebrated its fifteenth anniversary, which is also the fifteenth anniversary of Iron Realms, since Achaea is its first game. To mark the occasion, the administrators and volunteer leaders ("Gods") had a variety of festivities on offer, including Egg Hunts, Foozles, and arena games such as Rampage and Free-for-all, offering gold prizes to all participants and more valuable prizes to the winners. 

I was also pleased to catch up with Sarapis, AKA Matt Mihaly, the founder of Iron Realms and the Zeus/Jupiter figure in Achaea's complicated mythology. Sarapis was the producer of Achaea for a long time, but he has since passed that role on to Tecton, AKA Justin Walsh. Sarapis remains CEO of the company however, and is now returning to a more active role within the game he created a decade and a half ago. Those that wished an audience with Sarapis during the anniversary trekked up to the isolated Saoghal Valley, where he sat in his temple, casually playing chess and chatting away while the "old-timers" reminisced about the days before auto-class. A word of advice, if you do decide to join, don't get anybody started on auto-class!

The other "gift" of the anniversary--though it must have been a decision long in the works--was the extension of various forms of in-game communication to far-flung, isolated areas. Prior to this change, communciation was easily accomplished only within the "heartland" of Sapience, the main continent. Go north into the tundra, or south across the Notic Ocean to Meropis, or to one of the far-flung islands to the east or west, and you would be alone with your thoughts, able to speak only to whatever intrepid adventurers were accompanying you. Now telepathic speech carries easily across the entire Prime Material Plane. 

This change returns Achaea to the way it was ten or more years ago, incidentally, when there were not yet any farflung areas to speak of! I think it is a very positive development; the old status quo did increase the feeling of distance, but it also made exploring Meropis or Suliel a bit of a drag, especially if you only had one or two friends to accompany you. Range limits on transportation skills have not changed, and areas that are on separate "planes" altogether--Annwyn, Bopalopia, the Underworld, Nishnatoba--still won't allow for normal communication.

Lastly I should mention the felicitous appearances of Ironbeard the Magnanimous during the jubilee. Ironbeard is an ale-swilling dwarf with a great big sack who gives gifts to lucky adventurers on special occasions and at certain times of the year.

That's how Achaea and Iron Realms celebrated their fifteenth year. I've been playing for 11 out of those 15. Is there any good reason why there shouldn't be fifteen more? I can't see any.


How I got started in Achaea

Posted by MhaldorMage Saturday May 5 2012 at 9:38AM
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That's the screen I see whenever I start to play Achaea, one of the top MUDs offered by Iron Realms. 

It hasn't changed at all, in the ten years I've played, and now it's so familiar that I rarely look at it, but I remember feeling very different when I first started. 

This was in the days before Iron Realms (only Achaea, at the time, actually) offered its own custom-built clients, so I was stuck with the program called "Telnet" that was included with Windows 95. It's a miracle I even managed to log on, so clunky was the interface. There was no ASCII color--take a look at that screenshot and you'll see a sample of the rainbow of text colors that are so essential to the experience of contemporary MUDs. There was no way to backspace if you made a typo--and no way to tell, for sure, if you made a typo, because what you were typing didn't appear on the screen. There was no way to scroll up through the buffer text, and I couldn't figure out how to resize the (rather small) window.

You'd think all this would be an insurmountable obstacle to enjoying a game, and for me it might've been--I was fortunate to discover a piece of still-rudimentary abandoned software called Gmud (I now use Mudlet, which is free, and glorious). But other players had been using the Windows client for months and years, successfully navigating under not-great conditions. 

So far this might seem like a "we had to walk uphill in the snow both ways" kind of narrative. Why I dredge it up, and what I'm wondering, is what made me give Achaea that initial chance, what made me stick with the game even as others logged in, got confused or frustrated, and quickly left. A large part of it was the excitement of being able to play a computer game with other people. I had a dial-up connection, so games that were less parsimonious about the size of data transfers were right out. I was just about mobbed after I finished the intro tour, with people sending me messages offering help and subtly plugging their guilds and cities. Clearly these people were getting something out of the game.

The other part of it was a pre-existing love of reading. I've always been a bookworm, and the stream of text and verbal description that issued forth on my computer screen was inviting rather than forbidding. That was enough to get me going, and once I remembered that north and south were opposite directions, and therefore stopped walking back and forth repetitiously, I was all set.

And so, reader, if you are wondering, as I was those years ago, "What game should I play?" I hope you'll consider joining me in an Iron Realms MUD.

Greetings, and notes on Achaea's mage class

Posted by MhaldorMage Thursday May 3 2012 at 8:19AM
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Hello everyone,

I'm new to this community and look forward to participating in discussions of MMOs. I guess I'll start by saying a bit about myself. 

I've been playing Achaea, a MUD from Iron Realms, for almost eleven years now. For that entire time, I've played a single character, and, as you may've guessed from my username, a single class -- mage. I'm amazed that one game has managed to hold my interest for all this time. I mean, I loved Ocarina of Time, but I played through it twice and was pretty much done with it. That's the great thing about MMOs, though--the fact that you play with other real people really increases the replay value. The flexibility that comes from not having to worry about graphics and animation allows for Achaea's community to have a greater level of influence on the game world, as well.

But that's the whole topic of this blog. I'm not going to try to lay it all out in one post. To start I want to talk about Achaea's mage class.

The mage class is one of the earlier classes in Achaea, preceded only by Paladins, Priests, Monks, Sentinels (a ranger-type class), Druids, Infernals, and Serpents. That may not seem too terribly early, but in fact it makes the mage class the eighth out of (so far) eighteen classes in Achaea (counting the Dragon class, which is a reward for reaching level 100). The class was created in 2000, and I joined Achaea not long thereafter. 

As you might be able to glean from the list, the earlier classes tended to be a bit more conventional than later additions like Jester and Apostate. But in fact the mage's skills are linked to the mythos very nicely.

Two out of the mage's three unique skillsets -- elementalism and crystalism -- are linked to the realms of Achaea's gods. Lorielan rules the Crystal Realm, and Agatheis the Elemental. This means that intermittently throughout Achaea's history, mages have been involved in some pretty big doings. The religious RP of Achaea, in which players ally themselves with "gods" who are volunteers selected from the player base, allows for this. Research and investigation into skills needn't be pure play-acting; if a god gets involved and sees what you're doing as worthwhile, an elemental ritual can become an act of elemental power. On one occasion I saved a building from collapsing, and on another, prevented a hole from being repaired a hole in the fabric of space-time. 

My point is, the role of mages in Achaea is defined by a fictional history and backstory, not simply by their roles in combat. Runescape or WoW can't compare to the depth, and if you're wondering, "what game should I play?" the Iron Realms games, which are all in this style, might be for you. I look forward to getting to know you guys and continuing to post these Notes from Achaea! 

- MhaldorMage