Hard Mode Night #1

Hullbreaker Isle

Kasul and I are going through our list of hard mode dungeons and clearing them out before continuing with the Heavensward storyline. There hasn’t really been a reason to do these dungeons before now. Since the launch of the expansion, superior gear is easy to come by, so the dungeon won’t offer any upgrades. And, I found out, once you’re post level 50, you don’t even get any experience. So, no experience and no upgrades means very little incentive to queue up for a dungeon.

But, there’s the challenge :) We mostly had fun doing the four dungeons of the evening; Hullbreaker Isle, Sastasha (Hard), Wanderer’s Palace (Hard), and Stone Vigil (Hard).

I learned early on that the moment I explain to the party that I have never tanked a particular dungeon, that some DPS will decide that I have somehow just asked them to run ahead and pull. Also, being new to a dungeon means that the DPS have to play a game where if the tank is hitting something, they must immediately switch to another mob and unleash all their cooldowns to ensure I lose aggro on these other mobs.

I haven’t gotten the memo when I’ve been playing DPS, but maybe perhaps that’s because I haven’t played a DPS class in a hard mode. I should give it a shot, get a screen shot of the popup window telling me to avoid the tank, run ahead, and try to draw aggro or force the tank to use all her MP casting Flash over and over.

I got so mad at the DPS. They’d never talk, just silently diss me.


Hullbreaker Isle was pretty fun, I think the highlight of the night. Lots of mobs from Bloodshore, as well as a smattering of types from Brayflox. Black mage disconnected toward the beginning; the rest of us started clearing trash toward the first boss while waiting for him to return. When he did return (and thanked us for not kicking him), Kasul and I headed back to get him, while the ninja ran forward and started soloing a couple groups of trash. He suddenly realized that Kasul and I were no longer obediently following him and dragged them all back down to us. Though he had only a sliver of health remaining, Kasul kept him alive and I taunted everything off him.

You would THINK he would slow down after that. You would be wrong.

First boss was a gorilla with a taste for bananas, and tricksy lemurs that wanted them all for themselves. Second boss had bubbles you jumped into. The final boss was THE KRAKEN! LET LOOSE THE KRAKEN! We had to jump from islet to islet killing tentacles, or rather, the ninja did. The rest of us just did things our slow way, and eventually THE KRAKEN!!! returned to Poseidon.

Sastasha (Hard)

Plenty of deja vu in Sastasha, hard mode. The dungeon is much the same as normal mode. Captain Madison has overdosed on his HGH (human growth hormone) and is now a larger, but just as cowardly, version of his own bad self.

First boss would randomly stun me so that I could not stun away the attack that would smoosh another player. Frustrating. Second boss was the Captain, lots of adds. And then — THE KRAKEN! LET LOOSE THE KRAKEN! Yeah, same boss as Hullbreaker, but the tentacles weren’t as much fun. Though hentai fans would probably have a field day. I don’t think either of the DPS were terrible this time.

Wanderer's Palace (Hard)

Wanderer’s Palace (Hard) was Kasul’s favorite dungeon of the night. The map was a simplified version of the normal mode map. We had a bard. Like most bards, he managed to stay entirely unaware of the actual battle he was in, and thought he was in a battle where you ignored the mechanics and stayed on the boss and tried to stay far away. At least he wasn’t like that bard I got in Brayflox last night who thought that every encounter required running around in circles, drawing adds, while focusing on a single mob and ignoring fight mechanics. That same bard also asked if we could rest after every fight so that he could regain MP lost from singing a song that benefited precisely nobody but decreased his already low DPS. But enough complaining about bards.

First boss required DPS to kill spears launched into the ground that boost the boss’ burn attack. We wiped because the DPS was not killing the spears, even though I said at the outset, kill the spears. Second attempt, I dragged the boss to the frickin’ spears and started killing them myself, and hey, they don’t have much health, it was EASY to keep them cleared! DPS got the hint and we flew through it after that.

Second boss had a roguelike mechanic where the totems could have a good or a bad effect. All you have to do is go to a totem, see what effect it has, and if it’s a good one, say that such and such a color was good, or alternately, such and such a color was bad, and we should let the boss take that one. The DPS was, as usual, shackled by a silence spell and could not report on the effects of the totems. I don’t know how we survived that fight. Maybe at some point we could try acknowledging the fight mechanic instead of just always “lock DPS on boss and ignore whatever else may be happening in the room”, which seems to be the default mode for DPS.

Last boss was similar to the dragon in Brayflox normal mode; just had to keep kiting him around the edge of the room. Kasul easily kept up with the DOOM mechanic. DPS eventually understood they had to kill the Sacred Idol when it spawned.

The cut scene at the end was precious :) All the tonberries that had been enslaved by their Sahagin tormentors came with their little knives and cut up the final boss.

Stone Vigil (Hard)

Stone Vigil (Hard) was dungeon where the DPS decided they didn’t need to understand the mechanic; just choose a target and mush buttons until the enemy dies or you do. Like the normal mode dungeon, there were interesting little encounters in the corridors that were as memorable as the boss fights. The dragon that would randomly pop up to nuke you in normal, now stays and fights. The sprite traps are replaced with flocks of dragonlings — building up to a mini-encounter where dragonlings swarm over the parapet while you drive away another dragon with cannons.

First boss was similar to normal mode first boss; keep behind the boss. New to this encounter were adds that buff the boss if he is too near them when they die. We wiped first time because DPS weren’t sure what they should do with these adds (KILL THEM? MAYBE?) or maybe they expected me to grab them, even though the fight mechanic is that I have to be far away from the adds so clearly I am not going to be killing them. I did explain this at the start, but the silent DPS just stared in wonderment at the flapping of my Miquo’te mouth and marveled at the sounds that spouted forth. What could they mean?

Second try, everyone got the point, and we easily won.

Second fight was a room with four cannons. You’re supposed to help out everyone else, clearing their adds before returning to the boss, and interrupting his room-wide attack. Again, it took a fail before people understood that there is a mechanic to the fight, and it does need to be followed.

Last fight was straightforward, pretty much a tank and spank. Except not so much on the tanking. Even though I kept aggro throughout, the boss would ignore me and go attack someone else. Not the DPS fault this time. More fun happened when the boss cloned himself. But, we didn’t have any particular trouble with it, since the mechanic here was “just target the boss and keep mashing those keys!”. Right up the DPS’ alley.

When we compared notes afterward, I said I liked Hullbreaker best, and Kasul enjoyed Wanderer’s Palace (Hard) the best. While writing the night up just now, I came around to Kasul’s view — Wanderer’s Palace was just more atmospheric and more fun all around.

We have another night or two of hard modes to do. Kasul hasn’t bought Heavensward yet, so I’m a little ahead in levels (52 now) and in Heavensward. My 52 paladin quest requires me to go to a zone to which I do not yet have access; I guess it is story locked. Since I don’t want to get ahead in the story, I’ve put paladin on hold for a bit, and started a dark knight. While still working on leveling the Monk so that I can get my second DoW title.

Did my first dungeon run — Halatali — as a dark knight last night. I’d made some HQ plate gear with my armorer so that I’d have SOMETHING. Run went pretty well. I am used to, as I’ve said, the sort of easy mode tanking you get with being a paladin. I haven’t started boiling down the DRK mechanics into macros, so there was a lot of hunting and pecking as I tried to keep up with the appropriate abilities and cross-class actions from my warrior and paladin jobs. Defense seems, at this point, to be a weak point, but we’ll see how it goes.


Steps of Faith took a couple of tries
Steps of Faith took a couple of tries

I’ve been somewhat snarky in this blog and especially in the game about some of the folks we’ve encountered. The reluctance of the Crystal Braves to do pretty much anything. The motives of most of the NPCs.

I’d been saying for weeks that the Crystal Brave Lalafell Yuyuhase was suspicious. He so very much was. I’d been saying for WEEKS that Wonder Twin Alphinaud was being handed titles and commendations for no reason. Alphinaud was being fed pablum to keep him docile and away from the truth. The very first time I saw the Sultana’s handmaiden, I said she was a spy. She was — a spy, and an assassin.

When the Syndicate promised the mercenary company Brass Blades could defend Ul’dah while the Immortal Flames were occupied elsewhere, I said this was a bad idea. And it was.

When the membership of the Crystal Braves ballooned from a few disaffected adventurers to a fully-fleshed out army, I thought that seemed suspiciously quick. It so very much was.

Taledji Aledji was always presented as a straight-up villain. I had to admit that I was surprised when he was unceremoniously cut down.

But I want it written down… every NPC of whom I was suspicious, turned out to be well worth that suspicion.

EVERY one.
EVERY one.

The Scions of the Seventh Dawn have been betrayed before. They’re a long-time target for anyone looking for a quick score. Minfilia and Alphinaud kept everyone together, somehow, and found some new friends. Now most of them are gone, at least for now, and it was a much smaller Scion crew that trudged into Ishgard. Alphinaud, Tataru, and me.

Yup, we’re in Heavensward, now.

And Kasul, too!
And Kasul, too!

The night started with Iceheart using her Saint Shiva-drawn powers to remove many of the ancient barriers that had kept Ishgard safe from Dravanian (dragon) attack. This echoed the dragon Midgardsormr’s stripping from us of Hydraelyn’s Blessing of Light. Where Midgardsormr did this to inspire us to greatness, Iceheart was straight up looking to destroy Ishgard.

This culminated in an assault on the approach to the main gates, the Steps of Faith, guarded only by the last of the hastily-strengthened wards, a bunch of cannons, some explosives… and a few dragon killers.

The dragon Vishap led the Dravanian attack. He’s a huge dragon who shrugs off most of the raid’s attacks. Victory only comes from skillfully using the cannons, chains, and dragon-killing ballistae to take out Vishap and his hordes. The very last trial, pre-expansion, is the one that doesn’t hinge on tanking, healing, or dps.

Our first time in, we failed twice and people bailed. We signed up for a second time and this time we drew people who knew what to do with the cannons and stuff, and we easily defeated Vishap.

After that, we were praised by the Ishgard ambassador, Aymeric, and returned to Rising Stones as heroes. Kasul had to log early, so we decided to meet again the next night to finish up A Realm Reborn.

Hard to know who to root for, here.
Hard to know who to root for, here.

What awaited us back in Ul’dah, at the ill-fated “celebration” of the saving of Ishgard (TOTALLY CALLED HOW SUSPICIOUS THAT WAS), was a bunch of cut-scenes as Ul’dah was shaken to its very foundation by the betrayal by the Syndicate, Crystal Braves and Brass Blades, and the likely death of most of the Scions of the Seventh Dawn. So much attention was paid to the difficulty of escaping from Ul’dah. Both Kasul and I were confused by their reluctance to teleport; they were in some cases RIGHT NEXT to an aetheryte. We KNOW NPCs can teleport; it’s not just a PC thing.

I don’t know whether the writers were just being lazy, or if this was some sort of stratagem to make the Ul’dah traitors believe that they had destroyed the Scions. Anyway, we, for some reason, decided to pin ourselves down in hidden tunnels, requiring all the other Scions to die in battle against the Crystal Braves. Apparently, they CAN fight, when it’s for evil. We just never gave them the right motivation.

That was a fun hour and a half of clicking through cut-scenes. Even after, we sat through the closing credits, hoping for a post-credits scene. Our patience was rewarded; we got TWO cut-scenes. Raubahn, disarmed, in a cell…. and Urianger, the creepy elf, answering as the Archon the summons of the Emissary, Elidibus, the white-robed Ascian. Is Urianger an Ascian? Probably not… but he comes when they call.

Even the NPCs can't figure out what we're for.
Even the NPCs can’t figure out what we’re for.

So, it’s been a little over four months since Kasul and I started our adventures in FFXIV. Kasul has taken Summoner and Scholar to 50, as well as Miner and Botanist, and Leatherworker, Carpenter and Weaver to fill out the roster.

I’ve taken Paladin to 51, and Warrior, Bard, Dragoon and Ninja to 50, Monk to 32, and White Mage to 30 as of this writing. I’ve earned the “Seeker of the Blood” title for doing the level 30 quests of all the original Disciple of War classes. I was working toward this all along :) I’ve also started an Astrologian, and will start Dark Knight as soon as I can find out where the guildmaster for that one is. I have been staying out of Ishgard, mostly, because I want to explore it with Kasul. I was kind of disappointed in how similar Astrologian was to the other healers; the “draw card” ability, at level 30, doesn’t seem so useful. I’m sure it will become key later on.

I’ve also got Armorer to 50 (almost 51 now), and Mining to 50. I haven’t really worked on the gathering and crafting professions. I do want to be able to make my level 54, ilevel 133, armor. But I don’t know what will drop when we get into the Heavensward dungeons, either. I may not need to make anything. Still, my armorer skill was key to completing the Free Company airship, the Millennium Bismarck, so it’s probably a good idea to keep it leveled.

Rating the classes I’ve played. I came to play a Paladin, and I enjoy being the boring “tank’s tank”. I like the wide variety of “oh crap” defensive and taunting abilities. Sure, I don’t do as much damage or self-healing as a warrior, but Paladins are meant to stand at the front of a group or raid and provide a safe environment for everyone else to do their jobs. I like that.

Warrior is very tactical. Positioning and such is more important. Some of the abilities I got really distressed Kasul, so I stopped using them (I miss you, Berserk!). It’s said to be a better soloing class, but I never have any issue soloing as a Paladin. When I play Warrior, I find I want to be playing Paladin.

Dragoon was my DPS class of choice, and I wasn’t disappointed. I love the animations, and I really feel effective in boss battles. Toward the end of the A Realm Reborn plot, we encountered the dragoon who was the antagonist during the dragoon job quest, and he remembered me, which was nice :) I look forward to being a dragoon in Heavensward. Dragoon mobility and single target DPS is just amazing.

Bard is a support job. It can do some damage, and excels in AE damage, but that can often generate problematic amounts of aggro. The various songs were of some use, but in normal groups, not really vital. When I am a Paladin, I like having a Bard that sings the running song between fights, and there HAVE BEEN cases where I requested a specific song from the Bard. So, leveling a Bard basically made me appreciate them more when someone else plays one.

The Ninja only came into its own late in the leveling, when there’s enough variety in the mudras to add some tactics to fights. I macro’d some of the lesser used mudras so I wouldn’t have to remember them, but the bread-and-butter mudras I do by hand. For most fights, I find that pausing ordinary attacks to run through a mudra is arguably not worth the time. The later mudras, that increase attack speed, make no-go zones on the ground, and some crowd control, are of some use. Positional melee dps in general has issues when a lot of bosses and normal mobs let those PBAEs out.

I have not finished leveling the Monk, so I can’t really talk about it. I actually enjoy the ramp up of power as the abilities flow into one another, and I don’t feel as if I’m wasting my potential dps by backing off to do mudras.

Healing is the most stressful of the three roles in a party. If anyone isn’t doing their job well, it’s the healer who has to make it work. If the healer isn’t doing their job well, nothing happens. Secondly, none of the mage jobs can stand alone. White Mage requires a fairly deep investment in Arcanist (which is required) and Thaumaturge in order to have the necessary abilities. Astrologian requires Thaumaturge, Conjurer and Arcanist to fill in the holes of the native class. (Astrologian, for instance, doesn’t come with the required “Protect” spell).

Both White Mage and Astrologian (only level 30 each so far) work similarly; put the tank on focus target, the enemy on target. Focus heal the tank, nuke and debuff the mobs, sleep enemies in big pulls if the party doesn’t have any AE damage (forget this if your tank is a Warrior or Dark Knight!). These healing classes are very technical. I think Scholar might be easier to play, because of the healing pet, but I don’t know. Kasul tells me that most people don’t appreciate the healer in a party, even if they do a great job. I like the egoboo that you get as a tank.

The various main classes don’t stray too far from the templates found in other MMOs. Dragoon is largely unique to the Final Fantasy series, but otherwise….

What Final Fantasy XIV has going for it, is the story — the story is unparalleled among the MMOs I’ve played, even that of FFXI. If the story doesn’t grab you, then the classes aren’t really unique enough to keep you. On the other hand, given MMOs with fairly unique classes and less well-defined roles like Guild Wars 2, I like having the well-defined roles of a more traditional fantasy MMO.

Still having fun!

That’s the Power of Love

Sinestro needs Hal Jordan's LUUURVE
Sinestro needs Hal Jordan’s LUUURVE

Team Spode kinda left GW2 and kinda went back to DC Universe Online over the past couple weeks. Apathy toward the upcoming GW2 expansion may have contributed. Many of the top Spodians had already finished all of the story and had grinded through the long process to make their marginally better endgame gear.

Personally, I liked my Asura engineer fine. I didn’t find the group content very compelling, and upgrades had long stopped dropping for me, so the gear progression I enjoy stopped happening. The story chapters felt tedious. Most importantly, my role in a party seemed ill-defined. I much prefer games where I know what’s expected of me. Many people enjoy the sort of wild mixture of roles in GW2. I liked choosing my turrets for the night and focusing on placement and all that — playing my own mini-game while everyone else played theirs. I wasn’t sure I ever actually contributed, though.

I’ve never really felt I contribute much to Team Spode. All of the rest of them are far more dedicated players; they dive in and pride themselves on being the best at whatever they do. When they had wrung all they could get out of GW2, DCUO had a new expansion ready to challenge them — New Genesis.

I believe they already had the Combat Rating (CR) to head right in. I’d been making steady progress doing dailies in Gotham Under Siege, but stopped soon after changing classes to Munitions. It just got boring, doing the same thing day after day. DCUO has a little chart that pops up after each fight that shows me exactly how little I contributed to the fight, so I had zero confidence that I could join a random group for gear, and I couldn’t even get through the solo instances you needed to progress.

It’s a lot easier to just log in to Neverwinter or, now, Final Fantasy XIV, a game where I actually play pretty decently. When the end of an instance comes and I am rated by the other people in the party, I usually do well. Sometimes I even get ALL the commendations. So where DCUO actively discourages me from playing, FFXIV actively encourages me.

BUT… I really love the Team Spode folks — FANTASTIC guys and gals. I will play whatever they play just so I can hang out with them.

And for their part, they will do whatever they can to make that happen. Because they are great people.

Past couple weeks have been spent, not doing what would be fun for them, but doing older content in which I could take part in order to get the upgrades I would need for the latest content. I’d started out at CR 108 or 109, which I’d largely previously achieved with their help. The target CR is 111. Last week, they got me to 110. This week, we did “Love and War”, a raid (I just lost what word they use for raids)… a raid that most of us had not been able to do previously, but now with all the new gear everyone else had gotten from the new expansion, was very achievable.

For comparison, the top CR in the raid was 137. The median CR of the Team Spode members (aside from me) was 127. A couple of random upgrades in LaW got me to 111, and once in New Genesis, I immediately bought a ring upgrade that got me to 112.

This was the first raid most of us had done since we last played DCUO seriously, and it was the first time I really had a chance to get to know the Munitions class in a raid environment. Clever Clara, Team Spode’s main controller, had switched to a damage spec. It was tough going, but I kept the power flowing and the superior Munitions crowd control powers helped a little, I think, to keep the damage received down a little.

Once in New Genesis, we did a public quest where you kill a bunch of trash mobs and then take on the miniboss that spawns. We did this a couple times for some minor upgrades.

So; I guess we’re back in DCUO. I really should do my part, log in, get some sort of DPS spec that will work for me, and do dailies for marks and gear. That is what I really ought to do. I don’t like feeling useless and being carried along. But I have to admit I have never felt “super” in DCUO, and that is probably its biggest failing with me. If I can’t even convince myself I am a superhero, then, what’s the point?

Sword Coast Legends Headstart

My first quest!
My first quest!

Hey! First quest written in the “DM Mode” of Sword Coast Legends!

It took some time to figure out the process. I imagine there are lots of videos showing precisely how to go about it. I’ll watch them, eventually, but I wanted to approach it as someone entirely new to the tools, as I am.

My goal was to make a quest. The quest giver would be a traditional vampire. He would send the adventurers into a tomb of other vampires in order to obtain the “sparkle” that lets him walk about in the daylight, feed on mortal humans more easily, and so on. You know, “Twilight”.

Making the NPC was easy enough. But figuring out how to make it into a quest took awhile. Turns out I had to make the dungeon first, then set him as the quest giver to that dungeon.

Dungeons are created entirely randomly. You set the parameters — which are fairly extensive — and it makes a dungeon that fits those parameters. There is no digging out the dungeon by hand or anything. No explicit placing of NPCs. You can make a boss to be in the last room. I made it the same NPC as the quest giver because I was lazy.

I chose a tomb tileset, single floor, simple layout, easy monsters. Monsters were a combination of drow and undead. You can modify mobs to fit your theme.

One thing I could not do it make a plot that carried through the dungeon. I also could not have the boss drop the “sparkle” item. I couldn’t even make a “sparkle” item.

There are different modes — you can have kill quests, collection quests, boss quests — but once you set the parameters, there’s a random dungeon waiting for you, and it is what it is.

At the end
At the end

Playing through, I took my level 1 paladin and three level 2-3 NPC companions and started through. It’s a very tactical game, and even “easy” mode is no walk in the park. Just letting the NPCs choose their own attacks tends to let everyone die fairly quickly. Pausing is incredibly important.

Midway through, my NPCs disappeared. Another actual player had joined the game, and the game shifts at that point into a real-time mode; there is no pausing. My character had died at that point, but the PC came and stabilized me and we completed the dungeon.

Gained a level, too. Or, two, rather. Level two.

So, can I make those EQ dungeons in Sword Coast Legends? No, not yet, anyway. I think there might be a little more customization for outdoor views — trap placement and stuff. Maybe something can be done there. But this isn’t the sort of free placement system available in Neverwinter Online by any means. The tilesets and environments available are the ones you get.

I know the videos I’ve watched have you able to set traps and encounters and stuff in real time; I suspect this is the Live DM mode, where one player is setting stuff up while the other players are playing through it. I’m sure there’s a million times more stuff left to discover than I’ve found, but it’s already clear that this isn’t going to be the sort of free form environment with scripted quests, actions and NPCs found in the original Neverwinter Nights.