Music is Murder: The Myth of Moderate Minstrel DPS

Another one of those Minstrel versus Rune-keeper threads showed up in the forums recently. I saw several responses that echoed this notion that rune-keeper DPS was superior and Minstrels only had moderate DPS output. My recent experience with running up new characters on Laurelin doesn’t match that “common wisdom”.

Rune-keeper Epic Conclusion
Boom goes the dynamite! But only after reaching maximum dagor attunement.

It may be different at end-game, but the burst damage a minstrel can do–and now sustain–seems to eclipse a rune-keeper’s DPS in the middle levels. I just ran a minstrel and a rune-keeper through getting their legendary pages: Both started at 39. Both ended at 41. I could clear the Bitter Stair or Skathmur with the minstrel much faster than the rune-keeper.

Part of this comes from a fundamental difference in the classes: Healing and damage are front-loaded bursts for minstrels where rune-keepers are end-loaded over time. Moving through the areas, my rune-keeper required more positioning and preparation like dropping my rune of restoration and building up over-time heals before and in the beginning of combat; the minstrel just ran from mob to mob blasting them and self-healing only when needed. Mobs didn’t last long enough for over-time DPS or critical/devastating hits to result in faster kills for the rune-keeper.

This isn’t really new; the Minstrel’s makeover in Update 6 was amazing, and it’s been a struggle deciding to keep the rune-keeper as my main because the minstrel is so fun. What is new is power management. Before the power revamp, I would have to moderate my skills use and use Anthem of Composure for power regeneration rather than Anthem of the Free Peoples for morale regeneration–the latter being critical when tackling that four-mob cluster of orcs and Angmarim in Skathmur. This time around, I could spam codas and never run out of power.

Instrument of War
Instrument of War

In long fights, the rune-keeper may do more DPS over time, but in short fights the minstrel’s consistent burst damage and lack of power issues will blow through landscape content faster, at least at the middle levels.

Camenecium On My.LOTRO – Rune-keeper Traits

In response to a question in the Rune-keeper forums [How do you trait?]:

For my rune-keeper’s traits, I tend to default to a two-of-each approach for set bonuses and choose the third based on what I think I might be doing that night. (If I know I’m going to spend the whole session in a particular role, I’ll trait 2/5 plus the legendary capstone.) The goal is versatility and minimal retraiting for PUG skirmishes.

  • Beneditions of Peace: Linnod of Peace, Writ of Well-being
  • Cleansing Fires: Conflagration of Runes, Essence of Flame
  • Solitary Thunder: Closing Remarks, Confounding Principles
  • Legendary: Martial Training, You Shall Fall to Our Wrath, Steady Hands or Capstone

I pick my final trait from these three depending on the situation:

  • Harsh Debate (solo DPS)
  • Tale of Rage (group DPS)
  • Memorable Prose (healing)

Assuming you’re soloing, I’d recommend swapping out Rune of Endurance for Writ of Well-being. I always keep at least two Benedictions of Peace slotted so I can drop a Rune of Restoration at any attunement, and I choose traits for those two slots whose benefits don’t depend on having Nestad attunement.

The only real benefit from Rune of Endurance when solo is the rock’s increased morale. Being able to drop another rock at any time reduces the value of that effect. Writ of Well-being reduces your primary any-attunement (self) heal’s cooldown and makes it tier down rather than completely expire if you fail to refresh it. That’s equally handy in groups.

via Camenecium On My.LOTRO – Rune-keeper Traits.

The Grouchy Gamer — No Game for Old Men

Smiling on the outside, but on the inside …

I avoided MMO RPGs until 2009 when the Lord of the Rings Online free trial wore me down. I’d been playing The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion heavily and enjoying it, but I was missing the other-player dynamic from my tabletop gaming years. LOTRO had some of the same visual appeal as Oblivion, with lush landscapes unlike the comic-like caricatures I’d seen in World of Warcraft. Since then I’ve played Dungeons and Dragons Online, Star Trek Online, and Warhammer Online. (WAR is now a Bioware game???) Each game has its good points and bad points, but all MMOs fall flat as RPGs when I think back to my tabletop RPG days. The problem is that MMOs have also ruined tabletop games for me because of something I feel echoed on Critical Hits:

“I strongly believe this is one of the reasons I don’t like D&D 4e very much. I like snappier combat. The longer it takes, the harder it is for me to stay engaged.” — How Economics Ruined My Gaming Joie De Médiocre by Vanir

Tabletop games bog down because human beings need to consider and administer complex combat rules. Computers are just plain better at these kinds of tasks. Doing it in real time is key here; computer-assisted tabletop gaming still feels too slow because people still have to think about the rules to make decisions. It’s part of why I left my last gaming group; one or two combats would take the entire night, even in the faster-playing Warhammer RPG. My frustration grew during these combats as I watched other people start side conversations, go out for a smoke, peruse a book when it wasn’t their turn. The combat couldn’t hold people’s attention; it was a thing to get through rather than enjoy, much like Vanir’s experience with eel skinning in the Critical Hits article.

Of course, MMO combat being so fast and easy creates other problems. First among them is the dependence on kill-ten-rat quests where the numbers are actually in the hundreds; I can’t imagine how many things my LOTRO characters have killed over the years, maybe tens of thousands! Second, death (or defeat in LOTRO terms) is a common occurrence, something acceptable in the video game context but not in a tabletop role-playing one. Third, content like raids must be designed for repeated play, and their challenge is overcome not by clever thinking but by rote memorization of layout, enemies, and combat. The thing that makes computers good at administering combat end up influencing the kind of content games provide because of how quick and easy they make it.

Then there are the other limits of computer-moderated games: static worlds and poorly scripted interaction. MMOs are starting to address the former with phased instances and NPC dialog, but it’s an on-rails experience where the world changes in a predetermined fashion; my actions cannot bring about different results than any other character. That’s part of what undercuts the otherwise excellently-scripted and voice-acted story in Star Wars: The Old Republic. Telling a story well (something we associate with the Bioware brand of video game RPG) is different than role-playing which is collective storytelling. It’s better than the classic wall-of-text approach that games like LOTRO are just starting to move away from, but there’s no we did this together euphoria after a particularly good tabletop session. It’s that most-despised form of tabletop gamestyle, the game on rails; no action you take will change the outcome in the end. Sometimes a good tabletop game can still be on rails because an accomplished game-master can artfully conceal that fact or make it so much fun as not to matter. All MMOs are on rails, and computers don’t have the creativity and the adaptability to artfully conceal the fact.

The Best of Both Worlds: Borg sold separately.

The closest I’ve come to the best of both worlds was Neverwinter Nights. Besides content from the game developer, it included content creation tools and a dungeon-master client. The DM client really set it apart by letting the machine handle the heavy-lifting of combat mechanics but allowing the game-master to change the world around the players. I played in a few NWN persistent worlds including the LOTR-themed Return of Middle Earth; the original module is still available for download from The events with DMs were that perfect mix of man and machine. GMs also roamed the world all the time, so you never knew if an NPC was actually a GM or an unexpected encounter was spawned just for you. They also lurked and awarded bonus XP when observing good RP; that kept me in character all the time, never being sure if a DM was watching. Unfortunately, creating content is still a difficult process. If you think game developers have it easy, try building a good mission in STO’s foundry. I admire the drive and passion of people generating excellent content for free but especially of those creators of custom persistent worlds in NWN like RoME. Building and running a such a world requires a special skill set along with the time and commitment that grouchy gamers no longer have.

I’m with Vanir in the grouchy gamer category. Each kind of game has in some sense spoiled the other kind for me. The winner in the end is the MMO. Everybody getting older and the world running faster means that getting a group together regularly for a tabletop game is a serious work/management effort. The MMO is even winning out over the pinnacle of massively-single-player games that is The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. I generally solo in MMOs and haven’t been able to stomach being in a guild or kinship for more than a few months at a time, but maybe I get something out of the chance encounter or occasional pick-up group that Skyrim just doesn’t provide. Or maybe it’s something more basic like the MMO formula tapping into my compulsiveness, being a completionist and an altholism. Regardless, I will continue to play MMOs but only wish I were playing tabletop RPGs for the foreseeable future.

Is #LOTRO about gear?

Heavy Armor -- picture from LOTRO Store web page
Turbine selling non-cosmetic armor in their store rekindles the gear controversy.

I’d been thinking about this from the game design perspective recently, and I wrote this response to a recent post in the LOTRO forums where Ronigard asks, “Is LOTRO about gear?”:

The question is perhaps too vague; LOTRO is “about” different things to different people. So let me rephrase the question: Is character differentiation and optimization in LOTRO about gear? The answer there is yes.

Beyond selecting class and race, the player has no control of character development at the skills level. Every rune-keeper by end-game has the same set of skills as does every guardian, champion, hunter, etc. The same is true with base attributes. Every paid subscriber also has the same number of trait slots. There is no character differentiation from leveling up, nor are there any irrevocable decisions like allocating a limited pool of skill points or choosing an advanced class.

By end-game, your character’s base primary attribute will be around 100. The gear elitists say that a primary attribute needs to be over 1000 for raiding–that’s ten times more than the intrinsic value from the character. It requires a combination of gear and traits to do that. Improving skills–their duration, effect, power costs–comes from class traits and is what differentiates my rune-keeper from another; i.e., I can drop a stone at any attunement because I have two healing traits equipped, but my friend can’t because he’s totally fire-traited. To build a competitive, optimized, and (functionally) unique character is an exercise in gear and traits.

And traits really are gear. Everybody can get every trait, and through deeds and the store max them out. You can swap them out at any time using a Bard. That’s gear-like behavior, not class-like behavior.

Why is gear less important for solo content? Solo content in LOTRO is relatively easy by design, and there’s so much of it that very few players are dealing with on-level (white) or higher-level mobs. Having old gear and low traits isn’t a big deal because of that relative ease and the significant effects of the level differential between character and mob.

Why is gear more important for group content? Group content (skirmishes, instances, raids) is designed to be harder, has ways to make it even harder (i.e., tiers), and tends to be run closer to level. The increased difficulty requires better gear overall, but it also requires players to be more effective, so customizing gear to your particular role within the group, tactics, and playstyle becomes more important too.

I would guess that Turbine’s design goal here was to eliminate the need for respeccing characters. Everything that differentiates your character from another of the same class is equippable. Skill-based games I’ve played like Star Trek Online have to provide ways to rebuild an existing character because of mistakes made during level-up or to allow players access to new playstyles without grinding through a whole new character–and potentially choosing to play a new game instead of that grind. MMOs seem very reluctant to lock players into decisions they make beyond initial character generation, 800-pound gorilla excepted.

So I think it’s not only that LOTRO is “about” gear (and traits), but that it’s a very specific design goal by Turbine to make sure players have immediate and flexible choices about what makes their characters functionally unique.

Update 5 is Alive! #LOTRO

Turbine released Update 5 today. There’s new end-game content, continuing the epic quest and adding five new instances–none of which I’m anywhere near seeing.  These things will have the biggest impact on my gameplay:

  • The much-debated Instance Finder goes live with update five, and daily skirmishes go away. Will the 50% bonus rewards lure players enough to spin the wheel and run random instances? Along with Instance Finder comes a much-needed simplification of game currencies.
  • Plugin manager: No more mistyping and saying “;load” to confused bystanders!  It’s laying the groundwork for better integration with things like support for plug-in defined options panels. Hopefully the next (sooner) update will help address the basic problems of discovery and updating that prevent me from using more plug-ins.
  • Another quality-of-life improvement is “Track Nearby Quests”. It was a little hard to find the feature on Bullroarer, and it had some issues if your tracker already included deeds, but it worked enough to cut down on some of the headless-chicken running around that a full quest log entails.
  • Reputation gets the streamline treatment that Turbine’s been big on lately. It looks good on paper, but it wasn’t on my to-do list for Bullroarer testing.
  • Cooks can now craft coffee, although it’s Tier 7 and not likely to grace my inventory anytime soon. How can I get to level cap if I can only make coffee at level cap???
  • The much-changed Champion and Minstrel classes get the most attention, and it’s hard to say if the Warden updates will address the community’s problems since RoI. Rune-keepers are not mentioned at all. Hmm.
For the full story, check out Update 5, Armies of Isengard (Official) release notes in the Lorebook.

SWTOR’s Much Ado About Nookie

Bioware has officially announced that SWTOR will include Same Gender Romance Arcs (SGRAs)–eventually. They say the changes needed aren’t minor in a heavily scripted and voice-acted game like this, and they need to concentrate on launch before everything else. I’m suspending my usual “ambiguous in-the-next-release announcement” skepticism for now. The official announcement thread on the forums is literally scrolling faster than I can read in spite of intense scrutiny (i.e., take-downs and bannings of the worst of it) by forum moderators.

I asked amidst the roar of trolls if they could clarify when it will happen and how it will affect existing characters before launch since some posts indicate they aren’t sure yet. I might want to start with an alt if those options won’t be available to characters or companions created before they add SGRAs. In a game where choices have consequences, I definitely need to curb my natural inclination to reroll characters or create armies of alts.

A cooler approach to SWTOR at launch might not be a bad thing regardless. STO’s radical changes in the first six months did much to diminish my enthusiasm and enjoyment. There’s no lack of competition for my attention with LOTRO’s Isengard expansion weeks aways and the time-wasting juggernaut of Elder Scrolls: Skyrim due in November. Keeping a little distance and thinking of it as still in beta after launch might prevent SWTOR from becoming another STO-like disappointment.

LINK: STAR WARS: The Old Republic – Official statement on same gender romance arcs in STAR WARS: The Old Republic