Friday, June 5, 2009

What Does Your Character Worship?

The Gods of Norrath are a curious bunch. Apparently they got tired of being farmed for loot in EQ1, so they decided to leave the planet en masse. In (or because of) their absence, various things exploded; a moon, the game's main continent, the political balance of power, etc. EQ2 opened after several hundred years of this chaos. The Gods made their triumphant return to the planet a few years into the game, where players promptly began farming them for loot once again. Someone seriously needs to teach these guys how to diety.

Choosing a god

Lyriana has been looking around for stuff to work on after attempting to hit EQ2's Kingdom of Sky expansion and discovering that it appears to consist largely of group content, with some token repeatable rep questlines for soloers. This meant a focus on learning enemy NPC languages (which are needed for some high level quests), completing legend and lore quests (dissect members of an NPC race via mass slaughter, to add them to the list of targets for a powerful special attack), and general exploring. At some point, I remembered that I had yet to choose a religion.

Norrath is currently populated with fourteen various Gods, some good (Mithaniel Marr, god of the Plane of Valor), some neutral (Solusek Ro, hailing from the Plane of Fire), some Evil (Bertoxxulous, from the Plane of Disease). In exchange for characters' devotion, the Gods bestow you with a non-combat pet that offers slight bonuses to one or two stats related to the God's area, a cloak with the God's emblem and some special effect, and the ability to pray for favors (generally buffs) and miracles (generally active abilities like nukes/heals/etc).

Though I didn't entirely disregard the in-game bonuses, this type of decision is one of relatively few places in a game where I do stop and think about what my character would want. It's not like I have some huge connection to the lore - I'm not sure what a Fae would do - but some race/class combinations "feel" correct to me and some "feel" incorrect, even if the game allows them without penalty. What exactly would a Fae who had become a Dirge, a bard who sings songs of despair, misery, and lamentation, choose to worship?

Lyriana is a good-aligned character, so all of the evil gods were out. Mithaniel Marr and Bristlebane (the Trickster) offer reasonable stat bonuses, but neither valor nor mirth felt quite right either. The stormy Karana had a reasonable mix of gameplay benefits, but Dirges have nothing to do with storms. Brell, God of the Underground, also has some nice abilities but absolutely nothing to do with the above-ground flying race of Fae. The Fae have close ties with Tunare, Goddess of Growth, but that didn't seem like quite the right fit either - the Fae are upbeat and lighthearted as a people, and something about Lyriana had convinced her to take a darker outlook on life.

I settled on the concept of fate. A character with a strong belief in fate and destiny might feel a stronger pull away from tales of heroism and triumph, such as a Troubadour might sing, and towards songs of despair and tragedy, like the Dirge. It's not a matter of reveling in sorrow, as a more evil-inclined individual who chooses to dwell on death might. Rather, it's a belief that these things happen for a reason, and feeling a pull to understand and communicate that destiny. Norrath does not currently have a diety of fate and/or destiny. Still, thinking about the Pantheon in the context of what would appeal to someone like Lyriana, in the context of what might have put her on the path she is on, left one obvious answer.

Lyriana chose to worship The Tribunal, the neutral Council of Justice. Their concept of neutral justice - looking beyond the outcome for good or for ill - fit with my concept of Lyriana's personality and motivation. She would not revel in seeing evil escape punishment anymore than she would rejoice in the death of a hero. However, she would understand and respect the process of ensuring justice, in the same way that she would understand that fate had led good people to a sad end.

More story than players realize
Players often criticize the MMO genre for a lack of storytelling. Stopping the action to tell a tale can be problematic in a game that is designed around repetition - scripted events are going to be much less impressive the 10th time you re-watch them, and having the enemies respawn minutes later destroys the immersion value of players' accomplishments. However, actually attempting to advance the game world plot forward carries its own challenges - Wrath's "phased" questlines are brilliant for story progression but a nightmare for logistics, as players who are on different stages of the quest are physically separated from their groupmates.

But perhaps we're not looking hard enough. I'm not much of a role-player - indeed, I'm not sure I could tell you anything about what motivates Greenwiz or Allarond - but this relatively simple in-game choice was enough to convince me to construct a story of my own.

To be sure, game design helped with that. If there had been a God of Strength, Agility, and Double Attacking, I might have picked that one and been done with it. As it was, almost every choice offered enough perks to be worth considering, and that left me free to choose on considerations beyond min-maxing.

The overall effect isn't perfect. EQ2's quest dialog system is fun, but there's generally only one conversation that gets me from talking to the questgiver to actually receiving a quest. There are also still a number of missing chapters in Lyriana's life - what was it that drew her to the path she is on? Still, it says something about the genre in general and the world of Norrath in particular that I can now come here and tell you more about Lyriana, a four-month old character, than about Greenwiz, a four-year old character. Perhaps there is more story to this genre than we realize.

Lyriana's new Altar to the Tribunal, and the shrouded Tribunal's Bailiff companion pet


Unknown said...

WoW's pantheon is a hodgepodge of references to various mythologies. There's the Titans who correspond to the Greco-Roman gods. Then there's Vrykuls' Norse gods, the trolls' Aztec/Voodoo/Native American gods. There's also Eonar/Earthmother and her eye, Elune, who fulfill the role of a feminine earth spirit, Gaia. The Old Gods are clearly based on Lovecraft mythology, and finally there's the watered-down angels and demons of the Church of the Holy Light and the Burning Legion.

My character, a troll mage, chose Shadra the spider goddess as her patron deity. She likes the fact that spiders creep people out, hunt alone and have more than enough patience and perserverance to build elaborate webs to trap their prey in.

ziboo said...

I don't play EQ2 at the moment, but diety choices are very character specific! LOL! At least for mine.

Too bad more MMO's aren't so 'indepth' as EQ2 with character details, etc.

The kerra monk - Quellious
The ratonga 'zerker turned Qeynosian - Mithanial Marr
Dark Elf - Innoruuk
Erudite Wizard - Solusek Ro
Wood elf warden - Tunare (considered switching to Karana)

Ysharros said...

Funny you should mention that - I've been pondering deities for a couple of my characters in the last few weeks. There's always an "obvious" choice, but that hasn't seemed to fit so far, so I'm waiting to see if anything clicks. My usual way of doing this stuff is to let my subconscious figure it out. :D

Klepsacovic said...

I can think of no specific deity. I follow the Light, but I know of the spirits and their importance. The Naaru aren't god enough, perhaps too weak and indirect for my tastes. Ultimately I've had to become my own god and work towards my own power as the only entity I can rely on. Perhaps I would follow Elune if I did not so strongly associate her with the Night Elves.

Magson said...

My inquisitor worships Innoruuk. Always has, but might switch to Tribunal. My SK worshipped Rallos Zek, but now follows Bertoxxulous. My warlock started with Inny, but now is with Bert also. My necro's with Bert too.

My dirge is currently with Rallos Zek, but I'm considering switching to Anashti Sul. My mystic is with Tunare, but may switch to Rodcet Nife. My monk actually went with Mithaniel Marr instead of Quellious. My Fury went Solusek Ro to start, but now worships Karana. My coercer was with Cazic-Thule, but now is with Anashti Sul. My brigand is with Rallos Zek. My warden hasn't picked a god yet, nor has my defiler.

So many alts.... so many choices.. .

Brian 'Psychochild' Green said...

There's often a lot of story in games if you go searching. In Meridian 59, you could find a lot of story by reading the books around the world and "talking" (saying proper keywords) to the NPCs. Few people really dug that far into it, but those that did really enjoyed the story. M59 is an older game, so it doesn't have the "walls of text quests" to tell stories. (It's also a hodge-podge of stuff added by designers over the years, too.)

You also point out that sometimes stories are very personal and tied to the character. Your one character has a more defined role, so the patron diety was more important. For others, you might just look at the stats. Your stories are different for each character.

My Kerra Necromancer went with Solusek Ro. Mostly because I wanted the int bonus, but I always played the character as more desirous of magic than being evil. Plus, the special fire spells were a nice alternative to my usual repertoire.