Eberron Days: 23rd of Lharvion

The Race of Eight Winds

Earth Date: July 23rd
Location: Sharn, Breland, Khorvaire

HippogriffsDura, one of the oldest and poorest quarters of Sharn, contains inhabitants swept in from all corners of Khorvaire. They may not have gold, but the people of Dura have the Race of Eight Winds. According to the commonly accepted — if somewhat unlikely — legend, King Galifar II was fascinated by the use of aerial scouts and cavalry. It’s said that he used Sharn as a proving ground to test the merits of different flying beasts, granting land and gold to exceptional cavaliers. Over the centuries, this activity evolved into an exotic competition involving different sorts of magical and fantastic beasts. The Race of Eight Winds is primarily a test of speed and skill through a course that weaves around and through the spires of the city. While the beasts may use any natural weapons that they possess, the riders may not use spells, psionic powers, dragonmarks, magic devices, or alchemical items.

Anyone who breaks these rules is immediately disqualified and probably torn apart by an angry mob. The only weapon a rider can use is a sporting crossbow, equivalent to a light crossbow but with an 80-foot range increment and 1d3/1d4 damage. Competitors may carry a dozen quarrels, allowing the rider to hinder the progress of another racer but making quick kills unlikely. The Race of Eight Winds brings spectators, tourists, and gamblers from across Khorvaire, and it also presents a host of opportunities for adventurers. The victorious rider receives a 500 gp purse at the end of the race, as well as a grant of land elsewhere in Breland, donated by one of Sharn’s noble families.

Monster Minute: Trolls

Hello everyone! It’s been a while. I’ve been grinding hard on another new character in DDO. As a result, I’ve been neglecting you all.  But I have returned with another monster minute, this time with a classic D&D monster: Trolls.

Trolls in Real-World Mythology
Sea TrollTrolls first originated from the imaginations of Nordic storytellers.  They are the Nordic equivalents of fearsome giants, and are quite similar to the ogres of England. Tales tell us that these creatures roam the Scandinavian wilderness, living in underground mounds, caves, and within hills.

Where the word troll comes from is debatable among scholars, but the closest word is “trollteri” which in old Swedish means “a kind of magic intended to do harm.”  It may also have roots in other North Germanic terms such as “trolldom” which means “witchcraft” or “trolla,” meaning “to perform magic tricks”.

In the oldest folk tales, trolls are large and brutish, reflecting the traits from their ancestors the Norse giants.  They have  beast-like features such as tusks.  Male trolls are also very dumb, while females are quite smart.  Males are very strong, have big noses, and long arms.  But female trolls are frequently described as pretty.

Stone TrollThese same tales don’t really depict trolls as pure evil creatures, but only reacted in a bi-polar manner to the way people treated them. They could be amazingly kind and playful when treated nicely, near sadistic and cruel if treated badly.  They often used magic as a means when interacting with humans.  Trolls are known for their thievery stealing food or causing food to spoil.  They also abducted people and used them as slaves.  In Scandinavian fairy tales, trolls turn to stone if caught in sunlight.

Most of the modern concepts of trolls come from J.R.R. Tolkien’s world of Middle-earth.  Tolkien trolls are large, standing 12 feet tall mostly mirroring the Nordic descriptions in folk tales in look and manner.  They are Morgoth’s mockery of Ents and are divided into subtypes, such as hill-trolls, mountain-trolls, cave-troll, stone-trolls.  And like in the Scandinavian tales, they turn to stone in sun light.  Though in later in the Middle-earth’s timeline, the Olog-hai came into being, a mysterious type of troll that could resist being turned into rock during daylight.

Trolls in D&D
Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul AndersonGary Gygax took the basic ideas of the D&D troll from Poul Anderson’s 1953 novel, Three Hearts and Three Lions (1).  Similar to the book, D&D trolls are tall monsters with large, pointy noses, and green skin. They have the uncanny ability to steadily regenerate all damage, unless it’s caused by acid or fire.

The troll was one of the first monsters introduced in the D&D “white box” set in 1974 and has been a staple monster in nearly every manual, module, and supplement since then. They have been depicted in various subtypes, much like in Tolkien’s Middle-earth, but in more imaginative ways - the phaze troll (Underdark magically mutated trolls) and the mur-zhagul (planetouched demon-halfbreed troll) come to mind.

Black Troll from Dragon #141In most D&D campaigns, the average troll weighs in at a hefty 500 pounds, and stands a good 9 feet or more high. Female trolls are bit heavier due to their larger size (2).  Though in earlier depictions, they were sorter and lankier. Both incarnations are rather nimble, despite their oddly shaped bodies.

Trolls are famous for their regeneration, and are able to recover from wounds quite quickly and even re-grow limbs. The only way to prevent regeneration is to cauterize the wound with fire or acid.

Trolls in Eberron
In the Eberron Campaign world, trolls are of the giantkin races and are distantly related to ogres and the elemental giants.  Wizardly scholars believe that trolls originated from Xen’drik, and spreading out to other continents.  The religious sects of Cazhaak Draal believe that The Shadow (the Sovereign of Magic and Mayhem - god of corruption, dark magic, and ambition in the Sovereign Host pantheon) gave many of Eberron’s creatures super natural abilities, including the troll’s regenerative powers.

In modern day Eberron, many trolls can be found in the nation of Droaam, the nation of monsters ruled by the Daughters of Sora Kell.  Trolls served as warlords and are merciless warriors in the armies of Sora Kell during their invation western Brelan, in the forming of Droaam.  Also, House Tharashk isn’t afraid to contract trolls for mercenary work on occation.

In Xen’drik, trolls roam the jungles, caves, and ruins scavenging and living their lives out in tribes. Often troll tribes compete with ogre tribes for land and resources, in places such as Sorrowdusk Isle.  In Ataraxia’s Haven, scrag trolls (a kind of sea cave troll) can be found annoying Duergar’s working vacation. While in Stormreach, trolls can easily be found under employment with House Tharashk’s arena.

sea cave troll

Gang of Sea Cave Trolls


(1)    The original D&D alignment system was also influenced by Three Hearts and Three Lions, which grouped creatures into “Law” and “Chaos”.  Also elements of the paladin class were borrowed from this novel.

(2)    Why are there no ugly female monsters in DDO?  Nothing says scary like misshapen female form!

Monster Minute: Hobgoblins

Fey HobgoblinHobgoblins in Real-World Mythology
In European mythology and folktales, hobgoblins are the troublemakers of the Seelie court. In tales, these creatures are small hairy men much like their fey cousins brownies.  They are found in homes doing odd jobs or small deeds, such as ironing and dusting, while the family sleeps.    The only compensation they need is a bit of food.  Some stories say giving them clothing will banish them from your home.  Hobgoblins are easily insulted when teased or misused and will retaliate with tricks and cause trouble.

The modern hobgoblin that we see in many games, MMORPGs and books comes from Tolkien’s The Hobbit, which has an interesting history. In early versions of The Hobbit, the Tolkien hobgoblin is a large human-sized version of a goblin.  Tolkien later corrected himself, in a letter after further research into folklore.  Tolkien later renamed them to Uruks, and all later copies of The Hobbit have the reference corrected (read The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, and The History of the Hobbit by John D. Rateliff - both really awesome reads for literary history).

Hobgoblins in D&D
DnD HobgoblinD&D hobgoblins are the larger, stronger, and smarter version of their smaller goblin cousins.  They are smarter and more organized than other goblinoid races, and have a pension for war and find delight in military, yet brutal, tactics.   They first appeared in the D&D white box set in 1974, and haven’t changed much since. There is even an aquatic hobgoblin called a kolinth.

In various D&D campaign settings, hobgoblins are portrayed in perpetual war. They look like large well built humans covered in rough fur. They have either red-brown or grey colored skin with red-orange faces. Males have either blue or red noses; they may have beards and often have male-pattern baldness. Their eyes are either brown or yellow and can see in the dark up to 60 feet away. Hobgoblins are lawful evil and tribes maintain a strict military code. Tribes are often have more powerful creatures such as bugbears or ogres as leaders.

Hobgoblins in Eberron
Hobgoblins in the world of Eberron first originated from Khorvaire and call themselves the Ghaal’dar, which means “mighty people” in their own language.

DarguunIn the height of the Dhakaani Empire (a powerful goblinoid nation) some 16,000 years ago and during the Age of Monsters, the hobgoblin weapon smiths perfected the art of forging byeshk weapons. They were artistic and excellent craftsmen; they even rivaled dwarves in their armor and weapon smiting.  Finely crafted byeshk weapons were pivotal in the war against the Daelkyr, invaders from Xoriat some 9,000 years ago.  The war exhausted the Dhakaani and today there are only a few tribes left from this ancient empire. Many Eberron scholars believe that the hobgoblins’ empire truly ended some 5,000 years ago, unable to recover from the decimation caused by Gatekeepers success in sealing away the Daelkyr and the shifting of Xoriat into a distant alignment.

In modern Eberron and in the southeast region of the continent of Khorvaire, a throng of hobgoblins and bugbears revolted. They were lead by the legendary hobgoblin named Lhesh Haruuc during the Last War.  Known to his people as Haruuc Shaarat’kor, he carved a nation for hobgoblins out of the once great nation Cryre (all that is left of Crye is The Mournlands, after being decimated in the Last War, a barren pitiful land).  It was through Haruuc’s diplomacy that secured Darguun as a recognized nation in the Treaty of Thronehold (formed during a summit of nations that ended the Last War in YK 996).  Today, the Darguun nation is under a Feudal government with a few traditional tribal states.  The hobgoblins today are far from their ancestors; Darguun nation is a haven for criminals, since the laws are few. Here violence, crime and corruption are common.  Power and strength is more law then not.

The hobgoblins of Xen’drik and Stormreach are typically immigrants. Hobgoblin tribal settlements can be found through the continent. Much like many who come to Xen’drik, they are here for treasure and adventure.

Splinterskull Hobgoblin

Tips and Tricks: Make the Most from Quest XP

(or Opinion: How I would spend a Greater Wish on More Level 15 Quests)

In roughly 4.5 weeks, I took my DPS bard, Anastazie to level 20. This prompted me to search for the best quest XP per level. It was then my husband came up with a good question:

“What is the comparison between the total XP available for a given level, in the game, vs. the amount of XP needed to get to the next level?”

This is a fun question to answer but still tough. I want to answer this question because it will eventually lead to how you can make the most out of your XP when running quests.

And, oh yes, prepare yourself; this is a long one!

There are a few things that are important to remember about XP and Quests.  For more information about gaining XP and Quests, visit the Experience Points page on DDO Wiki (http://ddowiki.com/page/Experience_points). To read this article, you will also need some basic math know-how, including ratios and fractions.

Let’s move on to a big picture on XP and quests - and how they relate to each other before we get into the How-To part.

What are Quests?
For the purpose of this article, I’ll be defining quests as individual adventures that groups of adventurers can participate in while playing DDO. A quest has an instance specifically generated for you and your party and can generate XP upon completion.  Each quest has a base XP value, which can be modified in many different ways to increase or decrease the final amount of XP you get.

The amount of XP needed to Level
It is important to know how much XP you need in order to get to the next level.  This is a strait up formula:

(Total XP for Next Level - Total XP for Current Level) = XP Needed for Next Level

How many quests are available to my level?
Next let’s take a look at what quests are available to you at your level.  Here’s a quick break down of the number of quests per level (based on Normal difficulty).  This includes raids, but excludes adventure area related quests (Explorers, Slayers, or Rare Encounters etc).

number of quests per level number of quests per level

This graph doesn’t include quests you can “actually” or “absolutely” run, only quests that are rated for your level on the normal setting. You can always run quests at above or below your level. Here are some simple points to remember about how the XP on quests works with respects to character level:

  • Quest XP will not be adjusted if
    • If your character is one level below the rated quest level
    • If your character is equal to the rated quest level
    • If your character is one level above the rated quest level
  • Quest XP will be reduced if you are two or more levels above the quest:
    • +2 levels = -10% penalty on XP
    • +3 levels = -25%
    • +4 levels = -50%
    • +5 levels = -75%
    • +6 levels = -99%
    • +7 levels or more = Zero XP regardless of bonuses
  • Difficulty rating of a quest adjusts the base Level of the Quest
    • Solo difficulty does not affect the level
    • Casual difficulty subtracts 1 level from the quest’s level (if possible)
    • Hard difficulty adds 1 level
    • Elite adds 2 levels
    • Epic is intended for level 20 characters only, and sets the quest to Level 20

Gated Quests
Akin to those posh gated communities with animal topiaries and overpaid checkpoint guards that bar people based on income level, quest areas also prevent entry based on your current level.  Knowing when you can access the quests is just as important when getting the most out of Quest XP.  The minimum level per quest is rather inconsistent (almost arbitrarily defined) and each quest, quest set, and quest area has its own barriers.  Furthermore, many of the quest access points (such as in NPC dialogs) won’t tell you what level you have to be to access the quest.  There is a general unspoken rule as to when you can accept a quest: at 4 levels below the quest’s rated level you can “get the quest” and have it show up in your quest log.  If you are in a party with someone who already has access the quest you can enter that quest once it’s been opened, regardless of you “having” the quest or not.

What counts as Total XP available for a given level?
I’ve always found it good to know what’s available out there for gaining XP when it comes to quests.  How much XP is out there is waiting to be gained?  The absolute total potential XP would be rather hard to come up with, so I decided to limit the XP to Quests only - not adventure areas.  I also wanted a number that was consistent, so I took the Base XP for each quest.  This doesn’t include optional XP, the 10% bonus for not dying, nor 10% for no re-entry.  I’m also counting the base XP on a Normal difficulty for a given quest. So I came up with the Sum of the Base XP from All Quests, at Normal Difficulty, for a Given Level as my base line.  Hence forth, I shall call this Total Available Quest XP (for a given level).

Total Available Quest XP :: XP Needed for Next Level
As with most MMORPGs, there is grinding involved when trying to gain XP.  The best way to illustrate this is through the magnitude of quantities for these two XP amounts relative to each other. For those of you not math inclined let me put this in a different way: I want to understand how many times I would have to run all the quests rated for a given level in order to get to the next level.   For example, say there are 5 quests and the Total Available Quest XP for those quests is 4,000 XP.  Say I’m level 1 and I need 5,000 XP in order to get to level 2.   I would need to run all the quests 1.2 times before I get to level 2.

So how many times do I have to complete all the quests available to me to get to the next level?
Based on the parameters above, here is a table and a graph showing how many times a character would have to repeat all the quests rated for their level.

quest repeats quest repeats

You can get a picture of how difficult it is to get XP from quests at certain levels and how easy it is at other levels. As you can see, since the XP required at low levels is small, the number of times to run all the quests rated at your level is low. At higher levels the quests don’t yield as nearly as much XP for what you need, so you must run them more often. At level 15, there is a quest dry-spell for that specific level, so if you were limited to only running level 15 quests, you would have to run all of them nearly nine times! This is because there’s only 3 quests total in the game rated at level 15.

Exceptions for the Occasion
I should point out some obvious points that may work against my analysis above. These aren’t hard and fast numbers. Simply, put I haven’t included all the factors that would contribute or deter XP gaining.

  • Absolute Total Potential XP should also include the following sources of XP listed below, but to simplify things I have only included Base XP from Quests only.
    • XP Bonuses from equipment, potions, server wide effects (Bonus XP weekends)
    • Quest XP Bonuses: ransack, no deaths, no re-entry, vandal, first time, etc
    • XP gained from Adventure Areas
    • XP gained from optional inside of Quests
    • XP loss from being power leveled
    • XP gained from completing quests rated above your level.
  • I haven’t included Degrading XP Values for Quests. The mechanic for running quests multiple times works like this
    • For the first time you complete a quest you get a 10% completion bonus
    • For the 2nd and 3rd times you complete the quest you get neither a bonus nor penalty
    • For each following quest completion, you are deducted 10% per repeat from the base XP of the quest.
  • I haven’t included any bonus XP based on quest difficulty level other than Normal.

Making the Most of XP from Quests
Here is the part you were waiting for! What are some good things to remember when running quests and your goal is XP.  I’ll start with general tips:

For All Levels

  • Run quests rated at your level or above.
  • The first time you run a quest:
    • Run it on Elite because completing a quest for the first time on Elite difficulty grants a +50% bonus.
    • Be obsessive compulsive for stacking bonus XP
      • Kill all monsters for Conquest bonus, this will give you an additional +25%
      • Disarm all the traps for Ingenious Debilitation bonus of +15%
      • Find all the secret doors and get a +15% Vigilant Sight bonus
      • Destroy everything breakable for a +15 Ransack bonus
      • Don’t die or let anyone in your party die and you can get a +10% Flawless Victory Bonus
      • If anyone in your parties doesn’t’ re-enter the quest, you can get a +10% Persistence bonus
      • Don’t leave the quest before it’s completed. If you yourself reenter, you get a -20% penalty each time, for a maximum deduction of -90%.
  • Make sure that you are no more than 3 levels lower than your highest level party member. More than that, you will get a -50% penalty.
  • Have a friend unlock the quest for Elite. For maximum XP return, run it on Elite three times, then once on normal and once on hard.
  • Run with a group. Running quests on elite takes some expertise, and often you can’t solo it. Get into a questing party, afterall that’s what D&D is about.

What Quest Gives the Best XP Based on Level?
Combo the following quests with the basic rules above and you can get some phat XP.

quest repeats

Prepare yourself for a grind at Levels 13 and up
Due to scarcity of quests, difficulty of quests, and minimum level restrictions for certain quest areas (level 12 for Vale, level 13 Rever’s Refuge, level 15 for Amrath, level 16 for Inspired Quarter), you’re pretty much stuck with repeating quests.  Levels 13 and 14 can be a pain point because you can’t get into Amrath yet.  You can access the Reaver’s Refuge quests at 13 and the Vale at level 12, but these areas have quests rated for level 16-18 and are pretty tough if you’re in a group that doesn’t know what they’re doing.  Given those odds, you’re stuck doing Gianthold quests repeatedly.  At Level 15, you encounter an XP wall because you can’t quest effectively in Amrath without a group or specialized gear (metalline, pure good, silver, etc weapons to bypass DR of devils and demons).   Your best option is to start raiding. Raids provide the best XP at these levels; in fact the quest with the most XP in the game is The Twilight Forge (Titan pre-raid) at a whopping 12,100 XP, which is a level 11 quest.  Even if you are raiding, don’t be surprised to see yourself repeating certain quests or raids to reach your next level

So I’ve just given you a big brain-dump of how to make the most of XP from quests.  If you aware of how much XP you need for your next level, what quests are available at your XP-disposal, when you can access those quests, and the various XP bonuses and penalties, you can make educated decisions on what quests to run, and how to run them, to maximize XP gain. One factor in quest XP I haven’t mentioned, is the amount of time it takes to run a quest given the amount of XP to be gained - this is a topic I’ll save for a later date since time is rather subjective and dependent upon the player’s knowledge of the quest. Also, don’t forget that you’re gonna have to grind at higher levels for XP, and perhaps the best way to lessen that “grindy” feeling focus on something else while running quests - such as perfecting your equipment through looting or crafting

PS: Soap-Box - More Level 15 Quests Please!
3 quests rated at level 15!  Granted I could run level 13 and 14 quests at hard and elite, but you’re asking me to grind out those quests again.  I could attempt level 16 and 17 quests, but at my own risk since even on casual some quests are still tricky.  Quests are the bread and butter of D&D, don’t be skimpy with them even at high levels.

Footnote: to view graphs and tables, just click on the image to make bigger.

Monster Minute: Orcs

Hi everyone, it’s been a while, but here is the latest Monster Minute.  I had a hard time selecting which monster to do next.  Orcs was a tough thing to talk about because in Eberron, they are more of a race than a monster.  In DDO, they are considered a monster, and soon we’ll have playable Half-Orcs.

Lord of the Rings OrcsOrcs in Real-World Mythology
Much of mythology portrays orcs as rough and warlike humanoid creatures; the most famous depiction is set by J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Ring series.  The modern use of the word “orc” begins with Tolkien, and though he is famous for his fiction work, he was also a professor of the Anglo-Saxon, English Language and Literature at Oxford University, and had a profound love of language and philology.  In his own words:  “I originally took the word from Old English orc (Beowulf 112 orc-neas).”  Though there are similar words in Latin, he believed that orc was “actually derived from Old English orc ‘demon’.”

Orcs in D&D
The D&D heavily borrows concepts and descriptions of the orc from Tolkien’s work.  The first D&D orc was introduced in the D&D “white box” set, but described as tribal creatures living in villages.  In AD&D first edition, the villages were described as being underground. It was also in this edition of AD&D that the orcs were detailed as a playable race.  Throughout later editions and campaign settings, the orc has been a constant race, rich in story as much as the other player races — though in earlier books they were listed as a subtype of goblinoids, it wasn’t listed as its own type until D&D v3.0 and later.

D&D OrcsThe orc was one of the first races in D&D to be introduced as capable of breeding with other races and producing half breeds.   Half-orcs was the term to describe human-orc pairings, while Orlfs described an orc-elf offspring.   Other half breed offspring were dependent upon parent’s gender: the brutish but tough skinned Orgrillions were products of a female orc and male orgre; while the smarter Orogs came from male orcs and female ogres.

In all campaigns, orcs are described as grey skinned humanoids with boar like tusks prodding from their lower teeth.  They range in height and weight much as humans do, except they are never shorter than 5′11″.  They’re body build is almost ape like due to living in rough and rugged terrains.  Many campaign settings describe orcs as lawful evil and capable of unspeakable cruelty — some say as much as any human is capable of.

Lord of the Rings OrcsOrcs in Eberron
The orcs of Eberron are not the evil beings as portrayed in other D&D campaign settings.  They are nature-worshipers and have a profound belief in spirituality.  Some 30,000 years ago orcs came into power at the height of the Age of Monsters, taking root on the continent of Khorvaire in lands which is now known as the Eldeen Reaches and the Shadow Marches. They became a druidic culture some 16,000 years ago after learning to channel the powers of Eberron itself from great the black dragon and founder for all druids, Vvaraak.

One of the most famous orcs in history was a female orc, The Great Druid Rasha’Torn.  Some 8,000 years ago, during the Daelkyr War, Rasha’Torn lured the main thrust of the daelkyr invasion into the Shadow Marches and unleashed the full primal fury of Eberron upon the Lords of Xoriat and their aberration armies.  Only six of the daelkyr lords survived; they were locked away, along with their remaining armies, in the deep bowels of Khyber by the druidic order known as the Gatekeepers.  The Gatekeepers’ wards also shifted Xoriat in its orbit around the world so that it was no longer coterminous with Eberron, preventing both worlds from touching unless the seals were destroyed.

A majority of orcs reside in three places on Eberron:  The Shadow Marches, Eldeen Reaches, and the Demon Wastes.

Lord of the Rings OrcsThe orcs of the Shadow Marches make up half the population. They are a people divided into two unofficial groups: the tribal states and the clans.  Many of the orc tribes in this land are insular, but they do accept half-orcs and humans into their numbers.   House Tharashik originated from the Shadow Marches, though the Mark of Finding can only be found on humans and Half-Orcs.

The Eldeen Reaches orc tribes are offshoots from the Shadow March orcs, who have migrated to the Eldeen Reaches to become spiritually closer to nature.  Many of these orcish druids were wiped out during the war with the daelkyr. The orcs that are alive today in this land are the decedents of the original Gatekeepers, and though there are few, they spend their lives guarding the powerful seals that keep the Lords of Xoriat at bay.

The orcs of the Demon Wastes are the most brutal of the orc civilizations.  Known amongst themselves as the Ghaash’kala, they are strong in body, spirit, and mind.  They find spirituality through military discipline, and consider it their sacred duty to guard the Demon Wastes; preventing anyone from going in to the lands, and from anything from escaping out - at any cost.  They are a proud people resigned to a live in the taint of the Demon Wastes to protect the greater good.  Because of this they are not oppose to working with and often readily accept those who have been infected by demonic magics.

The orcs found in modern Xen’drik and Stormreach are typically immigrants, coming from Khorvaire seeking adventure or to start new colonies.

Jordan Weisman & Alternate Reality Games

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to attend a lecture by Jordan Weisman, an American game designer, author, and serial entrepreneur. Weisman is known for designing games such as MechWarrrior, Shadowrun, Mage Knight, and Heroclix. But what the lecture focused on was Alternate Reality Games or ARGs.

What are ARGs?
An ARG is an interactive narrative that uses the real world as a platform. It very often involves multiple media — such as cell phones, the internet, and TV — and game elements to tell a story that may be affected by participants’ ideas or actions.

An ARG is primarily defined by intense player involvement with a story. The story takes place in real-time and evolves according to participants’ responses, and characters that are actively controlled by the game’s designers. Players interact directly with characters in the game, solve plot-based challenges and puzzles, and often work together with a community to analyze the story and coordinate real-life and online activities. ARGs generally use multimedia, such as telephones, email and mail but rely on the Internet as the central binding medium.

Some examples of ARGs:

  • Portal 2 (http://portalwiki.net/) On March 1st and March 3, 2010, Portal was updated to feature parts of an eventually highly successful alternate reality game (or ARG) to promote its sequel, Portal 2, leading gamers and journalists to postulate that an announcement for Portal 2 or Half-Life 2: Episode Three might soon be made, until Portal 2 was announced on March 5, 2010 for release in Q4 2010.
  • I love Bees (http://www.ilovebees.com/) – served as both a real-world experience and viral marketing campaign for the release of developer Bungie’s 2004 video game Halo 2. The story is of an AI named Melissa, trying to survive by transferring herself San Francisco-area web server, which happens to host a bee enthusiast website known as I Love Bees.
  • The Beast (http://www.42entertainment.com/beast.html) – A campaign built and executed for Warner Brothers to promote Steven Spielberg’s film, AI: Artificial Intelligence. The Beast was a sub-dermal narrative that drew consumers into the world of AI, and made them active participants in the fiction before the film’s release.
  • Year of Zero (http://www.42entertainment.com/yearzero/) – Year0 is based on the Nine Inch Nails concept album of the same name and was a campaign building up to the release of the album. The story of Year0 borrows heavily from well-known dystopian fiction crafted by writers such as George Orwell.
  • Cathy’s Book (http://www.cathysbook.com/) – An interactive book which includes an evidence packet filled with letters, phone numbers, pictures, and birth certificates, as well as doodles and notes written by Cathy in the page margins.

ARGs: Kin to Role-Playing Games
ARGs have a puppetmaster, who is very much like a game master for a role-playing game. The PMs craft the story, NPCs, obstacles, and clues for the players to find and interact with. The primary difference between ARGs and Table-Top RPGs is that there aren’t any set rules for the players. In fact, players must discover the rules and boundaries of the game on their own. Players also do not have to assume any “role” or made up character to participate in the game. They play the game as themselves.

A Trans-media Game
Clues, puzzles, obstacles, and other story information can come in a myriad of real world media. In the Year0 game, the first discovery of the game was found by fans that discovered a new Nine Inch Nails tour T-shirt highlighted with letters that spell out the words “I am trying to believe.” Which then lead to the website, http://www.iamtryingtobelieve.com/. In the case of Cathy’s Book, you can read the book by itself, but if you call the phone numbers and go to websites, you find additional information about the story and the characters. Today with iPhones, Blackberries, and other mobile devices lend themselves to new types of interaction for ARGs. Microblogs and Social Networking sites such as Twitter, Plurk, Facebook, and Myspace provide new trailheads for players into ARG storylines. Yes, that’s right; Skynet Research has its own twitter page at http://twitter.com/SkynetResearch.

The Hive Mind
“Collective intelligence”, or CI for short, is a phrase Pierre Levy created in 1994 to describe the impact of Internet technologies on the cultural production and consumption of knowledge. Levy argued that because the Internet facilitates a rapid, open and global exchange of data and ideas, over time the network should “mobilize and coordinate the intelligence, experience, skills, wisdom, and imagination of humanity” in new and unexpected ways.

In Internet lingo, this is also known as the Hive Mind. One of the difficulties in constructing an ARG is that anything that a group of puppetmasters can craft, the collective Hive Mind of the audience will quickly decode and solve it a matter of minutes. In the example of The Beast, the PMs came up with a website puzzle that would only allow one entry per person per day. The PMs thought that it would take the audience days to solve the sequence, but the Hive Mind quickly organized themselves into online committees. The committees then crafted a solution to the puzzle and assigned tasks to individuals. The individuals went to the site to input their portion of the solution into the site. They then reported results into a central location for The Hive Mind to review. The effect was that the puzzle was solved in a matter of minutes after the Hive Mind organized itself.

In the case of I Love Bees, players around the world to worked together to solve problems with little or no direction or guidance. In one instance of a puzzle, the game presented The Hive Mind with 210 pairs of global positioning system coordinates and time codes, with no indications to what the locations referred to. Players eventually figured out the coordinates referred to pay phones and the times to when the phones would ring. The audience would then try to coordinate and task sub groups or individuals to reach the phones in time to receive the message.

Find an ARG Hive Mind
There are quite a few Hive Minds out there dedicated to playing ARGs:

The Take Away: Simple steps to creating an ARG.
From Jordan Weisman’s lecture, I learned a few simple steps to creating an ARG – which can be applied to creating table-top rpg games:

  1. Write a story
  2. Create all the evidence that would exists had the story taken place
  4. Hide the evidence all around the digital world and physical world
  5. Inspire the audience to find all the evidence and learn more about the story.

2009 Seattle Noshing Review

Pam’s Trinidadian-Caribbean Kitchen
5000 University Way NE
Seattle, WA 98105
This place is amazing! The food is even better. Its the only Trinidadian restaurant in the Seattle area and specializes in roti dishes served with your choice of four different curried meats or vegetarian style with garbanzo beans and potato. Pam’s also stands out for its exotic smoothies and for its Guinness ice cream! Just go for the Guinness ice cream if nothing else! What the heck is a roti? Roti is a flatbread and is kinda like a tortilla, pita and naan hybrid-mix. There are two types roti and both are popular to the West Indies. My favorite is the Lamb dhalpurie roti. Try the Goat paratha roti if you want something exotic. Always have the Guinness ice cream.

2000 4th Ave
Seattle, WA 98121
The hubby took me here for a date night. Lola features a Mediterranean Greek and North African flavors, highlighted by kebabs (chicken, squid, pork or lamb) delivered to your table in a sizzling iron skillet with a splash of ouzo. Go for the kebabs and dolmades. Splash it all down with a martini with olives stuffed with aged feta cheese. Yum!

Palace Kitchen
2030 5th Ave
Seattle, WA 98121
We went here when a friend of ours came into town for a visit. They mainly serve northwest flavors mixed with Mediterranean. Their goat cheese and lavender fondue served with grilled bread and apples is super tasty. Their entree menu changes seasonally, so I can’t say if the gourmet burger I had will still be there.

Vital Tea Leaf
1401 1st Avenue, Seattle
Seattle, WA 98121
Vital Tea Leaf offers a modern twist on the age-old tradition of Chinese tea drinking. Modeled after a wine bar, they have complimentary “Try before you buy” tastings. With more than four hundred teas to select from, you’ll want to come back for more. They also have an assortment of tea gear such as Yixing purple clay teapots, hand painted tea sets, and tea tasting trays. Their collection of Puer cakes is amazing! Our favorite teas from Vital Tea: Blue People Ginseng Oolong, Lychee Black, and Blue Tea.

U-District Portage Bay Cafe
4130 Roosevelt Way NE
Seattle, WA 98105
A breakfast treat for both Sig and I, is the challah-bread French toast and a trip to the toppings bar. Another favorite is the Rancher’s Breakfast if you like to mix your platter up with protien and carbs. Its super crowded during weekends, so we go on weekdays when we have time off or when we’re planning to work from home. I hear the new South Lake Union Portage Bay Cafe has better cooks and service, while the Ballard one isn’t worth the effort. The U-District one is consistent and the original.

2009 Music Review

Dear Science is the fourth studio album from New York based band TV on the Radio. Named the best album of 2008 by Rolling Stone, MTV, and many other music critics I decided to pick this up early this year. Its been a staple on my iPhone in 2009
Alive 2007 is a live album by Daft Punk, first released on November 19, 2007. It is the second album recorded live by the duo, following Alive 1997. Alive 2007 features their performance at Bercy in Paris from June 14, 2007. The album finally won the Grammy Award for Best Electronic/Dance Album in 2009.
It’s Blitz! is the third full-length studio album by New York band Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The album was produced by Nick Launay (Nick Cave, Arcade Fire, Talking Heads, PiL), along with TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek. It’s Blitz was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album on December 2009
Fantasies is the fourth album released by the Canadian indie rock band Metric. Sig got this album for me on a whim at Silver Platters one spring day. In the U.S. it debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Top Heatseekers. My fav track is “Help I’m Alive” which has kept me rolling during crunch modes.
The Fame Monster, Deluxe Edition is the second studio album by Lady Gaga, released on November 18, 2009. Lady Gaga is an amazing artist, I really would love to go to one of her concerts. I don’t think I’ve liked 100% of an album, but this is it. Most surprising track is Teeth with its gospel sounds and strong beats.
Living Thing is the fifth album by Peter Bjorn and John, released on March 30, 2009 in the UK and March 31 in the US. The lead-off single from this album is “Nothing to Worry About.” My favorite track followed by “Living Thing.”
The Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack was composed by A. R. Rahman who planned the score in two months and completed it in a quick two weeks. The soundtrack has won the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score, BAFTA Award for Best Film Music, and two Academy Awards, one for Best Original Music Score and the other for Best Original Song for ‘Jai Ho’. “Paper Planes” by MIA is by far my favorite track.
The E.N.D. World Tour is a concert tour by the Black Eyed Peas. The album by the same name was released in June 2009. “Boom Boom Pow,” “Meet Me Halfway,” and “Party All The Time” are my favorite tracks. Lots of energy in the whole album great for fast pace programming work.

Anne, Alton, & ATK: Steak and Mashed Potatoes

For Christmas, I got myself Alton Brown’s latest book Good Eats: The Early Years. When I first found this show back in 1995, I was just shy of 18 years old and lamenting about how my mother’s cooking absolutely sucked. So I started cooking on my own. Sadly, I found many of the cooking shows to be boring. Alton’s show was different: Good Eats armed me with knowledge! Not just on how to prepare a single recipe of the day, but really how to cook. Good Eats was not only informative, but entertaining in a Mr. Wizard kinda way and funnier.
Good Eats lead to my discovery of Cooks Illustrated magazine, by the American Test Kitchen (ATK). My magazine archive only goes back to 2000, but I remember going to the library to scribble or photocopy recipes. I love ATK because, like Good Eats, it was very informative – again not just teaching me the recipe but also how to cook in general. I found their little side bar notes and kitchen hardware recommendations exceedingly helpful.

In 2010, I vowed to cook more at home and eating out less. So I went back to what I know and love best: Alton & ATK.

My first set of recipes of the year included Pan-Seared Rib Eye Steaks and Cognac Pan Sauce (Brown 14-15). For sides I selected Mashers (Brown 18).

The steaks required to set the oven to 500 degrees F. WARNING: do not do this unless your oven is clean!! At 500, all the carbon caked on to the sides of your oven will start to smoke, set your fire alarms off and your house cats into a mad stampede! After cooking, resting meat is important, and Alton suggests that you rest in a “resting rig.”  For my rig, I opted for the thick slices of toast so that the escaping meat juices would get absorbed into a nice side treat.

The pan sauce needed a bit more work and perhaps real Cognac, I tried to substitute Burbon, but it didn’t work out as well. The instructions also say to use a blue cheese, but I found that Gorganzola was better.

Mashers are simple enough and it turned out great the first time, though a bit wetter than what the book intended. Maybe leaving the heat on a bit longer after draining should do the trick.

For this meal, I also used my plate warming drawer. Yes, my oven has one. It’s awesome! Cold plates suck heat away from the food, so if I had plated the mashers by the time the steaks were ready and served, the mashers would have gotten cold. Not so with a warm plate!

The hubby approved of the meal greatly, though would have liked the steaks with a crisper crust. Maybe a thicker steak next time, so I can get the crust without over cooking the meat into scary well-done land.


America’s Test Kitchen. The New Best Recipe All-New Edition with 1,000 Recipes. New York: America’s Test Kitchen, 2004. Print.

Brown, Alton. Good Eats: The Early Years. New York: Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 2009.

2009 Movie Reviews

Best Theater EVAR:  Cinebarre
I usually don’t go to theaters to watch movies, but since Cinebarre opened in Mountlake Terrace (and much to Sig’s delight) we’ve seen quite a number of movies. I really love Cinebarre because it removes many of the factors which deter me from going to theaters:

No Kids – yes, kids are great. But really I don’t want them crying or complaining or whining or making any noise while I’m watching a movie. Why no kids? Read below.

Open Bar – This means the whole theater is also a bar, hence folks must be 21 and over to watch a movie. There have been a number of times where I’ve been dragged to a horrible bad movie, only wishing I had a drink to dull the pain of said bad movie. Nothing says yummy like Stella’s or a Guinness.

Food – the food is far better than regular theaters. I would say not great, but I like the burgers and drinks, while Sig loves the chicken tenders. Plus they have popcorn with REAL butter, not that fake stuff.

No Ads – OMG! I had those fucking ads they run before the previews. They beat you over the head with their stick of lameness repeatedly until you’re the consumer zombie they want you to be. Instead, Cinebarre has film shorts by budding film makers for their preshow. They also take effort to theme the film shorts to match the main show. For example, we went to see Ninja Assassin, for the preshow they featured 2 film shorts: one about a female samurai and one a modern kabuki singer. If you have a mobile device you can even go online and rate the short film. How cool is that? More cool than some fucking lame ads.

The Good

  • Coraline – This was just a pretty movie and the plot was cute. I really should go back and read the book
  • Watchmen – I mainly watched it because it had eye candy and decent action sequences. I’ve never read the comics before I heard of the movie, but I did go out and get the graphic novel before watching it. I was entertained by “Southern Manhattan”
  • Star Trek – I watched this movie twice. I loved it because it was different in good ways from the original series and it contained bits of fan homage to what was already known to Star Trek.
  • Zombieland – in 2009, I played quite a bit of L4D. So I had to go watch this one. I have a hard time finding movies that will make me laugh hard.  But Zombieland nearly busted my gut!
  • District 9 – though provoking movie all nicely wrapped up in some great eye-candy. The Story reminded me of the kind you find in classic sci-fi books.
  • Avatar – best movie all around. It didn’t even feel like a 2+ hour movie and was surprised it was done.

The Suprising

  • Drag Me to Hell – this movie was far better than I expected. It was written and directed by Sam Rami. It felt like a modern day version of Evil Dead. It was the first movie of the year that shocked and made me laugh at the same time.
  • Terminator: Salvation – this is the movie they should have made instead of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.

Guilty Pleasures

  • G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra – I use to watch GI Joe the cartoon as a kid. I couldn’t help but giggle my way through scenes that viewed ridiculous characters in a dramatic light. Destro just made me laugh. Did I mention that I’m an eye candy fan? I like the action sequences much more than I had anticipated. Snake Eyes is hot!
  • Pandorum – It’s been a very long time since I was able to see a space horror movie. I kind of liked this one because it reminded me of Resident Evil in space.
  • Paranormal Activity – I think I only wanted to watch it in theater so I could watch other people in the theater scream or get shocked.
  • Sherlock Homes – I love the costumes! The steampunk fashion fan girl was all giddy inside.

For Netflix

  • Surrogates – intersting, but not enough to tempt me out to the theaters
  • Ponyo – I was very tempted by the newest Miyazaki Film, but they didn’t show it at Cinebarre. I wasn’t up to encounting the middle school mafia nor the elemetary echelons
  • Nine – I usually don’t go for musicals, but i hear this one is pretty entertaining.

The Very Bad

  • Brüno – I went to this movie because Sig asked me to. I’m just glad I had two beers by 30 min in the movie, because I can’t remember much of it only the parts which were horrifyingly awful. I think I laughed at certain bits, but that was the booze laughing not me. I think I was done with my fourth by the second half.