[LOTRO] The naming of pants, banners, and trash drops

Spare a thought for the devs who spend hundreds of man hours thinking up names for all of those quest rewards, reputation items, trash drops, and other widgets that players will take one look at, say ‘enh’ and immediately sell back to the vendor.

There was a time when a simple “sword +1” was enough to get any regular D&D player to bounce up and down on their seats with excitement. Even a dragon’s hoard might have no more than two or three magical items, and there was a good chance that one of those would be cursed. That simple “+1” held a wealth of meaning.

An item that was actually named was the stuff of legend (not counting player-named items which usually went by something basic like ‘kobold slayer’ or ‘my favourite axe’). In fact, giving players a named item was a hint that possibly adventures might ensue if they wanted to investigate the item’s history and lore.

bannerofhope

By the time MMOs took off, players wanted something more (or less, depending on your definition). Giving a fancy name to a quest reward made it feel more important, even if the item was stolidly non-magical, and there was never any chance for the player to find out how the item got its name.

LOTRO devs have an even trickier job because many of the items in that game are named in Tolkeinesque languages.

Many, but not all. This is Arbitrary’s Banner of Hope. Who knew Captains got the ‘cynical’ trait?

This naming of quest items and random drops has been on my mind while playing LOTRO because the trash drop naming in Mirkwood is decidedly odd. In fact, creatures and monsters in a murky marshes and dimly lit ancient forests seem to drop bizarrely gorgeous trash. (I think they share loot tables with the Lothlorien mobs, where it is still odd but slightly more comprehensible.)

I’m not entirely sure what to make of this as a player.

gorgeousloot So I’m busy killing some evil trees – I’ve always felt there was something very wrong with trees moving around, no good can ever come of it. And when I loot the corpse (copse?), what do I find?

Gorgeous twigs, gorgeous bark, and gorgeous heartwood. They didn’t look especially gorgeous to me, but maybe I’ve made a terrible mistake. Maybe that tree was gorgeous on the inside all along.

This pattern is mirrored for spiders (gorgeous webs), cats (gorgeous paws), and just about every other creature in the area. So maybe someone just likes the word gorgeous? Or elves just think that everything is gorgeous anyway …

Mirkwood vs Angmar

I’m really enjoying my travels through Mirkwood. The LOTRO team has learned a lot about quest layout since the game was launched and while it isn’t as fancy as WoW’s phasing and vehicles, the flow and the storylines are generally excellent. There’s a nice mix of kill quests, scouting quests (brilliant fun for a stealther like me), collection quests, and exploration, with the odd group quest that you can save up for later when a friend is around. The links into the lore and to the LOTRO story are well done and interesting.

I’m on a hunt to find Gollum in Mirkwood at the moment – even though as the player I know he’s probably off with Frodo et al, it’s still fun to find out first hand how the rangers get all their information and work together across Middle Earth.

Another place the game has improved from launch is in the zone design and artwork. I’m comparing a few shots below from Mirkwood, and from Angmar which was the original high end zone.

mirkwodcombo

These are shots from Mirkwood. What I love about the zone is the quality of the light. It is all quite murky and even tends to be brownish, but it is also a very inviting area to explore.

angbandcombo

And these are taken from shots in Angmar. Yes, it is supposed to be a barren zone, but riding around there was soul destroying (and not in a good, immersive way). It’s all very brown and yellow and tedious, even when they vary the pallette.

And in which my skirmish minion does me proud

I have struggled with skirmishes on my burglar. I love the concept and I like the skirmishes, but damn if they aren’t hard work for me. It’s a struggle when your character relies on crowd control to handle more than one mob and the CC either breaks or doesn’t apply to the mobs in the skirmish. Not to mention when the NPCs joyfully break any crowd control which you do successfully apply.

But recently, as I was able to sink more marks into improving my skirmish minion, it seems to have been paying off. He’s a dwarf guardian (ie. a tank), the idea being that he could tank mobs while I killed them. This took some practice for both of us, I was never sure he was all that keen to tank, and I certainly wasn’t.

But looking at us now, it’s like poetry in motion. And every time he taunts (the correct mob), I want to cheer.

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This is me attacking skirmish mobs while Oddi the dwarf gets in their face with his shield. Go team!

LOTRO and the glory of naming absolutely everything

The LOTRO devs understand that players like to name items in games. I agree, and I think this is a brilliant and utterly Middle Earth compatible mechanic which has the possibility to make a lot of player interactions both more immersive and more memorable.

Of course, like any player generated content, naming also has the possibility to throw up the craziest ‘wtf were they thinking’ moments. Fortunately on RP servers, the GMs are really good about dealing with complaints about names. I always wondered why companies claimed that a naming policy was too difficult or time consuming to implement. It really doesn’t take that long to scan through a list of names and bump any offensive ones. Free Realms, for example, impressed at launch by requiring all player generated names to be approved before they could be used, and they were dealing with huge numbers of players at the time. It’s such a simple thing that can make the game more vibrant, immersive, and RP friendly for all the player base, even the non-RPers.

So here’s a brief list of nameable entities in LOTRO — just to give a feel for how ubiquitous it has become.

  • Your character (first name and surname).
  • Your family tree. You can have “son or daughter of Y” as a title, where Y is another player. This does require the other player’s cooperation.
  • Your kinship (guild).
  • Social chat channels.
  • Your banner bearer pet if you are a captain. You can also name your banner.
  • Your pets if you are a loremaster.
  • Your gear — masterwork crit pieces can be named by the crafter when they are created. If you want a particular name and aren’t a crafter yourself, you will need to negotiate with a crafter to make it and name it for you personally.
  • Legendary items. These can be reforged every 10 levels and when you reforge a legendary item, you can also rename it.
  • Your mount. This was new in the latest patch.
  • Your skirmish soldier.
  • Monster players can also name their banners (Orcish Warleaders) and spiderlings (Spiders)

Things you can’t name:

  • Your house. Strange omission there, really.
  • Your lunch, even if it is a masterpiece of cooking.
  • Your title. You cannot have a custom title, although there are a very wide range of in game titles to collect and select. Especially if you want something that involves ‘orc slayer’, ‘slayer of orcs’, ‘orc massacre supremo’ etc.

That’s a long list of nameable items, especially in comparison to a game like WoW which hasn’t even advanced as far as surnames for characters.

But sometimes, an interesting or especially IC name is the only thing you’ll remember about another player when you have just met. An unusual guild name will catch people’s attention (I know I’ve had a few comments about The Ashen Rose Conspiracy, for example.) In games where so many people love to individualise their characters, it’s a shame that devs often ignore the most basic and fundamental way we make things our own in the real world — by giving them names.