Friday, 20 December 2013

Supply and Demand – Some Fundamentals of Trading in the Hyborian Age.

In this post, Murddock covers the bare essentials of trading items for newbies so that they can make the most of their in-game lucre over the first few days and weeks of playing Age of Conan - Unchained.

Okay Okay … so you’re super new to Age of Conan (and perhaps to MMOs) and your new character doesn’t have a lot of moola and you wanna improve the character’s gear. What’s a new player to do?   

When most players start out on Tortage Beach, Kalanthes, the enigmatic Priest of Ibis, greets you and offers you something invaluable: a reason to live ... a new destiny to persue.  What the miserly bastard doesn't do is give you the basics, like food, weapons, or money.  Yes yes, he's a mystical priest and he's all about the journey not the destination and all that Emersonian blather. (Truth be told, Murd plied him with booze once and then asked why he didn't give friggin' money ... "Dude," the old Stygian scoffed, "If I gave every mo'fo, who washed up on that beach, a few gold coins, I'd be one destitute sonovabitch!")

Kalanthes: Generous with his wisdom, but stingy with his simoleons

Well the Priest of Ibis might be a tightwad, but Age of Conan, does provide various means to make your wallet swell. 

1) This first thing a new player needs to accept is this: you're not going to be excessively rich anytime soon.  

The game initially indicates progression via your experience points and levels accrued. If you could buy your way to the top, from day one, what would the point of playing be?  AoC wants you to take your time and learn its intricacies and as such, it mainly employs the mechanism in which players pursue better loot as one of several incentives.  For the time being, accept that you'll be trying to earn tin or copper, and that silver, gold and other currencies will be relevant later.

Hence, once you've fought your way up the beach; gutted slavers, Picts and demons; killed Saddur; slaughtered the Ape King; and defeated the Big Bat to get Turach his friggin' stone-blocks in exchange for having those shackles removed; you'll have acquired ample starting-loot and can access Tortage City. Your first chance to sell some of the crap in your inventory is upon you. 

The Tortage trader and, nearby,  Nalla, a food vendor.

Most players understandably run straight-away to the 2 types of commercial non-player characters (aka. NPCs, the term for in-game quest givers, enemies or merchants etc.) the game presents nearby: 

A) The vendors who sell things like potions, foods, armor or weapons etc.

B) The trader who's one of several NPCs that allow players to store, or sell items to other players in a persistent on-line market.  The trader window's "Buy" tab provides access to the same market-place no matter where you encounter a trader NPC.  

Okay, it is reasonable to notice that some posted items, some just like yours, are for sale for tidy sums of gold or silver and thereby assume that the most of the stuff you gathered is valuable. That's the first novice mistake: assuming.  The loot's generally not that valuable ...  most of it is essentially pooh. But even pooh has relative value.  Good things can grow from pooh.

The trader window showing players trying to sell the Ape King's Treasure.

The slaver's gold teeth and Ape King's Treasure are all items that new players sometimes try to sell to other players on the trader.  This usually happens because the items are presented as 'gold' or 'treasure' and, as such, are perceived as having value to other players, because the items seem to have value within the game's fictional setting.  The logic is reasonable: The Ape King's Treasure is some kind of gem. Gems are usually valuable in fantasy settings. For that matter gem's are valuable at any real world jewellery store; so this thing should be worth something to the scrofulous jerks on Tortage, n'est pas?  

Unfortunately, new players sometimes forget that some of the other players selling those very same items suited for low-level play, are also themselves novice players, who also don't have the full picture.  So when new players do sometimes see these items for sale on the trader, they mis-percieve their own items' values. 

However, a little more puzzling is when players try to sell items that have no seeming value, such as the Half-digested Foot. ... Perhaps their experience in other games has sparked a hypothesis that it just might be needed by others for a quest: which some items will indeed be.

Newbies mistakenly over-price items that won't sell.  The tool-tip better indicates an item's base worth.

Look it! These items you've struggled to accrue (viz. demon blood, weapons you can't use, duplicate bandannas, etc) are principally suited for just selling to the vendors to enable new characters to buy some basic armor or weapons.  Don't worry about selling them on the trader.

The simplest rules of thumb for your first couple of days: 
  • Yes, check the trader to see whether others are selling an item you want to sell 
  • In general, don't sell items labeled as whites or greys on the trader, stick with greens or if you get any, blues.  
  • Don't expect to sell all your items for lots of gold or silver while on Tortage.  
  • There are exceptions of course (like the Eyepatch, see below), but typically at levels 1-20 you'll earn some solid copper, if you're shrewd. And maybe you score a few silver, if you're fortunate.

2) Look at the Tool-tip pop-ups to appraise items.  

You can read the Vendor Price on the tool-tip to ascertain an item's minimum sell value at any NPC vendor.  Vendor's always buy item's for considerably less than they sell them (as in 'buy low, sell high' - that's capitalism people!)  If you put your item on the trader for less than the vendor price on the tool-tip, you're selling yourself short, because a vendor would pay you more for it than the player buying it will.  Most other players know this and they might actually capitalize on the seller's error, by buying the item, exchanging it at a vendor, and making a small profit.

Peek at each item's Tool-tip window to get a sense of its cost.

3) Items within AoC's player-community also have market-value determined by our old friends, supply and demand.  

An item's supply is determined by factors such as:

Drop Rate:  The frequency with which an item is 'dropped', (i.e. provided) by NPCs or by crafting 'nodes' (eg. trees that yield wood or beasts hunted for leather) affects the supply.  Regardless of level, some things 'drop' incessantly (eg. the Ape King's Treasure); some commonly, such as enchanted (green) items; some a little more rarely (blue items, such as the Savage Chest, Bloodleather Leggings, or Briskrunner Boots armor); and some are exceptionally unlikely to drop (eg. the Eyepatch) and yet are highly desired for their novelty factor.

The Eyepatch - authentic supply-side pricing

Difficulty of Crafting:  Items crafted in-game are produced by players who acquire materials through gathering drops (over time) or by buying materials in the player-market on via the trader.  If the crafting recipe requires rare expensive materials, then the crafted product will be correspondingly pricey.  You may observe crafted greens are very common.  They're routinely produced to satisfy the requirements for crafting progression.  Therefore they are often lower in price than the sum of the values of the materials used to make them.  However, crafted blue items which are more beneficial and which require a few rare materials to produce, are seldom sold at a loss.

No matter how the seller acquires an item, as a general rule, the more copies of an item that are for sale on the trader, the lower the market-price they'll typically fetch.
"But if I sell this thing, people might find me uhmm ... repulsive without it!?!"

An item's demand is an even more complex phenomenon.   It's ostensibly dependent on many variables:

  • How many players are online at any given time
  • How many of those are of a class or level that might want the item
  • And how many of those have a  feat-build that requires an item's specific attributes
  • How many of those players have the item already
  • How many players' guilds share items in their guild bank
  • How many players prefer to buy rather than grind (i.e. acquire over time) for the item    ...    and so on.

Learning which items are in demand and when is part of successful trading.

This can seem daunting, and frequently it is.  However, some approaches to trading are a mix of intuition and common sense.

For example, it's a good idea to set your items for sale on a Wednesday evening, to insure that their item's posting doesn't expire while the majority of players are online over a weekend. This is a time when demand goes up; but after a time so will supply.

4) Be patient and proactive.  Monitor the competition's prices regularly.

By checking the 'Advanced' box in the trader window, you can access more search filters.  It's a good idea to use this feature to have a look at similar items when you're trying to estimate an item's worth.  For example, filter for all 'Cloth Armor' and 'Belts' for levels 30-40.  You might notice that there are more belts suited for mages than assassins in this level-range ... so you can ask for more for an assassin oriented belt.

You may also want to occasionally, re-check how your item's price compares to others' prices.  Over a seven-day cycle, you can sometimes see a price drop dramatically, as players adjust their prices to undercut each other.

Examining prices over 7 days, implies an item's most recent set price drops to 10 times less than a prior competitor's asking price.


For certain things, it's more effective to sell common items, such as tradeskill materials or consumables (i.e. food or potions), in stacks by grouping a number of the same kind of item into a bundle of several.  Not all items can be stacked; but if they can, take a lesson from the bulk-barn: sell larger stacks for relatively low prices.  

For example, you can determine your optimum stack price by slightly undercutting the lowest prices on the trader.  First you determine who is selling a commodity for the lowest per-unit cost, and then you set your stacks for a slightly lower per-unit cost. This works best when the supply is high, and demand is constant.  If demand suddenly increases, a buyer may tolerate higher prices than your asking price.  Your stack will sell quickly, but you may nonetheless feel frustrated knowing that others got paid at higher per-unit prices.

You may alternately choose to adopt a line-in-the-sand approach, by setting a price below which you won't budge, in the hopes that over time once all the sellers who've undercut you have sold their stacks, that someone will be inclined buy yours. This sometimes actually works, if the demand is high and the supply low.

The Rat-in-a-Trap sweet spot!
Which stack of 5 Rats-in-a-Trap would you snap-up?

The aim is to find the economic goldilocks' zone, in which you undercut the competition, without selling yourself short.

5) Yes, other advanced players may want to buy items you've found.

Longtime players frequently generate alternative characters (called 'alts') to try out other classes or just to help friends.  When a player, decides to fast-track an alt, by equipping that alt-character with the best gear (so as to make advancement a more rapid and efficient process), the resulting character is called a 'twink'.  So longtime players do feed the demand for select blue and green items at lower levels.  For example, 'Traveler's' items provide movement speed boosts: a player may never want such an item for combat, but could want one for moving around. 

6) It gets better! Big scores are out there ... but you have to play to get them.

So where's it all heading?   Well the current AoC economy is stable but not especially dynamic.  As a result, it serves players adequately, but it doesn't motivate players to be economically forceful. Beyond the elite players selling a limited assortment of epic crafting materials and items (eg. Shards of the Exiled God), not much has changed since 2009.

That being said, with normal PvE play at some of the more recently introduced  areas, such as the House of Crom, world epic items do drop and some can fetch you a dandy price.  These have stirred up the economy somewhat.  Obtaining them is a matter of patience, skill, perseverance and yeah, luck.

Ibis weapons are currently the big earners at the trader.

Come to think of it, well maybe ol'Kalanthes' knew all along that, if you persevered as a player, you would indeed be in for some shiny loot.  Ahem, loot bearing the name of Ibis, no less.

Despite a plodding pace, caravans move constantly, conducting traders' commerce.

7) Though the market is stable now, a storm's a-comin'.

But the discussion doesn't quite end with Ibis rewards.  In the latest patch 4.1.5, a long lost tier of prestige has re-appeared.  'Legendary' as a designation has returned after many years of being mothballed within some code on a USB drive in a file cabnet in Oslo or Montreal.  

Murd can't help but think that legendary is an ironically apt adjective. There's a legend among Funcom developers, that someday ... in a forthcoming era known cryptically as "soon"; the currently inviolable ebb and flow of all commodities' supply and demand will become a maelstrom once the new crafting system goes live.  

If a legendary tier for crafting is introduced to replace, the epic Ibis crafting format, such legendary items might initially be obscenely priced.  Beyond such conjecture, we do know that new crafting materials will be coming, as will epic crafting for level 20 and above.  We also know that dropped items can be dismantled and some constituents salvaged.  So the overall supply of what are common greens and blues now, may dwindle; that crappy level 35 green cloth assassin belt may suddenly command a higher price than anyone would expect. 

The implications are intriguing. An elite HoX might start buying Guard oriented items, to salvage certain materials.  Sin's may start to furiously buy up Mages' staffs.  Slith may learn to love PvE in Azeroth!  Cats and dogs may start inter-breeding and giving birth to abominations: Oh god ... 'kippies' or 'puppens'.  Whatever they'll be called, Murd expects they'll stink up the place with their unholy bodily emissions.

Seriously though, it will be interesting to see how the economy changes as players react and adapt.  Though the the Khitan merchants curse their rivals with the words "May you live in interesting times"; Cimmerian profiteers, like Murddock, regard the arrival such opportune conditions as a blessing.


Monday, 25 November 2013

What Will We Make of the Crafting Revamp?

Now that the latest upgrades of the three renovated dungeons have hit the live servers, it seems that the new tradeskill system might be the next chunk of content to be implemented on test live.  If Funcom can actually get the revamp to test live this week, that would allow the devs to test the new code for about a month and hopefully release it just before the December holidays.  And what a nice gift from Santa (or Satan, or Xotli ... or whoever) that could be for players!

Noobs in Tortage waiting to try the forge.

With the assumption that it’ll be on the test servers sooner rather than later, in this post Murd will recap what players do and do not know so far, and conclude with an early Yuletide wishlist to the jolly round man himself, Game Director, Joel Bylos.
For the few new AoC players who may not ready be aware, the forthcoming trade-skill system has been designed to wholly replace the current one and, as such, it will re-conceptualize crafting progression and materials gathering.

From the press and forums players have been expecting several specific things:

  1. Removal of the crafting system’s quest-based progression and requisite recipes; with the exception of those for architects: these will still be required for building guild cities.
  2. Many new crafting materials (e.g. resin) will be introduced and hence, nodes and other sources for mats  (e.g. loot drops and vendors) will too
  3. A limited selection of existing in-game materials will remain: presumably ones which are needed for architect recipes
  4. Some kind of trade-in vendor/system will be implemented to recoup the value of legacy materials.
  5. Crafting will begin at much earlier levels (level 20). Progression will be acumulated through crafting-experience, and lead to higher-level crafting expertise
  6. Items will be created by fabricating and assembling physical components (e.g. hilts, blades, etc.) and then using other components, likely to be gems, to imbue the resulting item with statistical aspects.
  7. These stat-effect gems will imbue different item-stat bonuses depending on their order, variety and possibly number when installed into the UI's 'gem' slots.  There will be considerable experimentation required to understand the desired way to make the most of the many permutations.
  8. The extent of a stat’s value (viz. how high it can be) appears to be tied to the material (gem) used.  The tooltip (in yellow square) on the following screenshot suggests that materials are classified by colour “Effect: Strength (Green)"
    Vid cap of new system's elements (from  2012 video)
  9. Crafting blue and purple items will be now possible at lower levels.
  10. The creation of an item will not be the short and sweet assembly-action it currently is; some time constraints (either via a cool down or a crafting energy resource similar to sprinting or both) will be in effect
  11. Presumably the higher a player’s tradeskill level, the more frequently things can be crafted; possibly through production queues
  12. Players will somehow acquire additional design 'templates' that allow them to produce items of differing visual appearance
  13. A set of basic item skins (i.e. appearances) will be available from the get go: some of the basic armor set visuals will be new (see the following vid caps)
    New basic light armor set (vid cap  from )
    New basic heavy armor set (vid cap from )
  14. Most of the in-game items visuals can be acquired (clearly some with ease and some with tremendous effort or time investments) … this is done to address the absence of vanity weapons (which were apparently hard to implement, as the animations and fatalities for weapons differ widely).  In part, creating a large variety of visuals for this aspect was responsible for the long delay (reported in late March), as many in-game items had to be converted from an earlier game-engine format to the newer Dreamworld versions created in, Gaia, the developer’s content tool. 
  15. As part of the final steps for crafting an item, there’s a chance a player can roll a critical bonus, that will further boost the final statistical bonuses of an item.
  16. PvP activities will definitely produce PvP oriented crafting mats and some provision will be available to help players who are exclusively PvP oriented to acquire materials that PvE players otherwise gather in PvE activities (so PvP hardcore players don’t have to do a tonne of PvE stuff to make PvP items)
  17. Crafting critical success chances might be buffed by using in-game workshops found in cities and guild cities and for a time after completing a major goal (e.g. killing a raid boss etc.)
  18. All items (e.g. world drop greens, blues, etc.) will be able to be dismantled to retrieve some of the materials via a “salvage” function.
  19. Existing crafted items will remain as legacy items, but no longer be newly created
  20. Finally, crafting will continue to support the Guild Renown system.

What remains unclear …

Most of the press to date has focussed on the creation of armor and weapons.  Murd's curious.
  • Will there be an alchemy system?  And if so, other than the standard stamina, mana, etc. bonuses from the current system, will players be able to make potions that buff things such as the sprint resource, exp bonuses, AA Exp bonuses, or core game stats like strength, critical damage, unholy protections etc. 

  • Will new guild buildings be required to do crafting in guild cities?  Murddock would actually prefer to see a new set of guild buildings or structures be introduced just to re-inject some communal goals for long established guilds.  These would also prevent the young guilds from being disadvantaged because they don’t already have the guild facilities in place.

  • How frequently can one craft an item?  There’s a suggestion that there’ll a production queue and, with more progression, that additional queues can be started.  But how long a production will run or cool down is not known … nor is the ultimate number of production queues one player cab have running at one time.

  • How could the in-game shop affect crafting?  Will we be able to buy item design skins? Will we be able to buy crafting bonus potions? Murd would never support FC selling potions that give  crafting-stat bonuses (e.g. improved critical chances)  unless far superior ones were available through game play (e.g. as drops in Raids or PvP minis) but he could get behind  the selling of potions that boost the speed of production. Those would allow serious crafters to learn the permutations and sell items a little more rapidly.

  • There’s been mention of set bonuses; but as to how this would work, it’s hard to say (e.g. when wearing a full set of gear created by the same crafter, bonus X or Y goes into effect.)

  • How will Shards of the Exiled God be relevant? It's seems they might be retained, even though Ibis crafting will be gone.

  • Will players assign names to the items they make, or will that be done automatically by an algorithm?

The ol' abandoned market in Old Tarantia: an ideal spot for new crafting facilities!

What’s not likely to be possible … 

  • Players won’t be able to affect the colour of items.  The Dreamworld engine does have the ability to do mask-tinting (to allow players to create different coloured versions of items (c.f. using dyes in Guild Wars), but it’s not likely to be implemented in AoC, as it requires items to be designed for this from the ground up, and isn’t possible to implement retroactively.

  • There will be no in-game means to record gem combos, so players will have to memorize or keep detailed notes to learn the nature of the effects and permutations of objects.

Disused market stalls: a venue where Alchemists could trade materials.

Bearing all this in mind, Murd's been able to scribble his hopes for the holidays on a piece of whorled leather (a soon to be worthless commodity) and hopes that it will catch the glance of the capricious powers that be as they toil in the hyperborean wilds of North  ... uhm Carolina.

Wishlist …

Dear All-Father Joel Bylos,

Murd's been a good 'toon all year: promoting the game and helping noobs and being fair to Funcom and to other players ... and paying subs without complaint! ;)

For the holidays this year, he would appreciate some new seasonal content.  Additionally, kindly make the new crafting system even more engaging. 

So please stuff Murdy's festive sabatons with the following:
  • New AAs that boost crafting actions: in the starting tier, add one Prowess perk to support the crafting of PvP items; one for Mastery perk for PvE crafting; and one Expertise AA that boosts critical success crafting chances (after level 80). In the class tier, an AA ability that boosts crafting stats when making accessories like rings, necklaces, cloaks. (e.g.  PoM can boost heal rating or holy damage).

  • Allow us to have a new top tier of loot for which crafters can aim; call it 'legendary' (or 'Awesome' or whatever).

  • Holidays sometimes involve special libations, hence it would be very welcome if alchemy crafting empowered players to create potions that boost the crafters own crafting stats a little; and with more work let player-crafters make potions that buff critical success chances for a few hours.  Murd's not greedy, so these potions shouldn’t stack against similar potions but could against other crafting buffs.  If a player is willing to put in the extra time and energy to harness some recursive boosts, why not?
  • Allow players to craft clothing and items that also add small buffs to the crafter's efforts (e.g. aprons, caps, hammers, tongs, mortars, and pestles).

  • New trader search options to search by stats and also the option to search by character-crafter.  Ideally, searches could be cross-indexed with 2 or 3 stats.

  • And, because all these new crafting-gifts could leave each player's hovel stuffed to the rafters, kindly give players more inventory space, especially in the trade-skill resources but aslo in store-and-sell, and gear bags.
If these are just not possible, kindly just leave Murddock a tin of all-butter shorbreads, a rasher of maple-smoked bacon, and a bottle of Lagavullin!

What will Hyborians get this year?

P.S. Oh yeah, one more thing ... Can you do anything to make the mayor of Toronto resign? 

Til next time ...

Monday, 14 October 2013

Beyond Dragon's Spine?

This blog was initially started to help new and casual players with a view to helping to clarify some stats and explore the new (and that word’s being used ironically) crafting update.  That was the plan nine months ago, and in the meantime TMAB has produced some content to meet those needs. After a  hiatus, Murd’s found some time to again deliver some content.  Originally, this material was supposed to have been 3-4 shorter entries ... so go grab some tea and cookies, beer and pizza, or bacon and absinthe (essentially whatever you prefer) to accompany a longer read. 

Minor News

Now much credit has to be given to the FC team for the by and large smooth server merge and addition of new versions of the old world dungeons to live and to test-live.  Yes there were glitches, but it wasn’t the Armageddon that it might have been.   Additionally, in  the recent Game Director’s letter Joel Bylos gave a welcome update on the crafting revamp.  It was somewhat of a “do you want the good news first or the bad news?” update for crafting oriented players.   Although the long slow process of converting all the old assets into the current post-DreamWorld re-vamp format is complete, Bylos intimated that there was still more to be done.   

The GD did answer a question that’s been nagging Murd somewhat:

Originally Posted by ibrock (a.k.a. Murddock)
Joel, you probably know this question has popped us elsewhere, but given that some GUI work has to be done, will you also be making any changes to the trader window, so we can search for crafted items (e.g. search by item stat or by crafter etc.)?

Nusquam (a.k.a. Joel Bylos)
It’s not the GUI work I was referring to, but it *is* a good idea. I'll see if we can fit it in.

Thanks Joel ... being able to search by stat would be a useful option: and searching by crafter will help reward those who really speacilize in the activity.

In the meatime, Murd’s had another question to consider ...

What's coming further out in AoC’s future?

With the Secret’s of Dragon’s Spine content now seemingly rounding second base (crafting’s still underway, the PvP mini-game, and the raid are the two final zone components in the production line).  It’s reasonable for players to wonder what’s next; what new area of the Hyborian Age’s world will be opened up (or will there be just more systems tweaks and those purported carry overs from TSW)?

While the TMAB staff of one really approves of FC’s choice to use the Serpent Men legacy in south Stygia as central pinning point for the narrative in Dragon’s Spine, the zone itself seems a little sparse.  Exploring more desert (albeit very impressively rendered) fell a little flat for Murd.  Now it must be understood that in RL, TMAB’s lone hack actually lives and works in an oil rich desert country in the Middle-East.  Every day, Murd sees camels, sand dunes, and giant sandworms --- Hey, they may look exactly like convoys of cement mixers blocking traffic but locals know they’re sandworms in disguise ---  so the desert setting isn’t that exotic for this blogger.

As such, Murd thought he would let his imagination wander and suggest some viable possibilities and permutations.  The guiding principle here is to keep to Funcom’s current make more out of less approach.   The goal is to achieve more variety but allow FC to use some existing assets as a starting point.  Finally, Murd remembers hearing that FC can implement procedural aspects to DreamEngine games, so why not include that as a way to create variety in any new content. 

Part 1 - Khosala, Vendhya & Kambuja 

Khosala, Vendhya, Uttara Kuru and Kambuja: this region is R.E. Howard’s equivalent of the Indian subcontinent and South East Asia.   As such, they can provide some variations on existing themes.  India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia, clearly have incredibly diverse geographies and cultures to draw on, but as these areas fill the cultural continuum between Persia (Turan) and Egypt (Stygia) to the west, and Indo-China (Khitai)  to the north and east: there’s less need to create completely new assets.

Kambuja offers new South Asiatic style jungles.
(Original Image:

A new adventure pack situated in Vendhya could recycle some of the wire-frames used for Kopshef (peasant houses), Ardeshir (Domed Palaces), Khemi and Keshatta (Souq’s and ships), and Black Lotus Swamp (huge statue heads) which would be supplemented with some new skins and few new buildings (see images) that employ a more south Asian colour scheme (viz. Saffrons, golds, purples and yellows).    Vendhya, too, could employ some elements from Khitai, such as statues of Yag-Kosha, Yun etc. Also useful could be some elements from the Varghasan Tiger’s (Armor sets) as well, as they’re supposed to have come from Vendhya.   There are already meshes for Turbans, pantaloons, and similar attire for various cultures in the game, that could be re-skinned.  And there are plenty of existing animals that could be situated in Vendhya (tigers, cobras, water buffalo, monkeys, crocodiles, etc.) 

Some new assets might include Indian Elephants (or more interesting prehistoric members of the elephants’ family tree).  That might be especially apropos, as the Yag-Kosha (an elephant-like god resembling India’s Ganesh) aspects of Khitai would be tied-in.    

Using the existing mammoth elements (e.g. bodies and animations)
some new prehistoric pachyderms could be introduced.

One element that TMAB would especially like to see in AoC is a truly deep dark grim jungle.  Parts of Tortage and Dead Man’s Hand come close visually,  but they’re just creepy and a truly horrifying jungle is a must.  So while much of the flora from the jungle areas might be re-used; it’s be nice to see a really new use of day and night … so that by day there are merely little islands of light and colour in an otherwise dark green jungle zone (imagine the area around the Lemurian ruins in NG, but on a huge scale). By night, it should simply become preternaturally dark and friggin’ precarious and unsettling (use sound for this!).

With plenty of pulp and camp culture to be mined here along the lines of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: cannibal cults, thuggee, Kama Sutra, lost over-grown temples in naga filled swamps make Vendhya compelling.

AoC Could do with a touch of Ray Harryhausen’s Magic.
 (Original Image: The Golden Voyage of Sinbad)

Proposed ideas

A) PvE - A raid just cz they’re always expected and needed; and 1-2 new solo/unchained 6-man instances  TMAB strongly suggests that all new 6-mans function like 'The Breach' in which one location that serves two play styles: 1) an auto-content leveling solo and 2) a max level unchained group instance.

An overgrown temple in the Kambujan swamps might serve as
the setting for a solo/6-man unchained dungeon.

B) PvP -  Something a bit fresh … some kind of zone that employs procedural jungle terrain elements that establish unique, so the play field is different each time.

Knut Avenstroup could supply some sensuous new South Asian inspired music.
 (Original Image:

      Part 2 -  Visit Zamora’s infamous Shadizar the Wicked

Now the idea TMAB has for this new location might be too ambitious for FC as it stands, but here’s the suggestion:  this area, as with Vendhya, could re-employ some of the Middle-Eastern urban architectural wireframes.  Shadizar should be used to introduce something the game really needs, an extensive new urban environment.   

Shadizar: the original "hive of scum and villainy"
 (Original Image:  Assassin’s Creed by Ubisoft)

Shadizar has always figured prominently in the Conan pastiche materials.  And it’s high time for FC to put it to use in our MMO.  

Shadizar:  Beloved setting for so many Conan interpretations.

The general thinking is that in the centrally located country of Zamora, Shadizar’s an East-meets-West kind of milieu not historically unlike Istanbul (or also Andalusia). It’s a trade-route crossroads where cultures clash and mingle.  

There’s some evidence that Howard intended the Hyborian era to have a kingdom inspired by Romani culture.  'Zingara' is an Italian term for a Romani woman which was perhaps erroneously transposed with 'Zamora'.   The real world Spanish place name 'Zamora' came to be applied to the Romani/Byzantine themed fictional city; while the noun 'Zingara' ended up being applied to the clearly Iberian themed fictional western Hyborian nation. Confused? ... Don't worry ... Howard’s fantasy world never really coherently maps one-to-one with our own.  The simplest rule of thumb is that Shazidar is ancient, dangerous, and a melting pot of ruthless and cunning denizens.

Shadizar: She’s most seductive and, as such, especially dangerous!
 (Original Image: deviantart - "Dreaming")

Shazidar’s precise appeal is that it offers the adventure of a deeply seedy and dangerous urban space.  It should make Tarantia Commons, the last genuinely major urban zone, seem safe and bland.   The wicked city should amount to AoC’s version of Assasins Creed or Prince of Persia: a sprawling city where there’s as much going happening on the rooftops, as there is in the taverns or temples.

Shadizar: Where your next drink, could be your last!
(Original Image: deviantart - woman from Rajasthan)

Currently there are in-game locales, such as  the souqs in Khemi and Keshatta, that hint at what Shadizar the Wicked should be:  busy with trade and full of dodgy back alleys, sketchy locals and the most notorious operators from across the world of the Hyborian Era.  Shadizar must also be about money ... It would be fitting if a mechanism were in place such that every item in-game could be  purchased (albeit somewhat randomly available) and every in-game and appropriate currency (gold, silver, relics, MoAs etc.) could be spent there (albeit from merchants who gouge players unashamedly).  Additionally, it should be an environs where players might randomly have their pockets picked or be out-and-out mugged and yes lose actual money (just a few silver, mind you)! Likewise, in game gambling could be a small but interesting mini-game to keep some suckers ... er I mean, players engaged.

What happens in Shadizar, stays in Shadizar.
(Original Image: Prince of Persia Wallpaper)
FC could build the narrative for a Shadizar adventure pack around faction play (one faction for each class-archetype). Simply put, each faction wants to run all the Shadizar’s criminal and commercial syndicates.   Every two weeks a leader board would identify the archetype faction that’s in the lead; points would be accrued by 'toons doing the dungeons and PvP competition.

Proposed ideas

A) PvE - Beyond the obligatory raid,  2 new dungeons with solo / unchained 6-man options (see above).  However each new 6-man version of the dungeon would employ mechanics which are designed to be played by archetype dominated groups.  So that each entering group must have 4-5 players of the same archetype and one of any other archetype (e.g. a group could have 5 priests and a rogue or, say, have 4 mages and a soldier).  One instance would be designed to be played by groups or mainly rogues or alternately groups mainly of soldiers; while the other instance, would alternate between groups predominated by priests and those predominated by mages.   The Rogue/Soldier 6-man zone could be set in Shadizar’s warren-like neighborhoods where melee is suitable, and might employ some procedural elements to add variation to the warren layouts.  While the Mage/Priest-oriented 6-man instance could be tied to the Spider-Cult of Zath and put the emphasis on magical tactics ... spider webs would make an ideal procedural element within a temple labyrinth. 

Shadizar needs an Arena
(Original Source: Spartacus Starz TV)
B) PvP - This is a location that screams out for a colosseum: an area with an open air arena and also some kinda sub-basement hell-hole for pit-fighting.  This is where FC could start a real ranking system for PvP players, who can duke-it-out in 1-v-1, 2-v-2 in the pits or 4-v-4 team competitions played out on the arena’s main field.  If it were done right, FC could add new arena floor set-ups and minis as later content.  And for cripesakes, let players do the 4-v-4s in premades, so that there’s something for everyone!  Yes, players could do random stuff for better PvP loot, but the Premades could serve as a means for players to also get team bragging rights and vanity gear.  The pits instance for example could be developed from the existing Armsman Tavern area cellar in Tarantia’s Noble district with a facelift and a few new prop and lighting tweaks.

It'd be great to have a fully functioning PvP colosseum in Shazidar
(Original Images: Spartacus Starz TV and Spartacus Legends Video Game)

Finally, TMAB suggests this system employ cross-server tech to be implemented in such a way that players can spectate: ½ the arena seats would be restricted for PvE players (with its own entrance) in which no one can unsheathe their weapons (let’s call it the ‘noble’s boxes’ a la Spartacus ). And the other ½ of the gallery would be more a rough and ready space in which spectators could PvP in the ‘Cheap Seats’ (again a la Spartacus), but not enter the combat floor.   Why do it like this?   Well I really believe that more PvE  players would do PvP if they could see it and get a feel for it.  Plus, while Murd doesn’t PvP, he admires the folks who do play it … Murddock would like to observe his guildies doing their PvP thing.  There’s no watering down of PvP in this concept, rather it’s actually a way to bring both player communities together.  Cross-server might allow this kind of innovation.

Part 3 - Hyperborea

Okay here’s my final suggestion.  Where the prior two make ample use of the game’s Middle-Eastern and Asian assets, this one addresses a cry that’s been on the forums off and on for years.  Let’s have  new content that returns to the specifically northern Hyborean zones, and offers a cultural injection of northern European themed gear (House of Crom, a visually impressive set of instances, was the last area to do this, but the HoC gear itself was visually not really that innovative and IMO looked like stuff that was left-over from early development).


On a clear night you can almost hear the distant sobbing of a brass monkey!
(Original Image: Hyperborean Vibrations)

Now Murd’s home in Canada is the eastern-most region and he grew up in a North Atlantic sea-side town that regularly sees icebergs (in March);  whales, seals, and moose (a traffic hazard) are occasional visitors;  and where the snow can still be on the ground in June.  ½ the resident’s have Irish ancestors from around County Cork and the other ½ claim descent from Devonshire folk in the UK.  And yes, my town was a base of operations for piracy in the 1600’s.  The most frequent visitors were longliner crewmen from Norway and Faeroe.  For my neighbors in the Middle-East, that counts as exotic!  Indeed Murd sometimes misses home; and it's no surprise Murd friggin’ loved Skyrim because its environment looked precisely like his childhood landscape (save for the cars, TVs, and shopping malls).  So TMAB’s kinda biased here.

Hyperborea is the high arctic: Northern Canada, Greenland, Iceland and even more so,  Finland, the Baltics, and Russia, as they are the modern 'counterparts' of Hyperborea.

Hyperborea should look like Russia in winter.
(Original image: 7 Giants of the Urals)

You get the drift: very sparse trees and lots of harsh driving snow.  An extreme arctic zone that draws on such Hyperborean elements which might be accessed in the northern part of the Eiglophian Mountains complete with midnight sun, Aurora Borealis and so on,  could feature environmental debuffs associated with the harsh cold conditions, much in the same way Kara Korum has a negative effect.  The tough Hyperborean folk have inhabited the extreme cold for a long time and their culture relatively ancient.

Where The Black Ones and the Serpent Men more properly belong to the pre-catyclysmic Valusian epoch of Kull, the Hyperboreans are somewhat similar to the Stygians, they emerged during the earliest days of the game’s contemporary eon.  In the "Hyborian Age" Howard hints at the history of Hyperborea, which eventually emerges after the cataclysm:
...the first of the Hyborian kingdoms has come onto existence, the rude and barbaric kingdom of Hyperborea, which had its beginnings in a crude fortress of boulders heaped to repel tribal attack. There are few more dramatic events in history than the rise of this fierce kingdom, whose people turned abruptly from nomadic life to rear dwellings of naked stone, surrounded by cyclopean walls ... [but after some time] ...  the first kingdom of Hyperborea is overthrown by another tribe which, however, retains the old name.
So it could be said  that the game’s current Hyperboreans, live amid the vestiges of the original 'first kingdom' Hyperboreans, who, though initially barbaric, became civilized earlier in history.  The subsequent group of nominal Hyperboreans had their own kingdom and, indeed fought against,  "Hyrkanians and Turanians together in time, [who were] united under one great chief. With no Aquilonian armies to oppose them, they were invincible, sweeping first over Zamora, then Brythunia, Hyperborea and Corinthia."

The Hyperboreans players encounter, are more of less the rough and driven descendants of the more civilized Hyperboreans.  It could be very appealing to see their communities that lie to the north.

The last hotspot in Hyperborea.
 (Original Image: Iceland Wallpaper)
Let’s keep the architecture, initially encountered by 'toons upon entering the zone, really basic.  A few hide tents around a lone volcanic hot spring, could suffice.  Players would move through a large hostile ice field that has a few ice covered stone butes.  Yet at the farther end there could be a Hyperborean enclave (Haloga), a place that was once clearly more advanced technologically, but now reveals a few centuries of decline.    It’s aesthetic could be something that re-uses generic ruins (e.g. in Amphitheater in Ymir’s Pass)  but with new touches from Finnish and Russian Pagan art. 

There are already some Hyperborean items in the game, so it might just be a matter of broadening some of their colours and distributions to make the Hyperborean culture seem more rounded, such as adding Hyperborean women (e.g. QueenVammatar or Louhi) and children.  A few renovated fur cloaks, boots, and robes couldn't be that hard to produce.

There are Hyperborean women!
(Original image: deviantart’s idolum)

For no direct reason, there’s also a little part of me that likes the idea of taking some visual cues from Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. It’s a minor coincidence that the aliens, called Engineers, in that movie, seem to share a similar aesthetic as the Hyperboreans (tall, pallid and cold) in AoC.  Scott’s movie presents the primeval icy Icelandic terrain as perhaps version of the early Earth.  Conceivably it’s also an association that comes from knowing Scott’s creatures are informed by the art H. R. Giger, and the latter illustrator’s material sometimes has looked to modernize the mythic weird horror atmosphere of some of the Lovecraftian stories.  So Funcom, why not likewise imply that some of the Hyperborean’s history is tied to the Cthulhu mythos.  Clarke Ashton Smith, whose Hyperborean tales were an extension of both Howard’s and Lovecraft’s weird tales, certainly tried to unite these strands.  Smith’s work, albeit canonically gray,  may also provide some plots to be mined.  Forgive the digression.

Hyperborean design could take a cue from Ridley Scott’s Prometheus 
 (Original Image: Prometheus 2 Movie)

As for assets, arctic foxes, hares, wolverines, lynx, and polar bears are all currently available.  Re-skinning deer and could be done to create reindeer or caribou.  Some new animals might be included here (e.g. walruses, narwhals or even some pre-cataclysmic sea-mammals might be designed as unique Hyperborean hazards).

An ambulocetus catches its prey in the Hyberborean Arctic
(Original image: When Whales Had Legs)

A) PvE - A 12-man raid features some creatures models (maritime-monster undead types adapted or inspired by) The Secret World (see image below); A 6-man; a new solo/unchained 6-man (like the Breach)

Some of the existing Secret World Lovecraftian inspired monsters
might feel at home in the seas under Hyperborea’s ice caps.

B) PvP - A mini-game that stresses environmental hazards (mind you not PvE play as in questing or gathering).  In a combat mini-game that’s played out on procedurally generated ice flows, such that via jumping, sprinting, and hiding,  movement become more decisive would shake up current PvP combat practices somewhat.

A lone Hyberborean looks north to home.

While this posting has hinted a few off the cuff ideas for systems and possibilities, the main intent of these three ideas is to suggest that new cultural areas of the Hyborian Ages world could be developed with the less-is-more approach.  Furthermore TMAB intended to insinuate, that by employing some procedural elements with interesting mechanics, FC could push the longevity of both PvE and PvP instances.

Before this admittedly loooonnnngggg entry concludes, it has to be mentioned that Murd’s most desired new area has always been be an expansion (yeah, a Khitai-sized affair) based on Queen of the Black Coast but that’s another daydream, for another post.