Sunday, 27 April 2014


This is just a very lame quick post ...

And I chose the word 'lame' intentionally ... that's because I've got the gout.  I'm lame figuratively and literally.

James Gillray's perfect depiction of the gout.

Added to the constant pain, sleeplessness and latent rage (and dissapointment ... I get to eat yummy lettuce for 3 weeks);  I have house guests for the next three weeks.

Murd has a new topic in the works but it may be slow coming.   To the regular readers ... thanks for being patient.  What would Conan do?

Oh my GOD my foot hurts ... CUT IT OFF! CUT IT OFF!

More to come in late May or  June.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Alts, Nostalgia and the Quest for 'That Special Something'

Murd’s in a bit of a rut. Blaelock, Theodosius and all Murddock's alts are too.  For the first time in over five years, the idea of levelling another toon is utterly underwhelming.   There’s a couple of reasons for this.  But the main one is simply facing the "been there, done that" veteran syndrome with Age of Conan and yes, being weary of waiting for something new from Funcom.

Now don’t misunderstand, this is not the beginning of an anti-FC post.  Despite the recent slowdown in development, I recognize that FC's delivered enough,
at least for me, over the years.  As a casual player I concede, too, there’s lots of content left for Murd.  It's to its credit that AoC  can keep a casual subbed for so long. However, after 8 months of an RL work-schedule, which has precluded serious raiding, there’s less incidental content that calls to me … so c’mon crafting revamp!

Uhhh ... THAT'S not Hyboria!!! SACRILEGE!
The other element that’s in play is that I (Murd’s RL alter-ego) have taken a few weekends off to beta-test Elder Scrolls Online.  It’s the first time that another MMO, has seemed remotely alluring.  In the past, Lord of the Rings Online was given a shot … and despite reading and re-reading Tolkien’s Middle-Earth novels and stories yearly from the ages of 12 to 22, (and as well, a few subsequent albeit less regular re-reads over the past few decades); nonetheless Turbine's game version of Middle-Earth didn’t deeply grip me.  It’s very pretty and there’s great content, but well … meh! 

Will ESO provide that 'special something'?

Likewise, Rift was considered but its ads never quite excited me.   The early PR for Aion (with the flying demons and anime moves) looked pretty interesting, until I saw what seemed to be well uh ... pirate-squirrels in a hot air balloon ... so, nooope!  More recently, Defiance appeared to have potential … but then having seen the TV show I thought … meh! The show’s okay for the boob-tube but on the whole, the milieu just didn’t suggest I’d want to waste hours of weekly time there. 

Peculiarly, this trial of Elder Scrolls Online got me thinking about MMOs and the idea of re-playability.   What makes us play and then, more curiously, what makes us re-play?  It's fair to say that one of the aspects of MMORPGs that even permits a variety of replays is the presence of alternative play options, such as character classes.  In some respects, these might be seen as vestiges of pen-and-paper RPGs.  After a little thought, I began to wonder whether, at its core, a key motivator is nostalgia: that desire to re-experience a prior activity or place, simply because we remember some of the positive aspects of it.

TSR's Basic and Expert D&D Rulebooks from the early 1980s.

Let TMAB wax nostalgic for a paragraph or two, and revisit my earliest RPG play and replay.  When I was 13 in the spring of 1981, a new schoolmate, who'd  come the year earlier to Canada from the United States to live, asked me to make a trek across town to play what he described as 'kind of a board-game'.  He knew I was an emerging zealot for the cult of J.R.R, and so he introduced me to Dungeons and Dragons: Basic D&D (the 1977 rulebook) to be exact.  And for two or three cold rainy April weekends a few guys from his neighbourhood across town and I learned the way the game was played.  Its underlying mechanic of polyhedral dice, tables and chance modifiers and so on, was mind-blowing (yeah when you're 13, just about everything is).  On the first meeting we played a brief 14-15 room 'teaching' dungeon, he'd made. And the following weekend, we mapped and hacked a swath through a module called Keep on The Borderlands.

Nostalgia: B2 the first module most silver-age players typically played
For a few reasons: possibly that his house was somewhat far away, and that other players were just not as engrossed as I was, but that group didn't maintain much inertia (my American pal and I remained friends for years).  Several months later though, another good friend of mine, who lived on my street, broached the idea of playing D&D.  A new group was formed composed of guys who either lived closer or who just really got into the game.  And within only a few months, that group moved on to Expert Rules (the 1981 editions above) and then to Advanced D&D.  

My buddy and I began bugging our parents to buy dice, AD&D parephenelia and whatnot.  In time, we amassed a cardboard box full of hardcover rulebooks (c.f. The Monster Manuals, The Fiend Folio, a pile of Dragon Magazines, boxes of lead figures, the World of Greyhawk hex-map and guides and so on).  This box with much unoriginality, was dubbed "The Box" and whoever was the DM usually kept it.  Meanwhile, the players might pass the Players Handbook around.  I DM'd for a few years, but I was more head-in-the-clouds interested in narrative and world building and admittedly a lax DM.  Later, the co-owner of "The Box" DM'd and he was a rules stickler (I inwardly had to admit, this made the game demanding but very fun).  That group, with a few additions, stayed together throughout high school until the summer of 1986, at which the time most of us graduated and moved on in our lives.

AD&D, a veritable religion during high school

Despite the longevity of that group, I think that my favourite recollections of playing AD&D came from those earliest efforts.  When the game was raw and simple and learning to think about probability was as equally exciting as imagining killing Orcs or Kobolds and tackling Gelatinous Cubes.  Additionally, that second D&D group initially played through module B2 again, but as I'd done it before, at least one player among us had a few inklings of how to proceed.  The second time through was in some ways better: it moved faster; stupid procedural mistakes were avoided; the game mechanic was far better understood: roll initiative --- roll each player-character's 'to hit' and 'damage' --- and the Dungeon Master rolls the opponents' likewise --- roll 'saving throws' etc.  Rinse and repeat until the the group was envisioned as ankle-deep in goblin gore and divvying-up their loot ...  

DM: "Shit, your Magic-user dropped his damn torch! ... Suddenly it's dark; all you can sense is the hot stink of fresh goblin entrails."
Us: "No big deal, we start lighting a new one!"
DM: "Hmm remember, you didn't buy that tinder box! (the DM D10s and rolls a 9) ... What an incredible shame," he snidely quips, "the remaining 9 torches are on the floor soaked in goblin guts (-5 on a D6 to light one) ... Oh and you hear a slurping dragging noise ... It's getting closer. What do you do?"
Us: "We drop the loot and friggin' RUUUNN!"

Mayhem ensued.  One hysterical character inadvertently killed an other.  Soon we were all dead and bickering, a.k.a. "negotiating", with the DM as to where we should get to restart from.  Yeah a module could take weeks at that speed, but it was addictive and engrossing.

     Flash Forward ...

Now much of what kept me playing AoC, in 2008, was that same mix of enjoying learning how technically to play an MMO while also liking Hyboria and the AoC story-lines.  This was a time when the game was fresh, yeah buggy and imbalanced, and leveling was super-slow.  But it offered all the elements of fun and challenge as Keep on the Borderlands did over 25 years earlier.

And this I think is one of several factors that motivates players to replay an MMO via their alts: their second or third characters often of different classes. Many players want to recapture that special something, that charm of the first play-through ... the nostalgia factor.

Alts: some things  to consider when playing an MMO.

Now beyond this nostalgia issue (which I conjecture is what helps a lot of folks incidentally stick with their re-playing), there are more practical reasons for alts

1) As with good ol' module B2 in 1980, contemporary players of MMOs indeed benefit from a second play-through but in a different class.  My first class in AoC was HoX and then I tried ToS, despite imagining that being a mystical and dangerous Stygian mage would be cooler than being a cliched (cheap Conan knock-off) Cimmerian fighter, within two weeks Murddock was born; given light hair and a goatee to avoid being too much like "the man"; and those magic-wielding 'toons were deleted their names forgotten.  

2) Despite some database limits in the game's ancient coding, in AoC Funcom has made some reasonable efforts to help players access more storage.  Nonetheless,  having a few alts does additionally allow a player to pile the detritus of many months and years of adventures into the inventory of several characters.   With the advent of the vanity slots, wrangling inventory has become an art and a science.

3) Once Funcom had introduced more new content over the first few years, culminating with Godslayer, it became apparent that it might be fun to re-grind from scratch to try locations not previously seen.  Murd was leveled with very little group play and largely outside a guild.  Having a second or third option within a guild made play about the players again, not so much about building the main character.

4)  Another aspect of having choices to re-play older content, is that it allows players, in time, to try different roles within the context of well-known instances.  While you might be sheepish about trying tanking on your alt guard in a raid for the first time, you'll probably be more inclined to put your main ranger aside, and try Reliquary of Flame, on the 400th run.  I'd hazard a guess that this is a motivator for many PvP players, too ... if you have to play another mini-game, maybe it'd be more interesting to do it on a different class??

5) Another possibility for keeping a corral of alts, is to get a grasp of the workings of all classes.  This is a good way for a raid-leader neophyte to start memorizing the ability names and builds for the kinds of tactics he or she might have to lead.

6) There's no doubt about it, even though it's an older MMO, AoC still looks pretty sharp.  The concept art and in-game designs, might be a motivator for a player.  I do admit, that I decided to level a Barb, because I like the armor sets that were available.  Having access to a solid supply of gold on Murd, has made the leveling of one or two alts, and exercise in getting best gear, just as a point of pride.  I suspect too, that in the spirit of the saying "a change is as good as a break", some players try other classes (possibly even different character genders) just to see a different avatar running through Refuge of the Apostate or the Jade Citadel.

Murddock and 2 of his alts in Conall's Valley (Thanks, Photoshop)

Alts: the down side.

7) The chief objection to having alts, is that every hour re-playing the villas or Tarantia Commons on an alt, is one less hour that you will put into your main.  So if you are gainfully employed, or have a family, and you nonetheless wanna have the best gear and pwn Toth Amon within a few months, then don't level alts.  

8) Alts are each kind of a cash-sink too.  Every FC point you spend in the shop on the purple stuff for your twinks, is money that might later be used to buy something more appealing for your main.  That being said, for a veteran player, FC's speed of adding stuff to the shop is slow, so ... ahhh fukkit ... buy the Yothian War-Mare.

9) The final minor quip: it's a pain in the ass is managing your friends list.  If I were the god of MMOs, I'd make a friend's list that tracks a player's user ID (one, distinct from your login name), so that your pals can see when you are playing on an alt, and vice versa.*  Clearly such a list could also allow for exclusions (for anonymous play).

Balance nostalgia with practical reasons.

When ya think about it, it's a pop-culture truism that most heroin addicts get hooked in their desperate attempt to recapture that 'special something' that made the first ride on the horse appealing (that and, yeah, to escape some dismal RL stresses and pain). The former aspect is the cautionary bit.  You might enjoy your 2nd or 3rd alt's liberation of Tortage, but you'll probably never really reacquire 100% that first-time electricity.  

To conclude, yeah creating alts can represent much more than a manifestation of the desire to recapture that 'special something' which made the first great play-through in a game memorable.  However, if you plan to build a repertory company of 'toons, then accept that you'll be better off doing so, when you have practical reasons for it, as well as that yen for little misty-eyed nostalgia.    

* POST SCRIPT  Mrs. Murddock has joined ESO and when exploring the friends functionality, we discovered that Bethesda/Zenimax has done just that.  Friends are recorded by both 'toon name and player ID.   It's pretty convenient!

Monday, 24 February 2014

Filthy Casuals: Apologia Pro Vitam Nostrum.

First, Murddock wants to apologize for his rusty Latin … ahem … Aquilonian.  It’s the first of a few 'apologiae' to be forthcoming in this month’s meandering entry. This outing takes a sideways and meandering wander from Age of Conan specifically to contemplate the place of casual players in MMOs.

Accepting for the moment that global capitalism through its mechanisms of various class, race, sexual, and religious tensions, is doing a first-rate job creating a world ripe with divisiveness; why is there a specific vector of  contempt from some gamers for other gamers, when conventionally gamers as a whole are a subset of geeks.  And furthermore, why so when geeks have traditionally been classed as outsiders ... a social position that geeks themselves often encourage and relish: "Can't we all just get along?"

That Meme - A Double Edged Sword

If you play and follow MMOs (or probably any video games) on the web, you’ve no doubt seen it: the meme that disparages casual (and this entry will immanently argue, hard-core) gamers ---  “Don’t touch me you filthy casual.”   

As far as Murd can ascertain (in a brief web search) the term "filthy casual" began its life on 4chan's VG forum and the meme followed soon thereafter. 

Yeah at first glance, it's pretty funny in its own dry douchey way.  After all, it initially appears to be just an amusing indictment of players who dabble in games by the hardcore types.  Yet, upon reflection the meme is just as much a shot at the depicted hardcore player, whose self-definition, is derived from being good at or dedicated to a game. It reinforces the stereotype of the anti-social couch-potato bespectacled dude, who equates his awesome tenacity, experience, and skill  in Dark Souls with somehow being an elite.  As self-satire, the meme is funny and telling: it plays on the stereotype of gamers as having their own Nietzschean caste system ... complete with nerd Ueber-Menschen aiming for the top echelons, and semi-nerd untouchables at the bottom.

The meme is extrinsically meaningful because many gamers see themselves as part of a reactionary counter-culture (this is the legacy of 80's and 90's cyber-punk).  The meme highlights a milieu that rejects not only the Pinot slurping, chino wearing, Michael Bolton-loving So-Cal types. The meme's intrinsic meaning additionally seeks the exclusion of poser-geeks and wannabes in their boutique aged Green Day (or Green Lantern a la Sheldon Cooper) t-shirts.  It goes ultimately to the point of trying to invalidate genuine game-nerd misanthropists by suggesting that real commitment to game supremacy requires the adoption deep pure alienation from all compassion to achieve a state of pure isolated otherness.   Yet by reinforcing the stereotype that constructs 'true' gamers as outsiders, as a meme specifically, an signifier native to the web, it reminds us that in cyber-space, we gamers are anything but.  We are a core element of 21st century culture, so paradoxically, the more a gamer tries to be an elite, a stand-out among gamers, the more he or she cements himself or herself into that cultural brick wall.  In short: in the 21st century, outsiders are the in-crowd. 

The schmancy term for this is "out-group homogeneity bias". It's a feature of  human psychology that when individuals observe cultural groups (or sub-groups) of others from the outside, they perceive and catalogue general similarities shared within the observed group and thereby create a broad mental category.  A week ago Io9 ran an article on this phenomenon looking at hipsters specifically, stating their "relentless pursuit of individuality seems to make them almost cardboard cut-outs of each other".  The implication of this is that by trying to be ultra-hardcore; in aiming to be a stand-out; in trying to be a distinct individual within the game community, such players to some degree actually inform a new stereotype.  This is why the "Don't touch me" meme undermines the dignity of hard-cores as well as casuals.  Conforming to a stereotype is the very antithesis to being individuated.

Geek Culture and the Pursuit of Individual Recognition.

Think about our stereotypes and archetypes: among the paragons of power and wealth and influence in Western Culture, side by side the Rolandos, the Jay-Z's and Pope Francises, the are the nerd-oligarchs: the  Gateses, the Jobses, the Musks, the Brins and the Pages. The most sought after (top earning and pirated) movies are ripe with nerd-holy icons: Hobbits, Avengers,  Batman, and Supes.  We geeks are the market place; we probably keep the publishing industry alive:  George RR Martin's tomes have ruled the NY Times Bestseller's list so often in the last 5 years that it'd make  Norman Mailer or Truman Capote turn over in their respective graves.  Sincere but financially less successful writers (those who self-conceived notion of 'literary' excludes genre fiction) are feeling the pressure. Some are obviously foxes (as in Aesop's talking animals) who see the success of popular fantasy as sour grapes.   Academically too, nerd-culture has been the mainstream for decades with the works of Mary Shelley, Doris Lessing, Margaret Atwood, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley,  Kurt Vonnegut, and Anthony Burgess are all Lit 101 canonical fodder and yeah, they're fantastic genre fiction.

Whereas in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, fantasy/sci-fi were considered escapist or infantile (if you can find Arthur Koestler's 1953 essay "The Boredom of Fantasy" it typifies the academic elite's view of genre.)  In those days the gronk was king ... the culture told nebbish, bookish nerd-kids (male ones, at least) they were inadequate.  Social influence, sexual success, and self-determination were achieved by physicality not intellect.  Get respect by getting ripped!  Such classic Charles Atlas ads were still ubiquitous in comics in the 70s and 80's, after Atlas passed away.

Charles Atlas' immortal parable

Quaint, yeah?  In 2014, mo-fos are cyber-bullied.  Muscles don't friggin' matter ... folks just even the odds on Facebook by creating and harnessing the power of community. That's if you're lucky.  Woebetide the knob who kicks sand in the face of the wrong nerd, these days.  He's is rolling the dice in a rigged game. Lose and just maybe 'Mac' will get revenge by spamming the offending bully's facebook page or Linkedin account, so it's chained by HTML to politically objectionable factions' online.  Then some sketchy agency flags him, spots his police record of misdemeanors for pubic drunkenness or petty assault; and soon doors are battered down, flash-bangs go off and when the ringing in his ears subsides, the arrogant meat-head realizes he's in a darkened shipping container ... and next he'll be hanging ankle-bound on a plank while getting generous helpings of water poured into his sinuses. 

Plus who actually wants to be the "hero of the beach"?  Beaches on the Atlantic are covered in the benzene rich residue of BP's incompetence, and in the Pacific ... yup ... radioactivity!  Hang out on the beach long enough, you'll acquire a nifty mutant super-power: the power to lift fastest growing tumors on Earth, the ones in your armpits.  Okay okay, this is a little glib, but we're much closer to William Gibson's 'unevenly distributed' future than thought likely when Neuromancer hit the presses in 1984 ... Shit we're closer to the reality of Nineteen Eighty-Four than ever before (How close? Just measure your distance from North Korea ... do it! Use Google Maps. Better still, follow Cory Doctorow's blog, Boing Boing )

It's no irony that most stand-out hardbodied celebs currently owe their financial success, not to body-building per se, but to the roles they served cinematically.  Arnold Schwarzenegger's career was cemented by The Terminator, but his Conan was the point of no return.  His hollywood muscle-beach forebears Buster Crabbe (Flash Gordon) and Johnny Weismuller (Tarzan) had the great misfortune to work in Hollywood at the height of studio system, which gave them fame but only moderate wealth. Arnold's physique gave him access to the star-power of the films created by geek outsiders like Spielberg, Lucas, Cameron or even the late-great John Milius.

Edward Summer (left) Frank Frazetta (center) and George Lucas (right)
Consider the photo above. These geeks made our culture. Edward Summer was a contributor to Milius' Conan The Barbarian.  Frank Frazetta is well ... Frazetta, the guy who most created the visual tone and sensibility of low pulp fantasy in the 20th century.  Frazetta is the bare-knuckles Brooklyn dude with a duck-tale 20 years outta style ... a fact about which he could've cared less.  While George Lucas is a furry man in an unfortunate sweater, gladly holding his Frazetta print book (autographed?).  So the next time you're trying to score some nerd conversation points, you can say definitively that when Lucas put Carrie Fisher in that slave girl get up ... he had Frazetta's work in mind.

Frazetta's risque aesthetic, no doubt inspired Leia's more PG costume.

Blah Blah Blah ... Get to the point.

If you followed this ramble with even the slightest of interest, or if you found yourself doing a furious web-search, to attempt to see whether the painting above predates RoTJ ; ... if you actually know what RoTJ stands for, then you're simply culturally literate and critical.  And that's what the huge silent majority of we "filthy casual" players do, we bring that cultural critical mass to AoC, or to any MMO we play.  Casuals constitute the 'massive' element in a multi-player community: in which the Brownian motions of individual players keep games alive (via subs, box or shop purchases, or even as F2P numbers on servers).  Casuals are the very mass against which fiercely individualistic players react, and in so doing obliterate their own individuality.

Don't take this the wrong way, TMAB is absolutely not against hardcore players.  Murd's first-rate guild is full of great experienced players, who generously provide excellent advice and who make AoC's broader player community all the richer. Even trolls and ninjas have a place in the massively shared game space; without them MMOs would be less random, less human, and lack the spark and drama, that separates them from closed predictable game worlds.  This week, AoC's premier and longest continuous blogger and Hyborian aficionado, Slith - the Blonde Myth of Aquilonia,  unsubbed and has indicated that he's not logging until some new substantial content appears.  This is a real loss for both the game and the community.

Don't go, Slith!  Don't go.

Games, especially ones that aspire to have the longevity of an MMO, absolutely need skilled, passionate, competitive people.  And yeah, Murd deeply admires the folks who have the free time and energy and focus to progress quickly.  Real life work scheduling has kept Murd from doing T3 raids for just about a year.  That's a far as Murd's gotten, so far and as a proud filthy casual, Murd's just fine with that.

Monday, 27 January 2014

My Name is Newbie ... and Yes, I'm a Raid Virgin

So you’re a new player who’s just hit Level 73, 75 or above and you want to score some much better loot than the city or culture gear that’s currently selling for premium prices on the trader.  What’s an impecunious PVE newbie to do?  Well it’s time to think about doing a raid.

In this installment of TMAB, Murdy will offer some guidance for green players who’ve never tried a raid instance before.  The goal is to take some of the trepidation out of it; particularly if Age of Conan is your first MMO (or at least the first one you’ve stuck with long enough to consider moving to some ‘massive’ player-versus-environment challenges.)   Hopefully, you’ll come away from this entry with a better sense of how to get the most out of your initial few raids.

For the truly virginal players, it’s beneficial to know what a raid is and how it fits into the game's group play progression. 

Raid Dungeons are some of AoC's most impressive play-fields

As players level up, the game provides several additional kinds of areas (a.k.a. zones or instances) in which complex play is possible. These include:
  • Open-world play (as Normal and Epic) zones such as Field of the Dead and now with open-world bosses appearing in various places periodically.
  • 6-man dungeons  (as Normal, Hard Modes, and Unchained Modes) such as Scorpion Caves
  • Single player dungeons (Normal and Unchained etc.) The Villas in the Noble District, or The Forgotten City in Gateway to Khitai
  • PvP minigames
  • Massive PvP Sieges (admittedly AoC’s least successful modality)
  • A Cooperative/competitive dungeon, Threshold of Divinity, that can accommodate four 6-man groups at once.
and ...
  • 24-player “raid” dungeons (e.g. Yakhmar’s Cave, Kyllikki’s Crypt, Vistrix’s Lair, Black Ring Citadel ... etc.)

A somewhat up-to-date list can be viewed here … it doesn’t yet include the Secrets of Dragon’s Spine content yet.

1. The basic mechanics of world zones, instances and invites.

You have already figured some or all of this out from doing 6-man play, but if you haven't here goes ... 

The essential difference between an open-world zone and an instance is that the open-world zones generally are persistent play-fields that are not created for use on a player-by-player or group-by-group basis.  So all players can enter and leave zones at will but there’s always at least one available.  When a world zone hits a maximum population, the game creates a second copy of the zone and populates it with newly entering players.  This is done mostly to control the loads on the game’s server hardware.  

When the game creates any new play-field area, it’s called an instance.  So if the aforementioned open world zones have multiple copies, each copy can be described as an instance.  To see this in action, click the instance icon at the top of the game's user interface (UI) near the map.  A window will appear that allows you to go to another instance, if it’s been created. The alternative instances will have names in quotation marks.  Note that your character should be standing on a rez pad to actually move to the new instance. This is good to know for world-boss battles or sometimes for gathering crafting materials.

View instances icon and selection window.

Now when a player-character enters a solo, 6-man or raid dungeon, these play-fields are likewise created as instances but they’re assigned to players specifically; so different groups can actually be in their own discrete copy of a dungeon play-field.  For example, two, three, or more groups can be doing the same 6-man play-field, but they’ll never bump into another 6-man group because each group is in its own instance (except in the case of Threshold of Divinity which can hold up to four 6-man groups).  

In the case of a raid dungeon, the instance is ‘owned’ by the character who, first enters, leads and assembles the 24-player group by inviting players to join his/her raid.  The invitation will appear as a window that prompts a 'yes' or 'no' reply.  Not understanding this mechanism, can lead to classic super-noob mistake number 1.  

If you simply follow players into a dungeon, because you're hoping to have a peek, or you're a wall-flower looking nonchalantly for a dance; but you haven’t accepted any invitation:

a) Your character may end up in an instance of that dungeon by him or herself and will be automatically teleported out of that dungeon after a minute or so, if you haven’t started your own raid-group. 

b) Alternatively, you may briefly appear in the same instance as the players you followed;  but you will also be automatically booted out of the instance because it’s owned by (a.k.a. 'bound to') the group's Raid Leader (RL, for short).  The instance will only tolerate your presence for a few minutes --- enough time to be invited.  Players are booted-out automatically, if they’re not invited, because the game doesn’t want to allow mischievous ne'er-do-wells to interfere with another group's collaborative play.
Also note, that even having accepted an invitation, sometimes you may have to leave/re-join the raid to get into the same instance, depending a few snarly variables (e.g. differences between your instance and the Raid Leader's, when you accepted the invitation and yadda yadda yadda).   Finally, if and when you get invited, be sure to wait outside the entrance until the RL confirms you can enter.  If you’re not sure, simply send the RL a /tell in chat “Enter?” and he or she will let you know.

Vistrix defeated ... a satisfying prospect
Remember that once your group kills that first boss (namely a very tough and dangerous adversary) in the raid, your character will become 'bound' to that RL's raid-party.  This means you won't be able to start a fresh instance for that play-field until the instance resets.  Understand it's not on a set timer that's linked to the group's RL.  Your character, like all, in time will be 'unbound'.  This happens regularly once a week: the raids reset on Tuesday evenings (I believe at 04:00 GMT).  This essentially restricts access to raiding that play-field to roughly once every seven days per-character.  If your raid group, plans to re-try the instance at a later time, any bosses you've killed will stay dead (but trash-mobs---the minor incidental adversaries will re-spawn).  Being bound has a quasi-benefit in that you could opt to re-join a group formed by the RL the next night and keep trying in the instance as long as you don't run over the Tuesday reset time.  If you try to join a group started by another RL for the same instance, your character's bound status will prevent this.

2. Be prepared!

So if you plan to get invited to a raid, there are a few things to work on before you go looking and volunteering. 
a) Know your class and develop a good PvE raid build.  Know the names of your skills, weapons, abilities and your feat build: for example,  the RL may ask all Conqs: ‘Have you set your skills specification to “Brute” or “Carnage” or “Hybrid”?’ or for 'Sins, ‘Are you spec'd as “Lotus” or “Corruption” etc.?’ 

b) Consider how you'll communicate. It’s very common for raids to use voice over internet protocol (VoIP) apps often called “Voice Comms”.  These are little programs that run in the background and allow you to listen to the other players, in particular to the Raid Leader.  While not essential for the simpler starting raids (e.g. Yakhmar or Vistrix), they really do make things smoother when trying to coordinate 24 individuals (who can be in various countries or time zones; have various linguistic strengths or deficits; or may just be incorrigible boozers … man, I love my guildies!)  The three most common Voice Coms I’ve seen AoC players use are Team Speak 3 (TS3 set-up video), Ventrillo (Vent set-up video) or Mumble (Mumble set-up video)  You should download each and learn how get them working before you join a group.  Being in a guild really helps with this, as setting up some of these apps may seem finicky to a new player.  Your guild may have a server ID# and password for one of these.  Once you fidget around with them, you’ll get the gist of how they work.

The video above, recorded a few years ago on the then separate US servers, gives a fairly general impression of what a player might see and hear when using Voice Coms in an AoC raid (Note the player recording the video employed a custom user interface, so some on screen elements here are not typical.) (Are you an iOS user who can't see it? Click here!)

c) Buy plenty of potions and foods. Many players will be willing to share a few here and there but they shouldn’t be expected to carry you all the way.

d) Find and collect the associated quests in advance.  Some players will offer to share some raid quests when folks are waiting around, but once the groups are formed and instructed people may not have time to do that.  So for example, if you're planning on starting with Yakhmar's Cave ... visit Fenella just near the path to the hunting lodge and do her quests.  She won't give you the Yakhmar quest immediately, as it's the last in a chain.  Do this well before you look to do the raid, so you can start collecting the furs you'll need for the epic reward asap.

e) Set aside time. Very-skilled or experienced players can clear a T1 raid in a short time, but if you’re a newb in a raid (and chances are, there are other newbs there too) it may take a while.  Sometimes the longest part of the experience is just waiting for everyone to arrive.  It's a common annoyance  for things to become delayed because some players do reasonably have to go and newer ones have to be recruited.   If you don’t have an hour or two of dedicated time then you’re not going to get the most out of a basic raid. Longer raids can take even more time.   On the other hand, despite our on-line reputation as savage players, I’ve never been in a raid where anyone was kicked out for needing to check on kids, sick spouses or the elderly.  In the poignant lyrics of Spinal Tap: “ ... Folks lend a hand in a hell hole”.

f) Be primed to hang in there for multiple tries at raid objectives.  IMO there’s a reasonable amount of time or number of attempts on each objective that should be made: four or five is not unacceptable.  Players, no matter how skilled, who petulantly leave after the first or second attempt fails, regardless of the raid’s difficulty level (because the tactics or groups are not spot on), are being selfish.   There’s no guarantee that a raid should cruse along at a rate of 20 mins per objective.  Nonetheless it is admittedly very nice when things are efficient and go smoothly.

The entrance to Yakhmar's Cave near the Hunting Lodge in the Eigolophian Mountains.
Become familiar with various raid entrances' locations

g) Know where the raid's entrance is … and get there ASAP.  Most players will giggle and eye-roll when they see a newbie, in chat who’s plodding on his sloped-back nag slowly across three Hyborian open-world zones to get to the entrance.  Buy a fast travel potion in the in-game store (or, if you’re lucky enough to have Vet Points, get the appropriate travel buff from the quartermaster; they tend to teleport you to a rez pad somewhere near a raid’s entrance.  Try not to burn through them in the hour before you raid; so they’re not in cool-down).  In short, have a travel plan.

A guardian in front of the icy portal to Vistrix's Lair in Atzel's Approach

3. How to get an invite ...
If you're in a guild, your mates will show you how to sign-up and when and where to go etc. easy-peasy.  But even if you have to look outside a guild for T1 activity, this is relatively straightforward.  In the general , global or LFG chat channel-windows be vigilant for open calls for raid groups (often called PUGs - short for 'Pick-up Groups').  The calls will keep appearing repeatedly with a running tally of the required classes being posted every so often.  

A generic raid will often recruit two characters of each class:

[General][Murddock]: YAKH PUG needs 2DT, 2RANG, 1CONQ, 0SIN, 1GRD, 1DEMO, 1NEC, 0BARB, 2HOX, 0POM, 0TOS, 1BS.

Send a brief /tell to the player posting the call such as, ' 1BS for Yakh ' and if you don't get an invite within 20 seconds, don't get exasperated.  Give the organizer another 40-50 seconds and resend your /tell.  The RL might just be contending with several windows looking for interest from guildies, friends' list pals, and global.  Your /tell may simply have scrolled up out-of-sight and disappeared in a flurry of IRC text.  Similarly, if you don't get actually an invite on your first foray, don't be irked.  Just keep your eyes peeled another raid will materialize in time.  My rule of thumb is if I really want to join a PUG, I'd send my /tell ASAP.  But occasionally, I do hang back to determine whether the raid will actually fill.  It's a gamble, cz we conqs are a dime a dozen on global.

4. Have Realistic Expectations

One thing that held me back from raiding in my first year of the game was the belief that I had to be a hard-core ueber-powered player to do raids.  That's not at all the case ...

a) You’re not the ‘worst player ever'.  Don't assume it's skill or experience that are the key things in a raid.  The AoC raids are designed to scale with ability: so if you're in a raid with a lot of new players, you may have to work at it collectively.  But if you're there with a some seasoned folks, success can be smoother.  It there is a 'worst' player; it the one who ruins the fun, or rage quits, or ninjas loot (a player who rolls on loot inappropriately, wins, and then leaves).

b) Likewise, you’re not the star.  If you solo frequently, it's easy to slip into the solipsistic head-space, that the success or failure of reaching a raid objective is wholly dependent on you.  This is an even easier assumption, if you're the main tank or if your class has a key roll in a mechanic.  There's really no 'star' ... not even the RL. The team collaboration is the 'featured attraction'.    

c) You’re not there to get the best instant loot.  I think I had done 6 raids before I actually won a roll for something really tasty.  If you go to a raid expecting a tier weapon or armor, you're probably gonna be disappointed.  AoC's raids will nonetheless provide you with tokens that can be collected and eventually spent at the armory for epic loot.  So every outing, will be worth the effort.  Be sure to learn the raiding loot rules.  Some guilds employ 'DKP' which boils down to rewarding players on a hierarchical basis, rather than the more democratic Need/Greed/Pass system.  Murd's only seen DKP used when a guild's team is learning a new and elite instance.  There's a fair bit of time and fail-stress required for mastering an elite raid, so it's natural that they'd want to build a core team with the right gear.  Also, in some raids, special rare crafting materials drop.  These Shards of the Exiled God are used for crafting higher tier items.  They'll sell for a nice chunk at the trader.  It's common for the first shard to go to the RL.  That's not someone being greedy, it's pretty much customary.

d) You might meet a few jerks but there'll be more pals to enhance the experience.  In my first raid ever, a guildie (named Dantheman) encouraged me to join (even though I emphasized that I was a newbie greenhorn screw-up).  And yeah, I did all the newbie dork-nik things.  Yeah, I ran straight at Yakhmar just to get a better view ... and activated the encounter.  Folks were pissed but most were good about it and some chuckled, as we all died, rezzed and re-formed positions in the ensuing 7-10 minutes.  On the other hand, there was one f**kwad: no doubt, a greasy troglodyte with self-esteem issues, poor hygiene, and a bench-warrant for outstanding fines from his incessant traffic violations.  This coprophile  decided to send me an abundance of abusive /tells to let me know that he was the more experienced player: yes, a troll.  Now, I can take trash talk and I own up to my shortcomings, but this dude was in it for the sheer joy of being a dick.  He made that first raid memorable for the wrong reasons.  Anyhow good ol' Dantheman instructed me to /ignore him in chat and at least I wasn't distracted by his grief.  Even other players, told him to cut it out.  But ya know what?  That shit-sauce turd-muncher was the only full-on psycho-troll I've ever encountered when raiding.  99.99999% of the time often you'll meet great folks who are decent, fun-loving, and keep the whole MMO pastime in perspective.  But just so's ya know ... IMHO a self-respecting RL really should eject an aggressive troll, even if he/she's the most skilled player in the raid. Trolls don't make PUG raids go any smoother and folks may even leave at the out set, if they recognize the name of a school-yard bozo who's there just to act out and waste time.  

Before long you'll relish the ebb and flow of challenges and jokes that make raiding a hoot.

5. Learning Tactics helps

There are too many nuances to describe every encounter here.  Each raid instance has a series of objectives to be overcome.  They generally lead up to killing one boss or two bosses simultaneously. 

For newbies, here's a Coles Notes version of the AoC's simplest beginner raid, Yakhmar's Cave, in which the raiders are usually divided into two squads:
  1. The first squad (consisting of two groups) will be assigned go to the boss, Yakhmar a huge ice worm, where tanks will be expected aggro him and after a minute the others will ramp up their Damage Per Second (DPS) to wear him down. 
  2. The RL will remind everyone not to use any attacks or buffs that do fire based damage on the boss.  The HoXes all start griping.
  3. Meanwhile, the second squad (the 2 remaining groups) will assemble a short but specific distance away just out of the boss's range.
  4. Off-tanks in the second squad (cf. Conqs and DTs or possibly a Guardian) will form a line facing the boss, the rest stand even a little further back. 
  5. When everyone is in place, the RL will give the command to go and the first squad to move on Yakhmar, who will defend himself with various buff and abilities.  The main tank(s) will position Yakhmar for the best results. The second squad will wait ... until ...
  6. Periodically, five or so smaller ice worms will emerge near the boss to attack the first squad who are doing the DPS.
  7. The off-tanks run in and each irritates (to get aggro) one of these worms (such enemies are called 'adds' short for 'additionals') and then the off-tanks lead them away from the DPS squad back to the second squad, where all try to kill the small worms ASAP.
  8. If these smaller worms are not drawn away and killed quickly, they will head for the DPS squad and overwhelm them.
  9. This cycle DPS and drawing off adds will be repeated 3-4 times until the Yakhmar is dead.
  10. If you die, you may either lie there or opt to be resurrected (a.k.a. 'released') at the pad outside by the hunting lodge. Be sure to follow the RL's instructions.  (If you're rezzed or you self-rez too close to the boss, after he's re-set; you'll trigger the raid prematurely).
  11. At the end, all the dead are rezzed or re-admitted, only then is the loot box opened by the RL and the rewards distributed. (If you have the "The Great Ordeal" quest you may be told to get one of the "furs")
  12. Accept the automatic rewards you received, these will go to your  gear inventory (where you can click them to send them to the appropriate token inventory).  Then roll 'Need' 'Greed' or 'Pass' as instructed by the RL's loot rules.  Generally you should pass on gear that's not for your class ... some weapons can be used (to lesser effect) by classes for whom they weren't designed specifically.  So pay attention ... when in doubt 'Pass'.  
  13. Nobody likes a Ninja looter; so if by chance, you genuinely get an item you weren't supposed to roll on ... /tell the RL ASAP and apologize once or twice (but not excessively) and wait for them to get a GM to sort it out.  This is a royal pain in the anus and can take time ... but if you want to be an ethical newbie, you'll stick around and do the right thing.
  14. Before you leave the raid group, it's good form thank the RL or her/his guild.  

Some are simple burn-downs but most are a bit more complicated.  Suffice it to say, new players should try to learn each raid's tactics. 

a) Become familiar with the chat and raid interfaces.  When you accept a invitation to join a raid a window will appear that lists you and all the other player-characters who are going to participate and who've also accepted an invitation.  You can use you game options menu to set this window to display complex or simple info on each other players.  You'll note that if you click on another player's name in the menu, the name-tag over the character's head will become more obvious ... this is helpful, particularly if say you have to resurrect or heal a specific player.  (e.g. Murd, as a conq, will inevitably be called to use a in-battle rez; finding the team-mate quickly is crucial)  You can also use this interface to check what buffs other characters are adopting.  Additionally, you should navigate through the chat menu options and set your chat window to display as "raid" (Note: you'll only see "raid" as a menu choice if you're actually in a raid.)  Chat is used to confer with individual team mates to coordinate actions.  It's quite fine to ask another player of the same class, for pointers.

Typical Raid Specific UI elements: Note that players are clustered into 4 distinct groups

b) Identify key player-characters.  Sometimes you'll have to be aware of the other player's jobs.  Rezzing, healing, and swapping aggro often require this.  Become familiar with character names and note the role-symbol on the raid UI (note: these don't exactly show class as much as roles: Tank, Off-tank, Healer, Ranged, DPS, Pet users etc. ... yellow star-symbols indicate each group's local leader).  In some encounters, a specific class or role will be a lynch-pin job.  While often this is tanking, it can be just as likely to be some other class.  If you have a selection of characters, you may want to try them to see which roles you're comfortable with.  Personally, main tanking has never been Murd's thing, but it is a lot of fun to be off to the side doing something in a trusty supporting role.  If a role is new, try it and learn its quirks.  If it's not working for you, responsibly suggest another player do it. Observe them, if possible, and try it again next time.  Trial and error are a chief mechanism in learning, after all.

c) Listen and ask questions.  It's the RL's job to intuit how you'll best be able to contribute.  If he or she assumes you know too much, ask for clarity on Voice Coms or, if you prefer, quietly via through a /tell or two.  Some players have special mods that will allow them to post tactics or loot item-name lists for extra help.

A 'Sin takes a stance in Kyllikki's Crypt.

A final caveat.  Just as you're a novice raider; some RL's are learning their skill-set too.  If they're having trouble, be patient and supportive: you'll make more in-game friends like that.

Always bear in mind that AoC is a game! It should be fun and involve facing, understanding, and overcoming challenges.  So if solo or small casual grouping open-world play is getting a bit repetitive, take a couple of days and do some prep and make your first few T1 raids productive and engaging.