There are no achievements in Vanilla WoW, obviously, as the system wasn’t implemented until much later. But having played both before and during the achievement period, it is interesting to go back to the game when the achievement system was not in place. I have always considered the achievement system to be one of firmly tieing players down into the role of a mouse on a never-ending treadmill. No thought is required – achievement will pop up for doing some banal act, which is of itself completely the opposite of what I would consider an actual achievement to be, and this then sends the player off on a mindless merry-go-round to collect more of the same achievements, usually for no better goal than having a title above their head that should read, “Not only do I have no life or brain but I have no awareness of either.”

But then I considered the early quest system. I mean, is this much better? Isn’t this more of the same, the mindless running-around for not very much which is merely designed to keep us busy? Actually I think it is different in a variety of ways. Firstly there are tangible rewards, experience, gold and gear, as well as reputation with different factions which enable you to purchase other gear. So there is a tangible benefit. Also, a lot of these early quest lines are very good indeed. I’m presently involved in the old hunt for that nasty Stavlan fellow. It’s a nice atmospheric detective story which is keeping me nicely entertained even the second time around. Admittedly quite a few of the Vanilla quests are downright terrible, the pages of Stranglethorn Vale anyone? And a good many are simply kill a certain number of floozles. But they create a foundation of meaning in the world with which the player can do as they please. Which is in of itself a choice. You can choose to take a quest or you can choose that it is not for you, for whatever reason. Maybe you don’t like that style of quest, maybe you don’t want to go to that area, maybe you hate quests in general and will only do one for a specific piece of gear.

Achievements leave you no choice, at least as far as I can remember. You’re running through a zone and BAM! – achievement simply for wandering through a zone, aren’t you great???? Well, actually no, I think that this is facile and condescending and a pile of doggy-poo, but I have no choice in the matter. I must participate in this system and the more I am forced to do so the more infuriated I become. Much much worse is when I inadvertently find myself willingly participating in the mindless madness. For the achievement system is simply a cheap and unimaginative way of disguising the fact that the game designers are not prepared to put much more effort into the world. The rationale is to keep the players running around, nice and busy, on the mindless spinning-wheel so they don’t notice that the designers are not doing really that much that’s inspiring any more.

It is so nice to play in a world with no achievements. The only achievement here is are you any good at playing your class and that has to be earned the hard way. And more importantly, with some modicum of effort. Achievements are the MMO gaming version of political correctness; every child has to get a ribbon for running in the race. Which pretty soon makes all ribbons worthless except to the truly deluded. Which is most of you. So go back to your achievements, why do I care anyway?

Crippling poison has made a big difference in how I fight nasty mobs who run away and get their buddies just as they’re about to die. But I had entirely forgotten that poisons was a skill that you could level. So here I am brewing my poisons once again and having them drop off at inopportune moments. Plus all the bag space they take up. Playing in Vanilla WoW it strikes me that the rogue class began its life with great depth and since then it has been steadily whittled down to a one-dimensional sheen of its former self while adding seemingly endless new “skills” and “abilities”. I am sure that this is true for all classes in the game. Even hunters.

I was in the gnoll-infested caverns above Lakeshire in Redridge where I was hunting down some ore samples for a quest that I found in Stormwind. Suddenly I saw a dwarf warrior running towards me who had got himself into some trouble with a couple of gnolls. He just had time to type out a quick “help” and I jumped in to save him. He thanked me and I asked for a hand to take out the elite mob and his henchmen and we cleaned them up with some excellent play. He was level 23 and I am level 20 while the mobs are lvls 20-21 in that area. But their scaling is tough, remember this is old school WoW, and thus it encourages players to help each other when they get into trouble.

So this is an example of player interaction on a PvE basis. These areas as well as many of the quests are not soloable if you’re playing at the correct level. You need to ask for and give help and thus you meet players. Turns out this guy is a pretty hand tank, strike up another one for the friends list. And it being a PvP realm just makes the social requirements to communicate with other players even greater. Milady from Hypercriticism asked me the question of what I thought about playing on a PvP realm. I began my WoW career on a PvE realm but transferred to PvP when I started helping Gevlon on his projects at the time. For me PvP is clearly superior from both a gameplay and a community point of view.

I didn’t just casually run back down the road to Elwynn Forest to hand in my quest. A level 26 hordie was around and had knocked off a few players on the bridge while I had been in the caverns. I knew this from the conversation in general chat. A group had formed and had driven him out but where was he skulking now? I stealthed across the bridge and then kept to the trees at the side of the road until I was safely out of the zone.

I wouldn’t say that my heart was pounding but I was certainly on my guard. On a PvE realm you just run wherever you want to, (apart from the horde guards), which kind of puts the whole faction war thing in the ‘whatever, who gives a shit’ basket. We get the occasional level 60 blow in to a low level zone but mostly the incursions are perpetrated by players with corresponding levels. This means that they’re confident of their abilities and they’re up for a challenge. I applaud this and I’m happy to take them on when I happen across their path. In fact, perhaps I should make some low-level incursions of my own. Perhaps it’s time I gave The Barrens a visit.

I’m level 19 on the vanilla server that is Emerald Dream and I have 60 silver. At one point I had just over one gold piece, a gold piece! But then I had to pay for a bunch of training and it all went away. So sad. How have I been making gold? Well, I haven’t. If I had I would have some, stands to reason. The silver that I have is attained from doing quests and selling stuff I find. I have got a few good green drops but nobody is buying them. And if you look at the prices in the AH you’re not going to get much even if they do sell, maybe 40 silver for a nice green that someone around level 20 can use.

But this is all relative. The server economy is not inflated as there are no gold sellers, what you see is what you get. And due to the fact that there will be no future upgrades to the server apart from raid releases then the economy is also rather static. Also, the type of player on the server is more often the sort of person who is happy to earn things themselves. Someone appeared on server general chat yesterday asking for a few gold as he had just started and had nothing and he got laughed out of existence. Everybody started with no gold, you dipshit, was the general response.

I am leveling two professions that I have never tried before, skinning and leatherworking. It’s obviously a good combination and fine for a rogue but I can’t see it making me any hard coin for when I need it. In fact, the only thing that I can see making hard coin is something that needs to be used again and again, in other words consumables. So I’m thinking that the most likely top gold earner on a static economy where players are not continually updating gear would be alchemy. Potions are the ultimate consumable, and raiding and PvP is what most players on the server tend to do at endgame here. So my plan is to try out my two professions and hopefully get some nice stuff off them for my rogue as she levels up, but when I get to max level I’m probably going to drop them and power-level herbalism and alchemy. Running around the server I have noticed that there is an abundance of herbs to be looted; ore not so much. Mind you, low level rogues are pretty squishy in Vanilla and I could use health potions right now if I’m brutally honest.

Update on my buggy rogue problems: I hit lvl 20 and was able to start the Mathias and the Defias quest which is great news as now I can get poisons. Plus, I like this little rogue quest chain as it’s a lot of fun. So I won’t have to restart my toon which is excellent news.

I logged on today with half an idea to have a run in the Deadmines. None of my newly made contacts were online so I put a call out in general chat to see if anyone was up for a run. I got one whisper back from a tank. This is what is known as a bloody good start. My next focus was on getting a healer for I knew that once I had the tank/healer roles sorted then dps would cut each other’s legs off to get in the group. I did a zone search and came up with three possible candidates but they all for various reasons could not come. I refreshed it again and saw a level 17 priest. He was very keen to give it a shot.

Now my party was made up of myself, the warrior and the priest. Pretty darn good. I asked them what kind of dps they wanted and we agreed on a mage and a warlock and I whispered each in turn. As I predicted they fell over each other getting into the group. We were all around level 16-17 so it was going to be a challenging run. But we cleared the lead-up with no issues and everyone seemed to know where they were going. The tank was pulling well and keeping threat, dps were dpsing their little hearts out and nobody was dying. So far pretty awesome. We got the first boss down without any issues but then we mis-timed a pull on some mobs and we had a wipe. As we all headed back to the instance the party chat was alive with a healthy discussion on how we could improve while laughing off the wipe as par for the course. In fact, for most of us it turned out to be our first instance run on the realm.

We hit the foundry with no issues, which is always a great indicator and then we scooted around the side of the pirate ship and made our way straight to the first mate boss. Here we had another wipe due to some positioning issues but once again we were all in good spirit and enjoying the run. We got Van Cleef down and I scored the Cape of the Brotherhood which was great except for the fact that I’ll have to wait a couple of levels to get it. I also scored some other tasty morsels while one of the others got a rare parrot pet drop. We jumped down to Cookie but mis-timed our approach and ended up wiping again. At this point we called it at the spirit healer and everyone added the others to their respective friends list.

So no dodgy instance drama on this run. Everyone knew how to play, helped out where needed, gave and received advice with good spirits, and were gracious with handing out drops and rewards. Regular readers will know that I’m once again crapping on about the importance of community but dammit, this server is so much better than any community I have seen in the past. And what a blast to be back in the original Deadmines, still a great instance. And with Van Cleef’s head in my bag.

There were problems with the Emerald Dream server last night. Initially I logged in with no difficulty to find myself at the Goldshire inn. I had a bunch of wolf flesh in my pitifully small bags and I went into the kitchen to grab a few points on my cooking skill which sat at a measly 16. This lump of dead wolf would take me almost to 40 so I set it to create the whole bunch of them and sat back and watched the server go to pieces. Not really understanding what was going on I made the amazingly stupid decision to go outside and it was there that my connection was terminated. All attempts to re-enter the portal were to no avail.

It’s quite seductively irritating that login portal when you can’t get in. The little beams of light swirl in a lovely vortex into the opening where you can see a tantalizing glimpse of the world beyond. You don’t even look at the thing when you normally log in, just typing in your name and password as fast as you possibly can so you can get into the world. But no world for me, no matter how many attempts I made. I had a look at the Emerald Dream forum and discovered a multitude of threads lamenting the state of the server. Oh well, I thought. At least nobody else is having a good time either. That always makes me feel better. But then I read something that chilled my heart:

“At least I managed to get to an inn for the rested XP bonus before it threw me out. The last downtime lasted for days.”

Now you can see why my decision to go outside was up there with invading Russia. I tried all manner of times to get back in but eventually I went to bed in disgust at the world of private servers for which I pay nothing but goddam them for ruining my fun with their petty server issues that they provide for me of their own goodwill.

I woke up early and tried to log in again. Success! And I was in the kitchen! Silly me, I should have realized that I had already been thrown out when the cooking went to the doghouse. I finished my tasty wolf steaks, sold them for some measly copper, (I have 53 silver at the moment!) and headed off to Westfall. My favorite place in the game since like for ever. I was killing some Fel Reavers in whatshisname’s pumpkin patch farm when I got an unannounced invite to group up with another rogue. In the past I would have dismissed such bad manners with a haughty press of a refusal button, but I was in such a good mood after getting back in the game that I decided to accept. The rogue was only level 11, far beneath my own lofty station of 13, but I decided to help the poor chap out. Everything was going fine until we hit the defias mobs in the farmhouse and I discovered that he couldn’t play. At all. So we died, and we died, and fuck it why don’t we die once again just for good measure.

Then he did something very smart and invited a level 12 druid to join our group. Healing! Brilliant move, old chap. And then we ran smack bang into the Fel Reaver 4000 and both of them died while I ran away when the big bad level 20 elite wasn’t looking. By now the rogue’s damage bill was high and his equipment was buggered so I sent him off to Sentinal Hill to get repaired while the druid and I cleaned up the other field of Fel Reavers safe from the nasty elite. The rogue came back and joined us but then complained that his dagger wasn’t effective seeing as there isn’t a blacksmith at Sentinal Hill.

You don’t need a blacksmith, I said. Just go to the two little caravans and get it fixed there. He was adamant that this could not be done as they were not blacksmiths and then he invited two more people to join our group, a hunter and a warlock. So now we were five. We killed a Fel reaver and what with the high numbers of our party I think I got something like negative 34 XP. Finally we got the Fel Reavers down so everyone had killed 20 for the quest and I dragged the clueless rogue over to the Bowyer at Sentinal Hill where he was amazed to discover that people other than blacksmiths could fix stuff. You haven’t played this game before, have you, I said. He responded by shoving an empty guild charter in my face. I declined to sign. At this point some level 60 horde blew into Sentinal Hill and released some nasty demons that killed everyone except the druid and I, and we managed to scarper over towards the river. The druid was polite, skilled and a healer so I added her to my friends list. I whispered her this news and she did likewise. Then I bowed to her, and she did some respectful druid thing, and I logged off after hearthing back to the inn at Goldshire ready for the next server outage.

My rogue in the Emerald Dream is up to level 12. It’s slow going, and I have fled the purple awfulness of the Night Elf starter zone and made the run to Stormwind via the Deeprun Tram. I only died once on the way from one of those fast moving crocolisks, the sprint ability coming in quite handy at times. There are a few bugs but the only one that really annoys me is the occasional activation of mob health bars for no apparent reason. Thus a walk through a field of chickens results in a kaleidoscope of yellow health bars all telling me that they are creatures of the fowl variety. I’ve looked and looked but there doesn’t seem to be any way to turn this off and it comes and goes of its own accord. I’ve had some latency issues as well but that is to be expected seeing as I’m playing this in Australia on a European server, (rumored to be hidden in the depths of Romania).

Right now my big dilemma is which professions to take. Remember, this is Vanilla WoW circa patch 1.12.1, so all of the usual reasearch sites for information such as wowhead, thotbott, wowwiki etc are not that helpful seeing as they’re set for the current expansion. I’ve tried archive sites and such but it’s still heavy going trying to work out what to do. Thus far I have herbalism but herbs are pretty cheap on the auction house and it’s something that I’ve done before. What I haven’t done before is serious crafting professions such as leatherworking, blacksmithing or tailoring. I took enchanting all the way on my original toon, and I’ve done alchemy in the past as well, so this time I want to try something different, and back in Vanilla WoW these professions produced gear that was actually somewhat valuable. I’m leaning towards leatherworking for the obvious rogue connection which means I’ll probably take skinning as well which I have never done before either. I’m not worried about trying to make mega amounts of gold as there are no gold sellers here so the economy isn’t artificially inflated.

The fact that research sites are compromised only adds to the fun of it. This will mean that I will really have to work things out for myself or even, heaven forbid, interact with other players in order to get the information that I need. Other things that I have noticed is that it always seems to be raining in Elywyn Forest. My poor rogue’s leather armor must be mouldy by now. Also, I hate murlocks. I mean, I hated them before but it seems that every murlock I meet has a hidden stash of healing potions that they quaff at most inopportune times. But if I pick their pockets do I find any healing potions? Not bloody likely. Also, sap seems to be bugged. Or at least I am such a low level that it just doesn’t work properly. Either they see me and I have to duke it out, or I manage to sap the mob but all of his mates immediately pile onto me. Not much fun at all. Perhaps I should try it on some lower level kobolds and see what happens. Start screaming at me that I no get candle most probably.

There’s a Grand Designs episode where Kevin follows a group of low income earners who build a community together and get to stay in the houses they built for reduced rent. Ten years later he goes back to find that every single one of the families is still there, about a dozen in total. This is put down to the type of community they forged with the style of construction and design, but one of the individuals makes a comment along the lines that there is the occasional social problem or drama but it never blew up into a drama-fest because each person had invested so much time and effort into the community that they didn’t want to risk losing what they had.

That really struck me as being the key reason for the project’s success. It’s a nice socialist dream that everyone has the capacity to be nice to everyone as long as they are nurtured and cherished, but in the real world people will only make an effort to always do the right thing if they have skin in the game. I saw this manifest itself in another way when I worked as a rafting guide. The customers who were the most problematic and who complained the most were almost always recipients of a free rafting trip. The act of paying for a trip caused people to put more effort into what they got out of it. People don’t value something that has cost them nothing.

And so to MMO-land, and the all too familiar decline of the playing population as hard work and effort has been replaced with gift giving and a sense of entitlement. The corresponding change in behavior amongst the player base was the number one reason why I left. So I was very keen to get into the vanilla WoW server at The Emerald Dream and see whether I would be dealing with an old school gaming community. I mean, if my above observation is correct then it stands to reason that a game that is an exact replica of WoW when it was not just challenging and you had to work together, but the server community was small enough and contained, (no LFD cross server realms here please), that it would engender consequences for one’s actions and thus better behavior than that which you find now.

This in fact seems to be the case. To the best information that I have been able to obtain, I am reasonably certain that the server is able to hold 1600 players at any one time. There is also a very active community forum where true bad apples are named and shamed. I have not got to the point of looking for a group to run a 5 man yet but I am reasonably confident based on what I have found and experienced thus far that it will be a pleasant surprise. At this point I have 4 people on my social friends list, 3 of whom I have met in game. That’s after 2 days playing. Everyone that I have whispered has helped me out, as have I when someone has whispered me. The population seems to be just right – starter zones such as Goldshire have a good scattering of players but not too many that you are fighting for resources. What the higher leve zones are like I cannot guess but my run across the Wetlands had me bump into a few players in Mithirl Harbor and that was at 3 o’clock in the morning European time.

The best indicator for me that having skin in the game makes people behave better is that some of the people I have met are fairly new to MMOs. In other words, there is every chance that in the current iteration of WoW they would be your average arthuslol idiot. I have no proof of that, but my instincts think this to be the case. Whatever the truth of the matter, there is no doubt just how healthy and vibrant this online community seems to be.