Asheron’s call Part 2: “Carebears”

Follow this link to read Part 1 in this series.

Before the story goes any further, I really need to explain the key mechanics at play. Without understanding them, it’s impossible to see the fascinating behaviours exhibited by the player population.

Carebears

The most commonly used insult and an accurate description of most people. As in real life a Carebear is someone who wants to play if they are on the winning team, who wants to fight if the odds are in their favour, who wants to progress without obstacles. They are followers rather than leaders.

Whilst Asheron’s Call had an economy (based around cash and loot and player trades for rare items) on Darktide the currency was Carebears. Available in their thousands, Carebears were the worker bees that powered the XP Chains and the cannon fodder that won or lost wars. The only information anyone could see about a Monarchy was the total number of members, by viewing the character sheet of someone in that monarchy. Therefore, in a time of war, the only measure for the progress of that war was whether the Monarchs concerned were gaining or losing members.

Because Carebears don’t stay and fight for the losing team.

Second, Character Builds & Leveling

As with every game, debate raged long and hard about the best builds. Choices made at character creation would permanently impact that character no matter how high his level, because if you didn’t specialise into a certain skill at the start then you never could. It wasn’t until much later that the ability to respecialise or reverse these choices was added to the game, meaning that the only way to change your build was to reroll your character. Leveling itself was slow a slow grind, meaning that the only way to level a new, uber, build fast was via an XP chain. And XP chains needed Carebears. See point 1.

Travel

There were no instances in Asheron’s Call. Aside from the dungeons, it was entirely open world. You could run from one end of the map to the other if you wanted. On Darktide, this presented a problem because you did not want to be running around unbuffed. Buffs were spells cast on you to increase your skills and resistances and cast on each individual piece of gear to improve their stats. Fully buffing your character took time and cost money, meaning that you would fully buff for a fight but not for running around or farming mobs in a dungeon. The longest buffs would last for around 30 minutes and it would take 10 minutes to full buff yourself, meaning that you had a window of 20 minutes to fight before you either needed to rebuff or retreat. Travel around the map was therefore of huge importance. Towns and dungeons were prized for a variety of reasons but one of the most important was accessibility. If your home town was hard to reach, it gave you a natural security. As with modern day military engagements being able to deploy quickly and effectively before an enemy can mount an effective defense or counter is of vital importance. In Asheron’s Call, places which could not be easily accessed via portals from other towns became homes for Monarchies or alliances. Once there, you could tie to the Lifestone giving you an install recall and making it your respawn point after a death. Other places, such as “The Hub” in Arwic which had a multitude of portals in to and out of it, were dangerous and impossible to secure, even for the largest and most committed Monarchies.

The End Game

The end game for Darktide was not contained within its code. It was on ebay. High level accounts would sell for hundreds of dollars and demand was high as the war raged. Those few who controlled the major Monarchies were not just skilled PVP’ers – they were entrepreneurs who understood the value of propaganda. They knew that the Carebears powered the XP chains that delivered the high level accounts they were selling. They also knew that it did not matter who was really winning, only that who everyone percieved to be winning as players would flock to that banner. Much of the later war was fought on the message boards and forums for this reason. Through their own actions in attacking their enemies and in mobilising their army of Carebears, they could wage wars of attrition. Monarchies that started to find their members being killed in their supposed safe zones would decline and players would move, often to the rising force, in search of an easier life, faster leveling and the opportunity to rampage through opposing towns where they would kill rather than be killed.

Whether these elements of Darktide were explicitly understood at the start of the Ayan Baqur war I couldn’t say. Gen had formed and forced the ageing Anti guilds, who had forged their reputations through their exploits against the early PK Monarchies, into a war that they could not hope to win. The core membership of Gen was small, elite and brutal. They could attack their enemies at the time and place of their choosing, defeat the defenders and then camp their Lifestone. Anyone who logged on, or recalled, to that Lifestone would be killed before they had finished loading!

The refugees of Ayan Baqur began to trickle towards the only open access Monarchy on the server: Blood.

As Blood gained members, its reach began to spread and its members could be seen more often and in more parts of the map. Killing as they went, the increased visibility had a compound interest effect on the size of the Monarchy and it began to experience exponential growth. Without rules, other than not attacking fellow members, the muscle on the server shifted quickly. No longer did the Anti guilds rule. Darkside was entering a period of anarchy, where chaos was the norm and outposts of order and calm the exception.

The war between the Antis and Gen was, as I recall settled quickly. Ayan Baqur fell as the weakness of guilds which were bloated with carebears was exposed by GEN, who slaughtered all before them and camped the precious lifestones and portals to kill anyone who arrived in town. The much feared PVP’ers of the Anti movement ceased to be a force as their hardcore members had either quit the game or were unable to make an impact in the sea of carebears around them.

GEN was ultimately victorious in the war for AB, but the success was short lived. With the political climate in a state of flux and the the monarchies involved in the war losing members, Blood struck.

Blood had hardened before the shift of the carebears to their ranks. They had fought wars against Monarchies like Black Rose Noble for the town of Kara and had been raided constantly by the Anti guilds on an ongoing basis. Their core members were skilled and resilient and most importantly they were ready and motivated to fight a war. Ayan Baqur crumbled before them and it’s prime leveling spots followed suit shortly afterwards. They spread over Darktide like a swarm and there was a feeling of panic amongst much of the server. On the message boards, they fanned the flames of the distrust and ill feeling amongst those who might otherwise ally against them. They infiltrated monarchies, then killed the vassals of their allies whilst wearing their tag, creating in fighting and hostility.

It was opportunistic and brilliant. They fought and won the battles both in Darktide and in the meta game on the forums. Their numbers grew to nearly 10,000 members and their XP chains thundered as they churned out new high level characters with perfect templates. Their enemies could and did raid them, killing and looting as they went, but Blood was too big to conquer. Camping their lifestone for long enough to cause any real pain was impossible when they could organise a counter attack of hundreds of players in minutes. In the space of around five weeks they had gone from the cautionary tale to scare level 1’s when they arrived on Darktide to the only Superpower. Their leaders began to make serious money selling accounts on ebay, which cemented their resolve. They dominated the landscape in Darktide and in the days before twitch, or leaderboards, they waged and won the propaganda war on the forums.

Darktide was doomed. The good guys defeated and in disarray. Everyone knew it was turning point, and important moment in the future of the game that had consumed our lives both online and offline. It was Darktide’s darkest hour.

The leaders of GEN, who had peaked at around 3,000 members but been blindsided in their hour of victory by Blood’s explosion into Ayan Baqur, reached out to other key players in the Anti movement. They recognised that they needed carebears, thousands of them, to power their XP chain and they needed to start scoring victories to change the tide of the war of attrition. Perhaps most importantly they needed to go toe to toe with blood in the propaganda war to change the mood of those carebears seeking safe passage and easy an easy life.

Meetings were held, a strategy agreed upon and a new Anti Monarchy was born with the sole intention of destroying Blood. They called it TLS. The Last Stand.

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