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A note from Steven 'Bull' Ratkovich

And here's Chapter 3!  This is a nice solid chapter that includes a little more world building, some explanation of mechanics, introduces a few characters, and even has a little action. Hope you enjoy it!

Finally the vision faded and I found myself standing in a field with dozens of others wearing basic adventuring gear. Nearby were a row of wood and straw training dummies, and standing in front of them two individuals wearing burgundy-red military uniforms reminiscent of a World War II officer, a male and a female each with bright red hair. The man’s was cut into a short crew-cut with a flowing red mustache, while the female’s long hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail. I cringed inwardly as I remembered what I’d named these two originally.

“Listen up, maggots!” The man roared in a rough voice. “My name is Sgt. Thaddeus Pepper and this is my wife, Sgt. Wendy Pepper. But you scum-sucking trash will address is as sir, and only as sir. Is that understood?”

A few of the adventurers piped up with a half-hearted “Yes, sir.” but most just looked around slightly confused. Since I knew what was coming, I belted out a loud “Sir, yes sir!” and noticed that a couple of others did the same.

“Did you hear something, Wendy? It sounded a bit like babies crying softly at their momma’s teat.” Sgt. Pepper sarcastically said to his wife, before roaring at us “What was that? I couldn’t hear you!”

“Yes, Sir!” Most of the adventurers yelled out, which seemed to appease Sgt. Pepper. I shook my head and couldn’t believe I thought naming him Sgt. Pepper was funny at the time. At least I didn’t put them in The Lonely Hearts Band outfits like I originally planned.

“At this moment, each of you positively reek of weakness, failure, and for some reason, corn chips. That will change. I will teach you to use your martial abilities.” The male Sgt. Pepper yelled at us, then pointed at his wife. “Sgt. Pepper here will then teach those of you with the talent to use your magical abilities. You came to us fat, out of shape, and unable to fend off a starving housecat. When we’re done you’ll spit daggers and crap lightning bolts. Is that understood?”

“Yes Sir!” The Peppers then began an interactive tutorial of how combat, armor, defense, and spellcasting worked. I half-tuned them out pretty quickly. Beyond the Sgt. Slaughter levels of cartoonish Drill Instructor behavior and the fact I was familiar with the basics of the system, I simply followed along and kept one ear open for any discrepancies or changes.

Combat was pretty straightforward. The system handled most of it behind the scenes, but since I wrote the core that the system was still based on I kinda knew how it all worked. Weapons had a flat damage value that they would always deal. For example, my [Simple Ash Shortbow] that I currently had equipped did a base of 75 points of damage. Whenever I attacked, my combat skill along with any modifiers would be compared against the defense rating of the target with a random value thrown in. For the tabletop, this was two 12-sided dice, but here that random factor was handled by the system. If my final attack score was higher than the defense, I hit and dealt damage. If my attack score beat the defense by at least 5 the attack would deal extra critical hit damage. That damage would keep going up for every additional 5 points, which allowed a highly skilled attacked do a massive amount of damage to a low defense target. And then some Talents or Traits would add extra damage on top of any critical damage. So while my bow only did 75 damage, I could in theory do a lot more than that with a lucky critical strike.

Defense was determined by your Attributes, so the more nimble and aware you were during combat, the harder you were to hit. There were also Parry and Dodge Skills that could be actively used to raise your Defense even further. And then finally armor provided a Damage Reduction which directly reduced the final damage you took. The five pieces of [Light Hide Armor] that I started with each gave me 3 points of DR, for a total of 15. Not great, but heavier armor required a Talent to equip and had a minimum Strength requirement that I couldn’t match yet. But with it, if I took 50 points of damage, the armor would reduce it down to 35 points.

Abilities were surprisingly easy to use. In a tabletop you simply said “I’m using X” and in a video game you clicked the right button or hotkey, but this wasn’t just a game. Fortunately, the System helped you out since most players wouldn’t even be able to swing a sword let alone know how to perform more complex maneuvers and skills. You simply thought about the skill or ability you wanted to use and then began a motion that you instinctively knew when you learned that ability. Once begun, your body would naturally move with the skill. Fortunately, you still had some control so you could still move around a little and weren’t completely locked into an action animation.

The virtual “ability tray” on your HUD would show you the cooldown for your abilities as well, letting you know how long it would be before you could use the skill again. On top of that, there was a global cooldown that effected most abilities that lasted for about three seconds, meaning that you could only attack or use a skill once every three seconds. Since Apoch’s Twilight originally was a turn based tabletop game that had utilized three-second rounds, I guessed this was how that translated into the VRMMO.

Cooldowns were interesting effects. I didn’t actively notice them unless I tried to use an ability that was still on one. Rapid Shot had a 6-second cooldown, so I tried using it twice in a row, but when I went to make the motion I felt really sluggish and it was hard to move. I could continue, but I could tell it would take the full 6 seconds before it would trigger again. However, I could switch to a normal shot without a problem after three seconds. Of course while the cooldowns were three or more seconds long, it’s worth noting that most actions took a full second or two to perform anyway so the cooldown was barley noticeable half the time.

I glanced over at the spellcaster tutorial area and could see that they worked similar to other abilities, except they were much flashier. There was a short chant that the spellcaster had to say while making some sort of motion with their hands. A glowing circle of runes or magic symbols would appear in the air in front of them, then the spell would trigger. Most of the players seemed to be throwing simple elemental bolts of fire or ice, though I could see some using healing magic as well on a couple training dummies that were lying on the ground, presumably damaged and with the ability to be healed.

Finally, I looked down at Raider, my tiger who was standing faithfully by my side, patiently. I tried mentally commanding him, but there was no reaction. Looked like he responded to verbal commands only, so I looked at the pet bar on my HUD and noticed he was in Passive mode. He also had Defensive and Aggressive modes available, and I assumed those worked much like the pet modes in World of Warcraft since that’s largely where I was cribbing pet skills from. A little testing confirmed that in Passive mode he would remain at my side and I not attack even if I was under attack. Defensive he would only attack if I directly attacked, and in Aggressive mode he would attack anything I did.

Outside of combat, a few other things were explained to the players. I ignored the stuff I already knew or had talked about with Intro-Bot, but confirmed a few others. We were given a Recall Stone that we could attune to Churches that would be located in most towns, allowing us to instantly teleport back to wherever it was attuned to. It had a two-hour cooldown on it, so could only be used occasionally.

Our starting backpack had only 12 slots, but we could get backpack upgrades through shops or quests. Besides that, we also had two equipment slots for additional bags, and these bags could be bought, found as loot, gotten through quests, or even crafted. Inventory management was frequently something players had to deal with in MMOs, and I’d made Apoch’s Twilight no exception, though now that I was living it I once again wished I’d been a bit more generous.

Most towns had banks that would store your money in, and players could deposit or withdraw their money for no charge. You could also rent bank vaults to use as extra storage. These were very important for players due to the game’s Death Penalty. When you died you were resurrected at the nearest Church (or the Dungeon entrance if you were in a dungeon], lost any gold, and dropped any unbound items you were carrying. Of course, that only applied to the Players here. Being reincarnated here, I had no idea what I counted as yet, and I wasn’t in a hurry to test that theory.

MMO vets were familiar with the idea of “Bind On” effects. Gear would sometimes be Bind on Pickup or Bind on Equip. A bound item could not be traded to another player, and could only be sold to NPCs or scrapped. BoP items Bound to the first player to pick them up, while BoE items only Bound to a player once they were worn or used. Apoch’s Twilight had both of these, but most items were Optional Bind items instead. OB items could be worn without Binding them to your character, which meant you could use them for a while, then sell or gift them to another player. Since items sold to an NPC shop only gave to a small fraction of what the items base value and many items could be worth far more to players than whatever their in-game value was, Unbound equipment could potentially be worth a fortune. So players had to decide if they wanted to Bind gear to them, making it nearly worthless in the future if and when they replaced it with an upgrade, or if they wanted to risk losing the item if they died so that they could sell it for a higher amount down the line.

After about 15 minutes, the tutorial finished up and the Peppers commended us with a backhanded comment about how we were “barely adequate, but unlikely to accidentally kill ourselves with our own swords” and then began to group us up for the final part of the tutorial, a simple quest. I braced myself and gave my character one last look over to prepare for an actual fight.

Name Bull Level 1
XP to Level 0/1000 XP to Spend 0
HP 200 MP 200
Def 13 DR 15
Gold 200    
ATTRIBUTES
STR 3 FOC 2
END 2 CHA 6
AGI 7    
SKILLS
Ranged Wpns 5 Drive Cart 1
Perception 3 Ride 1
Negotiation 2    
TALENTS
Animal Handling Requires Charisma 4, Gives Ride and Drive Cart Skill at Rank 1
Ranged Wpn Training Requires Agility 5, +2 to all Ranged Attacks.
TRAITS
Animal Companion (Tier 1) Sand Tiger (Raider) - HP: 200 Att: 8 Dam: 25 Def: 15 DR: 20
Rapid Shot Fires 2 Attacks, -5 To Hit, 6 Second Cooldown
EQUIPMENT
Head [St Lt Hide Helmet] Req STR 3, DR 3, Durability 10, Value 1c
Shoulders --  
Neck --  
Back --  
Chest [St Lt Hide Shirt] Req STR 3, DR 3, Durability 10, Value 1c
Hands [St Lt Hide Gloves] Req STR 3, DR 3, Durability 10, Value 1c
Waist --  
Legs [St Lt Hide Pants] Req STR 3, DR 3, Durability 10, Value 1c
Feet [St Lt Hide Boots] Req STR 3, DR 3, Durability 10, Value 1c
Ring (Left) --  
Ring (Right) --  
Main Hand [St Simple Ash Shortbow] 2H Wpn, Req AGI 3, Range 40’, Damage: 75, Durability 10, Value 1c
Off Hand --  
Bag One --  
Bag Two --  
Ammo [Simple Arrow] (100) Val 0c

 

 

“OK maggots, head up this path. Just around the bend, you’ll come across a farm where you’ll get your first quest. If you survive, you’ll get you first rewards and can head on into the town of Ravensport to start your journey.” The red-haired Drill Instructor roared at us. “If you fail, not only will you shame me and shame yourself, but you’ll be sent back here for my remedial course. And trust me, you scum-sucking apes, you do not want any part of that hell.”

Sgt. Pepper began dividing us up into groups of six, which was the maximum party size for Apoch’s Twilight. As he grouped us up, he explained parties and loot briefly.

“You can group up as a party to a max size of six. Whoever creates the party is the party leader by default, though this may be handed off. Party leader is the only one who can invite people into the group as well as remove them. They can also choose how to handle loot: Individual Loot or Loot Master. With Individual loot, anytime the party kills a target any money it drops is divided evenly amongst the party, and any items it drops are randomly assigned. This is the most fair loot method, but it means that the loot doesn’t always go to where it needs to, and you’ll have to bargain and trade with your party members for it. It also means that any Bind of Pickup gear can get locked to someone unable to use it. Loot Master is better for a party that you trust, as all the loot will go to either the Party Leader or someone he designates as the loot master, and they can divvy up gear as needed or as agreed upon by the party. In the case of BoP items, the loot master does not automatically pick it up, but instead gets an option for whom to give it to.”

“For this tutorial quest,” He continued, “Party Leader has been disabled and loot is in Individual mode. You’re stuck with each other, so learn to work together. If you have any further questions, there’s a help section in your options that contains a Help FAQ that should cover most game commands and options. Now get out there and kick some ass!”

On my HUD, 5 other names and status plates appeared: Dagg, Lorelei, Torellisin, Morrick, and Flamebolt. I was actually mildly surprised only one of them had a goofy name like Flamebolt. I suppose being a VRMMO, names matter a bit more as there’s less of a disconnect. Then again, my nickname is Bull so who am I to talk? Also, Dagg caught my attention, because that was the name of my original Word of Warcraft character. My Dagg was a Dwarf Hunter, while this Dagg was big and brutish looking, and judging by the shield and sword, I’m guessing he was more of a straight forward fighter.

“Howdy!” a high, squeaky voice called out. I wasn’t sure who it was coming from, then a positively tiny individual stepped out from behind Dagg. She stood maybe four feet tall, was extremely petite, and had her long blue hair pulled up into a flowing topknot. “My names Torellisin, but you can call me Torrie! I’m a Kender rogue!”

“A Kender? What’s that? I didn’t think other races were an option, otherwise I’d have played an elf.” This from Flamebolt, a dark skinned man with fiery orange-red hair and a long goatee to match.

“There were any racial options. Kender are a Halfling expy from Dragonlance, one of the Dungeons & Dragons game worlds.” Morrick spoke up. He was a gruff and grizzled looking, reminding me of Geralt from The Witcher, though his voice was lighter and younger than expected. I guess his real life player was much younger than his avatar. “And she’s not really a Kender, no pointy ears.”

“Ahh, never played any tabletop games before, and they didn’t have Kender in ay of the online games I’ve played.” Flamebolt responded.

Torrie grinned. “Don’t worry though, I won’t steal from party members like a real kender!”

“Good, cause we’d have to cut off your thieving hands then!” Morrick growled, then grinned. “Besides, I don’t think you can steal from other players in this game. My named Morrick, and I’m a swordsman.” He patted the two swords at his sides for confirmation.

”Dagg. Tank.” The big armored guy simply said. While Torrie must have minimized the character creation options, Dagg had maximized them. He stood nearly a head taller than me, putting him around seven feet tall, and had massively broad shoulders and arms. No, wait, Intro-Bot had said that character avatars were a reflection of our inner selves. Was that just me, since I was reincarnated, or did that apply to these guys as well? Torrie saw herself as a diminutive kender, and Dagg as a giant brute? I’d have to try and find out more later if I could.

“Umm… I’m… Lorelei.” Next to Dagg was an attractive and rather curvy blond. She blushed as she spoke and clutched at Dagg’s arm, looking as is she wanted to hide behind him. “I’m a light mage… a healer… nicetomeetyou.” She said that last in a rush, turned bright red, and ducked behind Dagg.

“Wuv! Twue wuv!” Torrie giggled watching the two of them. “I’m guessing you’re a couple in RL?”

“Bah, that matters not. Let’s get on with this.” The red-haired mage said, striking a goofy-looking heroic pose. “I am Flamebolt, destined to be the most powerful master of elemental magics in all of Apoch’s Twilight! I may only have meager flame magic at my beck and call now, soon my true power will be unlocked and all shall acknowledge me as—“

“Right, right. You’re a wizard. Cool.” Torrie interrupted his speech, looking up at me. “How about you big guy? You got a bow and a big ol’ adorable kitty there, so guessing a hunter?”

“Hunter or ranger, I guess. My names Bull, and this is Raider.” I stroked Raider on the head and he purred and rubbed up against my leg. Torries eyes went wide and she immediately rushed forward to hug the tiger. Raider looked up at me as if to say “Do I have to put up with this or can I eat her?” but I just smiled and held up a hand, so he endured the hug.

“Ok. It’s just about our turn. We should work out a basic strategy, I guess?” Torrie was chatty and had been sort of taking the lead socially, but she was now distracted playing with Raider, who looked like he was starting to enjoy the attention, so I decided to take the reins. I also suspected I knew what was coming, and wanted to be ready. “It sounds like we’re getting thrown into a small combat instance to test our skills out.”

“Dagg, you have a shield. Do you have a taunt skill?” He didn’t say anything, but hefted his small shield and nodded. “Ok, cool. You’re the frontline meat shield then. You guys probably know what you’re doing, but bear with me. Lorelei is our healer. You stay back and keep yourself safe, and prioritize healing on Dagg first and our melee fighters second. That would be Morrick, Torrie, and Raider. Flamebolt and I will try to stick to the rear with Lori and cover everyone from a distance. Sound good?”

Torrie stood up and adjusted her dagger and everyone agreed. Sgt. Pepper pointed at our group and told us it was our turn, so we headed down the path toward a small farmhouse.

The path wound its way for a couple hundred yards past a cornfield before finally arriving at a small two-story farm house. Standing in front of the farmhouse was an old man maybe in his 60’s wearing dirt-stained clothing and holding a pitchfork. I assumed this was our quest giver, but there were no indicators over his head or anything marking him as such. That was too much to hope for, I guess. Years of playing modern MMOs had spoiled me, but I’d cut my teeth on some of the earlier ones where you had to search out quests and even had to remember where to go and where you turned in because quest logs didn’t exist. It made sense for a VRMMO to help with the immersion. There should still be a quest log though, that was a must when I designed the game.

Torrie had moved to the front and was taking the lead, so I let her. She was just a bundle of energy, asking questions and chatting away with everyone. Dagg merely grunted, Lorelei was still shy but seemed to be opening up a bit, and Morrick seemed to enjoy the tiny Kender’s attentions. Flamebolt, on the other hand, seemed offended by the fact she wouldn’t buy into his whole “Flame Lord” act.

I had to laugh at that. In Japanese manga and anime there’s a term, Chunibyo, which translates into something like “Middle School Syndrome” or “8th Grade Syndrome”, and describes a period of time when some kids go through weird delusions of grandeur. It’s played mainly for laughs in otaku media, where the character believes he has some kind of hidden power, or is a member of some all-powerful secret organization, or some such and that they’re one of the chosen few that know the truth f the world or that can stop some oncoming evil, or that they are the evil themselves. It’s kind of silly, but several of my favorite anime had revolved around this one way or another, especially Love, Chunibyo, and other Delusions. And Flamebolt embodied it.

Torrie looked back at me, and I shrugged. “I guess we gotta talk to him. My Charisma is pretty decent, and I have some ranks in Negotiation if you want me to talk with him. I don’t know if that affects our rewards at all, but…” I shrugged.

“Nahh, I got it too. I specced out for that as well. I’m curious to see how quests work anyway.” Torrie headed up and waved to the farmer. I found that if I focused on him, a targeting reticule popped up and I could see his name in green as “Farmer Miller” and a status bar underneath it. While Torrie was talking with him, I fiddled with my HUD and found that I could pull a copy of his name and status bar up onto my window so that I could keep track of it even if I wasn’t looking at him. Useful information to know.

“Greetings friends.” Farmer Miller began as Torrie approached him. “You look like a group of stalwart adventurers. Now that the dome has come down, are you preparing to head out and see if anything is left of this world of ours?”

“Yup! That’s the plan, old man.” Torrie replied cheerfully.

”Indeed. I plan to search the far ends of the world for power, for the lost magic.” Flamebolt stated melodramatically, holding his arms up to the sky. “I will harness the very elements and will ascend to become a—“

“Ignore him.” Torrie said, elbowing Flamebolt in the thigh. He shut his mouth and glared down at her. “Yes, we’re one of the chosen to go out and explore this new world. We just finished up our final training, in fact, and were getting ready to set out.”

“Ahh, that’s fantastic. I wish I was a little younger, I would love to go out and see the world. After spending my entire life stuck under that dome, it must be amazing out there.” The old farmer sighed wistfully. “Before you go, however, would you and your friends mind doing me a favor? I would reward you, of course. I seem to be having a bit of a problem in my cellar you see, and some—“

“Fire bolt!” Flamebolt the mage suddenly shouted, his hands waving and lighting up as a series of red circles with intricate patterns and symbols appeared in front of his hands. A small jet of flame erupted from his hands and flew toward the roof of the farmhouse. It sizzled as it struck and scorched the wood, but fortunately did not catch fire.

“My house? What are you doing to my house?” The farmer screamed. Both Dagg and I tackled Flamebolt to the ground as the farmer looked around frantically. “Thank heavens my house is treated to prevent fire or you could have burned it all down! Why would you do that?”

Torrie bowed her head to the farmer. “I’m so sorry, I don’t know what’s come over him. He never acts that way. Please overlook this!”

While Torrie groveled and attempted to salvage our quest, I looked at where we had Flamebolt pinned to the ground. “Dude, what the hell are you doing?”

“I was just testing something. I was curious to see if the buildings were destructible or not. Figured it might be useful information.” He shrugged and coughed as he realized he was talking and acting normally, so he lowered his voice an octave. “I mean, I can’t very well burn down the entire world if nothing is flammable, now can I?”

I sighed and got up, disgusted. Dagg gave the mage a disgusted look and punched him in the arm, then stood up as well but didn’t take his eyes off him.

Torrie seemed to have placated Farmer Miller some, because he finally agreed to give us his quest, a simple quest to kill some rats that were infesting his cellar, threatening to eat up the food he had stored away for winter. After he asked us to do that, a window popped up in front of each of us:

QUEST: A Rat Problem
GOAL: Kill 12 Rats in Farmer Miller's Cellar
REWARD: 200 XP, 20 GP, [Small Bag]
[Y] [N]

We all clicked “Yes”, and a notification popped up that our quest log had been updated. I opened that window real quick and saw that the information about the quest was all noted there. The farmer led us over to the cellar stairs, though he kept shooting Flamebolt dirty looks. I noticed Lorelei refused to walk anywhere near him, and appeared a little afraid of him. Dagg was openly glaring at him, and I heard Morrick muttering “Dude, not cool.” under his breath.

I inhaled a deep breath to focus, then exhaled. “Ok, just liked we talked about. Dagg goes first, followed by Morrick and Torrie. I assume you’ll stealth down? I’m not sure exactly how sturdy Raider is yet, and pet death is kinda permanent, so I’d rather not risk him too much if I don’t need to.”

“Really? That sucks.” Morrick said, scratching his chin. “I was thinking about taking a pet, but that doesn’t sound worth it.”

“Well, I can do a ritual to tame another pet if he dies, but he won’t be this particular tiger, you know?” I replied, affectionately petting Raider. “His Defense and DR are decent, better than mine. But his damage isn’t too great and he only has 200 HP.”

“Don’t risk kitty.” Dagg rumbled, surprising us.

“I’ll have him assist any targets you’ve taunted, Dagg. I’m not sure how aggro works exactly yet, but as I said, his damage kinda sucks right now so he shouldn’t be able to pull aggro off you. Anyway, the rest of us will hang back and come down last. And Flamebolt? Behave. Or I let Dagg deal with you”

Flamebolt sniffed and tried to play it off like he was unconcerned, but I saw him shooting nervous glances at the giant fighter. For his part, Dagg just grunted and headed down the stairs.

The cellar was pretty big and the space near the stairs was well lit by several rods with glowing stones embedded in the ends. I could see a number of well stocked shelves and several wooden pallets stacked with barrels and sacks of vegetables and grain. However, the far end of the cellar was dark. Over the creaking of the stairs and the clanking of Dagg and Morrick’s chain armor I could hear skittering and squeaking.

Dagg took up point and Morrick moved up to flank him. I heard a quiet voice from next to me whisper “see if one of these lights can be taken down and thrown over there to light things up.” I looked over and didn’t see anyone at first but then could just barely see Torrie blending in with her surroundings. Stealth was weird. But I motioned for everyone to stay still and reached over to one of the glowing rods and pulled it out of the wall-mounted holder. I lifted my other hand and held up three fingers. I slowly lowered one, then the second, then finally the third. When I did, I chucked the torch out into the far darkness. As it landed about 60 feet away, we could see a dozen enormous rats, their red eyes gleaming in the sudden light right before they charged us.

They were a filthy grey-brown color with glowing red eyes the size of a good size dog, with long wriggling grey tails and wickedly sharp teeth. Rats didn’t bother me normally, but these were so large and there were so many I couldn’t suppress a shudder. I heard a squeak from behind me and assumed it was from Lorelei and guessed she didn’t like rodents very much. Surprisingly, it was Flamebolt cringing back from the rats.

Dagg let out a roar and charged across the room, followed closely by Morrick. I whistled and told Raider to follow and assist Dagg. Lorelei chanted a quick pseudo-Latin chant and murmured “Protection” and a shimmering white aura appeared around the big fighter. Nice, a Protection Spell gave the target a Defense buff for short while, which would help since Dagg would probably pull most of the aggro.

Dagg shouted his Taunt at one of the rats, and swept his sword at another, connecting. There was a flash of red in a line where the sword slashed that looked a bit like blood, then the rat vanished in a shower of sparkles. The Quest Tracker changed from “0/12” to “1/12”. Morrick followed up, his twin short swords flashing. One connected and the rat vanished, but the other failed as the rat charged under it. Fighting with two weapons was difficult at this point, as you had a penalty for both attacks and there was little to compensate for it.

The rats began converging on Dagg and Morrick, but I muttered “hold for just a bit longer” to the ranged line next to me. Flamebolt clicked his tongue impatiently, but held off on the Fire Bolt he was clearly chomping to finally use in combat. Torrie appeared from the shadows behind the rats and her short sword flashed, taking down another rat, bringing us up to 3 of 12.

“Now!” I called out, and released two arrows in the span of a single second using Rapid Shot. It was strange, my arm just moved on its own, reaching unerringly into my quiver faster than I could even register pulling out the second arrow before the first had even left the bowstring. My Agility was good, as was my skill and I had a bonus from Ranged Weapon Training, but despite that my first arrow still went wide, clattering against the wall. My second found its mark though, and I could see in my HUD a red number flash above the target registering “90 Damage”, meaning I had gotten a critical strike and done some bonus damage since my bow did only 75 base. The rat squeaked and vanished in a spray of particles.

Flamebolt cackled and let loose his Fire Bolt spell, which struck and killed another rat. Raider leapt up and bit down at the rat that Dagg had taunted. I could see he dealt his base of 25 damage, and while the rat had a nasty looking bite mark on its back it didn’t die. 5 of 12 down, but now the rats were on top of our melee fighters.

Four of the rats converged and leapt altogether in a tangle of biting, clawing furred fury. I vaguely remembered that these rats had some kind of group attack where several would make one single attack. It had a higher attack value and while its damage wasn’t any better than what the rats could do combined, a single large attack would do more than four smaller attacks would, since your Damage Reduction would only soak it once. I winced, remembering that when I’d run this instance as a Tabletop Encounter I’d mauled my players pretty bad because the rats dealt a lot of damage. Though they had fewer players, four versus our six, and they didn’t have a dedicated tank nor a healer.

The rats struck Dagg and bit through his chain mail. Red pixels flew from the wound and he grunted. I had to wonder what the pain threshold was for him. Or for me, for that matter. In the tabletop version, pain was automatically muted as a bit of story fluff since who would play a VRMMO where it hurt badly every time you took damage. I also made the blood and wounds look like pixels so that it was less jarring for the players. But for me, this was presumably my new reality. I suppose I’d have to test things at some point, in a safer environment.

Two more rats attacked Dagg, and while he managed to block one with his shield, another bit at his leg doing more damage. His health bar was a little below half gone on my HUD. The final rat clawed at Morrick, hitting him and dealing a little damage.

By that point, the global cooldowns had ended, so we were able to attack again. Dagg, Morrick, and Torrie all took out another rat, and Raider chomped down n the rat he’d bit before, shaking it and tossing it to the side where it exploded in a spray of pixels. Lorelei cast her Healing Light spell, and a shaft of soothing white light enveloped Dagg as his life bar rose a bit. Flamebolt melodramatically yelled out “Fire Bolt” in an affected deep, booming voice and struck down another rat. There were two left, one attacking Dagg and one on Morrick. Rapid Shot was still on cooldown, so I let loose an arrow at the one on Dagg, since his HP was still lower despite the healing he’d received. The shaft struck true and the Rat evaporated.

The final rat squeaked angrily and leapt at Morrick’s face, clawing at him. He screamed and tried to bat it away as it left some deep red grooves on his face. The warrior stepped back and lashed out his sword as his cooldown ended, reducing the rat to a particle mist.

We got a notification window as the Quest Log ticked over to 12 of 12, letting us know the quest was complete and we should return to Farmer Miller for our reward. There was a second window that popped up behind that that said “Loot Rewards”. I took a moment to scroll through my rewards.

INDIVIDUAL COMBAT REWARDS
[Rat Whisker] x 6
[Copper Dagger]
[Tough Copper Chain Belt]

 

The name of the [Rat Whisker] was a pale grey color, indicating it was a trash item, worth a small amount from a vendor for whatever reason, The [Copper Dagger] was white, indicating that it was a Common item. Common gear was generally not worth much money and almost never had any kind of enchantments or buffs. At this stage though, we had gaps in our equipment slots and it might be an upgrade over the starter gear.

 

The final piece of gear excited me, though. The [Tough Copper Chain Belt] was a Copper quality item. And I suddenly realized that there were times when my quality ranking system and my crafting materials system might be confusing. The belt’s description was that it was a belt made of copper, but it was also an Uncommon item and would have better stats and at least one stat buff at this level. Past Common, which would quickly end up in the same category as trash, gear came in four Rarities, each color coded: Uncommon (Copper), Rare (Silver), Super Rare (Gold), and Ultra Rare (Shimmering Rainbow colored). I probably should have just gone with the standard Epic and Legendary but when I was designing the system I wanted to be a little different from WoW and other MMOs, and was cribbing a bit from the rarity system used by a lot of Asian games.

The [Tough Copper Chain Belt] had a value of 125 Gold, Damage Reduction of 5, Durability of 13, required a Strength of 6, and added +1 to your Endurance, and was Bind of Equip. I couldn’t use it, but Morrick or Dagg would be able to. I clicked the option on the popup to “Take All”, then opened up my Inventory Screen to see them taking up three spaces.

Everyone else was checking out their gear as well. In the end, I passed the dagger off to Torrie and gave the belt to Dagg after Morrick said he’d let the big tank have it. He pulled out some gold to try and pay for it, but I simply waved him off and told him to not worry about it. It was the only Uncommon item found, and a few other Common items were passed around to those who could use and wanted them. Then we headed up the stairs and out to Farmer Miller.

While we did this, our health and mana quickly regenerated over the span of a few minutes. I always found that MMOs where you had to track health and constantly waste time to heal after a combat were a giant pain in the ass, so I had made Apoch’s Twilight to have rapid regen outside of combat. So long as you were not actively engaged in combat, it would come back with just a minute or two of rest. In combat though it didn’t regenerate at all, so you would need to rely on spells and potions.

We emerged into daylight, and Torrie told the farmer we had cleared the rats from his cellar. He was overjoyed, though he still shot Flamebolt a snide look and I could hear him mutter something like “miracle he didn’t burn it down”. But then we got a message that our quest was complete and another loot window popped up.

QUEST REWARD
Experience Reward 200
Gold Reward 20
Item Reward [Small Pouch] - Val 10G, Increases Inventory by 6 Slots

I happily accepted, then pulled the bag out of my Inventory. It was interesting, because I touched the inventory slot, and could move it around as a flat object on my window, much like you would move an icon on a computer desktop or smartphone. But if I pulled it out like I was trying to hold it, it would materialize in my hand. The pouch was a small brown leather belt pouch, and when I dropped it into my right equipment slot it materialized on my waist. My still open inventory window instantly gained six more item slots.

We all thanked Farmer Miller and he wished us well on our journeys and we set out down the path toward the town of Ravensport, the starting hub for Apoch’s Twilight. In the background fiction, it was once a massive metropolis the size of New York city with towering skyscrapers and millions of people living there. Rather than pure technology, the world of Apoch had developed machines fueled by magic and matched or even exceeded the technological levels of the real world. Crystals that worked as smartphones, magical carriages had replaced cars, and flying ships replaced planes and cargo ships. There was even an extensive teleportation network between major cities.

When the Twilight happened, the world was literally ripped apart by the gods when they joined the war. The only ones who stood apart were the three gods of magic: Good, Neutral, and Evil. There names were lost to history, or at least that’s what my back story said. In reality I never bothered to name any of the gods, since they were no longer around. These three gods got together with the most powerful mages and tried to establish sanctuaries to protect some of the population, extremely powerful magical domes that would protect the major cities until the war subsided.

The war escalated faster than expected though, and the domes were erected before they were finished. The Ravensport dome was erected on the outskirts of the city and only covered a mere three miles of unfinished farmland rather than 10 miles including most of the city as planned. The majority of the individuals planned to live in the dome, the powerful mages, the scholars, the architects, and the like who had been selected to rebuild civilization were left outside as well. Only a few hundred people ended up protected, none of whom were well prepared.

I wanted to create a world that was a mash-up of super high fantasy, sort of Warcraft mixed with Final Fantasy, thrust into a post-apocalyptic setting, a bit of Mad Max and Fallout. The idea of the Dome gave me a magical “vault”, and the idea of setting it when the domes first came down gave me a good reason why players wouldn’t know anything about the world around them, since it was broken and reshaped by the Twilight and the 150 years that followed.

The current day Ravensport was mostly a farming community of about 1000 people, plus however many players there were. To town center was surrounded by a mile and a half of farmland on either side, and a large wall had been built along the entire circumference of the Dome, with roads and gates at each of the four cardinal directions. Three of the gates became moot though, as when the dome dropped it was revealed that a mountain rang had sprung up around three quarters of it, leaving only the western most side of the dome open to the outside.

Miller’s farm wasn’t too far from the town itself, and we quickly emerged from the road through the cornfields to see a quaint, medieval looking village ahead of us. There were a couple dozen one and two-story homes around the outskirts, and some shops and other buildings surrounding a decent sized town square.

“Hey, let’s add each other as friends.” Torrie said as we stood looking over the town. “The game doesn’t seem to have a Tell or Whisper function, so we can’t talk to each other long distance, but it’ll let us know when we’re online and we can send mail to each other.”

“Sure, why not.” Morrick said quietly, opening up his status window with a wave.

The rest of us agreed, though I suspected most of us would probably try and avoid Flamebolt in the future. I found the Social window and was able to each of my fellow party members by simply focusing on them for a second so I was “targeting” them and clicking “Add Friend”. The tab didn’t provide much information, just listed their name and whether or not they were currently online.

“I, the mighty Flamebolt, master of the Elements and future Emperor of Apoch must fuel his future power!” Flamebolt proclaimed loudly. Then in a quieter voice, he muttered “I gotta take off for a bit. I got a pizza coming, and Mom needs the VGear for a while. Thanks for party, it was fun.”

“Yeah, we should probably split up and explore the town a bit. I’ll need to go eat soon too.” Morrick was looking through his inventory as he said that. “I want to find a vendor to get rid of these whiskers and see about picking up some other gear and stuff.”

”Good idea. It was fun you guys! We should do this again!” Torrie smiled at us.

Lorelei had ended up being Party Leader, so after fumbling with the interface a bit, she disbanded us, and we each went our separate ways into the town.

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About the author

Steven 'Bull' Ratkovich

Bio: Roleplaying Game author and developer, primarily for the Shadowrun RPG. Cranky old nerd, GI Joe Collector, and professional Gen Con Drunk.

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