Announcements - 2006/12 - Cold Tracks

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December 2006 - Patch Page


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Cold Tracks

Ardry shook the snow from his boots as he stepped wearily into the Thorsten's Rest tavern atop the hill in Cragstone. He nodded to the other regulars and settled into a table by the fire, hunching over a mug of cider and a bowl of beef stew. Blood dripped into the stew from a gashed wound on his forehead, but he either didn't notice or didn't care. He shoveled the stew into his mouth with the unblinking dedication of the truly exhausted.

Nor did he look up when the tavern door opened up again to again send cold, snowy wind gusting through the tavern. A lone man entered and approached the bar. A casual glance told Ardry that he was a Sho, leanly muscled and dressed in well-used but well-maintained leather armor. The stranger ordered a cup of water and sipped his drink while casting covert glances around the room. He was being reasonably discreet about it, but over the years Ardry had developed a preternatural ability to sense when people were looking for him. He could feel the hairs prickle on the back of his neck as the stranger's gaze drifted, in a studiously nonchalant way, repeatedly to him.

Finally, he could take no more. He dropped his spoon and sat up straight, reaching under the table to grasp the hilt of a dagger he'd stashed on his leg for just such a barroom encounter. Apparently sensing his paranoia, the stranger circled around so that he could approach Ardry from the front.

Ardry looked directly at him as he approached, as much to establish eye contact as to be able to observe the way this stranger moved in case it did turn into a fight. The stranger moved with the grace of a warrior trained in some of the more esoteric Sho combat arts, but he was nervous and unsure of himself. Ardry sighed, and addressed the man as he came to the table.

"I hope you're not here to kill me for trespassing in yet another fighting school, because I'm pretty tired of getting perforated by exquisitely trained Sho killers. Please tell me you're not a Tanada.

The man blinked several times, taken totally off guard by Ardry's conversational gambit. He recovered himself, and grinned nervously. "I apologize for my scrutiny, sir, but I seek a man named Ardry, nephew of the great sage Aliester the Loquacious. Are you Ardry the Dubious?"

"I am Ardry the Not Running Dangerous Scouting Missions Any More," Ardry snorted, releasing his grip on the dagger and taking a long drink from his cider. He gestured at the other chair by the table. "Yes, I'm the man you're looking for. Have a seat. I assume my uncle sent you?"

"Not directly, sir," the stranger said. "My name is Shan Zhen, but please just call me Zhen." He sat eagerly at the table. "My mistress sent me to find you, at your uncle's recommendation. She said you were a brave and resourceful scout. And that maybe you'd share some of what you found on your most recent expeditions if I were able to promise you a meeting with my mistress. She sends a token to prove to you that I am not lying." He reached into a pouch and set a small medallion on the table.

Ardry's eyes widened. "All right, Zhen. You've got me interested. What did you want to know?"

"My mistress is curious about some of the notes you've found in the course of exploring dungeons we had previously believed to be thoroughly mapped. Notes that were written by a certain missing wizard that she is trying to help locate. When you wrote to your uncle about them, he passed word on to her."

Ardry nodded. "I did find some notes... Three of them. I found the first one while investigating the earthquake near Lady Folthid's estate. Most of it went right over my head, though. There were some strange mathematical notations..."

Zhen leaned forward, excited. "Yes! The numbers. I have reason to believe that those numbers are actually the key to recovering a journal that Asheron left behind."

Ardry considered this as he drank the last of his cider. "Well, that's interesting, all right. How would the numbers help you find his journal?"

"He covered his tracks well. We have reason to believe he may have thought someone or some thing was trying to follow him, with evil intent. So he left his journal somewhere safe and hidden, reachable only by people who could use the numbers he left to decipher the clues and find the journal."

Ardry grimaced. "Sounds complicated. What's in this journal that's worth so much trouble?"

"Information on where he went, and how he went there. Notes on a geomantic portal-opening ritual... To another world."

Ardry laughed. "There aren't many people in Dereth who can work portal-opening rituals my friend, let alone to another world. An Empyrean could do it, but you're not going to get that old crank Harlune to crawl out from under his rock to help. As for Isparians working that kind of powerful ritual... That's even less likely. Trust me, my uncle has been trying to figure out how to do it for years, and he knows as much about geomancy as any Isparian."

Zhen grinned, with a disconcertingly sly expression. "With all due respect to your venerable uncle, Ardry, there are some Isparians who are capable of such magic. At least one has learned under Asheron himself. With the proper guidance, perhaps the information left in the journal..."

Ardry took a deep breath. "Very interesting." He stood, picked up his bowl and his mug, and brought them to the bar for the barkeeper Magrom to clean up. He came back to the table, shaking his head. "All right, I'll help you." He paused and glared suspiciously at Zhen. "And you're sure this means I get a meeting with your mistress?"

Zhen nodded enthusiastically. "She wishes to discuss the matter with you personally. To review the notes you have found. She believes the numbers hold the key unlocking the mechanisms Asheron left behind to protect his journal."

"Lead on then, Zhen," Ardry said. "Even though I'm pretty sure that before all this is over I'm somehow going to end up leaving a few more mutilated corpses around Dereth..."

The two men exited the tavern, one walking briskly with his head high and his eyes hopeful, the other slouching wearily behind as he considered the punishment that was sure to be in store for getting involved with another mysterious cause.

Rollout Article

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Rollout Article

The sound of clashing weapons echoed through the corridors of Queen Elysa's palace in Dereth. The noise came from the training room, where young Prince Borelean sparred against the veteran guerilla commander, Captain Tharnoch.

Borelean's sword slammed repeatedly against Tharnoch's defending blade as he tried to batter aside the older man's defenses. They had been sparring for half an hour without pause, and both were beginning to sweat. Borelean had spent the entire fight on the attack, lunging and jumping and raining blows on his opponent from every conceivable angle. Tharnoch, by contrast, fought in a crablike stance, shuffling guardedly from side to side and moving with an economy of motion honed over decades of combat experience. His conservative style helped him keep even in the endurance battle against his teenage opponent.

Tharnoch growled as he parried aside another arcing overhand strike from the Prince. "Your Highness," he said, "while you are skilled beyond your years, your fighting style is wasteful and poorly judged."

Borelean came ahead, striking quickly, forcing his opponent to give ground. "How so?" Borelean asked, somewhat cockily, as he launched a side cut that almost hit Tharnoch in the arm before the captain slid out of the way. "It seems to me I almost have you against the wall, Captain."

Tharnoch's response came as the Prince tried another powerful overhand slash. He sidestepped the blow as it came down and lashed out with his left hand, knocking Borelean's sword out wide and low, too far out of position to defend himself adequately. He pressed into the opening he'd created and brought the sword to bear on the Prince's chest.

Before Tharnoch could call for his opponent to yield, Borelean went along with the shove he'd gotten from the captain. He continued the down-and-out motion, rolling and spinning with impressive athleticism. Before Tharnoch could react, Borelean's leg whipped out and caught him with a solid kick to the stomach. Tharnoch was too battle-hardened to give in to the pain, but the kick pushed him back and created enough separation for Borelean to bring his sword back up into a proper guard posture.

Tharnoch laughed and dropped his blade to his side to signal an end to the duel. "Well done!" he roared. He actually seemed to be pleased by absorbing a hard kick in the gut. "Fighters trained by nobles are often too proud to use a good kick or head-butt in combat. It's not pretty, and a lot of fools will tell you it's ungentlemanly, but the only thing that matters at the end of a fight is who's standing and who's bleeding on the dirt. All your bloody nobles are nobles because some ancestor of theirs was smart enough to kick an opponent in the fork and win the fight."

He paused to probe his bruised stomach with his fingers. "Good technique on the kick, too. Led with the heel, to get the most stopping power out of it... You could become a real warrior yet."

Borelean grinned, but tried not to be too happy with himself, in case Tharnoch was readying a sucker-punch or something else to underscore the message about fighting dirty. The veteran did no such thing, but he was regarding Borelean with a thoughtful gaze.

"In fact, Your Highness, I am fairly certain you didn't learn that kind of technique from Antius Blackmoor. All I've heard of the man suggests he was brave, noble, and foolish enough to get himself killed by someone with lower standards of decency. And I know that the soldiers from my own detachment have been too busy with other duties to instruct you..."

Borelean didn't say anything to that. He just stared at the captain with a blank gaze. Tharnoch cleared his throat during the uncomfortable pause.

"All right, I'll just ask. Are you training with someone else, Your Highness?"

Borelean answered with the same studiously blank gaze fixed on his face. "No, Captain Tharnoch, I have no other combat trainers. Could you elaborate further upon your earlier comment? How is my fighting style wasteful?"

Tharnoch frowned suspiciously at his pupil. He was almost certain that Borelean was lying, or at least failing to report the whole truth. But he didn't want to derail the training session with an inquisition, so he made a mental note to speak to the Queen about the Prince's training, and answered Borelean's question.

"The problem, Your Highness, is that while you will no doubt one day be a very strong man, perhaps as strong as I've heard your father was, you are not stronger than I am now. Yet you tried to fight me in a battle of strength. You expended a lot of energy trying to overpower my defense, which, frankly, you cannot do. But you're quicker than me, and you've got the energy and spry legs to beat me through mobility. Use that to your advantage. Don't try to knock down the walls when you can take out the gate more easily. Do you understand what I'm trying to say?"

Borelean bowed his head thoughtfully and regarded Tharnoch with a new respect in his eyes. "You are wise, Captain Tharnoch. I will remember that. But how should I know if I'm stronger than someone else, or faster?"

Tharnoch nodded sagely. "That's what the early part of a fight is for. With feints and probing attacks, get a sense of your opponent's capabilities, before you commit yourself in earnest. If you tried, for example, to outmaneuver a faster man..."

They were interrupted by a knock on the door. Borelean stepped to attention and Tharnoch, irritated by the interruption, called out, "Enter!"

A royal messenger stepped through the door, bowed to the Prince, and saluted the captain. "Your Highness Prince Borelean," the messenger said, "Her Highness the Queen requests your presence in the library. Captain Tharnoch is hereby dismissed from duty for the rest of the afternoon." The messenger bowed, saluted, and departed.

The two fighters looked at each other. "Well, lad, get on with you," Tharnoch said. "We'll pick up back here tomorrow. Unless your mother wants you in the library again," he snorted. He hung his sword in the rack of training weapons and left the room.

Borelean gritted his teeth as he watched Tharnoch go. He didn't like having his training interrupted by this peremptory summons to the library. He hung his own sword on the rack and stalked out of the room. He didn't even bother to change out of his sweat-stained training leathers before he went to the library.

A few moments later, still angry, he pushed open the library doors. Inside he found an old Aluvian man and a young Sho woman. They were both seated at a table piled high with books, but they got up quickly and bowed when they saw that the Prince had entered. The young woman seemed vaguely intimidated to be there, but the old man seemed hostile. It also took a moment for Borelean to realize how tall this old man was – he was even taller than most of the burly guards that were stationed around the castle.

"Your Highness," the old man said, with a slight sneer curling his lip. "Thank you for coming so promptly, if a little rudely. It was not necessary for you to rush. You could have stopped to change into fitting garb for an academic setting instead of stomping in here in your smelly armor."

Borelean blinked, unaccustomed to such rebukes. He would have lashed out angrily, but something about the old man's size and sheer willful presence kept him respectful. Tharnoch's lesson about testing your opponent before fully committing to the fight seemed strangely fitting here. He hesitated before speaking, as his gaze lingered briefly on the young woman, but he turned back to the old man and asked, "What would my mother have of me, sir?"

"I am the mage Harlune, Prince. And this," he said, motioning to the young woman, "is my student for the moment, Hoshino Kei. Your mother has asked me to include you in young Kei's geomancy lessons."

Borelean looked at Kei again. "We have met once before, have we not, Lady Kei?"

Kei nodded and smiled. "I believe so, Your Highness. I was with Master Celdiseth at the time. But please, just call me Kei."

Harlune motioned the Prince to join them at the table. "If you're done flirting, come sit with us, boy." Kei averted her eyes and seemed to become very interested in the book on the table in front of her.

Borelean tried to summon up as much royal indignance as he could. "I don't know you, sir. Why are you teaching us if the Lady Ciandra is an accomplished mage, and a councilor? What of Master Celdiseth, who was Kei's teacher already?"

Harlune's frown deepened, and Borelean thought he saw a flash of blue light in the old man's eyes. "Because you're here to learn about geomancy, the blood witch's apprentice doesn't know as much about ley lines as she does about sacrificing chickens and Celdiseth is a rude, ungrateful bastard. Let's get on with this, so people can stop pestering me to pass on my knowledge. I hear tell you've received some lessons from that ivory tower git from Knorr. And Kei here's learned at least the basics from the blood witch's apprentice. So you won't be completely unprepared for what I need to teach you."

Borelean hesitated. He was confused and lost by this sudden shift in his training. "Waiting for me to put a purple satin cushion on your chair for you, boy? I don't have all day," Harlune growled.

Borelean sighed and approached the table. "Now it seems I am to be a mage," he said to no one in particular, as he sat down across from Kei.

Release Notes

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December 2006 Developer's Notes

New content and Functionality

  • A few more quest dungeons have been revised this month. Once again make sure to check out some of your old favorites to see if they have seen some changes.
  • Mr.P has decided to make the location of his home known to the players. Perhaps if we are nice enough to him, he may reward us with a new friend.
  • Make sure that you know the location of Frost Haven, there may be a need to travel there in the days ahead.
  • Players wishing to continue to gather more information about the Tanada Clan will have an opportunity to get more answers this month.

Miscellaneous Changes and Improvements

  • Based on player feedback Rare Infinite Arrowheads will now work on bundles of the appropriate shafts.
  • Rare gems are now stackable up to 100
  • The snow has begun to fall in Dereth, and winter is now upon us.
  • The Scarecrows have gone back into hiding for the season. Snowmen should now be appearing on the landscape in their place.
  • Several small typos were fixed on various quests.
  • On the Messenger's Collar quest, the respawn timer on the Falatacot Tome has been increased.

Letter to the Players

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December 2006 Letter to the Players

Welcome to the December Letter to the Players!

Winter is once again upon us and with it comes the changes to the world we see every year. There is snow on the ground and the scarecrows have all gone into hiding as the snowmen have come out to play. The plot thickens as the people of Dereth continue their quest to discover what has happened to Asheron. Will we be able to discover his whereabouts? And what about the Tanada Clan? Will we find out more information about why they are here?

Rare Changes
Based on player feedback Rare Infinite Arrowheads will now work on bundles of the appropriate shafts.

Rare gems are now stackable up to 100

Holiday Fun
Mr.P has decided to make the location of his home known to the players. Perhaps if we are nice enough to him, he may reward us with a new friend.

Make sure that you know the location of Frost Haven, there may be a need to travel there in the days ahead.

More Quest Love
A few more quest dungeons have been revised this month. Once again make sure to check out some of your old favorites to see if they have seen some changes. These revised dungeons will also play a part in the current storyline.

Players wishing to continue to gather more information about the Tanada Clan will have an opportunity to get more answers this month.

In Concept
These are game changes that we are thinking about for upcoming events. We cannot guarantee when or even if these changes will be added to the game, as scheduling and priorities can change. These changes are in addition to the new quests, dungeons, and items we will be adding to the game. Each month we will be discussing one new in concept topic, in order to give you as much information about the item that we can.

Squelch Panel
The title pretty much says it all here. In continuing with our theme of updating some older systems in the game we are looking at adding in a squelch panel. The functionality would be similar to that of the friends panel players already have now. We are also looking at increasing the number of players that could be added to the squelch list. One of the ideas of the panel would also be the ability to tell if it is just one character that has been squelched or if it is an entire account. There is still a considerable amount of work that would need to be done on this as we move ahead, but it is something we feel would be a good thing going forward.

So there are just some of the things we have in store for Asheron's Call in December and beyond. Please remember that along with everything listed here, there are several new quests and exciting things going into the game for the December event.
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