My first Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) game was Asheron’s Call (AC). I got into the beta because I was working at Microsoft at the time and I had been interested in trying one out, but I’d heard horror stories about Ultima Online (later confirmed by a coworker who wrecked quite the havoc on other players, but that’s a story unto itself) and had also heard horror stories about Everwait and mad bannings and all sorts of ‘fun’ things that made me leery of trying Everquest. So Asheron called and I answered!
The beta was quite the experience. Imagine a noob, yes me, seeing a human move around on the screen so I immediately thought, “Hey, another player.” Of course I got mad when he didn’t talk back. It took me a little while to realize it was a computer controlled character (NPC).
I also decided to role play my character properly. As a huge fan of Ed Greenwood’s Elminster stories, naturally, that became my character name. In his stories, Elminster travels all across the land placing magical artifacts in hidden places to spread magic around. I thought, “Great!” and began my own spreading. In AC, you could drop items on the ground. You could also put items in this one crypt at the bottom of a dungeon. Perfect right? Ok, yah, anyone experienced at MMOs is laughing at me right now. One thing I discovered is that MMOs don’t like clutter so they nuke things that aren’t in a player’s inventory or bank storage. Well, nuts, there went my awesome role play idea.
Another fun thing that happened in beta relates to the concept of buffs. These are spells that can boost the strength and other attributes of a player, either yourself or another. What the developers didn’t account for was when players aimed those spells at the indigenous life forms and found out they worked. No biggie right? Except imagine how fun it is to buff up the local cow that was originally put there for level 1 characters to get experience by killing. Well now, that level 1 goes up there with her rusty sword, no shield, and tattered clothes. Wacks at the cow who glares angrily back and head butts the player into oblivion! What? The? F? Oh, well, that cow actually had buffed up armor, strength, stamina, and about forty other things since AC had an overabundance of buffs.
If that doesn’t make you laugh just a little, this next one should. Imagine the whirring clogs in the mind of a player when that cow dings (slang for levels up) when it kills that poor newbie. Hmm…. what do you think will happen next? Yep, that player is stripping off their armor, debuffing themselves, and slapping the cow which kills them. Again. And again. And yet again. Suddenly that cow is a raging bullish monstrosity whose aura is so potent a near whiff of it sends a poor newbie to the resurrection stone.
Another glorious way people toyed with others was to secretly buff monsters other players were trying to kill. Suddenly you have Game of Thrones where one side is trying to kill the poor mobs for basic food, clothing, and maybe enough coin to eat another day, and the Lannisters buffing the creatures and healing, yes healing them back to full health. If GRRM ever designed a game, that would be up his alley. Bodies littered the fields.
There’s also the bit about pissing off wasps and dragging them all over creation into the mage shop and leaving them there for some poor spell caster who only wants to research the over 300 spells the game had and isn’t really ready to kill something like that. Ah, let the bodies hit the floor!
But all good things come to an end, and the Asheron’s Call beta was one of them. To demonstrate the full power of their death… err event engine, the Turbine developers created an end of beta event, complete with a doomsday comet in the sky that grew closer. Volcanoes spawned, elementals ruptured through the earth and assaulted the towns. Our doom was at hand and there was nothing we could do about it.
Or was there? Remember this question, it becomes relevant in a paragraph!
While there were some naughty things being done in the game to newbs, there was also a really great thing put into place – the advocate system. These were player volunteers who donated their time to stand at a newbie drop zone and answer questions the uninitiated might have. I was fortunate enough to get in with this group and make several friends. It is this group of friends who, with nothing better to do, would come up with some funny things to do like stand on top of a cow (yes they were solid and you could get on top of them) then have someone else kill the cow. The game would leave you up in the air until you looked like you were meditating. I think that was the first use of ‘moo’ as a form of cow meditation. Since cows seemed to be funny things to toy around with, it’s only natural that we’d formulate something as preposterous as cow worshipping, cult of the cow that predicted the end of the world (big giant comet getting closer, duh!), and finally a cow savior to answer the question of how did the advocates get on the server three days ahead of the wave? (Well, devs and all, but remember, we were role playing!)
So that one single question was the catalyst that brought about the story of the cow. Like the bards of old, I told it in the taverns and in the portal subway. When it was late and everyone was tired of fighting heinous enemies or locating their corpses, we’d gather around the camp fire and I’d tell the tale about how we were saved from ultimate doom. I finally wrote it down and now I present it to you. My final farewell to Asheron’s Call.
The Cult of the Cow
A long time ago in a land far, far away there was a typical tavern in a typical town with a typical adventurer drowning his aches and sorrows in a typical ale. The world was not so typical though, with things falling from the sky and a big comet filling up most of the sky.
“Moo!” the adventurer heard from outside the tavern. Just as he went to sip more ale, he heard it again only more insistent sounding. Curious and definitely under the influence, he staggered outside to see what a cow would be doing in town.
The cow looked up at him quite intelligently and stared into his eyes. “MOOOO! You must listen to me! This entire world is going to be destroyed. Gather your friends and meet me here in two days if you wish to live.”
“No way was anyone going to believe this,” he thought, but he gave it a whirl, asking his closest friends to meet him at the tavern at the appointed time. His friends were quite fond of the old adventurer and decided to humor his request and amazingly all were present when the cow appeared.
“Moo! You will follow me and I will keep you safe until this world is reborn again and safe for you to rebuild.”
Given the shaking of the earth and the elementals spawning and erupting volcanoes, it wasn’t so hard to agree to follow the cow through a rift in the air. When they emerged again, hard to say how long, they were back but the world had been transformed – fresh fields, green trees.
But nobody else survived.
To this day, the group of friends uses “MOO!” as a greeting and a sign of their trust in each other, for without that trust they wouldn’t have lived through the cataclysm.