Letters From Tamriel

An epistolary gaming blog

Welcome to Letters from Tamriel

As players of The Elder Scrolls games well know, no situation in Tamriel is so dire that one cannot take a moment to jot down a few notes in a journal or letter to a loved one, perhaps including three-fifths of a puzzle solution for those who might come along later.

In this spirit, Letters from Tamriel will feature the epistolary fiction of my characters from Elder Scrolls Online, writing home with tales of their adventure and intrigue.  Those letters will be interspersed with my discussions of game mechanics, TES history and backstories, and other ESO-related topics.  Start with the Category “About This Site”, or pick a character and click their Category to read through their letters sequentially.

Pull up a chair, grab a sweetroll, and enjoy!

@Zells

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Update 17 review

@Zells - sepia stone - small

 

I realize the game devs don’t make changes to the game based on what I personally want – I’m merely dead center in their target demographic.  Nonetheless, I do continually feel the updates are personal love notes just to me.

Dearest Zells,
Of our millions of players, we want you, personally, to be happy, so have some segregated housing storage and a new way to completely customize the appearance of your gear no matter what drop-set you’re wearing. Also: leveling rewards! And did we mention there’s new dye colors, and you can dye weapons now?
Happy Valentine’s Day!
XOXO,
Game Devs

I ❤ you, too, Devs!  ~makes little heart shape with hands~

~pauses, looks at all the patient faces in the audience~

Uh…. so that’s not a “review” in the strictest sense of the word, huh? Yeah, okay, valid response on your part.

I’m going to try and talk my usual Thursday night group into doing the new dungeons this week (shouldn’t have to twist their arms much), and hopefully by Friday I’ll have something to say that’s more coherent than the high-pitched dolphin noises I’m making now and was making last night when I was cleaning furnishings out of my banker and putting them into my new storage containers. Because there’s segregated housing storage now, have I mentioned that already at any point? 🙂

Have a great week!

The Alts, specifics

@Zells - sepia stone - smallLast post I babbled about the generalities of my alt line-up; this time I’ll go through the specifics of what they each do.

Someone once commented, “so when do you stop messing around with all that and start playing the game?” Just to be clear: this is me playing the game. I actually do like grinding, it amuses the same part of my brain that likes to knit or make chain jewelry – small, repetitive actions towards a goal are soothing to me – and when I’m in the right mood I can farm a circuit for 6 hours w/o blinking. At the same time, the instant I do get bored, I’m done. My characters are set up the way they are so I never feel stuck, or like I’m in a rut; I do whatever is fun until it isn’t fun anymore, then I jump characters and do something else. I go down the list approximately in the order I have it below, skipping any character if I don’t feel like doing their thing, or if I’m pressed for time.

All of my characters now have 50 in all crafting skills, but until a couple of weeks ago, one character in the rotation would be doing decon as part of their log-in. And I’m down to only 3 characters who need the stable, but a stable trip also used to be part of the deal.

Aaaaaaaaaand: cut.
Read more…

The Alts, general set-up

@Zells - sepia stone - smallThis is a two-part post; the follow-up post is here.

I’ve had a lot of conversations lately about playing alts, and apparently I use/play them differently than most do; a couple of people have requested I go through my alt/character system.

I don’t really have “alts” per se, is one big difference. I started using the Zell- naming prefix decades ago so friends could find me in MMOs no matter which character I was playing (before account names), because I really do play them all.

In the solo games I’ve done every quest, everything there is to do, multiple times, but never on a single character. That’s because in my heart I’m a role-player, and to me it doesn’t make sense for the same character to sacrifice souls to Sithis for the Dark Brotherhood while killing Daedra cultists for the Fighter’s Guild and also doing kill-nobody-we’re-not-evil! quests for the Thieves Guild.

So before I even start playing, I decide which characters are doing which parts of the game with the goal of doing every single thing while repeating as little as possible – I slice up the content like a pie and decide which character gets each slice.

You may have noticed my characters have simple, themed names: Fire, Shadow, Night, Ice, Vermin… Those are appearance guides as well as characterization/class cues – Fire wears red/gold/black; Nyx wears blue/grey/black; Issa wears white/ice-blue/grey, etc. I don’t use the same motif or costume on more than one character at a time, so the armor appearance varies. They don’t ride the same mounts, they don’t live in the same parts of the world, they don’t use the same skills… all that’s partly so I can see as much of the game as possible, it’s a function of me slicing up the content-pie and dividing it.

Another important play-style factor is that I have Hirelings on all my characters. I’d been playing only long enough to have a couple of characters and a basic understanding of the game when I started doing research on the crafting skills and found out how Hirelings work. I immediately decided all my characters would have rank 3 Hirelings as fast as I could get them, even though I hadn’t yet even built those characters. (Because: MOAR CRAFTING MATS, YAY.)

Hireling mails don’t arrive unless/until you log in with the character who has that skill purchased, which I knew going in.

What I’m saying is that one of my first big decisions in the game was that I would have 8 (now 10) characters and would be logging on with each of them every day I played – that was my foundation assumption from the start. I never intended to play just one character like most people do; I always meant for it to be an interlocking team. I don’t log in with every single character when I play, but I do get to most of them, most days.

So I log in to get the Hireling mail and do one/two/some of the possible activities on that character’s current to-do list, depending on my mood. Then I log out and move to the next one. I’m with each character 5 minutes to 2 hours. The log-in order varies based on my gaming priorities, and also by which characters are putting items into the shared bank and which are removing them. As I go through the list, the character advancing crafting skills decons the bank trash, and they stop by the stable if needed. If I feel like playing the character longer than their one ‘task’, then I pursue whatever they need to better perform their job – finish a step in a questline, go farm a skill point or two, or get an achievement.

Why get achievements on alts? Because it can sometimes affect the drop-rates of motif pages they’re farming. For example, the Dark Brotherhood motif drops from Sacrament reward bags more frequently the more ‘investment’ you have in the DB content – progression in the DB story line, achievements completed, guild rank, # of DB motif pages known, DB skill points, etc. All of it helps incrementally. So Vashta, my character who farmed the Dark Brotherhood motif, did all that a little at a time each log in after she ran the Sacrament & hit up Remains Silent, as I felt like doing it. Now her drop rate on the Sacrament pages is about 40%. I have 3 characters who have joined the Dark Brotherhood, but only Vashta did the whole questline, and she’s the only one who does Sacraments – no one else has that high of a chance.

That’s what I mean when I say my characters are set up to do specialized things – it isn’t just about the gear choices or build, it can be about questlines pursued and guild rank and a dozen other things. Before I put a character in a spot, I do the research to make sure they’re pursuing their goal as efficiently as possible. I also keep them in their ‘lane’ so their accumulated gains dovetail with whatever I want to do with them next.

Hireling mails deliver the rank of material the character has purchased in that skill – if you have rank 1 Blacksmithing, your Hireling sends iron ore. If the character has rank 2, they get steel.  Etc. To get a steady trickle of all the mats, 5 of my characters have their ranks stacked 1-5 in all crafting skills (Aedri has all crafting skills at 1; Zellur’ra has all at rank 2; etc.) and the other 5 characters all have crafting skills at rank 10, so the CP160 mats can accumulate.

I decided which mat rank to buy for each character based mostly on whether or not they’re out in the world harvesting nodes – if I’m questing/adventuring, I want to pick up ancestor silk, not jute. The characters with 1-5 mat ranks don’t go into the wilderness, and they don’t have Keen Eye either, because they don’t farm. Those characters also have minimal combat skills – maybe only 5 points, enough to fill up a single weapon bar. When they get to level 15, I set up the two bars so one has reasonably-functional combat skills for when I take them out for skill points, but the other bar has Rapids, for fast movement in town, with whatever other utility abilities are useful.

Also on that utility-skills bar are some combat skills I’m raising. I respec the alts occasionally, and move the combat points into new (combat) skills when the current ones get max’d out. By the time they’re CP level, all their useful combat skills have been on the bar and are raised to 50 – if I ever want them to be combat characters, I only need to farm a few new skill points to re-activate the skills I want, I won’t be starting from scratch.

In addition to the Sacrament runs, I’ve had alts farm nodes & treasure chests, run dailies for motif pages, pickpocket, loot tombs, even kill World Bosses… stuff you do, but they only do that one thing, and they have all possible advantages for it that I can get them. I log in, do their thing(s), shift their lootz to the banker, then log out ready to go next time. When they were raising crafting skills I’d also have them decon whatever was in the bank, and they’d hit the stable if needed. Rinse & Repeat until I move them to a new home. The system is constantly in flux as I finish goals / get bored / need gold / want to farm a new thing.

Sidebar: if you have the banker assistant and are leveling up crafting on an alt, consider leaving them at one of the wilderness crafting stations. Some of those locations are really gorgeous and are a joy to see when you log in. Wilderness crafting stations also tend to be node cluster spots, so there’s often good mat harvesting nearby. Log in, decon at the tables, run a circuit around the place to collect all the nodes and treasure chests, give everything new to the banker, log out. Esp. effective in zones where the zone set gear sells well and you can find a spot with multiple treasure chests nodes, but use a CP character in that case – a lvl 34 Spriggan’s ring is a sad, sad thing. 🙂 Also make sure that alt has the Treasure Hunter and harvesting passives, and speed gear – if they’re going to farm, set them up to farm.

We talk a lot about builds and high end-game performance, and if you’re running vet dungeons, you’ve got to have the gear and skills. But honestly, PvE in ESO is very forgiving. You do not need a CP-lvl character with dungeon gear to participate in a World Boss daily; a 3rd level character fresh out of Coldharbour can land enough hits to get loot credit and exps – everything scales now and the other players will compensate, I promise. Your alts really can go almost anywhere, do almost anything. Maybe they can’t do it alone, but this game has other players in it. 🙂

My crafting/farming alts usually wear hand-me-down gear from more combat-focused characters, or they wear a combination of Twice-Born Star with either Jailbreaker or Prisoner’s Rags. Jailbreaker & Prisoner’s give a movement speed bonus, and the TBS allows the use of 2 Mundus stones, so I can have a combat Mundus and still wear the Steed Mundus for another speed bonus. (The speed bonuses help with farming, running around town, and keeping up with World Boss groups.)

Add-ons can also be customized for each alt. MM slows my system down tremendously – I only run it on my banker alt, who a) is the only one who needs it, and b) is never in combat. If the harvest node map add-on slows your system, just use it on the alt who is node-farming. Etc.

This was all very general. I’ll do a part-two post and list all my characters and what each is set up to do. And I swear it won’t be two months before I post part two, like it was last time. 🙂  (UPDATE: Promise kept; follow-up post with specifics is here.)

DPS Character Build Workshop

@Zells - sepia stone - smallLet’s talk about improving character builds – DPS specifically, though some of the info will help with other roles.

Full disclosure up front: I do not have the bestest end-game character in Tamriel.  I am not a data-miner, and I can’t do advanced math.

But I am an academic, and I have done hella research.  There are a few basic misconceptions I made at first that I see other people making, and since I began improving my character I have made consistent jumps upwards in my DPS.  This post won’t help you get from 35K DPS to 45K, but if you’re starting out with build improvement and are confused by all the conflicting information, this will help.

One note before we start: this material is for group dungeon builds and end-game play.  If what you want to do is solo/PvE content, you can make it through that part of the game making your decisions for role-play or personal preference reasons – go ahead and do your quests with your mage in plate mail if you want, it’ll work.

But if you go into a group, you must effectively serve a particular role in that group.

Roles are like pants – you don’t want to wear pants when you’re home alone?  No problem.  But if you walk into a community space, people are going to expect you to know how pants work, and be wearing them.  If the requirements of the role conflict with how you want to play the character, then build another character, or get used to swapping out your gear/active abilities.  I am the Queen of Because: Role-Play Reasons, but “I don’ wanna play the character that way” doesn’t cut it if it means you’re wasting other people’s time by getting a party wiped over and over because you can’t fulfill the role you queued in for.

We dive in after the cut. Read more…

‘Fire’s Workshop (Black Vine Villa tour) part 2: Interior

@Zells - sepia stone - smallI had everything perfectly under control as of Thanksgiving.  Then December happened.  Now it’s mid-January, almost 2 months since my last post, and I honestly feel like it been simultaneously 6 years and about a week. Whew.

I was in the middle of a two-part post giving a tour of one of my houses.  Let’s finish that.  The tour of Zellfire’s Black Vine Villa workshop begins with part 1: the Garden.

Post begins after the cut.
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‘Fire’s Workshop (Black Vine Villa tour) pt. 1: The Garden

@Zells - sepia stone - smallBlack Vine was actually the first player home I bought – it’s relatively cheap, has indoor & outdoor space, and it allowed me to jump in and start playing with the housing editor.  But it took me months to figure out how I wanted to use it, and months more to find the right ways to do it after I knew what I wanted.  Then additional weeks to pick away at the list of expensive, shiny achievement furnishings.  And then Icy put up her preview of the Clockwork City furnishings, and I waited a couple more weeks until CWC hit so I could include those shinies.

Black Vine Villa is Zellfire’s magical workshop.  It isn’t her home; it’s the secluded place where she tinkers with things that might explode or create portals or gain sentience and start eating people.  Which is really exceptionally considerate of her, given that she’s a product of Divayth Fyr and Telvanni ethics. 🙂

(Y’know, now that I think about it, she probably just moved there to keep nosey people from poking through her stuff.  Yeah… that sounds more Telvanni.)

It’s also the place where ‘Fire stores shiny things she picks up while adventuring.  If you’ve ever had an art studio, or builder’s shop, or if you do any kind of crafts, then you know how items that “might be useful some day” end up shoved into corners.  That’s how ‘Fire uses Black Vine – she sees something that might be useful (or just strikes her fancy) and has it shipped back to the workshop to play with later.

Because of that, I wanted the place to be half storage area / half mad scientist studio, packed to bursting with bits and bobbles shoved into every corner, but I also wanted it to be ridiculously pretty, with aesthetically-pleasing clutter.

This post’s pictures (after the cut) are of the garden; interior shots will be in part 2.
Read more…

Next Chapter? (Speculation)

@Zells - sepia stone - small

The other night some friends and I were debating the focus of next year’s “chapter”, since ZOS has said a new one would be released each summer. Last year the big news about Morrowind came out on Jan 31, so we should only be 8-10 weeks away from the next announcement.  Let the rampant speculation begin!

I have no inside info but feel obligated to put all this behind a cut, in case any of you have an extreme allergic reaction to Spoilers.
Read more…

Too Many Cool Things!

@Zells - sepia stone - small

The Witches Festival is in full swing, and it’s a great opportunity to grind some World Bosses (Umbra needs a Mother’s Sorrow staff), but the Clockwork City is now open, too… I want to take a week off work and set a new record for uninterrupted hours of gaming.  (Current record: 37.  But Winter Break is coming.)  Too many cool things, is my problem.  Not a bad problem. 🙂

Clockwork City will win out, I think.  Theoretically I could concentrate on that after the Festival is over, but… it’s very shiny, y’all.  Very, very shiny.  Literally – I can’t believe the sparkle on the leaves of Sotha Sil’s brass-leaved trees – and in the Firefly sense as well.  Also: Divayth Fyr is a major character in the story so far, and as you all know, I have a thing about him.  So shiny.  I just wanna follow Divayth around and listen to him snark about “Sil” for hours.

In other Things-Sucking-Away-Zells’-Time news, I had a whole running slew of technical issues trying to find a way to first record and then edit my gameplay for YouTube videos.  And then a bunch more issues trying to do the voice-over narration.  But at this point I believe everything is solved.  I want at least a couple completely finished before I start posting them, and I’m working out a mistake in the audio for the first “Meet Zells” introduction video, but I’m hoping to have that first vid up next week.  I’ll post a link here when it’s up and running.

Totally Random Minutia:
Does it strike anyone else as funny that there’s a huge storyline in Clockwork City about how they don’t have fresh food and have to eat paste, but every crate and box has Provisioning ingredients just like normal?  I wish the loot lists had been changed; there shouldn’t be food available.  But I also have a quibble about the fact that I can enter a dungeon that hasn’t been touched in thousands of years and find fresh lemons and bread.  And how does a heavy armor cuirass drop from an ice wisp?  Why can we read the books on Ayleid bookshelves when reading and translating Ayleid is a skill only a select few have mastered?  These are the questions that keep me up at night.

It’s possible that I sometimes overthink things. 🙂  Happy Friday everyone!

9/9!! (almost)

Zellfire profile pic - face onlyTonight when I log in, I will start research on the last trait Zellfire needs for blacksmithing.  And with that, I will be a mere 28 days away from being 9 of 9 on all crafting skills.

I don’t regret splitting the crafting skills up over 5 alts in the beginning – it allowed me to focus skill points and max out the skills faster.  If I had to do it over again I would do the same thing, except I would have started ‘Fire’s research simultaneously.  As it was, I didn’t start her research until I learned how rare motifs work, so she got a really late start on wood-working and blacksmithing.

But now it’s finally at an end.  After almost 2 years I can throw away the sticky note I’ve had in my calendar that I’ve been using to track when the next research starts.  Yay. 🙂

In other exciting news, the Witches’ Festival will be beginning next week, really looking forward to that.  They’re re-releasing the Grim Harlequin motif and the Scarecrow and Pumpkin costumes are back. I like that new people are getting a shot at those items, but I’m also hoping there’s something new in the mix.  And Clockwork City will be dropping on the 23rd, which…

::babbles incoherently for 20 minutes before stopping to take a breath::

I’m looking forward to seeing it, let’s leave it at that. 🙂  It’s a good month for Tamriel.

One other update: I am still working on the YouTube channel and hope to have my first video up next week.  It’s been a learning curve – had to find and learn recording software, editing software, figure out the voice-over recording, etc.  But I think the technical aspects are mostly beaten into shape.  I’ll do another post with an announcement once there is content on the channel.

Happy Fredas, everyone!

Training Dummies: why they’re cool

@Zells - sepia stone - smallFor some reason I’ve been hearing a lot of people bashing training dummies in zone chat lately, and I feel like most of them are completely missing the point.

Here are some statements I’ve heard repeatedly:

1.”It’s a false number, actual combat is different.”

Yes, actual combat produces radically different DPS data than the training dummy due to a variety of factors.  However, the DPS stat conveyed by attacking a training dummy consistently gives your top-end DPS under perfect personal conditions – it’s a control number.  That means the environmental variables are reduced, and we can compare apples-to-apples.

If you tell me you just did 25K on a certain boss, that number doesn’t mean anything to me – was it higher because that boss was susceptible to your attack type, or because you had a perfect storm of crits and procs?  Or is that number much lower than your usual because you had to do a lot of evasion?  By contrast, if I tell you I can do 21K DPS on a training dummy, you know precisely where I am, and have a much better chance to gauge how effective I’ll be in a party.  That’s what a control number is.

2.”They don’t actually help with anything.”

Zells: Well, maybe they don’t help YOU, but…

If you want to test a particular kind of attack to see if it triggers a proc or special ability, it can be really difficult to find the right conditions “in the field” to accurately assess that, particularly if you need a large sample size for extensive testing of meta-data.  And it can take time to wander around and find the right kinds of mobs.  But with a training dummy in your back yard, all you have to do is go try the attack and see.

3.”They don’t actually help with anything”, part 2

Smoothing out your rotation is a big part of raising your DPS.  You’ll switch abilities around your bar a lot when you’re trying to improve, and having a way to simply practice going through the motions is hugely helpful in terms of developing the muscle memory for real combat.  For real.

4.”You just like it ‘cuz it’s pretty.”

Okay, not JUST because it’s pretty, see above.

But also: y’r damn right I like it ‘cuz it’s pretty.  Aesthetics and visual appeal are a big deal to me, and so is the role-play and personality aspect of my characters.  Being able to have a combat dummy in some of my character’s houses enriches the game experience for me.  If aesthetics weren’t important, we wouldn’t have dozens of armor motifs.  If the community didn’t enjoy having custom-made, personality-driven spaces in the world, we wouldn’t have player housing.  Just because something doesn’t have value for some players doesn’t mean it isn’t providing value to the rest of the community.

Lastly – you are correct, my combat dummy IS pretty, thanks. 🙂fight club

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