The Anvil of Crom: Random encounters with Craig Morrison

So, what do random encounters and Age of Conan executive producer Craig "Silirrion" Morrison have in common? Truthfully, not much as far as The Anvil of Crom and its author is concerned, as I've never had the pleasure of meeting Funcom's game director in person. That said, he was kind enough to answer a few questions for this week's column via email, all of them pertaining to the random encounter mechanic implemented with last May's Rise of the Godslayer expansion.

What's a random encounter, you may find yourself asking? Peek behind the curtain and find out.

AoC pirate island
Age of Conan's random encounters happen, rather un-randomly (oh come on, it's a word!), on the lengthy journey from the game's old world locations to the new zones in Khitai. One look at a map of Hyboria and you'll get a sense of the immense distances between Robert E. Howard's far east and the more familiar cities of Khemi, Tarantia, and Conarch Village. While most players may not care about the finer geographical details of Conan's realm, roleplayers and lore enthusiasts will likely enjoy Funcom's nod to the enormous travel times involved in a cross-continental journey.

Rather than resorting exclusively to the traditional MMORPG trick of bending time and space with a loading screen, the developers have tossed in a few smallish zones designed to impart some sort of feel for the actual travel that your character would undergo on a voyage to Hyboria's orient. Players may choose to pay a small fee to skip the instances and port immediately to Khitai, or act as a caravan guard and partake of any one of 11 distinct private encounters. Nine of these instances essentially function as dungeons/mini-quests. "There are also two rarer ones featuring a certain NPC who offers some of the more insane tasks available. If you do come across him, he can be ignored or you can chose to take up these tasks he offers, but be warned, they aren't for the faint of heart. The rare ones are purely a fun little addition for the completists out there. Not many people will get the items he offers," Morrison tells us.

Age of Conan reef divingFans of the encounters will be happy to know that Funcom is considering expanding on the idea for future game updates, though nothing has been finalized. "Right now we don't have any firm plans to add any more to the Khitai journey, but we might revisit that in the future. However the idea itself is something that we might apply to other areas of the game. Maybe to expand the idea, that you get a random version of an instance when entering into the group content as well," Morrison says.

The nine primary encounters are broken down into four sea-faring instances and five land-locked adventures. Here at The Anvil of Crom, we've taken it upon ourselves to investigate all 11 zones. There doesn't seem to be much relevant information floating around the web, and we were quite curious. This week, we'll examine the four sea-faring zones (and one of the rare encounters), followed by the remaining six instances in next week's column.

Silk Road Cove

First up is the Silk Road Cove instance, a nifty little diversion that involves stealing food supplies from a band of Hyrkanian pirates. Your ship has run out of provisions due to a nasty rodent infestation, and the captain tasks you with swimming ashore to the pirate hideout and making off with as much as you can carry. You're moored off the coast of an isolated island, and it's a short swim through beautiful blue-green waters to the rocky cliffs of the Hyrkanian hideout.

From there, you'll make your way up and around a series of rickety wooden ladders and catwalks, knifing various pirates and occasionally ducking into the water to swim off groups of adds. This encounter takes anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes depending on how thoroughly you want to explore the island. Once you've gathered the requisite fish and fruit, swim back out to your ship, complete the quest, and zone into Khitai.

Silk Road Reef

Next up is the Silk Road Reef instance, a spectacular (if smallish) underwater zone that is easily our favorite of the bunch. This time around, your captain indulges his greedier side and orders you to dive down to the shipwrecks and ancient ruins located underneath your anchored vessel. Apparently there are valuables and treasure galore to be had amongst the hulks, and your job is to gather a few of them to pay for your passage. How are you to breathe underwater, you may be wondering? Well, your captain has a stash of thagweed that gives you an hour-long breathing buff, so walk the plank and get to work. The visuals here are superb, from the lonely rope leading back up to your ship far above on the ocean's surface, to the refracted half-light and various sea creatures flitting to and fro amidst the ruins.

AoC underwater ruinsSilk Road Shallows

The next instance again finds you moored off the coast of a secluded island, and your skipper has another task for you to accomplish ashore. This time, portions of your crew have taken ill, and el capitan challenges you with finding the ingredients for a cure via the island's crab shells, sugar leaves, and jungle fruit. Aside from gathering the required materials, you're free to kill both a crazy hermit and a jungle cougar boss, neither of which drops any noteworthy loot (nor is either one particularly challenging as boss mobs go).

Upon returning to the ship, you're treated to a mini-game that requires you to channel your inner chemist, as you'll need to mix the ingredients in the proper order and then administer the resulting "cure" to various sailors. In a darkly amusing twist entirely in keeping with the rest of Funcom's game, incorrectly manufactured potions will kill your hapless deckmates, and you'll be back at the alchemist's table to try again until you get it right.

Silk Road Shore

The final sea-faring instance is the Silk Road Shore, and you've probably seen images or video of the kraken mob that attacks your ship if you've paid attention to any of the Godslayer marketing materials. Despite the cool concept, this was the most annoying of the encounters thus far, primarily due to my inability to AoE the little baby kraken/scuttler mobs that kept interrupting me as I tried to fend off the beast with the ship ballistas. I've yet to successfully complete the instance, so I can't tell you for sure what happens at the end. I can, however, tell you to bring some anti-knockdown abilities.

Silk Road Crossroads

Finally, I managed to get one of Morrison's aforementioned rare instances to pop after a few tries, and ended up parleying with an emissary of the insane King Mitradites of Zamora. This NPC stops your caravan in the desert and offers you the opportunity to collect 500 crystalline stones from various Khitai crater demons in exchange for some rare social clothing and a ring that boosts your critical, fatality, and hit ratings.

When all is said and done, the Khitai random encounters are a nice addition to Age of Conan. A couple of them may give you a headache if you're under-geared, and it's unfortunate that one death resets the instance and sends you back to the dockmaster in Khemi, but for the most part they're a lot of fun -- just what the doctor ordered when you're looking for some quick escapism that doesn't involve PvP or a lot of grinding. Join us next week as we the examine the remaining instances set against the backdrop of the unforgiving Silk Road desert. Until then, we leave you with our favorite random encounter.

Jef Reahard is an Age of Conan beta and launch day veteran, as well as the creator of Massively's weekly Anvil of Crom. Feel free to suggest a column topic, propose a guide, or perform a verbal fatality via
This article was originally published on Massively.