The Perfect Ten: Weird staples of every fantasy MMO

If you take some weird, outlandish, or out-of-the-ordinary item and then saturate your life with it, sooner or later the bizarre becomes the accepted norm. So much so, in fact, that you'd cease to even think about it. I mean, do we ever question those magic boxes known as "microwaves" that mysteriously heat up our foods? Does anyone blink twice anymore when small computers tell us how to drive instead of nagging spouses? What about Carrot Top?

Likewise, fantasy MMORPGs have erected trope after trope that we no longer question -- or even notice. Actually, the only time we'd notice one of these is if a game failed to include it. No matter how illogical and sometimes silly these MMO staples are when you think about them, we've been around them so long that we would no more notice them as we would the individual keyboard buttons that we type on daily.

Still... you're thinking about them right now, aren't you? Those keys, cruelly dominated by your pecking fingers, pushing them back into place. What a techno-bully you are! In any case, come with us as we count down 10 weird staples that every fantasy MMO seems to include.
1. Giant spiders

Nevermind that science isn't on the side of giant insects (which would be completely unable to move with that many pounds of exoskeleton) -- what I want to know is why giant spiders have become the de facto mascot of every fantasy MMO. No matter how hard a dev team works to create an intricate, original, wondrous fantasy world, sooner or later it runs out of steam and goes, "Eh. Throw in some giant spiders there, Johnny, and let's get lunch."

Maybe it's because normal-size spiders freak so many of us out, or maybe it's just that they're so iconic -- going all the way back to Lord of the Ring's Shelob and beyond. But you can bet your bottom dollar that if you're in a fantasy MMO, sooner or later you'll hear the skittering of eight legs, two fangs and an attitude.

2. Skimpy female armor

OK, let's skip over the fact that this phenomenon has to do primarily with male developers providing over-sexualized eyecandy for the dateless amongst us and focus on the practical aspect of most female MMO armor. By baring midriff, thighs, sides, back, arms, neck and head -- but protecting those oh-so-vital areas -- a character is simply opening the door for a world of hurt in the very near future.

It doesn't really matter how good you look when an errant claw slashes into your stomach or a warhammer slams down on your spine or a mace careens off your skull. You're going to be really hurt and really disfigured if you survive. I mean, if I were a girl, I wouldn't trust most of these outfits to keep me from getting scratched at the mall, nevermind hardcore adventuring with a strong chance of dragons. Ergo, skimpy female armor is a conspiracy to weed out all of the women in fantasy worlds until testosterone reigns supreme.

3. Kill 10 rats

We're not quite sure when this rat-killing vendetta began, but it's since spread to all members of the animal kingdom (including the rats' beleaguered comrade-in-arms, the pig). Basically, you have these sadistic NPCs standing around and fuming over an inexplicable vendetta against a specific animal. They can't be bothered to do anything about it themselves, no, but the second they find a gullible adventurer, they're glad to task him with killing 10 of these critters in exchange for XP (which, really, costs nothing on the part of an NPC).

Why 10? What will that accomplish? Don't animals breed like, well, rats anyway? Plus, hey -- they're animals. They can't comprehend that the swift and sudden death of their spouse and children is due to a deranged crusade, and without that realization, vengeance is rendered moot.

4. Cloth-wearing mages

So you've spent years studying the tricky and arduous field of magic, and after gobs of training and personal sacrifice, you are now a proficient wizard. Congratulations! Here's a terry-cloth bath robe -- now go fight the forces of evil.

What, you want a full suit of armor instead? Sorry, pal, you're high DPS, and that means you have to be as unprotected as possible. It's just the way the balance game works. You're what we call a "glass cannon," so get used to dying -- a lot.

The phrase "glass cannon" gets thrown about when talking about mages to the point that nobody even considers how ridiculous that sounds. Glass cannons don't exist in real life, because who wants to make something powerful that's also incredibly fragile? Instead, we're smart enough to put our cannons inside giant moving fortresses of steel and rivets so those cannons can keep on pumping out explosive death as long as possible. But this apparently cannot be in MMOs, no sirree.

Speaking of mages...

5. The four elements

I call it the "Captain Planet syndrome" after our favorite '90s eco-superhero: When it comes to ascribing mystical powers to the elements, nobody can seem to think of anything but the classic Fire! Wind! Earth! Water! quartet. It seems that as long as RPGs have been around, any magic users will be pigeonholed into one of these four categories (substitute ice for water, air for wind as needed) because creative geniuses are apparently incapable of coming up with elements outside of these. Oh, sure, perhaps they'll go with "light" and "dark" or "life" and "death" if they're feeling particularly on the ball, but that's it.

At some point, wizards have to go on strike and swear that they'll never throw another fireball or ice shard until the developers latch on to new elements. A cursory examination of the periodic table of elements suggests that there are a few more than four elements when it comes to the makeup of the world -- perhaps as many as 15! So where are our Tungsten mages? Our Rubidium warlocks?

6. No psychological damage from death

A lot of debate swirls around the concept of MMO death penalties, but nobody stops to consider just how psychologically traumatic it would be to be stuck in a world where you'd always be killed -- painfully and inevitably -- only to be brought back for another round with the Grim Reaper. A few hundred deaths would certainly scar a person's psyche, perhaps driving him insane. And yet our characters just go skipping along, la de da, without a care in the world.

7. Health potions

One of the most problematic obstacles for RPG creators is the issue of constant combat, which leads to certain wounds and dismemberment. No matter how good a warrior is, sooner or later he's going to land himself in an ER if he faces an infinite army of bad guys. The solution? Magical drinks -- usually color-coded red to suggest "Yum! Blood!" -- that instantly and inexplicably heal battle wounds.

Seriously, what's in these drinks? If a little bottle of fluid can help me regrow a hacked-off limb, then why hasn't this world risen to the apex of civilization already? Why are we still fighting, when everyone can obviously live forever with a chug of cherry dreams now and then?

8. Lopsided ratio of adventurers to merchants/farmers/workers

While warriors, paladins, wizards and rogues are all fine and dandy, the truth is that they exist pretty much to destroy and kill. Because player adventurers far outnumber what few non-combat NPCs exist in the world, logic would suggest that within days the landscape would be a scorched ruin, and there would be no one left to rebuild. And even if there were no specter of non-stop war, most MMO "cities" are no larger than your average Home Depot on a Saturday afternoon, population-wise. I doubt they could even function under peaceful circumstances.

Perhaps it's like Disney World -- it looks bigger than it is, and most of the support staff are in tunnels underneath the ground. Mental note: Must investigate further.

9. No going to the bathroom -- or any other normal function

Another one of my ongoing theories is that any given MMO world is really a sort of Norse afterlife for your character -- you've already died and are invited to battle for all eternity. If this is true, it would explain why your character never needs to do anything the rest of us do on a daily basis -- namely, eat, sleep, drink and use the porcelain throne.

For all of the statistics that we juggle, "bladder" is not one of them, nor is any other physical need. Sure, sometimes we gnosh on a piece of pie or rations, but that's only to gain a buff, not because our bodies would shut down otherwise.

10. A dearth of kids

If the impending injuries and death of most adventurers (and the lack of critical infrastructure) weren't enough, I can easily point to one sign that all fantasy MMOs are heading for the apocalypse: There are no kids.

Oh, sure, every once in a while an MMO makes a token effort to trot out a couple little characters as if to say, "Hey! We're no Children of Men-type sterile landscape!" but those are just gnome actors. For the most part, any MMO village, town or city may look normal, but that's only until you notice a lack of little feet running hither and yonder. Without any serious procreating going on, these worlds are destined to die. (And don't get me started on MMOs that are only populated by kids, which is even creepier.)

Of course, sometimes you see animal mobs with young ones, but that's only to point out your race's inability to reproduce children and drive you into a bloodfrenzy rampage.
Justin "Syp" Olivetti enjoys counting up to ten, a feat that he considers the apex of his career. If you'd like to learn how to count as well, check out The Perfect Ten. You can contact him via email at justin@massively.com or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.

This article was originally published on Massively.