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DDO Q&A: Mod 7, the Monk and more

Jennie Lees

Kate Paiz, senior producer of Dungeons and Dragons Online, sat down with players today at Connect08 to demonstrate the new Monk class -- upcoming in Module 7 -- and answer a number of questions about future plans for the game.

Photography wasn't permitted so we just managed to grab this quick snap of the character creation screen (above), showing a new armor design to accompany the new class. There's another month of development time left before the module goes into alpha, so expect more polish further down the line.

During the demo of the Monk we saw the basic character animations -- they're very much in a martial-arts style (apparently inspired by Shaolin monks) with kicks, punches and even a backflip. The movement is graceful and smooth, and unarmed combat feels natural.

The aim while developing the Monk was to keep the class authentic but add a touch of style at the same time. Kung-fu inspired moves and clothing combine with a special power called Qi, which can be built up while fighting and then released in powerful targeted attacks. The Monk will have enhancements in four directions -- earth, water, air and fire. Earth provides toughness, air speed, fire power and water "other special abilities". These can be combined for a customisable spiritual journey.

The class's feats are inspired by Oriental adventures, with items like meditation, purity of body, slow fall and still mind among the list. Weapon-wise, the monk will be proficient with kama, quarterstaff and shuriken. Balancing around the class is aimed to make it similar to a fighter, with high-powered melee abilities at the cost of ranged and area-of-effect attacks. Some melee abilities of the class include cleave, great cleave and whirlwind.

Monks will be available as a starting options to players, as will all future 'core' classes. (Unlike the Drow, whose 'overpowered' basic stats made the class seem 'unfair' to be an option available alongside new players.) Their alignment will be in line with traditional D&D (we assume this means lawful only).

The development cycle has about a month left to run before the testing phase begins, so look out for more information in mid-April before the module releases in May.

A couple more tidbits about Module 7 were demonstrated: the new auto-attack system allows you to hold down the right mouse button instead of click-spam, though the old method will still be an option. Enhancements to the crafting system are planned, too, to allow you to deconstruct items and create customised ones that are uniquely powerful. Kate described the current crafting system as a "prototype", built and released to get the basics in the game -- they're still working heavily on it as a big project for this year.

The demo over, it was time for player Q&A.

Q: Will there be more rogue and paladin enhancements based on player feedback? Casters are too uber!
A: We do constantly invest in other classes to make them comparable.

Q: Can I add attributes to items that look good but have terrible stats?
To some extent. It's unlikely we'll have visual customisation this year. We do invest in visuals though, such as our new monk outfits.

Q: How do crafting recipes relate to the (mostly unarmed) monk?
A: For him it's mostly about his feats and enhancements. Kama, quarterstaffs will be customisable but carrying non-monk weapons limits your bonuses; de-equip them and it's fine.

Q: Can the monk be multiclassed?
A: Yes, with any class but within alignment restrictions.

Q: Is it race restricted?
A: No

Q: Will we have more character slots?
A: We don't have a decision on that yet.

Q: With the raise in levels, can we have more hotbars?
A: It's not a request we get very much. Mid-range players are still struggling to be effective with those they have. But if players really want it, we'll listen.

Q: Can we get more bank space?
A: We don't have plans at present - it would be something that's unlockable. Certainly not in mod 7.

Q: If we're planning ahead to save items for our future monks etc, we need more space to do so.
A: One of the answers is the crafting system, allowing you to craft specific items so you don't have to store so many. Our goal is to help you build smarter weapons. Inventory size affects how auctions run, how fast things load, it has a tradeoff.

Q: Are more bags for shards, fragments, quivers and so on planned?
A: They're coming.

Q: What about the Mod 7 dungeons?
A: There will be a high level wilderness and a raid. Also, there'll be some new low level content to accompany the anticipated monk rerolls, such as some new dungeons; we're still working on the final list. We want to give players a bunch of new stories to explore.

Q: Is there an intended end level for DDO?
A: I wouldn't say it's the end, but our goal for this year is to get to level 20; next year we'll talk about epic levels and other plans for the game. We focus on a view of the next 2/3 years but until we get closer we can't nail down specifics.

Q: How do you deal with feedback?
A: Feedback comes through our community team; we try to fix bugs that annoy people, tweak systems as much as possible. We have planned features for every cycle and we leave space to be applied depending on feedback.

Q: Any plans to remember Gary Gygax?
A: I'm glad you mentioned that. Kate shows us a new in-game trinket, Voice of the Master, reads: Heroic Inspiration gives +5% quest xp, and +1 luck bonus to saving throws and skill checks. There will be a low level quest in Delera's, the area he narrated for us, and a cenitaph memorial in the graveyard there.

Q: What about DDO2?
A: We're focusing on getting this game in the best shape, as rich and interesting as possible. Any sequel notes are all kept on file, but we've no current plans.

Q: Will we see guild housing or player housing?
A: It's something we're going to try and do next year. In Mod 8 there's Shavarath, you'll be fighting pit fiends, with associated raids and dungeons. This plain of battle is opportunity to enhance the pvp scene, I don't know what yet but something around that. We're finishing crafting in mod 8.

Q: Any chance of evil alignments?
A: We want to make sure the game content is open to that. Our concern is players have certain expectations around it, we would want to release the feature as a full set and it's not the time for that.

Q: Will you introduce cross-class enhancements?
A: We focus on making sure each individual class has the richness and depth and let players figure out the combinations, we don't target enhancements towards multiclassing, it's too hard to balance.

Q: Multiclassing one level of rogue is popular because of disarming, have you had any other complaints from pure rogues about that?
A: It's not a complaint we get very often. We don't find [the overpowered complaint] to be as true but will take feedback back. We've been continually try to stay on top of things like this and will continue to look at and balance it.

Q: Any new quests with a lot of jumping?
A: There's swimming, I don't recall any with jumping, but I haven't seen them all.

Q: Will there be a port to Meridia?
A: We're looking at that, i think it's possible, a lot of people have asked for it but others love the journey there.

Q: With the new craft system, will new content be balanced for 'imba' weapons or the items the casual players will still be using?
A: We try to chart a course somewhere in the middle. Hardcore players will be able to beat anything we put in front of them very quickly, the beat the Shroud the day it launched. We don't and can't build content for them, everyone else would be hopelessly lost. We try to be as broadly accessible as possible with new content, so no matter what, everyone can beat phase 1 of the Shroud. We build content for a mid-ability player , we know there are minmaxers.
Audience member: but they're the ones who spend time on the forums, the feedback there isn't representative.
A: We do pay attention to feedback on forums. It's not the only place we take feedback from. We pay a lot of attention to individual communication, playstyles, where players are, number of deaths for dungeons, completion rates, we use a lot of mass data to find out how to target these players most successfully.

Q: Will we have class respecs?
A: It's certainly something we want to do and are talking about - we don't have a date.

Q: Any alternative or change to traps?
A: Class balance is partially about how they handle traps, we do have traps with no resistances, there's some opportunity for players to be creative. We try to get a good balance so it's challenging but not impossible.

Q: Will we see more specific NPC interaction?
A: We're looking at npc logic - we don't have concrete plans but it's something we've all kind of flagged, we want the game to be diverse -- not just hack and slash. We want to give the opportunity to interact in various ways, we're trying to make the game dynamic more interactive.

Q: What about areas like the Abbot that aren't played?
A: It's one of those things, as players start to be successful with it they play more, it's a lifecycle thing.
Audience member: the Abbot won't be played until games are fixed, you just can't do the goggles game or asteroid game.
A: There are bugs and issues, we are tweaking it, bug fixing is a priority for us. Those very challenging raid mechanics, when we innovate, do take some time to get balanced.

Q: Were those puzzles designed with a nod to original games like Asteroids and Pac-Man?
A: They were designed kind of with that in mind, we're always looking at games we love and are nostalgic about, remembering what was compelling.

Q: Will we ever get a change of underwear?
A: Probably not - we're definitely looking at gear sets (not for mod 7 but sometime this year). Underwear isn't really on our priority list but new powerful gearsets are always of interest.

Q: Which items will be customisable and will they be bound?
A: Mostly, weapons will be editable, trinkets and accessories to a lesser degree and maybe not at all depending on the item. We don't want to flood the economy with "uberpower" items that cheese the content. Most, not all crafted items we expect to be bound.

Q: Will we be able to shrink the UI elements?
A: The UI is definitely something for next year. We hope to release a lot of changes, we're exploring the underlying changes now. Players won't see that for some time, but from the beginning of 2009 we'll be focusing on the UI.

[Edit: Spelling correction, thanks Jerry!]

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