When the news of Vanguard's sunsetting broke, I got thinking about what best describes the Vanguard experience to those who didn't play it. And the one feature that sums it up best is the /rope command. When the game launched, it came with more than a few bugs, and one nagging problem was that players would get stuck in the terrain or even fall through the world. To help solve the problem, players could target the stuck player and use the /rope command to summon him out and up to their spot. Much of Vanguard was like that: moments of frustration from bugged content, but also moments of teamwork and community pulling together to make it work.
Vanguard was the diamond in the rough that never got polished. It was a gorgeous world, with some hints of truly innovative gameplay, but it was often overshadowed by intrinsic problems at the core of the game. Despite it all, Vanguard has one of the best communities around, and there were many ways in which the game brought players and guilds together. Let's look at what will be missed in this week's Guild Counsel.
One of the biggest challenges I faced as a guild leader in Vanguard was organizing our guild's effort to build a guild hall. Guild hall plots were first come, first served, and in order to get a commission to build, you had to have an ungodly number of papers that you earned from doing diplomacy parleys. Of course, nothing is free, and the actual purchase required you to cough up 30 plat. And once you bought the plot, you then had to harvest tons of raw materials, which to be crafted into the bricks, beams, panels, and window coverings that made up the guild hall.
Every single person chipped in to help out. We had harvesting nights when we'd split up into groups and spend a few hours grabbing raw materials. We had diplomacy parties, and even the diplomacy newbs like yours truly could head to a low-level town and work on getting a few dozen papers. And we linked up with other friendly guilds to trade for crafted materials or swap extra parley papers that we didn't need. Looking back, I realize it seemed crazy to spend this much time on a guild hall, but it was worth every minute. We made lasting ties with other guilds that carried over well after we had moved on from Vanguard, and our guild gained new members along the way who are still active after all these years.
Vanguard always did a tremendous job of providing a horizon. No matter where you went, there was always something interesting off in the distance that you just had to go check out. Whenever I had a set destination, I almost always had to wander off my planned path because I spotted something tempting and couldn't resist. Even the smallest, most innocuous-looking structures could be home to an enormous dungeon. One of my favorite memories was born when I wandered into a mud-brick home, stumbled on a trap door passageway, and followed the tunnel right into a hidden valley in Sepulchral Chasm. (Today it's the entryway to the Cave of Wonders, which was recently released, seven years after it was pulled from beta.)
For those who loved to explore, Vanguard was very rewarding. On the flip side, though, many of these hidden gems were devoid of any real content. It's really a shame that we'll never see places like Mount Stiirhad become the raid zones they deserved to be.
Even the most hardcore guilds donned their harvesting "PJs," as we called them (they were brown, and loosely fitting, so the name seemed appropriate) and took their groups out to smack at rocks or trees. If you grouped up while harvesting, you could get a larger haul of resources from each node. I've never been a crafter, but the teamwork part of me always inspired me to roll up my sleeves and team up to increase our yield in whatever harvesting we did. Even if I didn't know what to do with all that lumber, cotton, and ore, someone in-guild surely did, and chances were that it would benefit me too.
I could spend hours in Vanguard just sailing around, exploring shores, and gazing at distant landmarks that caught my eye. And Vanguard allowed you to travel on any other player's boat, so even a new player could get right into seeing the sights. My first boating adventure, ironically, was with GM James "Elrar" Nichols, who turned us all into chickens during a beta event.
Vanguard had regular player-run events, and many players and guilds would hand out boats as prizes. While many other MMOs hemmed players in with mountains and zone barriers, Vanguard offered sweeping vistas and wide-open terrain. Some of my favorite memories came while I was sailing the waterways and taking everything in.
Along with boating, the introduction of flying mounts was an exhilarating experience. Any time a friend logged in to check out the game, I would immediately have him rent a griffin to take for a test drive. It never failed to provoke "ooh's" and "aah's," and it definitely kept players sticking with the game. Vanguard was a world that felt enormous and humbling. Flying over the mountains in Falgarholm and diving down to soar through the lush River Valley left you feeling as if you were just a small player in a colossal world.
Few MMOs now feature a world with contested content. I actually had a "rocking chair" moment recently when I explained to my kids why tracking was so important in EverQuest. They're used to seeing games where everything is instanced and content is available on demand. Vanguard's content was open world and contested when it launched, so we guild leaders needed to grab a cup of coffee (or alcoholic beverage) and get together to try to work things out. After the exodus (i.e., the first month), there weren't many guilds remaining, but for those that were, we made a council, and I got to know all of the leaders well. It made it that much easier when two or more of us were gunning for the same content.
What if your only accomplishment for a night's work was getting through a road that was littered with spiders that were 20 levels higher than you? What if a guild event meant some pre-planning with the caravan system the night before in order to travel to the designated spot? Back in the early days of Vanguard, that was the case, and it was one of the few AAA MMOs where you had to have a certain amount of patience and a willingness to love the journey as much as the destination. Travel gave players opportunities to cross paths, help each other out, and form lasting bonds.
Overall, many of the features that made Vanguard frustrating were also the ones that brought players together and created lasting memories. Telon was a harsh world at times, but players and guilds cooperated to get past the challenges. That teamwork and sense of community is what made Vanguard so special, and that's why its sunsetting is so bittersweet.
Do you have a guild problem that you just can't seem to resolve? Have a guild issue that you'd like to discuss? Every week, Karen Bryan takes on reader questions about guild management right here in The Guild Counsel column. She'll offer advice, give practical tips, and even provide a shoulder to lean on for those who are taking up the challenging task of running a guild.