Happy birthday Ross, and greetings from a 10 year vet of FFXI!
You've entertained me for years, so I'm more than happy to return the favour. Here's a selection of stories and anecdotes from my time in one of the more punishing MMOs out there.
Story One - Griefing was an art
FFXI has changed from years and years ago. When the game first launched, it was before the concept of WoW's "rubberbanding mobs" really caught on. If you don't know, the concept is that when a player gets attacked by an enemy, it will only travel just so far before losing all aggression and rapidly returning to it's roaming area.
FFXI had no concept of this, and really still doesn't. In its place, initially, if you ran from a mob, it followed you. Forever. Unless you had some way to lose hate like crossing a zone line (yea, it had zone lines, no contiguous world for console peasants!), or using some ability to shed hate, the enemy would keep on coming until either you or it was dead. Also, often enemies of the same type would join forces and chase you en mass. You could link a whole zone of enemies and train them all over the place, if you had enough healing or hit points to survive. And the worst/best part? When you did lose hate, the mobs didn't exactly rush back to their starting point. Oh no, they took their sweet ass time about it. They'd slowly meander back, and, if they were aggressive, well hell more heads to chop. Also, one other item of note, even though you could reach a level where enemies wouldn't attack you on sight or when they heard you, the moment you rested anything aggressive would attack you.
Zone lines. Endless trains of mobs. Slow, meandering returns to spawn. Can you see where this is going?
Griefing in this game at one time was an absolute art. There were several forms of it. Sometimes it was totally unintended, as was the case in many a Valkurm Dunes zone line massacre. FFXI was an extremely group-oriented MMO in the day. Leveling past 10 meant partying up. And Valkurm Dunes was the first place people learned to party. It was also the first place people learned how some other players sucked, Hard. And since dying meant losing precious EXP back then, yea death was not your friend. Often, a fleeing party would cross over a zone line... and lead a train of deadly enemies to rest there, murdering anyone hapless enough to step over the threshold.
But then there was also intentional griefing. Since you could level multiple jobs, sometimes you would wind up angering someone leveling an alternate job. And then suddenly they show up as their high level, maybe even offer to powerlevel by healing from outside the group, Then, suddenly, they bring a train of pain on your face. You run, but there's no escape from the train... Camp spots for parties were also at a premium, especially in the Dunes. That first bit of EXP, that need to get beyond that hellhole... It drove people mad.
The Dunes was populated by Goblins, a foul little critter in the MMO. You see, these Goblins all have a unique ability, the Goblin Bomb. All of them can use it. It's an AoE that can do a little damage... or land a critical strike doing MASSIVE damage, enough to wipe an entire party. Oh, and did I mention there was a mild glitch back in the day? Yea, you see, the game was kind of special when mobs had an AoE attack that wasn't magic. Often, these AoE attacks would be able to hit anyone, whether in party or not, of the intended target. So, in the war for camps, sometimes you'd see the tank from one party charge another, and unleash hell with a volley of Goblin Bombs. Sure, the tank might die, but so would the entire party.
But, by far, the king of the griefer, and my favourite class to play, was Beastmaster. Now, I rarely griefed. But Beastmaster was an anomaly. In a game that was party-centric, the Beastmaster was the lone class capable of soloing. With the ability to charm local creatures, you could fight toe-to-toe, utilizing the enemy mob you have charmed as a massive tank. Since mobs did far more damage than most players, and had vast pools of HP, this worked incredibly well. And there were several places where the Beastmaster shone, able to reap unheard of amounts of EXP for a solo player.
And at level 35, you obtained the ultimate ability: Leave. You see, up until then, you could charm an enemy. And depending on their relative level to you, they stayed your friend... for a time. Then they would turn aggressive and attack you! The only way to safely disposed of a heavily injured pet was either to let it die in combat, or make it stay, and run very, very, VERY far away to use magic or an item to hide your presence. But with Leave, now the pet returned to a temporarily docile critter that you could leave.
An interesting quirk of FFXI's zoning system is, often, there were several tiers of mob in a single zone. At one section, you'd find those mobs appropriate for level 10, another level 15, still another for 20's. The one zone with the broadest range was Crawler's Nest. An underground set of tunnels, this maze-like structure had a very vast range of levels, as well as several, spawnable, Notorious Monsters. These were for a quest, but they also happen the share the same family as one of the primary leveling targets, crawlers. Crawlers are basically caterpillar like enemies. They can be both docile and hostile, depending on type. And they link with one another. Since they were more or less HP sponges with limited damaging abilities, they were also a favourite type of mob for parties to level on.
Did I also mention that Crawler's Nest was where Beastmasters liked leveling too? I didn't? Oh my... well seems there's a problem.
Many a good Beastmaster gave into the dark side in there. Even me, a normally helpful hero in disguise, wound up being angered when some party muscled in on my EXP. I often leveled at the bottom of the nest. It was a relatively dangerous area for parties, and fairly unpopular unless the party was prepared for lots of AoE damage and possible linkage of mobs. But parties did go down there more often than not, as the EXP could rack up quickly.
One day, I was leveling quite contently on the off hours for EST prime time. There was a gap between Japanese prime time and American prime time, the two biggest early demographics in the game. And I happened to have time to play then most days. I was leveling along, quite content, when a party showed up. I didn't think much of it at first. We co-habitated well. Then they started getting greedy.
They started following me, and taking the mobs I was sending my pet after. So I moved. And they followed. Then, they started randomly putting some enemies to sleep out of my sight, but close enough that I might try to use them as a pet. Of course, a sleeping mob cannot move or attack, so I'd have to flee from my mob to survive. This went on for some time, with my character nearly dying multiple times. The final straw was when they deliberately waited while I tried to swap pets. They took the one I needed to live. I ran for my life, and wound up dying.
Oh now I was angry.
So I returned to the nest. I used items to make myself invisible. I knew they could still see me if they targeted me, so I waited until they were resting to slip by them. I snuck, ever so quietly, to one side far from them. The room I was in like a donut. The middle was a large room blocked off and full of nasty, deadly enemies. I grabbed a crawler. I tossed it into the room. And then I ran. I ran to their party, now engaged in a fight. I called my mob to my side, and ran past them.
I kept running. Up a narrow tunnel they'd have to cross through to escape the deadly enemies I was leading to them. I hit Leave, knowing the crawler would be right there, and they would be surrounded by deadly enemies. This tunnel I was in, it was the only way out. The zone line was past it. They would exit this tunnel, into another room full of passive enemies. Or so they thought. You see, I knew of another place that had aggressive mobs. Sure, they weren't as strong, but for a battered group of adventurers? Fatal enough. So I darted down another tunnel, quickly grabbed one and others linked and followed, knowing it would shortly kill me, then I ran back down the tunnel. As I was going down, sure enough they were running up. One was dead already, their healer, obviously mauled by the enemies. Another still was being chased, and the others running to not die themselves.
And as if the fates ordained it, as I met them, the aggressive enemies killed me.... and turned to chase them.
So, as I lay there dead, two deaths of EXP lost, I heard a glorious sound. You see, when you died, there was a chance you lost enough experience to actually lose a level. And it made the most depressing sound. I got to hear it three times in a row. I sighed, content to have been killed. I homepointed, and returned to see a dead healer, the last person left down there aside from me. I did a laugh emote over his corpse, waved and returned to leveling.
Yea, you never screwed with a Beastmaster. We were a vengeful god of the game back in the day.
I have other stories for other days, Ross.