Game talkBeowulf

 Posted by (Visited 15584 times)  Game talk
Dec 172005

I mentioned in the comment thread for part one of “Do Levels Suck?” that I ought to post one of the old LegendMUD quests I designed and implemented way back when.

So here it is, offered up as proof that I don’t just do sandboxes. :)

This is the main quest in the Beowulf zone. Much of the zone is written in the style of the poem, with kennings and the like. You reach the zone by traveling south from the Viking area, or by crossing the North Sea from Anglo-Saxon Britain; you’re almost certain to come from Britain, given that the Viking area is a dead-end.

Given that, your first experience of the invading Germanic peoples comes when you see a farmwife bemoaning her lost child, near the eastern shores of Britain. If you follow the trail, you will find the Saxons landing, holding the child prisoner. You can buy the child’s freedom or kill the invaders. The Saxons want Roman armor, so you can either go kill legionnaires for them to get the pilum and lorica they want, or you can slay Eanmund, their leader, and free the boy. These have consequences, of course, for how further Saxons or Romans will treat you.

Your first hint that some large task exists is when you are sailing across the ocean to the area. Rugian fishermen ply the waters. If two of them get close enough to each other, you can overhear conversations like:

‘Ho! How goes the trading?’ says a Rugian fisherman to an Amber Coast trader.

The captain of the other ship yells back, ‘Well!’

A Rugian fisherman hollers out, ‘Have you any word if Hrothgar still huddles in Heorot afraid of his shadow?’

The Amber Coast trader yells, ‘He certainly does!’ and laughs.

A short time before the player arrived in the area, Beowulf had a swimming contest with Breca (this is referenced in the “brags” portion of the poem, when Beowulf is giving his bonafides to the assembled in Heorot). Alas, in this world, Beowulf never surfaced. Many mobs in the area know this, and react with snickers when Beowulf’s name is mentioned, and discuss Breca’s triumph. Breca himself believes that Beowulf was swallowed by a giant leviathan that lives under the sea.

Much of the area revolves around Modthryth, the spaewife or witch-woman. If you visit her, you will find a warrior, seemingly cowed and gone mad, huddling in the corner of her hut. Modthryth will attack you if you dare look into her eyes—that is why this poor warrior is suffering his penalty now. She is, however, wise in the ways of shapeshifting, and tells you that given the skin from an animal, you can enchant it and wear it to become that animal.

Throughout the area are wolves, birds, and even fish in the water whose shape you can take on. In this particular case, you’ll want the pikeshape, since fish can survive underwater. If you have magical ability or items that allow underwater travel, you can use those too… either way, you will go in search of the leviathan.

The leviathan is a giant whale that lives in the waters between the lands of the Geats and Scyldings (Beowulf was a Geat). If you fight this whale, it has a random chance of swallowing you; if you show up as the pike, he’ll eat you instantly. You literally get swallowed; you move to a room that is the gullet of the whale, and Beowulf is in there. There is no exit.

In the Belly of the Behemoth
It’s very dark and very slimy in here. With every move the behemoth makes, you tumble and fall, sliding on the mucousy saltwater-slick flesh. Ribbed and strong, the gullet walls throb around you. Lucky for you that the monster breathes air; every once in a while a shower of droplets falls from far above, and fresh air rushes in like a tempest, tangling your hair. You see no way out of here whatsoever, except perhaps digestion.

While in the whale, you can chat with Beowulf, who says things like:

  • “Ah, what fair warriors, stouthearts indeed, have joined me in this dark intestine?”
  • “If only some great warrior, as strong as I, slew the whale! (wistful sigh)”
  • “I was on my way to rid Hrothgar’s hall Heorot of the rimwalking fiend. (sigh)”
  • “(ponders) Perhaps I should have asked aid of the spaewife Modthryth before setting out.”
  • “(grins) A fool’s act, but perhaps we need to get the whale to sneeze us out.”

You get out by tickling the whale’s throat with a feather. The geese in the area (and probably other birds in the game) are a source of feathers. The normal path for first-timers here is not to know that they need the feather, and have to send a tell or chat for help. You can also just get the whale killed, but that’s a significant job for a high-level group.

It’s worth pointing out that thanks to the wonderful technology of text, the gullet of the whale is an unpleasant place to be—it shakes, it sploshes, it reacts to stimuli affecting the whale, such as whether it’s being attacked outside.

Once you are sneezed out or the whale dies, you wash up on shore:

With a tremendous noise, the whale sneezes! In a tumult of water and bile, you are thrown into the sea, losing consciousness, to wake a while later…

Once on shore and conscious, you have a conversation with Beowulf:

Beowulf smiles. ‘Indeed, you are of stout heart and wayfaring mind. Henceforth, if any question your credentials, tell them on my behalf! You are a Companion of Beowulf!’

Beowulf embraces you. ‘But I cannot let this defeat, ignominious end of battle, give me pause!’

Beowulf leaps back into the water to wrestle with the whale! After a short pause, you hear a huge GULP, then all is still.

You are now a Companion of Beowulf, something that shows up in your profile when people check — on Legend, these are called WHOIS strings, since you can do a WHOIS FRED to read about their exploits. (I later put these into SWG and we called them ‘badges.’) This WHOIS string also required to visit the land of the Scyldings. When you attempt to enter their lands, you are stopped, and not allowed to pass unless you are proceeding in Beowulf’s stead. (You can get past by other means, of course). The land of the Scyldings, of course, is afflicted by the attacks of the monstrous Grendel, who comes at midnight to attack the stout warriors of Hrothgar, the lord of the Scyldings.

When you arrive at Heorot, a herald actually stops you at the door, then marches in before you to announce you to the hall; the announcement of course varies depending on whether or not you are a Companion. If not, Grendel will not appear:

‘Welcome to Heorot, Darniaq, to you and your thanes,’ Hrothgar says.

Hrothgar sighs. ‘I had hoped you were Beowulf of the Geats, come to save us.’

Hrothgar shrugs philosophically.

Hrothgar says, ‘You may sleep here tonight, but I doubt me the beast will appear.’

If you are a Companion, then he will show at midnight by the game’s clock. All the thanes in the hall will go to sleep, and Grendel will come in, kill one of them, and if left undisturbed, leave after. If you attack Grendel, however, you can try to fight him. He’s tough—a better solution is to armwrestle him using the game’s armwrestling skill, and rip off his arm, which happens in the poem. Then he will flee, leaving a trail of blood you can follow.

The blood trail leads through a perilous area. There are logs that you can slip off of and fall into freezing damaging water. There’s a foul brackish pool you must swim under. The knowledge of shapeshifting with animal skins helps you get past these barriers—the birdshape, for example, will help you traverse the treacherous areas because you can’t slip off a log if you are flying over it. You just need to kill an eagle, get its wing, and take it to Modthryth to fashion into a birdshape wearable for you.

Watch out with the wolfshape, though. Wearing it will make you warg, cursed outsider. You’ll change on the who list and everywhere else to appear as a warg, your align will drop to max evil, and you will be reviled by everyone. And you can’t take it off.

Alas, when you reach the pond and go under, you will find that Grendel’s mother is basically undefeatable. You fight and don’t seem to make a dent. That’s when you will need to resort to Modthryth or other mobs in the area, who will tell you that it’s going to take a sword crafted by the legendary Weland Smith to destroy her.

However, that cowering warrior held captive by Modthryth knows the story. According to legend, the last Sword of Weland to be seen in the area was owned by Fadhmir, a king of long ago who is buried in a barrow atop the cliffs. None will guide you there, however, because it is reputed to be haunted. The warrior’s name is Wiglaf. He’s essentially hypnotized, and believes that he is trapped in chains, even though he is not. Removing Modthryth from the picture and asking him about the sword will allow him to escort you to the barrows.

“Removing Modthryth from the picture” so you can free Wiglaf isn’t done by killing her (though that is a shortcut, it’s a dangerous one). When you ask her to free Wiglaf, she asks you to prove to her that the deeds done there, the heroic culture of her people, will live on. Since in LegendMUD you can travel in time, the solutions are to go to other eras and bring back artifacts. The sheet music to Wagner’s Ring Cycle is in the piano bench in Casablanca, for example. A copy of Beowulf is available at the pawn shop on the Isle of Dogs in Victorian London, and so on. Bring her one of these items, and she will let Wiglaf go.

Guiding you along the way to the barrow, he will stop at a small cairn and tap at it three times and tell you ‘remember that!’ The cairn is known as a holy place—this is where you can pray to be relieved of wargshape.

At the barrow, Wiglaf leaves you, announcing that his love for Modthryth is such that he cannot resist gazing into her eyes. Off he goes to get locked up again, and you are left at the barrow entrance.

The barrow is dangerous—there are ledges that collapse and require groups to be by each other to catch each other when they fall, there’s a lake of lava deep within, and so on. If you explore it fully, you will eventually find a blank wall which when tapped three times will reveal a secret room wherein resides Fadhmir’s treasure, buried with him.

Fadhmir’s Final Resting Place
Dark and oppressive, like the last breath from a lung bubbling with blood, the air of this room hangs about you like sour cloth. Yet the room is bright, bright, red and bright with the gold that lies in molten hopeless piles about you, in rivers and lakes, in puddles and mounds of melded coins and fused jewelry. The room dazzles with red gold, the gold of the rivers, the gold granted men to make them yearn for the heavens. For a moment the wod of greed takes hold of you, and you hear the whisper of scales in your soul; but you are deterred by the image of a man half-traced in gold melted onto bones like candlewax. There lies Fadhmir, once thane over the earth, and now a skeleton with chest caved in by the weight of the wealth too great for one man to carry.

You can take the Sword, but as soon as you do, “a deep cavernous voice speaks in your mind! It says, ‘Who disturbs my treasure?’” This is actually seen by EVERYONE in the zone. That’s because you have woken the greedy spirit of Fadhmir, who in the manner of Germanic legend, is a dragon because of his greed. This dragon will take up occupancy in the lava lake, and will periodically fly out over the land of the Geats from then on, attacking the village—everyone in the zone sees it happen, it’s a fairly big deal.

But you have other fish to fry. You make your way back to the foul lake, swim underwater, and deal with Grendel’s mom:

The last blow with the Sword of Weland bites deep into the seawolf’s heart, scattering her acid blood everywhere. The sword dissolves in her blood, leaving only the hilt embedded in her chest.

Grendel’s mother tugs the hilt from her heart.

Grendel’s mother drops the hilt of the Sword of Weland.

Grendel’s mother staggers around the room, her acid blood hissing on the rock.

Your wonderful magic sword is lost, and now you have but a hilt. You’ll also find Grendel’s dead body, bled to death from the lost arm. You can sever his head to carry back as evidence of your great deed. When you return to Heorot, you are announced as a savior, and given a new sword, Hrunting. Giving the head of Grendel to Hrothgar will also earn you a wondrous helm and a mail shirt.

I want to point out that you can abandon this quest at any point if you are satisfied with the rewards you have gotten. If you want the Sword of Weland (which has specific benefits and tradeoffs) then by all means, keep it and just don’t do the rest of the quest. Hrunting has different benefits and tradeoffs.

All of the preceding ends the first leg of the Beowulf quest. But you have loosed a dragon upon the Geats, and they are not happy. All the conversations shift, and now all the talk is of the evil dragon Fadhmir who terrorizes the villages.

Off you go to learn the means of slaying a dragon… the first thing you learn is that again, your sword makes no dent in it. On top of that, it lives in the lava lake, and you can’t stand in there to fight it, since the lava does massive damage to you when you touch it—ranged weapons, or better yet, some sort of flying or levitation ability are needed. Again the birdshape may come in handy.

But the real challenge is a weapon that can slay the dragon. Asking around will tell you that there is perhaps one smith whose work rivals that of Weland himself—the outcast dwarf Ragin, who for as long as anyone can remember has been smithing at his underground forge deep ion the Geatish woods.

If you enter his forge the wrong way, you’re liable to drop down his chimney and die instantly, and if you go too deep, you’re going to find a world-spanning wyrm down there, so watch where you go.

Ragin is reluctant to help, but he’ll offer to create a seithblade, as long as you can supply the deadliest poison made by magic. You’ll want a high-level alchemist type now, who can make a vial of instant death potion. These are basically a rare commodity on the player markets. Give Ragin the vial and he will start forging for 24 game hours.

The seithblade that results is a poisoned weapon. But it still does nothing against the dragon. In fact, if you stomp on it, it will shatter into a zillion pieces. Ragin will shake his head sadly, and say that perhaps a sword quenched in blood in the old style would do the trick. As it happens, you were served blood pudding in Heorot, and the cook there has buckets of blood she will give you. By the way, while you’re there, you might search around, find some letters in a chest by the warrior’s hearth, ask the scop’s apprentice, to translate them, and learn of a plot to assassinate Hrothgar.

Ragin forges away again, and sadly, when you stomp the blade, it shatters again. Perhaps, he says, what we need is sky-iron and magic. You do have that hilt of Weland’s sword, so you give it to him. The sky-iron is tougher.

As it happens, meteorites of naturally occurring steel fall anywhere in the whole game from time to time. They are highly visible—everyone in the zone can see the meteor streak across the sky and crash into the ground. They are collectible, and rare—there can only be one such meteorite in the world at a time. The hunt for a meteorite can therefore span quite a while, but usually you can seek to buy one that someone else has found, or ask on chat channels for help.

Give the sky-iron and the hilt to Ragin, and he will craft the skyblade, greatest of swords that are within his power. Again, you could have settled for any of the intermediate swords, if you so chose. But when you stomp the skyblade, it bends and springs back. Now you can slay Fadhmir… it’s a tough battle, and you probably want to bring friends, all of whom can survive in the lava lake.

Upon slaying the dragon, the depredations cease, of course. But Ragin the dwarf smith, who was Fadhmir’s jealous brother (hence his willingness to help), will now try to take back the skyblade and Fadhmir’s treasure, to rule in his stead. You will have to fight the very person who helped you defeat the dragon.

You return to town, where Wiglaf is once again under Modthryth’s spell and all has returned to normal. But Wiglaf knows what you have done—and so does Modthryth.

A mighty flapping of wings can be heard… to your astonishment, a majestic swan sails down from the skies before you and settles on the ground at your feet. It bows its head to you like a servant. The swan says, ‘You have completed the great task, and are indeed a hero fit for the meadhalls of Walhalla.’

The swan ducks its head, folds its wings, and with a wrench that makes your guts twist, removes the swanshape and stands before you, revealed as Modthryth—not Modthryth the spaewife, but Modthryth the walkurja, shieldmaiden of Wodan.

Modthryth says, ‘It has been years since I expected this to come to pass. But it has. Praise be. You have earned a reward fit for kings, yet I cannot grant such a thing. I may only hope that the treasures you have earned are sufficient.’

Modthryth peers at her swancloak. ‘And this, for I no longer have need of it,’ Modthryth says. Modthryth drops the swancloak.

The swancloak is a phenomenal item, of course. It gives you swanshape to fly, great armoring, and many other buffs.

Then everyone in the whole game can hear this announcement:

Hail, to one who shall forever be remembered as the slayer of Fadhmir the dragon, as the bane of the svart alfs, as the freer of a warrior-maiden under enchantment. Hail, all, to Darniaq, who has proven himself mightier than Beowulf, as mighty as any of the fabled heroes of old.

Much spamming of “grats!” on channels then ensues. :)

Modthryth curtsies. ‘And now may I return to my barrow, to rest once more beside the quiet bones of my lord and husband, Fadhmir, who is now forever at peace.’

Modthryth bows her head, and her hair curtains her face. As you watch, her skin crumbles away from her bones, until she stands a gruesome skeleton.

The wind begins to rise.

Then she collapses in a heap of bones, flesh carried away by the wind, and before your eyes falls to ash, her remnants borne away by the swirling breezes and the sudden smell of spring flowers.

The End.

  11 Responses to “Beowulf”

  1. Raph’s Website » Beowulf Overview of the Beowulf Quest from LegendMUD.

  2. Blogroll Joel on SoftwareRaph Koster Sunny Walker Thoughts for Now Sex, Lies and Advertising

  3. article/dialog An Open-Source Speculative Fiction Magazine Model Digital art beyond expression Is The Net Good For Writers? Jo Walsh without a screen: videoRaph Koster’s BeowulfReally modern library

  4. A few corrections and additions, if I may — as the mud grew in size (it’s over twice the size it was when beowulf went in, room wise) we had to increase the number of meteors available at any one time just so people could actually find them as they’d end up in unreachable places and the like. They’re still extremely rare, however.

    Another tidbit about the meteorites is when they fall, they can occassionally land ON a mob or a player. I’m only aware of the actual event of it hitting and killing a player once (as it was ME who it happened to!), but frequently a mob is the victim of a meteorite that’s headed groundwards.

    The fight with Grendel’s mother is indeed fairly unique as well… it’s not a matter of killing her, but you must be hardy enough to endure a battle of certain length at which point she falls over dead. While this might seem like a real technical detail, it really helps the story along since, if she were not coded as such, the battle wouldn’t be epic… a few high level characters could drive her to death in a matter of seconds.

    This quest is one of a few in the game where people still cheer when it’s finished — many on the near 12 year old mud have become old hat. Even with walkthroughs and the ilk posted, doing this and a few other quests still garners a few ‘wow, congrats!’ from the lot of players.

  5. That looks like a lot of fun and I love the spin on the traditional tale of Beowulf. It’s one of my favorite works of literature.

  6. Old stuff! :)

    Which I also have quoted recently. I must have reminded him of this :)

  7. Yeah, I have posted this before elsewhere, but usually only for a tiny audience, so I figured it might as well be here.

    I didn’t know you had quoted it recently though. Where?

  8. Yumm, so whats the recepie that makes a levelfree mmorpg work as well as one with levels?

    Well made quests seems to be one likely component, are the others “seekrit sauce” or just hard to find?

  9. Well written. My Dad taught Beowulf. and having had to read it enough times, I enjoyed your re-telling. And you “don’t just do sandboxes”. /salute

  10. Okay, I have to ask – how did you prevent people from locking the Valley of the Geats in the ‘rampaging dragon’ stage, preventing anyone else from killing Grendel or Grendel’s mother and starting the quest?


  11. There’s no way to lock it. I guess this wasn’t clear. Not only can you pick up and drop the quest at any leg, anyone can pick up and drop the quest at any leg. The dragon is a world event, it’s not encounter locked.

    Generally, nothing on the muds was locked in that manner because you could rely on etiquette to keep people from “stealing the quest” or some such. But since there are badges and rewards at all stages of the quest, people generally wouldn’t want to skip to halfway through anyway.

    There’s no doubt that a lot of violence has been done to classic mud gameplay by developers’ efforts to minimize griefing and interference by other players as the games reached larger scales… stuff that used to just work and still permit lots of interaction faced problems at the large scale, followed by solutions put in place to reduce player interaction.

  12. [...] Leaving aside the numerous posts that claim that I am not interested in content, the underlying points being made in these are interesting precisely because of what they point out about the game development process. It’s directly analogous to what a (justly) famous and multimillion-selling game designer said about my Grammar of Gameplay talk, when he called it “intellectual masturbation.” [...]

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