i sii what you did there


Well, this post took me entirely longer to write than I planned. Actually it didn’t – 95% of this was done in January… but I was unhappy with just about everything about it and my entire family decided that it was a perfect time to get sick, so attempts at editing proved futile.

On the bright side, this extra delay allowed me to advance the character to GL6, which adds some interesting perspective to the whole mess. Also, this post may not be of very general interest… but it is a topic that interests me, so here we go.

– Al (Feb 9, 2018)

When I returned to 3k, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t expect my muscle memory to be able to take me directly to the ATM from the northern entrance to town. I didn’t expect the Witch and Warder guilds to have closed. I certainly didn’t expect to see mechanics for giving lower level players autoloading equipment in a game like this. But I did expect to see a new guild or two, and I was not been disappointed on that front.

This “new” (circa 2006 it seems) Sii guild appears to be based on a comparatively unique concept. Unlike, for example, the aforementioned Warders or the Juggernauts, who are based directly on Battletech’s Elemental armoured infantry units – which are not to be confused with the Elemental guild, who are… well, a bunch of elementals (like fire and water and stuff).

What follows is a (hopefully organized) explanation of this newfangled guild’s mechanics, and the things that make them interesting to me from a game design perspective. But like I said, it may not be of any interest to anyone other than myself (and possibly to new players of 3k who are trying to decide between the game’s roughly 20 guilds).

After several attempts at googling the Sii, I have found nothing but references to the guild itself. It’s possible that their exact analogue does exist somewhere in some sci-fi novel or show that I’m unfamiliar with… but I’ve read a lot and I’ve watched a lot more… so *shrug*

The sii are… well, they’re telepathic parasites.

The Fluff

Benevolent, galactic defender parasites, mind. But parasites nonetheless. Sort of.

I think of them as a sort of a cross between Futurama’s brain slugs and the Goa’uld from Stargate. Kind of. But not inherently evil.

The guild likes its walls of text. Someone wrote a short novel, and during your initiation and advancement, the game plays it out to you – paragraphs at a time. The opening crawl during the recruitment process itself takes… a very long time. In the interest of science, I just replayed the very first sequence (because of course you can replay these walls of text), and it took roughly 10 minutes to play out.

During all of this text, it is revealed that there is a galactic war of galactic proportions, waged since time immemorial by members of a race of psionic symbiots. While physically frail (and, well, actually probably very slug-like), they are able to inhabit stronger host bodies to do battle. It is important to note that, thematically, these bodies are not actually stolen from unwilling victims, but are instead grown in vats by the formsmiths, who are sitting on top of a huge DNA library (that guild members are tasked with augmenting).

Noting that this great war was stupid, a faction of these brain slugs decided that they were done with the whole mess and wanted out. This was not socially acceptable behavior, and the remainder of their species treated them as rebel traitors. After a terribly lossy retreat, they crash-landed in Pinnacle (the main city of 3k) and named themselves the Sii, which probably means something profound in their made-up alien language.

Advancement

As per the norm on 3k, advancement within the sii guild is measured separately from advancement in the mud at large. Thus, your character level is distinct and generally unrelated to your guild level (GL). GXP is earned by time spent in combat vs actually getting kills, so it doesn’t much matter how large of enemies you fight, just so long as you fight stuff that isn’t killing you.

Regardless of how you play, though, GXP comes slowly. Very slowly. The Sii are probably one of the slowest advancing guilds in the game. After what probably adds up to a total of 15-16 hours spent in combat, I achieved GL 5. Then, because I am silly, I played through into GL 6 – which by itself took 2 weeks of RL and 20-24 more hours of combat time.

They don’t show all of the numbers (because thematic fluff). But, what I’ve been able to determine from the numbers available to me says that a good round of combat is one worth over 30 GXP – which appears to be worth slightly less than 0.003% of a GL at this point. So GL 7 will only take me 30k or so more rounds of combat at this rate… At 2 seconds per round… yay.

Aaalmost GL6
Slow advancement is slow. Behold the ~0.01% GL progress made in these 5 rounds of combat.

The power level jump between GL 4 and 6 was massive, though. 3k measures enemies with respect to their XP value, not their nominal “level” (even though this isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison, as some 8k’s are stronger than some 20k’s). A newbie without a guild might have trouble fighting mobs worth 500 xp, where high level players fight things rated in the millions. At GL 4, I had difficulty with most mobs worth much more than 6k. At GL 5, I was comfortable with most mobs in the 10-14k range. At GL 6, I find myself comfortable with most 20-25k’s, and have been able to take a handful of 40k’s with minimal difficulty. It really depends on the type of damage the mobs do and any weird custom mechanics their authors scripted.

It looks like GL 15 is considered “high level”, but GL’s also appear to be nominally unbounded – with a soft cap at 20.

The guild keeps (and makes available) exhaustive records of the historical advancement dates of all members. My recruiter is GL 18, and according to the records, it took him 14 months (IRL) to advance from GL 17. The guildmaster is GL “106” but the records only show him advancing to 20 (back in late 2016) – so there’s something different about those later levels, they’re probably just administrative.

The guild acknowledges this slow advancement rate and regularly gives you a 2x boost to GXP. Of course, it is only with this boost active that I’ve ever earned more than 20 GXP/tick…. so… yay?

Also to make up somewhat for the agonizingly slow core GL advancement mechanics, the guild has a system of skills that advance independently from your core guild level. Individually, these skill points seem to have little effect, but they add up over time. I have a few dozen skill points spent in these buckets now, and I think they’ve helped. Maybe.

Core Mechanics

The Sii are thematically a psionic guild, but they fight like a pretty typical melee physical guild – attacking the mob and watching their attacks spam until it dies.

Sii gain access to different Forms at each guild level, provided sufficient total gold donations to the guild (which aren’t terribly expensive compared to my memories of other guilds, especially considering the time you have between levels to earn this coinage). Some other achievements can unlock other uncommon forms as well.

At GL 1 you are stuck with the Human form. Yup. Human. It is squishy and human. But it can use any equipment you otherwise normally would be able to use. So initially, nothing changes when leaving adventurers except that you now have a guild object and earn GXP for the betterment of the brain slug collective. Oh, and you gain access to a new way of dying, which I’ll get into shortly, so that’s fun.

Forms do a number of things for you, primarily:

  1. As mentioned above, they determine what equipment you can use. Wearing plate armour or wielding an axe is difficult when you’re a quadruped with no thumbs.
  2. To make up for this, they modify your natural armour class. Some forms are much tankier than others, even naked (especially naked in some cases).
  3. They apply some percentage-based modifiers to your base stats. So a DPS form might increase your Wisdom and Dexterity but severely reduce your Constitution and a tanking form might increase your Con while reducing your Strength.
  4. They determine your base attack pattern – so you might get two claw attacks a round, or a weapon attack, or you might cycle between breathing ice and punching, etc…
  5. They may also grant additional activated abilities only usable in that form (or similar forms) for a small amount of SP per use. Humans get a “kick” attack, some forms get extra “bite” or “stomp” or “spit” attacks… these get more exotic and interesting as you advance in GL. For example, one GL 6 form gets the (unique?) ability to “consume” objects (like rocks and hats and stuff) for out-of-combat healing (for whatever good that does).

Each form has a preferred role in combat (tank/damage). They earn guild xp accordingly. Tanky forms earn more gxp/tick when getting hit than they would if standing behind someone else, etc…

My experience so far is that the dps forms are too squishy to solo with seriously, so I’ve mostly stuck to the tanking forms.

Most GL’s provide a choice of forms, at least one damage and one tanky. When you advance in GL, you are allowed to choose one new form to merge into, provided you have met the donation requirements for the new tier. As you advance through the GL, you are given the ability to also unlock the other forms for that tier if you want. All these cost are time.

In certain circumstances, it may be preferable to switch back to an older form for a while – especially if your latest form isn’t working out for you (or for what you’re fighting). For example, while I enjoyed using the GL 5 forms, there is a bonus form at GL 4 that worked out better for me through most of GL 5 instead.

The Sii’s primary guild points are called Control, and are meant to represent the brain slug’s connection with their host form. If control ever reaches zero, they die. These disposable speed-grown vat bodies aren’t the most stable things, after all. The guild fluff actually calls GL’s CL’s (control levels) in most places.

Control does not regenerate naturally over time as per most guild resources in the game. It can only really be regained by leeching life energy from corpses (typical of most guilds), or by returning to the guild hall and merging with a new host (typically just remerging the same form as your previous body). There is no real cost to merging forms other than time.

Remerging Again
I spend so much time in this room that I flattened the Z-levels on my map to make it easier for me to speedwalk there.

This tether to the guildhall is strange for me. Plenty of guilds encourage regular trips back to town, but this feels a bit stricter than I remember any other guild having to deal with.

The Sii also have a secondary guild point called Fortitude. Fortitude is used primarily to accelerate hp regeneration. The sii have strong control over just how fast they are healing – but it costs increasingly more fortitude per round to do so. At higher guild levels, they can heal at ridiculous speeds – at the cost of ridiculous amounts of fortitude a tick.

Fortitude does regenerate naturally over time, and some is restored from corpses as well. Spending fortitude, however, also increases the rate at which control decays… so it’s a tricky balancing act to avoid regenerating too much and needlessly draining your control even if you have enough fortitude.

Fortitude is also semi-randomly determined every time you merge with a new host – even when you remerge with the same host. I’m not sure what this was meant to accomplish, but it’s strange. In practice, it doesn’t seem to make a huge amount of difference, but it can mean the difference between being able to stick out a fight to the end and having to run 3-4 rounds early.

Broodlings

In addition to draining corpses to regain control/fortitude, the sii can also inject them with parasites. Because of course they can.

This allows you to hatch adorable little lizard monster broodlings that follow you around, assisting in combat. They remind me of the mind worms from Alpha Centauri more than anything else for some reason. The size of these little murderlizards is based on the size of the corpse used to hatch them.

You can control 2 broodlings per GL simultaneously, and if you try to hatch another broodling, it will either run away/explode wasting the corpse for you or it will devour and replace the weakest broodling in the pack.

Runaway Lizard
Just another wasted corpse from trying to raise one too many lizard minions.

However, despite saying that they are a group of 2/10/whatever broodlings, they are implemented as a single mob in the game – with a single pool of HP and a single attack per round.

This is good for offense, because 10 little guys each swinging for 2 damage is easily mitigated, but 1 guy swinging for 20 damage might actually damage something. Similarly, this is bad for defense, because one attack for 50 damage might wipe out the whole brood instead of simply vaporizing a single little lizard.

They’re super squishy. Like SUPER squishy. One of my greatest challenges in the game has been keeping the brood alive in cases where I had to flee from a fight.

One generally has to spend SP to tell them to wimpy first, then you can leave yourself…

They don’t do a ton of damage, and it’s always only edged (one of the most resisted damage types in the game), but they’re fun and may be your only reliable damage output in a tanking form.

Also, you can make them eat corpses. I think this is supposed to heal them or something – but since they’re so squishy, it’s hard to tell. It may honestly just be another way of disposing of the bodies.

Overload

This is where the sii start to get kind of awesome. You unlock the ability to overload your neurons with damage starting at GL3. This can kill you. Yup, now you get three numbers to watch in order to avoid death.

My recruiter didn’t explain it very well, he just told me that I needed to be careful when I started to play with it. The help files weren’t much more useful on the subject either.

In gameplay terms, overload is a secondary hp buffer. For a nominal SP+Control cost, you can toggle overloading on or off. When enabled, 100% of damage you take is shunted over into this secondary pool – which is only represented as a percentage, so it’s hard to say precisely how much damage it can soak.

However, the pool is pretty large, and it seems to grow as you do. At GL 5, it felt like the pool was roughly 1000 HP, compared to my ~400 max hp at the time.

Overload is great for soaking spikes of damage and for taking a breather as you regenerate fortitude.

I personally turn it off manually whenever I notice it hit 75% – there is no guild automated way to shut it off, so a client trigger as a safety valve is likely in order here. The guild does, however, provide you with a way of triggering a behavior off of low HP, so you can automatically begin to overload if your health itself is getting dangerously low.

Overload is applied after the attack in question is resolved – this means that any other damage mitigation you have in place will increase its effectiveness. Armour, dodging, other guild abilities, etc…

Overload will also reduce the amount of GXP you earn in a tanking form since you aren’t technically taking damage any more.

Overload damage dissipates slowly over time, whether in combat or not.

Other Abilities

There are a lot of other powers that the guild grants, but the ones already mentioned are the ones of primary interest to me from a gameplay standpoint.

Along with overload, sii also gain shield at GL3, which is a toggle that allows them to increase their base armour by a percentage of their natural armour – which makes this amazing in natural tanking forms and less so in dps forms or in human-shaped tanking forms that wear a lot of equipment for their defense.

Shield costs a small amount of control per round of combat, whether you are taking damage or not, so it’s best disabled if not actually getting hit. At GL12, it supposedly gains more options to create focused shields independent of the host form’s natural AC.

Perceive is a defensive buff you get early on that grants you a chance to dodge successive attacks from the same target. Ie, if you’re fighting something that swings two or three times a round, you’ll (try to) dodge all but the first attack… but if you are fighting 3 somethings that each only swing once a round, perceive doesn’t do you any good.

This is one of several abilities that has a limited number of charges that refresh slowly over time. Other similarly regulated abilities include: boost, which increases the power/duration of the next compatible ability you use; root, which tries to make your broodlings pay more attention to what’s going on; and bloodrush, which induces a state of berserk rage and causes your attacks to hit harder.

Missions and DNA

One final thing worth mentioning about the sii guild is their dna collection.

Feeding on a corpse to retain control does not actually destroy the body. It’s a psychic sort of feeding. And while doing so prevents the sii from further infesting the body with broodlings, it does not prevent other guilds from using the corpse as they would normally.

It also doesn’t clean up the body. So, unless you want to waste all of those resources and just leave bodies lying around after you drain their psychic essence, you need to either feed them to your brood or employ a dna sample kit.

These kits are available for cheap from the guild shop (or remotely for a slightly higher fee if you forgot to pick one up before leaving town). Using the kit to “collect dna from corpse” will destroy the body and give you a weightless tissue sample that can then be donated to the formsmiths back in the guild.

Collecting tissue samples doesn’t have any obvious immediate benefit, but seems to eventually feed into some guild repuation based bonuses – and it cleans up the bodies.

Similarly, the guild has a system that optionally provides you with generated missions to complete. These missions may involve killing one of each of a type of mob, collecting certain tissue samples, or delivering a package, etc… they’re not fancy but they’re something to do.

The game gives you an indication of its anticipated degree of difficulty, which likely only means the level of the mobs and areas involved – not how easy it might be to actually find the objective.

I spent forever looking for some guy/thing named “dagwood” before giving up as I am unaware of any Blondie area in the game… My current mission has me looking for a “swallow” to collect dna samples from, and while I could abandon and look for something else, I’m trying to stick with this one. Still haven’t found Dagwood though, despite having checked several restaurant and comic-themed locales.

The number of guild missions a player has completed is a matter of public (to the guild) record, but otherwise does not have any obvious benefit either (outside of encouraging you to explore the game). I assume it is also like the tissue sample issue, where you might get something like optional form unlocks or something else not specifically mentioned in the docs.

Conclusion

So… yeah. They’re interesting little brain slugs. They play much more… asynchronously than I am used to thinking about things. Constantly tweaking the regen slider and knowing when to switch on/off various long-term abilities is crucial. (Of course, any fight where you’re having to spend fortitude on regen at all is not going to be a good one for GXP…)

They encourage exploration but also encourage frequent trips back to town if your kill/round ratio is low.

They have a lot of interesting, but potentially difficult to follow thematic fluff. They advance slowly and thus have a very low player population compared to other more popular guilds, but they’re neat, and they definitely have potential for power – and for more abilities than I have seen.

Some of these mechanics are really fascinating to me – and I fully intend to absorb them into my mental toolbox of gameplay toys for future projects. I am intrigued the idea of:

  • An emergency auto-triggering hp buffer that can in and of itself kill you if you’re not careful.
  • Multiple guild point values to keep track of, especially the numerous little individual cooldowns to be popped.
  • Passive, asynchronous, configurable healing.
  • Creative applications for corpses that are compatible with groups.
  • Not permanently locking people into a choice of damage vs tank subguild specialization.

So I plan on sticking with the Sii on this character for the foreseeable future. If I want to guild hop, I can always create an alt soon enough.

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