Saturday, March 9, 2024

The EverQuest RPG is a Pile of Baffling Design Choices Masquerading as a Generic d20 Cash-Grab

In the past I've touched on the early-to-mid 2000s phenomenon of everyone and their auntie adapting their property to d20 rules under the OGL. D&D 3E wasn't as market-stagnatingly powerful as 5E has become, but it was the game's first true brush up against mainstream popularity, whereas in the 20th century it had only enjoyed mainstream awareness (and occasional mockery) from other media.

This 3E Gold Rush for lack of a better term happened for pretty understandable reasons; nothing quite like the Open Game License existed previously and there were many early adopters of this novel concept, pushing out a single d20 book wasn't too risky for the average publisher considering the likely return on investment, and it was a pretty reliable way to introduce your IP to a wider audience.

Or at least that's how things started.

By the mid-2000s the market had hit 3rd party product saturation, and it was increasingly difficult to distinguish oneself amid the sea of similar d20 adaptations. There was also growing consumer cynicism toward the seemingly huge number of poorly-made books shoved out in order to ride the wave of market success that was already flattening by that point. It was a little bit like when self-published e-books became really big on Amazon and other platforms a few years later: an amazing opportunity for creative freedom and art also created a sucking mire of garbage and vacuous opportunism as a byproduct.

I'd insert a joke about capitalism here, but I haven't had my coffee yet, and in the spirit of our subject today I will not be going back to make edits.

That isn't to say there weren't some good adaptations out there that made the system work for their particular worlds and fictions; there absolutely are, you just have to know what you're doing when you're bending and bashing a semi-generic, semi-simulationist thing like d20 into different shapes that it wasn't originally intended for.

I honestly don't know which camp today's topic falls into. The creators obviously cared about transferring the original experience to tabletop, as opposed to just mapping existing names to existing features and calling it a day. But their care was a hacksaw that they used to Frankenstein together a bewildering pile of design choices that borders on endearing to me, because I have a weird habit of dragging out and trashing things that I end up feeling mildly positive toward.

I should probably examine that urge soon.

Anyway, we're talking about the EverQuest TTRPG!

AKA Keith Parkinson's Greatest Hits

Beginning in 2002 and topping out at a respectable 17 publications total, the EQRPG was Sony Online Entertainment's answer to the d20 craze by way of Sword & Sorcery publishing. It was not marketed using the d20 System logo and branding however, because of the plethora of small but cumulative changes made to the game in order to better replicate the systems and gameplay loops of the 1999 MMORPG. These include significant differences in character creation, progression, and the specifics of magic and combat.

There's plenty to cover, so let's get right into it.

Character Creation

To start off, randomized ability score generation is thrown out in favor of a modified 27 point-buy system. This isn't unusual by itself, since 3E was when point-buy became essentially coequal with (and often preferred over) 4d6-drop-lowest. What's odd is that this point-buy exists alongside a conversion system that allows you to transfer your character from the MMO to tabletop. So if you and your EQ guildies decided to sit down and play pen-and-paper instead of the video game version because, I dunno, maybe your dialup is particularly bad one summer weekend since it's 2002, then you would have a relatively easy time recreating your toons if you really wanted to.

As I understand it, the stat cap was 255 back in the day, but climbed steadily with each expansion since then. So I don't think you could convert a high-level character so easily these days. Then again at that level of play you'd be swimming in number soup, so maybe that's not a real issue.

Next you pick your race, which has far more weight in this game than in others. This is because EQ, like other D&D derivatives of the '90s, uses hard racial limits on character class- the first of several "AD&Disms" we'll see. Although I will say that in this case it is even stricter than what is found in AD&D, because in those editions there was at least an assumption of ultimate DM fiat with permitting certain character options. Not so with EQ; the list of available race/class combinations is all you get, because that's all you got in the video game (at the time of publication, at least; limits have mostly been removed in recent decades).

Note the saddening lack of playable frogloks, berserkers, etc.
No content after The Shadows of Luclin got ported to tabletop.

Besides being major gatekeepers to character class, species also comes with the bonuses and penalties you'd expect of 3E. Modifiers tend to be bigger and more swingy in EQ, despite usually cancelling one another out to total ±0. For example, the magical and slightly cone-headed Erudite humans get a whopping +6 to Int and +2 to Wis, but also -2 to Dex and Cha, and a -4 to Str. Similarly the woad-covered Barbarians of Norse-Gael inspiration get +4 to Str and +2 to Con, but also receive what I like to call the "orc treatment", -2 to all mental stats. This makes each species fairly specialized to a role, which feels redundant with the class lists that already point them in that same general direction.

For 4 out of the 14 playable species, another AD&Dism becomes an important factor: percentile XP penalty. Barbarians, trolls, ogres, and the reptilian iksar all suffer varying degrees of reduced XP award in exchange for their stronger innate traits, ranging from -5% to -20%. These numbers are ported directly from the early years of the MMO, with the somewhat surprising exception of halflings' +5% bonus, which was dropped for the book. Note that these are in addition to any penalties earned from multiclassing.

I'm not fond of XP modifiers in tabletop to begin with, but these mods really make me yearn for Level Adjustment. At least that can (usually) be bought off at a later point when racial abilities cease to make a significant impact on character strength. But in EQ, these numbers are forever. And with the standard level progression going all the way to 30 instead of 20, there's a lot of room for a gap to form that limited regeneration or Large size just won't close.

This gap is even more pronounced than in the MMO, I'd argue. In EQ online every XP penalty or loss from death is ultimately a measurement of extra time that needs to be invested by you, the individual. You can keep your troll shadowknight on par with your friend's human rogue by logging in during off hours and grinding a bunch of mobs to compensate, because even though it's a very social game, it's set in a living world and you aren't limited to a single circle of friends from start to finish. But D&D is a fundamentally party- and session-based game, which creates a lot of headache for the GM and anyone wanting to solo on the side in order to keep up with their friends.

On paper it's all quite similar to the bonuses and penalties that everyone gets in the MMO however, and it seems like that's what they were aiming for in the end. Good or bad, the writers often try to reify as much material from the virtual game for the textual one as they can. At least they didn't also include the class-based XP penalties that combine with others multiplicatively? Otherwise that troll shadowknight would be taking a combined -68% hit to every single reward.

Once you've selected your species, it's time to pick a class, spend your skill ranks, and select a starting feat like usual. Unlike usual, you also receive 5 "Training Points" to spend on more skill ranks or energy resistances, or to save up for your next feat or your first ability score increase. Training Points are awarded every level, and either supplement or entirely replace the standard skill, feat, and ability increase tracks of 3E. They are meant to simulate the Alternate Advancement system introduced in the Shadows of Luclin expansion, except instead of having to wait until level 51 to start dumping experience into it instead of new levels, you get a trickle of both from the very start.

There are limits in place so you can't dump all your points in one area, but overall it's a pretty unguided and freeform system for deciding how you want to improve your character outside of class abilities. Another way of describing it could be "time-consuming newbie trap", because of the extra bookkeeping required, and the increased chances of spending yourself into a corner if you haven't plotted stuff out in advance. The things up for purchase also don't really share multiples with the amount of points you get every level, which feels odd and awkward to me? It's like when they rig the prices in F2P MMOS so that you always have slightly too much or too little in-game shop currency to buy a thing you want, except they're not even trying to sell you anything here- it's just busywork.

Once you're done with all the essentials, the rest of character creation is mostly identical to your average 3E game. Name, gender, age, etc. You're also encouraged to choose a deity, with the welcome addition of an agnostic (read: fantastical apatheism) option for certain non-priest characters.

Alignment is present, which feels kind of weird. There are planes and loosely aligned factions of "good" and "evil" in the cosmology and lore of EQ, but moral alignment remains just shy of being an objective, bracketed thing in the MMO. Not so here, where the classic 9-point alignment system exists, with the words "lawful" and "chaotic" replaced by "orderly" and "discordant" because the latter terms have slightly more currency in the lore of Norrath.


Fortunately you're not limited to spending training points to get skill ranks; those are bonus ranks you can buy in addition to your usual class amount + Int every level. And refreshingly, no class in EQRPG is saddled with 2+Int skill points per level; most have 4+Int or more, and the lowest is 3+Int. This means that your average character is more likely to engage with some of the changes that EQRPG makes to the skill list.

For the record, EQ online has skills, but they don't work anything like 3E skills. They're closer to the skills of a d100 system or maybe Elder Scrolls games, where they encompass most character actions like types of attacks or spellcasting, and improve with use. I remember back when I made my fourth or fifth burner email in a row to play free trials of EverQuest as a kid (my parents don't believe in credit cards so I could never subscribe), I found a big group of people sitting around in the Mines of Gloomingdeep spamming each other with long text macros. I learned that this was to mutually improve their language skills; however much text your character 'heard' other people say in other languages slowly trained them in that language until the language cypher was removed entirely from their interface.

Luckily you don't have to do that here, nor will you run into a scenario where you get a neat new weapon but your skill in its type is a 1, forcing you to spend hours grinding it up to par. But it does create a case in the self-imposed constraints of trying to make EQ work in d20 where the writers just didn't (probably couldn't) port things over. Instead, they worked with the existing skill system and made a few more modest changes.

For starters, unlike most other d20 systems (and all of the memes about massaging orcs or seducing dragons), EQ actually does use the automatic failure and success rules for rolling 1 and 20 on skill checks, respectively. This doesn't include Take 20 checks, of course. And I'm slightly disappointed that they don't lean into it more by including skill crits or fumbles.

The skill list itself looks somewhat different, too. Since it was based on 3.0E rules you see the usual Sense Heading/Wilderness Lore divide and things like that. But we also see some additions to the list lifted straight from EQ online, like Alcohol Tolerance, Channeling, Meditation, and Taunt.

Alcohol Tolerance (Con) is a weird skill, both in its purpose and how it's used. You don't ever make Alcohol Tolerance skill checks by themselves; instead, you make a check, consult a table to find your check result, and then gain a corresponding bonus to your character's Fortitude save vs. inebriation when consuming large amounts of alcohol.

The reason you would ever invest in this skill is because alcohol is double-edged buff food in the EverQuest universe. Succeeding at your saves allows you to benefit from the positive effects of a specific drink, such as "metabolic" bonuses to Strength or Charisma-based checks, while only suffering the minimum penalties for getting sauced; usually a stacking -1 to Dex, Int, and Wis. Credit where credit is due, the writers did not pick the low-hanging fruit of giving dwarves a racial bonus to Alcohol Tolerance.

Channeling (Con) is a rebranding of Concentration, plain and simple, but Meditation (Int, Wis, or Cha depending on class) is an equally vital new skill for all casters. It controls spellcasters' ability to regenerate mana, and to prepare spells quickly. As with EQ online, casters have a mana pool and are limited to 8 prepared spells at any time (unless you spend feats to expand that number up to a max of 16).

But you can sit and meditate to regenerate spent mana per hour based on your ranks in this skill, and you can swap one spell out for another by taking a number of full-round actions equal to the spell's level minus your ranks in Meditation, minimum 1. You don't even need to leave slots empty like a wizard in 3E. The end result is that Meditation is the skill for casters, and it enormously improves their versatility and sustainability throughout a long and varied day of adventuring.

Taunt (Cha) is... such an aggravating missed opportunity. The language of aggro, taunts, and tanking may originate with early MMOs like EverQuest, but the thematic concept of heavily armored adventurers covering for and protecting their squishier counterparts has existed since basically the beginning of modern fantasy as a medium. D&D has sorely needed something like a taunt ability to reflect this element of the fiction for years, and even today in 5E it's only beginning to approach the concept with some success here and there. Obligatory shout-out to Barbarians of the Ancestral Guardian path.

So what is EQRPG's version of Taunt? A move action opposed by your target's Sense Motive to force them to target you with their attacks for 1 round. Said Sense Motive check can get pretty high bonuses if the target is already attacking someone else, can't understand the taunter, etc. So if a wolf got the drop on your party and is munching on the wizard (AKA the exact moment you'd want a reliable taunt ability), your 1st-level warrior could be looking at a DC of up to 30, plus whatever the actual Sense Motive check result is. The skill was a valiant attempt, but a failure.

There's also a whole host of custom Trade Skill, uh, skills which are new but don't do anything especially weird, so I won't go into them in depth. Baking, brewing, and shaman-exclusive alchemy all make different buff consumables. Pottery makes everything from humble jars to magical grenades. Tinkering, exclusive to gnomes, creates all manner of technological inventions, though thankfully they avoided going the way of guns, combat automatons, and power armor. The d20 rules for crafting and using things like that always tend toward jankiness in my experience.


Obviously feats didn't exist in EverQuest in 1999, nor when they were making these books, so their role here is to give 3E players something familiar, as well as pad out the class feature lists. Returning feats are mostly identical to their 3E counterparts, some with altered math to match the new rules here and there, like metamagic feats increasing mana cost by a percentage instead of higher spell slots, etc.

This section originally went into whiney detail about how they made the baffling decision to make Weapon Finesse worse by rewriting it to be selected per weapon type, but then I looked up the 3.0E version of the feat and realized that's exactly how it used to be.

I need to stop taking the QoL updates of 3.5E for granted, as weird as that is to say.

There are a few additions that give martial characters something resembling goodies, though. In EQ online anyone with a shield can perform Bash attacks, and members of the larger species—Barbarians, ogres, and trolls—can deliver Slam attacks in addition to their normal auto-swings. Bashes deal very little damage, but they're good for interrupting spellcasting and even stunning enemies briefly. Slams do much the same, but don't require a shield. There's also a Kick used by monks, rangers, and warriors of any size that functions similarly, but for some reason that was dropped for EQRPG.

The remaining Bash and Slam feats give you a special off-hand attack and a natural weapon, respectively. It's odd calling Slam a "feat" though, because it's only available to Large species and Barbarians, and they all get it automatically at 1st level. If you're using a magic shield or have a magic piece of armor on your shoulder, knee, or other slam-appropriate location on your body (a sequence of words I never want to type ever again), they count as magic attacks for the purposes of bypassing damage reduction, but any enhancement bonuses don't actually transfer to better attack or damage rolls. 

The feat gestures vaguely toward Bash's use as a spellcasting interrupt in the MMO, but it only increases the Channeling DC vs damage taken by 2 when you use it that way. Considering a shield's low damage (1d3 to 1d6 depending on size) you may as well save your Attack of Opportunity for your normal weapon; assuming the enemy spellcaster isn't just casting defensively, which feels like an oversight made when porting the attacks over. Using both at once on top of a full-attack option is a cheap way to throw a lot of attacks at the enemy though, and it's way more efficient in terms of BAB and feat cost than going down the finnicky Two-Weapon Fighting and Dual Wield feat lines.


The classes themselves are actually pretty uncontroversial when seen through the lens I'm using here. They resemble a mix of the EQ online classes and their D&D counterparts where there are overlaps like paladin and ranger, and they are slightly more true to the EQ class where there isn't anything comparable in base D&D, like shaman or shadowknight. They rely on a lot of bonus feats (and "bonus" feats that merely unlock a feat you still need to pay training points for) to flesh out class ability rosters, but each also receives at least one list of selectable powers, stances, or other abilities unique to their class identity.

Unsurprisingly for a 3E-inspired game, pure martial classes get a really raw deal compared to casters or even hybrids (which also get full BAB and high-level stance abilities just like martials do). This is doubly unsurprising, because EQ online also tended to treat a lot of its nonmagical classes like trash. The life of a warrior is pain. It's obviously a bad design choice, but by the standards of the time it's not an odd one.

More peculiar to me is how classes and equipment proficiencies interact.


Armor typing is essentially unchanged from 3E, but weapon proficiencies have been tweaked. Only simple and martial categories exist, but these have been subdivided into many more types like one-handed slashing, hand-to-hand (blunt), or archery (piercing). For the most part these map to the weapons each class can wield in the MMO without creating too much work deciding where weapons from other d20 books should fit, but it also creates some weird edge cases within its own core content.

One example is how rogues are proficient in piercing weapons. Since there is no one-handed vs two-handed distinction within piercing weapons, this means your average rogue knows how to wield a heavy pick or a halberd as well as a dagger. Alternatively, a shaman normally limited to "tribal" weapons can fight just as effectively with a rapier or even a spiked chain, that infamous old mainstay of 3E trip builds which somehow made it into the list.

Weapons have also been given a new "delay" parameter that is meant to emulate the different speeds that weapons swing at when you are auto-attacking in EQ online. Daggers attack more times in a minute than a mace, a mace more than a big two-handed axe, etc. The way they try to do this in EQRPG is by giving each weapon a delay number that tells you which of 6 tables to look at when you're calculating your character's BAB and iterative attacks per round. It's like if AD&D's weapon speed factor was designed to impact raw DPS instead of initiative, but it's just as annoying to track.

You also have to familiarize yourself with at least 2 or 3 of these tables, because haste and slow effects alter these delay numbers. This is in addition to adding or subtracting whole additional attacks depending on the power of the particular effect, a la 3.5E Haste.

Let's finish up the subject of weapons by talking about procs.

Procs, or programmed random occurrences, are effects placed on a piece of equipment or given by an ability that occur with a set frequency in response to X criteria being met. When you swing your sword and sometimes it blasts the target for extra fire damage, that's a proc. It's pretty clearly inspired by D&D weapon enchantments that only take effect on a certain die roll, like vorpal swords. In EQ online there is a huge number of proc weapons that each have their own formula being computed behind the scenes to determine how often they trigger their effects, usually expressed as PPM (Procs Per Minute).

In EQRPG the writers opted not to go for calculations like that, mercifully. But they still wanted to include proc weapons somehow, because they include some of the most iconic weapons in Norrath. Instead they went for a much simpler system where if a weapon has a proc effect, then every time you roll to attack you also roll against its proc DC. Rolling for a proc is a Dexterity check that scales with the relative power of the proc's effect, starting at 20 for the lowest. Proc effects exist in addition to more normal 'static' effects placed on a weapon, so it's possible to find a flaming longsword that also has frost (proc).

I kind of like this decision, but I kind of don't. By decoupling certain effects from the 'on crit only' enchantments we see in 3E, you might see them used by more characters than falchion- or rapier-wielding crit-fishers. It's tied to an ability score that people probably won't bump super high since Dexterity didn't become a true god stat until Pathfinder 1E, but EQRPG throws enough stat bonuses around that they might be semi-consistent; I haven't done the math there. But the big thing for me is that you have to roll every time you attack to see if you proc. The book recommends you pick a differently colored d20 specifically for that, and just huck both dice at once with every attack. So past a certain wealth level you may as well hand 2d20 to everyone who isn't a dedicated spellcaster.

Speaking of dedicated spellcasters, we may as well move on to that whole mess.


As I alluded to earlier with my brief gloss over classes and the Meditation skill, dedicated spellcasters are strong in EQRPG. They also require a whole lot of extra bookkeeping, because both mana pools and spell costs can rise into the dozens and eventually hundreds of points. The caps for those pools can also fluctuate throughout the day from spells, gear bonuses, or ability damage. A good comparison for what you're dealing with is the 3E psion's power point pool.

Spells go up to 15th level in EQRPG, even though it would have made sense to just throw out that legacy system alongside all of the other changes being made. Spell lists cleave very close to their EQ counterparts, usually mimicking damage, healing, CC, and buff spells as well as the two games' very different math systems will allow.

There are fewer spells with noncombat applications here than in 3E, which makes full casters slightly less godlike than say, conjuration wizards in D&D. EQRPG wizards can still do things like hop across the planes and dominate a combat scenario, but they do so by traveling to very specific landmarks from the game world and by dealing direct hit point damage, respectively. Monsters are limited in the same way, with the majority of NPC casters and spell-like ability repertoires geared toward combat. This flattens encounter design quite a bit, which is a big loss in my opinion. Although the worst part of player magic limitations to me is the truly lamentable loss of the prestidigitation cantrip.

I also wish the editors had gone through the spells a little more closely. Spells tend to be organized into spell lines with only the 1st rank explained in full, but the descriptions of spells are given alphabetically. This requires you to flip back to that first spell for reference when looking at differently-named spells over a dozen entries deep into a line. This gets especially annoying because most spells are just increasing amounts of direct damage or healing, and so much space and effort could be saved by consolidating all the different ranks in a line together on the same page.

Buff spells love to add odd-numbered ability scores, or more awkward percentile modifiers to the mix like -10% mana cost or +66% movement speed. One haste-adjacent spell I found even adds staggered bonus attacks depending on whether it's an odd or even-numbered combat round, a la AD&D fighter weapon specialization rules.

And sometimes, the writers' math just doesn't add up.

Beyond the Player's Handbook, which has been the focus of this post, there were many other EQRPG books. You get the usual GM's guide and monster manuals, some are region-specific gazetteers like Faydark or the moon Luclin, others are dungeons or adventures taken from the MMO, and a few provide new magic spells and items, or NPCs. All of it is pretty standard stuff you see coming out of any 3rd party d20 series that lasts long enough. They all follow in the footsteps of oddity set by the handbook rather than doubling down on anything, however. The weirdest thing I found in those supplements was a weirdly good, high-level spell named "Skin of the Cabbage".

4/23 Edit: Somehow I forgot to mention another bit that EQRPG does differently throughout its adventures and modules, and only remembered it while working on my post about the Diablo II games. You get experience points for completing quests in this game. This is the norm for video RPGs, but it was pretty rare in D&D prior to its experiments in alternate tracks of advancement starting in 4E.

At its core, this is extra mechanical incentivization to pursue a satisfying narrative conclusion over plain old murder and theft. Which you might think would be unnecessary in a game called EverQuest, but unfortunately it was the one to introduce the world to some of the worst MMORPG grinds ever. Quest rewards in tabletop therefore act as both a faithful mechanic and another means of avoiding what the original game is guilty of. End Edit.

As poorly as some of these systems conversions performed, and as strange or pointless as the concept of porting an MMO to tabletop can feel, I kind of applaud the writers behind the EQRPG? They could have phoned this series in so hard and made a very forgettably bad product, but they chose to try and do something with it instead. The art direction also helps; though most interior illustrations are not by Keith Parkinson, they all try to emulate the feeling of those old cover art spreads. The page borders and chapter heading plates even evoke the chunky old user manuals you used to get with every disc set. Even if it's certainly not the EverQuest, it tries hard to be an EverQuest game.

The same can't quite be said of its sequel.


After 2003 rolled around with 3.5E, there was a second surge of OGL games. Among this wave were a few "second editions" of games that had previously published under 3.0 rules that set out to update their games for the new rules. Sometimes the changes were meaningful and allowed a game a fresh start where they corrected their past mistakes and moved closer to their vision of what the game could be. Sometimes they were like the glorified textbook reprints that you have to shell out over $100 to use for a single semester in community college.

EverQuest II RPG is... kind of both?

EQ2 pushed the game's timeline forward a few hundred years and nudged it over an alternate universe or two. Set in a version of Norrath where the moon exploded and rained destruction across the planet, many familiar sights from the first game were destroyed or irrevocably altered. Entire continents were broken up into disconnected islands, prompting the early story to be focused on hopping on a boat and exploring what the world has become.

EQ2RPG (these acronyms are getting stupid, but just bear with me for a little longer) is also set in this different Norrath, but it still shares most of its 3E DNA with the previous game. It cleans up that 27-point character generation slightly, and makes Training Point prices cheaper across the board, as well as providing a few more options for it. The skills vs cross-class skills mechanic is removed, making it so that class skills are the only ones you can buy at 1st level, but everything after that is equally available. Even race/class limits are done away with.

Another big change in accordance with EQ2 online is Archetypes. The MMO genre was shifting toward a more rigid class role structure of tank, melee DPS, ranged DPS, and healer at this time, not just in the way characters performed in end-game content, but in the way they were conceived of to begin with. An example of this is the elimination of hybrid classes as their own unique category, and shoving everything else under the umbrellas of Fighter, Mage, Priest, and Scout in EQ2.

Everyone starts off as one of these 4 archetypes in the tabletop version as well, but can specialize into a class starting at around 5th to 7th level, and an advanced class specializing even further starting at around 10th. Some of these options were alignment-locked in the MMO at launch, but not so here. In fact, alignment was dropped entirely! 

In essence, classes and advanced classes are the prestige classes of 3E, but grafted onto generic starting classes as branches in a series of multi-path character trees. MMO class specs, if you will. Of course you the tabletop player aren't limited the same way your MMO character is; multiclassing is still an option in this ruleset, which creates kind of a best-of-both-worlds scenario.

Not that you'd necessarily want to stunt your progression with multiclassing; you're kind of on a tight schedule. After all, you're only just reaching your character's real class identity and fruition of the arc of mechanical growth at 10th to 12th level. That's the bottom of the valley where most campaigns die in typical 20-level D&D, let alone the 30 levels of EQRPG.

This strikes me as an odd and probably unintentional mistuning of progression, because in the source material most characters could finish with their archetype and start on their class as soon as they left the tutorial zone, the Isle of Refuge. Most GMs don't rocket you from 1 to 6 in a session or two, though; something that can be done in about an afternoon in the video game becomes something many days or weeks in the making in tabletop. In general that's fine, and to be expected; tabletop is just slower on average. But I don't think that's what the writers were intending here.

At least the starting archetypes aren't devoid of depth, thanks to Talents.

Talents are another very MMO'y term injected into the game that act as an answer to the problem of bloated, sometimes very lopsided class feature rosters. Every few levels—more frequent for Fighters and Scouts, less often for Mages and Priests—you receive a talent point that you can spend on your choice of class talent, which is a single discrete class feature. Many have minimum level requirements like feats, and also like feats a few are clearly traps that are best avoided. But otherwise you can pick the order and type of abilities you get. Classes and advanced classes also give talent points with their own pools of abilities to draw from, but you can always spend them on features from previous lists as well.

This system has no parallel with anything in EQ1 or EQ2 to my knowledge, but it's also just kind of good on its own. I liked it when Pathfinder did something similar with most of their classes, and this feels like a more drastic prototype of the same idea.

In other ways, EQ2RPG refused to advance, not even to match its online counterpart. Sometimes it even regressed slightly.

As an example, EQ2 removed all XP penalties; at launch, the only thing you'd suffer from was XP debt from dying. EQ2RPG did not remove the penalties put in place by its predecessor. In fact they added more for new species like the kerra and ratonga, and made them slightly worse for existing ones, by bumping trolls up 5% to match what they'd originally been saddled with in EQ1 online.

Spellcasting remains fundamentally unchanged from its predecessor, although they did tidy up the lists partially by condensing spell lines into the same spell with multiple ranks, like I was complaining about up above before I bothered to finish doing my research down here in the present. Where once there may have been project lightning, followed by thunder strike, thunderclap, thunderbolt, etc. you now just have 2 markedly different spells with 3 ranks each. It's a step in the right direction I think, but it's weird that they didn't go all the way with the fix.

They also decided to bring back the 3.0E rules about how weapon sizes affect what a weapon counts as in somebody's hands, instead of just going by size category alone? Not even the first EQRPG did that, and it's so weird to see it pop up now.

The sequel also feels like it had way less of a budget than its older counterparts. The vast majority of the art in this book is either a CG still lifted from the promotional campaign for the video game, or an in-game screen shot or loading screen asset. I recognized about a dozen different frames from the charmingly goofy series of new player introduction videos that SOE hosted for a while.

The usage of preexisting assets isn't bad in and of itself, or at least I don't think so; it's just that EQ2 wasn't a very good-looking game one year after launch, and its low-res and weirdly lit graphics don't do the book any favors. Especially not when the models and spell effects have been awkwardly cut out of an existing screen shot and then transparencied onto the page.

Don't even get me started on that mitten hand.

#UnpopularOpinion tract time, I always thought the extremely cartoonish kerra from the trailer for the cancelled EverQuest Next project still looked better than the soulless, plasticine meat puppets of EQ2. Stylization is like light rust resistance for your character designs. Even if they're not that good to begin with, they won't age quite as rapidly.

Another indicator of the lower effort put into the sequel by the publisher is that half the classes are missing from the Player's Guide. The Priest and Mage archetypes aren't even playable without consulting the Spell Guide that was published exclusively in PDF form in 2005, over a year after the first book went to print. Apparently Sword & Sorcery released a free PDF of some basic low-level spells on their website in the interim, but to my knowledge it's lost to link rot nowadays.

Even with the Player and Spell guide, EQ2RPG is kind of unplayable by itself. It still needs several books from the first RPG to give it the monsters, magic items, GM tools, etc. to make a working campaign with.

The creators supposedly said that going forward, all new books would support both EQ1 and EQ2. I say 'supposedly' because Wikipedia says so, but there's been a [citation needed] tag on that sentence since October of 2007. A list on the White Wolf Wiki references 3 cancelled books that were referenced in issues of White Wolf Quarterly or Sword & Sorcery Insider; these were to be EverQuest II Gazetteer: The Shattered LandsIslands of Mist, and Kunark: Past and Present, the title of which allows us to infer that the plan to support EQRPG 1 and 2 simultaneously was real, at least at one point.

But planned or not, new books never happened. Troubled production ultimately led to the entire EQRPG line getting quietly shelved after its second edition sloughed out onto the scene. I have no evidence to back it up, but I can't imagine sales were great either. The 3rd-party d20 market had not grown less saturated during this period, after all.

The End, Finally

Like so many of my rambles, I'm not sure how to end this. I began wanting to lightly mock the existence of these books, and I suppose I did in the end. But I also grew strangely fond of this weird little experiment. It was at the periphery of a massive shift in the industry, and though I don't think its effects could be felt very far or for long, I like it for having existed. If only so that folks like me with nothing better to write about can do a bit of RPG archaeology and wonder at what came before.

One thing it did leave me with, was a question of how other people received this game in its day. EQ has always had lore and story if you look hard enough for it, but the 'role' has always taken a backseat to the 'play' in this game, whether it takes the form of exploring the relatively huge living world, earning DKP in raids, or just grouping with new and old friends.

But what stories have EQ role-players been able to tell, both on-and offline? What memories and experiences did this tabletop edition help create, rather than merely mimic? Is this game beloved to anyone out there?

And can someone please explain the Fippy Darkpaw meme to me? Weren't there like a dozen other gnolls? Why'd he get so popular?


  1. Excellent. I never played Everquest, but for some reason I bought the Befallen adventure, figuring it was a D20 so I should be able to use it with the standard D&D books I had. I never actually ran it, I've never quite been able to bash it into a shape that feels satisfying to me, but I have been curious about the EQRPG ever since.

    1. Ooh, Befallen. That one didn't make the cut for the post, but I read through a bit of it. It stuck out to me as such an odd place name, but that's pretty accurate to the in-game zone. The adventure is kind of a remix, I think? The layout is largely the same, right down to rats in the library, but some NPCs make returning appearances, while others are brand-new for the book, including the final boss. I never played in this area back when I fiddled with EQ though, so I can't say how big or meaningful the changes actually are.

  2. I've read all of this and this is very detailed article – thank you, I wasn't even aware EverQuest did a second edition after the first book.
    Do you intend to look into other such adaptations? (Diablo had one for 3rd edition, I think, and from what I recall it was both "clumsy stretching the names onto existing mechanics" and sort of ridiculous how high the numbers go).

    These kinds of RPGs, despite seemingly being cashgrabs, might have a legacy: I remember playing Warcraft RPG 3.0 (or 3.5?) variant, and I think the spellcasting memorization system we have in 5th edition sort of originated from there or was very similar to it.

    Base classes to Advanced Classes to More Advanced Classes I think is from 1d20 Modern although a lot of "character" MMORPG (such as Elsword) also use this method where at certain levels you made a choice (or build up to) a certain further path (and, of course, it can be traced back to early RPGs such as Warhammer and its career paths) so I am not sure which would be a direct influence on what here.

    1. Hey Kyana! I absolutely intend to do other stuff like this. Been working on a history of Talislanta that briefly dips into its d20 debut, which I could later expand into a post of its own. Also have a "Things I Wish They Did More With" draft of the Warcraft d20 lying somewhere around here that I was gonna use as an excuse to go on a rant about the role of player factions in gameplay and narrative.

      Little peek behind the curtain, I've also got an amateurish class handbook for the WoW RPG in the works.

      The 3.5E/WoW update was the one with different spell preparation. Your casting stat determines how many spells you can memorize per spell level, plus 1 for every 4 ranks in Spellcraft. I always thought of it more like a spin on D&D's Spirit Shaman and how they prepare their spontaneous list during prayer, but you're right, it is a lot like a prototype of 5E spell prep.

      As for classes -> advanced classes progression stuff I'm not familiar with Elsword, but Warhammer career paths definitely ring a bell now. Even if it's not directly traceable to that, the DNA's been in tabletop for a while.