Starting out as a Cleric you'd receive Courage at level one, the first in what would become your core buff line, giving you the endlessly sought-after ability to increase hit points. It was a line of buffs known intimately to everyone, not just Clerics. Through various eras, depending on the current highest or most widely requested exemplar, the line was known by different names: Center, Valor, Temperance, Vigor, Aegolism. At the peak of my own career as a cleric the call was for Virtue. Later, when I was a user rather than a dealer, it was Tenacity and Temerity.
Whichever class you played, whether you were the giver or receiver of buffs, you learned two things from the beginning: as you grew more powerful buffs lasted longer and they affected more people at once. The duration of most buffs increased incrementally level by level as well as upgrade by upgrade and higher levels would bring a group version of a single-cast. Over a couple of years I progressed from a half-hourly buffing session outside Splitpaw in the thirties, where I had to hit everyone with Center separately, to a single cast of Hand of Virtue at 65 that buffed the entire group and lasted a couple of hours.
That wasn't all. As expansions rolled out both the game and the world broadened and deepened. We discovered new ways to extend and prolong the buffs we cast. Items appeared that offered a whole range of effects, able to focus spells to be more efficient, more powerful and, especially, longer-lasting. Whole fresh paths of alternate advancement opened up, bringing enhancements of every imaginable kind including the ability to cast buffs that affected not just your group or even your raid but everyone in the immediate area.
Entire playstyles arose out of these options. Clerics and enchanters grew rich, offering their spells for hard cash or desirable items. Certain locations buzzed and whirred with commerce: the lawns or boards outside the banks in Plane of Knowledge, the hill in front of the Guild Lobby, the pathway where the Priest of Discord stood, ever-patient. How he must have hated all that bonhomie. The shouts and calls of players looking to buy or sell buffs rang in the air as adventurers ported in to refresh their protections before heading out to begin the hunt once more.
Best of all, in an emergent forerunner of the kind of open, co-operative play made familiar in recent years, selfless or self-aggrandizing individuals would call all-comers to them for Mass Group Buffs, bringing dozens, scores of people at a dead run as the count-down neared zero.
There were downsides. Some casters became greedy, some recipients picky. Woe betide the fresh sixty Enchantress, over-excited at coming into her prime, her signature spell in her book at last, who set up stall casting KEI at base duration, a mere two and a half hours, while others were offering three and a quarter, enhanced. Then there were the imbalances: the lack of level restriction on Temperance that could turn a newbie warrior into an unstoppable killing machine for a couple of hours (working as intended) or Koadic's Endless Intellect that could do the same for a young wizard or druid for even longer (a bug, corrected only after several years, even though time and usage had long-since rendered it normative).
Acquiring long-lasting buffs became routine to the point that many adventurers simply wouldn't leave the house, or at least Plane of Knowledge, without them. Once in situ, and sometimes even with group members on the spot, willing and able to provide comparable alternatives on demand, breaks for a return to PoK for a refresh of a key buff (or a KEI buff, often as not) made for a commonplace disruption to the rhythm of the kill.
Still, for all the drawbacks, now it looks like a golden age. The synergies and interplays between classes, individuals, groups and communities; the motivators of personal pride and character progression; the exuberant spirit of play; the turning of the economic wheel.
|An addiction in the making|
Even in Norrath the glory days are gone. Mercenaries provide buffs on tap. Spells no longer require reagents. In EQ2, half a millennium on, once cast buffs last forever. It's understandable, excusable even. Aging games must offer convenience or wither away.
But what excuse do newer MMOs have and what do they have to offer instead? In GW2 a long-duration buff might last you half a minute. A trait might extend that by ten or twenty percent. The only way to keep buffs (or boons as they're known in Tyria) up is to run in a pack with everyone chain-casting like crazy.
It's a methodology that both suits and predicates GW2's zerg culture. It leads to faintly ludicrous, inelegant behavior like stacking, where everyone piles on top of one another like students trying to beat the record for packing a phone booth before charging off to throw themselves onto their opponents like a horde of rabid rats, hoping the seconds-long buffs will hold. It causes Guardians and Warriors to call constantly for company, asking people to huddle close so their auras of power or virtue won't go to waste.
Those permanent, significant and meaningful, not incremental, improvements, did more than just replace existing items or abilities with the numbers changed. They stood as markers not of linear progress but of the rounding out of a character learning to live more fully, more meaningfully in his world.
I miss it. I miss the progression and the character-building, but most of all I miss the buffing itself. How we all cursed it then, that relentless re-application, having to spend a couple of minutes at the start of every session cycling through the same half a dozen casts only to find yourself doing the same again just a fleeting two or three hours later. Talk about not knowing when you're well off.
As I run through the borderlands, blowing my warhorn for those few seconds of swiftness, trying to stay in the bubble around the commander and not fall back to the straggling tail, what wouldn't I give now for some good old Spirit of Wolf.
Extended, of course.