Interviewing an Asheron’s Call Shard Slayer: On griefing, doxxing, losing mates, and winning MMOs
Last month, I put together an article and pair of videos discussing Asheron’s Call’s Shard of the Herald event to celebrate the game’s first deathiverary. It was a bittersweet experience for me, as it was not only my first MMO but the game that taught me a lot about life, and a lot of those lessons occurred during the Shard event.
Naturally there was some good nostalgia in there for fellow AC players, but apparently for some families as well. Someone claiming to be the son of Vidorian, the infamous Shard Slayer recruited by Turbine to end the event in a way that would respect the lore they built, reached out to us in the comments section. A quick chat with her verified that yes, she was the infamous savior of Bael’Zharon, and she agreed to answer some of my questions about the event. Even better, she’s provided us an unseen screenshot of the event! More than a decade after release, I feel like I’ve learned a lot more about what occurred behind the scenes of one of the seminal in-game events of our early genre.
One thing I didn’t mention in the original write-up was that many people had considered Vidorian to be an unkind person. I’d seen her around town and messaged her a few times, including after she slew the shard, but she never responded. As she was a monarch (guild leader), I just figured she was busy. I’d never personally seen her do or say anything that would make me think otherwise.
When we talked about real life, she had cute stories of her son, being unable to read yet, gaining tons of followers in beta by silently following people around as they fought and healing them. When he started to read, he reported that he’d been killed by a “vegetarian reedshark.” She loved how the original AC had such a flexible skills system but stopped playing mostly because she didn’t like competing with macroers/bots. Two friends liked the sequel, though she thought it shouldn’t have had a “2” in its name. She’s had tons of gaming adventures, bonded with her fellow gamers, but felt the pain of losing one in real life. Though she played Lord of the Rings Online for a time (and even bumped into one of the AC developers there), losing her gaming buddy clearly left a mark on her. Vidorian, then and now, comes off as a fun, normal person, but also a super fan of the game, if not gaming as a hobby.
In-game, though, it seems I may have been too generous. Vid was an admitted griefer and “ass.” In fact, she had griefed fellow beta tester “Nei,” who went on to become the legendary Turbine employee Jesse “Devilmouse” Kurlancheek, one of the developers who frequently got to control lore characters, including Bael’Zharon, the ultimate baddie Vidorian released from the shard.
Prior to AC, Vid was in a clan for Rainbow 6 as “VegasVid” and playing with her friends VegasButch (RIP), VegasMaster, and VegasEdge (“Crusher” in AC). As Vid was a Systems Operator for MSN Gaming Zone (which hosted the game’s launch page before Turbine bought themselves back from Microsoft), she’d gotten a Beta 0 invite. Her friends were in Beta 1. With them alongside her, she’d felt “invulnerable.”
And I understand her feeling. Having friends and communicating with voice chat (the phone in those days, for her and myself) gave people a huge advantage. I remember my friends and I, as brand new characters on the game’s only PvP server, actually were able to hold a starter town for well over an hour while the game was still fairly popular, killing twinks and mains simply because we could coordinate traps (like a high-health, high-dodge “newbie” standing near something to break line of sight, so our glass ranged characters hidden behind cover could quickly snipe people).
I was a kid, though. I wasn’t playing on my main server, and my parents rarely allowed me to use the phone and internet at the same time. Vid was playing for keeps, having come from one of the best Rainbow 6 clans. She and her teammates spent “hundreds of dollars” on phone bills since she understood the advantage of timely teamwork. She was even credited in the official AC player’s guide. But it didn’t end there.
“[If] you pissed me off, I’d follow you around for days, tagging/taking all your kills until you apologized or swore allegiance to me for a few levels,” she told me. On a roleplaying level, the latter might be interesting, but Vid was a power gamer. Her crew of four was top tier, clearing/camping new content as soon as it arrived. As she put it, “I was hated before the event, but after the event, I was loathed.”
Secrets of The Gauntlet
As I’d mentioned before, long before the actual shard event, Turbine had offered monarchs a chance to complete “The Gauntlet,” some kind of challenge that allowed the chosen players to swear fealty to some shadowy figures in exchange for some unique loot (which apparently broke on Vidorian the first time she used it). It was also said to be Turbine’s back-up plan to resolve any potential upcoming issues by having players who participated in the game’s lore help out the devs in game to ensure that the game’s story would stay unified, instead of allowing each server to have its own unique story.
The problem was that very few people qualified. Two rejected it because it didn’t align with their roleplay objectives, and only two people completed it: Blackthorn and Vidorian, both from Thistledown. Very little is known about what it actually entailed, and admittedly after so much time has passed, we have to admit that some things may be forgotten or misremembered (Vidorian named a “Drex” of Thistledown as having rejected the invitation due to RP reasons, but she probably meant Fafhrd, as he was well known for roleplaying and there are screenshots with his talk with the “good” lore characters as his reward for refusing to give in to temptation).
Naturally, I had to ask what Vidorian remembered of the event. She said she understood what she was doing lore-wise but felt that even the devs didn’t know it would be part of the live lore. Of the actual test, she said:
“I was on 56k dial-up at the time. I was warned [that] if I died, there would be no way to retrieve my body. I had really great gear that would have dropped when I died, but I took the gamble anyway. The lag was horrible. I kept getting rubber banded and [my] PC eventually lagged out completely. The event was timed. I got back in as fast as I could and was running against the side of a mountain with under 10hp. I healed up and continued on.
“Lots of enemies casting spells made normal lag even worse. I finished with only a couple minutes to spare. I think a lot who tried and failed attempted to fight their way threw it. I knew that, as a Melee class with only item magic, my only chance was to run for my life. Which is what I did. It was a large mountain that I had to find my way up. I ran into several dead ends and had to go back down and start over. The creatures posed a risk, but falling death was also a great risk. I slid down several times and almost died. If memory serves, it was a 60-minute time limit.
“When I got to the top, an admin RPing as a servant of Bhal directed me to open the chest. Inside was a shadow stone. The stones were new and had a bug where they broke too often when putting into a weapon. The first time I put the stone into my dagger, it broke, so it could never be removed without ceasing to exist.”
This is similar to what we’ve heard before about The Gauntlet being timed and on an elevated landscape. We’d previously heard it was 30 minutes and a hill, so this is similar enough, though Vid made no mention of a jump skill check. I’m not surprised that Vid didn’t mention a run speed check of sorts, as rubber banding was a constant issue. I had the highest run speed of anyone I knew in my guild (which was why I delivered pizzas and ran other, um, running-based tasks), but on bad lag days, it didn’t matter: Other people could outrun me or mobs would be hitting me even if they were barely on my radar. As Vidorian is one of two people in the entire world who actually finished the challenge, her word holds some hefty weight on the subject.
The Defense and the Attack
As we’ve said before, Vidorian as a person was a member of the Shard Defense team. Fellow player Mythrandia (RIP) had previously said as much, stating that Vidorian had sworn not to attack the shard, but later told him that she’d only sworn in on her character named “Vid,” not her main, the actual shard slayer. When I brought this up, Vidorian essentially repeated what Myth had told us. When asked if she specifically wanted to clarify anything we’d heard from him, she said, “I won’t speak ill of Myth. He was an amazing player and a fine young man. He had a real knack for figuring stuff out as well as finding exploits. […] When I went to help defend as Vid a few people said I was only there to kill Harry. So I gave my word as I Vid would never attack Harry. Vid and Vidorian were two separate accounts and I played them as two separate accounts. Vid was on my husband’s and son’s account. From an RP perspective, I kept my word.”
At this point, I think I should also note that Myth was a troubled person with an ego – at least according to people who gamed with him. His rambling post, which actually is quite revealing, was posted on The Escapist out of the blue about a decade after the event, confusing several site-goers. It’s always been both highly informative and dubious. Normal people already misremember things or may say/do things to inflate their ego. Myth sadly was someone known to have these traits stand out. Luckily, Vidorian’s comments do seem to help corroborate some of his story.
As we know, Turbine eventually saw that Thistledown’s defense would win the day. Vid notes that “a lot of people chose to ignore that, without bug exploits, Harry could not have been defended.” While Vid is correct that there was a portal bug that was being abused, she felt that people sacrificing themselves to the shard was an exploit. It should be noted, however, that this was a game feature, as not only were creatures able to level up but able to choose to raise their own stats. Still, it was probably not a feature the developers had seen used in such a dramatic way.
That being said, Vid told me that the shard actually became unkillable “in the early days.” She says that during that time, late night raiders would make their move, kill the one or two defenders on duty, then spend hours alone with the shard only to fail. “In the last couple weeks, no one had to defend him.”
Here is where the developers stepped in. When I asked Vidorian how her inclusion in the whole thing went down, she was fairly nonchalant, saying she thought the developers stepping in with her assistance was really the only option for the game. Interestingly, community manager Dave “Sarneho” Namerow, one of the few devs Vid knew from beta and played with occasionally on a low-level alt prior to the event, messaged her through the MSN Gaming Zone chat and asked if she would be willing to help them take out the shard. Vid agreed and was given a time and date. When she logged in, she was greeted by “a green text roleplay message” saying that she would be summoned to help the imprisoned Bhal’Zharon, her sworn master from the Gauntlet event.
There is one other interesting detail Vidorian mentioned. The Turbine devs also asked whether Vidorian could get in touch with Blackthorn, the only other player who’d completed the Gauntlet. While Myth claims Blackthorn wouldn’t do it because he’d been “turned,” Vidorian offers a different reason: His computer was broken and his new parts hadn’t come in on time. She relayed his regrets and that was that. It’s hard to know whether Myth or Vidorian’s story is the most accurate, or maybe both are true, but we’ve all been there when tech failed us just when we were having our moment of glory.
The actual attack was interesting. As we’ve seen in videos, the developers cast buffs on Vidorian before going in to attack the shard, and… well, failed to beat the defenders and the shard a few times. Vidorian joked that perhaps Jesse/Devilmouse remembered her griefing him in beta and may have chosen to allow her to die a few times. But even if he had, they’d won: Vidorian slew the final Shard of the Herald and helped the developers maintain a single storyline.
As I mentioned Vidorian was well-known on Thistledown before the Shard event. When I saw the announcement, I was disappointed but also understood that somehow the shard would go down, even if I wished the developers would give us a unique storyline. I sent a “GG” message, and like other times I had tried to message her, heard nothing back, assuming she’d been spammed to death anyway and dealing with her guild. But that wasn’t it at all. While Vid’s friends and guildies all thought it was cool that their monarch had been the one to finish the task, other people weren’t so forgiving.
“Every bad thing I had ever done to players was done to me tenfold. There were people whose only goal in life was to make playing impossible for me. [Turbine] had added the notification for friends log in, and you couldn’t turn it off yet, so the moment I would log in, I was bombarded with hate /tells and the hunt to find me and grief me by tagging my kills began. I was forced to play in uninhabited areas, and I eventually just gave up and played my mage. I didn’t take any of it personally. However, I did take it personally when I was doxxed. Someone found my name in the strategy guide, and my phone number was made public. I received a few real-life death threats, which is why I have such a minimal presence online. I learned a hard lesson. I was a young mom back then and it put some real fear into me. I’m very careful what info I put online to this day. [There are a] lot of crazy people in this world.”
Vidorian did mention she still played with Namerow from time to time after the event, even keeping in contact via email for years before losing touch, but didn’t have any contact with any of the other devs after that. She later met lead designer Allan “Orion” Maki during the LOTRO beta, but beyond chatting about how the Turbine team still talked about the event, not much came of it. I also asked whether the griefing (and the retaliation) changed her gaming habits or attitude, but Vidorian admitted that she “remained an ass.”
Clearly, Vidorian wasn’t what we’d consider a “normal MMO gamer.” She’d gotten into beta thanks to her work, was fortunate enough to rub elbows with (future) developers and a game guide writer during that time, and had experienced competitive gaming, bringing that teamwork (and team!) into Dereth with her. She’d spent hundreds of dollars on a game advantage (voice chat), but clearly disliked exploits, cheats, and even gameplay that disrupted the normal flow of the game. She was infamous and still seems to wear her griefer badge with honor but comes across as deeply human, admitting that she doesn’t think she could go back to Asheron’s Call if it were possible due to the loss of a good friend she’d played with there.
Talking to Vidorian was a good reminder of how close developers and players were when our genre was young. The communities were close. Even on Thistledown, one of the more popular servers, I still meet former players whom I had either seen around or knew someone they knew. Remember, I was a teenager at the time, and truth be told, my mother was quite strict about the computer, so I could never have had the opportunity to become a Derethian legend. But even with my limited play time, I virtually met some of the greats, and it’s funny to me now, as an adult, that I get to talk to people I thought were god-like and see that they’re… well, quite human after all.