With the release of Omens of War, SOE began a new system for delivering spells. This system offered many advantages. Spells rewarded by turning in runes came out in a certain order and ensured that a player never received duplicate spells. Runes for 66, 67, and 68 runes were dropable and, although expensive, cost the same price regardless of what spell was returned within each level. There was no price gouging for Conviction like there was for Virtue back during PoP. This resulted in a much more stable reward system for spells than previous expansions.
69 and 70 spells, however, have proved difficult to acquire. Unlike the others, 69 and 70 runes are no-drop. You must receive them in battle in a select set of areas within Omens of War.
It is important to understand the scope of this topic. The difficulty of acquiring 69 and 70 spells probably only effects a small group of players but only SOE can tell us exactly how many players this effects. SOE can take a look at the number of level 69 and 70 spellcasters who have level 69 and 70 spells and compare them to those who do not. If most casters have them, than this isn't as big a problem as it might appear. If, however, most casters do not have their spells, it is worth considering an alternative.
Often when this topic comes up, one statement pops up without fail: Spells are the same as the weapons and armor a non-caster must acquire and sometimes this armor is just as difficult to acquire.
Spells are not the same as weapons and armor. They are a different entity worthy of a different solution than simply labeling them "loot" and adding them to the same system as weapons, armor, and augments. Each spell is often vastly different than other spells.
Spells are but one element to a caster's upgrade path. Like all other classes, casters must improve their equipment with armor upgrades, mana upgrades, mana regeneration upgrades, and focus effects. While casters improve primarily with spell upgrades, gear matters for casters as much as it does for other classes.
But sometimes spells ARE loot. If we look at expansions like Ykesha, Lost Dungeons, Gates of Discord, and Dragons of Norrath, we don't see the base progressive spells we see in Kunark, Planes of Power, and Omens of War. We see new spells that improve us beyond the basic abilities of our traditional spells.
As spellcasters level up, they will find they require new spells in order to perform effectively. As we grow we need new blasts, new heals, new armor spells, new slows, pacifications, and mezzes. Without them, we are worse off than we were at the lower level since the battles in which we fight are balanced around the spells we are supposed to have.
The problem with 69 and 70 spells is in the sheer number of them. Most classes have ten to twelve spells above level 69. This isn't a matter of getting lucky on one or two drops, a caster must receive ten to twelve level 69 and 70 runes to receive all of the upgraded spells for their class. Looking back at the comparison for loot, no warrior has to loot ten swords in order to receive the one that makes him more useful.
The real problem with 69 and 70 spells is availability. 69 and 70 spells drop in five zones: Wall of Slaughter, Ruined City of Dranik, Muramite Proving Grounds, the MPG single-group trials, and Riftseekers. They also drop off of multi-group beasts in areas such as Bloodfields and Noble's Causeway but we will focus on single-group drops in this article.
The drop rate in Wall of Slaughter, Ruined City of Dranik, and the Muramite Proving Grounds is so low as to make it pointless to hunt there with the intention of acquiring 69 and 70 runes.
For example, in the Muramite Proving Grounds, one might see a 69 or 70 rune drop once every nine hours per named mob. Considering that groups often have at least four of their members seeking these runes and that a caster needs ten to twelve of these runes to reach the end of his or her spell lines, it might take 360 hours to get all of these spells. Assuming a group can clear two spawn locations, you're still looking at 180 hours. This doesn't include group downtime, travel time, recovery time, LFG time, or any other factor that will likely increase that time.
And that's the average.
Considering that this is a random drop off of a rare mob then awarded on a random loot roll with the other members, the odds are very low per drop. These odds also reset every hunt. You aren't earning points towards spell drops each hunt, you are just hoping that this time you might get lucky.
In a recent post on the topic, Rytan, SOE's spell guru, mentions that the MPG single-group trials have the best drop rate average at one rune per 90 minutes. However, with a two hour lockout per trial and a reported drop rate of one rune per three trials, the drop rate is more like one rune every six hours. Add that to the odds that at least two others in your group also require their runes and you're back to 180 hours of Trial hunting to get all level 69 and 70 spells.
This leaves Riftseeker's Sanctum. This zone drops runes on average of once every 2.66 hours per rare spawn location. If we assume two cleared spawn locations and the same three people per group requiring spells we come up with forty hours for the total spell line. That's a great improvement over the 135 in MPG and the 180 in MPG trials.
This leads to one conclusion. If you want your 69 and 70 spells, hunt in Riftseekers. It is the only reliable way to earn 69 and 70 spell drops with any reasonable return and even there it is based only on luck.
Let's step back a moment and talk about what SOE can do in the future to improve the spell drop situation. I agree that while spells aren't exactly direct loot, they are not to be handed out for no effort at all. On the other hand, new spells are one of the primary reasons people level up and to deny them those spells hurts their motivation to progress.
Here are a few recommendations to improve spell progression in the future:
Split spells up into "have" spells and "have-not" spells. "Have" spells are the base spells each class needs to do their primary job and are easier to acquire. "Have-not" spells include minor upgrades to the "have" spells, convenience spells like group buffs, and secondary spell lines for that class. "Have-not" spell are harder to acquire.
Only drop ancient spells on raids. Don't use raids as a path for non-raid spell progression. Come up with a set of spells that primarily benefit raiders on raids and don't unbalance group encounters. Hsagra's wrath and the giant bane spells of Velious are good examples.
Offer solo quests or single group missions that reward the "have" spells and make the rewards droppable. Offer alternative spell progression paths once newer expansions make older no-drop spells harder to acquire. Find a new way to distribute spells older than two expansions.
Offer at least one or two spells per level that are easily acquirable to help reward casters for leveling up. Spells are a primary reason casters level up. While not every spell should be available at every level, one or two spells per level would help motivate casters to level.
Spells are a complex topic. Most discussions try to oversimplify exactly what they are or how they should drop. There is no clear conclusion to these arguments. Each spell is unique and must be considered and balanced against other spells and other items not just in power but in acquisition. Time for me to get back to Riftseeker's.
8 May 2005