Friday, January 21, 2022

History of the Erudites Part II: Everquest

At one time it was possible to follow the cultural and physical evolution of the races of Everquest across three games, EQOA set 500 years before EQ, EQ and EQ II which is set 500 years after EQ.  For most races there weren't particularly interesting changes from one game to the next, most of the changes relating to the quality of the character models available.  However in the erudites we can witness a profound set of physical changes as the race is slowly altered by their close association with magic.  There are also dramatic shifts the Erudite society during the 1000 years the games cover.  You can find Part I of this series here.

Erudites in the time of Everquest: civil war and the first cataclysm 

In the time of Everquest, we see the first clear signs that magical experiments are beginning to alter erudites on a genetic level.  While they still have hair, they gained noticeably larger foreheads than even the most naturally "five headed" of normal humans.  Presumably this reflects their brains beginning to expand, as their high starting intelligence (compared to most races in Everquest) begins to be due not only differences in cultural traditions and educational systems, but also differences in physical characteristics.   Always a tall and thin race of men, they are now starting to look not just regal but also a bit alien with their bulging craniums.

Erudites from the character selection screen in EQ.  Tall humans that are slender and dark skinned.  In this time period they are still fairly normal looking humans, save for their greatly expanded craniums.

In EQOA, high men started in the city of Highbourne, a city along the coast of Tunaria south of Quenyos.  The city seems to have been completely abandoned by the time of EQ.  It may have been somewhere in the modern Southern Plains of Karana, or it may have been swallowed when the much smaller lake Rathe, that appears on maps of EQOA , expanded into modern Lake Rathetear. However, the most interesting change since the time of EQOA is that there is now been a rift between the erudites that study most forms of magic and those that study necromancy.  

The part of their brains that seems to have expanded to most is the cerebrum, associated with higher brain functions such as reasoning, language and learning.  The 500 year gap that separates EQOA and EQ is not nearly long enough to have wrought such dramatic changes via organic evolution, representing perhaps 30 or 35 generations.  We can only assume that this rapid evolution represents the influence of magic, something that will become even more clear 500 years hence when we revisit erudites in the time of EQ II.

In the time of EQOA, players that studied all forms of magic lived in the same settlements.  The fact that one of the main NPCs that necromancers interact with in Highbourne at higher levels was a little hidden away hints that this may have been a somewhat uneasy alliance.  Nonetheless, High Men of all faiths and professions were still working towards common goals, and were part of the great crossing when the race began its migration to Odus from the mainland of Tunaria.   The settlement they founded on Odus, originally Arcadin, was renamed Erudin some time after the great leader Erud died.  During the time period of EQ this elegant city is where most erudites can be found, and where players of erudite Wizards, Enchanters, Magicians, Paladins and Clerics of most gods start.

Erudin, where erudites of most classes used to start.  An elegant city reflecting an enlightened people. Of course now mebers of all races and classes start in the neutral city of Crescent Reach by default.

However, players that choose to play a Necromancer, a Shadowknight, or a Cleric that worships Cazic-Thule are no longer welcome in Erudin with their brethren.  Instead they start in the city of Paineel or in the neutral city of Crescent Reach.  In fact, players from Paineel are so despised by other erudites that they are kill-on-sight to guards in Erudin.  This is also where the erudite lore starts to get really interesting.  According to multiple sources, the founding of Paineel was related to a civil war caused by erudites that recklessly pursued necromantic magic. 

The ruins of old Paineel.  Paineel is the city where erudite necromancers and shadowkights used to start.  I assume these are the ruins of an older settlement beneath the city.  I ended up here after trying to jump down to the city proper from the edge of the Hole.  Since the character I was taking screenshots with is not friendly enough with the local guards, none of them were willing to give him a copy of the key to the secret elevator leading there from Toxxulia Forest.  Getting around in EQ is often the opposite of convenient. Everquest is a game that still flies its oldschool MUD roots proudly, which I actually find delightful when I'm in the right mood for it.

The story (which you  read more of here) goes that an Erudite named Miragul was obsessed with dark magic and personal power.  Followers of Miragul visited the Dark Elf city of Neriak, and returned with knowledge of both necromancy and the god Cazic-Thule (the god of fear).  Miragul's followers concluded that Cazic-Thule was the strongest god, and the best way to serve him was through necromancy. When the high council of Erudin  discovered what they had been up to, it led to a civil war.  The followers of the high council  eventually won the war to all intents and purposes with a blast of magical power focused on the largest concentration of forces in Miragul's army.  So great was the power of this blast that it ejected part of Odus into space.*  Miragul's followers were presumed killed by the victorious inhabitants of Erudin.  However a few survived and founded a new hidden city, Paineel, deep within the crater created by the blast.  There they can be found to this day, in a city populated by more animated skeletal servants and guards than by live erudites.

 I find this story really fascinating, because I know that it isn't true. . . or is at least extremely misleading.  I have been to the past (EQOA), during the time of the great crossing.  At the time erudites already had a long history of necromancy, and necromancers worked alongside practitioners of every magical tradition.  Erud himself embraced followers studying all forms of magic, including necromancy, and worshipping any gods.  In the screenshot of him for my previous post, if I remember correctly I was even talking to him while playing a Shadowknight!  So what really happened? 

The famed library of Erud.  According to several sources, it is the largest and most famous library in all of Norrath, It's filled with merchants selling spells, and I presume in the launch era used to have one of the better selections available anywhere.  In the modern game, this function has been supplanted by the Plane of Knowledge.

I suspect that it was not the followers of Miragul that caused the rift, but an intolerant high council of Erudin that tried to outlaw necromancy, holding that only elemental, arcane and holy magic was fit for civilized society.  When erudite Shadowknights and Necromancers tried to protest these changes, their calls fell on deaf ears.  The eventual result was a civil war and a cataclysm.  

The cataclysm itself was probably the nearly inevitable result of a war between arcane and necromantic spellcasters.  Presumably in any prolonged conflict with necromancers, things soon start to go quite badly for the opposition.  Anyone that falls and leaves a body in either army during the fighting is raised from the dead and added to the ranks of the necromancers.  Perhaps desperate to end the battle in a way that wouldn't leave even more fodder for undead soldiers, the followers of the high council of Erudin resorted to a concentrated blast of pure magic.  However, they seem to have underestimated the power they harnessed, nearly cracking the planet asunder.  The explosion left an enormous crater, and the dust thrown up probably caused a period of global cooling (similar to volcanic winters) and famine from failed crops across Norrath.  Ironically, it was the practitioners of arcane magic that nearly destroyed all life on Norrath during the conflict, not the "evil" necromancers.

From the entrance of the crater leading to Paineel, you can see this intriguing structure separated from you across a chasm.  I am not sure whether it's part of Paineel or something else.  The crater formed by destructive magic during the erudite civil war is referred to as the Hole, though this chasm is only part of it (most of it, the Hole proper, is a zone connected to this one).

The story of Miragul's followers sneaking off to learn about necromancy from the sadistic Dark Elves is probably just propaganda written by the victors after the war.  But clearly there was a change in policy towards necromancy at some point.  So why the sudden change after hundreds of years of coexistence between all schools of magic in Highborn, Arcadin and later Erudin? Perhaps the followers of  Quellious, the goddess of peace, decided that they could no longer coexist beside followers of Cazic Thule.  Or perhaps the association between necromancy and sadistic and brutish races such as dark elves, ogres and trolls became an embarrassment to some faction that sought a closer relationship with students of arcane magic among the High Elves.  Or perhaps the followers of Miragul truly did do something abhorrent that triggered the war.  We will likely never know what really happened, since history is written by the victors and in this case they seem to be lying. 

A brand new level 2 Erudite Mage in the tutorial area, with his pet and a free mercenary (the later makes the modern game a lot easier solo experience than it was a decade ago). Erudites were always one of my favorite races for Magicians. They have high Int, so a deep mana pool, and they learn magical skills extremely quickly.  Of course in the modern game starting stats make little difference, because even a Troll or an Ogre is going to have capped Int. by the ripe old age of level 19 or so if they focus on it. However, at least in places like Project 1999 I would imagine it's still a consideration.

Regardless, by the time of EQ, the story of the evil Miragul and his followers causing the great war has become broadly accepted as truth.  Even the erudites that live in Paineel seem to believe it, and to revel in the fact that despite the best efforts of powerful foes they survived the cataclysm and have prospered in their own way.  However the test of erudite resilience is far from over.  Though the cataclysm was dramatic, even that planet shaking event will pale before the next disaster that erudites will contribute to.  

My next and final post in this series will be about erudites in the time of EQ II, 500 years in the future.  I originally was going to cover EQ and EQ II in this one.  However after I got done typing up the absolute bare minimum I wanted to say about erudites in the time of EQ, I had a full blog post. 

*This chunk of Odus it landed on Luclin carrying some Kerrans, a race of feline humanoids that lived on Odus before the high men arrived.  The descendants of these Kerrans later evolved into the Vah Shir.  Of course this is a vast oversimplification.  To read about what really happened to the Kerrans and the history of Erudite colonialism, see the first comment below from Bhagpuss.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

History of the Erudite Race I: Everquest Online Adventures

The Erudites are a humanoid race in the Everquest series of games.  It's actually one of the more original races in the game, with no direct analogues in fantasy fiction I am aware of, though they did borrow somewhat from Tolkien's Dunedain. By traveling through Everquest Online Adventures, Everquest, and Everquest II it once was possible to witness their evolution first hand, as they gradually evolved from regal but normal looking humans to a hairless and somewhat alien looking race. EQOA is no longer with us, but I took a bunch of screenshots of it the last few days it was up.*  And so I present the first post in a planned series on the history of Erudites across three games.

Erudites in the time of Everquest Online Adventures: the High Men

EQOA was set 500 years before the original EQ.  Several things were noticeably different.  For example the wood elves and high elves had not yet diverged into separate races, and many bits of geography mentioned only in lore in EQ were still around to be visited. Perhaps the most noticeable difference was the erudites. 

Male and Female Erudites from the character creation screen of EQOA. While they have prominent foreheads, they also still appear quite human
Originally the Erudites of all professions lived together in one city, Highbourne, on the same continent as the other human cities, south of Quenyos on the coast.  They also referred to themselves as "High Men."  Though taller, thinner and darker skinned than most humans, they didn't really appear to be a distinct race from human at this time (at least not the the same degree as barbarians and humans, for example). If you looked around  Highbourne, you could stumble across this mysterious figure in a shrine: 

Duke Morthalis, a mysterious NPC in a part of the city of Highbourne that only Necromancers and Shadowknights were likely to go to.

I assume he granted class quests to erudite necromancers at higher levels than I ever made it to.  However, the presence of this somewhat secret NPC hinted at the rift that was to divide the erudite race in the future.  When EQOA first came out, high men were confined to the mainland.  However, if you went to the shore you could find boatbuilders talking about preparations for founding a new colony in lands to the west, over the sea. 

This stone greeted you when you first traveled to the new colony of Erudites, founded on the island of Odus.

The new landmass, the Island of Odus, was added with the first and only EQOA expansion: Frontiers. Erud was the leader of the high men in the time of EQOA.  The stretch of sea in between the mainland and Odus is referred to as Erud's Crossing in some later maps. Erud founded a colony on the island,  which he named Arcadin.  However, some time after his death the name of the city that sprung up from it was changed to Erudin in his honor.  Erud had such a profound impact on the cultural development of high men that members of the race were generally known as Erudites in later years, regardless of whether they lived in Erudin proper or other parts of Norrath. 

Erud, for whom the Erudites (i.e., followers of Erud) are named.

In the time of EQOA, you could talk to Erud by travelling to Arcadin.  If you had played the original Everquest, it was kind of that fantasy equivalent of getting to chat with George Washington.  When you talked to him, Erud gave the following speech:**

Behold you bear witness to the founding of Arcadin!

[Response: " What is Arcadin exactly?]

Now it is but a humble beginning, stone and wood slowly being fitted together to reveal the shadow of what is to come.  I have envisioned a great metropolis, one that will span for miles across the land and stretch upwards to the heavens.  It is here that we will give birth to the epicenter of enlightenment,  arcane mastery and discipline, and prosperity in peace. 

Enlightenment, prosperity, and peace. The are the elements upon which Arcadin is founded and destined to uphold.  And not just the people of Highbourne shall bask in the glory of this place. Nay, for this is our gift to the world. All beings who share a thirst for enlightenment and bear within their souls the pursuit of peace and mortal righteousness . . . it is them who are welcome as friend and citizen. She will hold them dear, for it is they who are her lifeblood and her pulse. 

This is my vision, this is our intent and it will be done for no being stands above the cause . . .And none who strive in parallel of her goal . . be them high man, elf, dwarf or man . . are beyond her reach.

As NPC speeches went in EQOA it was a heck of a long one.  For any kind of Everquest lore grognard, the whole encounter was also a guaranteed nerdgasm.  

High men had the highest starting Intelligence of any race in the EQOA. Intelligence determined the size your mana pool, and I believe also affected the chances that mobs would resist your spells.  Oddly, dexterity determined how much damage spells did.  Regardless, the high starting Int. made high men a good choice for wizards, magicians, necromancers and enchanters. They were also an interesting choice for a Shadowknight, the racial option that yielded the strongest possible spellcasting ability for the class.  

Magic was central to the culture of high men, an association so intimate that it eventually began to affect their physical evolution. High men were very much a neutral race in the time of EQOA, fully embracing all forms of magic. Practitioners of elemental magic, enchantments and illusions, as well as both holy and death magic, all lived together in several communities in western Norrath.  However, what started as different areas of intellectual interest soon became philosophical differences, and later led to real conflicts.  Eventually followers of the necromantic arts were banished from Erudin entirely.  
My next planned post is on Erudites, as the high men came to be known,  in the time of Everquest.  Though given my current spare time quota, I can't put a timetable on it!

*Apologies for the quality of these "screenshots", they are actually photos of my old CRT television.

**Yes, I did sit in front of my TV and transcribe the speech word for word.