Saturday, June 4, 2022

History of the Erudites Part III: Everquest 2

This is the final post in a series about the Erudite race across three games.  You can find part one here, which covers Erudites during the time of EQOA 500 years before Everquest.  Part two here covers Erudites dring the time of the original Everquest.  This final post covers them during the time of Everquest II, set 500 years after the original game.  

A male Erudite from EQ II. The race has been altered so much by years of close association with magic that they are beginning to take on a rather alien appearance. Erudites of this era are completely hairless, and have skin and eye coloration far outside the human norm. They also still have the highest starting intelligence of any race, expanded cranial volume apparently no longer being necessary for this heightened mental capacity.   

Erudites began as a regal race of dark skinned but fairly normal looking  humans based out of the city of Highborn, on the shores of Antonica south of Quenyos.  During the time of EQOA they colonized the Isle of Odus to the west.  Always a race of mages and magic using warriors, by the time of Everquest  their long association with magic had begun to alter them on a physical level.  Members of both genders showed greatly expanded craniums and foreheads, indicating a vast expansion of the brain areas responsible for language and reason. By the time of Everquest II this process has gone much further.  They no longer have expanded craniums, but in other ways Erudites of this era have begun to look positively alien.  Now completely hairless, their skin tones tend towards towards shades of gray or bone white, their eyes no longer appear wholly human, and under certain lighting their skin now glistens with a faint metallic sheen.  Tattoos have also become extremely commonplace.  However they mark themselves with magical glyphs rather than ink, and the designs can only be clearly seen under bright light.

The city of Paineel, near where you first arrive.

The history of the race since the time of EQ has also been eventful. EQ II is set after a mysterious cataclysm that destroyed much of Norrath and reduced former continents to a series of archipelagos.  When EQ II launched the homeland of the Erudites on Isle of Odus had apparently been completely destroyed, and Erudite players were forced to start in one of two primarily human cities.  However, during the 6th expansion of EQII, Sentinels of Fate, it was revealed that Odus had not been completely destroyed.  Instead, a disaster involving teleportation spires transported the island into a pocket dimension.   For decades or centuries the inhabitants of this dimension were isolated from the rest of Norrath.  However at the beginning of Sentinels of Fate the Erudites inhabiting the ruins of Odus were able to reactivate a dormant teleportation spire in the city of Paineel.  

The Sundered Frontier, one of the two major landmasses that remains after most of Odus was destroyed in yet another magical accident that the Erudites caused.  Like most zones released during this era of EQ II, this "zone" is actually a large region containing many different areas with distinct biomes and separate quest lines.

During the time of EQ Paineel was inhabited solely by Necromancers, Shadowknights and Clerics of Cazic-Thule (god of fear).  However,  when you are able to travel there 500 years later you find a city that is also inhabited by wizards, enchanters, and even paladins.  As during the time of EQOA, practitioners of all forms of magic and worshipers of both Cazic-Thule and Quellious (goddess of peace) now once again live and work side-by-side as a single people. At first no explanation for this state of affairs is given.  However, after questing for several evenings, a NPC reveals the story of the final cataclysm of Odus.  The Paineel of EQ II is the third city to bear the name.  It was rebuilt after an accident involving teleportation spires built by the Erudites transported Odus into a pocket dimension called Ultera. Ultera exists between the prime plane, where most of Norath still lies, and a plane of void.   Though most of Odus and the surrounding islands were unstable in this new area of extraplanar space, the connection to the Plane of Underfoot beneath the ruins of Paineel created a large stable area of land. Here, under the leadership of necromancers, Paineel was rebuilt for a third time.  

The character I played through Sentinels of Fate with, a Necromancer now in the mid 90s. I did finally figure out what familiars are about, that space octopus boosts all of my stats by 12% and will grow stronger as I level it.  

At first the rivalry and isolation of the two factions of Erudites seems to have continued in Ultera.  However, this was disrupted by intelligent beings from the realm of void.  They appeared to the leaders of Erudin, and at first seemed friendly.  However, one-by-one the leaders of Erudin became possessed by these evil beings. By the time anyone outside the inner circle of Erudin elites realized what was happening, it was too late to save the city.   Erudin was captured without so much as a battle, and those few followers of Quellious that remained untainted were forced to flee.  The inhabitants of Paineel, showing remarkable kindness of a city full of "evil necromancers", took in the refugees. Though the Erudite race is now in exile from their greatest city, it is once again united.

It took me more than a week of evenings to make it far enough in the Sentinels of Fate questlines that any NPCs would explain to me what happened to Odus since the time of EQ.  Here, one of these NPCs is describing how the remnants of Odus were sucked into a pocket dimension called Ultera, which is connected to the Void.

The Erudites that you encounter in the shattered remains of Odus are truly neutral, caring for little but knowledge.  They do have their own odd sense of honor.  For example self sacrifice, even dying, to preserve knowledge is considered a noble and necessary act under certain circumstances.  However, in most ways that count the Erudites of EQ II are completely amoral.  They place almost no value on the lives of most humanoid races, and those few Erudites that are even aware of the other races that inhabit the Sundered Frontier seem to consider them of little importance.  Though they don't go out of their way to persecute outsiders, the inhabitants of Paineel will kill anyone that seems to threaten their society or their individual scholarly pursuits without the slightest regret.  Many of the experiments they conduct, especially into the inner workings of death and resurrection, would be considered depraved by members of races such as men and elves.  Even the deaths of other Erudites involved in this work are taken completely in stride.*
This village of Kerrans lies on a small island isolated from the larger landmass that contains Paineel.

Because of their moral ambivalence, the other two humanoid races that share the remains of Odus with with the Erudites avoid all direct contact with Paineel.  The cat like Kerrans confine themselves to an island which they only leave occasionally to gather supplies.  They also keep a small force of spies near Paineel to make certain that no threats issue forth from it.  Another race of humanoid pandas have a small community in the village of Hua Mein.  It lies in a valley which is hidden from the rest of Odus by powerful magic. The Erudites of Paineel seem to believe they succeeded in a war of extermination against the race of Hua Mein several hundred years ago, and the modern villagers are careful to maintain this fiction.  In order to enter the valley you need to perform a series of tasks proving that you are willing to lie to the inhabitants of Paineel and help the Hua Mein avoid discovery.

The island is protected by these magical devices, which also maintain the same physical conditions on the island that it experienced before yet another magical accident caused by the Erudites transported Odus and the surrounding islands into the Ultera.  The Kerran's have little direct contact with the Erudites of Paineel, who in turn completely ignore the Kerrans.

In the Erudites of EQ II we see a race completely transformed by the reckless pursuit of knowledge.  Both physically and philosophically, they are now quite alien from the other human races.   Their resilience is admirable in a way.  After each cataclysm they rebuild and continue to gather ever greater knowledge as they always have.  However, this quest for knowledge is so single minded and so heedless of the damage that it causes that Erudites as a race are only a step removed from truly selfish and sadistic races such as the Trolls and Dark Elves.  Though not truly evil, no-one could mistake them for a force of good.

The inhabitants of Hua Mein, another humanoid race that was nearly destroyed by the Erudites centuries ago.  It is unclear what the two races were in conflict over.  However, the Erudites clearly believe they completely destroyed this race, a fiction which the villagers of Hua Mein are eager to maintain. As an aside, whether this race was "inspired" by the Pandaran's of World of Warcraft is unclear. Mists of Pandaria was also not even announced until 2011, so it seems unlikely to have been a direct inspiration. Kung Fu Panda came out about the time development of this expansion likely got underway.  The movie came out in 2008 and the expansion was released on 2010, but my guess is that too is a coincidence.  Trying to appeal to the same demographics as a children's movie seems as though it would have been an odd choice for this rather complex MMO.  

Perhaps more than any other race, Erudites have often proven themselves a dire threat to all of Norrath.  When they colonized Odus in the time of EQOA, they pushed aside the native races that inhabited the area without a thought, treating them no better than wild beasts.  Some time after, a magical war between two factions of Erudites nearly destroyed the world.  Finally, in between the events of EQ and EQII they again caused a major cataclysm, this time involving experiments with the teleportation spires.  Odus was ripped from the world into another dimension, and  whether this played any role in the wider cataclysm that so drastically transformed the rest of Norrath is unclear. However, even if the Erudites knew for a fact that they had caused this devastating event, seemingly very few would regret it. Knowledge is the only master they truly revere.  This is a race that would have been delighted to discover the atom bomb, or something even worse.  

Series Wrap Up

Erudites are an interesting fantasy race in a game where every other playable race in launch EQ was "borrowed" from first edition AD&D.**  Even Barbarians were a class in AD&D Unearthed Arcana. It's mainly in the Erudites where we get a truly original fantasy race. They have few analogues in other games or fantasy fiction in general that I am aware of.  Their accelerated physical evolution due to connections with magic is especially unusual, and I find the fact that it is an Easter egg you can only experience by playing three completely separate MMOs delightful.  

I can only think of a handful of game series like Star Wars and Elder Scrolls where it's possible to time travel by moving back and forth between different games, and in most of them the changes from one time period to the next are mainly cosmetic.  Not so Everquest.  In only 1000 years we see a world radically transformed by a series of magical cataclysms.  The world map of EQOA is completely unrecognizable by the time of EQ II, much like a map of planet earth during the Triassic era bears almost no landmarks recognizable to modern eyes.  The races and classes you can play also change a good bit from one game to the next. Deeply associated with magic, and themselves responsible for many world shaking events, no race has been transformed during the history of Norrath as much as the Erudites.  Though they have friendly relations with many "good" races such as the humans and elves, for those races that live near them such as the Kerrans Erudites have also embodied the worst aspects of humanity.  The Erudite legacy is one of towering achievements in the magical arts, particularly the construction of the spires linking Norrath, Luclin and planes beyond.  But it is also a legacy of colonialism and perhaps even attempted genocide in the case of the Hua Mein.  

The singular focus of Erudites on the pursuit of knowledge above all else also is both admirable and tragic. It's an admirable fictional counter example to our world, where where members of different political parties have stopped even agreeing on fundamental reality.  But Erudite history also reflects how badly things can go when the pursuit of knowledge and the power than comes with it is not balanced by any sense of morality. Even the banning of "evil" necromantic arts from the city of Erudin during the time of EQ comes across as hypocritical.  Time and time again it was the practitioners of other forms of magic that truly threatened the world. In the end it was the city of Paineel that was the last major refuge of the race and all the knowledge they collected.

*I don't mean to convey that Sentinels of Fate is some sort of grimdark expansion.  These deaths are very much played for darkly humorous laughs in the questlines that involve them.

**Undoubtedly this is because DikuMUD also drew so heavily on AD&D.  AD&D in turn borrowed heavily from Tolkien of course, but the precise collection of races and classes in launch EQ is very much 1st Edition AD&D.  For example, Dark Elves first appeared in the AD&D Fiend Folio. Races and classes added in expansions, starting with Kunark, were much more likely to be original to the setting.  For example Iskar and Beastmasters don't closely resemble anything in AD&D I can think of.