The Vana’diel Diaries (August 2006)

As I edited this diary I've noticed they're getting longer and longer. It can only be due to more gameplay, further evidence that the hook is in place and I'm being dragged in. I think about everythin

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As I edited this diary I’ve noticed they’re getting longer and longer. It can only be due to more gameplay, further evidence that the hook is in place and I’m being dragged in. I think about everything I’ve heard about those sinking into alcoholism: “I could quit anytime” or “My drinking isn’t a problem.” I don’t mean to make light of alcoholism, far from it, I’m just drawing the parallel.

Anyway, I wanted to re-extend my invitation to anyone playing on Bismarck. Send me a tell sometimeI’d love to hear from some more folks and talk about their experiences in Vana’diel.

New Concepts:

Power-Leveling (PL): A power-leveler is a high-level healer who is not a member of the party and thus doesn’t receive experience. The PL can heal the members of the party, leaving the mages free to perform other tasks. This allows the party to take on more powerful monsters and fight them faster. It may sound kind of cheap, but the practice is in such wide use it’s hard to judge.

July 12

Last night was the big meeting for the AlBhed Primers. The big topic: the AlBhed Primers are no longer the AlBhed Primers. To represent the change in philosophy that has taken place within ABP over the last few years, the blue ABP link pearl has been retired in favor of the new LSthe dark gray link pearl of the Blackwind LinkShell.


The meeting was met with much fanfarelittle alchemical fireworks had been handed out and were shot off with abandon. It was fun. We also had a raffle, in which I won a Noble Bed, which is a piece of furniture that auctions for around 350,000 gil. Score!

Otherwise I did very little last night. After changing back into the SMN gear, I duo’d with another BW member named Rithirin around West Ron. While I only earned a smattering of XP, we BS’d a lot about the game and jobs and racesit was good times. Rith seems a little unhappy with his choice of the THF job, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he switched before long.

July 13

Leveling up SMN solo through the single-digit levels is a breeze. I’ve never been in real physical danger. It’s basically a matter of summon Carbuncleturn him loosesit back and rake in the XP. Sure beats having to rest after every other fight as a WHM. I picked up 7th last night, and I’m hoping to push on to 12th by the weekend. Time to take Carbuncle to Valkurum and show the lizards who’s boss.

Leiya from Blackwind says SMNs (especially SMN/WHMs like myself) really wind up doing little more than main healing until 40th or so, which is a little disheartening, but I’m not too concerned. I knew coming in that it would be part and parcel of the job for a long. She also said that somewhere after 60th SMNs can dish out some appreciable damagenow that sounds like fun. Just the same, I’ve been pondering checking out some other advanced jobs; Bard (BRD) has some appeal. So does Corsair (COR).

More quests. I tracked down some missing documents, delivered a few packages and handed out flyers for the magic store last night. I hate quests. Hate them. Even with my handy quest cheat sheet, I despise having to waste time as the errand boy. I’m still only at fame level 4, and the requisite level 7 (or 6, there’s still some confusion) seems an awfully long way off.

July 15

I went a dissatisfying 1 for 4 on quests this weekend. While I finished passing out flyers for the magic store, I found myself completely lost in King Ranperre’s Tomb. Even though I whacked a good two dozen skeletons, I didn’t get a single Revival Root drop. None of the crabs around Luffet Lake have seen fit to drop Luffet Salt for me (and I could open a little crab leg place with the amount of crustaceans I killed), and I simply cannot find this scout who runs about West Ron. “Yoo hoo! Scout-boy! I have your ointment!”

The whole quest thing continues to depress me. I’ve spent about an entire week in pursuit of fame and I’ve only moved from rank 2 to rank 4…nowhere near the rank 6 or 7 necessary to do the fun stuff. I gotta take a break and get back to xp’ing. Maybe once I hit 12th SMN I’ll come back to it.

Speaking of which, Carbuncle and I dinged 8th level. I’ve discovered another little use for my blue friend: saving my ass. When things go south and Carbuncle is in over his head, I can leave him to fight and die while I turn tail and haul ass for the nearest zone. Perhaps not the behaviour of heroes, and it’s not going to impress the ladies, but it does keep me alive. Carbuncle keeps the monster busy for a short while, during which I make my escape. Gotta love a guy willing to take one for the team.

July 17

Didn’t even switch on the DS yesterday, much less journey into Vana’diel. It was 105 in Tucson with about 60% humidity. Like an idiot, I didn’t drink a drop of water. I was so wiped I don’t think I could’ve successfully typed in my PlayOnline password.

As you’ll recall, Raniel had very kindly offered to mix it up with the Prime avatars with me, so I could be the badass 8th level SMN rolling with Garuda Primethe equivalent of an 8-year-old boy packing a 12-gauge to deal with the playground bully (I’ve got your lunch money, bitch). After some research, I’m wondering if I can even get flagged with the Garuda Prime quest at all. It sounds like I might need to ding 60th (or so) to even get that nod.

In the meantime, I can try my luck against the mini-versions of the avatars. These require fame level 3 (which I have! w00t!) and 20th level SMN (which I will have! eventually! w00t!). It’s a mano-a-mano match with just my character solo’ing against the mini version of the avatar.

July 18

While my research is inconclusive, I think I’m going to have to accept that I’ll have to wrangle “mini” versions of the available summons for the time being. More and more I’m thinking one has to be level 60 to even get flagged with the Prime quests, whereas I’ve already got the 3 points of fame and am halfway to level 20. What’s the difference between Primes and Minis? I’m not exactly sure, but I’d assume the Primes are entirely more badass than the Minis.


Carbuncle, however, continues to rock. We dinged 9th last night and nothing, NOTHING in West Ron stands against us. Even venturing way into lower West Ron (being the southern and most dangerous part) we stomped everything that looked our way. Carbuncle kicks ass. I’m hoping to hit 12th this weekend and start working the Dunes.

And speaking of summons, I’ve come into a little money, so I spent some of it buying the pacts to the Fire Spirit and the Ice Spirit. So far they haven’t done anything to really knock my socks off, but it’s nice to have a little variety.

July 19

Carbuncle and I continue our reign of righteous fury over Ronfaure. Dinged 10th and then some before hanging up the SMN outfit. I also bought the pact for the Air Spirit, meaning I now have Carbuncle, Fire Spirit, Air Spirit and Ice Spirit in my lineup. I don’t even use Fire, Air and Ice very much (because Carbuncle is such a badass), but I can see situations where they’ll be handy.

I switched into the RDM pants and tagged along with Blacksabre, Dzafet, Shadowblade and Verrcetti from Blackwind. We were collecting Red Cryptexes in anticipation of a Garrison event this weekend (the Cryptex is the ‘key’ to the event, if I’m understanding things correctly). I again was very much the fifth wheelwhereas those four were obliterating anything that moved, I was kind of running back and forth doing a whole lot of nothing. I did, however, pick up the Cryptex. I’m in.

I don’t really know a lot about GarrisonsVerrcetti describes them as “wave after wave” of attacking beastmen. Might be interesting to be on defense for once.

July 20

It’s looking like I’m just going to have to bite the bullet and skill up. The Summoning skill, being the bedrock of the SMN class, is easy as pie to raiseit’s just tedious and boring. The easiest way to bump it is to find a quiet place outside and summon/release over and over and over. At my current level, my Summoning skill cap is 33I’m at 12. So I’ve decided I’m going to skill up at least two or three points every night until I cap. The skill supposedly determines just how tough your summons/sprits are, and I could use them being toughermore on that later.

Even though Carbuncle and I can destroy Ronfaure, it’s time to move on. I made the long trip through La Theine Plateau back into the proving grounds of Valkurum Dunes last night, and gosh I wish I didn’t have to. I found a party right quickwe found a camp and got set. We had enough healers that I was actually going to get to play a DD (Damage Dealer) with my summonsw00t!

The bad news is the party was stacked with morons…errr…new players. No one could agree on who was pulling, and the clowns wound up pulling three hill lizards simultaneously. I bolted for zone, but not before hitting the other mage with a Cure. I guess I should’ve been selfish and just ran…it might’ve saved me. When the dust settled we had two people dead (including me) and four safely zoned.

I picked up a raise (thanks FinalSorra!) and we tried again. After settling the pulling issue, we did pretty well. We chained three lizards and things seemed to be looking up. Then our puller got itchy and invited a Goblin Butcher to the party. We managed to defeat it at the cost of two characters. The whole night wound up with a net 800xp gain, and that feels awfully light.

I did learn, or re-learn, a couple important things in this experience. One is that Carbuncle and the Spirits aren’t yet as tough as I had hoped. They could barely land a hit and rarely anything really formidable (hence the need for exercising the Summoning skill). The other is that players at this level are frequently just getting the hang of party play and are going to make mistakes; I know I did. This is my third job through the Dunes, and while I’m by no means a veteran, I at least have a little idea about my role in a group.

July 22

It feels like I didn’t get a whole lot done yesterday, even though I was on for nearly four hours. I spent most of the day with Seigrune, Blacksabre and Sincerestjokerx (at least I’m fairly certain that was the groupI just didn’t get enough sleep last night) going through Palborough Mines in an effort to help Seigrune finish up a mission. The mission culminated in this awesome fight against a dark dragon…which I missed. Since I’d never been flagged with the mission, I couldn’t actually participate. What a drag. I did, however, get to participate in a few good fights against the crème de la crème of the Quadav ranks, and that was good times. I always like it when I’m in a group and feel like I’m doing something more than spectating—I suppose everyone feels that way.

Jumped back into the SMN gear and skilled up from 12 to 16. So…boring. After 30 minutes of summon-and-release, I dinged 11th in La Theine Plateau and the southern end of West Ron. I’ll crack 200MP at 12th level – that rocks…SMN’s are so damn cool.

Today we’re doing Garrison! I’m going to gear up in my RDM finery and kick some ass! It’s gonna be a blast. We’ll probably have about 15 folks from BlackWind lining up to defend the outpost, and it’s gonna be awesome. I’m totally psyched for it – it’s the first major LS event I’ve been able to participate in, and it sounds like a good time.

July 23

Today was Garrison day!!! Along with Seigrune, Mindfreak, Fatcharlie, Amiraphe, Blacksabre, Norleen, Norva, Livetotank, Sincerestjokerx and a few other Blackwind’ers, I defended the outpost in West Ron three times against wave after wave of orcs.

Garrison is a lot of fun, but, damn, it’s chaotic. Even with bunches of chat filters on, I got no end of battle spam. I wound up doing little more than healing my party and the NPCs. Anytime I tried to land an offensive spell or enfeeb I’d get an orc aggro’ing on me and have to flee about until some kind soul provoked him off me. There was some good treasure out of the whole thing—I got a Garrison Sallet (a kind of hat) that I may or may not auction.

The really bad news about it all was I died once during the melee, de-leveling me back to 29th. I’m mostly playing SMN now, so that’s not all bad, but eventually I’m going to get back to RDM and it’s just another level I have to get back.

Arbiter stopped by to say hi during a break in the proceedings. That guy has some hot summons. He brought up Ifrit and Titansuffice it to say I have serious avatar envy. I gotta get SMN to 20 so I can start picking up some new avatars.

July 24

FAME! I wanna live forever! w00t! Okay, if you look at last night as an exercise in happy-fun-times in Vana’diel, it failed. It was dullsville. The night started with a one hour download/install of a new update. I’ve read the description of what we received in the download, and it sounds REALLY cool…if you’re up in the 60s and 70s. For us everyday Joes it’s nothing to write home about.

Post-download, I spent about 30 minutes skilling up the Summoning Skill, working it up to 20. My current cap is 36, so I still have work to do. I got to talking to Arbiter while I was skilling up. Arbiter is about 15 SMN, but has a pretty full stable of summons. I asked how he worked up the fame for such a thing and he turned me on to an awesome repeatable quest. With a little help from Arbiter, I brought about 30 stacks of millioncorn to the shepherd in Selbina.

And in one hour fame jumps from 4 to 6. It’s GO TIME! I’m going to beg some help from members of my LS (because most of them are in the 60s and 70s and can handle such a thing), but I’m going to test Garuda and Shiva within the next week or so. Having those two join Carbuncle and my four spirits in my bullpen would be pretty awesome.

July 25

Great run last nightdefinitely made up for the doldrums of the 24th. After popping online and putting the finishing touches on my SMN gear, I got an invite from none other than Blacksabre to party up in Valkurum. Sweet.


So in a party formed of myself, Blacksabre (and later Lyseria), Vudoku from Blackwind, Nazreth, Setsuni and Petter, we stomped lizards and goblins in southeast Valkurum for about an hour. Worked out like a charm tooin an hour I picked up about 3.5k xp and made the jump from 11th to halfway through 13th. V was kind enough to loan me a nice wand and a smoking cape that have huge bonuses to INT and MND. Thanks V!

My only concern is I was a bit of a fifth wheel. We had so many healers that I rarely even broke a sweat. My spirits were combat ineffective, and Carbuncle’s just too slow to break out on a regular basis. I gotta get that summoning skill up.

The only bad part of the night came in the form of a griefer named Villmatic, who saw fit to drop his ass right in the middle of our camp and harass Nazreth. Naz took it like a champ, ignoring him completely…I don’t know that I could’ve done the same. Nevertheless, Villmatic is welcomed to my blacklist. Villyou’re an asshat and nobody likes you. Find a cliff and jump.

And in other, infinitely more important news, today is my daughter’s 4th birthday. I still haven’t found her a carbuncle plushy that won’t put me in debt.

July 26

Even though last night was very productive and fun, I’m still feeling a little disheartened about things. I had foreknowledge of how things would shake out, but sometimes it’s disappointing when things turn out exactly as advertised.

Good news first. Partied up with Setsuni (the newest member of the Blackwind family) and four Japanese speakers. Teaming up with a group that not only speaks, but also types Japanese is challenging. I don’t really know what role they expect me to play, so I’m just kind of feeling my way about. However, for the most part Japanese parties are very professional (for want of a better word). Everyone of them knows their job and performs it well.

This party was a bit of an exception. Our puller was slow and blew a number of experience chainsBlacksabre (and later Sincerestjokerx) power-leveled our group for much of the night, meaning we mages didn’t really have to rest quite as much since most of the healing was taken care of, but our puller was sluggish just the same. I dinged 14th and was close to 15th when I called it a night.

The bad news: Both Norleen, an SMN extraordinaire, and Leiya, the resident “been there/done that” guru from Blackwind confirmed the rumors I’d heard that SMN/WHMs are suited for Main Healing and little else until about 40th level. Carbuncle can barely land a hit against the more powerful opposition in Valkurum, and even his special attack is rather anemic. The Spirits are nothing more than a waste of MP. She also informed me that the Summoning skill really doesn’t do much for an SMN, providing an example of Carbuncle’s Blood Pact ability doing the same damage at two radically different Summoning skill levels. I’ll probably keep skilling it up on the off chance SquareEnix changes things in the future, but I’m not going to devote as much time to the practice.

And finally, Rithirin from Blackwind is getting married. In game. While this is the pinnacle of geekiness, the 75th level GEEK in me can’t help but find it cute as hell. I’m invited and will be there…just a shame I can’t rent a tux in Vana’diel. Tarutaru would look so 007 in black tie.

July 27

Just another day in Valkurum. I’m beginning to think partying for the first 30 levels or so is kind of like a regular 9-to-5 job. I drop online, say hi to the LS, see what everyone is up to, and then it’s to work in Valkurum Dunes, Qufim Island or Kazham. The flag goes up and with any luck I get an invite within fifteen minutes. A few hours of XP’ing, a level or two, and it’s time to go home.

The best way it differs from my 9-to-5 is that it’s a blast and there are no memos.

Partied up with Setsuni from Blackwind, Skeet, Necrosiss and a few others yesterday to hunt Goblins and Snippers in Valkurum. We were lucky enough to have yet another PL helping out, a 60 RDM named Withstand who was a tiny bit slow on the draw, but still very capable. We chained some big money monsters and even though I died twice, I dinged 15th. Setsuni has to be approaching 18th BLM, meaning I need to catch up.

The nice thing about parties with a PL is healers can concentrate on fun stufflike turning Carbuncle loose. He’s getting better, especially against Goblins. Yesterday he was hitting pretty consistently for about 8-12 damage per shot and around 20 with Poison Nails. Not great, but every little bit helps. He also drew a little hate and took a shot or two for our tanks, giving them a short breather.

After “work,” Setsuni and I made the long trek back to Sandy. I’d auctioned a few items and someone with waaaaay too much money bought them, paying 6,000 for a stack of fire crystals (which usually sell for 2,000). I’m not going to argueI can use the money.

I’ve been thinking about what to do with this character’s advancement. I have two tentative plans I go back and forth on. The first includes spending a good bit more time in SMN, raising it to 40 while raising WHM to 25. The second includes taking something of a break from spellcasting at 30 SMN, solo’ing WAR to 10, then RNG to 15’ish, then COR to 30. There’s a dark horse candidate that involves switching to BRD before too long. Verrcetti from Blackwind says BRDs never look long for an invite because there are so few of them, and a good BRD/WHM is a rare commodity. I’d just have to set my macros so I sing some Beatles lyrics when I dropped a Bardsong on the party. Minuet would go great with ‘Roll Over Beethoven.’

The courtship of Rithirin and his Mithra fiancé seems to be cruising right along. I hear the two of them spent last night watching the Summer Festival fireworks together. That’s just so damn geekily cute. Amiraphe from Blackwind thinks they need a pre-nup (how many taru do they have? who gets custody of the black chocobo? do they have provisions for Chocobo support?). Hell with cooking, Ami needs to get into the Lawyercraft.

July 29

The 29th was kind of a cleaning day for me—I got a lot done, but much of it felt like busywork. I did, however, make a pretty big character-path decision. That’s a nice thing about Final Fantasy XI: I started out as a mage through and through, but there’s no rule saying I can’t test the waters all over.

First things first. I made the long trip back to Jeuno and then airshipped to Kazham. Again, I suffered the maddening trek through Yuhtunga Jungle to Yhoator (I hate those areas so much) and both times I got lost. It’s really embarrassing to have to tell your party members “I’ll be there as soon as I can figure my way out of this.” Even more so when one of them has to come find you. I hate this area.


After picking up 30th RDM (for the 3rd time), I warped back to Sandy. Let me back up a bit.

In the past I’ve talked a little about wanting to explore jobs like RNG and COR at one point or another. The problem with that is they really require a WAR background of some sort. Now I’d always planned to use Gaelan (my second character) to explore the more martial side of things. However, I’ve recently decided I just don’t want to go through the hassle of playing a second character. I don’t want to have to play a second persona—to do every mission and every quest twice. I’ve got an established character. Finn might not be quite the right race to go toe-to-toe with Vana’diel’s nasties, but that’s not stopping me from unleashing some Taru wrath.

So yesterday, Gaelan officially became my “mule.” His job in life is to hold on to things Finn currently doesn’t have room for so that when I switch jobs I won’t have to buy an entire new set of gear. I ganked Gaelan’s crossbow and some of his gear and Finnegan became…A WARRIOR!

And as much as I hate to say it, I am really feeling the Tarutaru WAR thing. As Seigrune says, “It’s a simple job, but a satisfying one.” True words. I’m also finding that playing WHM as a subjob really makes solo’ing as a WAR much easier. I can cure myself when necessary and drop Dia on monsters that might otherwise be a little trouble. I guess a WAR/WHM wouldn’t be a whole lot of help in a party, but it’s a good job for my plan.

I’m taking a few weeks off the mage track to see how this works out. I’ll solo WAR to somewhere around 10-12, then unlock RNG and do the same thing. Then it’s off to unlock COR and go from there.

Next Time: Stay with the fighter path or jump ship and return to the ways of the spellcaster? The continued quest to add Shiva and Garuda to the team, and getting back to the San d’Oria missions.

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About the Contributor

From 2006 to 2007

Steve Hamner is a former staff member from GameCola's early days as a monthly email newsletter.

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