Let`s talk about aggro.

Okay, I know this topic is supposed to be for issues moving toward fixing and balancing EverQuest, but the monks over at Monkly-Business managed to get my hackles up and I need to vent.

I have, in all the time I have been playing a monk in EverQuest (since September 1999), read many many guides and theories about how the game of EverQuest, and aggro in particular, works.

Focusing on the aggro guides, it is my opinion and observation that every single one of them is lacking, is flawed. Every guide can have a hole poked in it by providing a situation where their explanation fails. And their failing is all, just about every one of them, in the same place: the view the player character as an inactive participant in game mechanics.

Lets begin with the simple theory that most guides follow: monster aggression radius. Every monster in the game has a radius that it is aggressive within. If a player enters that radius, the monster becomes active or aggro. Most of these guide believe that all aggression is assigned to the monster, and that it is a series of concentric circles (although sometimes a single circle is used), with the outter circles being the lowest level and the inner circles the highest. They believe this because if you have a monster who is level 40, he will attack a level 1 immediately upon entering any aggression circle, but a level 40 player has to get closer to aggro, and a level 65 player might be unable to aggro it at all (the single circle theory applies to monsters like the undead who in many cases will attack a level 65 player as quick as it will attack a level 1 player, even when the undead is level 1). Much of the game appears to subscribe to this theory, and this is why it has become popular.

Much, not all.

Enter ‘sneak’. Sneak is a skill that allows a player to appear indifferent when it is within the back arc of a monster. See, a monster isn’t just a circle of aggression, he faces a direction as well. With sneak, you can stand inches from a monster without aggro as long as you are behind it. How does this break the circles theory of aggro? A player using sneak will be able to approach a monster much closer from the front as well. Now, it doesn’t work as well as from behind, however, you will be able to get closer (sometimes almost imperceptibly closer) to the monster using sneak than without.

In an attempt to explain this, the aggro guides state than sneak reduces the effective aggro radius on the monster. Now, from a programming stand point, this is beyond idiocy. The amount of coding and server processing that would be required for all monsters to maintain an aggro radius for sneaking and non-sneaking characters and to keep track of which circle to apply to a character would be horrendous. Its just not feasable to code players as inactive and foist all the load of nuance onto the server.

Now on to what I believe and in practice has shown to be true.

Player characters are active participants in the game. If you view the game as a monster having an aggro radius and the player having an aggro radius, all the flaws of the other aggro guides disappear.

First, instead of having an inactive player enter the active monster’s radius, you have two radii, and aggro occurs when the two overlap. As a player levels, his natural radius gets smaller, allowing him to get closer to monsters. The radius of the monster and of the player have properties that also interact to decide if the monster will attack at all. To a level 65, some level 40 monsters will ignore you, others will attack if you hang around too long or too close.

Seconds, this accounts for sneak. Sneak has two effects, reduction of the player’s radius, and indifferent faction when in the back arc of a mob’s vision (which incidentally extends infinitely – or at least to the edge of the zone). From behind the mob, the player is indifferent, so his radius doesn’t matter. From the front, his radius is smaller, thus allowing him to get closer to the monster before it reacts to him.

My original theory was purely based on single radius player vs single radius monster. Over time however I learned that monsters appear to have two radii: active and passive. And it stands to reason that players might have them as well, although I have not been able to test this. On a monster, the active aggro radius is something it cannot ignore. When a player enters it, it will attack (faction permitting). The passive radius however, allows for the player to pass in and out without aggression. My assumption and experience has shown me that when you enter the passive radius you are assigned a position on the monster’s “watch” list. The longer you stay, the higher your count on the watch list. When you exceed a certain count, the monster becomes active at attacks. This is evident in that sometimes you can stand near a mob for several server ticks and then suddenly it will attack.

Monsters also have two assist radii: general and help. The general assist radius applies to any monster within it. If you aggro a monster, all monsters within its general radius will aggro as well. The help radius is larger, and is triggered when a monster is not passively aggro’d. For example, if you shoot an arrow or throw a dagger at the monster and cause damage it will “yell” for help. All monsters in the help radius will assist. This theory is clear when you can passively aggro (standing too close) a monster and get him alone, but throwing a dagger at him will get you all his friends.

There are also coding errors evident in EverQuest that support this. Places where a monster appears to have a large general assist radius, but have a zero range help radius, where you can use an arrow to single pull one target out of a group, but getting close to him will get you all of them.

This leads into lull. Lull reduces the aggression radii and all assist radii to zero (actually to a number just slightly above zero since standing on top of it or pulling another monster directly through it will cause agro).

This all leads into assists and chains. Some theories would have you believe that there is primary aggro and secondary aggro, and that monsters will only assist another monster that has primary aggro, and further that monsters will not assist a monster with secondary aggro. Thus far, I have not found any evidence of this. Every example I have seen can be explained some other way. The best example people have is that you can root a monster next to a target you want to pull, then what you want has secondary aggro and can be dragged through other monsters and they will not assist. However, most examples of this also state that the person uses invis after gaining aggro. When a player is invisible, any monster that tries to assist an aggro monster will get an ‘invalid target’ and not assist, not because of what level of aggro, but because it cannot see what its trying to assist on, so it fails. There is one, and I want to emphasize that it is a single solitary example, where a monk pulls a named monster in EQ through a building of other monsters and no monsters assist without using invis. Since this is the only example of this and cannot be repeated elsewhere, it is an anomoly, and likely a bug in the coding of that named monster, a case where his assist radii are coded badly and cause this behavior.

Anyway, enough ranting out of me. It all boils down to one simple thing, everything in EverQuest makes more sense when you view a player as an active participant in the game.

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