A Tale About a Place Called Gemstone
I first started playing Simutronics' Gemstone III sometime in '95, and I've been a regular player ever since. It was affiliated with AOL and certain other online providers, and offered the sort of entertainment I really enjoy. The Medieval period fascinates me, so I expected great things from GSIII. I was not disappointed.
I had tried other MUD (Multi-User Dungeon) games, including the ImagiNation Network's Yserbius, and found them entertaining, but the sheer size of GSIII impressed me. Unlike other computer-based games, a MUD employs little or no graphics, just text. Like a chatroom, you type words at the bottom of the screen, and read what other people type at the top. But unlike chatrooms, what you type directly affects not only your own actions in the game, but those of others as well.
For instance, myriad commands may be typed in, each of which acts upon your character or someone else's. Type "KISS Laerti" and the text you see describes your character planting a big wet one on Laerti's cheek. It sounds simple, but it's not. There are so many commands, many of which can have modifiers ("KISS Laerti's NOSE") such that there's little you cannot do in this game.
You move through the game by walking through "rooms," each of which is vividly described as you enter. The descriptions are generally top-notch, showing some real imagination on the part of those who design these things. As you move from room to room, there are doors, ladders, tunnels, portals, trapdoors, caves, arches, and various other means of entrance and egress, such that things never grow stale for you. In addition, many rooms have hidden exits, which you must search for -- and find only if your character has enough skill.
Characters are several and varied, and their designs are framed so that each sort essentially needs the others for spells, items, services, and other things. This encourages interaction among players, and seems to work well. The characters from which players may choose are:
Warriors that mainly fight, but have other interesting skills as well;
Rogues that mainly fight, but also excell at opening the locked treasure boxes that other players find during adventures;
Clerics who restore life to characters slain in battle, and can also fight monsters quite handily in their own right;
Empaths who heal the wounds of characters who dodged too slowly;
Wizards who cast magic spells, hurl fire and lightning at monsters, and can make magical items;
Sorcerers who cast different magic spells, hurl death and destruction at monsters, and do other nasty things;
Rangers who get lost, have adventures, and cast spells tied to nature while fighting monsters in the Wilds;
and Bards who are so skilled at the art of Loresinging that their songs can be used as weapons in the Wilds. Their non-hostile songs are generally regarded as beautiful and moving stories of adventure, tragedy, love and loss, among other things.
Quite a varied and useful cast, made more so by the fact that each sort of character can be created as any of the many races that GSIII offers to players: Sylvan, the slight and agile; Elf, the slight and strong; Half-Elf, stronger and not so slight; Halfling, the littlest and fastest; Human, among the strongest and ablest; Dark Elf, very strong, but weak in spirit; Dwarf, very strong and spirited; and Giantman, the strongest but clumsy and dim witted. The many ways these races can be combined with the various character types makes for terrific roleplay.
Of course, none of this would be much fun without monsters to slay. When a character is young, it has an abundance of low level monsters (or "critters," in GS lingo) to fight, but as it grows older and more skilled it can successfully fight higher level beasts, for better treasure. You haven't lived until you have stood toe-to-toe with a powerful Krolvin Warfarer, matching his blows and dodging his attacks, only to have ten of his fellows run into the room and begin pummeling your head into the dirt. If you survive, you will have collected from their fallen bodies much bounty, and of course learned a thing or two along the way. It can be exhilarating!
For the most part, hunting critters is how wealth is accumulated, to afford your character finer weapons, armor, clothes, and such. Indeed, these accessories are a large part of the fun. People buy and sell such items continuously, on a chat system with which you can interact while fighting in the Wilds. Auctions, special merchants, and other events keep things moving at all times. Items are richly detailed, with descriptions, properties, weight, actions and corresponding commands, and so forth. And people vie over these, bidding high prices in Elanthian silvers for the choicest morsels. This is above and beyond the $9.95/month subscription price for a basic account (extra characters cost slightly more, and there are Premium accounts costing $29.95 but affording players unlimited extra characters and other perks).
Enormously helpful to the actual playing of the game is its GUI (graphical user interface) frontend. Written and supported by an enterprising young man named Keith Ledbetter, the Wizard for GSIII eliminates tedious repetition of oft-used commands and other nuisances. It runs macros, stored strings of commands that can be rerun at the touch of a button whenever needed. It color-codes certain words, making them easier to notice and track, a feature that is especially helpful in the heat of battle. It supports sounds that can be keyed to certain words, such that when you swing your weapon and strike a critter, a SWOOSH or CLASH sound is heard. Done right, this feature can be half the fun and really makes you feel like you're in life or death combat. The Wizard comes in both PC and MAC versions, and although Simutronics also offers a Java frontend, the Wizard is a must for competent game play.
But none of this would make for a truly great roleplaying game without the interaction with other characters. This interaction is often evocative. Characters can marry, adopt other characters as their children, and weave intricate histories combining each other's stories in often epic sagas of tragedy and glory. They can fight each other, although this is frowned upon by Simutronics, over squabbles, love, money, and other issues. They can join forces to face a superior critter, hunt these and share the treasure among the entire hunting party. They can own houses, complete with user-selected furnishings. But most of all, players form friendships, many of which transcend the game. There are even Simutronics Conventions (Simu-Cons) which players can attend, meet each other in real life, don imaginative (and often expensive) costumes, and sometimes form intimate relationships.
Not everything about GSIII is wine and roses. Some people use the game as a dating service, but most of these are self-aware enough to do their love-seeking "in character." Curiously, people have gotten lost, in a manner of speaking, in Elanthia (GSIII's name for the environment of the game). They've lost their jobs, their marriages, their families because they spent so much time playing the game that they ignored their responsibilities, or fell in love with another player. Some players have sold their characters to other players for hundreds of real-life dollars, or sold precious items and even game currency for real valuta. But this is the exception, not the rule. Most people don't become obsessed, but I mention it because it really can happen.
Ultimately, GSIII and similar games offer an escape from the dreary day-to-day lives that most of us imagine we lead. Who would not prefer to rush off on noble quests, battle evil monsters home and hearth, hunt cunning prey, and learn useful survival skills whose merits are immediately obvious, rather than sit in rush hour traffic for hours, knowing you're going to do the exact same thing tomorrow and the next day...
GSIII is compelling, intricately detailed, heroic, and grand. It is magnificent fun. It is a game. The battle scenes are fairly graphic, with depictions of gore and "sucking chest wounds" aplenty. For this reason, the game is perhaps not suited for young teens, and definitely not for younger children. I'd rate it 16 or older, although a mature 14-year old might handle it well. Parental guidance, and all that.
© Michael McNamara 2000