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This Mortal Toil: A Diary, Part One

‘Shepherds Pastry’ or ‘Cottage Potatoes’

I am Vegi Roll. Son of the Oghmir clan. My blood is Blainn, my blood is Huergar. Though my skin be pale, my back is strong. I have dwelt on the mountain; I have dwelt in the cave. My form is righteous. My logic is unmatched.

Eat springbok carcass.

Your tummy begins to ache.

I am Vegi Roll. I do not feel very well.

Mortal Online is a free-to-play MMO about living in a fantasy world and not being very good at anything. The starting area sees you spawn in nothing but a loincloth on the edge of a sparse wood, which turns out to be the equivalent of Hyde Park, entrapped as it is by a big stoney city nearby. The game takes its attitude to skills straight from Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Everything you do increases your skill at something, from running to smelting ore to jumping up and down on the spot. This is the kind of game that, upon eating a grilled rabbit carcass, will actually tell you: ‘Skill: Taste Identification increased to 2’. At the same time, your character’s uselessness at everything appears to be the Unique Selling Point. Or rather, the Unique Playing-For-Free-Until-Level-Gets-Capped-At-60 Point. With all this in mind, I have been dispatched to discover the wonders of the world of Nave.

I come into the world mostly Blainn. A race of furry, mountain-dwelling strongmen with bluish skin and moody faces. But Mortal Online also lets you choose the bloodline of your forefathers, and whether or not you come from a mix of races. So I throw a little bit of Huergar into the family for good measure. They are a subterranean race of introverted but intelligent metallurgists. I must also now name my character.

At this point, RPS abandoner-turned-boardgame aficionado Quintin Smith walks into the room. I live with him.

“What are you DOING?”

“I’m playing Mortal Online.”

“This is MY computer. This is MY room.”

“Quinns, we talked about this. I’m allowed to use your computer if I get work to do.”

“What do you know about work!?”

He throws a menu for a takeaway at me, indicating that I must make a decision. I inspect the leaflet. The takeaway in question doesn’t specify whether it is a pizzeria or a Chinese. It offers a range of Halal meats. There is the option of ‘Shepherds Pastry’ or ‘Cottage Potatoes’.

“What is this? I don’t want dinner.”

“Decide!” he bellows.

I panic. I pick out Vegi Roll from the menu and promptly type it into the character’s name field on the Mortal Online screen. I press ‘next’ and Quinns nods sagely. He leaves and I get sucked back into the game.

So, there I am. Vegi Roll. Tall as corn crops, broad as a train. Ready to face the cold mountain air with my fur coat and hardy constitution. As the descendant of these not-quite-Orcs and not-quite-Dwarves, I should be right at home in this OH GOD the sun it blinds who put me in this infernal park oh God there’s blood everywhere.

Immediately the NPC ‘help’ puts me through the intro-gauntlet. The park is teeming with peaceful springbok. In fact, these animals must be a pest of some kind, or threatening the delicate ecology of the park with overpopulation, because the place is full of people dressed in rags bludgeoning the creatures to death. I am soon handed a sword and ordered to join in and skin their hide for leather. It takes me a little while to figure out exactly how to skin a springbok but after accidentally devouring an entire carcass raw I manage to harvest some leather. I continue to massacre the foul beasts until I have enough hide for some clothes. I lug my entire haul to the edge of the city proper, where a bench lets me get to work on my gear.

On my way back to the colourless intro-NPC, whom I have lovingly dubbed José Questoban, a man thunders past on a warhorse that is literally five times taller than me. I watch him pass in awe. His armour, glittering in the sunlight. His cape fluttering in the humid air. I think to myself, ‘Someday I might be like you, good sir. Someday I might have a suit of armour and a cape, and even a noble steed to call my friend... I swear to Oghma, goddess of stone, that I will make myself thus proud.’

I press the ‘P’ key to bring up my character’s profile. I forgot to make trousers.

‘Good,’ says José when I return. ‘Now go see that man up there about taming a rabbit.’ And so, my second tutorial errand sees me stumbling to the top of the hill on a quest to discover a collective noun of rabbits. (A fluff of rabbits? A trouble of rabbits? A thumper of rabbits?) But before I go I decide to kill another springbok for good measure. Before he succumbs to sword pokes, he lands some vicious blows and I notice that my health is a little on the dying side. Luckily, to heal yourself in Mortal Online, all you need to do is sleep or sit cross legged for a while. So I lie down under a tree and rest my eyes for a bit. Everything goes black and my health slowly comes back to me amid the sweet sounds of the park.

Skill: Resting increased to 2.

Oh man, I am shit hot at sleeping. (And in the game).

Skill: Resting increased 3.

Okay, wake up now, Vegi. That’s enough.

Skill: Resting increased to 4.

Oh my God. I’m comatose. That’s it, I’ll have to start again. And I didn’t even get to see the splurge of rabbits on the hilltop. There was so much I wanted to – oh wait I just didn’t press the keyboard hard enough. There he goes.

I reach the hilltop, where NPC helper Signpost McTaggart – a man in a Roman legionnaire outfit – teaches me how to tame things. He says he’ll put in a good word for me with the city’s gatemen if I catch him a rabbit for his daughter. How could I refuse, Signpost! You’ve been so good to me these past thirty seconds. I’ll get to work at once.

Taming animals works a lot like it does in real life. What you do is you run around after them, with your hands clutched in front of you like two fearsome talons, yelling, ‘Rabbit! I will be good to you! Follow me now, rabbit! Don’t be afraid! Come with me, rabbit! Shhhh!’ It doesn’t take long for the bunny to become desensitised to your presence and pledge himself as your bosom friend. At which point you can use the skill of creature control to order the rabbit in various ways. I order the rabbit to follow me to McTaggart, whereupon I hand him over. The man says the gates of the city will now be open to me, and I can come and go as I please. The city of Tindrem is my oyster – my giant, stony, oyster. Think of all the adventures I could yet have! All the friendly faces I will meet!

Well, you might say that I’ll have more luck making friends with the Actual People in Nave. You might say that, yes. But there is something about Mortal Online that you should know. It is something that worries me about heading into Nave proper – the place is chock full of grief. You can attack anyone basically anywhere, you can steal, you can murder, you can pillage. But is it really grief if a major part of the skill tree is specifically designed for such criminals? I mean, look at the abilities available. There is a skill called ‘Thievery’, another called ‘Snooping’ and another called ‘Pilfering’. With all three you can check somebody’s – anybody’s – inventory and attempt to pickpocket something from them. So far, the only thing I know that prevents this is having a high intelligence. I’m not sure if you can steal things in Tindrem city, or if the game makes it a safe zone for new players, but I’m not taking any chances. Which is why Vegi Roll is not only hardy, muscular and tall but also very very clever, with a high intelligence stat. And since I am so clever, I know all the best places to avoid thieves.

I disappear into a safe-looking alleyway. I lie down in my rags and go to sleep. After all, I must be well rested, for tomorrow is another day.

Skill: Resting increased to 5.


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