It's booty time in Dungeon & Dragons Online's 5th anniversary event

Gavin Townsley at

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Some pirates have parrots, but I prefer a pack of gem-hunting kobolds to boss around and scour the earth to fill my coffers with shiny booty. And that's what I'm doing in the pirate-themed events of Dungeon & Dragons Online's fifth anniversary (which hits live servers this Thursday). My pirate gear is on and I'm joining other bands of pirate players to squeeze the treasure out of every chest I find, just like we did when it all began in the game's first dungeon, five years ago.

The pirate haven of Smuggler’s Rest was the first dungeon players entered back when DDO launched. Back then, players scratched out an existence as they inched towards the level cap dungeon by dungeon, while paying fifteen bucks a month to do so. Today, the game's much improved and more flexible as a free-to-play offering. Which is great, because anyone--DDO vets or brand new players--can jump in for the big anniversary event and fight through the original starting area of Smuggler’s Rest for a pirate adventure filled with treasure hunts and kobold-commanding, piratey action.

Nothing is more sacred to the pirate community than gigantic plumed hats.

A pirate just isn’t a pirate without some sort of sweet headwear; which is where DDO's 5th-anniversary, doubloon-hungry mission begins. Existing characters receive a voucher good for one piece of upgradeable head gear, which you can select from a slew of specialized looks and stats (the higher level your character, the higher the hat's stats will be) to help increase your chance of finding treasure as you progress. Newer players don't get thrown in the brig, however--the hats can be earned by participating in the event or purchasing them from the cash shop, along with the other eight new pirate-like Appearance kits (items that change the look of your armor) added to the the DDO Store for the event. As a veteran player myself, I immediately donned a feather-capped hat fit for my weathered sea dog.

Now that I look the part, it's time to play it. I immediately bump into a familiar face from the original release, Euphonia Teles, who sends me out into the misty jungle bordering a small, ship-packed cove. My first mission (to slay buccaneers and scallywags in the search for doubloons and treasure maps) rewards me with even more treasure. It isn’t long before I'm up to my chest in bugbear body parts, sending foe after foe straight to Davy Jones Locker with my scimitar. My stack of map pieces and dubloons is getting higher, and the map pieces are beginning to bestow quests that point me in the direction of other hidden caches of doubloons and gems. I head back to Euphonia and exchange my newly-acquired doubloons for more shiny goods from Euphonia’s Barter Box, a chest packed with pirate-themed shwag for players of all levels.

These minotaur sailors are lacking in proper pirate flair. Kill them!

Once the players on your server have turned in enough maps, the second part of the Jolly Roger adventure unlocks: a unique dungeon, aptly named Crystal Cove. I tear into the dungeon, ready to slay anything that looks piratey enough to have treasure (or not piratey enough to be an easy kill). It's a pleasant surprise to find the dungeon stepping away from traditional DDO experiences and mixing it up with a gem-collecting fight that contained loose RTS elements and treasure-fueled crystal grabs in between the undead-pirate killing.

One quest has me guiding kobold minions through a dreary mine in search of the oh-so-shiny crystals. But to increase my chances of success, I have to risk some of the crystals I've collected in exchange for various tools that help the kobolds find more crystals further down the dungeon. I purchase some extra minions and pick up a few torches to guide kobolds. I use the torches to link pathways between crystal nodes hidden in the depths of the cavern. This isn't Snow White and the Seven Kobolds though: a few minutes in, the kobolds cry out “INCOMING” and suddenly I'm surrounded by buccaneers and skeletons trying to kill my little dirty miners. No one beats my minions but me! I jump into the fray, hacking and slashing at everything that moves until my kobolds can get back to making me rich.

DDO 5th anniverary pirate miners

Sure, the kobolds are completely expendable, but it's the principle of the thing.

The dungeon only requires your kobolds to collect 100 crystals (it doesn't take as long as you'd think), and you can keep any extra you collect and exchange them for bonus rewards from Euphonia’s Barter Box. The rewards include potions, upgradeable weapons and other various level-appropriate items for players of all levels, some of which are incredibly powerful.

The entire event is filled with typical DDO action, made even more interesting by having to juggle crystal resources and kobold minion management while you fight. The random nature of the crystal and enemy spawns makes Crystal Cove repeatable for those that simply must have all the event's rewards--whether you want to run it as an individual or organized group.

Overall, I was really pleased with the event--it's a great way to showcase how far the game's development and gameplay has come in five years.The NPCs also sport some refreshingly humorous dialogue and the kobolds are about the funniest characters to date in the game, constantly screaming out ridiculous phrases and insider jokes meant for veteran players.

Join us in our quest for hats!

Join us in our quest for hats... and gold... and whatever else, but mostly hats!

And it's not all looking backwards: Crystal Cove introduces a new mechanic for the game: scaling the difficulty of your dungeon to a specific level. Design Director Ian Currie and Producer Erik Boyer tell me this feature will be used in future events to help give the game even more flexibility and assure that any player can find adequate challenges and rewards, regardless of their level. If you haven't ever tried DDO, I highly recommend jumping in and trying out this 5th anniversary content. It's some of the most modern content in the game, there's crazy hats and it's completely free.

If you have some fun and decide to stick around for awhile (no pressure--it's a free-to-play game afterall), you'll have some sweet gear to help you get started: most of these rewards can be upgraded several times, so you can extend the life of the loot long after the event has ended.