EverQuest is the founding father of video game lore. The things we love about MMORPGs, the cozy campfire tales shared between friends—of grim catacombs, savage beasts, breathtaking vistas, and rampant in-game stupidity—all began with the blocky, Windows 98 adventures in Norrath. The map was blank, the world was huge, and it was dangerous to go alone.
Other MMOs would come and go. World of Warcraft took the genre to the stratosphere, Dark Age of Camelot established its own cult, Destiny and The Division merged multiplayer and singleplayer into a symbiosis, and EverQuest 2 made its own mark. But Sony Online Entertainment's prototype will always reign supreme as the progenitor. Everything else owes it back tax. You could not visit the The Traveller, if you first didn't explore Freeport.
EverQuest's original incarnation is hilariously opaque through modern eyes. The game forced players to band in groups for the simplest of quests, it penalized death with experience points, its dungeons were un-instanced free-for-alls, and it certainly never gave you a minimap. But all of those quirks and perils have given the game a one-of-a-kind legacy. They simply don't make 'em like this anymore. Today, 20 years after its release in 1999, the first EverQuest is still going strong, and it probably will be for life. We reached out to the community and heard some of the best stories they've gathered along the way.
It's dangerous to go alone
One of the most fondly remembered hardships of vanilla EverQuest was the grueling run between Qeynos and Freeport. The two hub cities were supremely important to the EverQuest economy, but the machiavellian nature of the MMO's early days meant that they weren't connected by any infrastructure. Your only choice was to make the journey on foot, through murky unmarked territory teeming with predators.
"You very likely had a big reason to make the dangerous journey. My reason involved a scheme I cooked up after grouping in Everfrost and learning of the polar bear cloak quest. At this time, knowledge of quests and especially any gear with stats on it was valuable information," says Robert Turner, who plays a ranger on the Xegony server. "I tracked polar bears for days and loaded up on the cloaks from the quest. Then I joined a group lead by a shaman who knew the way to Freeport for a modest tip of two platinum. We set east with a full group of adventurers making the journey for the first time. I pity anyone who didn't know the way and tried to make the run on their own as many of their corpses were probably never found. But we followed this sage of a shaman that knew what hills to avoid and which walls to hug."
Together, they passed through Highpass Hold, avoided the instant death in the ominous Kithicor Forest, into the West Commonlands and Greater Faydark. Finally, there it was. The bustling, swashbuckling city of Freeport, sucking up every inch of GPU on Turner's PC. "Norrath felt even bigger as I saw races I hadn't even seen in game yet from parts of Norrath I hadn't been close to," he says.
Robert walked back into Greater Faydark, and started merchanting his polar bear cloaks for a pretty penny. Most of the players he encountered had no idea what he was selling. This was the Old World: No globalization, no databases, a time when strangers from the west could roll into town bearing foreign gifts from an untamed land. A sea of tells hit his inbox every time he linked it in trade chat.
"The chaos and unforgiving game in those early days really slowed things down," says Turner. "It made everyone truly appreciate the journey because you could play your own way but you still had to rely on the community to succeed."
The death of the unkillable
You don't wake Kerafyrm. There's no point. It's Pandora's Box. The legendary crystal dragon lays dormant, sleeping, on every server. Rustling him from his peace is something you can only do once. After that, it's over. He'll kill anyone who comes in his path, and your morbid curiosity means you'll never be able to farm the delicious loot that falls off of the four warders who guard him.
It was believed that Kerafyrm was intentionally impossible, a cruel joke played by the developers to reveal the folly of man. That is, until three guilds of the Rallos Zek server took up arms and refused to take no for an answer.
"These mortals were not the typical mortals. In his arrogance, Kerafyrm underrated them. For over four hours a battle waged between Kerafyrm and these mortals of Ascending Dawn, Wudan, and Magus Imperialis Magicus. It was a battle of might, will, and perseverance versus ancient strength and power," wrote Sorfatts, on the forums back in 2003. "For every mortal that fell, one would rise to take his place, it must have seemed to Kerafyrm. These mortals ventured into Kerafyrm's tomb with an expectation that they would ultimately fail, but with the express hopes that they would be victorious. To their surprise, they were actually damaging Kerafyrm!"
They were achieving the impossible, the unthinkable, the game-breaking. It was jubilation. These three guilds were writing their names in the Norrath history books. That is… until the dragon hit 26 percent, and immediately despawned. Kerafyrm wasn't supposed to be killed. And Sony Online Entertainment stepped in to make sure of it.
"We felt like we were robbed," a raider named Brian told Kotaku, years later. “I think they were surprised we were winning. There was a lot of speculation.” Sony Online Entertainment claimed there'd been a bug. Players didn't buy it. When Kerafyrm respawned, the guilds went after it again. Hundreds died, but in the end they were victorious. And the unkillable had no loot to drop.
A lapse in trust in the Oasis of Marr
Thousands of lowbies have faced their doom in the Oasis of Marr. The sand dunes are populated with bloodthirsty mummies and sand giants. But don't try to take refuge in the waters. A crocodile will bite you in two. Bradley Kristensen learned this the hard way with his troll shadowknight at the tender age of 11.
"My brother's friend was a cleric, so I knew I was safe. I was protected by his heals, so I could kill the crocodiles with ease," he says. "I ran up to him with a crocodile on me, so happy to finally meet up with him, only to find that he's AFK. I die in front of him. A cleric. Someone who can revive me, save me, and heal me. This really got me upset, looking back on it, it was hilarious how upset I was, I remember crying, I don't think anything made me that frustrated when I was young. He didn't realize I died near him and he just ended up logging out to do chores or check on something."
Years later, Christensen told this story as a groomsman for the absentee cleric's wedding. He'll never let him live it down.
There and back again
Robert Bundy speaks about his time as a young warrior in Blackburrow, paired together with a kindly cleric named Windeye. This was back in high school; a time of endless raiding, farming, and grinding with a close circle of friends. He and Windeye eventually lost touch, which is far too common in MMO cultures. Never think too hard about all the names and friends you've lost to the internet's undertow. It might break your heart.
In the end it didn't matter for Bundy, though. Almost two decades later, he rerolled on Everquest's Corinav progression server to serve himself some soothing nostalgia, and the universe boomeranged back around.
"As I was running around in the Commonlands looking for some orcish foes, I came across a high-elf Cleric by the name of Windeye," he says. "This could not have been a coincidence, so I sent a tell and it was him after almost 18 years! This was remarkable to the both of us, and we chatted for quite a bit to see how much our lives have changed!"
The suicide run
Dying in early EverQuest really, really sucked. Not only would you lose levels and experience every time your character kicked the bucket, the loot and gear would stay on your corpse. That meant if you wanted to keep all your bounties, you had to make it back to your body. Spirit Healers are for weak Azerothians!
It was a stringent mandate that made some players do odd things just to preserve their loot. Joshua Matthews remembers one particular night, after endless failures in a raid, where he and his guildmates hit a breaking point. They wiped in spectacular fashion and charged back into the dungeon over and over again with the hopes of delivering the trinkets from evil. The monsters below kept feasting on them, until they hatched a genius plan. Part of the raid party were going to grab their belongings. The other part? Well, they were going to aggro the mobs and die somewhere far away from the rest of the group.
"In a Hail Mary attempt we surged into the raid and those who opted to be fodder tried to get everything away from at least some of us," remembers Matthews. "I was one of the few that managed to get my gear and escape back to regroup. The renewed vigor of regaining hope and gear and XP revitalized me, and we made almost an entire recovery. It was an amazing night and I went to bed exhausted from being up far too long."
Plundering the eyepatch
The Eyepatch of Plunder was a Holy Grail for a lot of old-school EverQuest players. The item came with powerful stats, but it also forced you to complete a draconian questline where you retrieved pieces of a pirate map from a series of exceptionally rare spawns. Did you miss the beastly griffon Stormfeather while he was up? Don't worry, just try again the next day. He'll respawn… probably.
"I conveniently felt really 'sick' that week I decided to go for it and I wasn't gonna get better until I got my Eyepatch of Plunder! People actually respected the etiquette; they saw I was online and I was there and they sometimes waited with me and talked for a while or they would wish me farewell and good luck. The EverQuest community was special like that," says Agani. "I learned to have no expectations and just be patient, On the fourth day of the camp, there was Stormfeather. I remember banging my knee hard against my desk when he spawned. Seriously it hurt. I was lounging and went to full battle mode in a instant. You know that lounge position right to upright face to the screen, shoulders square, intense PC gamer posture."
The battle brought Agani's monk to the brink of death, but he pulled it off. Finally, he had something to his name that'd be the talk of the server.
"That was one of the sweetest feelings ever," he remembers. "It was the first time that I earned something special. I cherished that item, and the patience, time and effort carried on to other achievements in my life."
A bargain with death
Scott Edwards was playing a lowly Wood Elf rogue, scrounging through the canopies of Kalethin. Edwards came from a tabletop background, and this was the first time he'd seen the mystic landscapes concocted in his role-playing group rendered on a computer. "It was magical, surreal, unbelievable really," he says. "Here I was controlling my own avatar in this virtual world of D&D filled with roaming creepy crawlies, orcs, and town NPCs."
One day, after earning a few levels and getting his feet wet in EverQuest's arcane systems, he ventured to the Orcish compounds of Crushbone. It was there he found a tall NPC in a cape, mustache, and beard. His name? "Priest of Discord." Edwards was about to make a huge mistake.
"Being the chatty type, I engaged him in conversation. When asked if I wanted to 'join the dark side,' I didn't really think too much about it and accepted," he says. "Immediately, my avatar Twiddler Awndaruuf changed to bright red lettering. I had no idea what that meant at the time and logged off soon after."
If you know EverQuest, you know that the Priest of Discord is who you talk to if you want to become a PvP target. Edwards had accidentally flagged himself as a scourge of Norrath, and there was no turning back. He started pinging Game Masters in hopes they could reverse the hollowing. All of them declined, except for one.
"The GM offered me a quest to remove my player-killer status. I was grateful, yet angry at the same time because the quest was not simple," remembers Edwards. "There were upwards of 10 parts to the quest, some requiring specific rare loot from monsters and others rare foraged materials. It took me quite awhile to complete the quest and I died horrible deaths dozens of times trying to acquire the necessary items."
Finally, with the materials gathered, he returned to the same hovel where he first met that deceptive Priest of Discord, and Edwards returned to the light once more.
"I had made some friends by that time, and we all gathered anxiously. A few minutes later, the GM showed up in all his glory—decked out armor and a nice shiny title over his head. With the wave of his wand and a flash, I was made whole again right there for all to see. No more red letters and no more player-killer. I was elated!"