Wheel of Time: The Third Age (WoT:3A, 3A, or TA) was a persistent world started by Iraq War veteran and education software programmer Sowens and Portuguese citizen Ox-Espatato. It was based on Robert Jordan's bestselling Wheel of Time book series, and it was one of the longest running and most popular persistent worlds in NWN. It had also consistently been the most popular server based on the series.
The Beginning Edit
Sowens and Ox were players on RobD's original Wheel of Time persistent world which started sometime around June of 2002. During one of its long downtimes, Sowens began developing areas where Ox dropped in. He liked the build and contributed some areas for it. When RobD visited their build an agreement was made to link it as a second server. However, when RobD brought his server up again, he had a dispute with Sowens and Ox and banned them.
The Module Edit
After a month's worth of work, Sowens and Ox launched one week early in September 2002 with 80+ areas. It was built with the Hardcore Ruleset. Sowens gave a lot of freedom to players emphasizing very few rules and also allowed multiple characters, something RobD's server did not do. He also made a point to not use hak paks to allow easy entry for new players to NWN. To keep the module small in size he used as many prebuilt characters and items as possible. This proved very effective and kept the module extremely stable and somewhat "patch proof".
Ox built dungeon crawls that were mainly two levels with a boss at each end. There were no journal quests of any sort due to lack of a database at the time and in order to prevent exploits. This was also meant to encourage role play through player interaction. Hunting areas were developed and there was a distinct effort to encourage group play instead of solo.
The module started in the city of Four Kings, a key trading area in the books and a neutral site for all the factions. Initially the conflict was designed as good (the White Tower) vs. evil (Darkfriends), but it actually found its best dynamic in the White Tower vs. Whitecloaks faction conflict. What proved the most popular were the scheduled DM events every Saturday.
Due to a military obligation Sowens had to give the module to Rolks to run as a backup for about a month. Rolks and Ox instituted some additions to the module including dividing Caemlyn into four separate areas. In the meantime Sowens was compiling player contributions to expand the module.
On Sowens' return, he wasn't pleased with the changes or the size of the module he was working on; the one with the player contributions. He then announced the end of current module and the start of a new one as soon as Rolks was finished hosting. A Tarmon Gaidon event was run by Praetor Augustus, BGZuila and others and the first instance of what would come to be called The Third Age was over in February 2003.
Within a few weeks Sowens launched his Fourth Age module surrounding events that would occur after Tarmon Gaidon, events that had yet to happen in the book series. The module itself used player-contributed areas. Unfortunately, the old computer crashed, so Sowens' wife agreed he could rebuild it on a brand new computer. The module was a great technical achievement with all encounters and placeables being dynamically generated and removed when players entered and exited areas, and encounters changed based on time of day. The result was a great reduction of potential lag on the server. The module itself was heavily focused on role playing and DM involvement, and the scale of experience points was greatly limited to reduce grinding. In North America, Rithas became the chief DM, while in Europe there was 4elements. Both were 16-year-olds at the time who spent hours running events.
The lack of freedom to play on their own led to a great exodus of players from the server, and player attrition was further increased by DM burnout. The core of the server was left to a handful of players, including Lucky Day, Seredon and Gwydion.
Sowens eventually announced that he was having network problems and could only run the server for around 6 hours a day. Sowens put a call out for a DM to run day-to-day operations and had several volunteers — even had an agreement in principal with Lucky Day to host the module — but nothing came of this. Several meetings were held with the existing player base, and it was eventually decided by John Xavier to return to the original Third Age module. Sowens agreed and did so, but within a few days the module was down permanently and all contact was lost with him. This was in April 2003.
(to be continued)
Timeline of Showrunners Edit
- 2002 Sowens
- 2002-3 Ox_Espatato and Rolks (host);
- 2003 Sowens (4th age)
- 2003-2004 LuckyDay
- 2004 LuckyDay, and Hudson77 (host)
- 2004-2005 Hudson77
- 2005 Turk_Blake and LuckyDay (host)
- 2005 LuckyDay, Turk_Blake, and Talion_Rev
- 2006 LuckyDay
- 2006-2008 Kiltorea
Each of the showrunners had an indespesible "right hand man": for Sowen's it was Ox-Espatato; for LuckyDay it was Bear_Warrior; for Hudson77 it was Artemis; for Turk it was Kiltorea; and for Kiltorea it was TheCapulet.
The server was noted for being one of the dominant servers on NWN, and certainly the most popular with Wheel of Time as its theme. Although there was a short window where it disappeared in 2003, the revival of the server marked a continuous rise in the average number of players at prime hours, from the 20's, the 40's, even to the 60's. Lucky Day recorded 76 players online according to his logs in 2006, where Kiltorea claimed to have more later on. The longest continuous serving showrunner was Kiltorea at two years who retired the server for good in 2008.
The server's popularity and growth could be attributed to several factors. The most important was its philosophy to not use custom content, especially haks. This stayed steady until Kiltorea used the CEP in 2007. Another factor included a determination by all the showrunners and hosts to maintain a consistent presence by keeping the forums on the Bioware site and always having a static IP on Gamespy. Hosting under high speed internet certainly didn't hurt where most players were still using dial-up (Sowens was even running a partial T1 line in its earliest days).
The Wheel of Time series, a familiar, yet alternative answer to Tolkien/D&D fantasy was very popular thanks in part to the recent RPG published by WotC. The setting provided lots of intrigue and drama with quite a variety of interesting settings and characters to play and interact with.
A design formula of always maintaining role playing and combat areas for players no matter the gaming style they prefer also helped. Dungeons Masters kept regular events, especially the weekly event on Saturday, even if it was only "Oh no, Trollocs have invaded Four Kings..again!" was a thing to look forward to.
Bioware Wednesday Edit
The popularity (and longevity) of the server was noticed by Jay Watamaniuk who recruited The 3A folks to help judge their first ever mod contest. The winners of the mod contest had the chance of being recruited as employees by Bioware themselves. For their efforts the judges of WoT:3A were awarded some Bioware swag and the only two part profile on their weekly Bioware Wednesday. Becoming the number two server on Bioware's forums after this marked the pinnacle of its success.