About this Author
Andrew Phelps Andrew Phelps is an assistant professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, in Rochester, NY. He is the founding faculty member of the Game Programming Concentration within the Department of Information Technology and his work in games programming education has been featured in The New York Times,, USA Today, National Public Radio, and other publications. Email:
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May 26, 2006

PVP and the Honorable Enemy

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Posted by Andrew Phelps

Recently my WoW guild has been having a bit of a debate on the merits of Player-vs.-Player (PvP) within Azeroth. My personal opinion on this is that PvP has its merits, and can be incredible fun, but the system within WoW is horridly, horribly broken. It takes into account the concept of the battle, but battle without consequence, without emotive context, and most importantly, without honor. Consider the following incredibly simplistic notion of honor as it relates to our historical myths of idealized combat:

The notion of the honorable warrior is, of course, completely idealized. In the real world, humans have been doing rather horrible things to one another for quite some time. But in both Eastern and Western culture, the notion of the honorable warrior, the ‘fair fight’, and the ‘rules of engagement’ have emerged.

In the Western tradition, we can see the concept of honor bound up in the stylized notion of the Medieval Knight. Far from the reality of the Middle Ages, the Knighthood was romanticized as the lone warrior (from the reality of the cavalry), the leader, the role-model, and the representative of the feudal kingdom. Knights represented all that was fair, and as this hero-class was associated ever more with the Roman-Catholic religion, the notion emerges that the Knight also represents values that are “good” within Western culture. This is reflected most notably in the Arthurian Legend, L’Morte De’Artur, Canterbury Tales, etc.

This concept of the Knight as the representative of God is hugely important to our modern romanticized concept of feudal honor. The notion of the duel, the joust, the ritual of war (as opposed to actual war), and the idea of ‘honor among enemies’ are direct reflections of New Testament values, attempting to materialize the persona of Christ in the honorable warrior. (As opposed to what was actually occurring during the Crusades…)

Eastern cultural myths also play into our modern notion of honorable war. Japanese culture reflects upon this, a feudal society that in many ways is similar to pre-Renaissance Europe, but replaces the feudal clan with one more akin to a large family. Thus the values of the family are reflected in the mythology of warfare: killing the leaders of an opposing family is acceptable, but killing women and children is an act of betrayal and shame. Killing a defenseless opponent has no honor, as the ultimate sacrifice is to die in defense of the family, not randomly alone without the ability to defend.

There is a second important notion that I (possibly mistakenly?) attribute to Eastern cultural influence, although it has certainly made the rounds and been modified several times over as it passes through cultural barriers: the concept that ‘evil plays by the rules’. This is reflected in the writing of Japanese fiction, in Anime, in the works of Matsumoto, etc. Evil may be evil, but there is a form and ritual to the combat that will be respected: conflict is violent, and usually lethal, but it is a settling of matters between respected enemies, both of whom are masters of form and etiquette. This can be seen as a reflection of Shintoism prior to the imperial army (in particular prior to this century), and the concepts of opposites in nature.

Humorously, one can see several of these stylized concepts, and the eventual degradation of honorable combat, in reflecting upon Star Wars. In the original Star Wars of 1977, good is personified in Obi-Wan, and evil in Darth Vader. Yet these two characters are similar, they hail from the order of the Jedi, and there is, to be sure, a ritual to their combat. (I mean seriously… laser swords!)

But think about what should have happened if Vader was evil: he should have sensed them coming into the Death Star just as he did in the original, but then he might have held a light saber to Leah’s throat, demanded that the others come before him or she gets the axe, and then when they are all in a room together he chops her head off and then cores Luke before the others can react. Then he refuses to fight Obi-Wan because there is the possibility of loss, and instead sends every single storm-trooper available at him while he escapes the Death Star and then nukes it from orbit. That would have made a terrible movie, but it is plausible if one removes the concept of honor, even in its evil form, from Vader.

Later, in the most recent installment, we see Lucas trying to strip Vader of this honor, because he wants us to hate him. We see Anakin walk into the Jedi temple and slaughter the children of the order, defenseless five-year olds. And this is truly abhorrent, because it flies in the face of our collective sense of the ‘fair fight’ and the ‘honorable warrior’, even thought it is in character for one of the Sith. (Although, to be honest, some of us are happy to see the little brats get smashed because they are portrayed to be so incredibly innocent that we cynically want to see evil smash them into tiny pieces.)

So if we can agree on this idealized notion of ‘honor’ as it relates to the collective fantasy of war, it then follows that there is also the notion of ‘dishonor’ – of the warrior’s actions bringing disgrace upon the tribe/clan/kingdom/family he represents. And in the semi-historical roots listed above both Western and Eastern culture have mechanisms that fit right into this concept. To the Western Knight, the ultimate condemnation for dishonorable action comes in the form of excommunication. The Knight, who was a representative of their God, is denied the bond of worship and the reward of afterlife. In the more family-bound concept of honor prevalent in Eastern myth, the dishonorable warrior is expunged from the memory of the family, removed from the collective memory, to have never existed.

And this is precisely what is missing from World of Warcraft. Characters of level 60 have no incentive to fight fair, to use the ritual of combat to enforce a code of honor between the Alliance and the Horde. Instead, people gank other characters 20 levels below them. It doesn’t earn them honor points, but it also doesn’t lose honor either. There is no incentive to constrain warfare to those of roughly equal ability – and so we have elder knights rampantly slaying virtual children, to the detriment of the social fabric of the world.

Imagine a system where there was some form of social metric that assigned actual judgment to the honor of a kill – it isn’t honorable to wait in someone’s closet and stab them with a poison dart in the toe when they are getting ready for bed. One might argue that it is skillful, or masterful in its sneakiness, but it isn’t honorable. It is incredibly ironic that a virtual world that has evolved from so much of the mythology surrounding a romanticized view of the Middle Ages then chooses to ignore this fundamental tenet of that same view. And it also destroys the believability of the rest of the system – one can’t reasonably fantasize about knights and dragons, when the knight just slaughtered a baby for no discernable reason.

When I talk about this with people (thus far anyway) I typically get one of two responses, either “yeah, right on!” or “hey, it’s war, and war isn’t honorable – grow the hell up”. There is a lot to be said for that argument – but the problem is that war in the real historical world has very different constraints that are utterly absent from fantasized worlds (note also the irony of using realism as an argument to defend a fantasy world from constructs of fantasy). In the true historical battle, Knights managed not to kill all of the women and children, because killing everyone meant that there would be no harvest the following year and everyone would starve to death. Killing all the women meant that society could not reproduce. Killing everything in sight and then squatting on the land meant plague, disease, and death.

None of these constraints or conditions are in any way reflected in Azeroth, they have been replaced by instant, fully functioning resurrection without consequence. And this is what enables the endless death-loops of players corpse-camping each other to get yet another kill – the utter lack of consequence of action.

I imagine, one day, an Alliance general returning from razing an entire Horde village to the ground, killing the undead men, women, children, and animals, burning the crops and plundering the countryside. He saunters back into town only to be decapitated by his own tribe, because to do otherwise is to condone the behavior. Even in the conflict of Azeroth, there should be honor.

Comments (41) + TrackBacks (0) | Category:


1. Kevin on May 29, 2006 9:18 AM writes...

Can't really argue with you on that one. Point made.

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2. Patrick on May 30, 2006 3:04 PM writes...

I think this is a great point. If a Azeroth was supposed to be a "dirty war" kind of place, then the game mechanics need to reflect this and players can emerse themselves in it.

If it's not, then the game mechanics need to reflect the idealized fantasy that the game so clearly draws upon.

But what I see with WoW, (and this is the reason I've canceled my own subscription), is that Blizzard is trying to play the middle line to draw both types of players for increased market penitration. Fine by me if that's their gig, but it's not mine. I look for games that have clearly defined environments and will let me submerge myself in their "world".

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3. Adam Blinkinsop on June 7, 2006 6:18 PM writes...

I'm not sure if just losing honor is enough of a deterrent. Before honor got put into WoW, people were doing the same thing - I'd bet that 60s who raid and don't care about ranks wouldn't care about honor either.

Besides, if even one out of every hundred has a problem being honorable, that's still 65,000+ people. I don't know of any mechanic that will help with this.

Like Patrick, I think Blizzard is trying to appease too many people with WoW. Give me D&D any day.

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4. Alan on June 7, 2006 7:05 PM writes...

I completely agree with you, great article. This was one of the primary reasons I quit WoW. I am also very fustrated at any MMO that mixes PvP with PvE. It allows one person to completely ruin another persons gaming experience for as long as they want. Unless the victim logs out or takes a rez penalty.

I think negative honor points would be a deterrent. They do it when you kill a "civilian" NPC. But it introduces a lot of problems like immortal healing and accidental penalties from using AoE attacks. They did put in safe zones where you cannot be attacked unless you attack. But there are very few zones like this and you can only advance to a certain low level in these areas.

WoW did introduce "Battlegrounds" which gives you the option of going to a "carebear" server and only engaging in PvP in special battleground instances. But if you went to a PvP server and leveled up a 60 character, you are stuck there unless you re-roll. And then there is no PvP in Azaroth at all except for duels and battlegrounds.

I think ultimately if video games are to reach the immersive level of movies, they need more character and plot elements like you mentioned. Its a long step for video games, but if anybody can start doing it they will be way ahead of the rest.

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5. Klaus on June 8, 2006 2:33 AM writes...

Ever tried Guildwars?

Even if you do not have a maximum level character with the best equipement possible, you can simply choose to create one specificallyRules are not automatically abided these days, in most cases they have to be enforced. Sport needs referees; society needs the police; even all religions claiming to be free-choice enforce their rules rather cruelly onto the individual.

So if a game does not enforce certain rulers in order to keep the gameplay intact, it will fall to pieces, mainly because people do get fun out of things, you rightfully say are unfair towards others.

So have you ever tried Guildwars?

Even if you do not have a maximum level character with the best equipment possible, you can simply choose to create one specifically for PvP. (Such character are not useable outside PvP zones thought)

Nobody will be able to win a PvP duel simply because he played the game longer than you and owns ubor-items. Since all duellists are max level and got max items your skills combined with your “build� and a lot of team play will be required to win.

The game has no monthly subscription fee, so there is little risk in trying it out.

The PvP mode encompasses matches similar to capture the flag, team deathmatch, double domination and assault.

After you leave a PvP match or it ends, it is really over, all penalties will be removed or reset for the next match.

Its creators are 90% former Blizzard employees, some of them quit during WoW development because they didn’t like the direction it was taking and decided to do their own thing.

For all games however it is a simple equation: Do I gain or loose more customers by enforcing or introducing new gameplay elements? That will ultimately decide if honour is required.
for PvP.

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6. Mr Bull on June 8, 2006 5:40 AM writes...

I think that your all forgeting the reason we play video games. FREEDOM!!!

Being a bastard is as valid a character choice as being honourable!!

Rules are there to be broken.
You can't control a players desires within the game and why would you want too!!
A more complex honour/dishonour system needs to be implamented where you can travel as far down the dishonour line as the honourable. If your going to split the world into neutral, contested and friendly areas, why not use this as incentive and deterrent. Play like a bastard for too long and your unwelcome in your fractions starting areas (e.g. Ironforge, stormwind) and become more welcome in contested areas with opposing fractions.

In the end of the day, the player pays a subscription to play wow and should be allowed to play which ever way they wish.

Choices should always have consequences, but you should never try and control a player.

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7. Chris on June 8, 2006 6:46 AM writes...

That was an interesting read.
I think almost everyone who has played the game will agree that there should be some honour system in place.
I mean, it's not supposed to be Battlefields, is it?

Of course, I know why there isn't one in place.
When you play PVP, your fight will be different each time. When you play PVE, you play missions that Blizzard has created, which do start to get repetative.
The people who want to play through the game normally don't tend to eventually get bored and wander off, or alternately they hit level 60 and then wander off, and aren't exactly Blizzard's main target. Even if they weren't annoyed at constantly being killed by other players, they'd be gone soon enough.

The people who hang around are the people who play the game like it was Battlefields, so of course Blizzard are going to pander to them, because in the long run it is they who will be easiest to keep paying the monthly subscription.

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8. Will on June 8, 2006 11:39 PM writes...

Agree completely, and when I try to present these ideas on the wow forums, I am attacked with such remarkable life philosophies as "red is dead." Yes, thought is a lot of work, perhaps we should abandon it and base our code of honor on a color.

Someone above said they should be able to play without honor if they choose. I don't disagree, but there should be consequences that label you as a person without honor, which should lead to further consquences such as npc's hating/fearing you, being outcast from certain areas, and even npc bounty hunters or guards hunting for you. There needs to be a consequence for being an ass and taking advantage of the helpless, and rewards for fighting with honor and integrity.

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9. DS-Fallen Angel on June 9, 2006 1:50 AM writes...

There is also class consistancy to think of take the point you made about waiting in the closet and shooting someone in the toe you say thats sneaky but not honourable. then think of that frmo teh persoective of a rogue, thats what rogues do take a look at their skills and wepons and techniques they should realy be renamed assassins not rogues, and what is honourable among assassins? quick, no mess, untracable. that earns the "honour among theifs" theifs being a loose term here as is Rogue. so honour is not just as simple as "you dont fight fair" honour you describing is a type of honour from the perspective of the rightious. there are many classes and races in the game that are clearly implying different perspectives than just rightious honour.(excuse the spelling)

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10. Magus on July 1, 2006 6:23 PM writes...

I agree with the fact that dishonour should have consequence ( npc faction and equipment restriction)

but the problem is that you respawn in like 3 seconds
after you die! A level 60 character will kill a couple level 20's before going down, but when he goes down he should have to wait an hour or so to respawn. (they are trying for fantasy realism. Like you died! coming back should be enough of a gift!) People need to band together to bring down the giants there's nothing like being the one to to strike the final blow and destroy an Hugh boss and if they're 20+ levels higher then you he should be considered a boss!

Why not form a guild just for that call it the police and just fight the injustices of the game. you talk about freedom not chaos and a governing body is necessary for freedom and you can't expect blizzard to do it.

If anybody want to do this e-mail me at
I canceled my account but am willing to get a new one for this.

Fight the power!!!

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11. Magus on July 1, 2006 6:25 PM writes...

sorry about the spelling in the post above.

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12. runescape money on August 7, 2006 3:29 AM writes...

I dont play wow for my limited time, but my friends do. They have been farming golds since they are level 60, besides the guild activity. It gets boring. Something suggested here for rs gamer to buy the runescape money, uh, there are guys who do need& get it in this way, although the RS dont like it at all.

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13. Nerdian on September 3, 2006 11:11 PM writes...

Alot of good points but a few good counter points. Rouges can be "honourable" if a assassin is sent to kill tyrant he is praised. A knife in the back is not brave but let them know your there your dead. I play dozens of games from fps to rs and muds. In fps dishonourable is considered camping hacking and aim boting. In one game called MUME stripping corpses of allies and selling the items is dishonourable. In rs members act as if they are untouchable and god like till I attack with my rubber chicken. In which case i have passed up offers of 1 million to leave them alone. Its not "honourable" to use a toy to attack people who dont have the same power, but they threw theirs out a long time ago. I try to be honourable really.

But with games many see it as a chance to kill whats not friendly. Regardless of how skilled their oppent is compared to them it's to show that they can kill them and they cant be killed. Basicly in short they have the gameing mind of a sicopath. I buff up to stay even but dont mean I will abandon all of whats honourable. I believe in honour so you hate me? Grab a gun, put your back to mine, and walk out 10 paces, then turn.

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14. Kim Kaze on September 14, 2006 4:33 AM writes...

Just to throw something out there ...

One of our team got hold of an early copy of Dance Factory and this was his funked up, honest review of the first ever console dance mat game where you can use our OWN MUSIC to dance to.

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15. Kim Kaze on September 14, 2006 4:36 AM writes...

Just to throw something out there ...

One of our team got hold of an early copy of Dance Factory and this was his funked up, honest review of the first ever console dance mat game where you can use our OWN MUSIC to dance to.

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16. Kim Kaze on September 14, 2006 4:36 AM writes...

Just to throw something out there ...

One of our team got hold of an early copy of Dance Factory and this was his funked up, honest review of the first ever console dance mat game where you can use our OWN MUSIC to dance to.

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17. Jeremy on September 25, 2006 12:50 AM writes...

Great article

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18. Eric on October 1, 2006 10:45 AM writes...

I like your concepts and I think they can work in an mmo. WoW might not be the right game though.

WoW seems to be more of a gamey-game, a game that puts fun mechanics before immersion/reality mechanics. Their version of PVP stays true to this.

What you're describing could have immediate application in a more "sandbox" type game, such as Eve Online. The upcoming Darkfall looks like it will also be an open PVP, sandbox-type world where players make the rules of engagement, AND it has a fantasy setting.

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19. Kim Kaze on October 10, 2006 8:42 AM writes...

Fact: The games industry is bigger than Hollywood. 2004 saw the total sales of video games far exceeding sales of cinema tickets and DVD sales combined. Books about sitcoms, rock stars and soaps decorate shelves aplenty. Surely it’s the perfect time then, for a book about the history of great gaming?

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20. Kim Kaze on October 13, 2006 8:46 AM writes...

I got a chance to play the Wii for just over two hours, with a QA Tester to answer questions. For an exclusive LONG PLAY session, follow the link below:

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21. Swlkb on October 31, 2006 3:13 AM writes...

indian animals indian women naked

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22. T-Shirts on February 18, 2007 4:24 PM writes...

I'm in the minority too when I say I don't care for PVP at all. I quit Guild Wars when all of my fellow guild members left pve for it.

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23. david on April 10, 2007 1:28 AM writes...

Great article - Honor is was best summed up by Shakespeares "Hotspur" - there is no nobleness in losing life to a meaningless battle...

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24. Video Game Rentals on April 10, 2007 11:03 AM writes...

see the details about honor from shakespears henry the 4th.

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25. Ben on June 6, 2007 8:20 PM writes...

ok, my view. blizz created various servers for different reasons. pvp- so people can corpse camp and gank the crap out of eachother for the hell of it.. and pve where everyone gets along and only fights in battle grounds. it is up to the player to choose which style of relm they play on and thus the play experience.. so realy honour has little to do with anything.. besides. no one is honourable these days...

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26. Anonymous on June 11, 2007 4:36 PM writes...

Ganking low levles on my 70 rogue is so much fun.

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27. Warcraft blog on June 16, 2007 12:17 PM writes...

I like to mix pvp and pve and write about it on my warcraft blog. I am good pve but not yet quite mastered pvp, although I dont suck at it there is room for improvement.

Yes, some people do ruin others gaming experiences, I've had a lot of friends come and go in wow for a long time, but some have stuck around.

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28. Luggage on July 16, 2007 1:03 PM writes...

Great article, even just from a philosophical point. I enjoyed your take on star wars, and your interesting look at the history of war. I was always amazed to see that even in WWII – I mean, where things were really bad, people still did play by certain rules of engagement. It always struck me as strange... but in the real world even evil people have a conscience, and becoming 'truly evil' takes a lot of brainwashing and destruction of the conscience.

In truth, a game like WOW is supposed to reflect the conscience of the real person playing it. But, honestly, every real person is going to do stuff they wouldn't do in real life just for the fun of it. If WOW upgrades to include religious systems (perhaps a dangerous concept, but an interesting one) then they may include something in the game that will make it even more interesting. Perhaps, they could start by having certain tribes play only according to certain honourable principles of their own. Fascinating idea.

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29. canvas oil paintings on August 16, 2007 4:25 AM writes...

You are right about Star Wars. Just like EverQuest, it uses one kind of PvP called flagging. This system involves a Player Killing (PK) flag, where a character has their PK flag set to "off" by default. When this flag is turned on, this allows a PvP combat with other people who have also turned on their flag. In Everquest, there is no way to turn the flag off once it has been turned on. In Star Wars Galaxies, the flag may be turned off by interacting with faction specific NPCs located throughout the game.

As a parent, I have one question though what lesson can be taught to my kids through this system? I’m not against them playing computer games. My concern is whether this system instills an animalistic or humane feeling towards my children.

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30. Artikelverzeichnis on August 24, 2007 9:16 AM writes...

Thanks for very interesting article. btw. I really enjoyed reading all of your posts. It’s interesting to read ideas, and observations from someone else’s point of view… makes you think more. So please keep up the great work. Greetings.

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31. vlad on September 18, 2007 6:50 AM writes...

Very useful article
Thank you

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32. markofando on October 2, 2007 4:07 AM writes...

Want to start your private office arms race right now?

I just got my own USB rocket launcher :-) Awsome thing.

Plug into your computer and you got a remote controlled office missile launcher with 360 degrees horizontal and 45 degree vertival rotation with a range of more than 6 meters - which gives you a coverage of 113 square meters round your workplace.
You can get the gadget here:

Check out the video they have on the page.


Marko Fando

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33. Ionittilk on October 4, 2007 9:22 PM writes...

I’ve got an Amazon gift certificate burning holes in my pocket,
and I want to get the most bang for my buck.

Enter the Secret Amazon Web Pages:

This is where you’re going to find the "latest sales, rebates, and limited-time offers" from
Amazon, and you can score some pretty deep discounts if you’re a savvy shopper.

Next, there’s the special Sale link. This is open every Friday, and ONLY on Fridays.

You can find the same good discounts here as you would in hidden Deals, although some
Fridays you can really get lucky and make off like an Amazon bandit - I’ve seen discounts
there as low as 75% off sticker price.

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34. Coorneync on October 5, 2007 4:44 PM writes...

There's one special secret Sale link on Amazon:

[b]This is open every Friday and ONLY on Fridays! [/b]

You can find very good discounts here, although some Fridays you can really get
lucky and make off like an Amazon bandit - I´ve seen discounts there as low as 75%
off sticker Price.

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35. osram sparlampe on October 28, 2007 7:43 PM writes...

Thank You for another very interesting article. So please try to keep up the great work all the time.

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36. Deceth on November 12, 2007 12:14 PM writes...

Very excellent and well written article!

Im definitely a fan of PvP but agree that some consequence of action is important if the game is to be meaningful.

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37. yellowpages on November 12, 2007 10:13 PM writes...

Wonderful Article i enjoyed reading it, thanks for sharing with us!

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38. Vlad on December 7, 2007 7:35 AM writes...


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39. Jeff on January 5, 2008 3:17 PM writes...


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40. nutcase on January 6, 2008 5:24 AM writes...

Death and decay...
obviously writer has really fantasy version of reality...

should Best pvp players slay your families? or genocide entire race based on outlook?

oh btw all these "horde exp+levels+eq for years" games actually require no Skills in pvp just longer play time than others its like conservatives in real-life saying that everything is possible if you work hard enough and yet they themselves limit noobs to rise in power becouse they just can and are afraid of real competition.

seriously people who play wow etc for pvp in mind has no-life at all becouse you simply cant be good with skills you need years of hoarding all sorts of eq. system is fundamentally flawed it doesnt require skill like chess does but eq and exp... hmm lets see "i has no pawns on chess table just queens and king" vs newcomer who has just pawns and king...

culture of some pvp games is rather intresting thing how hero playing styles+items used chances

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41. Kunst on January 10, 2008 5:08 AM writes...

There are many useful informations in this article. Thanks and greetings from Thuringia!

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