Diablo II came out in June 2000. I looked for any sign on the web of my old buddies from Kreet's Clan but found no sign of them. Surfing around the web, I ran across Woody's Asylum, and it turned out that a separate, much larger community of Diablo variant lovers had sprung up and grown. Woody was the founder and an important leader of this movement, but he was also fading off the scene at the time I arrived. I found the Lurker Lounge and Realms Beyond Diablo via Woody's pages.
I came up with new single player variants for Diablo II, starting with Thrower, an all-throwing-weapons Barbarian character. I moved on to Hotfoot, a fire-tree-only "Hot Babe" Sorceress, and the variants grew more esoteric from there. I published my initial reports on the Lurker Lounge, but the LL was a forum, and my stories were being lost to the back pages all too quickly. That was shrinking their audience.
So I decided to make my own fansite, where my reports and stories could be stored and remain accessible through time. I first opened the page in late August of 2000, but it was not truly operational until October.
In December 2000, I launched my first 8-player Diablo II Team Variant, a D2 version of my old Elemental Strike Team concept. There I met Cyrene and Jaffa Tamarin, two stalwart gaming buddies, and also got to play with Spiderdrake and Charis at length for the first time. I ended up running several more team variants, the second of which had me gaming with Occhidiangela for the first time.
In January, I started the tale of Ember, my hardcore Firebolt-only sorcie variant. She went with minimal items and no armor at all through Normal difficulty, then up to 25 Strength in Nightmare and a few choice item indulgences. This variant caught the imagination of Lurker Lounge host Bolty who promoted it heavily. I was posting the report one section at a time, and it developed quite a following. More than eight thousand unique visitors and, at peak, over 30,000 hits per day, meaning a lot of folks were checking in over and over again, to see if the latest chapter had been published.
Variant play was widely accepted and understood by a large portion of the Lurker Lounge community, but there was another section of fans new to the concept. Ember's celebrity helped boost the popularity of variant play in general, and it catapulted me into the Diablo II spotlight.
I got a special invite to the "Stress Test" beta for the Diablo II expansion pack. My CD got lost somewhere, though, and if not for a certain benefactor, who asked not be revealed, I would have missed out on the beta, and therefore missed out on a plethora of lessons learned from that experience.
The D2:LoD beta is a Story Unto Itself because it represented the turning point in my game-development activities. Sometimes a person needs a bit of a shove to get going. That's where I got my shove. Many thanks to all the individuals who interacted with me during that experience.
I was dissatisfied with the expansion pack (to say the least) and quit playing Diablo II in September 2001, never to return.
However, one should never say never. In 2004, three years after releasing the expansion, Blizzard Entertainment finally produced a long-overdue patch for Diablo II, which fixed numerous outstanding issues and restored enough balance to the game to attract me back for occasional play.
As of this writing, I have a New Team Variant in operation, and the folks involved have been having a great time.
While many of my variants for Diablo II remained informal, I did compose written rules for some of them, particularly the team variants. You may still be able to find copies in obscurity in an archive somewhere.
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