Symbols and Tokens and Marks, Oh My!

February 14, 2011






It started small at first. A few reputation items, some gems to trade in for Rift armor, the anniversary coins. It made sense from a game design standpoint to not have the Rift bosses drop the actual armor. Since you never knew for sure what classes would be present, and want to avoid dropping items no person could use. But these barter items were vaguely annoying to me, pulling me out of the immersion in the game.

My unfocused discontent has bubbled up to the surface in the last year or two.

Over the years Turbine has added an almost innumerable menagerie of barter items to the game. The number of tokens, symbols, medallions, marks, gems, etc has gotten ridiculous. I have assigned my bank chests to groupings like armor, LI, and Crafting. My barter chest has the most items in it by far. It has gotten to the point that is rare to even see actual loot drops. Almost all end game armor comes from turn-ins. Weapon drops are useless due to the LI system, which is also based on intermediate items like Symbols of Celebrimbor. About the only gear which remains as loot drops is jewelry.

The Skirmish system has taken this to a whole new level. Now we have an entire system built around the concept of not dropping any loot, but rather marks of an overwhelming variety. You then barter all these widgets for the real loot at a store. It is like the entire game has been turned into some kind of theme park or county fair.

To me, it ruins the feeling of wonder and exploration. You go to some ancient dungeon where, supposedly, nobody has been for ages. You defeat the evil that has resided there collecting all the relics and weapons of power in the area. You loot the chest expecting to find some powerful artifact, instead some weird currency drops which you take back to town and trade in for the armor they should have given you when they asked you to go fight the bad guys. It makes no sense for the story. How in the heck did he get this ancient armor?

I understand it solves problems of the wrong loot dropping, or giving everyone something to take home to feel like they made progress, but it has gotten ridiculous. When you kill the dragon, there should be a pile of loot. Not a Skirmish Mark.

Turbine added this skirmish system like it was a new idea for a universal barter system. Instead of provincial currency for each faction you can now have one system which binds them together, Skirmish Marks. But we already had one… it’s called gold. That’s why God invented money, so we wouldn’t have to trade beads and shells. There is no good reason to subvert the players stored up game-time which that gold represents.

Lest we forget, these barter items grew mostly in answer to the problem of the Elves. That fair folk does not use money, so they could not let us purchase the reputation reward items from them for gold as previous reputation vendors had done. But now that we are out of Elvish lands, somehow it has stuck. Maybe there is some reason for Enedwaith not to use gold, and opt for the Tokens of the Wild. If so I hope we will return to the gold standard when we reach Rohan.

In any case, reputation barter items and Skirmish Marks have drastically bloated the whole barter widget scheme. Here are some of the arguments used to support this system:


Players did not like the original method of armor distribution in the Moria instances. Each challenge mode would drop one barter item for one armor piece. Everyone else got diddly. You could end up running the instance a dozen times before you got lucky and won the role.

So Turbine changed it so that the challenge mode would drop a token for everyone, but now you needed a certain number of them to get the armor. So now every run brings you a little closer to getting the armor. This allows players to see their progress and hold it in their bags.

We are missing that class

Another reason for the Barter items is to prevent the situation which used to happen in the Helegrod raid. The bosses in that instance would drop actual armor pieces. Sometimes nobody in the raid would be of that class, or need the item. Everyone was frustrated by this, however, the item was Bind on Equip so it could be sold and the money split between everyone.

I guess Turbine did not like this so they went to a system of barter gems for the Rift. Each boss would drop one or two gems for a specific armor piece, and then you would run back up the NPC’s in the camp and trade it in for your class armor. The barter gems were Bind on Acquire so they could not be traded or sold.


Another less obvious reason for the creation of the alternate currency systems which all these tokens represent is to preclude gold-sellers from being able to trade in the new currency. Since all the barter items are Bind on Acquire there is no opportunity for trade in them.

This reason initially eluded me (thanks Goldenstar), in part due to how well turbine has done to combat gold-selling the last few years. It does seem a good reason to have at least some barter systems in the game. But i still don’t think it worth the current situation.

Slowing down consumption of new content

Barter items also solve the supposed problem of players saving up gold/items to finish new content too quickly. Many players would hoard gold in order to buy up Bind on Equip items like the Helegrod Armor from the new content, and thus “finish” building their character with previous saved up playtime (gold). The tokens and barter widgets make sure this cannot happen.

The problem is once this mindset takes over, the developers cannot stop themselves from making newer widgets for every release.

Dev 1: “We can’t let players use the IXP tokens from Moria… they will have completed level 65 items too fast.”

Dev 2: “I know.. We will make new IXP tokens that must be used on the new LI’s.”

Dev 1: “But what about these Skirmish marks? They can just buy these Symbols with their pile of Third Marks!”

Dev 2: “NO silly, we will add ….. Superior Third Marks”

Every avenue the player pursues to try and keep advancing or to get ahead, Turbine invalidates with the release of the new content. Are you ready for Fourth marks, Superior Fourth marks, Veterans Fourth Marks? Are you ready for a new batch of IXP tokens? Another set of rep barter items? Scrolls of Greater Empowerment and Greater Delving?

Some of this is to be expected, but Turbine seems to have gone nuts with it. And it has backfired. Many players would gladly grind out IXP tokens and Marks and any other barter widgets (including good old Gold) if they knew it would be useful. But since they now know it will not be of any use in obtaining new content items, many players will just not play, and cancel subs till the new content comes out.

Better to let players, who are disposed to it, save up for the next release. They will “complete” the new content quickly, but then they will keep on saving for the next release. By invalidating their previous playtime, you drive players away from desiring to spend any extra time in game once they have achieved their immediate goal.

Inventory Space

One big issue I have with this Barter Widget mentality is the amount of space it takes up. Turbine has limited our bag and vault space, but then gives us scores of these widgets which are of no use in themselves, but which we must save to progress.

And it seems to go against the common claim they make for not being able to add new items: Database space is too precious. If database space is so precious why do you keep adding dozens of new items to the game which nobody really wants nor can equip. Get rid of all these widgets and add some new armor and weapons.

Reducing the minimum trade in quantity to 1 would help a lot. I should be able to trade in one Moria Medallion for something, even if it were a tier 2 relic. This alone would get rid of half of my stacks of barter items, which I only have because I can’t trade them in for anything till I get a few more.

The barter wallet does help clean up our inventory, and it is a godsend, but doesn’t really solve the base problem. I don’t need Turbine to have a reason to make even more barter widgets.


I am no game designer so I don’t have the solution. All I know is the current system has run wild and risks pulling players out of the carefully crafted world of Middle-Earth Turbine has created. Maybe increasing the variety of jewelry in raids and instances to make them more desirable to run multiple times would allow you to drop a few real class armor pieces instead of trade-ins. Maybe the daily rep quests could drop an array of the loot which is now on the rep vendors in Enedwaith, or have the boss mobs like the named giants and gwibers drop some of the items. Maybe 2nd ages could drop in the world instead of just symbols.

It just seems like the devs have gotten too comfortable with this kind of county fair booth mentality. They make mobs and quests give us tickets and then all they have to do is run this little shop to trade them in. I’m sure it makes it easy to add new items to the game not having to worry about loot tables.. but at what cost?

I miss the days of a Helegrod armor piece dropping from a random mob in Angmar. I miss scouring the orc camps outside Lothlorien for 2nd ages. I want loot drops back. I want the excitement of seeing a rare drop. I want Bind on Equip items to come back, give me a reason to save all this gold. I would also like to see everyone in a 12 man raid come away with a new item. But most of all, I don’t want to see any more Barter tokens, emblems, gems, marks, coins, sticks, feathers…..

I’m not saying all Barter items are a bad idea. I just hope Turbine begins to see what their game is turning into and uses that type of system much more sparingly in the future. It should only be used where no other option presents itself.


This article was written before the patch notes were released. It appears Turbine has taken some steps to remove some of the clutter. The IXP tokens will now all be for level 65. But they have also added in new trade-ins like the new armor token system for the new raid.

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Avatar of Haakon Stormbrow

32 Responses to “Symbols and Tokens and Marks, Oh My!”

  1. Mabusian Says:

    Thanks a lot. You’re summing up my thoughts every time there is a new update.

    And while I understand the use of a skirmish mark system as a non-tradeable currency, everything else is more or less nonsense.

    I’d do the following: Keep gold as tradeable and SMs as non tradeable currency. Make everything else rep- and deed based. Wanna buy Athelas from the Algraig? Have their rep upped to. Wanna buy new raid trousers? 3000 SMs and have finished deed A.


  2. Belamanth Says:

    Truth! The initial idea behind the barter tokens is good and valid. But I also see Turbine painting themselves into a corner.

    Maybe a kind of exchange trade NPC could help. Those could be marked as flying traders, who will take your Lorien leaves and give you Enedwaith tokens.

    That way, you could grind your “currency” in the area which you prefer, and still get the nice stuff from other factions. You would still have to grind your way to the required reputation level anyway.


  3. Aeled Says:

    Never saw it that way to be honest. Sure it takes away space but that’s about the only problem I got with it.

    There will be Superior Fourth Marks and what not but that’s ok with me, the “basic” currency – the Skirmish Marks will still be there. If it was entirely possible to save up stuff in advance then you don’t need new instances, do you? You only need the barter vendors.

    Now, I do miss rare drops and I’d really like to see some in the instances or even on landscape.


  4. Mordant Says:

    The “Barter Wallet” for Skirmish Marks was a first step, but I totally agree, the entire system has some serious flaws.

    It can’t progress like that forever. Every new zone gets a Malledhrim Feather + Star equivalent, just think of Mirkwood and Enedwaith. Then think of the tokens for various pieces for every new raid.

    It don’t want to condemn the system totally, it is working despite the drawbacks.

    An alternative? Once we got “Kindred” there is no more use in working for the Men of Bree, Elves, whatever. Let us continue gaining reputation/favor and use up reputation when we ask for certain goods from the “reputation traders”.


  5. Avatar of Goldenstar
    Goldenstar Says:

    Truth is for me I’m just to darn lazy to figure out what all these tokens are for. There are way too many and it just makes for a confusing system. It needs to be simplified into a currency system that’s straight forward.

    I have no ideas how many times I’ve completed something, gotten a new mark of something-or-other and being like “what the hell is this for?”


    • Buckyball Says:

      Me too Goldenstar. My Barter wallet/ Vault is filled with tokens that I have no clue what they are. Sometimes I’ll talk to an exchange vendor and be pleasantly surprised when I actually have something that can be exchanged. But unless I’m grinding for Rep, I have no idea what any of those things do.


    • Kiarane Says:

      I totally understand what you’re talking about! There’s a gazillion different tokens for an awfully large number of vendors scattered around the world. I have no idea where to trade those marks!


    • Belegedan Says:

      Absolutely – I have these marks but really no idea what I’m supposed to do with them.


  6. Altitis Says:

    This issue is a bit the quest for the philosopher’s stone in many MMOs recently. I think you nailed the core issue very precisely: tokens were meant to avoid raid bosses dropping loot nobody in the raid can use, or forcing unlucky players to grind endlessly for kit they want if the Random Number God isn’t with them.

    But it definitely kills immersion when the dragon’s hoard is a handful of tokens instead of mountains of gold, jewelery and possible the Nauglamir.

    In practical terms, possible solutions to the unwieldy list of tokens could include indeed upward exchanges, as described by Belamanth: hand in all your third marks for a lesser amount of fourth marks would be a good way of simplifying the system. And if Turbine wants to avoid people running around in the newest armor set the moment a new raid goes live, there would always be the compromise of only adding the latest exchange a month or so after the new raid launches.

    Frustrating for people who invest time ahead of new content to save up, but at least the investment isn’t completely wasted that way.

    For immersion, one could imagine that instead of token we’d find some old armor that we’d then take to someone for reforging (though while that works certainly well for plate, I’m a bit more skeptical on the immersiveness of getting old tattered rags of long mouldered magical robes that could somehow be re-tailored but that’s just me).


    • Pjotr Says:

      What do you think about multi-ouput one-shot crafting recipes? A rare tome from the dragon’s hoard describes a way to make a legendary armor. Depending on the crafting materials used (including rare drops from world mobs/boss chests) a crafter can create a piece light, medium or heavy armor. Immersion (not perfect obv), world drops, instance drops, crafting made king again.


  7. Docholiday Says:

    I would expect Turbine to continue the route they’ve started with the Annuminas tokens in that you can exchange them for skirmish marks, and allow you to exchange any token you want for those marks.

    It isn’t a perfect system, but allows for a way to get something for those marks. And to facilitate this option a “trade-in” tab on the appropriate vendor that shows all the available options you have and what they’re worth – basically a “Sell” tab for marks.


  8. DancesInTrees Says:

    Ofc they’re combining IXP runes … they want to add new ones for the level 66-70 weapons we’ll be getting in Isengard :p

    I got fed up of all the stuff that _ought_ to be in the barter wallet and isn’t a while back, and threw together a list - – there’s probably still some stuff missing from it but I shows how far there is to go – but not nearly as prettily as your icons :)


  9. shipwreck Says:

    Well said as always, Haakon!

    I do, however, like the barter items as quest rewards for zones like Mirkwood and Enedwaith. They do take up too much space but I can appreciate a Ranger having some token or other to give to me to “cash in” at their base camp, rather than his happening to have a piece of armour I will not use just laying around his camp.

    I completely agree with what you say about it discouraging people. I spent a good deal of money to get my Burglar a reforged second age dagger, because he is the one character I really focus on when it comes to gear, but it seems utterly pointless for me to make any kind of investment in my other characters when the next string of armour sets is coming down the pipe to be ground out.

    It just doesn’t suit my playstyle (the rarely-raiding casual sort), which I believe I share with many of LotRO’s loyal customers. It might keep the end gaming, min-maxers busy with their endless grinding but for me it’s just not worth it. I’d rather have a _slightly_ inferior armour set and maintain my sanity.


  10. Dan Says:

    Interesting post! I agree that Turbine seems enamored with the whole barter item concept. They have begun to introduce exactly this mechanic into some of the recent DDO content, so I doubt that bartering is going away anytime soon.

    It definitely has some good sides — e.g., more flexibility in how to make progress toward acquiring gear/items. They’ve addressed the space issue with the Barter Wallet. But it seems to me like your concerns boil down to 2 issues: lack of immersion and lack of incentive to run ‘old’ content for marks that will be superseded by new marks from new content. I’m not sure I’m completely convinced by these arguments, though. There will always be mechanics that break immersion — it’s a game, after all, and the steady accumulation of marks is better than grinding unsuccessfully for that rare drop, in my opinion. As far as lack of incentive due to the next round of marks/items being on the horizon — it strikes me that this feeling might emerge from being high-level, endgame-and-raid focused. Is this a concern shared by others who aren’t always worrying about the next cool thing on the horizon?


  11. AsH Says:

    If God invented money, then the Barter System is a work of the devil.. ;-)


  12. Torlyth Says:

    While the amount of bag space these take is annoying at times I find the system lets a casual player “make up” the gap.

    I want to play more and see more. I just don have the time with my two youngsters and odd work schedule. DN and BG are just initials to me. Sure my kin runs them, when I am at work. Still working on Watcher on Sunday afternoons but that is cutting into famiily time and could be an issue real soon.

    The Tokens and skirmish mark let me make up some of that gap and I appreciate it. Do I have fully decked out toons. No. Can I at least contribute. Yes, mostly because I skirmish when I can and the Mora set is still run frequently.

    The removal of radiance is good and bad for me. Will my alts get good armor going forward? Unless they make crafted nearly top end again I doubt it. Doesn’t mean I’ll stop playing or enjoying but with more options in combat logging I’m afraid I might soon be “gear scored” out of groups. At least with Tokens I could grind out radiance for two toons to be Watcher ready. Will it be that way going forward without me begging for help at odd hours? We’ll see.


  13. Strunto Says:

    I think Haakon’s last name should be “Stormcrow,” instead. ;)


  14. Rick Elleman Says:

    Plus there’s the problem of those of us who enjoy them main game, but just DON’T WANT TO skirmish. I’m fine with raids and multi-player skirmish “Classics”, but the single man stuff with the summoned fighter just does NOTHING for me. Lastly, I did ONE skirmish between level 30 and level 50… and the catch-up curve IF YOU DO THAT is just ridiculous!


  15. Sierra Says:

    As an endgame raider in [another MMO], I’m a little mystified that people complained about a boss not dropping loot useful to at least one person in a raid every single kill, and that this actually resulted in change. I wouldn’t be able to count the number of boss kills I’ve racked up where loot was given away for vendoring or disenchanting. That expectation that boss dead = automatic upgrade seems sort of like.. entitlement, or.. some other word that I’d probably be able to think of if it weren’t Monday pre-noon. Perhaps I’ve just never associated the enjoyment of boss kills with the expectation of gear upgrades – the possibility, yes, but only that. If I didn’t get that piece I was hoping for.. well, either I’ll get it next time, or the world probably won’t come to an end anyway.

    I am also not a fan of endless sets of tokens – I find it very difficult to determine what they’re able to be exchanged for, even if I go to non-official/in-game resources, so either they rot in the bank or in my barter wallet, I find. By the time I figure out what I could have used it for, chances are I don’t want it anymore.


  16. Tony Says:

    The unfortunate thing is that without this system people wouldn’t even be playing a lot of the old content. There needs to be some sort of barter system, otherwise every dungeon set has to be updated every time there’s a big change or level increase. It seems everyone is on the same page there… I agree it’s a good idea in concept.

    There really are just too many of them, much like there used to be way too many trash types. I get that if I do something in Annuminas that I’ll get something different if I do something in Helegrod… but between those important items there’s a lot of smaller “trash” barter items that are largely just traded for yet another barter item.

    I have to imagine a lot of that sort of thing can be consolidated, although doing so will probably be a pain in the ass for them.


  17. Tellen Says:

    The issue is that Barter systems are meant to be *supplemental* to normal loot drop mechanics. Designed to be an *additional* progression path to acquiring the items (gear or otherwise) to customize and grow your character.

    LOTRO has fallen into the unfortunate path of using Barter systems to *replace* these mechanics. The other problem being that their Barter systems are far too robust and complex for the average user.

    What they (the development team) should be considering is to shift back to a balance between Barter systems and randomized loot drops and also to condense certain Barter systems to be more simple, removing excessive or unnecessary tokens/marks/etc.


  18. Dreadhed Says:

    Other than the barter items taking up space, I think it is a good game mechanic. Imagine how much more space real loot items would take up? And most of it would be vendor trash anyways.

    It would be nice if they streamlined it a bit, I don’t think we should have new items, barter tokens for every zone. Although I don’t think it would be right for someone to accumulate 100 Lothlorien gold leaves and be able to use those to pick up all the barter items in Mirkwood… I don’t know it is kinda clunky, but I agree with the devs that we need to force player to run the content in new zones to get the new gear in zones. Maybe reputation gating is whe way to go, idk…


  19. JJ Says:

    I don’t see anything wrong with the current system of:

    A) rare jewelery drops (because good jewelery is useful for a variety of classes)
    B) specific tokens for end-game armour from the instance/raid that that armour is related to (whatever specific system is used, whether the moria tokens or the individual roll-on pieces)

    This lets them actually design class-specific armour (which is cool and fun) without either having it go to waste or enabling people to get the instance reward without doing the instance. And if you look at the biggest complaint on the forums at the moment it is that the rewards from doing the instance aren’t good enough so ppl won’t do the instances – if you could get all the armour from new instance clusters by just grinding skirm marks or gold then that problem would be even worse.

    Also housing items are genuinely cool rare-loot drops, and aren’t obsoleted when you level up like pretty shinies are.


  20. grimbran Says:

    Personally, I’ve raided a lot in another major MMO (several of the people expressing discontent here obviously played the same one, by certain words used.). They used a Mixed barter/drop system where you had random set and non-set pieces drop, along with guaranteed mark drops, but had the mark purchases very high in mark cost.

    I hated that system and I welcome LOTRO’s mark-only system.(where the cost per piece is far more moderate, with much shorter raid lockouts as well) The problem with the other system was that unless you lucked out and RNG was on your side to get pieces from rolls, you had to grind an absurd amount of regular raiding to get anything via tokens. That made for a system that was far less accessible to the casual raiders, because it took hardcore full-time raiding to get any set, unless they got very very lucky with RNG.


  21. Fidzy Says:

    I am new to the game (4 months now?) and I am already cluttered with these marks. I fully agree with you.

    I know this is not in your line of thought but…
    In the meanwhile they reduce the use of marks and symbols, would it not be possible to put all possible marks and symbols in the barter wallet?

    I hope you will be hear !


  22. Digger Says:

    One other effect not noted is the current inflation in the price of items when using coins. During the last couple months it seems as though the inflated values have soared upward. This renders gold less and less valuable. While it used to be uncommon for a player to have 50 gold, now it seems many have far exceeded that.

    I speculate that the inflation is caused by several things. First, our economy has three currencies at least – coins, barter items, and TPs. Second, while the coin generators continue to work (drops, awards, etc), there are fewer and fewer sinks or things to buy that consume the coins. Many alts adds to the account purse until one asks “What can I possibly buy with coins that I want?” The final contributor is the growing number of end-game alts who gather coins but don’t spend them very much.

    I don’t know a solution, but I do see that the economic system in Lotro is confused and conflicted. It needs a sorting out badly before the price of one mithril flake goes to 25 gold.


    • Pointy Says:

      Wow what server are you on? Prices where I am started high (several gold) but now they seem to sell for about 500s apiece…


  23. Pointy Says:

    I quite liked the idea in Lorien that their ‘currency’ was the leaves and branches, but yeah to much!

    So we have skirmish tokens, festival tokens, two types of token each from Enedwaith, Mirkwood and Lorien, anniversary tokens, moria/lorien/dol guldor medallions…

    The barter wallet WAS a good idea, but it’s already broken with some of the skirmish marks not going into it. What would make more sense is that ALL BoA tokens (not the jewels from the Rift/DN etc) should go in it. My bank is already full of stacks of leaves, branches, feathers and whatnot. If they increased the stack sizes of these to a thousand or something it would be a start.

    BTW what is the one second row from the bottom, second in from the right? I don’t think I’ve seen that before. There are actually a few of similar shape in your line up.



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