2021 ARG: A Postmortem

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Last year, we secretly included a miniature ARG (Alternate Reality Game) that resulted in the discovery of the Inner Workings, a functioning 16-bit calculator done entirely through Realm’s XML. The full trail of breadcrumbs people figured out in this treasure hunt is documented on the Inner Workings wiki page, for anyone who wasn’t involved at the time.

The collaboration and excitement we saw from the community in this brief period was something special, but the ARG itself was made pretty hastily (not the calculator though, that took half a year). This April Fools, we wanted to bring back that same spirit of cooperation, deduction, and thrill of discovery.

So we went bigger. A lot bigger. So big that we felt an eventual recap on the wiki likely wouldn’t do total justice to how much effort people put into piecing it all together. The rest of this post was written progressively in real time to document the many theories, hurdles, and breakthroughs from the community. Between Reddit, the Realmeye forums, Discords, livestreams, and chats, we can’t promise that this is absolutely exhaustive or that every breakthrough here was truly the first to discover something, but we hope this encapsulates the mad detective work people put into this.

Part 1: The numbers, Craig, what do they mean?!

There are a couple potential starting points in this ARG that could have tipped people off to something being amiss, as it wasn’t totally linear like last year. But the most obvious kickoff was the strange Sprite World room with a simple equation drawn on the ground: 16 + 16 = ?

This was questioned throughout several Reddit posts and Discord comments, and many worked independently for a few hours before some joint discussion emerged. It wasn’t long before the first major discovery was made through a simple assumption. Inputting this equation into the Inner Workings calculator and calculating the sum prompted Craig to join you in the room.

A lead! Or so it would seem. Although this was the first clearly new interaction, the monumental importance of that “just remind me about numbers” line went unattended for a painfully long time. See, around this same time Craig himself was discovered in the Sprite World. He could be killed if careless, but if one noticed a passive Magic Sprite, sticking around would prompt some dialogue. Craig actually has several random and contextual conversations, but the first (and for now presumed only) speech happened to be a gag about Skuld.

This sent people on two equally hopeless wild goose chases: Do something with Skuld, and/or do something with a different instance of Craig. The irony is that people were already THIS close to the next big breakthrough, but an understandable bit of overthinking led to much fruitless searching. Poor Craig had all sorts of random things shouted at him to no avail.

Dozens of increasingly creative theories came up at this point, including thoughts on how to get Craig to appear and how to make him talk once you find him (spoiler alert, you don’t have to say anything). But to keep this post from being unreadably long, we’ll mostly cut to the chase. However, there is one vital post that had the entire team wincing as we silently watched.

Reminding Craig about the numbers by saying “numbers” IS the correct next step! Yet poor CandyShi only spammed it before a conversation with Craig had begun. It can only be said after Craig has acknowledged you but before he gets carried away with another topic, a window which was just barely missed. Because of how decisive this image looked, “numbers” was dismissed for a long while.

Streamer ArrowStorm and his guild ELITE are the first known people to have figured this out anyway. The “numbers” prompt was successively spoken at 1:23:40 in this stream, yet even this wasn’t a total victory yet, because he unfortunately ran away for safety while Craig spoke and missed out on the opening of the Consolation of Draconis portal. Instead, this was briefly interpreted to have to do with the Lair of Draconis. Thankfully, just 20 minutes later the portal was noticed for real, and the first Consolation of Draconis was accessed.

Part 2: The Great Number Hunt

Realmeye and other discussions had been stumped for a while, but once Arrow’s findings were public, the floodgates opened. Soon people realized that there are several different combinations of Roman numerals and numbers, and Craig was sought out by many number hunters to document all the combinations.

Deciphering them… that was another story. Up until this point, an essential piece of the puzzle was still being dismissed by most detectives: The Kingdom Stowaway NPC in the Deadwater Docks.

Some brought it up, but the suggestion was mostly waived off for quite a while, deemed unrelated and just a little lore secret for DDocks specifically. People tried guessing with all sorts of different ciphers, including finding a real one called Oryx, but with no meaningful result. The ideas got pretty wild at this point. People quite literally began looking to the stars for guidance.

The truth is that the Kingdom Stowaway IS the cipher, and quite a bit more than that too. Early on April 1st, people started to give more credibility to the theory of his importance to the larger puzzle.

It was gradual, and only small groups of people were starting to see the relevance (let alone what to do with his lines that kept getting discovered). Many others were still fixated on chasing LoDs, cemeteries, more Consolations of Draconis, the Realm Eye, and even the Beekeeper logs. Things were desperate and frantic, but in time the stowaway was recognized, even by major sources like streamers.

Part 3: Soliloquy of the Stowaway

Just like the sheets people put together for the Consolation of Draconis number combos, it was time for people to hunt the Kingdom Stowaway and compile everything he could possibly say. There’s just one catch that would make gathering the clues a fair bit trickier than the numbers.

It’s true, the lines could be arranged into a 32-line poem. But unlike the accidental misdirection for things like Skuld and the Lair of Draconis, this part included INTENTIONAL red herrings. The stowaway doesn’t just say a line when you hang around him for a few moments, but he also says something upon death. These lines aren’t structured the same consistent way as his poem lines, and also have no relevance to it. But if the lines are compiled together recklessly without documenting the context of each line… people would make quite a bit of avoidable extra trouble for themselves.

Thankfully, some compilers were thorough enough to sort these lines and rightfully assume that the death lines were unrelated. Still, many theories existed about the death lines, including some very firm beliefs that saying the next line of the poem would prompt him to die without being hit, which is… not true. Plenty of others were still skeptical the stowaway was related to the ARG at all, even as evidence of a relation became more compelling with lines such as “…may do the math.”

The greatest connection of all came from the “…and study the stone…” line.

Jokes aside, however, April 2nd was a divisive day. Some believed the ARG had already been solved to the fullest extent possible and that more parts would be slipped into future updates. Some were still fixated on a relation to the Lair of Draconis and performing specific actions to trigger something. A handful of people continued discovering new stowaway lines and correctly deduced the rhyming scheme and structure, but the thought of the consolation numbers being used as a code for the speech was not yet a theory at all.

It was only in the second half of the day when almost all of the stowaway’s presumed 32 lines were found and it was generally agreed that they had to be sorted into verses. In the meantime, each line was being dissected for what it could possibly refer to. More importantly, the structure was all but figured out. Starting with a capital letter meant it was the first of four lines, ending with a full stop meant it was the last, and the middle two would trail off with ellipsis. Since lines 2 and 4 would always rhyme, that meant that only line 3 had to be pieced in if the others all made good sense.

People were only short one line. Incidentally, this happened to be the actual last line of the passage, and also the only one to namedrop Oryx directly. When someone found it… let’s just say it was a big deal.

Part 4: Cryptology

All the pieces were finally in play, and people sure got to work! The detectives instantly banded together with different assemblies of all the lines, some of whom were VERY close on their first tries. It was just a matter of time before the lines were put together correctly. But while the complete poem was filled with clues in and of itself, people still had to figure out how the numbers and numerals played into it. The correct order of the poem is as follows:

One person actually figured out exactly how to decipher this before all the lines were even discovered! They were just a bit ahead of their time.

Over the weekend of April 3rd and 4th, we expected the puzzle to be beaten. All the clues were there, and the ARG Discord server had grown to over 500 people. However, most efforts at this time were put into bruteforcing the code with programs for any conceivable combination and code-cracking more complex than we ever imagined people attempting.

The efforts were extremely impressive! But unfortunately also misguided for a few reasons. First of all, having the correct order of the poem is of course very important. There are 32 number combinations and 32 lines, and when put together correctly, the letters would spell out the ancient chant. But the real kicker here is that the chant isn’t actual words like people were expecting to find, but instead an incantation like those spoken by the Twilight Archmage and other characters, such as “Toahc Xiflis’TOh Merilmeril Qualtinoc!” “Firos Xiflis’TOh Gantsualo Quantinoftus!” and “Eltak Xifls’TOh Audraxas Qualtinero!” There are consistencies among these, and with enough translated, it could click. The complete answer is as seen below.

Watching the bruteforce attempts at this time was fascinating, because at points people would actually find correct pieces of this when certain lines were correct. Bits of “QUANTANATIPO” in particular was caught several times but wasn’t paid much mind.

We figured the best chance at the style being recognized by a lore-savvy person would be the “XIFLISTOH” section, but most versions of organizing the poem still had that section of lines misplaced at the time.

There was more to this than just guesswork, of course. Some lines, if arranged improperly, wouldn’t have enough letters to match the required number. If the individual verses were correct and the more obvious lines were placed correctly, there’s only a small handful of ways it could truly be arranged.

Some team members tried to “subtly” talk people out of bruteforcing and focus more on solving the poem into something that flows. The community detectives were so close! But as bruteforcing continued to be fruitless, people started steering away toward incorrect ideas. To spare some time and frustration, that Monday we decided to give a more direct hint in the day’s blog.

You have all the pieces, so seek guidance in the lines.

Brute efforts are for naught, only flowing thought will see the signs.

Ancient chants are not in our own tongue, that much is certain.

Be deductive for the right order, from then it’s time for the final curtain.

The biggest clue here, and one which people figured out immediately, is that the ancient chant indeed refers to the type of chant spoken by the Twilight Archmage.

A couple ideas spawned from this, such as the existing lines being part of the code instead of needing to make a new one out of the stowaway’s encryption. But the dominant theory remained the use of the stowaway’s lines matching to letters within it. Some of the similar patterns throughout those chants were recognized from past efforts, and with an idea of how the result should look, soon the code began to crack.

In less than an hour, great progress was made on the solution. The pieces kept falling into place.

Part 5: Shattering the Case

It all came down to this. A couple ideas for arrangements were still being worked out, but most of the poem’s correct order was locked in, and it could be read in full as the final clue on how to use the chant. When the chant is spoken after the King is killed, the path back opens.

Going all the way back to the middle part of the dungeon, up to the first switch path, and exploring the normally dilapidated path results in a never before seen area, featuring none other than the strategist’s game: Chess! Just like last year’s calculator, this is a fully functional Chess game done through XML, featuring castling, en passant, and a rematch system.

And that last line about leaving only a queen and nothing more? Well… we’ll let the original reaction video do the talking there.

The LONG awaited Shatters rework is indeed coming in the Month of the Mad God! With a very tiny taste of the redone art as well. And if you’d like to play Chess without going through an entire Shatters, you can tell Guill “Guill I would like to play chess please” for instant access.

And now a moment of respect for the man who was right time and time again before anyone else.

We hope this unique (and very long) post was an entertaining recap of this year’s puzzle, and we especially hope the participants had fun solving it! Believe it or not, this is still the “concise” retelling of things. We didn’t even cover some of the most adventurous theories (like a certain idea involving candles in Oryx’s Castle, or dropping Oryx’s wine into water). The creativity and determination shown by the community and the entire Discord server that spawned from this really impressed the whole team. Enjoy Chess, look forward to the Shatters reconstruction, and we hope you’ll join any ridiculously elaborate treasure hunts we hide in the future!

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