Alternate Abilities ("AAs") were introduced with the Shadows of Luclin expansion. It is designed as a method for players to continue to advance their characters as they approached the maximum level allowed (currently level 75) in Everquest. Upon reaching level 51, a character on an account which has one or more of the appropriate expansions registered has the option to divert up to 100% of the experience he earns (in increments of 10%) towards earning Alternate Advancement points. Each AA point costs approximately the same amount of experience as leveling from 50 to 51 (since revamp in 09-2006 revamp - better wording?). AA points are also awarded for completing certain special (and rare) quests, such as the Epic Weapon and Dragons of Norrath progression quests.
The points can be used to purchase a variety of enhancements and abilities that can significantly increase a character's effectiveness. In the Alternate Advancement Window, the abilities are mostly grouped by the expansion in which they were released. Before a character can purchase a particular ability, he must have the appropriate expansion enabled on his account. Some abilities also have other requirements, such as the character having achieved a certain level or having already purchased certain pre-requisite abilities.
Alternate Abilities can be grouped into six categories:
- General Abilities - These abilities are available to all characters and are usually enhancements to the character's basic statistics such as strength or intelligence. They also include enhancement to the character's resistance scores as well as some very simple improvements like increased health regeneration.
- Archetype Abilities - The classes are divided into 4 archetypes: Pure Melee, Hybrids, Priests and Mages. Archetype Alternate Abilities are ones shared by all of the classes of a particular archetype. Archetype Abilities include skills that increase the effectiveness of healing spells, extend the duration of beneficial spells, or allow a melee character to attack for more damage. Some Archetype Abilities are available to multiple Archetypes, others are restricted to a single group.
- Class-specific Abilities - These are generally some of the most powerful Alternate Abilities available, and are restricted to specific classes. Some are available to several classes, others are available to only members of a single specific class.
- Leadership AAs - Introduced in the EverQuest: Gates of Discord expansion; Leadership AAs give the leader of a group the ability to add effects or utility to their group. Bonuses such as extra ATK or HP and utility functions such as HoTT(Health of Target's Target) or Mark NPC can often make groups more effective. Raid leaders can also gain LAAs toward leadership effects which help entire raids.
- Veteran Awards - Introduced only recently, these special abilities are awarded to accounts based upon the time they have been active. Accounts that are closed and later re-opened do not lose the time they have accrued, but do not accrue credit toward new Veteran Awards while they are closed/suspended. The Veteran Awards Abilities earned are fixed based upon the number of years the account has accrued. These awards are not automatically enabled, but must be "claimed" by the player within the game. A given account may claim the awards it has earned on a number of characters equal to the number of years it has accrued. If Veteran Awards are claimed for a character that is later deleted, the Awards are lost and cannot be claimed for another character in its stead, until another year's bonus is earned.
- Progression AAs - as yet there is only one example of this type of ability, the Curse of the Blood ability which came with the EverQuest: Depths of Darkhollow expansion, which is activated as certain quests and mob kills are completed by the player.
It's generally accepted that characters at the lower end of the level range able to earn Alternate Abilities should wait to begin doing so (the accepted maxim being: Levels > AAs > Spells > Gear). This recommendation is based on the observation that as the character gains levels allowing him to access harder content, Alternate Ability points are usually earned faster. A character hunting in the zones appropriate for a level 51 character will earn AAs slowly, while one hunting in zones appropriate to characters at higher levels (65 to 70) can earn them far faster.
While this is general observation is almost certainly true for most cases, some AAs are important for certain classes at an early level; a soloing enchanter with Run Speed 3 will almost certainly die on considerably fewer occasions when charm kiting than one that lacks this ability and thus will almost certainly progress faster due to shortened down time and lost XP. Rangers with Archery Mastery are likely to be more welcome in groups in their early 60s than those without, and thus again are likely to level faster.
The value of a particular ability will vary depending upon play-style and the gear that character has earned. A well-geared character will often find most of the statistic General Abilities worthless if they are at or near the limits on those statistics. A character mostly played on raids often uses different skills and faces different situations than a character that mostly plays in small groups or solos (hunts without any partners).