Monday, February 19, 2018

Where Would Wrath 2 Take Place?

One could argue that, together, Warlords of Draenor and Legion served as something of a sequel to The Burning Crusade. Warlords gave us a vision of Outland before it was Outland (it's really weird doing Terrokar Forest having now seen Talador) and Legion brought back Illidan Stormrage and the sci-fi space armada version of the Burning Legion that we had seen in BC.

There's a fair amount of evidence that, while Battle For Azeroth is likely to involve a great deal of Old God content (unless it's Azshara - though she seems to have been announced as an earlier boss - I think N'zoth is a strong candidate for final boss of the expansion,) there are several hints that the Shadowlands will play a big role in what comes next.

And that actually makes sense. While we've had back-to-back expansions focused on certain major evils of the Warcraft universe before (Cataclysm and Mists had lots of Old God stuff, Warlords and Legion were obvious both big on Legion stuff,) it also seems like a good idea to diversify the threats we face. While the Old Gods were not dealt with in any permanent way in either Cataclysm or Mists (though I maintain that we did manage to finally rid Azeroth of the last bit of Y'shaarj - but that leaves one untouched and two only beaten but not broken,) Legion really seemed to wrap up the Burning Legion's story in a definitive way.

If the philosophical realm of Death, along with the physical (or quasi-physical) realm of the Shadowlands, are Warcraft's third major source of evil, they're the piece we've explored the least. It's not even canon (yet) that the Scourge and the Lich King are anything other than a creation of demons - that it's just a demonic tool that broke off and became independent.

But frankly, given how iconic the Scourge are, and how well they fit as an independent threat, it would make sense to put them in a separate category, allowing us to take them just as seriously as the Old Gods and the Legion.

But we have a couple issues to consider:

One is that Wrath dealt with the Scourge in a similar way that Legion dealt with the... uh... Legion. Its leader was not eliminated - Arthas may be dead, but there is still a Lich King on the Frozen Throne, much as Sargeras is not dead, but imprisoned. But with Northrend conquered, the Scourge seems pretty contained.

There's also the question of repetition. Would a Scourge-focused expansion not just be Wrath all over again? We've already had the grueling war of attrition against a foe that replenishes its troops with each one of yours it kills and fought our way to the top of its sovereign's dread citadel. Do we really want to fight the Lich King again, even if it's a different Lich King?

Well, here's a couple notes:

First off, the undead is a bit like a cancer: You can eliminate the largest concentration of it, but if it has spread (and the Scourge sure as hell has spread - there's even Scourge in the Barrens, controlling the Quillboar,) you could always see it build up somewhere else.

Second: it's possible that a Death/Shadowlands/Necromancy-themed expansion would see the Scourge take on a very, very different form. For instance, we know that Drustvar in Kul Tiras is an area where the humans killed off the indigenous Drust, who then slid into the Shadowlands in order to haunt Drustvar from just outside conventional reality.

We also know that some powerful entity from the Shadowlands taught Odyn and Helya how to create the Val'kyr. I've always suspected that it might be this entity that Kil'jaeden made the Lich King from, which would suggest that the Lich King's designation as Death God is not actually that far off the mark.

Might we then see a far more diverse group of powers from the Shadowlands, united under a new sovereign? Could the Lich King turn his attention away from the Living and toward the Dead as a source of new recruits?

If that were the case, we might see a very different version of the Scourge - far more mystical and less militaristic.

And maybe to do that, Bolvar would abandon the Frozen Throne. Or perhaps, some other entity - maybe the powerful entity from the Shadowlands - would shatter the Frozen Throne and reclaim the title of Death God.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

What do the Draenei Do Now?

One of the standard male Draenei jokes, in-game since their debut in 2007, is "We have it all figured out: Step One: We Land the Exodar. Step Three: We defeat Legion and go home. There is just one thing missing..."

Well, by the end of Legion, we've actually accomplished step three (step two apparently was "ally with the races of Azeroth and wait for a psychotic demon-elf to open up a gateway to Argus") but the end of this long quest is not nearly the happy ending that the Draenei may have hoped for.

Argus, of course, is no longer easily accessible, as the portal Illidan tore open was shut once Sargeras was bound to the Seat of the Pantheon. But as soon as that portal opened, it became pretty obvious that going home was not a long-term solution for the Draenei. While Antorus was breached and the Legion's forces have been scattered, the planet the Draenei hoped to return to was so brutally devastated for the 25,000 years of Legion rule that there's practically no hope that it will ever be returned to life. Granted, Outland is still somewhat habitable despite arguably being more torn apart than Argus, but Argus is so saturated with fel energy that it seems very dubious that the Draenei would want to stay.

Thus, the Draenei must now truly accept Azeroth as their new home, with the perpetual threat of the Horde and the Old Gods and all the other dangers that it is host to.

The Draenei are also now dealing with an influx of new population: The Lightforged Draenei. We haven't seen a whole lot about the difference between these groups, but they could be quite profound.

The Draenei (Exodar Draenei, we could call them, though that might exclude people like the Aldor or Sha'tar who stayed behind in Outland,) have followed the Prophet Velen for all this time - many were born in exile, though some certainly would remember leaving Argus. Still, Velen has been their trusted leader all this time.

And Velen has largely been worthy of that position. While his failure to foresee the betrayal of the Orcs is a serious cause to lose faith in him, in practically every other circumstance he has shown poise and wisdom. When Illidan destroyed X'era and Turalyon tried to kill Illidan for doing so, Velen calmed everyone and ensured that the task at hand - defeating the Legion - was what people focused on. He has even shown a greater sense of nuance in his attitudes toward the Light and Fate. He believes in the Light, certainly, but what's really important to him is doing the right thing. To borrow alignment systems from D&D, he's Lawful Good, but more Good than Lawful.

And despite being profoundly ancient (he was already a respected sage 25,000 years ago, doing one third of the ruling duties of the entire planet,) he's able to keep up with the other members of the Alliance and aid them.

What's interesting about the Lightforged is twofold. First off, they have not been following Velen all this time.

It's actually not clear when the split occurred. But my interpretation is that the Lightforged never got on the Genedar with Velen in the first place - that their salvation from the Man'ari was purely through X'era and they have been on the Xenedar all that time (we can also probably assume that lore-wise, the Xenedar is a lot bigger than it is in-game.)

The Lightforged have lived all this time as soldiers. While the Exodar Draenei (maybe "Genedar Draenei would be a better term?) were basically one giant group of refugees traveling across the cosmos, the Lightforged seem to be far more regimented. You don't see any Lightforged children around - presumably they've been just fighting all this time, not living normal lives.

They're also not beholden to Velen. It strikes me that it would make more sense for them to generally fall far more on the Lawful side of the Lawful Good alignment, especially given the way that X'era tried to force Illidan into her service against his will.

The other big thing to note is age:

Turalyon, from our perspective, has only been away for maybe 25-30 years - however old Arator is, basically. But for him, it's been a thousand. That suggests that, on average, the time experienced by the Army of the Light is as much as 40 times longer than what we experience.

Now, consider that the Draenei left Argus 25,000 years ago.

For the sake of argument, we'll assume that the Genedar Draenei have been experiencing time at the same rate as Azeroth - they certainly couldn't be experiencing it at 40 times because we know that Kil'jaeden and Archimonde were active during the War of the Ancients, so it had to be at least 10,000 years since Sargeras' corruption of the Eredar.

So if we assume that it's been 25,000 years from the Azeroth perspective since the Draenei left Argus, and that the time distortion effect for someone fighting in the kinds of places the Army of the Light is fighting, that means that Lightforged Draenei have been fighting for...

One. Million. Years.

That's kind of insane. That means that your Lightforged character you might have just rolled is probably older than Velen many times over. We don't know how long ago the Ordering of Azeroth was, but there's a good chance your Lightforged character is older than Odyn. You might be older than Yogg-Saron, a literal Old God.

That's not to say you were around before them - it's just that you've experienced that much time.

Which also means that the Legion had control of Argus for a million years, and that Archimonde, Kil'jaeden, and their ilk were all super freaking old.

So yeah, a million years of demonic infestation - I think Argus is a lost cause.

So Draenei culture is going to be going through some weird changes after Legion. The single motivating quest has been accomplished or failed, depending on your perspective. The Exodar, once a temporary shelter, is going to be the last major Alliance foothold on or around Kalimdor.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

HP and Monsters in D&D

Fifth Edition is the first version of D&D I've played, and I jumped into the deep end by DM'ing from the start.

While I don't think I've managed to weave the compelling narrative that you get with Critical Role or Acquisitions Incorporated: The C-Team (which I need to forgive myself for not quite getting as, even after a couple years I'm still basically new at this,) I think I've made the game pretty fun for the most part.

The only problem?

The party utterly slaughters my monsters.

I don't know exactly what it is, but I suspect it's that monsters don't really have enough health. I've also often had them fight one thing at a time, which seems to seriously handicap my ability to threaten them. When your paladin crits and tacks both a Thundering Smite and the standard Divine Smite on top of that, your monster is often going to just explode.

So I'm toying with ways to make combat more interesting.

One way is to really plan out encounters and ensure that there's environmental hazards.

Another is to just suck it up and use a lot more monsters against them. For example, they just fought an Orc Eye of Gruumsh (different name to fit the lore of my world) and an Orog, who, according to the DMG should have presented a reasonable threat to them, but they wound up obliterating the Eye and the Orog got a total of two hits in before he was killed.

I don't want to TPK the party based solely on my ability to tune encounters, but it's pretty clear that these things are not living long enough to be a real threat.

So my new "resolution" is as follows:

Always give monsters max HP (if they're like 8d10+24 then I'll give them 104 HP.)

Always make sure there are at least as many monsters as party members (using lower-level minions to draw the melee guys' attacks away and make the Wizard's AoE abilities more attractive.)

Strand them in difficult terrain circumstances, like collapsing bridges or rooms with lava jets and such.

We'll see if things get a bit more interesting.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Mag'har Orcs: Not Yet Confirmed, but, You Know, Come On.

A recent Alpha build for Battle for Azeroth has added a Mag'har War Wolf to go along with a set of Orcish armor that had previously been datamined.

Given the fact that all allied races have come with a mount and an armor set, this would be pretty solid evidence already, but let's also not forget that "brown orcs" have been one of the most commonly tossed-around ideas for a "sub-race" since Burning Crusade introduced the idea.

With Dark Iron Dwarves coming in the expansion proper (we assume,) and Void Elves kinda-sorta fulfilling the idea of High Elves (they're Alliance elves from Quel'thalas. That's what we're going to get,) that leaves Mag'har as the only totally obvious "sub-race" (which I guess we should just start calling Allied Race) that hasn't been added.

With a fourth Horde allied race highly likely, we're left to speculate on what the Alliance might get.

So far, not counting Mag'har (which are, I'll remind you, unconfirmed,) each faction has gotten two variations on their own existing races and one variation on a race the other faction has. (I'm also assuming that Mag'har would be a Horde race, though there are some hints in alpha content that we might be seeing some Orcs turning away from the Horde.)

If we assume that Void Elves and Nightborne are the exception, and that the factions will tend to get Allied Race variants of their own races, and if we also assume that, at least for now, no one race is going to get more than one Allied Race variant, let's speculate a bit on potential allied races that might arise in the future (like one to balance the Mag'har.)

On the Alliance side, there are yet to be variants on Humans, Gnomes, or Worgen.

On the Horde side, there are no variant Undead, Goblins, or Orcs (except, you know, Mag'har are almost certain to be a thing.)

And then there are Pandaren. But given that Pandaren can be on either side, one could almost imagine them as already being two races with identical aesthetics and mechanics.

So:

Humans: The main possibility I imagine with a variant Human is the Tirasian type. We've seen fatter (or at least bulkier) and thinner human models show up, presumably to serve as NPC models, but some variation in physique would be welcome. That being said, it might be odd that Kul Tiras has such a different body type than Stormwind, especially when it's not consistent. It would make more sense to make these character creation options. Personally, I'd love to see a human civilization on Azeroth that isn't based in Western European culture, but I don't see any evidence of that happening in BFA.

Gnomes: Two alternate gnomes present themselves: Mechagnomes and Leper Gnomes. The former seem unlikely due to the fact that they're mechanical, rather than humanoid. They also seem to be really emotionless (unlike Earthen, who actually seem to have a culture.) The latter would, I think, actually work decently as a Horde race - we've seen at least one Leper Gnome in Undercity, and they might have common cause with the Forsaken as a bunch of "unclean" people with a chip on their shoulder.

Worgen: Unlike other fantasy settings, lycanthropy in Warcraft is really strongly based on wolves, so I don't really imagine seeing Weretigers or Werebears anytime soon. Perhaps one could have Night Elf Worgen, in contrast with the existing Human Worgen, and one could imagine giving them a somewhat different look based on their primary heritage.

Orcs: Mag'har. There.

Goblins: Not a ton of options here. Hobgoblins are totally different in physiology, and so I doubt they'd be close enough to count as an allied race. The only other variant I can think of are Gilgoblins, but we have approximately zero lore on them other than that they seem to be vicious and insane.

Undead: There are actually some possibilities here, though it's not totally clear where they'd fall in terms of both allegiance or aesthetics. With Nathanos Blightcaller, we now have a kind of super-powered undead that has his old human body back, though still clearly both undead and with creepy red eyes (not unlike Sylvanas, who similarly has a pretty well-preserved body.) Giving the Horde this type - basically using the Human model (meaning it maybe should have gone in an earlier paragraph) would work. Alternatively, we know that there are some in Undercity who are not into Sylvanas' vision of the Forsaken continuing on as this new type of populace. Some on the "Desolate Council," as hinted in the sample chapters of the new novel, are not so interesting in Val'kyr-based immortality. Does this mean their sympathies lie with the Alliance? Well, that's a big jump. But I've always thought a "New Lordaeron" faction of Undead - those who recall being human and might even want to elevate Calia Menethil to her father's throne - would be really interesting. If the Alliance allows Death Knights and Void Elves into their fold, surely a group of people loyal to the Alliance and eager to restore Lordaeron to its hands would be a welcome addition.

Pandaren: Furbolgs? I've always held it as my headcanon that Pandaren were an offshoot of the Furbolgs (apparently science has come back around to considering Pandas, at least the Great Panda, to be a type of bear and not more closely related to the Raccoon.) You'd probably have to change some of the animations to make them look less built for East Asian martial arts, but taking the basic shape of the Pandaren and making a race of bear people doesn't seem like such a crazy idea.

Friday, February 9, 2018

"Gorgrond Orcs" Map in Latest Alpha Build: A New Allied Race?

In the latest BFA alpha build, dataminers at MMO-Champion have discovered a minimap for Gorgrond apparently called "Gorgrond Orcs." This does not appear to be a map of the full zone, which suggests that this could be for a scenario to unlock an as-yet unannounced Allied Race.

Gorgrond, of course, was a zone in Warlords of Draenor, home to the Laughing Skull and Blackrock clans. When Draenor A was destroyed after the Second War, Gorgrond and Frostfire Ridge smashed into each other, creating Blade's Edge Mountains.

So if "Gorgrond Orcs" were to be an allied race, there are a couple implications:

First, that they're from the alternate universe of Warlords of Draenor. There is no Gorgrond in the main universe.

Second, they could have two potential appearances: Most Orcs prior to the Fel corruption (the Draenor B Orcs were exposed to it for a far shorter period of time) had dark brown skin, like Garrosh (who was isolated from the rest of the Horde due to having had the Red Pox as a child.) Thus, Brown-skinned Orcs have always been considered a possibility for playable characters, and when Allied Races were announced (and even earlier, when people were throwing out the possibility of "sub-races," like Dark Iron Dwarves, who would of course become an Allied Race) most people assumed Mag'har would be an option (Mag'har being the quarantined orcs at Garadar led for a time by Garrosh.)

However, opening this up to Draenor B, we have a few things to consider:

First off, with Gorgrond, we could easily get Blackrock Orcs, who have charcoal-grey skin. Ironically, some of the existing major Orc figures are Blackrocks, like Saurfang and Eitrigg, though why they don't have grey skin like the ones found in Burning Steppes has never been answered. (And given that Saurfang just got a new model, it seems unlikely they'd change that anytime soon.)

But Gorgrond could also just be the setting for the scenario, which means we could also get other Orc clans. Granted, Frostwolves, Warsong, Shadowmoon, Bleeding Hollow, and Thunderlord Orcs are not really visibly distinct outside of tattoos and clothing, but Shattered Hand Orcs are, for some reason, pale white.

If we were to get Orcs from any of the Draenor clans, this would mean a fairly broad amount of variety. Given that we left Grommash alive at the end of Warlords, even counted him as an ally, it would not be that crazy for the Horde to absorb the Iron Horde entirely, which would be a pretty huge boost to its numbers, with Grommash as the faction leader.

So if Draenor Orcs are to be the Horde's fourth Allied Race, who then would the Alliance get?

One thing people have been talking about is the idea that Kul Tirasian humans might actually go that way. Kul Tiras, after all, has been an Alliance member before, and adding more humans to the Alliance would be a decent mirror to adding more Orcs to the Horde.

Tirasian (I think that's actually the demonym) human models have shown a far greater variety in terms of physique, though why Kul Tiras has fat and thin people while Stormwind is entirely populated by super-athletic types is an issue that adding Tirasians would kind of highlight.

I would not recommend holding your breath for Allied Races of those that already have them - don't expect Taunka, Wildhammer Dwarves, a separate Highborne, Forest Trolls, Broken Draenei, or, I'm sorry, High Elves. But that means we have Undead, Goblins, Worgen, Gnomes, Pandaren, and if I'm wrong in this article, Orcs and Humans left to "ally."

Survival Redesign in Battle for Azeroth

When they announced Legion, they somewhat sneakily mentioned that the Survival Hunter artifact weapon would be a spear. Later, they would confirm that Survival was going to become a melee spec. This met with some controversy, as a lot of people really loved the old Survival and this suggested that the spec they knew would be no more.

Now, in practice, all of the Hunter specs wound up with rather radical redesigns, but Survival practically looked like as new a spec as Havoc or Vengeance.

And it has been, anecdotally, not very popular.

Legion's version of Survival has a lot of different things going on. You've got traps to throw, focus to manage between Flanking Strike and Raptor Strike, and then Mongoose Bite, which is at the center of the rotation and yet feels mostly disconnected from the other elements (well, except Flanking Strike, thanks to your Mastery.)

Additionally there's not a ton of real flavor to the spec. I suppose you could argue it's a little like you're a crazed madman (or madwoman) who comes out of the woods swinging a spear around and furiously carving up your enemies, but the rotation is far more complex than the others - more of a Mists-era Hunter than its Legion contemporaries.

Anyway, in Battle for Azeroth, Survival is getting far more focused, and it's also getting something of an identity as the hybrid ranged/melee spec. You'll still want to be in melee range for auto attacks and Raptor Strike, but all your other abilities have a 40-yard range, and Aspect of the Eagle, your main couple-minute cooldown, turns Raptor Strike into a ranged attack as well.

So the big caveat here: this is practically the first build of the Alpha, meaning this is all subject to change - a lot of change. It's going to get tweaked and adjusted a lot. That being said, those changes will be partially based on feedback (partially though - so don't expect them to change something just because you don't like it) so it's good to look at this stuff early.

First off, Mongoose Bite has been turned into a talent - one that replaces Raptor Strike, which is your main focus spender. MB also spends Focus now, so it's actually at the same table as the other abilities.

So let's go through them:

Raptor Strike is what you're going to be spending most of your focus on, and is a simple damaging strike.

Kill Command actually generates focus for Survival. It also has a chance on hit to not trigger its cooldown, allowing you to get two of these in a row (I believe there's also a talent that makes you attack along with your pet, like Flanking Strike.)

Serpent Sting is back, and actually has you draw a little hand-crossbow out with your left hand a little like an Outlaw Rogue's Pistol Shot. This is a DOT that you should maintain on your target. There's a talent that makes this hit three targets, but I don't know if you can maintain it on more.

Wildfire Bomb is a bit like the current Dragonfire Grenade talent, except that it's baseline. This hits a target and burns them, dealing high fire damage over time to them and then I believe half as much to anyone standing nearby. Aside from multi-dotting with Serpent Sting (if that's possible,) this looks like it will be a core AoE ability.

So, those four abilities will be the core of the rotation, but you'll still have Harpoon and Disengage, and in fact there's a talent that encourages you to do a lot of hopping in and out of the battlefield. There are also many talents that add new abilities, like Butchery or Glaive Toss (both similar to what they are/were) if you don't feel like there's enough going on.

I'm actually pretty excited for this. I like the idea of a Melee Hunter, and while I played a little around with Survival in early Legion, it never really clicked with me on a deep level. Still, that being said, I'm tempted to either try going Survival on my Nightborne or dust off my old Goblin and get back into the swing of it.

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Disparity of Preparedness for Low-Level Characters

Allied race characters start at level 20. It is, perhaps, an somewhat arbitrary level to start at, though I think the main reasoning behind it is that, traditionally, races have had two zones that really "start them off," with the actual starting zone (usually with a capital city) and then one more that's heavily themed on that race (think Westfall, Silverpine, or Bloodmyst Isle.)

Allied races don't get new zones - one of the major ways they're allowed to be quick and dirty (and easy to add to the game) is that beyond a reasonably short quest chain, altered versions of existing race models (some more elaborate changes than others - Nightborne and Zandalari Trolls seem the most different from their source races,) new voice lines, new racial abilities, new mounts and one set of cool transmog gear, there's nothing else really required. The only Allied Race added this week that has a truly new zone (not counting the swamp area in the Lightforged scenario) are the Void Elves, and this was clearly cobbled together from Legion assets of the various Fel-blasted worlds like Niskara, only now with lighting and skyboxes themed on the Void rather than Fel.

Anyway, thing about starting at 20 is that some classes and specs feel fairly put-together at that point. For instance, my Nightborne, who is a Marksmanship Hunter, had all of her core abilities the moment I finished the little "new character" cinematic. She had Aimed Shot, Arcane Shot, Marked Shot, and Multishot. While there are tweaks to come over time, she's got everything she needs to feel like a complete MM Hunter.

Meanwhile, a Subtlety Rogue (my Void Elf) has to wait until level 40 to get Shadow Dance, 50 for the Relentless Strikes passive, and doesn't get Shuriken Storm until level 63. That means that you basically can't AoE until you are out of the Old World.

Now, I do appreciate that they've spread abilities out such that you typically get one every two levels, slowing a bit in the 40s and 50s. They've also broken some abilities up - for instance, you get Shadowstrike, with its two combo points and high damage, some time before level 20, but you get the short-range teleport aspect of it later on (at 42.) Abilities have ranks again, though the ranks are real, qualitative changes rather than pure numbers like they were way back when (except for a few exceptions, like Fury's Execute, which gets a 50% damage buff later on.) It's a good way to give players enough buttons to make the spec feel like a real spec and not just two buttons, even if the complexity has not really reached its ultimate state.

Still, I wouldn't mind seeing Blizzard take another pass at evening things out. For instance, giving Subtlety a Rank 1 Shuriken Storm that is more about the damage it deals than the combo points it generates (maybe letting you get just one point regardless of how many targets you hit) would be a good way to give players a sense of what abilities they'll be using without bogging them down in complexity.

To be clear, the level scaling is great, and they've taken a lot of great steps in the right direction. It could just use another polish.