Sunday, July 16, 2017

Set Investigation with Diablo 3's Necromancer

Diablo 3 works a bit like a snowball: you start off having to really watch yourself when you encounter an elite enemy, and your abilities are a mix of what seems cool at the time. However, once you get to level 70 and hope and pray to Rathma (or whomever) for set pieces, and those prayers start getting answered, things get kicked into high gear.

At this point, I have full sets of Trag'oul and Inarius armor for my Necromancer, and I'm close to complete on the Rathma set, and the Plaguebringer set I actually have six pieces, but need to farm Death's Breath in order to transform pieces until I get all six individual parts.

While I'd like to get a Rathma-based set going, I haven't quite figured out the survival game for that playstyle (using Icy Veins as my guide - I don't like that their build doesn't use Army of the Dead, which, unless I'm missing some Legendary that causes it to go off automatically, seems like you wouldn't want to bother with a six-piece bonus.)

The easiest one I've been able to work with is an Inarius build that uses Corpse Lance and of course, based on the set, Bone Armor. The Inarius set greatly increases the damage done by Bone Armor's activation, and also ups the defensive bonus from the set as well. At 6 pieces, it causes the bones to whirl around you, dealing a fair amount of damage to anyone nearby and I think just generally buffing your damage.

The build is very bursty - using Land of the Dead to fuel Corpse Lance and of course waiting for Bone Armor's cooldown, you'll utterly annihilate rares and elites if you can burn your cooldowns, but until then you're just going to be running through with your swirling bones and Grim Scythe-ing enemies. This is a close-quarters build.

Trag'oul also uses Corpse Lance, but this is a build that has absurd damage potential and can very easily kill you even if you aren't getting hit, as it's all about your life-spending abilities. Still, if played with finesse, it has a ton of potential, but the funny thing is that you will definitely be using Blood Rush all the time to give you a corpse to start the process going.

While leveling up I used lots of minions and Corpse Explosion as a major source of damage, and I'd like to find a build that incorporates those elements, but for now I'm very much still farming non-set pieces.

Friday, July 14, 2017

7.3 Nerfs Coming to Breath of Sindragosa Build, Buffs to Frost to Compensate

I have a complicated relationship with Frost Death Knights. I started playing Blood DPS when that was a thing, but when Blood became a dedicated tank spec and the other two specs became dedicated DPS, I went two-handed Frost. I still main-specced as a tank in Cataclysm, but through Mists, Warlords, and Legion, I've been primarily Frost.

Now, I really prefered two-handed frost, with its massive Obliterates. So when they made it dual-wield only, I actually started Legion as Unholy, then went Blood, but then went back to Frost. The thing is, my favorite color is blue. I know that seems really minor, but I've gotten so used to my Draenei (blue skin) wearing blue-tinged dark armor, wielding a weapon with a blue glow, and having all my attacks cause bursts of blue death, that it's really hard to get back to thinking of Death Knights as having another dominant color palate.

And given that look and feel are basically the main appeal to video games for me, that's a big deal.

It is a difficult trade-off, wielding two dinky swords versus wielding a much more impressive runeblade. Basically the only real saving grace of the Blades of the Fallen Prince as an artifact weapon is that they literally used to be Frostmourne. Given the option to actually wield, somehow, Frostmourne itself in its intact form (and seeing variants on it the way that the other artifact weapons have,) I'd really prefer it, but I'll have to content myself with the swords made from it. Sadly, Blizzard feels that at least one DK spec should be a dual-wielding one, and with Blood as the tank spec and Unholy already having the whole "summoning undead" schtick, it's not terribly surprising that Frost got stuck with it. I only hope that in a post-artifact world, we can go back to using two-handed weapons (and maybe if we all beseech the Lich King like good little Knights we'll someday get a Frostmourne transmog piece. A DK can dream, can't he?)

Anyway, in the last few patches, the love-it-or-hate-it Breath of Sindragosa talent has been dominant - basically if you want competitive DPS as a Frost DK, you have to pick it and all the talents that allow you to sustain it as long as possible.

Thus Frost winds up being a kind of two-phase spec. You have the Breath phase where you desperately need to generate as much runic power as you can and get seriously penalized if you screw up or if you need to stop whacking the boss for a couple seconds, and the waiting phase where you just do the baseline Frost rotation while you wait for Breath to come off cooldown.

I'll be honest and say I've started to get used to this build, but the panicked resource generation required from the build isn't always what I want, especially given that I feel Frost, flavor-wise, should be more about being slow and steady (the "fight" against Arthas in Halls of Reflection is a great example of what I think a Frost Death Knight should feel like.) In fact, I could imagine a whole redesign of the spec that would have you build up Runic Power and unleash it in a massive single swing, but the point is that I don't know that Breath of Sindragosa fulfills my particular image of the spec's fantasy.

The changes they're making are fairly extensive - I believe the Hungering Rune Weapon talent is getting a bit of a redesign, and many talents are swapping around. The goal is not to nerf Frost in general (as far as I know they're not really exceptional these days) but to allow for greater build diversity, which is something I'm right on board with.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Fall of the Legion and Demonic Anarchy

When the Undead Scourge was defeated nearly definitively at the end of Wrath of the Lich King, this did not mean the end to the threat of the undead. Not only did the Scourge remain an entity, albeit one more or less under control of a Lich King who so far does not seem interested in global domination (though the tactics he uses and encourages within the Knights of the Ebon Blade are questionable at best,) but ghosts and other necromantic horrors have always existed outside of the specific domain of the Scourge. Both the Legion and the servants of the Void have employed necromancy in the past.

While the Scourge was perhaps the most iconic and intimidating terrestrial threat (ok, Old Gods probably take precedence, though I think the Scourge's actions in Icecrown suggest that they had a certain immunity to the power of the Old Gods and thus might have given them a run for their money,) the Legion has, historically, been the greatest cosmic threat (though again, the Void that spawned the Old Gods is likely the greater danger.)

However, under Sargeras, the Legion seemed in a position to really dominate every demon in the cosmos. Demons existed before the Legion, but vast numbers of new ranks were added - we know at the very least that the Man'ari Eredar and the Satyrs were originally members of mortal races (playable ones, in fact) and we could probably assume that a lot of existing demonic races were similarly corrupted specifically by the Burning Legion.

So while we don't seem to be fighting Sargeras directly in Legion (I think he doesn't have a corporeal body to fight,) the datamined dialogue does suggest that the leadership of the Legion will truly be eliminated in one way or another. Kil'jaeden is, I believe, permanently dead at the end of the Tomb of Sargeras raid, and it's possible that Archimonde truly died at the end of Hellfire Citadel (that's tricky, as only mythic kills him within the Twisting Nether, and the cutscene implies that he's back on Draenor when he dies.)

With Sargeras and his two Eredar lieutenants gone, it really does not seem like anyone is in a good position to take up leadership of the Legion. And here's the thing: many of the demons of the Legion were only doing Sargeras' will under threat. I imagine the Eredar and the other "newer" demonic races were devoted to him in a religious way, and would seek to carry on with his Burning Crusade, but beings like the Nathrezim are unlikely to hold any true loyalty to him.

When Sargeras first discovered the Nathrezim, they were serving the Old Gods on a different planet. Given that they are so gifted in duplicity, it would not shock me in the least to discover that the Nathrezim were in fact playing all sides all along. And in the wake of Sargeras' fall, they may eagerly go back to serving the Void.

While Sargeras aligned his demonic forces in opposition to the Void (by way of all of creation,) there's nothing inherently anti-Void in demons.

So basically, after Legion, don't expect demons as a creature type to vanish all together (though they'll certainly take a backseat to things like Aberrations if we're doing Old God stuff next.)

Argus Further Impressions: Mac'Aree

Yes, I know we have a new raid finder wing, but I can't help but feel a bit focused on the upcoming patch.

Since Burning Crusade I believe introduced the world of Argus as a concept (I can't remember if those Argus Wake guys in Alterac Mountains existed already) we've more or less known only one geographical feature of the world from which the Eredar who would come to be known as the Draenei fled, and that was the capital city of Mac'aree.

Your adventures on Argus will begin in what is called at least for now "Argus Wastes," and this area will feel pretty familiar given the Legion's MO. There is some interesting new wildlife, and I think they get the feeling of a desolate, ruined, but at least somewhat still intact world in this area. Unlike, for example, Niskara, not everything is burned black with green flame, but it is still a place where there's almost no non-demonic life there.

After completing the first leg of the Argus quest chain, you'll eventually travel to Mac'aree. You can see the capital floating above the Argus Wastes in the skybox (cleverly, they tend to point you in the direction of Azeroth as you adventure across its new twin world, and you also see Mac'aree in the skybox.) Traveling to the capital, you'll be able to access a fragment of the city, the rest of which is drawn into the skybox behind, to really give you a sense of how enormous this place was.

And Mac'aree is broken, but not utterly ruined. And it certainly does not have the stereotypical Legion look. Mac'aree calls to mind much more the Warlords iteration of Shattrath, with the Draenei (well, Eredar) style of spire-like buildings. (In fact, I think they took assets created for Warlords and adjusted them only a bit to build up Mac'aree.) Far from Black and Green, Mac'aree is awash in golden grass with spots of purple vegetation and buildings of yellow, grey, and some blue. The impression this suggests is one of the city as the seat of a society that was once near-utopian. At least in the first few quests, the NPCs are largely ghost-like echoes of the ancient Eredar. You'll even go to the academy where Archimonde (and his teacher Thal'kiel) once studied and researched.

I really have to say that if you have any kind of roleplaying sensibilities and you play a Draenei character, Mac'aree perhaps even more than the Argus Wastes will feel like coming home.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Kul Tiras: Zone or Continent? Assuming We're Understanding the Leak, That Is

Much as people discovered an "Iron Horde" texture in Mists of Pandaria's 5.3 Insurrection (or whatever the pre-Siege patch was) patch, which gave us our first obscure hint of the Warlords of Draenor, much buzz is coming up around a few textures and icons that are labeled Kul Tiras, with what looks like an armor set that incorporates a lot of nautical-themed elements like ropes and anchors, as well as a rough in-game (as opposed to UI-based) map.

Given how Kul Tiras has nothing to do with Argus and that even more than the Iron Horde texture (which was just kind of a grey square) these are very clearly referring to stuff that don't seem linked to Legion, it seems very hard to come up with any explanation other than that Kul Tiras will play a role in the expansion that follows Legion.

Let's talk Kul Tiras lore:

Kul Tiras was one of the seven human kingdoms, along with Stromgarde, Lordaeron, Gilneas, Alterac, Dalaran, and Stormwind. Kul Tiras was the major naval power among the kingdoms, as it was situated on an island off the coast of the Eastern Kingdoms (not far from Tol Barad.) The monarch of Kul Tiras is called the Grand Admiral, which gives you a sense of how important sailing is to their culture. The previous Grand Admiral was Daelin Proudmoore, father of Jaina.

As Jaina was establishing Theramore down the coast from Orgrimmar, she had worked to secure a lasting peace with the newly-situated Horde. Her father, unwilling to make peace with the Alliance's old enemy, led his fleet in an attack on Orgrimmar. Jaina ultimately allowed Rexxar to lead Horde forces into Theramore to defeat and kill her own father in exchange for a lasting peace - which is why the notion that Jaina is overreacting in her current antipathy to the Horde is total absurdity. She literally sacrificed her father for peace, and was paid with the destruction of her city in return.

Since Cataclysm, Kul Tiras has been missing. While it never appeared in-game, the notion was that it was still where it had always been. However, as Tol Barad was added in that expansion, the fate of Kul Tiras remained a mystery, and devs suggested that it had been moved by the massive tectonic shifts that came with Deathwing's emergence from Deepholme.

While not officially confirmed until we get a real announcement, I strongly believe that Kul Tiras will be a location in the next expansion. The question, then, is what form it will take: A zone, or the whole expansion-spanning continent.

I'm leaning toward the former, as I think that a sea-based expansion would benefit from having other island cultures, such as a visit to Zandalar, perhaps a return to Kezan, and perhaps a journey to Nazj'atar.

To return to lore for a moment: in the apocryphal WoW tabletop RPG, Jaina had brothers, one of whom could now lead as the Grand Admiral of Kul Tiras. If these brothers are not, in fact, canonical, it would mean that technically Jaina should be the Grand Admiral and Queen of her people. Jaina has been notably absent from Legion, and it seems that trouble at home would be the only reasonable explanation.

Now, I could actually imagine Kul Tiras as a continent, even if I think it would work better as a zone. Taking the Broken Isles as an example, in ancient times, the zones of Suramar, Azsuna, the Broken Shore, and Val'sharah were all considered sort of "the Greater Suramar metropolitan area." We see this with Lordaeron and Stormwind as well, each kingdom being represented by a cluster of zones rather than a single one.

Still, given the nautical theme of Kul Tiras, I would find it very hard to imagine an ocean-faring-based expansion that does not include the aforementioned zones - particularly Nazj'atar, as I can't imagine a sea-based expansion that does not put the Naga at the forefront.

I wonder if they'll keep the level-scaling of Legion. I think it worked out well, with the one flaw being that the story couldn't really develop zone-to-zone as you leveled up, and that if you picked your zones in the wrong order, you could feel handicapped (like if you got a class quest sending you to Azsuna right after you'd chosen Stormheim as the zone you were heading to next.) Certainly it helped provide max-level content - I'm happy to have now six zones to do world quests in instead of being stuck with only Suramar and Broken Shore (even if Suramar might be my favorite zone in the expansion.)

We don't have a trademark for an expansion title, which I think will give us a much clearer idea of what the expansion will be, but we can infer a huge amount of information from the presence of Kul Tiras items. If you're feeling skeptical about this, I would consider that the quality of these textures is really way too much to dismiss them as meaningless. Aside from an epilogue-patch trip to Kul Tiras (which again, seems to have utterly nothing to do with Argus and the Legion) that seems incredibly unlikely (I don't think we've ever gotten a whole new zone after the final raid tier; the biggest thing we ever got as an "epilogue" patch was a one-boss raid in the Ruby Sanctum,) the only other explanation I could give you for this is a setting for a new expansion.

Gamescom, which is where they announced Legion two years ago, runs August 22nd-26th, and Blizzcon runs November 3rd-4th. I wouldn't be shocked if they announced the next expansion at Gamescom to keep up the sense that there's something coming, though 7.3 is unlikely to go live until the end of summer or the beginning of fall. Before Mists, new expansions were always announced before the final patch of the current one came out, and while I can tell you I'm happy to focus on Argus right now (holy crap am I excited for Argus) I also think it's wise for Blizzard to always keep players aware of what is coming next with WoW. The Siege of Orgrimmar and even more Hellfire Citadel patches seemed to go on for an eternity largely because for a big stretch of both, we had no idea what was coming next. Giving players something to speculate about and await with eager anticipation is never a bad idea.

Argus PTR Impressions

It's kind of crazy that in this expansion we've been able to see not only the Emerald Nightmare but are now going to Argus. It's like three expansions in one.

Getting to Argus is relatively simple. Players will get quests that give them a direct boat ride to the Exodar (Horde included, of course.) The Draenei have managed to piece together a smaller vessel from the wreckage of the Exodar, this one called the Vindicaar, and this ship will serve as the hub for your assault on Argus.

Above Argus, the gleaming blue world of Azeroth is a vision of beauty on a treacherous and shattered world. Argus is a ruin, and at least in the first areas feels shadowy as you are constrained to demon-filled canyons. However, it appears that Argus is a bit like Vashj'ir, with three large sub-zones to explore. So far, the quests seem to end before getting out of the initial zone, but clearly there's more to come as we head to Mac'Aree (the ancient Eredar capital) and the zone that holds Antorus, the Burning Throne (the final raid.)

As someone who loves the Draenei and their science-fantasy feel, Argus does not disappoint. Rather than flight points you have teleportation beacons that all link back to the Vindicaar, and there's a lot in the way of crystals and space-based laser cannons.

I don't want to get too plot-spoilery, but fairly early you encounter two allied factions to aid you in your fight, the first being the Army of the Light, which appears to be composed mostly of uncorrupted Eredar (so, Draenei, but technically not) though it also has Turalyon, Alleria, and Lothraxion, the Nathrezim paladin (one of the class champions that Paladins have had since 7.0.) The other is the Krokul, who are like the Broken introduced in Burning Crusade, but these Broken have been on Argus all along, and seem to have been mutilated independently from folks like Nobundo and Akama.

It seems that as one progresses through the main questline, areas will open up for World Quests. As of yet I'm not seeing an Army of the Light quartermaster, but I suspect that that will be the new faction.

So far, it seems highly likely that Argus is going to follow more of the Suramar path than the Broken Shore path as a top-level zone. There's a ton of plot to get through and a ton of ground to cover. Indeed, I imagine that there are plenty of characters we have yet to encounter. But if you've been wanting a massive war on an alien landscape, boy howdy does this deliver.

This is one of the earliest builds of the patch on the PTR, so expect a ton of changes and a ton of additions.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Argus and the Next Expansion

Legion has been an enormous expansion in terms of stakes, content, and lore. The Legion has loomed over the World of Warcraft really since Warcraft 1, and the notion that the Legion could ever truly be defeated and ended seems hard to imagine, and yet here we stand in the best position the game will ever get to ending it.

What comes next?

Well, Blizzard has put a lot of effort into expanding the cosmos of Warcraft, and one aspect is the Old Gods and more importantly, the Void that they serve. While the status of Old God bosses C'Thun and Yogg-Saron is somewhat ambiguous (we killed them, but did we really kill them to a point where they can't come back? That which is dead may never die, and in strange aeons even death may die,) it's plausible to consider N'Zoth to be the last one standing (or flomphing or whatever a continent-sized-tentacle-monster does.)

Speculation purely based on lore existing even prior to... like Mists... has suggested that an expansion set in the South Seas that sees the return of Kul Tiras and a fight against Azshara and possibly N'Zoth would make perfect sense. We might be seeing more evidence for this based on information from the 7.3 PTR.

Spoilers to follow.


Thursday, June 29, 2017

Argus, the Legion, and the Void - What's Wrong With This Picture?

According to Chronicle, the Void Lords - beings of unfathomable power and nature - sent the Old Gods with one purpose: find a Titan World-Soul and corrupt it to create a Void Titan that could act as their agent in rendering the entire universe Void.

When Sargeras discovered an ensouled world thoroughly corrupted by its own Old Gods, he didn't hesitate in destroying the planet, preventing this Void Titan from being created. This event, and the Pantheon's reaction to it, eventually led Sargeras to create the Burning Legion, freeing the demons he had spent eons fighting and imprisoning.

Sargeras decided to do to the universe what he had done with the planet - to burn everything away with Fel Fire.

But there are some problems here. First off, the Legion ostensibly is all about preventing the Void from corrupting the universe, but they freely use void magic almost as much as they use Fel magic. Second, the Void Lords want to unmake the universe, being "avatars of non-existence," according to Star Augur Etraeus. Is destroying the universe not doing their work for them? (That's a legitimate question, not a rhetorical one, because I don't know if "ashen embers still faintly glowing green" fits the bill of "existence" that the Void wants to stop having.)

With 7.3 going up on the PTR and some big details emerging, I think we are starting to get more evidence that it's all a bit more complicated.

Spoilers to follow.


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

7.3 PTR Going Up

Well, with Tomb of Sargeras now available and even open for LFR (at least the first wing) Blizzard is doing their Mists-era strategy of pushing the next PTR patch.

And this one's a doozy.

While we knew it was time to go there in 7.3, the end of the Tomb of Sargeras raid makes it very clear that Argus is our next stop on the campaign against the Burning Legion.

It's only just going up on the PTR, so there's a very incomplete picture of what we'll be seeing, but the gist seems to be this: Argus will be a new area with world quests, a dungeon, and a raid. It seems it will be a bit like Icecrown in that there's no real safe place to land, as the place is totally saturated with demons. However, it will also be a no-fly zone. To deal with that, we'll apparently get access to a ship called the Vindicaar (maybe a re-named Exodar? Not sure, but it would make sense to rename the Exodar if it's going home.)

The new raid will be called Antorus, the Burning Throne. Given that there appear to be models for Titans (one "Argus Titan," and then Aman'thul and Aggramar) seen on WoWHead, I'm feeling pretty confident that Sargeras is going to be the headliner.

A new dungeon called Seat of the Triumvirate will also come with it.

There will also be some kind of scenario or something in which players will be able to travel to other worlds the Legion is invading and help stop them. Hey, maybe that means Azeroth isn't alone in this (sorry Outland, you don't count as a planet anymore.)

It actually seems as if Argus may be composed of multiple zones, or perhaps function like Vashj'ir with its three individually-mapped sub-zones. Mac'aree seems to be the location of the Seat of the Triumvirate (naturally.)

Of course artifacts are going to get further upgraded some way, though I'm not sure if it'll be like they did in this patch or some other way.

Now, tidbits and spoilers:

Looking at the icons WOWHead picked up, it seems as if there's a set that looks very, very reminiscent of Bloodborne's iconic 18th/19th-century leather armor. I'm a huge fan of Bloodborne (see this blog) and would be ridiculously happy to have my Undead Rogue decked out like he's about to tear Yharnam a new one (also, the tri-corner hats will work well for Pirate-themed Outlaw Rogues. Still good for Subtlety, though!)

I've got to say, I don't do much RP in game, but I do have backstories for my main characters, and this is really serious stuff for my DK. Returning to Argus is something he always wanted to do, but only now, after he's lost everything, including his own true life, and to see it so deeply corrupted by the Fel, it's certainly bittersweet at absolute best.

It also seems that there might actually be...

Hang on. SPOILERS.


The Gates of Hell - LFR Tank Perspective

The Gates of Hell, the first wing of the Tomb of Sargeras raid, takes you down to the left side of the Tomb where you can place the Tidestone of Golganneth. Naturally, this means that you're going to be facing Naga allied with the Legion. I don't remember if we explicitly know that they're working for Azshara (the whole Legion/Naga/Old Gods relationship is mysterious) but after one big demon, you're going to fight a Naga brute followed by a gorgon-style Naga lady.

As this is the first week of LFR, I'll confess that these impressions will be sketchy, as you tend to get heroic raiders who can blow through LFR easily on the first couple weeks.

Gorgoth:

This guy shows up in the first big room and is the gatekeeper boss of the whole raid (on Normal/Heroic/Mythic, he'll still be the first boss.)

Tanking this guy is relatively simple. There's a tank-swap debuff that causes you to deal damage to people nearby, so when you get it, have the other tank taunt and run off to the side.

Periodically, Goroth will summon spikes that come up out of the ground. Don't run your debuff into these, as you'll want them for another ability where he deals big AOE to anyone in line of sight. If you get behind the pillar, it'll absorb the blast.

I think that's it for the LFR version.

Harjatan:

This Naga brute is probably a lot more complicated on other difficulties. But for LFR, the main thing tanks should worry about is facing. You want to face him away from the raid until he hits 100 energy, then face him toward it so that his cone attack can be split by everyone.

He puts a bleed on the tank that requires a swap.

Harjatan also summons murloc adds that should be picked up by the free tank (though they seem to be casters, so positioning them is not always possible.) I believe these guys are the ones that leave pools of frost damage on the ground. Harjatan eventually draws these into himself, giving him a frost attack, which seems to temporarily replace his energy-based attack.

Make sure your raid has room to maneuver, and you should be ok.

Mistress Sassz'ine:

This is another fight that is probably very complicated at higher difficulties. First off, tanks need to swap once the current tank is targeted (you don't have to wait for the spell to go off) with the debuff. This causes any physical damage they take to hit the raid. The off-tank can then pick up eels who deal only shadow damage.

You want to dodge tornadoes that come through periodically (on LFR there are gaps between them, so you only need to dodge.)

Sassz'ine summons a couple of creatures from the deep as the phases go on. One creature will try to suck people into its maw, so you want to run "against the wind" as it were when that happens. You'll also see a big swath of the room light up with a blue watery trail. Get out of that before a big whale dives across, damaging everyone in the path. Finally, I believe you want to run any murloc adds into the jellyfish adds (though as a tank I don't think you get fixated by them.)

I'll post more when I do this from a DPS perspective and might have a better idea of the fights.

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Fate of Argus

While I vacillate a little between Worgen and Undead, I'd say my consistent favorite playable race in World of Warcraft is probably the Draenei. It's not so much their religious societal organization and more the fact that A: they're blue, which is my favorite color, B: they're kind of space aliens (and feel more like them than Orcs) and I love getting a kind of peanut butter and chocolate mix of sci fi and fantasy, and C: they're a twist on a classic monster trope in the sense that it's not that they look like demons, but rather than demons look like them.

And given that one of my main characters is a Draenei (my Mage is just outside the really core group of major characters I play, but the Death Knight is really "vice main,") I've been really anticipating a return to Argus for a long time.

I had had many theories about what Argus would be like for years. One theory I had was that it would ironically look just as gorgeous and pristine as the Eredar had presumably known it before Sargeras came, and that the Eredar who stayed were more subtly corrupted.

But given how it looks in the patch trailer/cutscene and now in the sky above Azeroth (if the game paid more attention to physics, the tides would be insane,) I'm thinking that the "pristine Argus" scenario is definitely not in effect anymore.

We've only gotten vague hints at the geography of Argus since the Draenei were introduced (or rather, re-introduced and retconned in Burning Crusade.) We do know that there was a great city called Mac'aree that was most likely the capital. There's also references to mountains (though saying a planet has mountains is hardly the most profound description.)

The image we now see is a shattered world, seemingly bleeding fel lava and with a giant gap blasted out of it, but unlike Draenor, Argus appears to be still in a mostly spherical shape.

The image does seem to suggest that Argus is not in great shape to be retaken by the Draenei. That being said, it is not entirely blackened like a lot of the other Legion worlds we've seen. There seem to be remaining patches of blue and purple (which I'd guess were some of the primary natural colors of that world, given that they seem to be everywhere the Draenei make their homes.)

Here's the next question though: Are we really going to have Argus hanging overhead for the rest of WoW's lifetime?

I can imagine a couple scenarios that would see Argus removed from the sky within this expansion.

Illidan brought Argus close to Azeroth with what I can only assume is the intention of removing one of the Legion's main advantages in their war with us. They have been able to strike from afar while we are defending the one world we've got. Additionally, while Argus seems to not be (or no longer be now, at least) in the Twisting Nether, it's possible that Argus is is awash with Fel magic that demons there are truly there - not sending disposable avatars to the material world as they have in the past.

It's possible that this is a temporary state, and that it will allow us to strike at the leadership of the Legion for once and that if we can defeat the leadership (which at this point has to be Sargeras, right?) Argus might recede once again into the Nether.

I think something far more dramatic and Illidan-y is more likely to happen though.

Illidan has shown that he will go to any lengths to do what he thinks needs to be done. His pulling Argus to Azeroth is the latest, biggest example of that attitude. He does not care about how other people feel or what unintended consequences might result. In D&D terms, Illidan is heavily on the chaotic side of the chaotic/lawful spectrum.

So while Velen and the Draenei, and possibly the Army of the Light, all might seriously want to re-take Argus and rehabilitate the world as best they can, I think Illidan is going to just blow the whole damned thing up.

I think that Argus will be destroyed at the end of this expansion. And while my Death Knight has been doing plenty to piss off the Red Dragons and my Paladin main, I think the DK's going to be utterly furious at my Demon Hunter (or at least his boss) for robbing him of the world to which he has waited twenty-five-thousand years to return. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Argus Approaches

When Kil'jaeden is finally slain (and I think we can say truly slain, as his death seems to occur within the Twisting Nether,) he seems ready to take the raid, Velen, Khadgar, and Illidan with him, crashing his command ship into the broken, corrupted world of Argus. However, Illidan uses the Sargerite Keystone to create a large portal leading right above Azeroth, giving Khadgar a close enough range to transport everyone safely to Azeroth (specifically somewhere in Azsuna.) Kil'jaeden speaks his last words to his "brother" Velen, seemingly apologizing or at least offering some explanation for his literally diabolic behavior over the last twenty five thousand years. Velen touches his forehead in either a gesture of forgiveness or perhaps just kick-starting the process by which Kil'jaeden explodes in a massive ball of fel energy. It's open to interpretation (on one hand, the Light forgives. But on the other hand, the Light also burns demons away into ash.)

However, there's a big twist:

Having safely landed on Azeroth and escaped Kil'jaeden's explosive death, Khadgar and Velen look up to see that Illidan did not just allow the raid to escape. He brought the entire planet of Argus with them.

And this is the real deal. I haven't been able to play for a while, but apparently once someone on your server downs Kil'jaeden, everyone now sees Argus floating overhead. It even appears that this is true regardless of what continent you're on (except obviously Outland and Draenor.)

Argus is really now nearby. It appears that it is near physically, within the Great Dark Beyond. Azeroth and Argus seem to be twin planets now.

Holy. Crap.

Now, according to I think Chronicle (maybe the Illidan novel) even if Argus isn't in the Twisting Nether anymore, the planet is so saturated with Fel magic that all the same rules vis a vis demons being killable still apply.

Illidan has just pulled the home base of the Burning Legion right up to Azeroth. While that does make us that much more vulnerable, it also means the Legion is much more vulnerable to us (and we know we're going there in 7.3.)

I really want to know what the longterm consequences of this will be. Is Argus just going to be there from now on? Or does this suggest that this expansion is far more likely to see Argus utterly destroyed (thus no longer leaving a giant reminder of a past expansion in the skybox when we move on?) And if it is destroyed, what does that mean for the Draenei, whose plot has centered around their goal to eventually return and liberate their homeworld?


Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Deaths of Chromie Scenario

It is a matter of fact that the Bronze Dragons are the coolest dragons. Their domain is over time, and that means they are dealing with the most potentially dangerous domain of any of the dragonflights. While Nozdormu is the Aspect, still alive at our point in time (or arguably alive, corrupted, and dead simultaneously at all points in time, because time travel is insane,) the one we tend to interact with the most is Chromie, also known as Chronormu (it's unclear whether Chromie is a male dragon, given the name, that just prefers to take the form of a female gnome, or a female dragon who has a masculine name, or maybe we don't have their naming conventions down, or that maybe Bronze Dragons don't get hung up on the whole gender issue.)

The Deaths of Chromie scenario is a new feature with 7.2.5 that players can repeat as often as they like, and appears to be an "evergreen" feature that scales the player to an appropriate level and item level (112 and 1000, respectively.)

Chromie realizes that at some point in her future, she's going to be killed, and so she enlists your aid to travel to that future and try to prevent her death. Shortly into your time-travel excursion, you discover that there are actually eight threats to her, all of which will be lethal. On top of that, the earliest she can get you to before her deaths is fifteen minutes, due to some mysterious interference (calling it now: Infinite Dragonflight.)

However,  you can repeat those fifteen minutes as often as you like, and in fact, you benefit a lot from knowing what's coming. For instance, there is a boss in each of the dragonshrines that requires a short series of quests to reveal, but in subsequent trips, you can simply go right to the boss and fight it. Each of these bosses drops an item that will unlock a different area: the Battle of Andorhal (circa Cataclysm,) the Culling of Stratholme, the Well of Eternity, and another era I don't remember right now.

These segments appear to be less fast-forward-able, though there do seem to be some benefits to having done them before. In the Culling of Stratholme, you need to get a key to town hall to get to its boss, and to do so you need to complete a series of quests where you buy a bunch of things from vendors. Once you've done those quests once, though, the quest items become available before you get the quests, so you can simply run to each shop and buy everything in one trip and then toss them to the two NPCs that request them right as they do.

Killing things in the scenario will upgrade your reputation with Chromie, and at each level you will be able to give her a new talent (which works a bit like class hall research.) The first two can be switched quickly at the start of each run of the scenario, but later ones require research time. However, you can continue earning reputation of the next level even if there's no talent selected, so it's not as bad as the class hall stuff.

I'm really just scratching the surface here, as there are plenty of items and buffs to get, as well as rewards including bronze-dragon-themed transmog (for successfully preventing all 8 attacks within the time limit,) as well as pets and the Time Lord title for filling one's reputation with Chromie (I must have it!)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Netherlord and Archmage Mount Quests

All right, two more classes!

Warlocks will get an up-to-date Dreadsteed of Xoroth-like mount (like the Paladin mount, this one flies without any visible wings, just glowing hoofprints.) You speak with the guy who collected materials for the original mount quest (that got 86'd in Cataclysm) and he sends you to do a number of things.

There's some auction house stuff - a potion, some metal, and some gems - and a pretty quick collection of Moonkin blood from a place in Val'sharah, and then the thing that will probably be frustrating to you if the stars have not aligned: an item off of the final boss of an invasion scenario.

With that stuff gathered, you get a quick quest to on the Broken Shore requiring the use of your Succubus and then you get to go into one little solo-scenario that has you slaying demonic minions (that go down easier with a Felhound) before taking out an eredar and enslaving its demonic horse, which you then get to claim.

The Mage mount has less set-up, requiring you to gather three pieces of a device Antonidas was working on before he died. These require a little bit of combat but mostly just ample use of teleportation and using Dalaran's central tower portals.

Once you get all three pieces, you go to the Eye of Eternity and have three somewhat challening fights against the elemental energy trapped in each fragment. Once all three are defeated, the three pieces are linked together and you get your cool flying disk.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Slayer, Farseer, and Shadowblade Mount Quests

Getting your class mount, in most cases, is primarily about just finishing the Broken Shore campaign, which is unfortunately gated behind champion missions, world quests, and rare spawns such that you might have to just log off and wait to complete them. The worst, however, is the hidden wyrmtongue cache quest. They did reduce this from having to find 10 to 5, but I really think it should be exactly one. Anyway, rant over.

Demon Hunters pretty quickly get a little scenario-like quest where they head to a remote fragment of Mardum and chase down the broodmother of the felbats on that world. You track it down and fight it while fending off its many offspring, but it mostly pretty simple.

Shamans simply get a summons from Thunderaan where you beat the three djinn bosses from Throne of the Four Winds (wait, if they're air elementals and you killed them in the raid, how the hell are they back? And if they can come back, why can't Al-Akir?) Anyway, these are just three tough but not too tough fights that I was able to do without much trouble. Once all three are defeated (not killed,) you get the mount.

And then Rogues.

Holy. Crap.

Rogues have by far the toughest of the mount quests. I was lucky enough to encounter a couple of other rogues working on it, and teamwork definitely helped.

You receive word that the Legion has planted undead homunculi in all the major capital cities now that the Illidari are able to spot demonic infiltrators. To avoid putting the Uncrowned in a tough position, they send you to the opposite faction's cities so that your attacks can be passed off as standard Horde/Alliance aggression.

This is not phased or anything, so other players can make your life a living hell.

My rogue is Undead, so I went first to the Exodar, where you have to use Distract or Blind to keep the target's incredibly tough (basically he one-shots you) arcane golem from attacking.

Next is Darnassus, where the target is throwing a party in the entry area (from inner Teldrassil) and you have to sap her elite priest friend and then use Evasion and Cloak of Shadows while you target her and take her down (there's also a standard elite patroller who can detect through stealth that pats near the target.)

In Ironforge, there's a guy actually in the entryway to the throne room who takes almost no physical damage, so you'll definitely want to go either Assassination or Subtlety (and spec for Gloomblade for the latter) to max your non-physical damage.

Finally, the nastiest one that will never get easier: in Stormwind, you have to kill the guy in the Trade District auction house. So, where every Alliance player is in the city.

With those four killed, you're done, and you can be very, very proud of that mount.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Joys of Nonviolent Encounters in D&D

So for my birthday (well, the night before, but going into the morning of) I had a really great session of D&D with my party. I came away with a smile on my face, and that's always great.

Partially it was because of a good fight - the party encountered a feature of the land in which they find themselves, called a Darkstorm, where undead and demons assail them. I decided to ditch my randomized list and instead pick an appropriately creepy creature from Volo's Guide to Monsters called a Spawn of Kyuss - a zombie-like thing filled with burrowing worms that can infect people (none of the players got hit, but a couple of NPCs they were guarding did - thankfully for them, the Paladin was ready with Lay on Hands to cure diseases.) Everyone got to do something cool during the fight.

The best part, however, was when I had them go into an Outer Plane of my own devising (I muck around a lot with D&D lore, though if I get into serious trouble I'll just make this a subsection of the Nine Hells) called the Oubliette, where they were trying to secure the release of a prisoner who had knowledge of the fortress they had just taken. As I had planned, a Bearded Devil appeared to try to stop them, but thankfully I trusted my instincts (and my battle fatigue after a protracted Darkstorm fight) I decided to play up the lawful, and thus bureaucratic nature of devils.

The Bearded Devil, who I named on the spot Kanameir, talked with the wizard in the party about securing a prisoner release form, which could only be done by proving the demise of the fortress' former commander and convincing him that the wizard was the new commander. The wizard rolled three natural 20s in a row - first to get the fiend to talk to him, second to know it would not be a good idea of ignore the devil's instruction to wait while he did hours worth of paperwork, and third to sign with a fake (ridiculous) name that, with a Deception check crit, he pulled off.

So now this party member not only has a friend in the infernal bureaucracy, but also secured the ability to house up to five prisoners within this horrific dimension. (He's True Neutral, so I don't think he'd have qualms.)

Anyway, as I said before, my quasi-new-years resolution was to allow for more non-combat encounters as the players saw fit, and this early example was a huge success.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Mounts for the Highlord and Deathlord

I've gotten two of the new class mount quests done. Both involve a short quest chain that can only be started after finishing the Broken Shore campaign (the last quest of which simply requires you to kill 100 demons in the zone - very easy if you go to the areas with lots of imps.)

The Paladin quest chain is highly reminiscent of the original Vanilla Charger quests (I never did the Blood Elf one added in BC, but I believe it had similar steps done in a different order.) Like that original chain, you are there to redeem a Death Knight's charger's spirit with the help of blessed barding. You need to pick up a few supplies (leystone and a Stonehide Barding from a leatherworker) and then you'll be able to go into Stratholme to face off against some necromancer who is doing some nefarious things.

The Death Knight chain is chapter two in the "uh... I'm not so sure we're the good guys anymore" series for the class. You get a message from the Lich King, who tells you of a vision he saw of a group of undead marching toward something on a glacier north of Icecrown. Yet when you go to investigate, there's only a tiny iceberg. The Lich King sends you to Wyrmrest to find out records of a fallen dragon in that area, and when the Red flight doesn't really cooperate, you go and take their records by force. You have an entire Ruby Sanctum's worth of red dragons and dragonkin to kill, and if you kill every last one of them (this might take a little patrolling to catch the flying drakes) you'll actually get a Feat of Strength achievement called Unholy Determination. Also, you'll be a pretty terrible person, as these guys' only reason to be hostile is that they don't want you raising one of their kind from the dead.

I'll be doing the Demon Hunter one relatively soon - I just need to get a Broken Shore champion mission completed - but the other classes will probably take a bit more time, as I haven't gotten them as far through the Broken Shore campaign (some haven't even gone there yet.)

Monday, June 5, 2017

Evaluating a Supposed, Poorly Sourced WoW Leak

It's pretty crazy to think that it is now June and this year is nearly halfway through. For WoW fans, assuming a release schedule consistent with history, it also means that we're looking at an expansion announcement in only a couple months.

One of the really big questions is how exactly, story-wise, they're going to follow up Legion. Given that Kil'jaeden is probably going to die at the end of only the second raid tier, it's hard to imagine us fighting anyone but Sargeras as the expansion's final boss. Even if we don't kill Sargeras, the fact that we will have defeated him marks the sort of logical extreme of our power.

Still, for a long time, level has not really been an indication of lore-wise power - I'm pretty sure they don't mean for us to take literally that some bear in Stormheim is truly harder to kill than the Lich King.

The other day a friend told me he had seen a rumor about the next expansion - a supposed leak. Now, I think it's wise to take any leaks with a grain of salt, but there have been several leaks in the past that proved accurate. I remember seeing some poorly-translated leak of Legion that suggested Demon Hunters and Warchief Sylvanas. The latter I thought disqualified the leak, as it seemed absurd that they would replace Vol'jin so quickly, yet here we are.

So just in case this does prove correct, let's put it out there so we can feel cool about ourselves. We'll break it down element-by-element.

Setting/Villain:

The "leak" suggests that the next expansion would be a nautical/Naga-themed expansion, presumably with Queen Azshara as its final boss or at least an important antagonist. Azshara has seemed like an obvious expansion-carrying bad guy for ages, and every time there's a new expansion announced, people tend to assume that it'll be hers. While it has never been the case, the reasoning is still sound.

Allies on the Sea:

In this rumor, it appears that both Kul Tiras and Kezan would play a role. Again, I think these are pretty reasonable for the setting. Kezan we've been to, but its volcanic activity forced the playable goblins to leave. Still, assuming that things have cooled down there since the end of the Cataclysm, it might be an opportunity to finally see Undermine. And Kul Tiras, being the most navally-oriented of the human kingdoms, is an obvious Alliance location for a sea-based expansion.

New Race: Naga:

Supposedly playable Naga are something Blizzard's wanted to do for a long time. The Naga would be a new neutral race, like the Pandaren. Clearly, there are some anatomical issues to work out with Naga. While simply hiding pants and boots would probably work out (you often don't see shoes on Tauren, Trolls, Draenei, and Worgen) there's also the question of mounts and, if there were to be Naga Rogues or Monks, figuring out how kicking moves would work. One really interesting opportunity here, though, is that Naga would be a perfectly appropriate third race for Demon Hunters, as the Naga have been part of the Illidari longer than even the Blood Elves, and Demon Hunters just got a Naga class champion.

New Class: Tinker:

Ok, here's where I get a lot more skeptical. So far, we've gotten a new class every other expansion, so getting one right after we got Demon Hunters is a little far-fetched. The other question is how any new class is going to work with the class systems introduced in Legion. Obviously any hero classes that come about can just skip Legion content, but if we get a new start-at-1 class, what are they going to do in the Broken Isles? Do they get their own artifact weapons and class hall? To be fair, that's going to be an issue regardless of when they come out with a new class. I'm always excited to see more player options, and a gadget-based class could be a ton of fun. But this aspect of the rumor also seems very player-wishlist-y. Not to say that Blizzard isn't concerned with players' wishes.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Tomb of Annihilation and Xanathar's Guide to Everything Announced for D&D

Wizards of the Coast has announced new D&D products coming this year during their "Stream of Annihilation" that they've been hyping for a good while now.

Two books are coming out this year.

The first is Tomb of Annihilation, an adventure that takes players to an area called Chult (not part of the until-now standard 5e setting of the Sword Coast, though it is still in Faerûn) where the demilich from the infamous Tomb of Horrors is performing all sorts of nasty deeds, eating away at resurrection magic to fuel his undead. The adventure is going to be filled with dinosaurs, zombies, and zombie dinosaurs, and presumably the eponymous tomb, which we can expect to be a real death-trap.

The other book actually excites me a lot more, which is Xanathar's Guide to Everything. Just as Volo's Guide to Monsters was theoretically written from the perspective of a character in the Forgotten Realms, Xanathar is a beholder crime lord in Waterdeep. This book will be an expansion of rules, worked out in the Unearthed Arcana articles but now pinned down in official forms.

I've gotten way more use out of Volo's than any of the adventure books I've bought, and so I think Xanathar's will be a definite purchase. This includes new and expanded rules systems, but also new subclasses for every class (possibly with the exception of the Wizard, but they've got to have the most already, right?)

Anyway, I'll be following these releases.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Nature of the Lich King

The official story is that the Lich King was created by Kil'jaeden - Ner'zhul, a mortal orc, had his soul torn from his body and placed in the suit of armor (especially the Helm of Domination) that would form the original Lich King.

This implies that, powerful as the Lich King is, he's ultimately just an empowered undead mortal, and that power is ultimately derived from a demon (who is himself a former mortal.)

But there are a couple things that have never really sat well with me. In Warcraft Chronicle, there's a chart that delineates six primal forces that each have an associated type of magic. The one generally see as "good" are Light, Life, and Order, embodied by Holy, Nature, and Arcane magic respectively. The "evil" ones are Void, Death, and Chaos, embodied by Shadow, Necromancy, and Fel magic, also respectively.

In the game, however, we've tended to see Void and Chaos as the two really grand pillars of Warcraft villaindom. The Void Lords and their creations, the Old Gods, seek to corrupt the universe with Shadow, while the demons of the Burning Legion use Fel magic to try to utterly destroy the universe.

(Side note: one would think that the servants of the Void (described by Star Augur Etraeus as "avatars of non-existence") would be more into utter universal annihilation while the demonic Fel force would seek to corrupt it. But it could be we're just not seeing the long game here.)

Death as a force, however, doesn't seem to get the same kind of top billing as Void and Chaos, but perhaps that's something Blizzard will remedy in the future.

The origins of the Lich King's necromantic powers are somewhat enigmatic. We know that Fel-affiliated demons and warlocks have performed necromancy in the past - consider the original Death Knights, for example, who were created by Gul'dan. And so perhaps it wouldn't be too crazy to think that Kil'jaeden could tap into necromancy to create the Lich King.

On the other hand, seeing Ner'zhul B in Draenor showed us that using Shadow magic, one can also raise the dead, as we saw in Shadowmoon Burial Grounds.

So maybe I'm getting too hung up on that chart, but if we want to run with it, it would seem to suggest that necromancy really is its own thing, not beholden to Shadow magic or Fel magic.

Considering that the Burning Legion employs Voidwalkers (there's a whole section to the Broken Shore that's purple-void-corrupted rather than the usual green-fel-corrupted) despite the fact that such beings are theoretically the exact thing the Legion was founded to defeat (though in a Halo-like "cutting off the food supply" manner,) it wouldn't be that odd to think that Kil'jaeden dabbled in other kinds of magic.

But the explanation that I prefer, and I think that Blizzard would benefit a lot from in terms of future story potential, is that Necromancy is, in fact, totally independent, and the the Lich King, or whatever dark entity that served as the basis for the Lich King, existed long before Kil'jaeden got involved.

Now, it's also possible that some "prime representatives" of these primal magics still owe their origins to others. The Druid artifact backstory implies that the Wild Gods (aka Night Elf Ancients, Pandaren August Celestials, and Troll Loa) were originally just ordinary animals that Freya (yes, the one we fought in Ulduar) empowered and linked to the Emerald Dream. And while he was once a mortal, Kil'jaeden is now a being of nearly god-like power (the Warcraft universe is pretty strict on who gets to be called a god, though that's getting looser, with the Titans getting confirmed god status - albeit non-immortal gods) so if someone like Freya could create beings of such power, Kil'jaeden ought to be able to do so as well.

Still, I think there are elements of the Lich King that we really have not explored yet. Chronicle Vol. 2 ends right before the Third War, so we don't get anything about the Lich King.

In addition to the primal power of Death, there are a couple of other sort of related concepts in that chart of magic and planes. Moving to the elemental plane, there's two forces in addition to the four basic elements. One is Spirit, which is aligned with life, and is used by Shamans as a kind of binding agent for the four elements and is used by Monks as their primary power on which they draw (they call it Chi.) Spirit is demonstrably powerful - the Elementals on Azeroth are so chaotic because the Titan world soul requires so much of it to grow. Meanwhile, on Draenor, with no world-soul and an abundance of Spirit, the plantlife grew so powerful that it threatened to overwhelm its own resources and ironically wind up starving itself out of overgrowth, which is why Aggramar created a giant who was the ultimate ancestor to the Magnaron, Gronn, Ogron, Ogres, and Orcs.

The opposite of Spirit is something called Decay, which, unlike the harmonious Spirit, is all about force. Dark Shamanism is distinguished from classical shamanism because of its emphasis on this. While a typical Shaman beseeches the elements for aid and is something of a conduit for consensual elemental power, Dark Shamans enslave the elements to do their will. The result, as we saw with the Korkron in Mists of Pandaria, is that Dark Shamanism leads to environmental damage - polluted air and water and treacherous earth.

Finally, getting to the real semi-physical planes, we get one that is truly associated with death: the Shadowlands. While the Emerald Dream is a place of vibrant life (except where the Nightmare corrupts it, though I think we've officially destroyed almost all of the Nightmare,) the Shadowlands are an empty and cold land of death.

It has never been officially confirmed, but there is very strong evidence that in-game, if we die and go into ghost form, we're actually running around in the Shadowlands (and that the Spirit Healers are actually rogue Val'kyr who defied both Odyn and Helya for the sake of the greater good, namely returning the heroes of Azeroth to life so that we can continue protecting the world.)

If the Emerald Dream is the domain of the Wild Gods, it would stand to reason that the Shadowlands would have some sovereign. A King, if you will.

Now, perhaps that Sovereign was actually Helya - Helheim's location isn't ever really defined, and could be its own plane (we also don't know where the Halls of Valor are, exactly) and given that Helya assisted Ra-Den in creating the Elemental Planes, it's not that hard to imagine her creating Helheim from scratch.

But Helheim certainly looks like it could be a part of the Shadowlands.

Still, if we're talking about Death as being a primal force that is independent from other primal embodiments like Old Gods, Titans, and Demons, it seems to me that you could imagine there being some entity within the Shadowlands that was the embodiment of death and necromancy.

And perhaps that entity was amorphous - not in any way human-like. Perhaps Kil'jaeden poured that entity into Ner'zhul not just as a weapon, but also as a way of controlling an entity that was likely more powerful than Kil'jaeden himself.

And this actually begins to explain why "there must always be a Lich King." It wasn't really clear what the Scourge "running rampant" would look like, given that they weren't exactly friendly at the time, but maybe we really haven't seen anything yet.

Prior to the Lich King, this Death God was in the Shadowlands - incredibly dangerous but safely in its own realm. Kil'jaeden sought to use its power for the purposes of the Legion, but simply releasing it into the prime material plane would have meant undeath spreading everywhere - perhaps even to demons (and while the Legion's official mission is universal annihilation, but their actions suggest their actual goal is more a kind of universal tyranny - which requires subjects.) The Lich King thus may be a kind of de-powered Death God - something that the people serving as the Lich King may only know to varying degrees.

Kil'jaeden pulled the Death God out of the Shadowlands, putting it in a humanoid-shaped (or armor-shaped at first) vessel to ensure that it didn't escape and simply wash over everything and to ensure that its power could be used productively by the Burning Legion.

So then this opens questions as to what the longterm goals of Bolvar are. He nominated himself to be Jailor of the Damned, which seems like it would mean especially controlling the Death God within himself. But we don't know if he's been as effective at holding out against this influence as he was in the past. He's definitely not a good person anymore, but one really has to wonder what our actions as Death Knights have been doing for his goals. We recruited the Four Horsemen - who seem to serve the Lich King, rather than us Deathlords. And even Darion Mograine has been raised from the dead a second time - which means that his break from the Lich King's control after the Battle of Light's Hope may no longer be in effect! As the folks at Blizzard Watch pointed out in their latest Lore Watch podcast, when we start the expansion, Darion tells us explicitly that we're getting assistance from the Lich King, but we're not rejoining the Scourge. And yet, and yet, every action we take to empower the Ebon Blade is actually making the Scourge more powerful.

Now it's possible that being part of this Bolvar-era Scourge will ultimately be good for Azeroth, even if we do things to seriously piss of the Silver Hand and the Red Dragonflight and anyone else who gets in our way.

But the Deathlord may have really screwed things up and will have a serious price to pay when he or she looks around and finds that all of his comrades are now getting conscripted into the Death God's campaign to wipe out all life on the planet.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Finally Hitting the Shore

After being away for over two months, I was finally able to do some significant work on the Broken Shore and its new content.

So far I've gotten new followers, upgraded artifacts, and the ability to research new AK levels on my Paladin, Death Knight, and Demon Hunter, who are my "top three" guys (Shaman and Rogue will go next.)

There's a lot of stuff to handle - a new dungeon (which I've run once on the tankadin) and new followers along with a much higher follower item level cap (and thus quests requiring much more.)

So far I'm finding the Broken Shore decent, though I think that while a new zone for world quests is never a terrible idea, I'd have tried to work in some of the unstructured content we had in places like the Timeless Isle.

Plotwise, I've gotten Anduin through his grieving process (not sure if the Horde has an equivalent quest chain, though I'm given to understand they don't,) but we're still definitely in a holding pattern when it comes to the raid.

I'm somewhat encouraged that I'm already maybe a quarter or even a third of the way to revered with Armies of the Legionfall, which is the only thing I need for the flying achievement (not sure if the class mount quest follows from that or if it's something they're still holding back.)

And I have not even made an attempt at the artifact challenge, as I'm given to understand that it - and particularly the tanking challenge - is very difficult and might be better attempted once I get a little of that Tomb of Sargeras stuff.

I spent some Marks of Honor on the previous PvP season's DK look, which is pretty great, but I'm thinking I might save the other twelve I have for 7.3, as the Paladin Lightbringer lookalike PvP set (Alliance blue) is directly up my alley (while I tend to go for Tier 8 Aegis as my go-to transmog, tier 6 and I guess also 20 now is what I think of as the absolute most quintessential paladin armor set. There is no doubt that you're looking at a heroic good guy in heavy armor.)

Of course, I have nine more characters to take to the Broken Shore, but as long as these three are up and active and getting their sweet sweet artifact knowledge research, I'm ok.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Linearity Versus Open World in D&D

My primary exposure to D&D prior to playing the game has been watching Penny Arcade's annual or semiannual Acquisitions Incorporated games. While these are very fun (largely due to fun characters and Chris Perkins' ever-game DM'ing,) they are generally on rails. There's very little real "dungeon crawling" and mostly involves single-sitting adventures that typically only involve one large fight rather than multiple smaller ones.

It makes things very entertaining and works to give each two-and-a-half-hour session a clear arc. But as someone who doesn't need to entertain a crowd, I've been exploring a more open-ended adventure.

I spent almost a month putting together an adventure that takes my players to a location they have never heard of (though they've encountered some of its inhabitants.) I'm going to be slightly cagey about this on the off chance that any of them follow this blog, but I'll talk a bit about structure.

The idea behind this is that there is a bordered region that's going to really be where they do their adventure - if the players attempt to leave this area, I might have them encounter extra-tough enemies or simply improvise some new settings for them to visit. But generally, I'll try to steer them back into the adventure region.

However, while they will be somewhat limited to this area for what I imagine will be many sessions, while they're in there, I'm going to try to be pretty open to what they want to do and where they want to go.

My strategy for preparing this adventure was to first come up with a general sense of the "overworld" area. This is a large region that will require days of travel and special threats that they'll deal with the entire time.

My expectation is that the players will level up at least two times (probably more) by the end of the adventure. The overworld region won't level up with them, so threats that seemed pretty scary when they first got there will, hopefully, seem like something they can overcome with ease.

One way to help dull the difficulty when they first arrive is that they'll get a couple NPC party members. Eventually, they'll be able to get three followers who will always be two levels below them. These guys will dilute the XP they earn (I don't want them getting super-powered before they escape) but also make combat encounters less likely to wipe them out.

From the Overworld, which is totally set up to cater to their current level, they'll go to various important locations, which is where most of the plot of the adventure takes place. These areas are "tuned" for higher levels, with more challenging beings that rule over them. My thought is that each of these regions will take maybe one to three sessions, and while one of them is the "final dungeon," they're designed to be relatively self-contained, so that the players can do them in any order.

My thought is that, especially with noncombat alternatives to some of the key conflicts, it won't be a problem if the players outlevel a region. The environments and characters are, I hope, enough to make easy combat still entertaining. On the other hand, I'll be curious to see if there will be situations where the players feel compelled to retreat from combat.

It's a big experiment, but I'm really excited to see how it works out, as this kind of open-world design could be a model going forward. (It also means that I probably won't have to prepare any new content for months.)

Chrono Trigger: A Benchmark in Time-Travel Video Games

Squaresoft had a golden era in the 1990s. As someone who is just starting to realize that he's not exactly "young people" anymore, I sometimes forget that there are people who are legitimately adults who don't really remember the 90s.

The SNES era saw the release of Final Fantasy VI (released as III in the US as there had only been two of the five games released here at that point. For VII they just synched up the series with Japan,) Secret of Mana, Super Mario RPG, and Chrono Trigger. Of these, I really played a lot more Mario RPG and Secret of Mana when I was a kid, but in college, I got the PS1 port of Chrono Trigger (played on my PS2, so it was kind of doubly removed from its original form) and I realized it's one of the greatest games of all time.

And one of the reasons that it was so good is that they managed to create a solid time-travel narrative that was not impossible to follow.

Time Travel is, hypothetically, one of the coolest subjects in fiction, but writing it is very, very hard. For one thing, because it's a totally hypothetical thing that may be not just physically impossible, but actually metaphysically impossible if fully considered, the logic surrounding it has to be worked out by the writer. And it's easy to slip up and be inconsistent.

Now, to be fair, Chrono Trigger is not always perfectly consistent - generally, the party members are immune to changes in the fabric of history, allowing them to remember other versions of events before they changed them. However, there's also a part where party member Marle disappears from existence because her ancestor was kidnapped and presumably would be killed without further intervention.

Still, as interesting as it is to talk about the logical paradoxes that can arise from being able to manipulate the events of history, one of the other really great opportunities in a time-travel narrative is to see how familiar things change.

For example, the game starts in the modern era in 1000 AD (the years are a little misleading, as 1000 seems more like 1990, and 1999 looks like some kind of futuristic civilization even though the game was made only a couple years before that in the real world.) In 1000, there is a town full of beings that look monstrous, but they're perfectly friendly. However, when traveling back to 600 AD, there is a war between the human kingdom of Guardia and the Mystics - those very same monsters that will be friendly in the present. In fact, when the game begins, the leader of the Mystics, known as Magus, looks like he's going to be the main bad guy of the story.

One also gets to play some fun games with long periods of time. One of the party members is a robot from the future, and there is a side-quest toward the end of the game in which you can have Robo (ok, the character names are not the most creative) start working on irrigating and planting trees in a desert and then quickly traveling several hundred years into the future and picking him up when the job is done.

I don't think I've seen any other games pull off time travel as well as Chrono Trigger. Time Splitters: Future Perfect did have some fun with it, but not nearly to the same degree.

Chrono Trigger had one sequel, Chrono Cross, which I never played, but it never grew into a large franchise like Final Fantasy (or Secret of Mana, which I actually think went on to have several games, even though I'm almost utterly unfamiliar with anything but that one.)

Friday, May 19, 2017

Making the Monsters Matter

As I've said before, I came to the D&D table pretty late, only a year/year and a half ago (I'm still getting used to the idea of being 30 and it's dawning on me that 31 is coming in less than a month,) but a combination of the fact that it's way easier to get people to play a game like this if you volunteer to do the hardest part and the fact that it means I get to come up with a whole new world and history really compelled me to jump into the deep end as a DM.

Now, my RPG experience has been primarily through video games (this blog started as a pure World of Warcraft blog, and I'd say that's still its main focus) and one thing that video games have to contend with is that everything needs to be pre-programmed. As well-written as the characters in Mass Effect are (can't speak to Andromeda, which I have not played,) your interactions ultimately wind up being multiple-choice, and the game's not going to let you do anything the developers didn't anticipate.

My impulse in my campaign has been to push combat encounters with little fanfare - my general sense has been that if I send a monster at my party, there's going to be a fight. But I think that is a bit of a habit from video games.

Just because, for example, a goblin in D&D is chaotic evil, doesn't mean that it is necessarily going to kill everything it looks at.

So even though this is May, I'm going to make a kind of new year's resolution to open things up and encourage my party to deal with monsters in either non-combat ways, or at least more strategic ways.

I think one of the keys is allowing players to encounter monsters in contexts that don't necessitate immediate combat.

One idea (and I'm banking on the assumption that none of the players read this blog) is that I have a subregion of an area within my setting's equivalent of the Shadowfell (think more like the Dark World from Zelda: A Link to the Past) where there is a coven of Night Hags who control a town that used to belong to their mother, from whom they usurped the town.

My initial impulse would be to give the players a simple "kill their mother to get their help or kill them" choice, but I think the resolution here is to try to let the party surprise me. Anything from a Yojimbo-style playing-both-sides-against-each-other thing to providing family counseling to heal the rift between these evil fiends.

Only one of my players has played the game prior to this campaign, so I think I'll need to actively encourage them to try alternative approaches - not that going in guns-a-blazing isn't an option. I suppose that I could encourage this by A: having monsters that are not immediately hostile and B: sending them up against monsters that can wipe the floor with them, requiring them to try some other tack.

Monday, May 8, 2017

What I Learned Rolling Five D&D Characters in a Row

Because I'm bored and far away from my D&D party, I've been entertaining myself by watching Web DM (a Youtube channel with lots of in-depth tips for players and DMs,) as well as the Acquisitions Incorporated spin-off The C Team (which has gotten really good in the past few episodes,) planning an elaborate adventure for my party for when I get back to LA, and today, coming up with several potential player characters (that I'd want to play, though I suppose if we have some players who want to pop in I could let them take these for a spin.)

When you're new to D&D, as I was when I first started DM'ing, there's a hell of a lot of information to take in (thankfully the Monster Manual is almost pure reference.) So while I've got a pretty solid understanding of how to run combat, build dungeons (sort of... I never have anything as elaborate as what you find in the published adventures, focusing more on outdoor stuff,) and do general RP/character interactions and such, I mostly rely on the honesty of my players to get the details about their capabilities right.

Rolling a bunch of characters has really given me a much better sense of what these classes can do. So I'll go character-by-character and say what I learned about the classes. All these guys are at level three, which I figure is a relatively standard place for most campaigns to start (I started my guys at level one, but given that only one of us had played the game before, it wasn't a terrible idea.)

Generally speaking, I think that the traits, ideal, bond, and flaw things are all stuff that one might be tempted to skip over when creating a character, but they're actually really good to help you get a feel for how to role-play. If you take the time to figure these things out - even if you are just copying them down from the suggested characteristics in the book - you'll start to get a real sense of the character, which will inspire you to come up with more ideas to lend the character specificity.

Alfred Nightfire - Human Warlock, Great Old One, Tome Pact, Noble, Chaotic Neutral

Alfred's the character I came up with a long time ago, and he's actually shown up in my campaign as a temporary party member when we only had three people in the group other than myself. I re-rolled him today as an exercise.

I think Warlocks have fantastic storytelling potential, as you kind of have a Bond automatically. Mechanically, they are a bit limited in that they rely a lot on their spell casting, but have a tiny number of spell slots. Thankfully, you can get those slots back on a short rest, but you'll have to ask your party to break for lunch about as often as the Hobbits do. The eldritch invocations focus a lot on the Eldritch Blast cantrip, which certainly seems like the ideal cantrip, but it'd be nice to make it non-mandatory. I love the idea of playing an escaped mental patient with a direct line to some sort of eldritch abomination, though, so he's still top of my list to play if I get someone else to DM.

Zarlak Azoral - Blue Dragonborn Fighter, Eldritch Knight, Sage, Lawful Neutral

I don't know why, but for some reason I've always been a little repelled by the "straight fighter" classes in RPGs. It always seems to me that if you're going to play in a world with magic, you're kind of nuts not to play a class that has magic.

The Eldritch Knight archetype solves this big time, and it also realizes a class archetype I could have sworn was a real thing, but can never find in actual RPGs: the Battlemage. An Eldritch Knight is pretty much exactly what you need for a Battlemage. I feel like Eldritch is too firmly associated with Lovecraftian horror in my mind, but this is totally a Battlemage, and I imagine it's a lot of fun to play.

Kex Kariko - Wood Elf Monk, Way of Shadow, Acolyte, Chaotic Good

I've also never been drawn that much to martial arts classes in the past. I don't know why. Maybe it's my subconscious occident-centrism tendencies or a draw toward heavy armor and heavy weapons, but for some reason it doesn't usually click with me. Reading through the Monk entry in the player's handbook, however, is doing a lot to change my mind.

If you go Way of Shadow, you get a straight-up ninja, with the ability to cast stealth-enhancing spells to go with your martial arts moves. And actually, on top of that, there's some really cool flavor to Monks in general, what with the ability to catch arrows and thrown weapons and toss them back at your enemies, as well as the ability to, very early on, smack your target with up to three attacks. Monks get a lot of toys.

Jadro Coppledart - Lightfoot Halfling Rogue, Arcane Trickster, Enforcer (custom background,) Lawful Good

First off: there's really no good "cop" background. The Soldier background is too focused on army camaraderie and the Spy variant of Criminal doesn't really change how the benefits work for the background. So what I suggest is something I partially cribbed from suggestions online: Give Insight and Investigation proficiencies, one extra language, proficiency with thieves' tools, a badge of office, a crowbar, common clothes, and a coin purse of seized assets worth 15gp. This works, pretty decently I think, for a detective character (Investigation to search for clues, Insight for questioning witnesses and suspects.)

Rogues I actually have some experience with, as one of the members of my party is a Rogue. That sneak attack damage can really make them hit for huge amounts, and it's not terribly hard to get the bonus if there's melee characters in your party.

Palthan Arbrecht - Human Wizard, School of Necromancy, Charlatan, Neutral Evil

There's also a Wizard in my party, and I have to say that as a class, it's really defined by the spells you choose. Most of the class features just focus on getting more spells, recovering spells slots, and making it quicker and cheaper to add spells to your spell book.

At least at early levels, your school doesn't change the way the class plays a whole lot. However, because you can effectively know unlimited spells, it means that it's very easy to customize your capabilities. The only downside is that you're really going to have to either invest in a set of spell cards or print out a list of all the details of your spells (or just flip through the Player's Handbook constantly.)

Also, as a character note, I'm really happy with the idea of a snake-oil-selling necromancer, complete with his false identity he uses on the road, Doctor Lukvard von Toffel.

Other Characters:

I imagine I might do a bit more of this. I rolled a Barbarian, Druid, and Bard to serve as allied NPCs in the upcoming adventure. I'd like to start looking into alternative races, backgrounds, and class features that have popped up in other books. (Actually, the Barbarian I rolled was a Goliath.) Still got room for a Cleric, Ranger, Paladin, and Sorcerer.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Trying out Diablo III's Necromancer

While, given the cooperative nature of WoW, I haven't really been playing it much on my ancient laptop while I'm out of town, I did find in my email an invite to the Diablo III Necromancer beta test.

Diablo III's in a weird place where content is coming in entirely patches. The Necromancer will be paid DLC, but it's not a full expansion.

The Necromancer was, of course, a popular class from Diablo II (and Xul, the character who represents the class in Heroes of the Storm, is my favorite character in that game,) so it's exciting to get to play it in Diablo III, even if some of us (me) don't really feel incentivized to keep playing much given the lack of a new campaign act (and I long-since got multiple full gear sets for each class.)

Still, I dig the necromancer aesthetic (I was never a goth, but Halloween was my favorite holiday as a kid) and wanted to give it a go.

Now obviously, the first thing that comes to mind playing the necromancer is its similarities with the Witch Doctor. The Witch Doctor is also an intelligence-based caster who tends to command undead legions. Indeed, I think the Witch Doctor was heavily based on the Necromancer, but given a decidedly different aesthetic. So what does this new version of the Necromancer bring?

Well, one thing is that, mechanically, when you kill enemies, you get corpses on the ground. Certain abilities (the first one you get and probably the most iconic being Corpse Explosion) use these corpses as a kind of alternate resource. You can explode corpses without any cost as long as there are some on the ground, but positioning enemies to be near corpses will require a degree of skill.

Necromancers use Essence as their resource, which seems to build and spend at roughly the same rate, though in my mere 14 levels of experience, I've tended to just let my skeletons and by builder ability drop a couple of monsters and then wipe up the rest with corpse explosions (sometimes I use Bone Spear, a spender, to get the ball rolling.)

A bit like the Scourge in Warcraft III, the Necromancer seems to be pretty powerful if you can build up momentum, and if there's a large swarm of enemies, you can devastate them with amazing speed (though to be fair, this tends to be the case with most Diablo III classes after you get a decent complement of abilities.)

I don't know off the top of my head how much the DLC will cost, but right now I think I'd be willing to pay something under twenty (preferably under fifteen) dollars for it. I'm curious to see what the set bonuses do.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Apotheosis of Nerdery - Imagining a Warcraft D&D Module

While I'm back east, I've been more or less WoW-less (my laptop was new during Wrath of the Lich King, and makes Legion content kind of slow - and I'm definitely feeling that MMO FOMO effect, and thus limiting my visits to Blizzard Watch and MMO-Champion.) But it has given me a lot of time to work on my D&D campaign (one of our party members is also out of town for an extended period, so this would be downtime anyway.)

My D&D setting is wholly original (to the extent that anything is truly original) because making up fantasy worlds is basically my life's calling, but I couldn't deny the influence that Blizzard's flagship universe has had on my own tastes, and while it might have begun its life as a Warhammer clone, the amount of work that the creative folks at Blizzard have put in to making Azeroth (and the larger Warcraft universe) dense and interesting has made for one of my favorite fictional settings.

D&D, largely due to its pencil-and-paper system and a human dungeon master, is a game that is pretty easily modifiable. They do have their own standard setting in the Forgotten Realms (as well as some other settings like Greyhawk, Ebberon, and Dark Sun,) but the Dungeon Master's Guide has a pretty sizable portion of its text dedicated to ensuring that those who want to build their own setting have plenty of tools to do so.

Apparently, long before I started playing D&D (which was only like... a year and a half ago or something?) and possibly before I started playing WoW (which was ten and a half years ago,) there was actually an officially supported Warcraft D&D module. I believe it spun off to become its own RPG, but then was canceled and even declared officially "non-canon unless we say otherwise" much like the Star Wars Expanded Universe (goodbye, Jacen, Jaina, and Anakin Solo! Though Grand Admiral Thrawn has apparently been salvaged.)

Anyway, whenever that RPG ended, I think we've seen a lot of things in WoW change. The Chronicle books have gone to huge lengths to put together a comprehensive canon in a way that never really existed before.

So, I love the Warcraft setting, and would find it a lot of fun to play a D&D game set in it (though probably not as DM, as I think any games I DM would probably be in my own setting(s.) How would we go about translating the game?

And to be clear, this is basing all of this off of 5th Edition rules, which is the only version of D&D I'm familiar with.

Races:

A lot of races would translate easily. D&D does a lot of sub-races, and so while in WoW, Night Elves and Blood Elves might as well be entirely different from a gameplay perspective, you could easily make them into sub races of the broader Elves in a D&D setting (and this would make it simpler to add High Elves, Nightborne or Highborne as additional sub races.) Likewise, you could use this to distinguish out the three major dwarf clans (even adding the Frostborn - remember them?)

WoW races tend to go a little broader, especially as you get the added ones and the Horde ones (though Volo's Guide to Monsters adds some more outside-the-box races.) There could be some questions about what exactly constitutes a sub-race. For instance, Trolls are pretty diverse on Azeroth, and so you could imagine making sub-races for Drakkari, Farraki, Gurubashi, and Amani trolls (Darkspear count, I believe, as Gurubashi, as their original homeland was Stranglethorn Vale.) But when it comes to Orcs or Tauren, it's not totally clear to me whether the different clans and tribes would count as totally different sub-races or just kind of cultural differences that wouldn't really count except for RP purposes. (And that's also setting aside the issue that I think the canon is that most Orcs basically stopped caring which clan they were from when the Horde joined - and there's probably a lot of mixed-heritage Orcs these days.)

A fair number of races would probably have to be made whole-cloth unless you really wanted to stretch things. Would Draenei simply use the stats of the Aasimar? They're both very light-based, even if their backstories and looks are pretty different. Another interesting issue is that of Worgen and Undead. In both of these cases, the "race" is really just human, and so you'd have to figure out how the other effects interact. In WoW, they decided to make Undead count as humanoid and not speak Common for balance and gameplay purposes, but in D&D, having everything tightly balanced is not really as important as making for a good story. So giving Forsaken characters the "undead nature" effect that many monsters have would make lots of sense. You'd also have to see if the effect of Lycanthropes in D&D would have to have some other effect given that the Worgen curse is a little more specific and harder for other people to catch than standard werewolfism.

One of the benefits of doing Warcraft as a tabletop is that you could more easily add in other playable races. Having Ogre, Vrykul, Furbolgs (which are pretty different than D&D Firbolgs) and Naga are easier to fit in when you don't need to worry about the knife-edge balancing we expect for the computer game (and you don't always need to worry about making an equal number of Horde and Alliance races - hell, you could even do buddy-cop stories where the party is of mixed Alliance/Horde make-up.)

Classes:

Like races, there are a lot of direct-translations between the classes in WoW and those of D&D. Paladins are Paladins, Druids are Druids, Rogues are Rogues, Warlocks are Warlocks. Monks are Monks. Rangers, Fighters, and Wizards work out as pretty clear analogues of Hunters, Warriors, and Mages. On the other hand, D&D has a few classes that would probably fall under another class's domain in WoW, like Sorcerers (which is like a Mage who got power from raw talent rather than years of study) and Barbarians (where are like Warriors who are more primal and spiritual.)

WoW, on the other hand, has a couple classes that are pretty unlike anything you find elsewhere. Death Knights could maybe-kinda use the Blackguard (which is only found in D&D's Unearthed Arcana blog) or Oathbreaker Paladin oaths, but one sort of feels like it should be its own thing. And if Death Knights do sort of have precedence in other fantasy stories (like the Nazgul in Lord of the Rings. I'd call those guys Death Knights) Demon Hunters really feel pretty unlike anything I've seen anywhere else, and you'd probably want to just create a whole new class for that.

Then you'd also have to ask if you wanted to kind of orient classes more around their WoW specializations or keep the D&D variants. For example, Warlocks in D&D can have different sources of magical power - from the standard Demonic/Devilish (in D&D there's a distinction) Fiend, to the Archfey (anything from a Faerie being that would probably be someone like Cenarius or Goldrinn in WoW) to a Great Old One (which in WoW would basically have to be an Old God or at least some high-level C'thraaxi or N'raqi.)

Though to be honest, D&D generally gives players more options to vary their classes. Priests can choose from a wide variety of domains (based on the god or principle they worship) and Wizards can specialize in several different schools of magic (but are not typically stuck to one element or the other.) For a lot of WoW classes, the specializations don't have all that much to do with flavor as much as they do with mechanics, but some are a big deal (like Holy versus Shadow Priest.)

Either way, D&D classes don't really have anything like tanking, and everyone has to be a little more self-sufficient given that you can't really play a class as "the one who never gets hit by anything" which is like, most WoW characters.

Monsters and Dungeons:

Dungeons are, in a way, the easy part. WoW has a huge number of dungeons that you could use as inspiration, or you could turn any number of memorable questing zones into dungeons, or just make stuff up.

Of course, it wouldn't really be a 1 to 1 translation, as a computer game can generally handle combat very easily and quickly and handle character interactions less easily. But imagine a version of Deadmines where you sneak into the place disguised as bandits, maybe try to convince one of the bosses to let you get through to the ship, and then have a climactic fight with Vanessa at the end. D&D certainly lets you have exciting combat encounters, but it provides a whole lot more freedom to either avoid combat or seek other outcomes (actually, forget that climactic fight with Vanessa. Imagine instead convincing her to denounce violence and reform the Defias into a political advocacy organization.)

Like a lot of D&D modules (there have been a number of ones based on Magic: The Gathering settings, which is my first deeply nerdy love,) you could simply use "close enough" creatures from the Monster Manual to remake iconic Warcraft creatures. Kua-Toa are almost exactly Murlocs, but you could also translate something like Modrons into various Titan creations like Mechagnomes.

Campaigns:

Of course you could easily come up with new threats for players to deal with. There's plenty of stuff to choose from. Alternatively, you could kind of remake some of the WoW expansions as campaigns.

Of course, WoW's level cap keeps going up and D&D is set up to go from 1-20, which makes each level a lot more significant. But for a long time now, level in WoW has been a purely mechanical thing. I don't think anyone would argue that Blackhand, even with all his Iron Horde tech, was truly more powerful than the Lich King. So it wouldn't be hard to simply start new campaigns as "new adventurers coming off the boat in Northrend."

But the freedom of D&D would also let you do stuff that WoW is unlikely to ever do - like having players fight their way through a post-Arthas Northrend.

D&D&WC:

Ultimately, D&D and its variants can be used to play through most fantasy settings. And given that WoW is one of the most popular RPGs that owes a big debt to the quintessential one, it might be a fun project for anyone involved to create a campaign that has you adventure across Azeroth.

And it's probably the only way you're ever going to play that Tauren Bard you always wanted to play.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Breath of the Wild - Open World Zelda: Is That a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?

Breath of the Wild famously breaks the Zelda formula that has arguably been in place since a Link to the Past. Zelda games have generally had a pretty clear linear progression, with a formula of doing a build up of quest-like tasks that would lead you into a new dungeon, after which you would defeat a boss and then, using the new weapon or tool found in that dungeon, be able to go onto the next.

In Breath of the Wild, you start in a sort of kiddie-pool area (though combat is legitimately tougher than most Zelda games have been, so it's not like it's super-easy) where you get access to the puzzle-solving tools you'll need for the rest of the journey almost immediately.

Once you get access to the parasail, you'll be able to go pretty much anywhere in the world, and while I do feel pretty strongly that you're pushed to go to the eastern part of the map first, there's nothing stopping you from going in other directions.

There are four major dungeon-like structures, but they don't really work totally like dungeons. Combat and puzzles are somewhat more segregated - with shrines found throughout the world that serve both as teleportation nodes (along with Assassin's Creed-style map-revealing towers) and also serve as explicit "there are puzzles here" locations that award Spirit Orbs - which work mostly like Heart Pieces did in prior games (though you can also trade them in for more stamina to let you climb and run and glide longer.)

The world of Breath of the Wild is desolate. There are people - in fact, beyond the many towns you find you'll also come across little stables that serve as country inns - but the plot is all about how things basically fell apart a hundred years ago. Link - explicitly named Link in this entry, rather than that just being the default name - actually has a history, but his 100-year slumber (an emergency procedure after he took an otherwise fatal wound) has left him an amnesiac.

So you actually wind up with a few checklist items pretty early on that you can work on for the rest of the game - recovering important memories and restoring the massive Divine Beasts to bring the fight against Ganon (and give you some very useful combat powers.)

There's incredible freedom - a lot of games tout the ability to go anywhere, but in this game, with the generous (but stamina-limited) climbing, you really can get to just about anywhere you see. And also, the draw-distance more or less makes the entire game world visible (admirably without making it seem small.)

This is a game about survival, and as such a lot of the things you used to be able to count on in a Zelda game are no longer true. Simply smashing pots and cutting down grass won't get you hearts to recover your health. Instead, you'll find tons of fruits, vegetables, and meats in the world that you can cook into food. Cooking is pretty fun (you can experiment with different ingredients, though eventually you'll figure out a relatively straightforward formula) but you'll need to do a lot of it if you want to really stock up on health-replenishing items before going into a tough fight or area. As funky as the little cooking music is, this can get a little tedious.

Likewise, your weapons are not built to last. Granted, we tend to expect way more from video game weapons than their real-world counterparts (there's no way that an actual broadsword would be able to take the punishment your average WoW weapon does without breaking after like three fights,) but in Breath of the Wild, until you get the Master Sword (which itself will power-down if you use it against anything but the most obviously corrupted stuff after a while, giving it a recharge period) you'll be churning through weapons. You can strategically use weaker weapons when facing easier opponents, but just remember that nothing lasts, so don't be precious.

The open-world nature of Breath of the Wild does give you incredible freedom, but I do think you pay a bit of a price. The dungeons and shrines wind up feeling somewhat same-y. There's a lot of stuff in the open world that feels pretty unique (when you find the Lost Woods it definitely feels different) but the nonlinear nature of the progression means that a lot of the bokoblin and moblin camps kind of feel interchangeable.

There's also the fact that you have so much freedom in when you take things to Ganon that the pacing gets odd. For example, in my first play through I've found myself gravitating toward the Divine Beasts, and I left home in the middle of my fourth (the camel one in the desert.) I know there's a ton more to the game, but because everything has to be doable in any order, it means that you can burn through a lot of the "main event" stuff and then find yourself with a ton of side-missions (even if they're interesting side missions. I haven't even begun to explore Faron, for example) and a kind of nagging question of where it's time to just go and fight Ganon.

I really like the game, but I think I might have liked a more curated, guided tour of this iteration of Hyrule. The open-world aspects are arguably the fulfillment of the genre that Zelda spawned, but in embracing this freedom, the game also feels a bit more like other open-world games in ways that are perhaps not terrible, but not inspiring either.