Monthly Archives: August 2011

Five Things My Main Snarks About Hellfire Pennisula

Cynwise, fill us in on everyone’s favorite DK training ground, will you?

  1. “Okay, listen. I’m not saying that walls have to be your highest priority when the ground itself isn’t entirely solid. But Honor Hold, seriously – look across the way. The Horde have managed to keep their walls together. We have unemployment in Westfall. You have holes in your walls you can fly a dragon through (trust me, I’ve done it.) Here’s a Stormwind Labor Requisition Form. You can connect these dots, right?”
  2. “Sure am glad my Factor sent me out here for that Runed Adamantine Rod reicpe, always nice to come back to sunny Hellfire WHAT DO YOU MEAN IT’S BIND ON PICKUP!”
  3. “Wow, there sure is a lot of pork on the menu here. Do you have a pig problem or something?”
  4. “Explain to me again the strategic importance of the Stadium. Uhhuh. Okay. Right. You realize that what you said made no sense, right? Are you planning on holding a game there soon? No? Okay, then it’s just an empty stadium.”
  5. “FEL REAVER, I’M COMING AFTER YOU!”

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Five Things My Main Snarks About Arathi Highlands

  1. Really, Princess Myzrael? You were trapped in there by giants and now you want to be freed? You think I free captured Princesses every day? You are going to pay me for setting you free, right? I didn’t think so.
  2. Listen, you dumb Great Plains Creepers; I’m here for your Spider’s Silk. I have sisters who need your silk for … boots. And capes. We can do this the easy way, or the hard way. Drop. Your. Silk.
  3. League of Arathor! I have a personal question for you. You have like 350 people wandering around in a … gully, for lack of a better term. But there are like 2 tents. Where does everyone sleep?
  4. Hey, Prince Nazjak! Thanks for dropping that sweet Tidal Charm, it was my first trinket, like, ever. Pity I had no idea how to use it. Dumb trinket.
  5. Stromgarde! Oh, you mighty fortress! I hope you don’t mind that I took that Mageweave Bandage recipe and sold the rights to it on the open market. Now, everyone can learn it, and I’m rich. Good luck getting your fortress back!

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On The Forsaken

Cynwise_-_forsaken_-_awakening

Those of you who’ve read my fiction pieces on CBM (especially Homecoming) know that my main character has issues with the Scourge and the Forsaken. Cynwise’s issues with the Forsaken are less poltical and more personal than simply that they’re the bad guys of the Horde; Homecoming gives a personal reason to hate, but her disgust stems from many of the events she went through in Wrath; the Wrathgate, the Battle for Undercity, and fighting in ICC. She doesn’t see a lot of difference between the Scourge and the Forsaken, and she’s pretty much in support of any campaign to rid the world of either or both of them. (She and Greymane would get on fabulously together.)

That’s my main character, though – not me, Cyn. While much of my own attitues are reflected in her behavior, I’ve struggled to keep separation between player and character. I’m not a mercenary in real life (though I tend to be somewhat nonemotional in business transactions.) I switch between factions without compunction, though I am more familiar with playing Alliance, I don’t look at them as a morally superior choice. There’s the Blue team and the Red team, the game is designed so that they look to be about equivalent as faction choices, play what you like.

But in this case, I share Cynwise’s very real dislike for the Forsaken.

It all started with Cynderblock, the Ambassador, and over 10 years of playing Vampire: the Masquerade.

Cynderblock_-_sewers_of_the_undercity

For a while, ‘block was a Tauren Warrior, a sweet-faced cowgirl who enjoyed bashing in the heads of the enemies of the Horde. I enjoyed being a Tauren, to be honest; there’s a certain moral simplicity to the race, simplicity coupled with depth. I found it easy to flow along with the stories of Mulgore and the Barrens, Eversong and Ghostlands.

But it was in Undercity that Cynderblock met Theresa, the mindslave.

That’s how she appears in game: <Gerald’s Mindslave>. I watched her go back and forth between Gerald and Lazarus, Gerald prattling on about how he was able to completely enslave this woman to his will, to break her spirit and leave her completely dominated. Torture, invasive surgery (while she was awake), alchemy – all in the name of utterly possessing someone.

I watched Theresa go through her eternal motions, and let the impact of what I was feeling wash over me. It’s not just that the Forsaken keep living, sentient creatures caged to experiment upon, or enslave them – it’s that they were willing to go further than mere slavery. They are willing to completely destroy someone’s free will, to leave them aware of what has been done, screaming silently in horror through the end of her days, but unable to change any part of it.

I watched Theresa pace back and forth. Mere feet from the throne room, captives wailed as the RAS continued their experiments. Back. Forth. Slavery, unending. Complete domination of free will.

It was then that my peaceful Tauren knew the rage of the Brujah. If she could have, she would have assaulted Gerald right there. She would have stopped at nothing to tear down the Forsaken, allies of the Horde or no.

Logoclanbrujah

The Brujah are one of the original 13 clans of Vampire: the Masquerade, a game I started playing in 1994. I played the LARP version – Mind’s Eye Theater – with over 100 people in a large, independent game which ran for more than 10 years (and is probably still running, in a smaller format.) And I played a Brujah.

The Brujah are a study in contradictions. They were originally the scholars, the intellectuals, the rational and logical thinkers – but due to their curse, as their bloodline thinned they turned into the brutes, the thugs, the anarchists. Their particular weakness is anger – overwhelming anger, barely contained at times by the most placid elder, often left unchecked by the young.

But no matter if they are old or young, the Brujah prize freedom above all else – sometimes to the point of absurdity. Intellectual freedom, freedom of action, freedom of expression – freedom is essential to understanding the Brujah ethos. The Brujah are often misguided, easily led astray, and deeply flawed – but their hearts burn with the idea of Freedom.

The Brujah are one of many clans in V:tM, where the central tenet of the game is monsters we are, lest monsters we become. You do bad things to prevent worse things from happening. You have to go out and feed, and you try to feed in such a way so that you don’t freak out and slaughter a shopping mall – and blow everyone’s cover. Vampire is a horror RPG, not fantasy, and the central struggle is always between your character’s humanity and the Beast, of resisting the base urges of your condition. The more powerful you become, the harder it is to hold on to your humanity, and later, even your sanity.

This is the backdrop with which I view the Forsaken; not just through the eyes of the Tauren, or citizens of Stormwind, but rather through the eyes of Vampire. The horror of undeath is magnified by retaining free will and memories of your life. You are you, but you are this rotting, undead … thing, cursed for eternity. How do you deal with it? How do you spend the long nights, stretching through the years? Is it a curse, or a blessing?

Because WoW is a fantasy RPG, not horror, the concept of the Beast Within isn’t part of the Forsaken, either through lore or through game mechanics. Generally speaking there’s not a spiral towards evil that all Forsaken characters have to fight against, if they choose not to.

In the absence of a mechanics-mandated ravening beast of the psyche, I have to assume that the Forsaken are normal people, in full possession of their faculties, confronted with a horrific situation and trying to make the best of it.

So far, this sounds like a great place to start role playing, to be honest.

But it also provides no excuses for the behavior of the Forsaken we witness. There is no moral excuse of Blood Frenzy to explain why you killed your family. There is no special justification for inhuman acts; just a terrifying void of the horror of what you’ve become, and of acting in fear of what might be done to you in return.

I’ve played other clans in Vampire – you should see me play a Ventrue, for reals – but I’ve played that same Brujah, in some form or another, since I started the game in 1994. I’ve had a lot of time to play through that struggle with the Beast, of what it means to be free but also a productive member of Vampire society, of staying strong against those who hate and fear you and not giving in.

And it was with the righteous fury of the Brujah that my Tauren wanted to tear the bricks of the Undercity apart.

Cynderblock_-_saying_goodbye_to_eversong

Freedom.

Let’s talk about freedom and the Forsaken for a bit.

The Forsaken were born out of the dead humans of Lordaeron who were raised by they Lich King to serve in the armies of the Scourge. When Illidan assaulted Northrend, the Lich King’s control over his distant armies weakend, allowing many of them to regain their free will. The Lich King sent Dreadlords to take command of the newly-freed masses of undead, but they rallied under the leadership of Sylvanas and secured their liberty.

The newly-christened Forsaken remembered what they’d done in life, and what they’d done as mindless automatons of the Scourge. Every horror they’d inflicted was theirs to bear, and the realization drove many mad.

But those who survived, sane, were the first generation of Forsaken. As a race, they tend to be fanatically devoted to their Queen and an equally fanatic desire to kill the Lich King. They had their freedom, and they would fight for their right to exist – no matter who tried to kill them, no matter what methods they had to employ, they would remain free.

Cynderblock looked at the slave pens of the Undercity, the experimental cages, the mindslave Theresa – and she saw dead humans who saw no problems with inflicting the exact same cruelties upon others as were inflicted upon them. In the name of their right to exist as free, sentient beings, they would take away that right from other living creatures. And not just take it away by killing them – they would take it away by enslaving them.

There is a difference between killing someone and enslaving them. There is a difference between degrading someone and treating them with respect. There is a difference between fighting to protect yourself and your ideals and fighting to exterminate all life.

On every single one of these moral boundries, the first generation Forsaken saw no difference. The hate, the rage, the fear of being exterminated – all of the past atrocities commited to the people of Lordaeron by the Scourge and Scarlet Crusade would be used to justify the unjustifable. Genocide was acceptable because their neighbors wanted to kill them – better develop a Plauge to be used against their allies. Physical enslavement of the living is acceptable because it furthered their genocidal research. The living are subhumans, to be experimented upon without hesitation.

Back and forth walks Theresa, a living condemnation of every value of freedom the Forsaken could hope to espouse.

Questing through the Forsaken areas in Wrath, it struck me that they wanted to kill the living not to be left alone, but at best for breathing room – and at worse simply for the joy of homicide.

I remember watching the Wrathgate for the first time, in shock at Putress.

Did you think we had forgotten? Did you think we had forgiven? Behold, now, the terrible vengeance of the Forsaken! Death to the Scourge! And death to the living!

Here, the aims of the Forsaken are made plain. Sylvanas would have likely been more patient, focusing on the Lich King, knowing that the Horde made useful allies against the Alliance – but while her timing was more paitent, her goals were the same as Putress’s.

Use the New Plague against the living.

Wipe them all out.

Freedom? The Forsaken aren’t fighting for freedom. They’re fighting for revenge, and they don’t care if you had anything at all to do with their current position. They will kill every living being they can, out of hate and anger. Responsibility doesn’t matter. The innocent will eventually be guilty, so they should die.

That was Wrath, though.

Maybe Cataclysm changed things up a bit.

Cynwise_-_forsaken_-_brill_overlook

The genesis of this post had nothing to do with some sort of deep-seated grudge against the Forsaken. It had to do with me rolling an alt on Drenden to check out the guild of some Twitter friends of mine. I don’t have a lot of Horde alts, so I figured I’d roll one, maybe move some heirlooms over if it looked like a good place to level.

I was staring at the screen, trying to decide what to roll, when I thought to myself – I should do something I don’t normally do, something new, something I have had trouble with in the past.

So I rolled a blood elf paladin.

(Wait, what?)

At the time, I thought this was a good idea – I’ve struggled with Pallies for ages – but then I realized that I’ve done this before, and the last thing I need is another blood elf paly.

So I deleted her, thought some more, then realized I could roll a Forsaken.

See, the guild I was checking out is also the home of Rades, of Orcish Army Knife fame, who is a known advocate of the Forsaken. He finds them interesting, and challenging, he enjoys their lore, and finds depth in their stories. Surely, with someone like Rades around, I’d have a good chance of at least tolerating the Forsaken?  Maybe finding out what it is that makes them SO popular (and make no mistake, they are very popular.)

So I rolled Cynwise, a Forsaken Warlock, shuddered at my shilouette on the screen, and started questing.

Cynwise_-_forsaken_-_brill_statue_of_sylvanas

It was in Trisifal that I met two people who really helped me understand the Forsaken: Lilian Voss, and the Dark Queen.

The second generation of Forsaken are being raised by the Lich King’s Val’kyr under Sylvanas’ command. I’m going to point you over to Rades’ site for more on this, where he’s covered this in amazing amounts of detail, including a great conspiracy post which rings far too true. But, suffice to say, Sylvanas has now taken on the role of the Lich King, bringing people back from the dead to serve in her army. Like the original Forsaken, they have free will and their full mental abilities (with some exceptions), but unlike the first generation, they’ve not been slaves to the Scourge. The horror of that experience is gone, replaced by… what, exactly?

One of your first quests as a Forsaken ask you to talk to three recently awakened folks: Valdred Moray, Marshall Redpath, and Lilian Voss. Valdred reluctantly joins the Forsaken, Redpath leads an assault against them, and Lilian Voss runs away in horror.

Those are pretty much the three responses you can have – if you don’t go mad or suicide right away – flee, fight, or accept your fate.

As a PC, I found it interesting that you’d already accepted that you were going to join the Dark Lady. Listen to your conversation with Lilian – you’re calm and reasonable about being undead, while she’s freaking out. Who were you in your previous life that you can be so calm about your current situation?

You’re already one of the Forsaken, that’s who you are.

But why?

Every few quests, I listened to someone tell me about the Dark Lady in reverential tones. But who is she to me, the newly-risen dead? She’s some lady, some figure. If I died before the fall of Lordaeron, I wouldn’t know Sylvanas Windrunner from a hole in my head. If I died afterwards, I’d probably not trust her one bit – so why should I revere her?

The first generation Forsaken – I get the reverence. If nothing else, you can sit there and say, I was there, she fought for me.

But now, she’s the one who has done this to me – ripped me back from whatever resting place I had, into a shambling, decaying body. All to serve her.

The very lady who led the Forsaken out of bondage has no compunctions about putting others into it, should it suit her needs.

And her needs right now are a really, really big army.

The statue of the Dark Lady in Brill really made it all click for me.

The Forsaken is a cult of personality directed towards Sylvanas Windrunner.

I look at that big statue, and think about Max Weber’s writings on charismatic authority. About how the power of the state derives from the image of a single indivudal, giving a totalitarian regime legitimacy and focus, of assigning all that goes right to the heroic leader, and all that goes wrong to the enemies of the state.

Forsaken really love their Dark Queen. I don’t think I’m talking just about the characters, either – one characteristic about players who really like the Forsaken like the character of Sylvanas. And there’s a lot to like, in all seriousness! She’s ruthless, strong, interesting, fighting for her people’s place in the world. I think it bothers some people that she’s basically turned into the Lich King in Cataclysm with her current methods, but in other cases that’s turned into a positive, not a negative.

I looked up at that statue, and I realized what I’d seen over the last 10 levels; a systematic campaign to get me to adopt the Dark Queen as my savior and leader. Are you worthy to serve the Dark Lady? Deathguard Shimmer asks me. Dark Lady watch over you. Will you serve the Dark Lady, Lilian? Will you serve the Dark Lady, Cynwise?

The RP potential of a cult of personality is really, really big. The storylines it opens up, the twisted motivations it introduces in people – it’s good, meaty stuff.

But when I sit down to make a character, I’m wondering why I should go along with this. The notes ring hollow and false. I find myself more in agreement with Lilian Voss – who are you people, why are you doing this, the Dark Who?, OMG GROSS WHAT IS THAT  THING – than I do with Valdred, who accepts that hey, he’s got new hands, so it can’t be all that bad.

Quest after quest, I’m told to do something that I might not have done as a human, but that the Dark Lady’s will is that I do these things. I’m a monster now, so it’s okay. If I want favor with the Dark Lady, I will do these things.

The combination of being raised by Sylvanas to serve her, and then seeing the indoctination techniques used by the Forsaken to encourage her worship, is one of the biggest problems I have with the Forsaken post-Cataclysm.

Cynwise_-_forsaken_-_deathguard_simmer

The alienization of humans by the Forsaken is really interesting to observe. Watch the languge that the Forsaken use to describe humans, and you’ll see phrases in use to (for lack of a better term) dehumanize them. “Humans are notoriously fickle creatures,” says Deathguard Shimmer on a quest where he tells you to go kill 10 farmers – because someone might come along and recruit them.

Humans are not aliens to Forsaken. No matter how the Forsaken spin it, they are mentally and spiritually still humans (or elves). That’s the horror of their situation.

This mental disassociation with their past is really interesting, and certainly at the root of their capacity for cruelty to the living. In Vampire, mortals were known as kine, a flock of animals to be fed upon. The effect of the food chain dehumanized mortal humanity in that game, moreso than the super powers granted to the Kindred.

Forsaken have none of those advantages, nor do they assume a different place in the food chain because of their condition. They are not zombies, driven to eat braaaaains. They don’t have to eat people or drink their blood to stay moving. (What do they eat, anyways?)

No, the dehumanization of their past selves is both a coping mechanism, and a societal norm to justify the hypocricy of the Forsaken movement. We must kill everyone around us, because they might turn against us. Someday.

We must develop a plague not only to kill the Scarlet Crusade, but to kill every single living thing.

Only then will we be safe.

Cynwise_-_forsaken_-_sylvanas_watch_over_you_little_one

Dark Lady, watch over me.

The near-religious reverence with which the Forsaken treat their Queen is astonishing. For people who are supposedly less emotional than their living counterparts, the Forsaken display a great deal of emotion towards her – and towards the Scourge.

The Forsaken are a bundle of contradictions; the living dead, the religious scientists, the freed slave who chooses to return to slavery.

I know why I don’t like them as a player, now. I don’t like someone who is freed from bondage turning around and enslaving people. I don’t like someone who is hurt lashing out and inflicting the same pain on other people. Saying “X did Y to me, so I am justified in doing Y to Z” makes no sense, but it is the core of the Forsaken movement.

I look at the Forsaken, and go: you were free, and you choose to enslave others. You were free, and yet you choose to return to bondage.

Why don’t I like the Forsaken? Because they turn freedom into a mockery of itself.

They may be the most interesting race in the game right now – I think they definitely have more going on than most of the Alliance races – and that if you find the dichotomy of a Forsaken interesting, then you can have a great time playing one.

But they offend this old Brujah.

Cynwise_-_forsaken_-_trisifal_glades

After writing all this – and staying true to the CFN ethos, there will be no editing, no going back, no wondering if I should post this or not, damn the torpedoes – I am left in a quandry.

I think the best leveling in the Forsaken zones is yet to come. I have actually enjoyed my time leveling in Trisifal, and fully intend to hit Silverpine and Hillsbrad on the Forsaken Cynwise, so I can see it firsthand, with my warlock’s hunched shoulders and creepy gait. (Too many PvP instincts to suppress.)

None of this, none at all, should be a condemnation of your desire to play a Forsaken. I honestly think they’re an interesting race, and in choosing to play them I don’t somehow think you’re an evil person, or into bondage, or anything like that. I play a warlock, but I sincerely hope people don’t think that’s a reflection on me as a person – same thing holds for the Forsaken.

But I don’t like the Forsaken. I really don’t. I don’t have sympathy for them as a faction, and I have little sympathy for the followers of the Dark Lady. They are choosing their own dark path, and dragging the Horde down with them.

Time will tell if Silverpine and Hillsbrad’s story lines change my opinion on the Forsaken.

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On the Heirloom Conundrum

Heirlooms

I’m starting to think that Heirlooms cause more problems than they solve. Or, more correctly, the current implementation of them causes problems.

Above is my banker’s bank on Durotan. These are the heirlooms I have which aren’t currently in use on that server. That’s 27 heirlooms, just sitting around, because I’m not leveling a character of a certain type on my main server. My druid, death knight, and two warriors also have heirlooms on D’tan. If I hadn’t lost my caster leather set, there would be even more.

My secondary “red team” server, Medivh, has another set of heirlooms, sent over when my blood Priestess transfered over there to hang out with folks when my friends went looking for another server to roll Horde upon. But that was before guild heirlooms (helm and cloak) were available, so they’re not complete sets. And, I’m also rolling both Alliance and Horde on that server to hang with different folks, so the whole “red team” thing isn’t really working out.

I’m also rolling alts on other servers, just to check them out.

Yet that bank of unused heirlooms weighs on my mind.

Heirlooms serve two primary purposes, right?

  • Accelerated leveling
  • Competitive PvP through level 69

Like most folks, I wrestle with both of these purposes.

My priestess leveled primarily through healing dungeons without the XP boost heirlooms, but with the trinkets and staff, for a few reasons. The cloth heirlooms lack Spirit, and the blue gear I was getting in dungeons seemed to consistenly outperform the Tattered Dreadmist set for stats. I enjoyed the changing look, of finding outfits which were both interesting and potent.

The trinkets and DHC (with +22 Intellect), though, consistently outperformed everything I found. And they made me a more powerful healer, more effective, more able to put up with the rush of Troll Bears and Tauren Pallys who rushed through the LFD in the early days of 4.0.1.

In PvP, though, which pretty much every toon I roll partakes in at one time or another, the Stamina-laden cloth heirlooms shine. Yes, I had mana problems during serious fights, but I also was better able to handle attacks when I inevitably got focus fired.

The gap between heirlooms and regular gear diminshes 1) the higher you level, and 2) the more you run dungeons/quest smartly. I have to remember the jerk mage I saw in 65-69 AB only had the weapon and trinket heirlooms, nothing else, and he pwned the place. By the time you hit 70, I’m of the firm opinion that only the PvP shoulders should even be considered – everything else needs to have Resilience.

(But then again, I’m a PvP gear snob when it comes to gearing my own toons.)

So here’s the heirloom conundrum: they’re a benefit tied to your account, but also tied to a single server. They’re optional benefits, to be sure – and how necessary they are depends entirely upon your feelings towards them, your goals with your characters, and your playstyle.

Someone asked me once on a video how long it took me to grind out the BoAs I had on Cynderblock, and those calculations made me shudder. To think about how much time I invested in getting 45 or so for everyone? Yikes.

But that time is an investment, or you feel that it is, and so there’s a sense of, hey, I should be able to use these on my entire account, not just on a single server. The lack of cross-server mailing leaves you wondering about whether the time spent was worth it. I find myself going, don’t be an idiot, Cyn, level all your toons on Durotan where the heirlooms are. Why pay $25 dollars to move heirlooms from server to server?

Then the other part of me goes, because time is money, and if I’m really going to level a character, I don’t want to waste time. And Durotan-H is really quiet for me, and there are other guilds I enjoy poking in on, even if I’m just there for the green chat.

Then the cynical part of me says: there is no direct economic incentive for Blizzard to implement cross-server heirloom transfers, and the indirect incentive – general customer satisfaction – will likely not overcome the non-trivial revenue stream Blizzard gets from character transfers just to move digital items around.

If there are multiple reasons why the status quo should be maintained (difficult to implement technology that would erase a revenue stream that doesn’t require further investment, i.e. pure profit/recoup of development spend), and very nebulous reasons why it should be changed (“because it would be nice” is valid, but difficult to quantify), I don’t get my hopes up that things will change any time soon. That’s okay, I guess. I may not like it much, but at least I can get it.

I don’t want this to come off like I’m whining about the lack of cross-server mailing. Oh no, I have a lot of heirlooms and can’t send them to other servers to play with friends at a moment’s notice, boo hoo! I realize how it can sound.

But I really think it’s interesting to take a legitimate customer complaint – if these are bound to my account, why can’t I send them between servers? – and go, wait, what would happen if we had no heirlooms at all anymore?

What if the XP bonus was independent of gear – perhaps it was an XP option that you could unlock after a certain amount of reputation or VP/CP or something – so that after you’d gotten to the endgame once, or twice, or three times, you could visit an Experience Accelerator, pay 10g, and get the XP bonus without the uber gear? Maybe the more toons you got to level cap, the bigger your potential XP bonus you could unlock on all your toons?

Suddenly, you’d have three options – play with fast XP, normal XP, or XP off. You’d still have to go out and get the same gear everyone else has while leveing, but that allows you to experience the gear progression part of the game, which does get lost when playing with heirlooms. Battlegrounds even out early on, too, since the disparity of a character leveling with BoAs versus quest gear would vanish. Twinks would move to non-binding white gear – Psynister’s Hand Me Downs – but that would be far less prevalent than heirlooms are now.

But you can’t go back. You can’t take the BoA gear away and replace it with Experience Accelerators. You can’t yank gear that takes days of effort to acquire, has the promise of never needing to be replaced, holding expensive enchants, and being useful across multiple characters – and not replace it with something. The genie is out of the bottle.

So, like a lot of other players, I sit here and wonder, is it worth loading up a mule with another set of heirlooms and sending her over to another server? How many character transfers would it take, really, to get my heirlooms distributed the way I would want? $25 here and there adds up, is it really worth it?

Don’t get me wrong – I love heirlooms.

But I hate the heirloom conundrum.

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Getting Exalted with Northrend Factions through PvP

One of the interesting effects of having an unified Honor Point/Justice Point currency in Warcraft is that it becomes possible to get unrelated rewards to the activity you did to earn the points themselves. You can PvP for PvE rewards, and vice versa. Things that you never considered when the currencies were separate are now possible; you might just have to look for ways to make it happen.

Like, reaching Exalted with five different Northrend factions while leveling, without doing any of their quests. You may never even come in contact with them!

Currently, Honor and Justice points can be exchanged for a 3:2 ratio at the Honor Trade Good Vendors and Justice Trade Goods Vendors in Stormwind and Orgrimmar. You can trade 375 Honor Points  for 250 Justice Points at the Honor vendor, and vice versa at the Justice vendor. This allows you to fund either PvE or PvP purchases with your preferred activity.

Honor Points are rewarded starting at level 10, while Justice Points don’t show up as a reward until around level 70. Generally speaking, Honor Points are easier to get than Justice Points while leveling. (At level 70, you can get 100-200 Honor Points from a single battleground, while a Northrend Dungeon awards 12 Justice Points. And that’s only for the first 7 you do each week.)

Because the award rate of Justice Points while leveling is so low, it’s much faster to play Battlegrounds for Honor Points and convert them to Justice Points for use. If you’re leveling to 85 to join in the endgame fun quickly, you can build up a large store of Justice Points and be ready to get 3 epic pieces of Justice gear as soon as you ding through smart conversion – and this is a good thing.

Now, an unrelated fact: late in Wrath, you could purchase Commendation Badges for five of the neutral factions with rep rewards with Emblems of Triumph. These Commendation Badges were introduced to help gear up alts, and they were a godsend for getting shoulder and helm enchants.

These commendations are:

Each one of these grants 520 reputation for the appropriate faction, up from the original 250. Humans get 10% more, so 572 for Diplomacy. (Pilgrim’s Bounty has a buff which can give you an additional 10%. Yes, it stacks with Diplomacy.)

When these Commendations were available for Emblems of Triumph, they were only available by running Northrend dungeons. But since the Emblem system was removed and replaced with Justice Points, these are now cheap.

How cheap? Each Commendation is 16 Justice Points or – thanks to the conversion – 24 Honor Points.

That’s dirt cheap.

Neutral to Exalted for any faction is 42,000 reputation points:

  • Neutral to Friendly: 3,000
  • Friendly to Honored: 6,000
  • Honored to Revered: 12,000
  • Revered to Exalted: 21,000

Since each Commendation rewards 520, you’ll need 81 of ‘em, which will in turn cost you 1296 Justice Points.  Or, 1944 Honor Points.

That’s less than a PvP mount costs!

Keep in mind that this can be done at any level; level 19 achievement twinks have used this method to get toons who can’t even have a mount Exalted with the Knights of the Ebon Blade et al.. All it takes is Honor Points.

I know that this isn’t something that everyone will want to do. But it’s an interesting example of the things that can happen when you unify a currency system. It’s not unbalancing, and it can add a lot of flavor to your character. Heroic Death Knights can be exalted the Ebon Blade well before reaching level 85; same for Mages with the Kirin Tor.

And, most importantly, keep your eyes open for other items you might be able to get now through PvP.

Northrend Commendations can be purchased from Arcanist Miluria and Magistrix Vesara in Dalaran.

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On Revisiting Northrend Dungeons as a Level 70 Twink

Ashwalker_-_tanking_in_the_service_of_stormwind

I am working on a larger post for CBM about level 70 twinking in PvP, but there are some funny things I’m learning along the way in PvE.

Like, gear. I’m in Brutal Gladiator’s gear for PvP, which actually looks pretty cool (but very different from the level 60 gear, no doubts there.) I got a set of the Cobalt tanking gear made for me so I could keep my tanking chops in shape, and maybe even improve on them.

Introductory tanking gear does not look as impressive as end-of-xpac PvP gear. AT ALL.

I was checking Ash out, trying to find the right tabard to pull the outfit together, seeing if the helm was decent enough to display, that sort of thing. And it struck me – she looks far less solid in her tank gear than PvP gear. More … delicate. It’s the oddest thing, because it seems backwards to the purpose of each type of gear.

I had to look at it for a while to see why I was getting this impression. It’s little visual cues, like:

  • Lower neckline (full neck visible, even with tabard)
  • Gauntlets and vambraces are thinner, making arms seem skinnier/weaker
  • Shoulders smaller, more rounded
  • Boots less chunky
  • Helm open faced, rides high on head, so lots of neck/face exposed

Many of these cues I see on my (male) DK’s Cata armor, too, which presents a look of fragility when you examine it too closely. The neckline especially bothers me – if I can see a lot of exposed neck, I don’t think they’re heavily armored.

So I’m actually kinda reluctant to tank in my tank set, even though I know it’s got a lot more Dodge in it. It just doesn’t LOOK that impressive.

Compare the above picture with this, and you’ll see what I mean.

Ashwalker_-_area_52

(I mentioned I’m vain, right?)

Anyhow.

So I hit the LFD last night, because, hey, why not, right? And I got to choose between Northrend regulars and BC Heroics. I chose Northrend because it’s been a little while since I tanked, let’s see how this gear does now, right? Looks aren’t everything, right?

Utgarde Keep. Ugh. So tired of UK from leveling my DK. It’s like level 70-74 is nothing but mind-numbing UK runs. Pull, pull, up the stairs. Pull, pull, up the stairs. I may have liked it once upon a time, but I’ve done UK a lot now. Whatever, just keep pulling, Cyn.

I had two overzealous melee, one DK who pulled everything I didn’t (gee, thanks) and a rogue who attacked mobs I wasn’t even looking at. Typical story. We didn’t wipe or anything, everyone was nice, and I hope the DK grows up to be a good, aggro-conscious member of endgame society someday.

I digress.

I was looking at the rewards for my efforts, what did I get out of the run?

12 Justice Points.

What?

I picked up an axe, sure, but it’s worse than the PvP one I can get for like 300 honor points. Don’t need the axe.

12 JP for a random run.

I get between 100-200 Honor Points for most of my PvP play at level 70, which at 3/2 conversion rate is about 65-130 JP per match.

Murmurs reminded me that I can also only get that 12 JP 7 times a week now. That’s the daily bonus, not an every time sort of thing.

I was stunned. Northrend Dungeons are apparently only for xp and drops, not for building up a store of useful PvE points for the endgame.

I have a different CBM post I’ve been working on in fits and starts for a while about the dangers of a unified currency, and this is one of them. PvP is a better way to farm JP while leveling due to conversions than PvE.

This isn’t a case of too many HP, it’s that JP is too low for leveling. I expect that the reason Blizzard made the reward so low was to prevent high level toons from farming JP by chain running northrend dungeons. But there’s already a limit in place – you can only run 7 – and the goal should be to reward players for doing the things they want to do, not force them to do things they don’t to optimize rewards!

Two things from this:

1) I should finish up that currency post.

2) PvP is the WAY TO GO through Northrend! And Outland! And the mid to late 50s!

:)

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On the Continuity Problems of Azuremyst Isle

Cyntilate_-_reborn_at_the_exodar_crash_site

I’ve been letting my son play a bit of WoW. He’s 6, and I’m not sure if this is an entirely good idea, but I sit there with him while he plays it, reading quests with him, talking through different moral dilemmas presented by the stories, and helping him out when the mechanics of the game get too much for him.

We’ve gone through a bunch of the starting areas together – he tends to peter out on a toon around level 10-15 – so after finishing up his Worgen mage, he decided to roll a Draenei Warrior. I’m cool with that, warriors are always good in my book, and the spacegoat animation isn’t that bad (though I prefer the female night elf melee animations, personally).

The Worgen starting area is pretty intense for a 6-year old. Near the end he just got completely overwhelmed by stuff and was like, “Dad, do this one for me.” Normally I make it a policy not to do quests for him, but he wanted to see how the story turned out SO MUCH that I made an exception, and, as much I don’t think I should have, I did it. He really struggled with the railroading storyline. Why can’t I go back and save the city? I held off Worgen in the Cathedral for days, how could they have gotten me? Why do we keep evacuating when we keep winning?

Then there are the continuity flubs. Why are the stained glass windows intact again, Dad? Who fixed them? Why can’t we go in through the windows like the Worgen did? Who leads the Forsaken again, Dad? Oh, the one we saw in the cathedral? (I’d forgotten that scene.) Why didn’t she just release the plague right away, maybe from the ships? It’s a gas, right? Couldn’t they just release it and let the winds carry it over the cities?

So I promised him he’d see the end of the Battle for Gilneas, which he did, and which sent him reeling because he was like NIGHT ELVES WHAT, which, truth be told, was pretty much my reaction too. I said on twitter and I’ll say it again: the problem with Gilneas is that there’s too much story there and it goes by too quickly. If I took less than a year to tell that story in a traditional RPG I’d eat my GM hat.

My son is 6. He’s experiencing the starting area no more than an hour at a time, spread out over weeks (he’s only allowed to play on the weekends with me.) He’s paying attention to the story. He is trying to make sense of all the stories, it’s really quite interesting to watch.

It’s off of this that he rolled a Draenei and we headed over to Azuremyst Isle, a place I actually know pretty well. I’ve rolled maybe a half-dozen Draenei over the course of Wrath – two of them became decent or good twinks – but none of them really worked out, and they always end up getting deleted. I’ve yet to connect with the race, and I’m not sure why. Suffice to say, I know the starting area pretty well, and can burn through it quickly when the need arises. I settled in for the opening movie.

Holy. Moly. What?

Basically, the opening film says: things have been settled in Outland, and now the Draenei have decided to stay in Azeroth to help heal it, especially after the Cataclysm. Then you’re thrown right back in time to when the Exodar crashed.

What happened next was predictable, if you’ve ever been around a kid who is trying to reconcile two incompatable stories. Wait, Dad. What’s this ship that crashed? I thought we had already landed on this planet and made it our home? Why are we trying to find out about the mutations? What’s a mutation? I thought we were had already started healing the land?

Cynwagon_-_crash_site

Ammen Vale, back in Wrath, was in a somewhat tricky spot chronologically. You started out in BC, then went back to Vanilla, then back to BC when you hit Outland, then on to Wrath afterwards. I found the expansion hurdles to be quite jarring when I first did them leveling Cynwise, insofar as the timeline didn’t make sense, even as a Human. Adding in starting in one time zone and moving backwards if you were a Draenei made it even more challenging – but at least you could suspend disbelief for levels 20-58, as there weren’t direct contradictions within the timeline. You got in and moved forward, and once you completed Outland and moved to Northrend, you were back in current time.

I’m watching my son struggle with this story as he’s out killing corrupted root lashers. He started in Cataclysm, and is now back in the past (BC). That, right there, is a lot to take in right at the start. What the heck is the story really about? The quests don’t match up with the racial introduction at all. There’s nothing wrong with them, except that they are all about discovering this strange new world – that your race supposedly already knows about, cares about, works to protect and is their new homeworld.

You could say, hey, that’s a throwaway movie that doesn’t matter, but I’m watching him going, yes, it does matter. Blizzard tried to update the Draenei starting area by adding a new voiceover, but by not changing the quests they made it even worse than before. Now it’s Cata (movie) -> BC 1-20 -> Cata/Vanilla 21-58 (those jumps back in time in Dustwallow Marsh make all our heads hurt) -> BC 58-67 -> Wrath 68-80 -> Cata 81-85.

Call Chromie, the spacegoats are time traveling again!

There are certain MMO conventions which I think adults handle better than kids, or young kids. Give my son an engaging quest to save 8 people, he’ll do it and then want to spend the next 30 minutes rescuing people. Why can’t I save more of them, Dad? He grudgingly accepts the convention, and gets that the world resets itself and we have to pretend that a lot of things that are happening on screen aren’t what the world would really be like. But that’s because the story pushes him forward – he saves Tauren braves and moves on. He kills Ice Trolls and moves on. The story demands it.

But this particular convention, he’s not getting.

I tried to explain the logic of expansions with absolutely no sucess. Dad, what do you mean they changed some parts of the story but not others? How can a story work like that? Why didn’t they change it to all fit? What are development resources? Why? Why?

I dropped it for now and showed him how to use Charge, which distracted him for a little while. But I know he’s still thinking about this.

I know I’m still thinking about it, because … well, I had a big problem with expansion continuity when I leveled Cynwise, and that was all forward motion. (I still have a problem with it if I think about it too hard.) Now there’s forward motion, backward motion, forward, backwards…

I feel like I’m playing Back to the Future MMORPG sometimes.

Cyntilate_-_life_as_a_pirate

I’m not going to sell my son short on this – while he’s confused now, I think he’ll eventually make the cognitive leap to deal with the problem of the Draenei, like most players do. (Or he’ll ignore it, which is a way of dealing with it.) Most adults go, okay, that’s strange, but deal.

But should we deal with it?

Blizzard has a reputation for polished games, but I have trouble reconciling that reputation with the product I see in front of me. One of the playable races’ stories falls apart during the first 10 minutes of game play. (It’s a popular race, too!) How would you evaluate a game where you get contradictory timelines when you start out? Or of asking players to follow along with one story, and then completely disrupt it after they’ve played for a few weeks when they get to Outland?

I look at the mess inflicted on the timeline by the expansions and go, how is this a coherent product? As a story-driven game, how can this be defended as a good experience? How can you stand up and say, yes, we want character’s stories to be fragmented as they level through our game, and we are proud of it?

You can’t. Blizzard can’t. To their credit, they aren’t proud of it, and they cite very reasonable arguments as to why certain zones got revamped and others didn’t. The BC zones are in pretty good shape from a quest flow perspective, after all, and others were much worse. Resources are limited and you have to prioritize features. The story problems inherent to BC/Outland content are a low priority to fix.

I’m reminded of my mantra when dealing with vendors who fail to deliver.

This is just business; it’s not personal. I don’t care about your other customers if they’re taking away development resources on things I’ve paid for. I don’t care about your process problems which cause you to be 6 weeks late in installing a circuit, and then cause you to do it wrong. I don’t even care if you’re going to take a loss on the transaction. None of those are my problem.

Trust me. I understand that there are development constraints both from a product development and coding standpoint in any software package, games included. I get it.

I also have a 6-year old who is very interested in the story of this game, though, and wonders why it contradicts itself right at the very beginning of his new character’s story – especially coming off a story where it didn’t. Gilneas may feel rushed, but at least it’s consistent. Azuremyst Isle is a well designed zone which doesn’t make any sense.

Let’s say I wrote a book, and each chapter is internally consistent chronolgially – excpet the time each chapter is set in might vary. (Let’s call this book… Cryptonomicon.) I could tell several stories this way, with different characters, or a younger and older version of the same characters. If I did it halfway decently, and tied it all together at the end, it would be an effective storytelling technique. But that’s not what WoW is doing because of the linear progression expected out of leveling. You start off as “young” – level 1 – and progress through experience. You can’t jump around in time, go relive your adventures at level 20 and then come back to 85 (unfortunately.)

I’m just struck by how lazy it is. I’m sorry to put it like that, in deference to development time, but it’s saying – it’s more important to us that we get new raiding tiers out than it is to have a fundamentally sound game from 1-85. (And perhaps they’re right!) Content revamps are these huge, expansion-wide things, and while there’s talk about revamping Outlands/Northrend to fit in with the Cata timelime, there’s no indication it’s a priority. Why should there be? The mechanisms are in place to completely skip those parts of the story (LFD, PvP, gathering.) They’re dead content zones. They’re places to skip over, instead of part of the whole. Blizzard effectively said, players can deal with the flaws here, leave them untouched, do other things. That’s lazy. You can call it “correctly prioritizing new feature development over maintenance on current systems” if you like, but as a customer – I don’t care about your development constraints. I shouldn’t care about them, asking me to care about them is insulting. Provide a good product. Period.

It would have been interesting if Blizzard had taken a different design route with Ouland/Northrend in Cata – instead of thinking, we have to revamp these zones, provide players with a story-based way around them. Leveling through Outland it feels like I do HFP, a bit of Zangar, and a bit of Nagrand before hitting 68 now – why not make that two zones in Azeroth? Maybe Silithus needs to be expanded to give you some reasons to stay, to level up to 64 there. Maybe Kul Tiras could become a zone that gets you to 68. Providing an alternate route for the story would still let people do the old content if they wanted, but they could also have a consistent story that takes them through Cata the entire way. Players are tired of Hellfire Pennisula! Give them another way to go through those levels and they’ll probably take it!

That still leaves the problem of Azuremyst Isle, though.

I don’t see how to reconcile the story of the zone with the place of the Draenei in present-day Azeroth without changing either the quests – or putting it all back in BC.

I just know that the way it’s handled right now – with the Cata intro and the BC quests – makes it even less likely I’ll click with a Draenei anytime soon.

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