Thursday, December 29, 2011

Everything I Need to Know About Playing My Shaman, I Learned From Thrall.

Stand in all the Ice Tombs!

Pop Bloodlust 55 seconds into a one minute encounter.

Mounts are for chumps, real Shaman use Ghost Wolf.

AFK until the tank notices you.

One handed strength mace? Ele weapon!

Wear all the cloth!

"Lok'tar, Friend!" is orcish for LEEEEEEEEEROOOOOOYYYY!

Drop only one totem, any more and you're just being elitist.

Pull all the trash! Seriously, all of it, including that pack that's way across the room. I might drop my totem in there.

Melee attacks are crucial for elemental DPS.

When you drop your raid cooldown, it's important that you yourself do not stand in it. This might make you seem selfish. So stand away from your bubble, even if it means you get hit by the giant boss AoE and can't help in the second half of the fight.

Wind Shear is a brutal DPS loss. No matter how many mobs are casting, never wind shear, it's time that could be better spent meleeing.

See that hunter that just disengaged out of the tank's AoE? Full single target burn. The tank must want it dead, because he let it get out of the group.

Drop the melee DPS enhancing totem on the healer, otherwise how will they heal the melee?

AoE pull? Lava Burst! Single target pull? Chain Lightning!

The group only gets one bloodlust per instance.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Flaw of Neutrality

At least one of you read that in Sindragosa's voice, you have my condolences.

In a previous post, I mentioned that one of the reasons why there was such backlash against the idea of Thrall as a world character was the treatment of "Neutrality" in general in WoW, and the way that they altered it for Thrall in this particular instance.

There are two types of neutral characters in this game. There are characters who are born neutral, which is to say that they were designed from their inception in the game to be neutral, and there are characters who are naturalized into neutrality, which is to say that they existed as faction exclusive characters in game, but as the story line progressed, they moved into a position where they have to interact with both factions. A good example of the former would be Tirion Fordring, who's first appearance in game was as a neutral NPC in Eastern Plaguelands, who then proceeded to become the primary NPC for the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. The latter includes characters such as Malfurion, Thrall, Khagdar, and Bolvar Fordragon, all of whom made their first appearances in game tied to a faction, but have since found themselves turned neutral for various reasons.

A character who was born neutral might have affiliations with a faction in his back story, as Tirion had with Lordaeron in the short story Of Blood and Honor, but that's back story, it serves to set the table for the actions in the game's story arc. Well, at least for pre-Wrath stories. Tirion never raises arms against either faction, and it's believable because of the weight of experience that he had in his back story. He spent the Second War fighting against the Orcs, and then spent ten years exiled from Lordaeron, including the Third War, where he watched humanity tear itself to shreds in the throes of the Scourge. He's seen the worst both factions have to offer, and because of that, he is beholden to nothing beyond his own sense of justice. He holds no allegiance to the Alliance, because they abandoned him, and he holds no allegiance to the Horde because of their propensity for conquest. His neutrality made sense because that's how his character was designed.

On the other hand, there are the multitudes of Night Elf associated characters in Hyjal who went neutral. The two standouts were Cenarius and Malfurion, who began as characters in WCIII. Both were staunch defenders of the Night Elves. Malfurion's first words in game:
The horn has sounded, and I have come as promised. I smell the stench of decay and corruption in our land. That angers me greatly.
Malfurion felt the desecration of Ashenvale even in the depths of the Emerald Dream.
I felt our land being corrupted, just as if it were my own body. You were right to awaken me.
He feels the destruction visited upon ashenvale as if it were commited upon his own body. This is extremely strong language to use. Strong reactions mean strong emotions, and strong emotions mean lasting emotions. You can see similar reactions from Cenarius' in game text.
Who dares defile this ancient land? Who dares the wrath of Cenarius and the Night Elves?
Cenarius identifies with both Ashenvale and the Night Elves as a people. He was willing to fight for them, he was willing to die for them, and die he did. Both of these prominent heroes turn up in Mount Hyjal, where they distribute quests and aid heroes from both the Alliance and the Horde without a second glance.

On the other end of the spectrum is Thrall's turn to yellow text. He supposedly went neutral before the Cataclysm, and since his shift to neutrality, he flew under a Horde flag, slaughtered helpless Alliance sailors, inducted a new race into the Horde, and threatened to split the Throne of Stormwind in two. These are clearly not the actions of someone who's neutral in the conflict between the Alliance and the Horde. This is something that I think Blizzard did right. Thrall is the Horde, and even though he ostensibly needs the assistance of the Alliance to handle a greater problem, he shouldn't just instantly forget about those affiliations, it would be unnatural. Alliance players should feel some apprehension when it comes to working with Thrall. When you're going through the elemental bonds questline, an Alliance player should question weather by helping Thrall here you're simply trading one form of extinction for a slightly later form. They're making a choice between two enemies, and it should be a difficult choice, one that you dread making. The impact of this was compromised by Blizzard's incessant undermining of Deathwing as a truly credible villain, but the intent was there.

On the other hand, Blizzard completely failed at this in Mount Hyjal. Everyone was so happy go lucky in that zone that I secretly wondered if all the prominent lore characters had been given a prefrontal lobotomy. Horde characters resurrected a powerful Demigod that wanted to wipe them out the last time they met, for sins far less severe than they hard recently committed in the same place that they fought him at. They needed to surrender themselves back to the demonic corruption of the Burning Legion in order to even wound Cenarius. Bringing him back should be a terrifying prospect for Horde players, and one they only be considering because the situation is that dire. It should be the same with Malfurion, the most powerful druid in existence, who feels the wounds of the Night Elf homeland as his own, and the Horde just completely gutted Azshara and are working to do the same in Ashenvale. the Horde aren't their buddies, they're mortal enemies with whom their enmity should only be set aside because of the looming presence of the Firelord and the Destroyer. When a Horde player opens up that portal to bring Cenarius back, they should honestly be unsure as to weather he'll listen to them, or split their skull open on the spot. None of this happened, and that's a failure on Blizzard's part. Instead, Malfurion and Cenarius simply treated everyone equally. This undermines the story and it undermines the characters. It paints them as uncaring and impersonal at best, especially when put alongside the story of Leyara.

The transition of a character from faction specific to faction neutral is a treacherous road to walk, I think they got it right with Thrall, and they got it wrong with most everyone in Hyjal. Ultimately, they wind up with a cognitive dissonance between the way characters are described, and the way they are portrayed, and if you can't properly aknowledge and account for that gap, you're going to wind up gutting potentially interesting characters like they did with Malfurion and Cenarius.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Furtive Father Winter: How Karegina Got Her Groove Back

Redcow, at Red Cow Rise, has done a fantastic job of orchestrating a complex series of post exchanges in the annual Furtive Father Winter. Thirty blogs participated this year, and I decided that as part of my renewed efforts in writing, it would be a good exercise for me to do so as well. On December 16th, I received my assignment, Gladly and Manners from The Ready Check, a blog that I had not read before, but I delved into post haste to make up for lost time. I recently sent them my guest post, and I pray they find it to their liking. It's a great blog, and you should check it out.

This morning, I received an early Christmas present. In my inbox was a guest post of my very own, delivered with perfect timing from Karegina, of The Reluctant Raider, whose blog I had actually begun reading recently. It certainly put an interesting perspective on her recent post about writing this guest post. I think she did a great job.

I was not around for the very first Winter Veil Festival. It happened shortly after game launch in 2004 so I can't say what it was like. However, I distinctly remember the 2nd one. I logged in one day and BOOM, Father Winter and all his helpers. I did the quests, I gathered the Preserved Holly (I actually still have like 40+ pieces on my bank toon) and lo, when Christmas came, I ran to the tree on each of my toons and got my presents.

I was playing Alliance in 2005, so the only toons that did it that year were them. I don't remember any of my characters getting any of the special pets, except my night elf druid, Annanda. She got the mini reindeer. I loved that thing. I always had snowballs so I could pull it out at any time.

I didn't do any of the quests, as I had no max level characters. Well, I did the milk and cookies one, but really, does that even count? Your browser may not support display of this image.

As the years went by, I always looked forward to Winter's Veil. I love getting surprises and Father Winter always gave me something awesome on at least one of my many alts.

When I moved to the Horde full time back in 2007, I had max level toons so I did all the quests and helped my friends with the quests as well. Leaving my toons back on the Alliance side with my reindeer and my Winter's Helpers and all that, was hard. There wasn't any Faction Change service available back then and if you wanted a druid Horde side, you had to level up a whole new one. (I love the Faction Change service, even if I have never used it!)

However, something happened which soured me on the WoW Holidays. I can't remember exactly what it was but I I ended up so upset that I refused to participate in any of the planned WoW Events. My husband begged and pleaded but I was stubborn.

I managed to go a year or two without running any of the special holiday bosses, or doing any of the daily quests. But then Blizzard added Achievements and my husband went insane. People became fanatics about doing Achievements and the first day of any holiday was filled with Achievement spam. This soured me on it even more and honestly, watching my husband DO ALL THE THINGS was annoying as hell. And hearing him harp on me to do X Achievement with him made me want to put a pen through his eye.

Yes, I was the human (tauren?) version of the Greench.

However, Blizzard put something in the game that I couldn't resist. A fast flying mount that is pinkish-purple. (I do not believe it's violet like the tooltip says!) So, I sucked it up and started doing the Achievements, much to my husband's delight.

I got my proto-drake in June of 2010, during the Flamekeepers MidSummer event. I had started working on the Achievements in 2009. (I really wanted the Elder title for my druid, so I did that one the first time around. The rest I picked up the 2nd time they came around.)

This year's revamp is pretty awesome. I like the changes they've made to the Greench. (And since that's the only part I've done so far, I like it!) I know many people are annoyed at having to go all the way to Alterac Mountains/Hillsbrad Foothills to do it, and that's it's not a queue-able boss, but I love it. I love having to fly out there and work as a team with others. I've tanked it, I've healed it, I've bounced it around as dps when there was no tank. It's good times. And it doesn't make my anxiety flare to go do it. I'm in IN a 5 man group or a raid, I'm on my own. Doing my own dps or my tanking or healing whoever happens to be in the line of sight of the Greench. I have died but who cares? No one is counting or relying on me to do anything. I love it!

And somewhere in the middle of all of this, my Holiday spirit has returned. I don't know what happened but I'm enjoying the festivities, I'm doing things with people and my heart has grown 3 sizes!

So, Happy Winter's Veil RenaissanceMan! I hope Father Winter brings you all sorts of goodies and many Horde to kill! (Even if I am Horde. But I don't PVP, unless a holiday requires me to. Or my priest gets bloodthirsty!)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Blizzard Writing Competition Entry 2011: The Last Letter of Captain Emmy Malin

Well, like so many others, I placed entered into the Blizzard Global Writing Competition for 2011, and was found wanting. C'est la vie. The story pretty much consisted of me going "Deadline? Oh, shit!" and slamming in the story four hours before the submission deadline. I didn't get a chance to review it, and as a result, it's somewhat repetitive, and the dialogue gets a little hammy in places. I shotgunned the plot by drawing from the expansion I knew best, Wrath of the Lich King.

In Dragonblight, Alliance characters see a continuation of the nexus war quest line extending from Borean Tundra. One of those quests involves killing a high ranking mage hunter for the ring that controls the ley line foci that are feeding power to the Azure Dragonshrine. The NPC you kill has a name, as many do, and of course, the player cuts her down without a second thought, all because a magic hologram tells them to do so. When searching through the pockets of the victim, as players often do, they come across a letter. This in itself isn't unusual. The player always finds missives between villains and communications between overlords and their underlings. What was unusual was the contents of the letter. It was an apology to her father, another NPC back in Stormwind, explaining how she was working against her will, and in secret, trying to sabotage the efforts of the Blue Dragonflight. Way to go, hero.

Those quests served as a rare moment that humanized the nameless NPCs that you'd been slaughtering for over seventy levels at that point. I seized the opportunity to flesh out the circumstances that led to this tragedy.

So, following in the footsteps of Saz and Rades, I give you: The Last Letter of Captain Emmy Malin


A cold wind blew across the waters of Lordamere Lake, past the abandoned keep on Fenris Isle, and south into the Alterac Mountains. In the lull between gusts, the sizzle of arcane energy being harnessed could be heard for a second, as though echoing across a great distance. As the sound faded, an image appeared in the air. A city became visible, with tall towers cut from quarried stone, and a great many people visible, going about the daily routines of their life. A man in dark red robes moved to the forefront of the image. The image shimmered and sparked as the man stepped through the planes, covering the distance between Stormwind and Alterac in a single stride. Once he was fully in Alterac, the portal collapsed behind him, leaving no evidence that the rend in space had ever been there.

Archmage Malin, the last of Stormwind’s secretive conjurors, took a deep breath, inhaling the cold mountain air. He adjusted a few cinches on his robes to better keep him warm, and upon feeling the wind pick up again, considered returning to Stormwind briefly to retrieve his hat. But as he looked up, the sight ahead reminded him of why he came all this way. He briskly began walking down the trail leading to Dalaran.

The slim white spires of the city of magic rose up underneath a shield of violet energy sustained by a dozen members of the Kirin Tor. Unlike the towers of Stormwind, which were constructed by the master masons of the southern regions, Dalaran was brought back from its devastation at the hands of the Eredar lord Archimonde through almost entirely magical means. The buildings were formed from seamless alabaster stone. They rose up in ways impossible to be replicated by scaffolding, brick, and mortar. Although it had taken several years, the renewed Dalaran was a perfect replica of the ideal city that existed in the mind of its architect. The constant glow of the arcane energy that lit the street, sheltered the city, and bent to the will of every mage within the city lent Dalaran an otherworldly glow unlike any other city on Azeroth, save the Draenei’s home in the wreckage of the Exodar.

As he neared the border of the protective dome, a pair of guards called him to a halt. As they approached him, their captain emerged from the guard post. She looked him over for a second, before an ear to ear grin appeared on her face.

“DADDY!” The guards looked quite surprised as their normally stern captain shrieked like a schoolgirl and hurled herself into the comforting embrace of her father, whom she hadn’t seen since she accepted her posting with the Kirin Tor Arcane Guard, over a year ago. Even through his thick robes, Emmy Malin could feel the scars that covered her father’s back, the legacy of an encounter with an orc warlock in the final, desperate hours of the fall of Stormwind in the First War. The fight that left her father wounded, and her mother dead; even now, years later, the memories of that day brought tears to Emmy’s eyes.

“You’ve missed me, I see.” The archmage said, with a bit of a chuckle. Emmy never changed, ever since they fled Stormwind for Dalaran, there was only one thing she loved more than her new city, and that was him, the only family she had left. He kissed her on the forehead, and the ever dutiful guards decided that they had more pressing concerns in matters that didn’t impinge upon their captain’s privacy.

Dalaran was exactly as Archmage Malin remembered it, in a manner of speaking. It was nothing like the pile of rubble he had left behind during the third war, but every facet of the city had been restored to the glory of the height of the Kirin Tor’s power. Whereas the Archmage had returned to his homeland of Elwynn to aid in the reconstruction of Stormwind, Emmy, who by then had become a full fledged member of the Kirin Tor, had stayed behind with her order. For the past several years, the Malin family worked hard to rebuild and secure both of their cities. The only things that they couldn’t bring back were the people lost to the wars that had defined the past decades. Misery, however, has no place at the table for a reunion such as this.

The two talked well into the night, dining on fine wine, bread, and sharp Dalaran cheddar cheese. They regaled each other with tales of their divergent lives. Emmy told her father about the guard who served in the first shift after her promotion to captain that, on a dare, drank a potion he found in the sewers underneath the city, and found himself transformed into an insect. It took 4 hours, and the intervention of Archmage Modera herself to unravel the effects that the arcane concoction had wrought upon the guard’s body. Archmage Malin countered with a story about a hero in service of Stormwind who was assigned to deliver a message to Jaina Proudmoore in Theramore. The Archmage had been tasked with sending the hero to Theramore, which he did, repeatedly. Every time he did, the hero returned with a new excuse for why he hadn’t delivered the message yet. The Firelord had erupted in Blackrock Mountain, the Black Dragonflight had infiltrated the House of Nobles, and once he started selling the Archmage tales of a race of insect men living in the sands of Kalimdor, Malin decided that his free teleport service needed to come to an end.

But as the sun set, and the moon climbed across the sky, the time came for them to sleep. The quarters of a captain of the Arcane Guard are not cramped, but as Emmy had not had a guest stay in quite a while, the house wasn’t well appointed for overnight visitors. It took some doing, but Emmy managed to convince her father to take her room, while she would sleep in the second bedroom that she had converted into her office. After a cursory inspection to ensure that the room was presentable, she ushered her father in and began to show him where the lights and facilities were. She gave the dimmer switch a little flick to demonstrate how it worked, but nothing happened, the room remained brightly lit by the flares of arcane energy.

“Oh no, the conduit’s jammed again. It took almost three days to get the maintenance crew to fix it last time. I’m sorry; I’ll get my sleeping mask for you.” Emmy began to rummage through her drawers trying to find the black piece of cloth.

“Are they still using enchanted thorium to run power to the lights directly from the ley line?” The Archmage inquired, rubbing his grey beard as he considered the situation.

“I think so,”

“Then I think I can fix this little problem without having to bother the good folks at maintenance.” He began tapping at the walls as if he was looking for a stud. Once he had found the position he was looking for, he placed his hand on the wall and focused. The room got colder as he poured a small amount of frost energy into the wall, and as the frost grew, the lights dimmed. “This is an old trick I was taught by Nielas Aran. If you channel frost directly into an arcane flow, you can suppress the flow of energy.”

“How come you never taught me that?”

“I have to keep some tricks a secret, otherwise how could I impress you?”

“You always impress me, daddy.”

“It warms my heart to hear that, Em. But it’s late, and I’m old and need my rest. Sleep well, and I’ll see you in the morning.” The Archmage gently prompted Emmy out, and as he climbed into bed, Emmy started to clean up her office to give her enough space to lay her cot out.

Emmy burst from slumber as the lights in her office came on. She sat up upon her cot, pushed her long brown hair out of her eyes, and looked for the source of the intrusion. An elf woman with blond hair cascading down her face, framing her blue eyes as she frantically searched Emmy’s office for something. “Telestra?” Emmy asked groggily. “What are you doing in my home?”

The head of the Sorcerer’s League looked up, startled. “Sleeping in your office? How very gauche of you, captain.” Telestra giggled, “Still, this isn’t an altogether unpleasant revelation. I have need of you. Malygos has awoken, and he is not pleased with the current state of affairs.”

“The Mad Aspect of Magic? Why do you need me for, I thought liaising with the blue dragonflight was strictly done at council level?”

The elf cocked her head, “Normally yes, but the Sorcerer’s League has found some disturbing information. Malygos has determined that the unchecked use of magic by the mortal races has endangered Azeroth to an unacceptable degree. Dalaran has been singled out as a particularly egregious offender, one that is to be made example of, immediately.” She sighed, and caught Emmy’s level gaze. “They seek to take advantage of a flaw in the protections of the Violet Hold, and turn the prisoners held there loose in the city. You of all people should know how devastating that will be; after all, you put most of those prisoners in there.”

Goosebumps ran up and down Emmy’s body. The Violet Hold was a magical prison designed to host the worst magical offenders that the Kirin Tor had arrested. Many of the most dangerous beings to come through the Dark Portal were secured there. Opportunists and scavengers that sought to use the chaos of the wars against the Horde to plunder the treasures and people of Azeroth for profit or pleasure. Any one of those prisoners could wreak havoc within the city; the thought of facing all of them terrified her. “Why not bring this to The Six? Surely they have the power to remedy this situation more effectively than I can.”

“Normally I would agree with you. But you surely remember Lord Krasus. His true name is Korialstraz. He is the prime consort of the Dragonqueen Alexstraza, and his influence upon the remaining members of The Six cannot be underestimated. Who knows how much of the information that goes to Rhonin and his lackeys winds up in Krasus’ hands, and through him, the aspects?” Telestra’s sapphire eyes narrowed. “We can not trust anyone with this information.”

“Breaking into my office helps this situation how?” Emmy asked, pointedly. “It’s not like I keep the security layouts on any old shelf in here.”

The briefest of frowns flickered across Telestra’s face. “You are correct of course. Perhaps I did not think this through, but as I said before, your unlikely choice of lodgings can work to our advantage.” She walked around the desk and kneeled down before Emmy’s cot. “We need to review the plans and find the flaw before the dragons decide to strike.”

Still somewhat resentful of being abruptly and rudely woken by the elf, Emmy stood up brushing Telestra aside and strode to her desk. The old oak desk was a gift given to her by the commander of the Arcane Guard when she was promoted to captain. Every captain had a similar desk in their office. Reaching under the first drawer, Emmy found a series of runes. Invoking a series of basic spells, she activated each rune in a specific order. Once she had completed the sequence, a compartment in the first drawer popped open, giving her access to all of the sensitive documents she had stored there. She reached in and withdrew the Violet Hold security plans, closing the compartment back up as soon as she could. She rolled the parchment out onto the desktop. It showed a layout of the Violet Hold, noting the location of the emergency containment crystals, which prisoners were the most dangerous, and what steps had been taken to secure them. It was a truly formidable prison, but like any other, it was not impregnable. Kael’thas had escaped from the Hold during the chaos after the third war, although the gaps in security that the naga had exploited had been closed and rigorously tested once the escape had ended.

Telestra slid in next to Emmy and began to review the document that lay before her. “You’ve caught an Ethereal? The Nexus Princes can’t be too happy about that.”

Emmy grimaced at the memory of the mission to capture the Ethereal, Xevozz. He had been attempting to harvest the ley lines around Dalaran in order to siphon the power back to the Ethereal’s projects in Outland. When they had confronted him, he tapped directly into that source of magical energy and used it to amplify his natural abilities for arcane manipulation. He attacked the mages with spells of such power and speed that no one in the Arcane Guard could match his ferocity. The power he had tapped coalesced into searing bright orbs that floated near him as he funneled their power into raw bolts of arcane force that tore through anything they impacted. It took the sacrifice of several courageous members of the Kirin Tor to lure him far enough away from the ley line that his access to its power was diminished enough to make a direct confrontation possible. The last man to give his life to make the capture possible was Emmy’s predecessor as captain. Even so, Xevozz’s last bolt had blistered Emmy’s skin, right through the frost energy that she had focused as a protective measure. Emmy used that same frost to entomb Zevozz in ice for long enough for him to be secured in the cells of the violet hold. As recognition for the bravery and aptitude for magical combat, she was promoted into the vacant captaincy.

Xevozz’s cell was designed specifically for his abilities; just as every other cell was tailored with its occupant in mind. It was double lined, course stone insulated him from a layer of arcanite laid down to divert any bursts of arcane energy, depriving him of any access to the confluence of ley lines that powered so much of the city, and the prison in which he was bound. As a further means of containment, Archmage Aethas Sunreaver carved confounding runes into the stones of the cell. Anyone who observed the dull glow of the seals would be unable to construct anything beyond the simplest thoughts. Spells of any sort were out of the picture, and the punishment held a special tone for an Ethereal, whose race always delighted in the intellectual aspects of their business. As long as he was within the cell, he wouldn’t even be able to understand that he was angry, much less give form to his rage. If he were to be broken out, however, he would have full command of his faculties, and unrestricted access to the ambient energy of the city of mages. The damage would be immense, and he was but one of the many beings of unfathomable power secured within the cells of the Violet Hold.

“I could care less what the Nexus Princes have to say about that. I’ll be damned if I’m going to let them, the blue dragonflight, or anyone else break out my prisoners.” Emmy growled. She immediately went back to inspecting the layout, searching for any flaw that could be used to break into the prison. Every enchantment in every cell, every ward, rune, and sigil, every arcane field was inspected, checked, and rechecked. Emmy and Telestra were two of the rising stars of the Kirin Tor, both had seen the worst magic could bring out of people when the Archlich Kel’Thuzad made Dalaran a warzone during the Third War. He summoned Archimonde through the twisting nether and the Kirin Tor was still picking up the pieces from the sympathetic magic the warlock used to level the city. Telestra’s Sorcerer’s League had born the brunt of the invasion, and the elf had seen first hand how an attacker would seek to undermine the Kirin Tor’s strength. Between the two of them, no mage outside of the Council of the Six could hope to do a better job in isolating a potential weakness. The sun began to break over the mountains of the Hinterlands to the east when they found what they were looking for.

Emmy spotted the flaw first. A subtle error; which would normally have gone unnoticed during standard inspections, it was a position within the dome of the Hold where the conduits that carried the energy for the field which prevented teleportation and the emergency purge system came within an inch of each other. Under normal conditions, this would be a perfectly acceptable arrangement, however, if a strong enough mage were to attempt to open a portal to just outside the dome the resultant warp would push the conduits closer together, and the feedback in the purge system would detonate. This detonation would not only crack open the dome, but allow the blue dragonflight to send agents directly into the hold. While the anti teleportation field would still function well enough to prevent an invasion en masse, it would allow a few people at a time to infiltrate into the prison. There were only a handful of mages in the world who had the power to open a portal large enough to cause such a distortion. The majority of them, unfortunately, were members of the blue dragonflight.

“If they’re going to get in, that’s their only chance. If we can fix that hole, then there’s no way anyone can get into the Hold without walking in through the front door.” Emmy said. “We’d have to shut down the purge system until the threat has passed, but that system’s a bit of overkill anyways. It’s really only useful if that damn water elemental ever got lose. As long as we can keep the dragonflight from breaking the prisoners out, the odds of needing the purge system is slim.”

“Excellent, now we just need to bring this information to my compatriots, and we can begin planning.” Telestra looked exceedingly pleased with herself. She had as big a smile on her face as Emmy had ever seen, but as it always does, Telestra’s smile had a hint of arrogant bemusement; it was as if there was a joke that only she was privy to the punch line. It unsettled Emmy. “Well, Captain, shall we go?”

“I can just have the guards shut down the purge system.” Emmy suggested.

“They’ll want to know why you’re giving the order. They’ll be curious, and you know what they say about curiosity.” Telestra said trenchantly. “Regardless of weather or not you indulge them in their inquisitiveness, sending such an order through standard channels will attract the attention of people in whom we cannot afford to trust with this information. Which is where my compatriots come in, they will determine when the attack will come, and ensure that everything is prepared.”

“Let’s make this quick. I have company over.”

“Your father knows his way around the city. I’m sure he doesn’t need you to make sure that he gets a hearty breakfast.” Telestra said caustically.

“I’ll just leave him a note letting him know that I’m out,” Emmy grabbed a quill and a piece of stationary from her desk.

The elf took hold of Emmy’s shoulder, and uttered an incantation. A string of arcane energy anchoring the stone in Telestra’s possession tightened, slinging both women through the ether to the fixed point that the stone was attuned to. It was common enough magic, and it did have a tendency to turn the stomach if subjected to without warning. Emmy’s disorientation distracted her from the pair’s new surroundings for a few precious seconds. Reality set in shortly there after, and sent Emmy reeling in shock.

They stood in what appeared to be an ancient caldera. It was cold, a cold that cut right through the robes Emmy wore. The snow piled high upon the ground. They couldn’t still be in near Dalaran; the skies were still dark in this strange place. Telestra held her arm up and sent a flare up, signaling their location to her allies. In the flickering light cast by the flare, Emmy could see another elf approaching them from the darkness. The first thing Emmy could make out clearly was her eyes. Unlike Telestra, who came to the Kirin Tor before the fall of Quel’Thelas, the stranger had the unmistakable green eyes of a blood elf. Emmy’s mind reeled. Had Telestra sought aid from the Horde? Had she taken them to Kalimdor? The stranger walked further into the light of the flare.

“Do you have the information we need?” The stranger asked. Telestra nodded, and pulled the diagram of the Violet Hold out of her robes. She opened it and showed it to the blood elf.

“There’s a structural weakness in the dome’s security systems. They haven’t shut it down yet.” Telestra pointed out the flaws that Emmy had found.

“Telestra, who exactly are you working with?” Emmy demanded, unsure of where the elf’s allegiances lay.

“Who exactly is this little mortal? Why have you brought her here?” The blood elf inquired.

“This is Emmy Malin, a captain in the Arcane Guard. She’ll be a valuable asset to our cause.” Telestra declared. She turned to Emmy. “Emmy, this is your new employer.”

“Telestra, who are you working for?” Emmy said, gritting her teeth. She was now feeling very out of her depth.

Telestra began to speak up, but the blood elf cut her off. “I am Cyanigosa, daughter of Malygos, leader of the Mage Hunters.” She grinned, and her smile was colder than the icy winds that buffeted them.

“You’re what? Telestra, what have you done? How could you do this?” Emmy panicked. Telestra was in league with the blue dragonflight, and had tricked Emmy into helping her sell out the Kirin Tor. Telestra grabbed her by the shoulders.

“Be thankful I needed your help! The blue dragonflight is going to purge all magic users who don’t help them here. The only way you can stay alive is to help them here. Think about yourself. Think about your father! He’ll die if you don’t help us. I’m giving you a chance to save the only family you have left.” Emmy calmed down at the thought of her father. The Kirin Tor could defend themselves. Her father’s injuries would be the death of him if he were to ever attract the ire of the blues.

Emmy’s shoulders slumped. Her head hung low. “What do you need from me?” she asked the dragon.

“You’ve made a wise decision. Come with me.” Cyanigosa turned and strode off into the dark. Telestra promptly followed, but Emmy lingered for a second, a last moment of doubt. She indulged in her uncertainty, but only for a moment. She followed, already thinking about what her next move should be. What her responsibilities as a captain of the Kirin Tor, and as her father’s daughter, demanded of her. It was a difficult burden, and one that she had to carry alone, in this strange land.

Emmy stood in the Nexus, the base of operations for the blue dragonflight, located in the Borean Tundra of the frozen continent of Northrend. Like Dalaran, the Nexus sits on a confluence of ley lines. The Nexus is built from ornately carved blocks of ice, harvested from the glaciers of Northrend. Each segment is covered in runes and inscriptions, holding them aloft in defiance of gravity. Unlike Dalaran, which was clearly built as a human city, the Nexus is designed with dragons in mind. Many of the platforms have no connections to their fellows, despite being suspended hundreds of meters in the air. Those that lacked the ability to fly would find it very difficult to move freely through the complex. This was a place where the arcane forces that boiled underneath the skin of the world were not merely harnessed, but allowed to erupt freely. It streamed upwards in a font of power that the dragons drank from with regularity, but to Emmy found the harsh glare to be distracting, and in some parts of the Nexus, downright painful to look at.

Emmy wasn’t quite sure how long she had been here. A month at the minimum, but without contact from the outside world it was difficult to gauge the passage of time. She spent most of her time helping empower constructs on the exterior of the nexus. It was tedious work, but relatively simple. It did leave her with little time to herself; she was constantly monitored by dragonkin and other mage hunters. She spent what little time she had to herself planning, trying to figure out what she could do to stymie the dragons’ efforts without compromising herself or her family.

Her chance came when she was summoned to meet with Telestra within the walls of the Nexus proper. Both women had given up the purple robes of Kirin Tor magi for the azure robes of the Mage Hunters, but Telestra reveled in the change. Her self aggrandizement had reached a whole new level since her defection. Now she presented herself as “Grand Magus” Telestra, after her meteoric rise through the ranks of the Mage Hunters. Telestra beckoned Emmy to enter the room. As Emmy entered the room, she noticed the runes shimmering along the walls of the great space. This was one of the renowned libraries that the blue dragonflight compiled, archiving the vast majority of the magical knowledge on Azeroth. This library was only rivaled by the Central Repository in the Violet Citadel and the Guardian’s Archives in Karazhan. The information contained in this room could make any mortal mage much more powerful. As much as Emmy wanted to take the time to read the books here, to draw upon their knowledge, she feared how much knowledge Telestra had gained here, and how much it had empowered the treasonous elf.

“Emmy, we’ve been watching you. You’ve done well in preparing the centrifuge constructs for their deployment. Now we have a task that’s more suitable to your specific talents.”

“How may I be of service, Grand Magus?” Emmy almost choked on the words. Telestra, however, smiled that mocking smile of hers, and held out her hand. A ring sat upon her palm, it was made from thick silver construction, and blue inscriptions ran along the outside of the ring. It was the language of the dragons, one that Emmy couldn’t decipher, but a language of great age and great power.

“This is a ley line focus control. We’re using them to reroute the ley lines across Northrend to places of power for the Spellweaver. You’re to take it, and travel to the Dragonblight. Once in the Dragonblight, you’ll take command of our forces at the Glittering Strand. Use this ring to monitor and adjust the ley line. We need to route it directly to the Azure Dragonshrine, so that our forces attacking the Wyrmrest Temple can use the energy in the upcoming assault.”

“As Malygos wills,” Emmy quipped. She took the ring from Telestra’s hand, and departed the library. This was her opportunity.

While the Nexus stood isolated from the horrors that had engulfed Northrend over the years, the Dragonblight had not. The freezing winds carried a cloying odor. The stench of decay was present throughout the continent. Even before the Scourge had taken over the continent, this was the place where every dragon came to die. Their bones still littered the snowy plains in unimaginable quantities. This continent was a place of death. No one would mistake it for anything else.

In the time that Emmy had been away from the mainland, war had come to Northrend, and the Dragonblight was at the heart of the conflicts. The Alliance and the Horde had struck out against the Scourge, and the other dragonflights had assembled in the Wyrmrest Temple in an attempt to sanction the rogue aspect Malygos. Even the Kirin Tor had marshaled for war. In spectacular fashion, the mages utilized the same spells that the blue dragonflight used to float portions of the Nexus to lift the entire city of Dalaran and bring it to Northrend. The Scarlet Crusade had established several enclaves nearby, and while the Horde and Alliance were preparing to break their way into Icecrown, the Scourge summoned the nerubian swarms of Azjol’Nerub and recalled the necropolis Naxxramas from its assault on Lordaeron. In the midst of all this chaos was Captain Emmy Malin.

She stood upon the gritty sands of the beach, inspecting the route the ley line was traveling. The salty sea air kept the stench down, making it a little more bearable for Emmy to breathe. The ley line focus was a scaled up version of the ring that Emmy had received from Telestra. They were attuned with each other, allowing a mage who was skilled at focusing arcane energy through the ring on their finger to duplicate those manipulations on the ley line that seethed with power through the focus. The ruins of an ancient night elf city were built upon an intersection of ley lines. The blue dragonflight used a monolithic device known as a surge needle to split the intersection, and channel it through these foci to empower the Azure Dragonshrine, their base of operations in the area. Emmy’s post on the beach at the Glittering Strand was the first in a series of three foci that supercharged the power before it was harnessed at by the dragons themselves.

This was wreaking havoc on the land around the ley line. Arcane energy ripped through the ground, corrupting and mutating the flora and fauna in the area that wasn’t already infected by the plagues that the Scourge had unleashed upon the land. The second focus, which had been placed in the middle of a Tuskarr village, had disastrous consequences. Anyone not killed by the energies was rendered mad. The length to which Malygos was willing to go to erase the threat posed by mortal mages was staggering. Here was her opportunity to sabotage their plans. With control of this focus, she could deny the Azure Dragonshrine access to their power. By the time they could attune a new control to the focus, the combined forces of the dragonflights and the Kirin Tor would drive them out of the Dragonblight. All she needed was something to distract the other mages who were patrolling the area.

Emmy wish was granted as chaos erupted amongst the patrols. The shouted about an unseen enemy attacking them, and began working in tandem to neutralize the threat. As they scrambled to defend themselves and the focus, Emmy turned her attention to the focus.

“Keep them away from the focus!” She yelled to the intruder. She focused frost energy into the focus control ring, shunting that power directly into the flow of the ley line. Pouring more and more power into the spell, she felt the energy beginning to play out around her. The water vapor from the sea spray began to freeze, creating a veritable blizzard around her. The arcane power flowing through the ley line began to constrict, waning away as the icy infusion dragged the energy to a crawl. The familiar chill of frost magic played across her hands as beheld the effects of her meddling. A little more time and the damage would be catastrophic to the offensive on the Wyrmrest Temple.

Emmy felt cold, colder than she had ever felt in Alterac. Colder than the depths of Icecrown Glacier. The assailant pulled his daggers from her back, and all the strength in her fled. Her spell diffused away into nothingness as the ley line roared back towards the Azure Dragonshrine. All her work was undone in a moment. Her legs could no longer support her, and she fell to her knees as her life’s blood hemorrhaged onto the cold sand. Struggling for breath, her voice had been stolen by her wounds. Her assassin began searching her for anything of value. The night elf’s amber eyes focused on the ring. With the last of her strength, Emmy reached into her robe, and withdrew a letter that she had written shortly after coming to Northrend. The elf looked at her curiously, saw the desperation in her eyes, and nodded. Despite millennia of immortality, it only took a few years of living in death’s shadow to impress upon him the significance of a dying wish, even when it remained unspoken. He took the ring and the letter from Emmy’s still hands, and then vanished into the snow and shadows.

Archmage Malin stood his usual post in the Mage Quarter of Stormwind. Ever since his daughter had vanished two months ago, he had been distracted. Everyone who worked with him could sense it. He was often lost in his thoughts and concerns. This time was no different. He didn’t notice as the portal opened in front of him. It wasn’t until a cold blast of Northrend air poured through the portal as a mage, dressed in the resplendent violet of the Arcane Guard stepped through onto Stormwind soil. The Archmage recognized the visitor, he was one of the guards who served under his daughter when he last visited Dalaran. The guard, once stern and steadfast, seemed diminished. He offered the Archmage an envelope, stained with blood and warped by water damage.

“A hero fighting in the Nexus War found this. It’s addressed to you, sir. It’s the Captain’s… your daughter’s last letter.” The Archmage opened the letter with trembling hands, his breath caught in his throat as he read it.


I'm sorry for disappearing on you. If you're reading this letter, then I'm dead.

I've been forced to work for Malygos’ armies under threat that our family would be killed if I didn't. I feel so ashamed.

If there's anything that you can do to fight them, don't worry about me. I have them fooled and I'm sabotaging them from the inside.

I love you, Daddy!


Monday, December 19, 2011

15 Days Through My Interface: Day 9

This whole 15 days thing was the brainchild of Saz over at World of Saz, and it was the catalyst for my return to blogging. This stop, in particular, caught my imagination.

What's you character's hometown?

It's a simple enough question, but it really got the wheels turning in my head. Things have to fit together in a story, and carving out a home for a character isn't as easy as taking a screenshot of a pretty building and hanging your hat there. No, we're peeking into the origins of our characters. We're not just looking at a house, we're looking at the memories that are etched within its walls. We aren't just looking at where they live, we're looking at why they live, where they came from, and what they've overcome to reach this point. We've already seen where Dämmerung lives. What I'm going to tell you here is how he got there.

I generally have a feel for characters when I create them. I have their race, gender, class, and spec mapped out from the beginning. There's a certain feel for each one, and the name I select usually isn't your standard Azerothian fare. This presents a problem for creating a viable origin story. What kind of mother names their child Dämmerung? But ultimately, what is a name? An identifier. A title. So that's how I've come to look at the names I've chosen for my characters. They're an abstraction of the essence of the character. They might not be the name their parents gave them, but they are titles that they earned before they ever set out from their starting areas.

This is the story of a Boy. A Boy who was born at the cusp of extraordinary times, and whose childhood was defined by the events that enveloped the world.

He was born in the Summer of the Year of King Llane, 589, to the captain of the palace guard of Stormwind. Those were fearful times. The Boy can't remember a time before the invasion of the Orcish Horde. A climate of dread slowly grew as it became apparent that what had originally been believed to be a series of bandit raids was something much more dreadful. As the alien creatures marched upon Stormwind, The Boy saw firsthand the strain that the mere presence of the Horde placed upon the citizens of Stormwind. Rationing became tight. The luxuries and pleasures of the more peaceful age had been stripped away. While The Boy's family, being responsible for the security of the Royal Person, never lacked for anything essential, others were not so fortunate.

Things became worse when the siege began. The armies of Stormwind, pushed back to the very bastions that they were sworn to hold, fought tenaciously. War takes its toll, however, and when the war is on your doorstep, you pay the price in blood. For several months, the orcs, with their ogre allies, assaulted the walls each day, although never in the same place twice. Each night, the Horde turned their siege engines loose, lobbing rocks, plagued corpses, and strange boulders over the city walls, smashing into the shops and homes of the people. The boulders were the worst. They glowed with a strange green fire that no one had ever seen before. The first person to touch it was a woman who lived in a house not a hundred yards from the Boy's home. It smashed the walls to rubble, and collapsed the structure. The woman crawled out over the smoldering projectile, desperate for clean air. She died three days later, in agony. No one understood what foul magic permeated those missiles, but after watching the woman's hair fall out, and the way that she hemorrhaged, despite no apparent wounds, no one would go near them. So it was that every night The Boy would cower in the cellar of their home with his mother telling him that everything would be alright.

King Llane held the city together, almost through sheer force of will. Every day, when the sun had rose, and the relentless shelling had ceased, the King would walk among the streets of the city. His presence unified the people, it empowered them, and it gave them hope. When the city burned, the King and his son were out in the streets, fetching water from the canals to fight the blazes alongside every common man, woman, and child whose homes and livelihoods were caught in the conflagration. When dead citizens were pulled from the wreckage, or dead soldiers brought down from the battlements, the King mourned with his people. They were hard times, and the people feared where they would be if not for the strength of Wrynn.

Then the King was taken from them, felled by the dagger of an orc the King had trusted, had held up as an example that even among the throngs of monsters howling outside their walls, there was still the hope for decency. The people were shocked, and the Horde, sensing victory's proximity, launched the largest assault yet, overrunning the defenses. As the King fell, so did Stormwind.

That day holds the most vivid memories for The Boy. His mother dragged him by the hand through the streets of the city. The smell of burning timber and scorched stone was just beginning to reach their noses, heralding the fire that had been set which would consume the city. The Boy's father had told them to make for the harbor should the city be breached. There a ship awaited them. The remnants of the Royal Guard stood guard at the dock, shuttling refugees onto the vessel, and prepared to hold back the rampaging orcs for as long as was needed for the ship to cast off safely. Those orcs were hot on The Boy's heels as he ran for the ship, the air burning in his lungs. The disciplined guards opened a minute gap in their line to allow the pair to slip through to safety, before swiftly reforming and greeting the orcs with the strength of their shield wall. Events were blurry for The Boy. The sounds of the battle were deafening. The crack of a blade shivering, the clang of the plate armor of the warriors, and the meaty thock, followed by cries of pain, that signaled a blade finding its mark, hacking into unarmored flesh.

A powerfully built man, the white of his armor matching the color of his beard, dragged the last defender onto the ship as it pulled away from the harbor. Lothar knelt down, and cradled the man who he had pulled onto the boat. It was The Boy's father. He had stopped to cut the last line free that was tying the vessel to the dock, and an orcish grunt had used the opportunity to sink an axe into the man's stomach, leaving him desperately trying to keep his innards in place as blood flowed from between his trembling hands. His mother wailed, and rushed to his side. His father whispered something to Lothar, who nodded to him, and then beckoned his son to come to his side. As The Boy approached, he looked at his feet, trying to hide the tears in his eyes. His father's hands ceased their shaking for a few moments as he lifted his son's chin up to look him in the eyes. He brushed a few strands of The Boy's hair back, and spoke his last words to his son.
"Thank the Light, you're safe. Take care of your mother."
With that, Lothar led The Boy below decks, before returning to ensure that The Boy's mother could mourn in what came as close to privacy as was possible on the overloaded vessel. Below decks, The Boy sobbed, echoing the cries of his inconsolable mother above. Another young man, who was a few years older than The Boy, sought to comfort him. They both shared the pain of losing their fathers that day, and while in later meetings, King Varian Wrynn did not recognize The Boy, he always respected his king for those moments of solace on that fateful day.

The boat traveled north, towards the remaining human kingdoms. It made landfall in the town of Southshore, in the kingdom of Lordaeron. For a couple years, The Boy and his mother had an opportunity to attempt to rebuild something of their lives. But peace is ever elusive. Shortly after The Boy turned 10, it was announced that the Horde was marching through the dwarven territories, and would set upon Lordaeron soon. In response to this, a Grand Alliance was being formed between the human kingdoms, and an army would be raised to stop the Horde before they could reach the heart of Lordaeron.

An army on the march is a different beast than an army on the defensive. It is a beast of burden. For every soldier who fights, there are five people supporting him, from the workers who craft his armor, to the squires who care for and carry his equipment in the field. When the Horde marched to Southshore, rather than fleeing with his mother, a refugee once more, The Boy volunteered to join the army, led by Anduin Lothar. The Boy served as a squire for one of the warriors in Turalyon's division, usually removed from the actual line of battle. He spent most of the war in the camp, washing the blood off his master's armor, and leading his packmule by the bridle on long marches.

The army fought the Hillsbrad, dislodging them from their initial beachhead, and pursued them into the Hinterlands. It was there where Lothar realized the Horde's intentions, to use their superior numbers to split their attack on both Stromgarde and the elven kingdom of Quel'thelas. The generals met in Turalyon's tent, and The Boy discretely listened to Lothar's planning from the entrance. Some of the generals argued passionately for the Army to dedicate itself wholly to the defense of Stromgarde, a human kingdom, and to leave the elves, who had regarded the Horde as a strictly human concern, to their own devices.

Lothar disagreed, and decided to bifurcate the army, dispatching Turalyon to defend Quel'thelas, along with the small detatchement of rangers who had joined the army with Alleria Windrunner, despite orders to the contrary from the ruling council of Silvermoon City. As the generals departed, Lothar found The Boy, despite his best efforts to conceal himself. Fulfilling the last promise he made to a dying man, Lothar led The Boy to the main encampment, where he gave The Boy the shield that had belonged to The Boy's father, as per the man's dying wish. It was battered and scratched, and the leather straps that weren't rotted or torn were stained with blood, it was not fit for battle, but none of that mattered to The Boy, it was a cherished memento. That meeting would be the last time that he saw Anduin Lothar alive.

They marched across Lordaeron, into the forests of Quel'thelas. The Boy had been told by a few of the elves who marched with them that Quel'thelas was a magnificent sight, elegant, lush, verdant, and aglow in the glorious powers afforded them by the Sunwell. When they marched past Stratholme and entered through the mountain pass that kept the Elves separated from the humans, the sight of Quel'thelas gave the entire army pause. The forests were aglow, not with the power of the arcane, but from the fires that had been set by the orcs and the trolls that they had allied themselves with. The Boy has never seen Quel'thelas in the glory that the ranger had described it. No one has since the Horde left their indelible mark on the forests.
It wasn't until the orcs brought the war to the very gates of Silvermoon that the elven government realize the threat that the orcs represented to not only humans, but all life on Azeroth. Without Lothar's foresight, the orcs would have razed Silvermoon City, and taken possession of the Sunwell. After a few days spent camped outside the elven capitol, the army turned its focus back towards the south. Turalyon now marched with the full force of Quel'thelas at his back, and The Boy marched with him.

They marched through Alterac. The human kingdom had been completely destroyed in the fighting. Their King, Aiden Perenolde, had offered the Horde free passage through Alterac in exchange for being left alone. When a division of Lothar's army, under the command of Danath Trollbane, sealed the gap in the mountains, the battle that Perenolde had expected to be fought in the fields of Lordaeron, were instead fought in the heart of Alterac, and the fires of war consumed that kingdom, just as it had Stormwind.

With the help of the elven armada, the arrival of Turalyon's forces broke the back of the Horde's siege on the capitol of Lordaeron. Turalyon's division knew only victory, driving the Horde south, out of Lordaeron, liberating the Bronzebeard Dwarves who were under siege in Ironforge, shattering the Horde at Blackrock mountain, and finally driving most of the remnants back out of the Dark Portal. While it would take years to pick up the pieces, the war was, for all intents and purposes, over.

King Wrynn returned to Stormwind to attempt to rebuild the ruins of his kingdom, but King Menethil, the King of Lordaeron, offered a place in Lordaeron for any who served in the war. The Boy, reunited with his mother, took advantage of the offer, and they settled in small town not too far from the capital, called Andorhal.
Those were peaceful times, and The Boy grew into a man, devout in the ways of the light, and hard working. Over the course of fifteen years, he learned the secrets of smithing and metallurgy from the town's workers. He worked to restore his father's shield, not to be used again, for he had seen the terrors wreaked by war, but as a way to honor his father's sacrifice. He earned a living for himself and his mother through those skills, initially making farm implements and other tools, but he eventually branched out into the more precious metals, becoming an accomplished jeweler as well. There was no more rationing, no more dark nights spent in the celler, fearing that the next crash would be the cursed stone that would take his life, and no more days spent in the camp, away from home. Andorhal served as the breadbasket for Lordaeron, they shipped food to every corner of the kingdom, and there was always plenty on the table.

A ragged old man changed all that. Some of the more learned in the village claimed to recognize him as a mage from Dalaran who had visited Southshore years ago, but he looked more like a corpse than a distinguished mage. Strange events happened in those days, rumors of the dead rising from their graves, and clandestine meetings of black robed strangers. It wasn't until the Prince of Lordaeron arrived to investigate, finding the cult leader tampering with the grain shipments. A representative from Dalaran recognized him as Kel'thuzad, a former leader of the Kirin Tor. They burned down the grain silos, and struck down Kel'thuzad and his cultists.

Word came back later that the tainted grain had led to the destruction of the city of Stratholme, to the northeast. Fearing more cultist action, Prince Arthas raised an army to go to Northrend to finish the cult leaders once and for all. The Boy, now a man, declined to join, he had seen his fill of violence. But a few months later, Prince Arthas returned from Northrend, triumphant, or so it would seem. The Prince slew his father, and marched once again, this time at the head of an army of the same undead monstrosities that he had sworn to vanquish. They marched on Andorhal, where a group of paladins, led by Uther the Lightbringer, had retreated, carrying with them the ashes of their fallen king. Again, home was under attack for The Boy.

But Andorhal is not Stormwind. There are no strong stone walls that must be surmounted. The Scourge surrounded the town, and swiftly overran it. The only way to escape the onslaught was by water. The Boy, his mother, and a few others from the town boarded a small boat, and cast off, hoping to make their way south, towards a rebuilding Stormwind.

They didn't make it very far. As they passed the island that the old castle of Caer Darrow was built upon, great chains lashed themselves to the boat. From the lake emerged an abomination of startling size that set itself upon their craft, tearing planks away and threatening to drag them to a watery grave. Knowing that everyone on the boat were moments away from death, so long as the abomination stayed attached to the boat, The Boy picked up the one possession he had allowed himself to bring, his father's shield. Working his arm into the leather grips that he had reworked countless times in the intervening years, he said a prayer to the light, recalling his father's last words to him. He felt the Light empowering him as he smashed his father's shield into the abomination's skull, jarring the monstrosity loose as both he and it tumbled from the crippled craft.

He washed up, alone, on the banks of the Thondoril River. The patchwork creature was no where to be found, nor was his father's shield. He was beaten, bloodied, and damn near dead from his tangle with the behemoth. His memories are hazy here. Maybe it was the way that he nearly drowned, maybe it was the concussion he got from the abomination, but even to this day, all he can remember are bits and pieces.

He lay half submerged, hung up on the roots of a tree that protruded from the river bank. He watched the undead armies shamble across the bridge over the river, walking the same path he had walked fifteen years ago. The path to Quel'thelas. He wasn't the only one watching the horrors moving through. After the Scourge passed, an old man, wearing old brown leather clothes concealing his plate armor, crept down to the river bank, and dragged the wounded man North.
At the old man's shack, it took The Boy a week before he could speak again. The old man had some experience in the ways of the Light, and as he nursed The Boy back to health, he felt the empowerment that had allowed The Boy to survive the confrontation. That blessing was the only thing keeping him alive. The old man, unable to accertain The Boy's name until the swelling went down, he took to calling him Dämmerung. In the old Arathi tongue, it meant the Fading Light of Day. It was a bit grim, but Dämmerung didn't know what it meant at the time.

It was months before Dämmerung was well enough to set out on his own. During his convalescence, the old man taught him a few things about the use of the Light. He taught him how to heal the righteous, how to judge the unfaithful, and to unleash his wrath against the undead and the demonic. He replaced Dämmer's ragged and torn clothing, still stained with mud and ichor from his flight from Andorhal, and gave him a wooden hammer with which to defend himself. Dämmerung was anxious to find out what had happened to his town, to his friends, and to his mother. They would both be different men when they next met, years from now.

Lordaeron had changed in the months of Dämmerung's recovery. Wearing nothing but the clothes of a civilian, and arming with a mere wooden hammer, he cautiously worked his way south. Everywhere the undead horde had walked had been blighted. There were still patches of greenery here and there, but they were rapidly being encrouched upon by the sickly brown grasses of the neighboring spoiled earth. Ghouls were out in force, scouring the land for anything left alive in these plaguelands. Every once in a while, one of those abominations trundled down the road, the ground shaking at their every step. They were often flanked by bizzare spider-like monstrosities that Dämmerung had never seen before.

Dämmerung traveled carefully. The dark forces animating the Scourge forces made them odious to the Light, and through that distaste, he knew when one approached. Even without the light, the smell and constant groaning would give them away from a quarter mile. The patrols were thick enough that it took him fully three days to hike down the Thorandil River until he reached its mouth, where it fed into Darrowmere Lake, with Caer Darrow's decrepit ruins sticking up out of the water, a monument to the horrors of the present, realized through the neglect of the past. He hid himself underneath the bridge at the mouth of the river, and for a time, he stayed there, like some common troll. He scryed the surface of the water, scrutinizing it closely for any sign of any hidden attackers the like of which he met when he last braved these waters. Another one of the abominations patrolled over the bridge, coming from the west. As it stomped over the bridge, the stonework shook, freeing dust that had been trapped in the masonry for the long decades since the bridge had been built, during the reign of Terenas the First. Dämmerung feared that the bridge might collapse under the strain, and thought about making a run for it. Then something even more frightening occurred.

The abomination stopped, right over his head. It sniffed the air, trying to recapture that whiff of a scent that had called its attention. Dämmerung listened to the bridge creak and groan as the abomination leaned over the side to see if anything was hiding next to the bridge. Foul gore spilled from the behemoth's open chest cavity, splashing into the mud next to the terrified man. Dämmerung clamped a hand over his mouth, trying not to gag as the stench of undeath became overpowering. He pressed himself deeper into the soft mud of the river bank, letting the cold water flow over him, and hopefully conceal his scent from the monster's senses. Seconds stretched into years, the whole of the man's life hinged upon his complete anonymity.

Suspicious but unwilling to dawdle any longer, the abomination strode off the bridge, and east, towards Darrowshire. Dämmerung waited until it was out of sight, and then, without hesitation, dove into the icy waters of Darrowmere. He made for Caer Darrow, hoping to take a moment's respite there, before continuing his swim south. Looking to the west, he saw the smoke rising from the smoldering ruins of Andorhal, grain houses burned for a long time, and Andorhal had all the grain for the entire eastern half of the kingdom stored there. It must be like a charnel house there. The ashes of their King lay there, and the hope for his kingdom had burned down upon them. Hardening his heart against the horror of watching his adopted home in ashes, he hiked to the southern end of the island. There he found one horror more.
The craft lay on its side on the beach, water lapping up against it, rocking it gently as it dug itself deeper and deeper into the soft silt. The aft bulkhead had been ripped free, and the gunnels had savage pieces torn from them. It was clearly no longer seaworthy. A quick inspection confirmed his fears. The inscription carved into the bowsprit identified the wreck as the boat that he had tried so desperately to save. A deeper inspection, however, offered a glimmer of hope. The life preservers were missing, and the boat had clearly been deposited on the island by the currents, rather than beached by her crew. Perhaps they had survived, and made it to Southshore. Hope; hope still lived, even if it was only a glimmer. Dämmerung held onto that fading light as he once again braved the cold waters of Darrowmere Lake, leaving the unsettling ruins behind him.

When he reached the point where Darrowmere Lake channeled itself back into a river, he noticed a wondrous thing, well, it was wondrous in hindsight. As he dragged himself back upon the banks of the river, he heard a growl. He had pulled himself onto the green grass, directly between a mother mountain lion and her cubs. As the lion hurled itself at him in defense of her offspring, Dämmerung gave a desperate prayer to the Light. The Light answered, deflecting the angry beast as Dämmerung launched himself back into the river, letting the current drag him away from his sudden brush with life, after days of hiding from death.

He pulled himself back out of the river near Southshore, after ensuring that there were only horses and turtles nearby, nothing that could harm him in his exhausted state. The Light helps those who help themselves, and he doubted that it would answer him again so soon after his last request.

He trudged to Southshore, looking not too unlike one of the ghouls that ran rampant through the northern portion of Lordaeron. He stepped into the inn, and requested a room. The innkeeper made him walk back to the river and clean his clothes before he would let him touch a bed in the inn. Upon his return, looking just as haggard, although somewhat less filthy, he saw two brothers drinking at the table in the lobby. Recognition flashed in their eyes when they saw him, and they called out to him using his old name. They were from Andorhal, and had served as oarsmen on the boat that bloody night. They kicked out the chair next to them, and invited him to sit with them. They bought him a meal, and a drink, and paid for his room. He had saved their lives, and they intended to honor that debt as best they could.

Dämmerung couldn't remember a meal that tasted as good as that one did. Then again, the cook at the Cathedral in Stormwind isn't exactly the finest chef in town, and most of the time when he's not in Stormwind, he's eating field rations, or those bland mage cakes that taste like nothing, and always left him feeling hungry again fifteen minutes later. Perhaps he hasn't had a meal that tasted as good since. However, as enjoyable as the food was, as famished as he was, all those pleasures were secondary to his need for information.

When broached with the question of the disposition of the others on the boat, the brothers uneasily cast their gazes towards the stone floor. After Dämmerung had driven the patchwork beast back into the depths of the lake, the ship had sustained too much damage to remain afloat. The life preservers were given out, and the passengers began to jump into the water, making a desperate swim for the river bank to the south. The brothers had been among those who landed on the west bank, and Dämmerung's mother had been in those who landed on the east bank. Fearful that the abomination would return, the two groups hurried south. The group on the east bank were slowed down, several men were needed to restrain the panicked woman, in order to prevent her from diving back into the lake to search for her son. The group on the west bank rushed to Southshore, and raised the alarm. The eastern group wasn't seen for several days, and they began trickling in one by one, telling tales of splitting up to avoid the southernmost Scourge patrols. One brother cautiously offered that many of those who fled with them had continued south, making for the newly reinforced Northshire Abbey. The other brother mentioned a grimmer possibility that he had overheard from the necromancers during Andorhal's fall.

Once again, Dämmerung clung to the glimmer of hope, still glowing in the black sea of despair that threatened to consume him. He slept fitfully and sailed for Elywnn the next morning; his fare paid for by the brothers, who gathered the other survivors who decided to settle in the area together to see him off. He left Stormwind for Southshore after having lost his father, and now he retraced those steps, having lost his mother, but, the Light willing, she would be found. He looked back from the stern of the ship, at all the people waving gratefully to him. He had been able to protect all of them, surely he had protected her too.

He arrived in Northshire three days later, shortly after noon. The grand structure had been rebuilt grandly in the aftermath of its sacking by the Horde, as had the remainder of Stormwind. Things were almost as he remembered them. Almost. The little details nagged at him. The stones had crisply cut corners, rather than the worn edges of blocks that had seen hundreds of years of weathering. There was a bridge before the walls now, with statues dedicated to the heroes that he had served fifteen years ago. The city was more secure than ever.

The Abbey was no different, in addition to the rebuilding of the actual abbey, a huge wall had been built in front of the community, allowing it to be sealed off in the event of another attack, unlike in the First War, where the Twilight's Hammer clan had moved right in and set up shop. Rumors abounded that the masons who worked in Northshire demanded triple pay to clean up whatever it was that the Horde had left behind in there, and that the King had taken one look inside, and immediately agreed. The masons had outdone themselves here.
Dämmerung didn't find any of the survivors here. Any that had passed through these walls had long since dispersed themselves to the outlying communities, Goldshire, Redridge, Westfall, and Duskwood. Dämmerung prepared to travel once again. The Horde had taken his father, the Scourge had taken his shield, and possibly his mother too, the Light knows what it would do to them. He intended to find out, to keep holding on to that fading light for as long as he could.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Problem With Thrall

One problem that Blizz has somewhat on their radar is the irritation due to the overdose on Thrall in the current Cataclysm storyline. The Lead Quest Designer, Dave Kosak, posted a somewhat misguided developer blog, in which he touched upon the rising sentiments against the once and future Warchief of the Horde.

Blizzard feels that they made a mistake in assuming that Alliance players would enjoy the newly "neutral" Thrall, because he isn't a Horde character, he's a world character. That's part of the issue, although he doesn't understand the root cause of that particular sentiment, which stems from the treatment of other major lore figures who ostensibly went neutral, and how they compare to what happened with Thrall. That, however, is an issue that deserves its own post to lay out.

The majority of the backlash against Thrall in the recent expansion is, quite simply, because Thrall has been an incredibly poorly written character since the end of WCIII, and putting him in the brightest spotlight any previously defined lore character has ever stepped into put all those flaws on display.

Some of these flaws are incidental to concessions made by the story for gameplay purposes. One of the most dissonant experiences I had while exploring the Horde side of the game was taking my first Horde character, an undead warlock, over to Ogrimmar to get the quests for RFC. I embarked on a series of quest lines featuring Thrall trying to root out the warlocks from the midst of the city, and seemingly oblivious to the fact that he was employing one of those warlocks to do so. Despite the fact that from a lore perspective, Warlocks had nearly wiped out the orcish race, and condemned them to an existence of suffering, and as such were rightly banned from the Horde, people wanted to play as them, so in they went. These flaws are jarring, but they're ultimately a minor flaw, the pimple on the narrative that can be hidden with some discrete concealer, because the player character is but a single person in the narrative of the game, and not even a really important one anymore.

The flaws become much harder to conceal when they become part of major lore events. Thrall is not presented as a complex character. He's your standard feel good messiah stand in. He's wise, strong, capable, charismatic, fair, self sacrificing, and compassionate. There's not necessarily anything wrong with that. Not every character in a leading role has to be a morally ambigious Machiavellian schemer. It's OK to have the occasional character who's just a good guy. The problem is when you have the aforementioned good guy does something out of character, and no one calls him on his bullshit. At this point, you're not only undermining the character, you're undermining the characters who don't react, and the entirety of the story. If Aslan had given up Edmund in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, and none of the Pevensies spoke out against it, then C.S. Lewis probably wouldn't hold his revered place in the pantheon of storytellers. The story worked because Aslan is the Jesus Allegory Lion, and he did what Jesus Allegory Lions do.

This is where Thrall falls short. He's the Jesus Allegory Orc, savior of his people, able to walk on water, and return from the dead. But he doesn't act the way his backstory and characterization have set him up. The driving influence in Thrall's backstory was his time spent as a slave and gladiator in Durnholde. So, when he fufills his destiny and forges a reborn Horde, does he outlaw slavery, as a just ruler would do? Nope, because one of the driving forces in King Wrynn's backstory is that he was captured and held as a slave by Rehgar Earthfury, and forced to fight in the gladiator pits in Dire Maul. Blackmoore was an uncharacteristic human, operating far from the oversight of authority, and was a drunk and morose man who plotted against his fellows and no one in the Alliance speaks well of. Perhaps, King Wrynn ran into a similar situation? Perhaps Thrall did take steps to stamp out slavery in the Horde, but its insidious nature persisted in the dark corners far from his steely gaze? This would be a bit of a stretch, but it's one that could have worked. But is it what happens? No. In the comic, Jaina convinces Varian to attend a peace summit at Theramore to attempt to build a peaceful relationship with Thrall and the Horde. Varian brings Valeera, a Blood Elf who escaped slavery with Varian, and his son Anduin. Thrall brings Garrosh, who from a chronological perspective, made the first of his asshat moments, and Reghar Earthfury, the orc who kept two of the members of the Alliance delegation as slaves against their will. Not only does he tolerate slavery within the Horde, he thinks it's a good idea to make the slavemaster a trusted adviser on the peace process. No one brought up how immensely hypocritical and bone headed this is, and yet people wonder why Varian doesn't like Thrall. It's completely out of character for someone coming from the backstory Thrall has, and it's completely out of character for everyone around him to not notice. Have the races of Azeroth simply not discovered the most basic of social prudence?

This leads into what becomes Thrall's most damning problem. He's a storyline singularity. A black hole that warps those around him such that even the most basic literary laws simply don't hold anymore.

The most egregious flaw in Cataclysm was the 4.2 quest chain which unveiled Fandral Staghelm as a traitor, and set the stage for the Aggra/Thrall love story that culminated with the probability of little green/brown babies in upcoming expansions. Staghelm was one of the best characterized and well written characters introduced in World of Warcraft. He's a seething mass of complexes and hatred and old wounds that refuse to heal. He was one of Malfurion's finest students of druidism, and after Malfurion went to travel the Emerald Dream, it was Staghelm who led the night elf forces against the Qiraji in the War of the Shifting Sands. The forces of the Old God C'thun poured out of Silithus, and the Night Elves alone stood against them. Fandral led the army in a brutal war in the deserts of Silithus and Tanaris. This conflict is the event that more than any other defines Staghelm. His only son, Valstaan, served with him in that harsh conflict. Staghelm recognized the threat that the Qiraji posed, not only to Night Elves, but to Azeroth itself, and he beseeched the dragonflights to aid him in his efforts to keep the Qiraji in check. The dragons deferred their entry into the conflict until the Qiraji had pushed all the way to the Caverns of Time. In one battle in the months before the entry of the dragons into the war, Valstaan was captured by a mighty Qiraji general. In front of Fandral's eyes, his only son, his pride and joy, was ripped in half, and left to die on the scorching sands of the desert.
One of the first short stories, and in my opinion, one of the best, that Blizzard made was in preperation for the AQ40 raid, and the opening of the Gates of Ahn'Qiraj. It showed the true measure of the toll that the war had exacted on Fandral.
Fandral looked down, his face twisting in contempt. "I want nothing to do with Silithus, the Qiraji and least of all, any damned dragons!" With that Fandral swung the enchanted object into the magical gates — where it splintered in a shower of fragments — and walked away.
"Would you shatter our bond for the sake of pride?" the dragon asked.
Fandral turned. "My son's soul will find no comfort in this hollow victory, dragon. I will have him back. Though it takes millennia, I will have my son back!" Fandral then strode past Shiromar...
... who could see him in her mind even now, as if it were only yesterday and not a thousand years past.
Clearly, this is a man who has lost much, and harbors much resentment over that loss.

The time preceding the games themselves, Fandral spent clashing with Tyrande over the path that the Night Elves should take. It was Fandral who pushed for the creation of Teldrassil , and who eschewed the blessings from the dragons which had empowered its predecessor. He was arrogant. After all, he had fought the War alone. He knew what a threat the Qiraji were, even before the Bronze Dragonflight could scry it from myriad visions of the future. There were those who would take advantage of his wounds, and his pride.

Xavius, the first Satyr, condemned to live as a tree by Malfurion for 10,000 years after the Sundering of the World, saw Staghelm's flaws as a means by which he could exact his revenge upon Malfurion. He used his magic to plant the notion into Staghelm's mind that through certain actions, he could bring his son Valstaan back to him. This involved using large quantities of Morrowgrain to poison Malfurion, trapping him in the corruption of the Emerald Nightmare, where Xavius could torment him at his leisure. It also involved grafting the tree that Xavius had become onto Teldrassil, exposing the Night Elves home to the corruption of one of Sargeras' oldest servants on Azeroth.

During the events of the novel Stormrage, Malfurion broke free, and confronted Staghelm at the demonic graft on Teldrassil, which Staghelm had come to believe was his son reincarnated. In order to stem the corruption of the tree, Malfurion was forced to destroy Xavius, and the graft. Staghelm, however, was forced to relive the death of his only son. Watching Malfurion kill Valstaan broke Staghelm, and he was sent away to the caves in which Illidan had been imprisoned for thousands of years.

From there, during Ragnaros' assault on Hyjal, Staghelm was intended to be moved to a more secure area in Moonglade. The green dragon Alysra was charged with moving him. She instead defected to Ragnaros, who offered Staghelm a chance to strike back against those that wronged him. Against the dragons, who refused to aid him until his son had died. Against Nordrassil, which had succeeded where his project, Teldrassil, had failed. Against Malfurion, who took his son from him a second time. It's a compelling tale about how the indifference of the forces of good can break a good man, and how a good man can be brought low, despite great physical power, through the exploitation of the weaknesses of the mind. It was one of the stories that I respected most in the Warcraft Mythos.

I've talked a lot about Staghelm in a post that is ostensibly about Thrall, I promise there's a reason for this. Staghelm had a lot of lore behind him. More than most other characters that were introduced in WoW proper. More than even some of the characters brought over from previous games. He was well written, and well developed. The player knows what he's been through, who he hates, and who he serves. It all led up to his becoming Ragnaros' Majordomo, and a raid boss in Firelands, and most importantly, it did so in a manner that made sense, in as much as a story with dragons and giant ant people fighting elves can make sense.

Which brings us to the quest Elemental Bonds. One of the centerpieces of the 4.2 patch, Rage of the Firelands, this quest served as Staghelm's coming out party as an actual villain. Malfurion and the four Dragon Aspects unite to attempt to restore the World Tree. Five of Staghelm's most hated enemies, and Staghelm's hatred has brewed for millennia. Malfurion would go on to lead an assault into the heart of the Firelands, and eventually permanently destroys Ragnaros, Staghelm's new master. Not only does Staghelm hate Malfurion, but Malfurion is also a present threat to Staghelm's new employer. It's a two for one deal for vengeance, always a good move. So, with Staghelm's history, circumstance, and new found power, he crashes the ritual. His five most hated enemies, caught distracted and vulnerable. So what does he do? He attacks Thrall.


A story that Blizzard has been brewing for seven years in real life, and spanning thousands of years in game, and they wreck the ending just to show how awesome Thrall is. That's how destructive Thrall has become to the fabric of the narrative of the game. He's creeping into story arcs that don't involve him, and ruining the endings. Characters are taking complete 180s to bow to the amazing Go'el.

There's a term for characters like this. They're called Mary Sues. They're generally reviled for being an extremely disruptive force in narratives. A lot of times, they serve as author inserts. A way for the writer to live out his story vicariously through the character. This isn't always the case, but they manifest as characters that lack depth. While this is OK for peripheral characters who don't impact the story greatly, when it's the main character, by dint of the amount of time the reader or player spends dealing with the character, they have to be believable. Familiarity breeds contempt. The more time you spend with a character the more the little flaws in the story irk you. It was fine back in Vanilla when Green Jesus could sit on his Throne in Ogrimmar and generally not bother anyone because the story at the time was about the player-character, and as such, it welded itself to the person playing that character quite well. It's the classic silent protagonist that worked so well for Link, Mario, and Crono in earlier games.

In the expansions, Blizzard moved away from the notion of the story really being about the player-character. They had to, because it was a persistent world, and having Bolvar greet me as the one who unmasked Onyxia when I did no such thing in game would be a jarring flaw in the game. As such, the players went from the driving force of events in game, to a more abstract ideal. They're "the adventurers". They're always there, but they're never the reason why the big events happen, because if your character didn't do a particular quest, or dungeon, or raid, some else did, and to keep the game on a single narrative track requires that those loose ends be tied up somehow. Blizzard opted to make NPCs drive the story. Illidan was defeated by Maive and Akama, with an assist from "the adventurers", Kil'Jaeden was banished by Kalecgos and Anveena, with an assist from "the adventurers". It continued into Lich King with Tirion, and Blizzard, in an effort to create a cohesive narrative, went as far as to retcon the Vanilla raids. Varian killed Onyxia, and Darion Mograine stormed Naxx. The players have been relegated to extras in the story that used to be about them.

This isn't a bad thing, per se. The problems have come to a head with Thrall in Cataclysm because Thrall is so poorly written. Thrall has been spoiled. The weight of the failures of the writers have ruined him as a character, and he is beyond redemption. He's been woven so tightly into the fabric of the game that a discrete retcon is impossible. Trying to continue Thrall's story will have ruinous consequences on the narrative, and trying to retcon the mess they've already published would be the most disruptive retcon in the history of the Warcraft Mythos. The time has come to give Thrall a good Wesley-ing. Well, the time came a while ago, but late is better than never. Retire him to Nagrand to raise his little green/brown kids. Kill him off. I don't care. But stop inflicting him on the story.