Monday, 24 December 2012

WoW – A special look at – foreword

Happy Christmas everybody. However, since I don't celebrate the holiday, you're getting nothing special, just another article.

I've mentioned a few times now that I want to take a closer look at the alliance. However, as I was writing that article, I realized I had written down a lot of stuff that had more to do with my views on general warcraft lore rather than the alliance. Since that stuff was still necessary to understand where I was coming from with several of my arguments, I decided to give it an article of its own. So, let's begin.

What do I like about Warcraft?
Let's start with a simple, but important question: Why do I care about warcraft? There's hundreds of fantasy universes, so why did I choose to focus on this one? To my surprise, I was actually able to boil down the reasons pretty well.

Reason 1: Diversity: As a setting, the warcraft universe is INCREDIBLY diverse. This started as early as warcraft 2, where there were no less than 28 different factions involved (11 nations in the alliance, 7 orcish clans on Azeroth, 6 orcish clans on Draenor, the dragons of Alexstrasza, the dragons of Deathwing, the death knights of Draenor, the trolls and the goblins). Admittedly, these factions were not very developed, but it wasn't really necessary. They had enough characterization to be unique, and for players to relate and favor certain factions.

As more warcraft products came out, the number of factions only grew, each with unique characteristics. The characterization for some of the new factions was also much more extensive than that of the original 28, which meant that people could identify much more strongly with them. You certainly see a lot more fans of the night elves than you see fans of Stromgarde. However, while the books offered some development for them, warcraft 3 mostly left the original 28 factions alone, so it could focus on people who had split off to form their own groups (Thrall, Jaina, the Lich King, Sylvanas) or completely new factions (night elves, darkspear trolls, tauren). The old factions were pretty much cannon fodder throughout the campaign or were only seen as team names during victory screens. Really, only three returning factions served as anything more than cannon fodder: The Warsong Clan, Quel'thalas and Kul Tiras. Even Lordaeron, which served as the stage for a large number of missions, was really just a backdrop.

World of Warcraft tried to do something similar to Warcraft 3, giving much more development to the new factions than to the old. The dark iron dwarves, the many new troll tribes and the silithid were all given extensive backstories and connections to the previous games. However, this didn't work out as well as it did before. Warcraft 3 had been an RTS, with each map being only a tiny portion of the planet. If it wanted to ignore a faction, it simply didn't put any missions within that faction's borders. However, world of warcraft is an RPG, with a gameworld covering most of the known landmasses of Azeroth. It can't just skip over a faction the writers didn't properly develop.

That's not to say the writers didn't try though. Dalaran locked itself off for no real reason, the remnants of Alterac got wiped out off-screen, Gilneas blocked itself off with a wall, Kul Tiras and Crestfall weren't included on the map, Stromgarde fell to the syndicate, the hillsbrad foothills suddenly belonged to Stormwind with no mention of what happened to Calia, the Shattered Hand, Twilight's Hammer and Burning Blade clans stopped being clans and the Frostwolf Clan retreated to a single battleground. Not to mention the factions that simply vanished, like the Bleeding Hollow Clan, the Stormreaver Clan, four of the five goblin cartels and the Shadowtooth Tribe. There were also the groups that blizzard didn't develop, but didn't minimize, like the gnolls, the makrura, the ogres, the harpies, the ancients, the dryads, the troggs and the kobolds.

However, that's not to say the diversity is gone. On the contrary, the warcraft world has become more diverse than ever, thanks to the expansions. These were generally a lot better at adding new cultural elements to the world, mostly because they took place in lands that were largely unexplored, leaving room for the writers to add new stuff. Even Cataclysm, which had severe problems in pretty much every regard, gave us interesting new factions. The expansions did have a few problems of their own in this regard though, but we'll address those at a later point.

Reason 2: Clear backstory. In one aspect, the warcraft universe is pretty much unique amongst the popular fantasy franchises: It has an extensive, but easily understood backstory, especially when it comes to ancient history. To show what I mean, its best to compare it to some other franchises. In lord of the rings, the ancient history is given in The Silmarillion, which makes use of such complicated language and extensive metaphors (and things that seem like metaphors but are are actually meant literally) that it becomes incomprehensible to many readers. In Star Wars, the backstory has to be puzzled together from at least a hundred different expanded universe books, much of which contradicts each other or the new movies and television series. For The Elder Scrolls I can't even properly describe the backstory, what with the probably metaphorical home continent of the elves, humans somehow originating from three different continents, the warp in the west, most sources being unreliable due to being written in-universe and the contradictory nature of the daedric gods.

The backstory of the warcraft universe on the other hand makes use of relatively simple language, has the same physical laws for its entire history and can be (and more importantly, has been) explained in only a few pages. While I certainly don't dislike any of the other settings I mentioned, this does set warcraft apart. While it does have some hiccups, they are relatively minor and mostly regard lore that takes place more recently (unless that one theory about elune being a naaru and the holy light being created by the tauren sun god is confirmed, but that's a rant for another day. Maybe even more than one rant.).

What will I let warcraft get away with?
A big part of being a fantasy or science-fiction fan is being able to suspend your disbelief. You need to be able to accept all sorts of ridiculous concepts, like the laws of gravity and flying cities co-existing or societies being stagnant for thousands of years. More than that, you need to be able to accept some internal inconsistencies. If there is a dozen different writers and the works in the franchise are spread out over more than a decade, there is bound to be some things that fall by the wayside.

That doesn't mean you have to accept everything though. I do expect the writers to be paying some attention to what they are doing and try to be as consistent and internally logical as possible. Mistakes can happen, but that doesn't mean I'm happy with them. Still, there is a few things that I'm completely willing to ignore, most of which have to do with maintaining the diversity and the clear backstory I mentioned above.

For example, the history of most of the warcraft factions is extremely lackluster. It seems that most of the human kingdoms didn't have any important events happening between their founding and the first war, despite thousands of years having passed. I'm completely fine with this. That's not to say that the franchise couldn't benefit from some extensions in the backstory, but even then, its fine to just have a couple of hundred years without major events.

Another example is cultural contamination. In real life, all sorts of tiny cultural bits bleed from one nation into the nations that it has contact with. However, to maintain both diversity and a clear backstory, it's much better to ignore this most of the time. The gnomes and the ironforge dwarves get to be two distinct cultures, even in towns with a mixed population. It's actually a bad thing when cultural contamination is handled too realistically, as it takes away from the diversity. If human armies started to build spider-tanks and flying machines, the gnomes would become less distinct. If the orcs started worshiping the earthmother, the tauren would become less distinct. This can even apply internally to cultures, like blood elf magisters learning ranger tricks, or night elf druids learning to channel the power of the moon (more on that later).

On the other hand, having one race have something similar to another race can also be interesting, as long as the two are distinct. The difference between orcish and tauren shamanism is an obvious example of this. You have to be careful with this though. If you have two cultures with different views of the same spiritual being, they can't both be right. And if one them turns out to be wrong, it would make maintaining their culture, which has probably built up a fanbase by now, seem stupid. If you're planning to make one race wrong, it is best to give them only a minor cultural connection, like is the case with the tauren and the ancient guardians.

So, now that we have covered a few basic points, it's time to take a closer look at the alliance. See you all next time.

Friday, 14 December 2012

WoW - horde players' guide - part 2

And, after a long wait, the second part of the horde player's guide has finally arrived. I have a tad more free time coming up, so you can expect at least the next few reviews to be more frequent.

Chapter Five: History and Culture
And we rejoin Brann once more to look at cultures.

Orc: I really like Brann in this section. He is not entirely over his old prejudices, but is still willing to argue for peace. Otherwise, the section is actually pretty good. Brann actually points out a problem I have with the whole “first war is warcraft I, second war is warcraft II” thing, as there really wasn't anything to divide it into two wars in-universe. The history does skip over a few points, so this section can't stand on it's own for people who don't know the backstory yet, but otherwise it's really great.

The culture section is pretty good as well, but does have a few flaws. First of all, I dislike the idea that the clans have disbanded, as it takes away a bit of uniqueness. Plus, it contradicts WoW, where the shattered hand and the warsong outriders still exist. Another flaw is that it states that it was Thrall's policies that brought gender equality, despite the fact that women acting as full warriors within the horde dates back all the way to Warcraft I, where the orcish heroes were both female.

Jungle Troll: Another great section, augmented by the fact that troll history isn't really all that well-known. Most of Brann's information came from a single troll, Vok'fon, so he isn't too sure about the reliability. One interesting bit is that Vok'fon claims that the darkspear tribe merely reclaimed land when they sailed to the darkspear isles, implying that they lived in that area before either the sundering or the war with the night elves.

The culture section is also pretty good, contrasting the modern darkspear way of life with those of the other jungle trolls. The section focuses a bit too much on the other jungle troll tribes though, giving an incredibly detailed listing of hierarchy, which doesn't really apply to the darkspear at all.

At this point, I have to make a special side-note. Most of the books in the 2nd edition of the RPG have featured little side-stories along the text, usually about half a page in length each. I didn't really mention them before because... well, they really didn't have much to do with the content they were placed next to and were too short to be interesting. Even ignoring that limitation, most of the stories were mediocre at best. However, the side stories in this book are exceptionally high quality, tying into the text and sometimes even each other.

Tauren: The tauren history section is... minimalistic. It basically starts at the exact moment that the tauren met the orcs, not giving any history on what they were like before. It does go into detail a bit about how the tauren are changing their ways and Brann speculating that their insight into the world isn't as good as they think it is, but it's too short.

Forsaken: The history section is good, covering all that there is to cover. There is a minor mistake with Brann saying that Garithos' forces were the only remaining humans in Lordaeron, which is false, as, even if he was only referring to the nation rather than the continent, there is still the scarlet crusade, the solliden farmstead and the population of the Hillsbrad Foothills (though that group seems to have joined stormwind since then for some reason, which is something I'll address either when I do WotLK or just a general look at the alliance).

However, I do want to discuss the forsaken joining the horde again. The reason stated in this book is that, after the alliance (which the forsaken didn't want to join due to bad experiences with humans after they broke free of the scourge), the horde is the mightiest faction on the planet, hence why they joined. However, that just seems silly. The horde at this point consists of:
  • The freed remnants of the blackrock, shattered hand, bleeding hollow and warsong clans of orcs, who were so few in number that they could wholly fit on a small stolen human fleet, and that was before two shipwrecks, a massive war, the near-destruction of the warsong clan, the annihilation of Samuro's village, a smaller war, and the frostwolf clan retreating back to their homelands.
  • A single tribe of jungle trolls, which was so few in number that there was still room for it on that very same fleet.
  • An unspecified number of tauren tribes, the most powerful of which was nearing extinction when it joined the horde. A little wiggle room here for the horde to get numbers, but not much.
  • One village of ogres.
  • One nest of Wyverns.
Sure, there's a lot of variety in there and the individuals of all the races are pretty strong, but the horde is severely lacking in manpower. Daelin Proudmoore's fleet was a danger that could have wiped out at least the trolls and the orcs, and that probably wasn't even the full might of the Kul Tiras fleet. The illidari, the trade coalition, the naga and possibly the dark horde should all be at least as powerful, if not more powerful than the current horde, not to mention being in a much better position to help.

Another issue that gets brought up here is one I also raised: Why are nearly all the forsaken human zombies? The zombie part doesn't get addressed here, but the human part does. The forsaken themselves are not entirely sure, but they suspect it has something to do with the power of the human spirit, the fearlessness of humans and more nonsense like that. Seriously, RPG writers (and mr. Knaak), humans are not that exceptional in the warcraft series, so stop saying stuff like that. If you want an excuse, it's easy: Sylvanas' rebellion started in Lordaeron, and most of the undead there were probably locals. Undead that broke free from the lich king elsewhere were still surrounded by loyal undead and were slaughtered. Since then, the forsaken have only been raising the dead in the Tirisfal Glades, where the population was also human. Hence, most of the forsaken are human.

Otherwise though, the culture section is great, giving a lot of nice details, an interesting look at a society and some fun commentary by Brann.

As an amusing little sidenote, the book hints that Varimathras is secretly working for the scourge, sending information to Naxxramas. This would be different in WotLK, where he was secretly working for the burning legion instead.

Ogre: First of all, it's a good call to discuss ogre culture and history here, rather than just focusing on the main playable races. Second of all, this section makes no sense. It says that the orcs waged a massive war against the ogres when the horde first rose, exterminating or enslaving most of them to use in experiments. Because of this, ogres hate orcs to this very day. However, that doesn't fit with with what we see in warcraft at all. Back in warcraft II, there were ogres that were members, or even leaders, of the orc clans. In more recent times, the stonemaul are allied with the horde, at least 4 ogre tribes are part of the dark horde and one tribe was working alongside the demon-worshipping remnants of the blackrock clan.

Also, Brann claims to have fought ogres during the horde attack on Theramore, which makes all kinds of no sense. Brann has mentioned that attack about a dozen times throughout the books and he never claimed to have been involved before. Lands of Mystery, when Brann first traveled to Kalimdor, definitely took place after the battle, so there is no way to fit this into the timeline.

Forest Trolls: Very strong history section that, despite covering a large portion of history (all of recorded history in fact), manages to be fairly complete. It also addresses a few points in lore that had never been addressed, like the forest trolls fighting demons during the war of the ancients, as well as adding some new points, like the forest trolls leaving the horde after the defeat of Gul'dan, rather than waiting for the orcs to be defeated at blackrock mountain.

One thing that is odd though are the knowledge checks for the various horde races, which seem to be written for alliance players rather than horde. It's a bit weird that a member of the horde needs a DC 30 knowledge check to know that they are allied with a tribe of forest trolls.

The culture section is also pretty good, though, like the jungle troll section, it spends more time talking about the forest trolls outside the horde than the ones in the horde.

Cult of Forgotten Shadow: Ugh, organization alignments. You know, it really takes a whole lot of fun out of the setting if you announce up front which organizations are evil and which are good. Otherwise, the section is rather good though.

The Grimtotem Tribe: Calling this a horde organization is a bit of a stretch, as the sole goal of the tribe is not to be part of the horde. Considering the nature of the horde, it might have actually been a good idea to have a whole separate section with enemies that split off from the horde or were members of the previous hordes (in fact, they have a section on enemies to the horde that covers many of these things). Otherwise, the section is pretty strong though.

Chapters Six & Seven: State of the Horde and Threats to the horde
Like chapter seven of the alliance player's guide, this chapter should really have been merged with the one before it, as it repeats many things that were already said there and only adds a rather small amount of information. However, I'm pretty forgiving of it, because it is so well-written. The history section gives a clear oversight of the various races that are or were in the horde and their status before they joined, rather than only focusing on the orcs like most tellings of this story do. The section also has sections for the individual orcish clans and their place in history, which gives nice oversight. There's a couple of weird retcons here though, like the frostwolf clan having fought in the first and second war despite still not being corrupted by demons, or Gul'dan only heading for the tomb of Sargeras after the fall of Blackrock mountain. However, the section is still good despite those tidbits.

There is also a very interesting series of short stories in the sides, which follow the tale of a human paladin named Andarin, who was working to free a mysterious prisoner from the Undercity. In the end, it is revealed that this prisoner was none other than Calia Menethil.

Aside from the short stories, there is a lot of good stuff in this chapter, like the discussion of the various leaders of the horde and their positions, a number of mysterious expeditions centering around major characters (Rokhan seems to have gone off the maps completely and Sylvanas moves to and from Northrend all the time), the reaction within the horde when the forsaken were allowed to join and an oversight of the horde's various holdings. This chapter, along with the alliance equivalent, are probably the strongest chapters in the entire RPG. My favorite parts have to be where Brann points out how easily the warsong battleground situation could be solved:

This is one of many situations where an agreement could probably be reached, but no one bothers. The Horde needs lumber, the Alliance wants to keep the trees alive — so the Alliance could just give the Horde some wood extracted by their wisps. Seems simple enough to me.”

Hey Warsongs: Why cut down the trees in elf-dominated territory and antagonize the Alliance further, when other locations (such as Feralas) are nowhere near as contested? Just food for thought.”

I mentioned earlier that the holdings of the horde were discussed. The list that we are given is fairly complete, but there is one really notable omission: Shadowprey village. This is probably to leave room for a fan theory that the trolls of shadowprey village are not from the darkspear tribe, but are actually a tribe of dark trolls (there is a similar theory for the shatterspear tribe). As far as fan theories go, that one's actually a really good idea. The darkspear tribe has no reason to be in desolace at all, it would finally give the dark trolls some representation and some dark trolls joining the horde is a pretty logical follow-up after the two groups worked together during the battle of mount hyjal.

One more notable development here is that Brann seems to have turned far more neutral than in the previous books, speaking about the alliance as if he is no longer a part of it. This neutral perspective adds a lot to the sections written from his perspective. Despite this being a horde sourcebook, that doesn't mean he'll choose their side, but his dwarven heritage doesn't mean he'll flat-out oppose them on everything either. The alliance is listed right alongside the other threats to the horde, and is not treated differently. Speaking of the threat list, it is very well-written, but seems to have left out the dark horde for some reason.

Chapters Eight & Nine: Horde Military and Bestiary
Like the alliance chapters, this simply lists the various forces inside the horde. It is a bit stronger than the alliance counterpart due to going more into details about the military identities of the various races. However, like the alliance's dire cobras, there is an odd listing on the horde bestiary list in the form of the centaur.

In many ways, this book is similar to the alliance player's guide, starting out as just being fairly okay, and only growing better over time. I'd say that this book is a bit stronger than the alliance book though, as it takes a more detailed look at the culture.

Upcoming reviews: Second arc of the warcraft comic, war of the ancients trilogy, cycle of hatred, a special look at the alliance and something completely different.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

WoW - horde players' guide - part 1

Since I'm taking so long to write this review (busy with college), I'm going to release it in two parts. This is part one, covering about half the book.

I'll admit I'm excited for this book. I don't think I've mentioned it on the blog yet, but I'm mostly a horde player (though that has as much to do with me liking the horde as it does with the horde questlines experiencing much more of the alliance than the alliance questlines do). Our subject matter today is the Horde Player's Guide, the counterpart to the book we reviewed last time.

One good thing about this book is the statement that the alliance player's guide and the horde player's guide have replaced the old alliance&horde compendium and that book no longer counts. Those of you who read my review of that book may recall that the AHC only had a very small portion of the book dedicated to the title factions, so having these new books (which actually give what the title promises) replace it would be weird. However, those who read my review may also recall that the AHC was terrible, so I'm glad it and its nomadic blood elf terrorists are no longer canon.

Chapter One: New races
Like the APG, we're given three new races: half-ogres, half-orcs and forest trolls. As a racial selection, this is kinda weak, due to the fact that none of these races are actually members of the horde. Forest trolls are okay, as there is a sufficiently large group of them associated with the horde, but half-orcs are also found amongst the alliance in large numbers and half-ogres are incredibly rare, with only one of them ever being seen as a part of the horde. Ogres and skeletons/banshees/shades/skeletal mages would probably have been better choices.

Half-ogres: Despite being a half-breed race, half-ogres are actually somewhat united due to most of them being created at a single time, when they were bred to combine the strength of ogres and the intelligence of orcs. Both races, while biologically compatible, aren't naturally attracted to each other, so there's few to none half-ogres that are not descended from this group. As a backstory, this is actually really clever, as it allows the half-ogres to have a somewhat united culture. In this case, they're pretty much Rexxars clones, which is perfectly fine with me. The race is pretty cool and I'm surprised at how well they make it work.

The racial class on the other hand is meh. They get no special tricks, just some stat bonuses and a size increase. Yes, learning about their culture makes them bigger.

Half-orc: The half-orcs have all the narrative problems of half-elves, as well as having the problem of not having any racial history (due to only coming into existence less than three decades ago). It also raises a question. If orcs and humans can interbreed, and humans and elves can interbreed, where are the half-orc, half-elves? The section also makes the mistake of saying that most orcs and humans lost friends to the other side during the third war, despite the fact that the third war battles with the horde only involved a tiny smidgen of humanity.

Forest trolls: Why are these guys in the horde? In WoW, they were never really developed as a culture, so the players always assumed that they had mellowed out compared to the other forest trolls tribes. However, the RPG describes them as evil, savage cannibals who look down on all other races and would like nothing more than destroying them. Sounds like the perfect match for Thrall's horde, right?

Chapter Two: Class Options
First, the orcs get a racial class. They didn't get one before to make them more similar to humans, as humans and orcs “are the most important in the warcraft world” (literal quote from the book), a statement which is partially justified (they have had a lot of influence on recent history), partially false (the orcs in particular currently have very little power) and partially stupid (why does both races being important mean they have to be similar?). It's an okay racial class though.

Variant Classes
Melee Hunter: Exchanges some ranged abilities for melee abilities. Pretty basic and makes sense in lore.

Wandering Hunter: A hunter that draws power from the land, rather than from the animals, changing his normal aspects for different, environment-related ones. While okay, it seem weird that they still get an animal companion.

Uncorrupted Necromancer of Warlock: Basically, the playable orc and troll warlocks from WoW. Doesn't automatically become evil, but gets less bonus feats. Very basic, but necessary lorewise. Even with this, I'm still not particularly fond of the idea of orcish warlocks in the horde.

Battle shaman: A shaman that sacrifices a significant portion of his spellcasting abilities to become an adept melee fighter. Fits pretty well with lore.

Far seer: A shaman that sacrifices a few elemental abilities to gain extra divination spells. The divination spells are a bit weird though. How in the world can Eye of Kilrogg ever be cast as a shaman spell? It's a literal demonic eye!

Hidden Warlock: A warlock with some more mage abilities in order to blend into society. Not entirely sure why it is included in this book, considering hidden warlocks are still working for the burning legion, not the horde.

Racial Iconic Classes
Forsaken Witch Doctor: Apothecary: It's a bit of a weird racial class, as it has absolutely nothing to do with the witch doctor lorewise, but the class abilities match up surprisingly well. The apothecary has severely reduced spell power (gaining none of the witch doctor spells, and only one necromancer spell per level), but makes up for it through even more extended potion-brewing capabilities (being able to use all necromancer spells to create potions, being able to brew more powerful spells into potions, being able to make syringes).

Jungle Troll Witch Doctor: Gives up a few standard healer spells in order to become much more adapt with totems. Fits pretty well with the witch doctor unit from warcraft 3.

Half-ogre Hunter: Exchanges a powerful attack for the ability to call on the aid of animals. They really should have just called this class beastmaster, but otherwise it's okay.

Orc Warrior: Exchanges most of its bonus feats for greater axe skills, the ability to burst into rages and knowledge of where to best strike humans. So, basically, it's a warrior with all of its bonus feats pre-assigned. It makes sense lorewise, but I can't really imagine it adding much to gameplay.

Tauren Shaman: Loses some battle capabilities to create an aura of peace or call upon the ancestors. Another pretty good racial class.

Troll Barbarian: A ranged barbarian to emulate the headhunters from warcraft III. Pretty good class.

Creature class
Again, skipping these due to not really having much of a connection with lore. Not entirely sure why the Centaur are included though, considering they are the ancient enemies of the tauren and have been at war with the horde ever since first contact. The other creature classes are the abomination, the ogre and the ogre magi.

Some feats related to shamanism, the cult of the forgotten shadow and general warrior-ness. They're all actually pretty good.

Chapter Three: Prestige Classes
Bone Crusher: One problem that this book shares with its alliance counterpart (and many other RPG books, even outside the warcraft ones) is the fact that prestige classes are made as if they were core classes. However, Prestige classes are supposed to represent an extra specialization on top of your normal abilities. For example, a dragonslayer builds upon the capabilities of knights, fighters, monks and barbarians (or any other melee class), so would make a great prestige class. In addition, its' often handy to explain a prestige class as being a specific order or being agents of a specific deity, as it explains lorewise why the prestige class is a completely separate training, rather than just being a choice for a core class.

The bone crusher lies at the other part of that spectrum. The bone crusher is a massive brute who fights with his bare hands. As a prestige class, that doesn't work for several reasons. First, why the hell would someone first have to train in another class (which does use weapons) before he can become a weapon-less warrior? Second of all, why do all the worldwide examples of bone crushers (found amongst orcs, ogres, furbolgs, dwarves and mok'nathal) have the same specialized combat rules, despite not having any sort of similar training or source for their magical powers? This class reads like it should have just been a list of warrior bonus feats.

Dark Ranger: Now this is a better example of a prestige class. A small elite group of ranged fighters that gains special magic and training that are available to no one else. The bit that confuses me a bit though is the nature of the dark ranger magical powers. The text explicitly says that they're divine spells, but that some are arcane in origin. What does that even mean? Plus, if they're divine spells, from what deity or power are they drawn? The text makes it pretty clear that dark rangers are older than the cult of the forgotten shadow and that Sylvanas (who doesn't follow the shadow) was the first dark ranger, so it can't be that.

Hexer: A shaman that specializes in the calling of spirits. The class sounds and reads more like a new healer specialization than a prestige class.

Lightslayer: Sneaky agents of the forgotten shadow that fight to purge all traces of the holy light. An absolutely awesome prestige class that fits lore rather well. I really want to see these guys integrated into WoW.

Plagueshifter: With the spread of the plague, the horde has founded a new order of druids specifically to combat it. Another fun class that works well with lore, though I do have to wonder about a horde-exclusive druid order (since all druids are already part of the neutral/alliance-favoring cenarion circle).

Potion Doc: Why does this class exist? No, seriously. We already have a witch doctor class, plus a separate forsaken alchemist racial iconic class. What other major alchemists remain in the horde? Certainly not any that would call themselves potion docs, that's for sure. Maybe as a goblin alchemist variant, but not as part of a horde sourcebook.

Primal: People who unleash the beast within! Not too fond about this class either. While the abilities are pretty good, it again doesn't fit the prestige class mold. It's not a specialisation. It's a completely different combat style.

Pyremaster: Another example of a good prestige class. Pyremasters are a cult of orcish shamans who conduct the funeral rites for great orcish warriors. As orcs burn their dead, the pyremaster has built a kinship with flame, giving him special abilities.

Shadow Ascendant: Another good one, representing the ultimate followers of the cult of the forgotten shadow, who have become one with the darkness. They're powerful priests of darkness, acting as spies. Amongst the jungle trolls, some have even started revering them as dark loa spirits.

Shadow Hunter: Okay, while a decent prestige class, this section contradicts WoW completely by saying that the shadow hunters are the only followers of the loa, despite the fact that we see pretty much everyone in WoW who is associated with voodoo deal with the loa. It's a shame too, because I really wanted to know what the deal was with these guys. What differentiates them from normal loa priests? The Frozen Throne manual was unenlightening as always. My favored theory is that the shadow hunters are followers of the dark troll loa, rather than the jungle troll loa, which would explain their different powers and the fact that they only became playable after the battle of mount hyjal.

Spirit Champion: A warrior who channels the spirits to enhance his combat abilities. It's a pretty cool class, though the lack of a unifying backstory (again), makes me ask why the abilities aren't just shaman feats and/or spells.

Spirit Walker: A being who is neither alive nor dead, but always shifting between worlds. Fevered dreams make them question the very nature of reality, as they slowly ascend into a state where they are no longer one being. The spirit walker is an awesome prestige class, doing a very good job of extending the lore given to them in Warcraft III.

Spymaster: Another sneaky forsaken class. It's getting kinda redundant. In addition, the backstory of this class is confusing, with things like “the horde are the only people who know how to become spymasters, as they tortured alliance prisoners to get the information back during the first war” and “spymasters originate from the orcs, and most spymasters are half-orcs and forsaken, as orcs aren't disciplined enough to become spymasters”.

Techslayer: A warrior who specializes in stopping destructive technology. I'm a bit confused why techslayers are in this book though. Wouldn't the night elves and the furbolg have just as much, if not more need for these guys? Between the forsaken in the east and the goblin mercenaries in the west, I would say that the horde uses far more destructive technology than the alliance, so its weird to see these guys in this book. Giving an actual backstory that would make the techslayers some sort of organization would avert this, but alas.

Wilderness Stalkers: Why can only half-ogres, tauren and jungle trolls teach this art? If those three groups have it, it means it emerged independently on three different continents spread over two worlds. Considering that the class basically amounts to “person sneaks around wilderness and becomes one with it”, it's a serious stretch to say the night elves or the furbolg don't have them. Again, this is why its useful to make prestige classes members of a specific organization.

Chapter Four: Magic and Faith
In this chapter, we take a look at beliefs, magic and faith in the horde. I actually really like this chapter, as it doesn't just boil the beliefs of the western horde down to a vague unified “Shamanism”, but has multiple paths within shamanism, with each race being distinct, as well as having distinctions within itself. It's actually really clever.

Orcs: While the orcs have returned to their shamanistic ways from before Gul'dan's rise to power, there is one tiny problem: No one actually remembers the ways of the shaman. Because of this, there have emerged three distinct movements.
The first are Thrall's loyalists. Since orcs respect power, and Thrall is the most powerful shaman on the planet, they idolize him. These people are shamanistic not because they believe it's right, but because Thrall believes it's right. This group also greatly respects the Tauren, who have similarly powerful shamans, and are inspired by their ways.
The second group are the Walkers of the Old Path. This group seeks to reclaim the shamanistic traditions of ancient Draenor, rather than simply borrowing new shamanistic traditions from the tauren.
Last are the Faithful of the horde. For some reason, the book describes two completely unrelated groups in this section, but we're gonna talk about the first group first. This group has seen the horde's triumph at the battle of mount hyjal, where they helped save the world, as a sign that the horde must be on the right path. These are the guys that strongly support the peace with the alliance.
On the flipside, there are a groups that disagree with the new shamanistic horde. The other Faithful of the Horde see the pact with the alliance as a betrayal of all that the horde should stand for. This group considers the modern horde corrupted and weak, and seek to restore the horde of the second war. Finally, there are the Fallen Orcs, who have once more given in to the lure of demons and seek to restore the horde of the first war.

Tauren: Most Tauren have embraced their new place in the horde, seeing it as their duty to guide their new allies in the ways of shamanism. However, for a few it is different. Traditionalists have heard of the dark past of the horde, and want nothing to do with them, fearing that they may one day drag the tauren into darkness. There is also a few younger tauren who see the freedom and variety within the horde, and have broken with the traditions of their tribes.

Jungle Trolls: The trolls are basically in the same situation as the orcs, with many inspired by the example of Thrall, but a few who try to maintain their old traditions, many of which have now been outlawed. There are also a few jungle trolls who practice a weird mixture of traditional troll shamanism and modern horde shamanism.

Forsaken: The forsaken are split over how they are supposed to regard their current state. For those that follow the forgotten shadow, undeath is something to be embraced. Those who follow the echo of life are becoming addicted to arcane magic as, just for a second, it makes them feel more alive. Those who follow the value of knowledge seek to actually return to life, with many joining the Royal Apothecary Society to study alchemy in the hopes of finding a cure.

The cult of the Forgotten Shadow: The counterpart to the church of the holy light, the members of the cult embrace the values that oppose those of the church. It is a really good read, and, while canon, is sadly underused in World of Warcraft.

Shamanism – Ancestor Worship: As I said, it's really good to see shamanism split into several beliefs. Ancestor worship is pretty much what you'd expect; speaking to and channeling the power of your ancestors. There's a lot of specific little things here that really enhance the section though.

Shamanism – Animism: Every plant, every animal, yes, every rock has a spirit. Respect these spirits, for they may teach you great things. For the tauren, these spirits form a greater whole, a being that encompasses the entire world; the earthmother. The animism section is a bit short, and there does seem to be a jungle troll or ogre section missing.

Shamanism – Voodoo: While normal animists assume that the spirits of the world are mostly benevolent, this is not true to the practitioners of voodoo. Every spirit is trying to harm you. The only thing that can protect you from these spirits is knowing how to deal with them. The beliefs of voodoo for the darkspear tribe have changed much over the recent years, as they have been adapting to the ways of the horde. Again, a good section.

Really good spell list, doing a nice job of staying mostly horde-exclusive, and introducing a few spells that only work on people who are related to you or people who are members of your tribe/clan. Overall, good work.

Magic Items
My main complaint for this section: Most of these items aren't magical. Of, if they are magical, that magic doesn't come from the crafter but from the materials used. So why do they all require spells to craft? There's also a few items that should be completely unique, but can be crafted like normal magical items.

On a more positive note, the “anti-human” magic seen here makes a lot more sense, as it doesn't really only affect humans, just things that are essential to human warfare, like formations and heavy armour.

Chapter Four: Technology
Here is where this book makes a big mistake. To mirror the alliance's player's guide, the horde gets a large technology chapter despite the fact that, generally speaking, the horde isn't all that technological. Sure, they have the occasional inventor, but generally speaking, horde technology is provided by goblin mercenaries and the forsaken (and even that didn't really reach fruition until WotLK).

However, because they need to fill out this chapter, all of the races suddenly have technological advancements of their own. For example, the tauren now have collapse portable metal walls and automated drums. There are still a few technologies in here that could actually fit in with the horde, but its weird to see an atlatl and a freeze gun both requiring the same “use technological devices” check. If you're gonna say the atlatl needs a check like that, wouldn't simple weapons, like bows, crossbows and morningstars, also require one?

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

WoW - Alliances player's guide

We're finally going to dig into the player's guides. I've been told several times that the alliance player's guide and the horde player's guide are the best books in the series, and, flipping through them, I saw a lot of good stuff. However, it's time to take a closer look, as we dig into the alliance player's guide.

Chapter One – New Races
We're given statistics for three new playable races here: The wildhammer dwarves, the Furbolg and the Half-elves. People have been aching to have the former two added to the game ever since WoW came out, so they're great choices. I find half-elves a bit meh, but not a lot of other alliance races remain.

Wildhammer Dwarf: This is a really strong section and most of it is actually still canon to WoW. The only issues here, and the only bits that are non-canon, are things that connect it to the dumber parts of the RPG, like the dwarves being pissed that the blood elves defected from the alliance or tons of dwarves traveling to Kalimdor to establish a base on the slopes of Mount Hyjal. The wildhammer racial traits and levels are also pretty sensible (their -2 charisma certainly makes more sense than that of the ironforge dwarves), though they do keep the nonsensical attack bonus versus giants.

Furbolg: While generally good, there's a few weird things in here. For example, grizzlemaw is identified as the center of furbolg society, despite the fact that there is no furbolg society. All the tribes are independent from one another. The racial levels in furbolg are amongst the weirdest in the game, as they actually physically transform, growing in strength, gaining sharper claws, thicker skins,greater size and sometimes even a different fur color. Actually, its a pretty interesting mechanism, which could actually be explained lorewise. Of course, that's if the RPG ever tried explaining racial levels, but sadly, it doesn't.

Half-elf: One of the main problems of including the half-elves alongside these other races is that they really don't have any attributes for themselves, instead copying those of their parent races. The only attribute that they have for themselves is the racism against them, which is probably why that was so overemphasized in the 1st edition. While I'm glad the ridiculous level of and focus on racism is gone, there really isn't anything left to distinguish the half-elves now and most sections could be replaced with “For most cases, see human statistics, for others, see high elf statistics”.

One thing that confuses me a bit is that half-blood elves are listed as a separate hybrid race, stating that they can't exist in present settings since the blood elf race is only four years old. How the hell does that work? High elves and Blood elves are the same race, distinguished mostly by culture and the fact that the latter draws demonic power. Give a half-elf a red robe and a grimoire, and you got yourself a half-blood elf.

Chapter Two – Class Options
Here, we are given three new kinds of classes: Variant Classes, Racial Iconic Classes and Creature Classes.

Variant Classes
Already established classes that have one or two minor aspects changed.

Lone Druid: Simply a druid without an animal companion, gaining extra spells or attack power in return. Honestly, I'd have preferred if this was the normal druid class, so props for including it.

Totemic Druid: Another good idea for what the standard druid could have been like, this is a kind of druid that adheres to a single totem, like the bear (druid of the claw), the crow (druid of the talon) or the snake (druid of the fang). One thing of note is that the presence of the druids of the fang as a separate totem contradicts LoM, though the version presented here fits better with World of Warcraft (plus, it gives the game designers the opportunity to later add snake-themed spells to the druid class). While only three totems are specified here, its implied that there are more.

Focused Mage: A mage without a familiar, gaining some advantages in return. Like with the lone druid, I'd have preferred this as the standard mage.

Auradin: A paladin without any spell slots, but with increased health and permanent auras. I really like this one, as it works well with some of the old warcraft III units.

Racial Iconic Classes
Mechanically, these act a lot like variant classes, representing the influence of a race's culture and traditions on their iconic races. As far as race-related powers go, these make a lot more sense than racial levels.

Furbolg Shaman: The furbolg shaman loses a few shaman-related powers (flametongue, frostbrand and purge), instead gaining barbarian rage and the ability to cast druid spells. Fits perfectly.

Gnome Tinker: Gnomish tinkers trade a few of their explosive-related abilities (and the resistance they build up against them) for more reliable devices and occasional sparks of genius. A bit less interesting to play, but it makes sense lore-wise.

High Elf Mage: High elf mages lack familiars and specialization in elemental magic, instead gaining a few darker powers. A bit too dark I would argue, as all high elf mages apparently know either necromantic or warlock magics. I think a bonus for pure arcane spells and/or nature-related arcane spells would be a lot more lore-appropriate.

Human Mage: Wait, if both humans and high elves get their own mage specialization, who exactly is in the standard mage class? Most races that use arcane magic are close enough to either high elves or humans that you could justify them using the racial class. I think the only exception to that rule would be troll mages. Amusingly, the human mages also lack familiars, meaning that the focused mage has essentially become standard. In addition, humans don't have enhanced counterspell and lose a bonus feat, instead gaining the ability to summon more elementals, combine spell slots so you can cast higher level spells and the ability to naturally cast a number of spells. Overall, pretty good for a racial class.

Human Paladin: Now this is one I don't get. There are no different origins or organizations for paladins of different races (note that this book was published before the introduction of the light-worshiping draenei and the blood knights). A human paladin and a dwarf paladin are members of the exact same organization and gain their powers in the exact same way with the exact same training, so why does the humans get different auras and more skills with the hammer?

Ironforge Dwarf Warrior: Dwarf Sharpshooter: Now that is a long class name. Like in DnD (and unlike in WoW), fighters/warriors are also the primary ranged class, with hunters/scouts/rangers being more nature-oriented, so that's why the sharpshooter is a warrior variant rather than a hunter or scout variant. The sharpshooter gives up a number of warrior bonus feats in order to gain more skill with a gun and quickly solve mechanical problems. Simple class, but it works.

Night Elf Druid: Like the paladin, this makes no sense as a racial class. All druids gain their powers from the same source and have been trained in the same tradition, no matter their race, so why would the night elf druids get different abilities? However, the night elf druid (like the lone druid) makes a lot of sense as a replacement for the druid base class, with druids losing the brew potion ability and a few bonus feats, in return gaining extra defense (nature itself warns them of impending attacks), the ability to hibernate for long periods and ways to surpass a demon's natural defenses.

Wildhammer Barbarian: The wildhammer eschew ranged weapons, armor and any knowledge of traps, instead gaining lots and lots of luck, immunity to fear effects, increased health and mounts that rage alongside them. The fear immunity and the raging mounts kind of make sense, but the other two are pretty much unexplained. Why are the wildhammer tougher than any other barbarians?

Creature Classes
A number of classes that have been included for gameplay reasons, allowing you to play a normally overpowered race from level 1, rather than having to deal with the hassle that is level adjustment. As creature classes were never really intended to represent the creatures lore-wise, it's pretty futile to discuss it. The races given are ancient protector, dryad, keeper of the grove and mountain giant.

A couple of feats, mostly unremarkable. The only odd one is that apparently night elves can empower their magic by dancing.

Chapter Three – Prestige Classes
Man, we get a lot of classes this book.

Ace: Basically, someone who specializes in driving vehicles. While I do like this class, it's kind of hard to imagine an ace entering a dungeon. One notable oddity about this class is that it covers both aerial and ground-based vehicles, but all the terminology only references aerial vehicles.

Dead Shot: The dead shot is essentially a sniper. Like the ace, it's hard to imagine the dead shot being part of a group of adventurers, though it could work in a stealth-centered campaign.

Demon Hunter: Pretty much the demon hunter from warcraft III. The only notable difference is that the RPG Demon Hunter will eventually turn into a demon himself, a process which isn't explained (and seems kind of odd, considering Illidan himself only became demonic after absorbing an incredibly powerful, one-of-a-kind demonic artifact).

Exemplar: Exemplars serve as inspiration to their allies and strike fear into the heart of the their enemies! So... other classes don't inspire their allies and bring fear to their enemies? There is no mention of any of special magic or training being involved (which makes me wonder how the exemplars can project their voice), so this class just leaves me scratching my head. Is carrying a flag really enough to warrant a prestige class?

Gunman: And yet more unexplained powers that should only be possible through magic, though at least this time, the book is nice enough to actually point out that it makes no sense for the gunmen to think that their powers are just the result of good training. Not nice enough to give an explanation though.

Mountain King: Unlike the mountain king in the first edition, the abilities of this class aren't drawn from the knowledge about the dwarven titan heritage. However, they are still drawn from the spark of titan magic inside the dwarves (the dwarves just didn't know about the source yet). As far as prestige classes go, this one is just about perfect.

Sapper: Why is this class in the alliance's player's guide? Sappers seem more like a goblin thing, probably best suited for More Magic & Mayhem. Otherwise, this class also feels a bit excessive, as roughly the same could be achieved by playing a rogue/tinker and there isn't really any specific lore either. Usually, prestige classes represent some sort of elite order that gets specialized training, but this book seems to have a bit of a problem with that.

Savagekin: Now this is a better example. The savagekin are a group of druids who have completely given themselves to animal instincts, spending most of their lives living shapeshifted in the wild. It's a cool class concept. The only weird thing is that half-elves are listed as being the most common savagekin race, alongside night elves. The night elves are extremely wary of high elves and half-elves, so its kind of hard to imagine that a large enough section of the half-elf populace not only moved to Kalimdor, but was allowed access into the night elf lands, was allowed access into the moonglade itself, studied druidism, learned about a sub-sect of feral druids, decided to join them and learned their ways, all in the span of only 4 years.

Sister of Steel: A female blacksmith, who occasionally fights, prestige class. I think that supersedes the exemplar as the dumbest prestige class concept I've seen. I also have no idea how it is in any way relevant that the members of this class are female. Do female smiths get extra magical powers? The magical powers of the sisters are also weird, as they seem linked to the titan heritage of the dwarves, despite the fact that humans and gnomes can also become sisters of steel (this is long before the humans and gnomes get their backstory as titan creations, so you have to wonder why this fact doesn't raise any eyebrows in-universe). The position of the sisters of steel as “performing the tasks traditionally reserved for men” also makes no real sense in the warcraft setting either, as gnomish, human and (to a slightly lesser extent) dwarven women have always been portrayed as smithing and battling merrily alongside men. If you really want a female empowerment class, why not use sentinels or huntresses?

Ursa Totemic: It's a furbolg barbarian. The entire class has been designed as an extension of the Furbolg's racial levels, which basically translates to “act slightly more like a bear”.

Warden: Another class that would make sense as female-only, but no, we've gotta keep that for the blacksmiths. Otherwise, this is an excellent example of a good prestige class.

Windwarrior: The article only describes the wildhammer dwarves who fly flying mounts, yet they call the class windwarrior rather than gryphon rider? Actually, the article later mentions in a sidebar how different races take different mounts, but that only makes it more confusing because the entire rest of it is about the wildhammer dwarves.

Chapter Four: Magic
Oh yay, more magic-related stuff. As usual, the magic in the the book is completely mishandled. I'm gonna give you a full quote
At the same time, the Alliance is wary of magic, particularly arcane magic. Divine magic is far more benevolent, coming as it does from well-intentioned gods or directly from nature. But arcane magic draws from the Well of Eternity, which was not part of Azeroth until created by the titans, themselves outsiders. And arcane magic is far more vulnerable to corruption.”
The stuff related to divine magic is the usual BS that we've seen before. No, RPG writers, not all sources of divine magic are good. I'm also not exactly sure why the well of eternity being created by outsiders is relevant here either. First of all, the alliance doesn't actually know that the well of eternity was created by the titans. Second, the well of eternity is the source of most of the life on the planet, which means that if the well of eternity is a dangerous source of magic for that reason, nature itself is also dangerous.

Ironforge Dwarves: Guys, I just said that the alliance doesn't know about the well of eternity's creation. That means you don't get to make the discovery of that fact spark a cultural revolution. Hell, at this point the dwarves have barely confirmed their own connection to the titans, let alone studied the history of anyone else.

Wildhammer Dwarves: The section is pretty good, and being wary of arcane magic does actually fit with what we know about the wildhammer dwarves.

High Elves: Hurray for good retcons! First retcon of the section is that the high elves causing the third war is just a belief held by some idiots, rather than actual canon. Second retcon is that the blood elves outnumber the high elves by far, meaning the events from Warcraft 3 are probably canon again.

Night Elves: An actual good section, having the night elves' distrust of arcane magic be a result of their history, without having the omniscient narrator confirm or deny it.

Furbolgs: Another good section, with the very nature of arcane magic (taking control of the world) going against the Furbolg philosophy.

Gnomes: Gnomes aren't all that interested in arcane magic, because they don't become enamored with their own power and are too humble to look down upon others? That's fine and all, but neither of those are requirements for becoming a mage.

Human: Humans are better mages than other races because they have a wider emotional range and are therefore more passionate. The book also points out how odd it is that the humans aren't addicted to arcane magic, despite the fact that the high elves are only addicted because of their connection to the sunwell. The whole “humanity is young and therefore they haven't learned their mistakes” card is played up here as well, and it really doesn't fit in the warcraft setting. The oldest human kingdoms are over 2000 years old, having practiced magic, both arcane and divine, for most of that period. If at this point they haven't had mages become corrupted or religious people lose faith, only heard about it in tales from other races (which the book states), it's not a result of merely being a young race.

Spell List
While there are a few good spells in here, many seem to be assigned to the wrong class, like druids getting a ton of mount-related spells that seem designed for windwarriors, Fan of knives and a few night-related spells being given to the mage class or vengeance being a warlock ability. There's also a few weird ones, like a spell that specifically enrages orcs, a priest spell that allows you to see titans' foot- and hand-prints or a mage spell that allows you to draw straight lines. More than half of this spell list could have been dropped from the book or turned into class abilities.

Magic Items
And three other magic items (sword, helmet and ring) that specifically targets orcs. It just seems a bit odd that there is magic that targets a single race. Just doesn't feel right to me. However, more importantly, why is there only specialized magic for fighting orcs? All the members of the alliance have fought trolls for much longer than they have fought orcs, so why aren't there any spells targeting them? Also, these books really need a way to restrict the making of specific magical items to either a divine caster or an arcane caster, as wildhammer and night elf magic items can be made by any arcane caster.

Chapter Five: Technology
The races and technology section is a bit weird, as it only lists four races: Dwarves, elves, humans and gnomes. Yeah, it groups the elves together, because both groups apparently disdain technology. Honestly, I'd let that one slip if the chapter hadn't actually given a description in the opening:
[Technology] is science applied to practical use. Thus, by this definition, a simple can opener is a technological device. A more accurate description is that technology is the system by which an entire society provides for the wants and needs of its population”
Which means that things like the night elf glaive thrower or the elven navies pretty succinctly fall under technology. It's also weird how it lists the elves despite them supposedly being non-technological, but doesn't list any information on the wildhammer dwarves or the furbolg.

Otherwise, the section is pretty good. The tech-mods are all pretty nifty and have nice backstories. Most other technological devices are also pretty good, tough a few are a bit on the high-tech side (a dwarven armour that projects a forcefield around it, a gnomish amulet that invokes chaos energy to give a random benefit), though that also goes for a number of devices that were directly brought over from WoW.

Chapter Six: History and Culture
For this chapter, we switch narrators to Brann Bronzebeard.

Night Elf
This history section has A LOT of errors. Seriously, doesn't anyone double-check this sort of stuff? Just a sample of the errors in this section: The night elf males were all druids before the war of the ancients, all magic (both divine and arcane) stems from the night elves and Azshara was stopped by an elite guard of arcane-wielding warriors known as the moon guard, with no mention of the other contributors. Even from Brann's in-character point of view, these mistakes don't make sense, as he has night elf sources readily available.

On the other hand, the culture section is very, very well-written and should be mandatory reading for any blizzard employee writing night elf quests. However, my favorite line is this:

However, some night elves get a little… overzealous about their work. Apparently, night elves have this idea of what nature should be like. Their concept of “nature” seems to mean “forest.” I wouldn’t be surprised if many night elves felt the only “natural” nature is that which is created and cultivated within their own lands”

This line pretty much perfectly grasps the way the night elf druids interact with the world. No, it's not natural, but for the night elves, it is what they see as the perfection of nature. The description of the roles of priests and druids is also great. The book makes it very clear that Tyrande is the sole leader of the population and the arch-druid only has authority over the druids. I need to make one correction here about my comic review though, as this book also states that only men could become druids and came out several years before that book. However, my objections to the idea still stand.

High Elf
Now this is a strong section. It manages to explain the seperation between the high elves and the blood elves in a way that makes sense and doesn't simply write one section off as evil or wrong (many elves sought refuge in the alliance after the second war, relying on their charity. Most of the elves were appaled by this behaviour and organised to retake their homelands, renaming themselves blood elves. The blood elves think the high elves are pussies for not defending their homelands, while the high elves think the blood elves are monsters for using such dark magic).

One of the biggest problems with including the half elves in a book like this is that its hard to make any sort of generalisations about them. Half-elves are found in every human and elven culture on the planet. That is eight different nations (Dalaran, Stromgarde, Stormwind, Lordaeron, Quel'thalas, Gilneas, Alterac and Kul Tiras), each with their own culture. In addition, half-elves are incredibly low in number, meaning they didn't form any culture of their own during the thousands of years they've been around. This section tries to do this fact justice, having Brann state that there really isn't any way to talk about half-elf culture. However, it still generalises way too often. Plus, its kind of hard to imagine all human culture as being this universally racist, considering their nature. Kul Tiras is a trade empire with contacts all over the world. Dalaran was founded on the foundations of working together with the high elves. Are those cultures really going to react the same to half-elves as the isolationist Gilneans, the gruff warriors of Stromgarde or the distant Stormwinders? What about the half-elves who joined the trade cartels, or the half-elves that moved to Khaz Modan? Since they're treated as outsiders anyway, they're much more likely to leave their homeland, so there should be pretty significant populations after the thousands of years they've been around. Also, if humans and high elves are able to interbreed and consider each other hot enough that even first contact resulted in babies, and thousands of years have passed since then, shouldn't a significant portion of both the human and elf population be part elf/human?

Awesome section, covering a huge amount of lore with great accuracy and new insights. It's also pretty funny, with Brann's snark making even the darkest moments seem pretty funny. One small point of critique is that Brann specifically mentions "retribution paladins", even though the different WoW paladin specialisations are just a gameplay element. Lorewise, a paladin is a paladin. Though some may specialise in certain styles of battle, there has never been any indication that there is a sharp distinction between several groups. And if there was, this book would have been the perfect opportunity to introduce it, but this is all the mention we're getting. To counter the minor plot hole, the book turns a previous error into a mystery, with Brann pointing out how odd it is that the undead of duskwood are found so far to the south.

Brann's snark is also present in the culture section, though it is a bit odd when he gripes about the humans putting people in charge by right of birth. Hey, Brann, isn't your brother a king? One thing that makes perfect sense lorewise, but which I don't like personally, is that the human cultures are starting to mingle due to all the refugees banding together in Stormwind and Theramore. I really liked the diversity of humanity. On the other hand, the formation of new cults/orders of the holy light (which may or may not be sanctioned by the arch-bishop) is an idea that makes perfect sense and which I like. Many religious texts have been destroyed in the past thirty years, so no one can bring out any evidence that your new crazy cult contradicts the teachings of the light. Of course, there is plenty of darker cults as well.

Ironforge Dwarves
Another must-read for any fan of Warcraft lore. I especially like the idea that the name of the dwarven race actually stems from the human language, as the humans were the ones who thaught the dwarves writing and some of the finer nuances of language. Another fun fact is that dwarves didn't used to have days (due to living underground), but had 10-hour shifts. They switched to 8-hour shifts when they became part of the alliance, so three shifts match to a single day.

Wildhammer Dwarves
Another great section. One thing of note is that Brann says that the Wildhammer Dwarves generally revere the earth mother, and that some wildhammer dwarves on Kalimdor have started studying the teachings of Elune.

The gnome history section is... not particularly enlightening. For some reason, the gnomes don't really know anything about their history prior to their discovery, which was a little over two hundred years ago, and there is no information given we don't already know.

Actually, even looking at WoW, the backstory of the gnomes seems incomplete. We know that the gnomes are descended from the Mecha-gnomes, who were made by Mimiron in Ulduar, but how did they get to Dun Morogh without leaving a presence anywhere else in the world? And if the being who created the gnomes was created on and never left Azeroth, what's with the sand gnomes?
(Personal suggestions: The gnomes are descended from a group of mecha-gnomes that got sent to re-seal the doors of Uldaman after the dwarves first broke out, but were infected by the curse of flesh in the process. Being created after the curse of flesh was identified by the titans, they recognised the symptoms and decided to stay in the region to avoid infecting Ulduar/the sand gnomes are the gnomish members of the alliance expedition who had a devolution similar to, but not as extreme as, dwarves and troggs. The rumoured sand gnomes of Silithus are descended from the mecha-gnomes of Uldum. You can also tie pigmies into this theory as being the next step down from sand gnome, which would also mean that gnomes and goblins are related.)

The culture section is fun though, and manages to make the gnomes excentric without going over the top in ridiculousness.

While still pretty good, one problem of this section is that they keep saying that the furbolg are staying neutral because they don't want to offend their ancient friends, the tauren. Nowhere in WoW or WC3 has there been anything to suggest any sort of friendship between the tauren and the furbolg. Or any sort of regular contact at all. I'm not even sure we've ever seen a furbolg and a tauren stand in the same building.

The Argent Dawn
This really doesn't read like the argent dawn from World of Warcraft at all. There, the argent dawn are a group of knights, paladins and assorted allies who exist to fight the scourge. Here, they are some global anti-evil organisation who fight evil races in general, having a strong presence in northern Kalimdor (Rather than a small group of random paladins like in WoW). In addition to the scourge and the burning legion, they also fight the twilight's hammer and the scarlet crusade. They're also likely planning on attacking the forsaken when they get more members. Brann is more than a little suspicious of the argent dawn, going so far as to speculate that they were a secret cult before the third war and casting suspicion on how oddly young many leaders in the argent dawn look.

The book does however explain that the paladins of the argent dawn wield the power of the light in an unconvential way, which would explain the "argent dawn templar" prestige class we saw a while back. It goes a bit against the explanation given in that book, but I'm going to let it slide as that explanation made no sense.

Church of the holy light
Membership count: 800,000...

Well, the horde is truly and deeply screwed if war ever breaks out. Let me remind you that the ironforge dwarves and the gnomes of gnomeregan are not followers of the holy light in this continuity. And yes, the entire church is aligned with the alliance. Groups like the argent dawn and the scarlet crusade are seperate. That means that there are 800,000 humans and high elves alone in the alliance. That's not counting most ironforge dwarves, the gnomes, the furbolg, the wildhammer dwarves, humans who aren't members of the church and, most importantly, the night elves. Makes you wonder why the alliance and the horde are seen as equals when the difference in numbers is so incredibly high.

Otherwise, the section is pretty good. But damn, that membership count is ridiculously high.

Kirin Tor
Membership count: 120

Well, dalaran has no chance of ever becoming a major faction ever again, what with having only 120 mages at its command. And that's including the ruling council, apprentices, lorekeepers and librarians. It's also weird that Jaina Proudmoore isn't listed as a member, despite the fact that she was being trained by Antonidas himself and is probably the most powerful human mage still alive.

Chapter Seven: Alliance History and Current situation
The start of this chapter should not exist. While the chapter takes a look at the alliance as a whole, the start of it again takes a look at the individual races, repeating what was said last chapter. The only new thing present is that the individual nations of humanity are discussed, something which really should have happened last chapter.

One big problem with the seven human kingdoms is that stormwind was never given an identity of its own, being more of a gestalt of the other human nations. It has the magical schools of Dalaran, the fleets of Kul Tiras, the religious presence of Lordaeron, the warrior king of Stromgarde, the shady nobles of Alterac and the not-helping-our-supposed-allies (which was pretty much the only thing that defined Gilneas before Cataclysm) of Gilneas. As a result, Stormwind is pretty much the blandest faction in the entire franchise, yet for some reason, the warcraft writers insist on focusing on it. You'd think that being located on the other side of the continent from the rest of humanity for over a thousand years would have given Stormwind some unique traits, but apparently not.

However, that's a rant I will continue when we get back to Wrath of the Lich King and the comic series. This book has far, far less focus on Stormwind as the center of humanity. Hell, it's made clear that Stormwind is NOT the leader of the alliance. Instead, its pointed out that, mostly thanks to Lady Katrana Prestor, the eastern part of the alliance is in serious danger of falling apart. It's also hinted that the western part of the alliance may outnumber the eastern part, meaning the night elves still have a lot of their population left (which is only logical, hence why it was completely ignored when the cataclysm rolled around). The western part of the alliance is also a lot more united, what with it's members being either night elves or under the command of Jaina Proudmoore. The night elves are actually slowly settling in the role of alliance leadership, slowly gaining a presence in the eastern kingdoms. It's also hinted that the main reason the druids don't work with the alliance is due to Fandral Staghelm. Again, makes perfect sense, but completely ignored for Cataclysm.

Of course, there's still a few minor problems (Brann stating that the stormpike dwarves were the inhabitants of Alterac valley and the orcs and trolls were the invaders, the troll presence in the hinterlands being caused by trolls travelling south to avoid the scourge), but they're really minor and can be handwaved by Brann simply not knowing these things. Overall though, this section is awesome.

To end the section, I'm going to quote the part about relationships with the horde:
I’ll be frank. There’s no good reason why the Horde should be a threat to us at all. The overwhelming majority of the problems with the Horde are of our making — but all that said, we still have to deal with them. For the time being, the Horde is now our most “obvious” enemy, in that they are numerous, and old hatreds put the fight with them at the top of nearly every priority list. It’s silly — both the Alliance and the Horde should be dealing with the Scourge first — but that isn’t happening, and we have to deal with it. We need to push for a ceasefire, at least to get the time to smash the Scourge in Lordaeron.

Chapter Eight & Chapter Nine: The alliance military & bestiary
Mostly a listing of NPC stats for the various alliance forces. Not really anything of note, though there is the odd listing of a dire cobra and a dragonhawk which doesn't look like the one from Warcraft III. Or looks like what's being described in the text.

Seriously, does that look like something you can fly into battle? And what the hell is up with the left leg? And how is this creature “Majestic”?

This book leaves me a bit divided. Generally speaking, the first half of the book is 'okay' at best, and 'mediocre' at worst, with many of the newly introduced mechanics not really leaving any impression. It honestly feels like half the stuff is only there to fill space. However, the latter half of the book is fantastic and a must-read for any fan of warcraft lore and anyone working at blizzard.