Thursday, 29 March 2012

Warcraft - The Alliance & Horde Compendium

Welcome to the third review in the Warcraft RPG series, a book that introduces the concepts of The Frozen Throne(TFT), the expansion to warcraft III, to the RPG universe, as well as integrating some other stuff. Which means I can finally stop asking whether the game takes place before, after or during the events of TFT.

Chapter I: the new blood
The first chapter is an expansion to the second chapter of the core rules, adding seven new races and eight new prestige classes.

Dwarf, wildhammer: The legendary gryphon riders of the alliance. They're a shamanistic race, close to the world of spirits. They wield the power of the thunder and ride into battle atop the majestic gryphons. Culturally, they're actually much closer to the Horde. Their section is pretty decent, with the exception of a single line: “Wildhammer dwarves have no particular home region in Kalimdor.” The core rules had already established the fact that the wildhammer dwarves are based in Ashenvale.

Elf, blood: Blood elves really, really gotten the shaft from the RPG. In TFT, the blood elves were the majority of the elven race, having been abandoned or misused by all of their former allies. They had no chance for survival, until lady Vashj and Illidan came along, and gave them a way to survive. They were depraved of the magic they were born with, yes, but they survived and stayed moral even when everything was trying to kill them. Seriously, name me one morally questionable act committed by the blood elves in TFT. In the RPG, the blood elves are only a small part of the elven survivors of the third war, and are manic power-hungry A-holes. Everything they do is to further their own position or to gain more power. Blood elves are rejected by the goodly high elves (literal quote), and are an example how even a mighty race can fall to depravity. Because its the blood elves that are depraved, not the guys who tried to commit genocide on them out of racism. Also, despite two races (same number that made up the horde in the core rules) being loyal to Illidan being included in this book, they're all listed as independent, rather than just adding a third faction.

Furbolg: Savage walking bears, many of which have fallen to the corruption of the legion. They are allies with the night elves and regard the tauren with esteem. Most notably, they sent assistance during the battle of mount hyjal, the final battle of the original Warcraft III. The only problem I have is that their favored class is fighter rather the more logical barbarian or healer.

Gnome: The now-famous tiny people with the technological obsession. They are clever, quick and don't like the high elves. But who in the RPG does?

Naga: The great sea-serpents, hidden beneath the waves of the great sea. With powerful arcane magics and devastating mutated soldiers, these creatures have only recently begun appearing, for some mysterious reason. I really look forward to hearing about their plan. Which isn't elaborated on in this book at all. Or in any other warcraft media after this. Huh. So, why did they emerge again? And how did Illidan know that they were still alive? Oh well, I guess it isn't important. And another race loyal to Illidan. Seriously, they should have added an illidari faction.

Pandaren: Aah, the drunken chinese panda warriors from the hidden continent. Well, the other hidden continent. For some reason, the pandaren are said to have more of a kinship with the alliance than with the horde. Last I checked, the pandaren were a shamanistic race that enjoyed resting, a good drink, culture, connecting with the spirits and travelling the lands to discover new inner peace, which would pretty much make them an even mix of tauren and dwarf.

Troll, jungle: The writer of this entry apparently did not realize that the world of azeroth had more than one species of troll, as the entry states that the trolls are constantly fighting the high elves, which applies to forest trolls.

Now, overall, a pretty good selection of races. I'd have included Ogres, Draenei or Satyrs instead of Pandaren, but that's just me.

Prestige Classes
Death Knight: The great warriors of death, commanders of the undead legions and champions of the scourge, the death knight represent everything that is cold, dark and evil. The article mentions that Arthas was the first death knight, though I'm not sure of that, since we know that the old orc horde had death knights as well, though the exact similarity is never made clear.

Demon hunter: To hunt something, you must know it. To best know it, you must become it. This was the philosophy of the demon hunters, who started using arcane and even fel magic in order to hunt down demons. The demon hunter prestige class is limited to night elves, blood elves and humans. Now, night elves, I can get behind, seeing as they had the unit in warcraft III. Blood Elves are pretty logical as well, as they could have learned it from Illidan, the greatest and most famous of the demon hunters. However, I have no idea why humans can become demon hunters. There is not a single explanation I can think of that doesn't also have the high elves as a possible race. Also, only people with a good alignment can become demon hunters. Despite half this book being dedicated to try and set up Illidan as a major villain.

Dwarven Avatar: An entire class based around the bizarre dwarven archeology religion called Mystery of the makers. And I find it weirder and weirder. I'm really not quite sure how this class is supposed to work. Is fighting supposed to increase the amount of "hey, we are descended from titans!" realization, since otherwise, how could this class have levels? If the dwarves already have the power, why do they have to meditate at specific altars? How come no dwarf ever realized "hey, I have the innate ability to turn into stone!" It's not really a complaint (unlike treating the mystery of the makers like a religion), but it's just something that really, utterly baffles me.

Marksman: This guy likes guns. Not really a lot else to say. Kind of bland for a prestige class.

Necromancer: Capable of creating entire armies on their own, necromancers are one of the most dangerous and horrible beings on the planet. I know I already mentioned it back in the core rules, but I think it's worth going back to: Why are all the necromancer spells in the core rules book? There is no apparent reason for it. Even padding couldn't possibly apply, since the core rules book, even discounting the necromancer spells, is already a lot bigger than the 124-paged Alliance&horde compendium.

Primal: A class that focuses on physical strength, losing themselves into the rage of battle and becoming more and more like an animal. Wait, isn't that just a barbarian with a few levels of beastmaster? Why does this warrant a new class? It's not like the class really has any unique and interesting abilities or background.

Warmages: Wizards study. It's simply what they do do. Normally, they study up high in their violet towers, noses in their books. But that is not what the warmage does. The warmage knows how to fight as part of a larger battle-group, altering his spells to suit the needs of the army.

Windrider: It's a knight/huntress/raider... IN THE SKY! Okay, that's a bit unfair, as the classes play pretty differently. Still, there isn't really more to it than 'sit on an animal and throw stuff' and it feels like it should just be a build for knight/huntress/raider rather than a unique class.

Overall, not all that bad a choice regarding the classes. Though again, 1 exclusive to the alliance(dwarven avatar), 1 generally only played by non-horde (warmage) and one not available to the horde (demon hunter). There clearly is a bit of a bias regarding focus going on.

Chapter Two: Cho... WAIT!
Why is this book called the alliance and horde compendium? Of the seven new races, only three belong to either the alliance or the horde, and only one out of eight classes is exclusive to either side. That's less than one third of the new content. So yeah, bad name.

If they wanted to make an alliance&horde compendium, it wouldn't really be that hard either. Have the dark trolls from the last warcraft III mission join the horde, and you could have three new horde races (dark trolls, jungle trolls and ogres). Then you could add the dryads/keepers of the grove, furbolg, wildhammer dwarves and gnomes to the alliance. You get seven races.
Classes isn't that hard either. Just add some of the units from warcraft III. Shadow hunter, far seer and witch doctor for the horde. Dark knight, mountain king, warmages and warden could be your alliance options. Wind riders can not be taken by independent races any way, so you get a grand total of eight classes. But apparently, they just didn't care about the title.

Chapter II: Choosing Sides
This chapter is supposed to expand the racial descriptions with the events of the frozen throne. That is not what it does. Instead, it just serves to introduce plot holes and set Illidan up as a villain.

The alliance
Humans: Why exactly are the humans not allowed to settle anywhere but theramore isle? True, there isn't exactly much good fertile land left, since Feralas has not yet been established, but it's not like the horde, of which they are said to be jealous, has better land. Durotar is pretty much the most barren piece of rock in the world and the barrens will boil anyone alive. From the description of durotar given in the core rules, it sounds like even thousand needles or tanaris desert would be an improvement, and those places are free for alliance taking. There is no reason for them to stay on the island. Hell, the night elves didn't have any objections to the wildhammer dwarves settling in ashenvale, so why don't the humans just move to Darkshore, which the night elves don't care about?
Why is this chapter bringing up Illidan? He has nothing to do with the human backstory. Apparently some mages told the night elves it was a bad idea to try and kill Illidan, but that's really all it amounts to. I have no clue why this piece of text is in here. It also introduces a major plot hole regarding TFT, where the night elf forces were unaware of Illidan's plan to destroy the lich king, freeing the world of the undead. Here they were fully aware that Illidan was trying to kill him, but stopped him anyway. And for some reason, this is portrayed as the right decision, despite the fact that it makes no sense.
Ironforge Dwarves: As good a time as any to bring it up: When did the dwarves discover their titan heritage? In some sources it's only after settling on Kalimdor and the discovery of Bael Modan, while other sources say it was the excavation of Uldaman, before the third war, that led to the discovery. This piece of text seems to settle on Uldaman, with the actual renaissance being triggered by the discovery of Bael Modan. But that conflicts with the presence of dwarven avatars during warcraft III.
Also, the dwarves apparently fought Illidan at one point and hate him and all other power-mad elves. We didn't actually get to see any of this in warcraft III, where the dwarves were just another race repressed by Garithos' rebellion. Also, Illidan is now apparently planning attacks on everyone, not just the frozen throne. For gods' sake, why don't you just give him a disney villain song while you are at it?
High Elves: Wait, when in the hell did the high elves fight Illidan? Also, apparently Illidan no longer left for outland voluntarily, as seen in TFT, but was now driven back by a unified alliance army. Also, the evilness of the blood elves is played up again. Seriously. Villain Song.
Night elves: And another story regarding Illidan takes up the whole section, but this time its even weirder. Apparently they thought that, when Illidan used the eye of Sargeras, he was trying to become the new lich king. Also, it was Illidan's second attack on the frozen throne that allowed Arthas to become the lich king.
Wait, what? Illidan's entire goal in the campaign was fighting Arthas and the lich king! He fought him to the very last end! True, his first attack inadvertently led to Arthas needing to merge with the lich king (though it wouldn't if Malfurion had just thought for a second and realized Illidan wasn't planning on merging with an undead orc), but afterwards he opposed Arthas at every single step. The entire point of the second attack was to kill Arthas and destroy the frozen throne. 
Gnomes: Minor complaint, but this section is under the impression that ironforge mountain is located in Lordaeron, when it already was established in earlier games, books and even in the core rules that the mountain was in Khaz Modan.
Half-elves: Apparently, the half-elves are as loyal to the alliance as ever. No wait, that's the first half of the paragraph. In the second half, the alliance only is the means to an end. Consistency? Editing? What's that?

The horde
Apparently the relations between the horde and the alliance were severely damaged by Illidan fighting Arthas at the end of the TFT campaign. Even though neither faction was involved in that battle. Even the book doesn't bother to explain this.
Jungle Trolls: The piece of writing contradicts the manual of Monsters, which stated that the jungle trolls hail from the lands south of stormwind, while this book says all the jungle trolls live on the islands between Kalimdor and the eastern kingdoms.

Independent Factions
Blood elves: Oh dear god, this is going to suck. Apparently the blood elves are a group of nomadic terrorists now, who have drained demons in a mad lust for power, only joining Illidan because he could promise them even more. 
Goblins: I love this section. Goblins actually sell their deforestation skills to the nature-obsessed night elves, to help deal with corrupted felwood forest. That's brilliant!

Chapter III: The craft of war
Lots and lots of rules regarding big battles. It's a bit odd to put it in this book, as it has thematically little to do with the rest of the book. I try to limit my comments to lore, so let's skip over this section.

Appendix I: Weapons of war
This chapter should not be in this book. It simply does not have anything with the warcraft franchise. It's supposed to give rules for the siege weaponry in the warcraft universe. Except that the rules given here are for ballistas, catapults, crossbows and trebuchets. You might notice a few things that are missing from that list. Warcraft III featured mortar teams, steam engines, boiler-powered demolishers, shredder sawing machines, sapper suicide squads, corpse-throwing meat wagons and building-freezing frost wyrms. None of those things are described in this appendix, which just describes some generic medieval weaponry.

Chapter Not-In-This-book: Missing
What really astounds me about this book is that it so small, with only 124 pages, less than any other book in this edition of the RPG, and nearly half of these is used on chapter III and appendix I, which have nothing to do with the rest of the book (or the warcraft universe for that matter). So what exactly could be added?
  • Expanded creature list. A lot of the new TFT creatures were not included in the manual of monsters. Void walkers, void dragons, jungle stalkers, succubi and tide revenants were but a few of the new mobs that could have been given statistics.
  • Expanded location descriptions. The core rules only described the lands of Kalimdor, but TFT takes place mostly outside of those. Descriptions for the continent of Northrend, Outland or the broken isles would all have fitted in rather well.

The main flaw of this book is how it handled Illidan and the Blood Elves, and boy is it a big flaw. For some reason, they saw the need to set them up as the new great threat, one that could rival the scourge itself, and to insert them into every single racial backstory. I think the writers missed a big chance by not making the illidari a legitimate faction. There are a bunch of minor inconsistencies in there and the writing can be a bit awkward, but not nearly as much as the core rules. However, the book is way too small, and much of it is spent on stuff that shouldn't be in it (to the point where the title of the book is a blatant lie). I give this book a 2,5/10.

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