Saturday, 31 March 2012

Warcraft - Magic and mayhem

Magic and mayhem
Remember how badly the sourcebooks have handled magic up till now? The whole “arcane is always evil, while divine is always good” that previous books tried to sell despite the massive amounts of evidence against it in the games? They made a book about that now. Okay, to be fair, only 3/4ths of the book revolves around magic, the other quarter revolving around technology. Despite the focus on magic, I'm actually pretty positive going into this. They can't possibly spend 150 pages saying “arcane magic EVIL!”, can they? The introduction even says the book is supposed to be a work by a loremaster of the kirin tor.

Chapter 1 : Magic and mayhem
This first chapter is focused on arcane magic and divine magic. Well, I'm always willing to give it a chance as long as they don't use such a black-and-white mora... *reads first sentence*

The world of warcraft is a place of ever-present magic: where sorcerers cast perilous spells that risk shattering the world, and where steadfast servants of the gods stand in eternal vigil against threats from beyond – against the burning legion and the threat that can taint even the most heroic souls.”

Well, that's pretty black-and-white, but still better tha...*reads rest of introduction*

Many believe that the primary conflict on Azeroth is between human and orc; but far deeper and more constant is the struggle between arcane magic, the magic of pride and personal power, and divine magic, the magic of humility nature and compassion.
The consequences of this conflict between the arcane and the divine have been devastating. Continents have been sundered, worlds shattered, great heroes corrupted and fallen into darkness. This conflict knows neither armistice nor treaty, for it is fought without cessation within the hearts of every creature on azeroth.”

That's... That's hilariously stupid. I honestly wanted to give up this review after reading that. It is so terrible I had no idea how to tackle this review. The only way I can begin to tackle this stupidity is statement by statement.

Many believe that the primary conflict on Azeroth is between human and orc.”
No, they don't. Maybe if this had been around the time of warcraft I or II, that would be true. However, a few things happened since then. Like the death of most of the human and orc population. Or the emergence of two more powerful enemies. Now it seems to be living vs. undead vs. demon.

but far deeper and more constant is the struggle between arcane magic, the magic of pride and personal power, and divine magic, the magic of humility nature and compassion.”
Arthas, the paladin, purged the city of Stratholme in the hopes of stopping the undead, while Jaina, the mage, begged him to spare them. The quilboar, harpy and centaur all employ divine magic, but are all savages intent on driving every other species into extinction. The kirin tor was the largest organ of arcane magic users in the world, and helped defend it for hundreds of years.

The consequences of this conflict between the arcane and the divine have been devastating. Continents have been sundered,”
Fair enough. This refers to the sundering of azeroth, which was indeed caused by a conflict to the arcane and divine.

worlds shattered”
This refers to the destruction of Draenor, which happened during a war between human and orc. The humans had mages and paladins fighting on their side. The orcs had warlocks and witch doctors on theirs. So clearly, it was not arcane vs divine.

great heroes corrupted and fallen into darkness.”
Could refer to a number of heroes, one of which, Illidan, was actually corrupted during a war between arcane and divine, so I'm gonna let it slip.

This conflict knows neither armistice nor treaty”
The kirin tor and the priests of the holy light were allied for at least a thousand years. The rangers and mages of quel'thalas for at least two-and-a-half thousand years. The blue dragonflight and the priestesses of Elune for at least ten thousand years. I could go on like this for a long, long time.

for it is fought without cessation within the hearts of every creature on azeroth.”
I'll be sure to call the squirrels next time I see a mage. Do the sagefish and the monkfish fight a private war to wipe the other out?

I could actually do the entire chapter like this, that's how ridiculously hilariously stupid it is. I won't, since that would get boring really quickly, but here are a few highlights:
- Claiming that the titans never intended arcane magic to exist, ignoring the fact that they created a god of arcane magic
- The war of the ancients wasn't fought to defeat the burning legion, but to destroy arcane magic. I'd honestly be more concerned with the swarms of demons overrunning the land than with what kind of magic they are using to burn down my home.
- Human mages caused demons to invade a second time due to their wild arrogance, until wise, non-arcane heroes stopped them. Ignoring that the humans didn't know that demons would be summoned and the fact that the heroes who stopped it were the most powerful mages to ever live.
- The orcs were corrupted because they use arcane magic. No mention of the demonic blood they drank and the genocide the committed, just using arcane magic.
- Anyone who uses magic becomes ages rapidly and becomes a dick. Writers, I'd like you to meet Jaina Proudmoore.
- Magic is a literal drug. Their wording, not mine.

The divine magic part is a bit better, probably because it is very short, though it again harps the point that the gods never interfere in the world, despite the fact that every single god but Elune introduced up to this point in canon fought in the war of the ancients.

The fel magic part is really, really short, only half a page. There is also a fourth kind of magic in the book called rune magic, but it doesn't provide any background on that in this chapter.

Chapter 2: Prepare Yourselves!
This chapter focuses on the character options introduced in this book: feats and new classes.

Actually pretty decent. There are a bunch of metamagic feats in here that I actually really like.

One new core class is introduced, along with eight new prestige classes.

The runemaster: The new core class, a mixture between a mage and a martial artist, focusing on the new rune magic. This rune magic is supposed to be less corruptive and was practiced by the titans, their dwarven creations and the tauren. It was also practiced by the scourge in warcraft III, but the book conveniently forgets about that. The rune spell system isn't really all that exciting and is way to close to normal wizard and sorceror magic in my opinion.

The bombardier: freaking awesome, mastering anything that could possibly explode(including himself at the highest level). He is a master of grenades, can bring down buildings and can make hilariously powerful explosives. This class actually fits lore very well, with the small note that its rather weird that a dwarven engineer still learns the “goblin sapping” ability before he would learn “dwarven sapping”.

The engineer: actually focuses on making reusable inventions (rather than one-off gimmicks). He can specialize in certain fields, lead crews of tinkers, draft schematics and actually make devices that are safe to use. Again, this class fits lore greatly.

The graven one: A necromancer who actually draws power from the dead, rather than just commanding them. He can create bone weapons and armor, draw power from the undead under his command, bolster the undead forces under his command and, at the heighest level even become one of the undead. Not really part of any previous lore, but doesn't contradict it either.

The shadow hunter: a shaman who commands dark spirits. He gains spells depending on which loa he can call on. This class perfectly fits into the class seen in TFT and expands upon it greatly.

The dreamwalker: a tauren who blends the shaman's ability to communicate with the dead and the druid's ability to walk the emerald dream. The result is a very interesting class which fits perfectly with the tauren race.

The steamwarrior: A tinker who has built himself a powerful suit of mechanical battle armour, like a goblin shredder. Guess what this perfectly fits? Lore!

The warden: a powerful night elf assassin. Previously seen in TFT, the warden is capable of performing several devastating techniques like the fan of knives slicing torrent, shadow strike, blink and avatar of vengeance, in addition to learning several divine spells to aid in their pursuit of criminals.

The witch doctor: a troll who has mastered the art of juju, granting him a knowledge of alchemy like no other. Poisons, potions, alchemical mixtures and even fetishes, all are mastered by the witch doctor. Fits lore perfectly.

And suddenly I see why the RPG is popular with some fans of lore. This chapter is honestly very, very good. This is what the warcraft RPG is supposed to be; an actual adaption.

Chapter three: Fountains of Mana
This chapter focuses on new spells. Like the previous chapter, it is a drastic increase in quality over the previous books. However, there is still one large issue: Sorcerers and wizards get waaaaaay too many spells, getting spells that were originally not intended as arcane. All brewmaster techniques, previously said to involve the spirits that inhabit the plants that the drink was brewed from, are suddenly sorceror/wizard spells. KABOOM!, the ability used by sappers in warcraft III to blow themselves up, is now a sorcerer/wizard spell, despite involving explosives in warcraft III. All warden spells, despite being divine magic for the wardens, are now also sorcerer/wizard spells. There are dozens of examples, but at least half the sorcerer/wizard spell list from this book would have be be cut to really fit lore.

Some other niggles and fun notes:
-There is a mark of the werewolf spell, despite there not being werewolves in warcraft (at least not under that name)
-The mark of the badger makes you really, really angry. I did not know badgers were that angry.
-Mark of the golem is under the beast family of glyphs, despite golems being constructs
-Transferring spells to another caster involves getting to first base. No, really.
-Hooks of binding, a spell that chains demons and undead, has a picture where it is used on a wildkin
-There is a spell called 'mysterious purple blast'. The description can not figure out what exactly the spell is.
-There are a lot of spells with weird reagents. Again, mysterious purple blast is notable in this regard, requiring the caster to have anything as a reagent. Which actually makes it hilariously good at destroying indestructible objects; just use them as a reagent.

Overall, still a decent chapter, though it could have been edited a bit better.

Chapter four: Destiny and Reward
This chapter focuses on new items.
A small, but weird note: No species except goblins is biologically capable of having an earring. No species except tauren is biologically capable of having a pierced nose.

There is nothing that's really positive or negative about this chapter. Most of the new items are kinda meh, working counter to the feel of many cultures, but there isn't anything really stupid in here either. There's actually a list of pandaren brews in here, and I wonder if any will show up in the next expansion.

One thing that strikes me as weird is that bloodfeather's heart, an item from the bonus campaign of warcraft III, is now apparently a gem originally created for a dwarf king. Despite the fact that it dropped from a harpy named bloodfeather. Who lived far away from any dwarves. The writer of this chapter has very clearly not played the warcraft III campaign, but simply looked through the item list. Similarly, the 'horn of cenarius' paragraph said it was held by cenarius, despite it starring majorly in warcraft III(it killed Archimonde) as an item belonging to Malfurion Stormrage.

Chapter five: Temple of Boom
we finally leave the confines of magic behind to focus on technology in this chapter. The chapter contains a nice paragraph about how magic and technology fit together in the warcraft setting. Though it also suggests that the time of magic is over and the world is gonna be ruled by engineers in the last sentence. Huh. This chapter is suffering from multiple personality disorder, me thinks.

The rest of the chapter mostly consists of lists of technological items. Its actually pretty decent and seems fun to play with. Many of the things mentioned in this chapter can be found in WoW around gnomes, goblins and the undead, though there are still a few things missing that I would really like to see, like a phlogistonic unicycle mount.

Appendix one: Constructs
Basically a list of mechanical and magical constructs. It makes a large amount of contributions to WoW, featuring the first appearances of the dark iron golem (though its a forsaken construct here), the harvest golem and the stone keeper.

The editing of this book is still a bit sloppy (same editor as the core rules), but most of the book actually fits lore now. However, the first chapter was absolutely terrible. Not quite as bad as the scourge chapter from manual of monsters, but a very close second. I still give the book a 7 out of 10. It's dragged down by a few of the worse sections and the bad editing. With a rewrite of the first chapter and some editing, this book could easily become a 9.

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