Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Warcraft - manual of monsters

Manual of monsters
Now, this book is essentially a giant list of monsters, so it's gonna be a bit hard to review. Instead, I'm going to tackle the general problems of the book first, and then point out a few more specific errors.

General notes
The book follows the same structure as the dungeons and dragons monster manuals, and uses the same terms as that book. However, that system was designed to fit every fantasy world, rather than a single specific one, so a few of the terms may be too vague or too broad.
Take for example the environment note on the creatures. In dungeons and dragons, they have to fit in every general fantasy world, so they just say 'environment: forest'. In Warcraft however, they already have specified the entire world, so they could just say 'environment: forests of northern kalimdor'. But for some reason, they chose not to.

Another problem is that they copied the race types (things like humanoid, giant and fey), without actually describing how they work in-universe. In a universe with no established lore this is okay, but in a universe with heavy backstory it can get problematic. The most affected by these are the fey. In dungeons and dragons, fey are just beings with a strong connection to nature, which overrides any other types they could have. In warcraft, however, I could never figure out what exactly a fey is supposed to be. If it is 'connected with nature', shouldn't the mountain giants, green dragons and ancients be fey? If it is 'descendents of ancient guardians', shouldn't centaurs, furbolg and quilboar be fey? If it is 'empowered by the emerald dream', shouldn't dire animals be fey? No matter what definition I try, I can't find any that fits.

Now however comes the biggest problem, and the reason why this book fails: Minimalism. Despite the massive backstory of the warcraft universe, most creatures only get a one-page entry, of which about a quarter is taken up by the statistics of the race, and up to half by the picture. This makes many entries so incredibly short that some don't go beyond physical appearance and combat tactics, leaving out any backstory. And in some cases, this backstory can be rather important. For example, the dryad article doesn't mention the fact that they are allied with the night elves at all, despite giving us (fairly balanced even) stats for playing a dryad.

Chapter one: creatures of azeroth
I'm only going to address entries where I can find significant omissions, errors or just oddities.

Only 3 species of ancients are described in this book: lore, war and wind. Warcraft III also featured ancient protectors, ancients of wonders and trees of life, so why leave those out?

This book gives us the line: “No one has ever encountered a young dragon smaller than a drake”. Which would be a really big feat, considering the dragonmaw orcs enslaved the dragon queen alexstrasza and used her as an incubator, making her churn out hundreds of eggs and riding her offspring into battle. You're telling me no one actually saw one of the eggs hatch?
Black dragons
The black dragons are said to sell their unworthy young to orcs. Which orcs are we talking about here? Are we talking about horde orcs? I don’t recall any other groups of free orcs having been established at this point, so does that mean the horde has a wing of dragonriders now?
Blue dragons
Two sentences from the blue dragon entry. I'll let you figure out how they contradict.
1)“These dragons are best known for altering their forms and integrating into other societies in order to learn new technologies, spells, and crafts.”
2)” Blue dragons are a bit xenophobic, keeping to their territories and maintaining their own studies without interference.”

The text says that harpies are covered in their own poop, have no social skills and are ugly as sin. So why the hell do they still have a higher-than-average charisma?

Obsidian destroyer
Worst entry in the book. It only describes combat tactics and looks. It doesn't mention their ties to the scourge. It doesn't mention where they can be found. And unlike most other entries, that information is very much a necessity. Despite being introduced in the warcraft III expansion, we haven't been given any information on them. What's their origin? When and why did they join the scourge? Why is an intelligent creature with a torso and a head listed as a magical beast rather than a monstrous humanoid? Furthermore, the little information that is given in this book doesn't fit with the unit from warcraft III at all. In warcraft III, destroyers were created from obsidian statues and drinking the magic of others to fuel their powerful spells. Here, they're basically just animals.

The nerubians are said to have survived the lich king's undead plague because of their mental resistance. How the hell does that work? The undead plague doesn't infect your mind, it just kills you and zombifies you. There is no mental aspect. And since we know that the nerubians can be raised as undead by other means, it isn't resistance against being raised as an undead.

Overall, a very good entry. The only slight issue I have with this are the given pandaren weapons. The shaktani warblade is never illustrated or described, so I have no idea what it looks like. Other than that, I’d vote it the best description in the book. It even makes the brewmaster appear like a credible combat- and lifestyle.

This section claims that, after the sundering, the quilboar were forced to defend their lands against both Tauren and Pandaren, contradicting the statement in the pandaren article that the pandaren left the continent before the sundering.

Revenants never really got any background in the previous games, so this entry is the first we got. It seems like revenants are in fact elementals. For most of them, this does make sense. However, there is a species of revenant it does not make sense for: The death revenant. This entry claims that they're earth elementals, but all of their powers revolve around necromancy. So it doesn't really fit. Why not make them magical constructs or something?

Ice troll
The entire ice troll entry talks about the small tribe of ice trolls living in Dun Morogh. It's kind of forgetting about the whole 'massive empire in northrend' thing, aren't they?
Jungle trolls
Jungle trolls, described here as the most civilized species of trolls, are the only ones to get an intelligence penalty.

Chapter two: the burning legion
The page image for the burning legion is an image of Illidan. Illidan is not a member of the burning legion. Otherwise, it's pretty okay.

Chapter three: the undead scourge
Okay, for all you warcraft fans reading this, I'm going to have to ask you to take a few precautions. First, if you have a drink, finish it. Make sure there isn't anything around you that can get damaged by wild and angry flailing. Okay, here it comes:

This chapter claims that all undead in warcraft are intelligent and free-willed. The only reason that they would want to join the scourge is because of human prejudice. True, over time their ethics do fade away, but this is a process that takes years.

Done flailing? Good. For you non-fans, I'm probably gonna have to give a bit more of an explanation. The warcraft III story started when the cult of the damned, a group of cultists serving the lich king, started spreading poisoned grain through the kingdom of lordaeron. Everyone who ate the grain was killed in their sleep, arising as a zombie. Not only did this kill a significant chunk of the population within a single day, anyone else who survived would be torn apart by zombies. All of the zombies we see instantly become aggressive and serve the lich king without any objections, even when the orders are suicidal. All of the other undead we see created are also instantly evil after they were first summoned, with the death knight Arthas raising the contents of a graveyard to bolster his army in the first mission of the undead campaign. In addition, we know that when the lich king was weakened in the expansion campaign, many undead regained their free will, with the elven ranger Sylvanas Windrunner leading a large force of rebel undead. How would that work when all the undead are already free-willed?

Speaking of the expansion campaign, the inconsistencies regarding the timeline become even greater in this book. Ner'zhul, the original lich king, is still in power, and it is made very clear that he is completely safe and secure. However, Sylvanas has already become independent, something which only happened after Ner'zhul was mortally wounded.

When we finally get to the unit descriptions, you can see that the author of this chapter never played warcraft III, but just got a list of unit names. Shades, which were harmless spies, skeletal warriors, the most basic and weakest form of undead, and skeletal mages, slightly stronger than warriors but still weak, have suddenly become the three most powerful species of undead in the world. Zombies are not at all loyal to the scourge(sometimes even maintaining their morality), serving only because they would otherwise be killed by human mobs. It's never answered why they don't simply join the forsaken rebellion.

Appendix two: Villains
I'm sorry for bringing up the timeline again, but it's just so incredibly inconsistent. This chapter acts like all the events from the expansion have already happened. The chapter itself is fine, just listing the stats of a few villains and their artifact.

Appendix Three: Other Monsters in Warcraft
The canonicity (canonity? Canonicallity?) of this chapter has been discussed for a long, long time. Basically, this chapter mentions creatures from other non-warcraft source-books and tells them how they could be incorporated in a warcraft campaign. However, many of the creatures listed here actually do exist in warcraft lore, so its a bit confusing. Blizzard has since declared the entire RPG uncanonical, so, luckily, I don't have to choose a side in the discussion. I'm just going to point out a few flaws.

Some of the creatures listed were already described in the first chapter of this book. Yet here we're given completely separate, contradictory explanations for the following species: centaur, demons, dryads, salamander, wyvern and ogre.

Gorgons are said to come from the abyssal plane, which doesn’t exist in the warcraft universe.

The amalthean goat piece says that the lich king still serves the burning legion, which would mean the RPG takes place before the final two missions of the original campaign of Warcraft III. Yeah I know, timeline. I won't bring it up again.

In the blood maiden description, what does the phrase “These horrific creatures are highborne
elves created in the same way as the naga” even mean? The naga are created from highborne elves, so if you created a highborne elf from a highborn elf… you apparently get a different creature.

The blood crone description says that these servants of the burning legion have been waiting since the second war. So, what were they doing during the third one when the burning legion actually invaded?

The tome of horrors section claims warcraft orcs and ogres are goblinoids.

Overall, the book isn't as bad as the core rules, but only because it's so damn minimalistic, prohibiting them from listing too much stupid.

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